Monday, 28 October 2013

Inordinate Attachment to Eros

Saint Augustine, when considering the Lot of Woman, believed that consecrated virgins (the nuns of his day) had it best because they had only to please God. He thought married women were next in the queue because they had only to please their husbands. But he thought single women who wanted to get married had it worst because they had to please many men, and Saint Augustine recoiled at the idea of young women all dressed up and acting as attractive as possible to get a husband. I wonder if the young women ever talked to him about this. I was going to add "in the confessional", but I don't think there was a confessional in the fourth century. (Good heavens. Imagining getting in the box knowing that Saint Augustine was in the priest's compartment. Eek!)

And I have to say that I agree with Saint Augustine. Although we live in a world absolutely obsessed with appearances, nobody really cares what nuns' faces look like. Some Catholics judge nuns on their habits or lack thereof, and some Catholics judge nuns on whether or not their charism attracts young women, but Catholics don't worry about whether nuns are pretty or not. Nuns, unlike all other women, are completely exempted from our beauty obsession. Thank heavens somebody is.

Nobody except their husbands (to an extent) really worries about the beauty of married women, either. Married women are judged on the happiness of their husbands and kids, to tell the truth, and heaven help us if we flirt outside the bounds of what our community thinks is okay for married women. Once upon a time in working-class communities in the UK, married women who dolled themselves up to go shopping, e.g. chat with the butcher, were considered harlots. Husbands who marry for love and stay in love seem not to notice or care that their wives eventually look like wrinkly old boots, and thank heavens.

But then there are Single women, and unless you really do not want to get married, and really are happy to do your own thing and to heck with what the men think, you are in thrall to humanity's beauty obsession. This is especially true if you are in your early twenties and want to attract a guy your own age. The young look beautiful to the old just because you are young, but when you are the same age as a man... And we cannot really complain because we, too, have our ideas of what a cute man looks like.

Of course, I don't think we would go as far as to rate men from 1 to 10 and supply photographs for each category. Last night I meant to read some classic horror tales, but instead I surfed the manosphere. And the manosphere provided me with the same shocks and enjoyment as classic horror tales, but only because I am happily married. If I were Single I would have been out of my mind with rage, contempt and fear. You know young men in general no longer have the power to hurt you when you can stare at their helpful photographic guides to beauty and ponder in tranquility if you might count as a 6 or, on your best days, a 7.

Blogging pick-up artists portray a Godless universe in which most women are like flies at the picnic of existence, and the point of this short existence is to have sexual congress with as many of the few worthwhile (i.e. kind and pretty) women as possible. You will not find, on such blogs, much interest in spiritual or intellectual pleasures, in botany or zoology or theology or walks in the countryside. The ideal is to travel to Eastern Europe, chat up slim and friendly young Slavic women intrigued by American glamour, and roll around with them in bed until both man and woman (conveniently) get bored and agree to "move on". The PUAs bridle at the accusation that this makes them sex tourists. After all, they are giving these women the most romantic and incredible experiences of their short and otherwise meaningless lives on earth, and as wrinkled old crones on their deathbeds, they will remember the American PUAs with gratitude. Yeah.

For all their posturing, PUAs are not very rooted in reality. And they are slaves to their desire for sex with women. In fact, they are worse than slaves. They are rutting animals who use their human reason primarily to figure out how to rut with as many attractive female animals as possible, only without, of course, having any offspring they will have to care for. Which, ontologically, makes them useless and pathetic.

And worse, of course. While I pondered their degradation from this humanist point of view, B.A. seethed, "Haven't they heard of Don Giovanni?", which directed my mind to Christian truth. Actually, the Eastern European women on their deathbeds may very well be cursing their naive fumblings with American sex tourists and imploring the mercy of God. After all, extramarital (as I don't think we can call going to bed with tourists premarital) sex is a SERIOUS sin with SERIOUS consequences for both the sinners and society.

As I always say, you can ask men what they think, but you will not always like it. Men tend not to think what we want them to think. We have our idea of what they should be like, but instead they are like what they are like, and we have to accept that, if not them. We can pay attention to what they say they find attractive in women (and the slimmer side of healthy-looking weight appears to be a majority demand), or we can simply ignore it. Ignoring it completely does, of course, come with a price tag. Some will happily pay that price; others will simply not understand why it must be paid. (Rather like men without jobs, looks or character who seethe because women don't want them.)

I wanted a man, I have a man, and now I can ignore what all men on earth, save one, think about attractiveness. I am fortunate. But I worry a lot about Single women who lurch from one relationship to the next in the quest to find the man who will free them from the intolerable burden of wanting a man. Looking at break-ups and unrequited crushes from a married point of view, I now realize how awful it is to hear a weeping woman say, "But where will I find another [guy who gets me, clever intellectual, romantic poet, serious Catholic]?" I want to shake them and yell, "STOP LOOKING! JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE!" But that's easy for me to say; marriage has killed that restless longing.

But marriage has only killed that restless longing because I am married to a really good guy, a guy who hears about PUAs and thinks at once of the fate of their immortal souls, and who protests loudly, when I mentioned perhaps being a 7 on really good days, that I am beautiful, almost like a little kid who naturally finds his own mother more beautiful than anyone else's mother. And all I had to do to find this guy was to live my life as a Catholic in a relatively public way, writing my blog and my funny stories, making friends, trying to stay in good health, having decent company manners and--which has more to do with Providence than with me--looking like the kind of woman to whom B.A.--this one, unique man--is usually attracted. In short, although I did a number of things that were most likely to "find me a husband", it ultimately depended on God.

When we get in the habit of constant crushes, or an unhealthy lifestyle in which Eros dominates, only God can free us. God's laws, which sound strict and almost impossible to obey nowadays, actually protect us from seducers and men who are just vacillating and weak and, indeed, our own weak and vacillating longings. God's invitation of permanent virginity to nuns, monks and priests shows us that Eros does not have absolute authority on this earth, not over women, not over men. And God who can do anything can take away our own inordinate attachments, whether to sex or to boyfriends or to the sexual approval of men or just to "looking pretty", and may if we implore Him.

(My old spiritual director said that He always does, but I'm respecting His freedom here.)


Julia said...

Good post!

Yeah, one of the things that cause me great stress is the knowledge that men use the 1-10 ranking system, but what can you do, hey? Other than wishing that we were disembodied spiritual orbs (which I have wished), not much. I try not to dwell on the ranking system too much while still being aware that it happens. I'm sorely, SORELY tempted to search the Manosphere to see which girls are deemed to hold which rank and to try to estimate my own rank, but I think that that would just make me complicit in the horror of it all, plus it would probably send me into paroxysms of self-doubt. As a 23-year-old postgraduate student, I sooooo don't need to be encouraged to have any more paroxysms of self-doubt and anxiety about the future.

Sometimes I fear ageing, but other times I wish it would hurry up and happen. I've heard middle-aged women say that getting older is great because you just don't care what anyone thinks any more. Sounds pretty good to me! I found my mum's passport from when she was in her early 20s (she's now in her early 50s). "Mum", I said, looking at the photo. "You were so cute!" She came over and said, "And I thought I was so ugly!"

I think I will certainly have to do as you suggest and ask God to free me from these anxieties, because, to be honest, my emotional energy would be better spent on something useful (e.g. surviving my degree).

Seraphic said...

Absolutely. Pray away! It's the best thing you can do, really. And, yes, growing older is great because it evens up the playing field: you're more confident, you are probably happier, and you no longer care what men aged 12-25 think of your looks.

I wish I could adjust all my reader's mirrors so that you could see yourselves NOW as you will see your current selves when you are 50.

Although amusingly I had my photo done by a really talented photographer when I was 27 and 115 pounds. I am scowling away, and I do NOT look like marriage material. I looked like an angry, disappointed divorcee, which is what I was! Fabulous skin, though.

My brother has a colour portrait from the series. I'm scowling in that one too--alas!

SundayBorn said...

Seraphic and Julia,

totally agree with you both. I find that venturing into the manosphere, rabbit warren that it is, leads me down endless trails of self-doubt, negativity, and despair. Too old! Too old-fashioned! Not fit enough! Not pretty enough! And on it goes...

I think as single women we have to hold on, perhaps now more than ever, to a biblical perspective of our worth, which boldly tells us that we are created in the image of God! Fearfully and wonderfully made! And God is pleased with His creation - we're all 10s, no ridiculous fitness and beauty regimes required! ;)

One thing that occurred to me as I read this was the perspective of some Christian men I know, who I think fall into the trap of feeling pressured to use the rating system - passing up all kinds of attractive, kind, competent Christian women who would be wonderful wives and mothers simply because they feel pressured into landing a higher 'value' woman. But finding the 'perfect partner' is the lie that I think we all, male and female alike, often buy into. Auntie Seraphic, I always appreciate how you say that B.A. is the perfect husband 'for you'.

As much as we single women need to let go of these insecurities and ask God to take away these inordinate attachements, as Auntie suggests, I think we need to also pray for our Christian brothers to be freed from them for their own good, as well as ours! Perhaps this is an area especially for happily married Christian men to give them a good talking to!

Meredith said...

What's amusing about the manosphere and their 1-10 scale is when they actually get together to compare notes. Arguments frequently break out. "You CAN'T be serious about so-and-so being a 9, she's a 7 at best!" Or vice versa. Bless even their black little hearts, they have such blind faith in their manly rationality!

Julia said...

I was thinking about all of this more as I was heading to the gym today, and aside from praying and never venturing into the Manosphere, what I find has helped me has been deliberately cultivating a sense of humour about my own attitude to my appearance. Sure, we are made in the image and likeness of God...but sometimes our bodies are sort of funny-looking, and it can help to laugh at yourself a bit too. I mean, given the choice between tears and laughter, I'd rather laugh.

Two years ago when I was underweight, stressed out and struggling with strange thoughts about food, I would've benefited from a better sense of humour about it all. I did, however, learn some important things from being underweight. For example, once I was at a 21st birthday party and I was eating some cake or whatever. A woman my age who I didn't know very well glanced at me and remarked wistfully, "I bet you can eat whatever you like and still stay skinny." I think my heart actually broke a little bit. If I'd known her better, I might've said, "Babe, you have no idea. I never eat this stuff. In fact, I barely eat at all. In fact, worrying about this stuff occupies my mind pretty much round the clock, so please don't envy me, because you're not seeing the whole story here, and there is nothing wrong with you the way you are."

I'm tall, blonde, green-eyed and of a normal weight now. I eat well, work out and take care of my skin and hair. The way I am at the moment is pretty much the best I'll ever get, and I still do not come close to the standard of Australian beauty (think Delta Goodrem). But you know what? Whatever. It's possible (but probably unlikely) that no man has ever been, or will ever be, attracted to me, but there's really not much I can do about that. A good reaction would just be to thank God that I don't live in 1813 and my future prosperity doesn't depend on a man finding me attractive and marrying me.

Meredith, despite my intense curiosity, I haven't ventured into the Manosphere, but I can imagine that there would be some debate about a particular woman's 'ranking'. There used to be this Aussie comedy that featured a very self-centred character who believed herself to be very physically attractive despite being a little out of shape and, above all, dressed in a pretty inappropriate way. She was played by a comedienne in her forties. There's a scene in which she tries on a skimpy bikini and declares, "I look like Kate Moss in this." Want to know what the top-rated comment on the YouTube clip is? "she actually does have a pretty decent body rofl". Now I don't know if a guy wrote that, but I bet it was.

Seraphic said...

Julia, you mentioned something that the manosphere doesn't seem to, in its love of mocking the overweight: the reality of eating disorders that make women so thin. I wonder what the guys sitting there rating women from 1 to 9 would say if someone told them the woman they were arguing over (8 or 9) ate almost nothing just to look that way.

Actually, attracting the kind of man who takes delight in the manosphere is one of the worst non-violent things that can happen to you. So don't worry about that! Just keep fit and healthy. As you say, it's not 1813.

It's pretty horrible how the "rich" (not so rich anymore) West is plagued both by eating disorders and obesity. We really ought not enable either! Doctors are always happy to tell us what weight we should be: we should stick to that and trust to the normal reactions of normal men to be attracted, not to unhealthily underweight, not to unhealthily overweight, but simply to healthy-looking women.