Wednesday, 4 December 2013

"Just Friends For Now"

I'd love to say that I admire most those men who know exactly what they want in life, put their heads down and get it. These are the kind of men who don't ask a girl out unless they think she's the kind of girl they'd marry, who call her promptly the next day to make the next date, drop her at once if they realize they don't want to marry her, or propose marriage when they know they do, and call up potential employers to see if they got their resumés. Hard-working, straight-shooting, utterly consistent, down to earth guys. The kind of guys "The Rules" actually work on. Guys who aren't complex.

I hate complex guys. Or rather, no, I don't. Alas. When I look back at the blasted heath of my dating life, I see a lot of complex men, most of them very well-read in philosophy. A lot of them are now academics, successful or failed. Instead of having a single-minded pursuit of woman, family, money and house, their thoughts were all over the place. Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Heidegger, Kristeva, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida... The more pretentious, by which I mean the less bright, read De Bono and that awful tick whats-his-name. In the pop philosophy section at W.H. Smith. Not Mark Kingswell or Alain de Botton, whose "Consolations of Philosophy".I rather liked. Some pseud or other. Not Dario Fo, but some name like Fo. No doubt I am blocking the memory because his fan, though mesmerizing, was so unpleasant. Anyway, these guys did not get their heads together, if they ever did get them together, before age 28.

How happy I am that I dated someone nice in the hard sciences before I married former philosophy lecturer B.A. (Fortunately I met B.A. when he was in a single-minded pursuit of the Catholic Life, so his thoughts were very concentrated.) The scientist was complex, too, though, because he was not sure what he wanted. If I had to guess, I'd guess he just wants to be a nice God-fearing bachelor scientist of the sort that used to employ a housekeeper. There are not a lot of contemporary models for this way of life. Fortunately he is in Germany where it is totally unprofessional for colleagues to pry into your personal life or assume single = gay.

Anyway, I am pondering Simple versus Complex because a reader wrote in about a guy who would ask her out and then avoid her and then ask her out again and then not text for a week, etc. He told her that she was beautiful and wonderful, and he didn't want to jump into things, and he would really like to be good friends for now. Later, after she pointed out she wants to date men, not just hang out, he texted her to say he was not romantically interested in her. She's disappointed, although I am not sure why, as he seems rather addlepated to me. For one thing, he does not know what he wants to do in life, etc., etc. That must have made picking majors rather difficult. I shouldn't say this on such little evidence, but I bet he's in philosophy.

"Good friends for now" rang a little bell in my brain because I had a reader who had a crush on a guy who went with her everywhere at college, although she never heard a word from him during summer holidays, and when she asked him about romance he said "Just friends for now." Well, he turned out to be gay, so now when readers tell me young men act like their shadows but insist on "just friends for now", I get suspicious. However, in this case, I don't think the young man has deep-seated SSA (although presumably 2 out of every 100 Catholic guys do indeed have them). I think he honestly doesn't know what he wants from girls. You know, I bet he isn't even complex. I bet he is just addled by the culture of choice.

Part of the problem of the post-war generations is too much choice, or (often) the illusion of too much choice. I doubt anyone asked my dad where he wanted to go to school. He was packed off to the same boarding school as his brother and told by the pre-Arrupe Jesuits how to be. If I remember this correctly, he won a scholarship to X sponsored by his father's company. That determined where he went to university. (There were no girls at this university.) He then won a scholarship to Y, so off he went to Y. Then he won a scholarship in Canada, so off he went to Canada. He met my mother there, and if it is true that it was love-at-first-sight for old Dad, as one of his pals told me 20 years later, he didn't have much choice there either. It's really lucky he wasn't called up and sent to Vietnam, something else that would not have been a choice.

All that said, my father--whom I personally consider the greatest catch of the twentieth century--did not marry until he was 29. TWENTY-NINE. And my mother was 23. TWENTY-THREE. Six year age difference! And you know what? I think you Searching Single youngsters should give the men your age who don't seem to know what they want in life a miss and try to meet men who are up to six years older. Because if you are under 25, chances are that the men your age do not know what they want in life yet. They are befuddled by so much choice or, with easy credit and tempting student loans and Catholic dating sites, the illusion of choice. Or they are so focused on their career path, they can't think about girls right now--unless THE girl suddenly appears. And almost never is this girl you.

Naturally you will worry, as girls have always worried, that older guys = unchaste guys, but that is not necessarily the case. You can't know unless you meet them and talk to them.

Well, what do you think? Is the way to cope with today's men-so-spoiled-for-choice-they-don't-know-what-they-want is to pass them by and intentionally meet older Single men, men who have already made bold choices that have determined the direction of their lives?

And, incidentally, do you think it would be better for parents to order their kids what to study at university? Is planning their kids' careers a responsibility parents ought to have?

Finally, remember Shakespeare's immortal words:
Sigh not so, but let them go,
and be you blithe and bonny,
converting all your sighs of woe
into hey nonny nonny!

Update: ONE HUNDRED READERS bought Ceremony of Innocence! Whee! Would Number 100 like to take a bow? Thank you all so much. Where I would be without my "Seraphic Singles" readers I can't imagine. Believe me, readers have given me as much as I have given readers, if not more.


Amused Observer said...

Wow. Not too long ago I was pondering an interesting phenomenon I know of: several young college-educated women in their twenties who have married men 3-5 years younger than themselves--men who are, say, twenty to twenty-three and some of whom have not been to college. What did all the young men have in common? Well, (aside from having been to a Catholic all-boys highschool together)they were handsome, boyish, brash, sure of themselves--so sure of themselves that they couldn't wait to be working already instead of going to school, married already to a real woman instead of dating a succession of girls.... Actually, really outstanding young fellows, I must say. Of course, they're all snapped up now. But I thought it was interesting that they went for classy, traditional women who were older and more educated than themselves!

Iota said...

Q: And, incidentally, do you think it would be better for parents to order their kids what to study at university?

A: As a Pole who initially had her career planned, I'd say no. For a number of reasons, but the major ones are:

1. Especially if the world continues to change fast, it'll be difficult to foresee a few good years ahead which while collar jobs make sense and which don't. Or, more specifically, which skillsets do and which don't. Especially ones requiring a degree, since it's not like other people aren't going to get degrees too, so anything that's "in" now, will probably be inundated with new students and alumni a few years later. Many college freshmen might have no clue what they want to do when they grow up, but I'm sceptical if parents have either.

(Blue collar jobs might be different).

2. If you happen to really like a career path, but your child doesn't have the talents and/or preferences necessary, they'll be miserable at it. This will probably mean they won't become proficient. I'm not the kind of person who believes you have to love everything you do at your job, but you should be able to get good at it.

I'm pretty sure it's a good idea to advise kids on their choice of career, or in my case on what abstract features you'd think would be good and why, but a bad one to force them to get a particular degree. Unless they really don't care what work they'll be doing and treat it strictly as a pay-check vending machine.

Seraphic said...

That is interesting! Why do you think they matured so fast?

Meanwhile, it sounds like they weren't snapped up. It sounds like they were doing the snapping!

Why? Wherefore? How come? Skąd? And most importantly, how much do I have to pay you to tell us what high school they went to?!

Seraphic said...

(That was for Amused Observer. Come back, Amused Observer!)

Seraphic said...

(And, incidentally, those sound like the single-minded gentlemen I extol at the top of my post!)

Heather in Toronto said...

I remember a formula I heard at one point from one of my university friends regarding the "how old/young is too/old young" question. I think it was phrased in terms of how big does an age gap have to be in order to be "creepy" at any given age.

Anyone younger than half your age plus seven is most likely too young for you.

I don't know who came up with this formula, but it actually works pretty well. And the flip side of it means that anyone younger than your own age minus seven then doubled is not, in fact, necessarily too old for you.

So for you 20-year-olds, don't be afraid to go out with someone as old as 26. (But anyone older than that still chatting up 20-year-olds is likely either rather immature, kind of creepy, or both.) 26-year-olds, don't automatically discount those gentlemen in their mid to late thirties.

Bernadette said...

It occurs to me that some of these confusing young men sound a bit like my little brother, who has a high-functioning case of Asperger's syndrome. Sometimes things that are blindingly obvious to his sisters never occur to him at all, like that if you like a girl, and you enjoyed the date you had with her, then you should call her up within a few days afterwards or else she will think that you are not interested. He was so astounded by the idea that the girl might not understand that he really does like her, just has been crushingly busy, that he had to go to two separate sisters to get this confirmed before he would believe it.

Seraphic said...

Thank heavens for sisters! I feel so badly for young guys who don't have sisters, especially when they just don't get girls at all.

Amused Observer said...

You're right, they did the snapping! As to why they matured so fast...well, my theory is that they had some pretty good formation as boys--specifically as young MEN, not as "teenagers". That is, being at an all-boys school that was totally non-PC, that encouraged the reading of heroic epics, the playing of rough physical sports (hockey, for example), the singing of old war-and-love-songs, and generally presented "manliness" (in an old-fashioned, rough-around-the -edges kind of way) positively. Oh yeah, and daily mass...
I'm not saying that everybody who went there turned out to be anything special, but I think it was a pretty good environment to encourage manliness/maturity. Anyway, the school is closed and gone now, boo hoo.
Incidently, I think part of men learning how to be men is that they need to go off and do things (get dirty, fight, pound on their chests) together without US. Seems to me a lot of the guys who can't committ (just-friends-for-now guys) are deep down insecure about themselves....

Maria said...

On the topic of being friends with guys...Seraphic, you often talk about how the best romance is when "friendship catches fire." How does one differentiate between this sort of relationship, which starts out as friendship, versus this "just friends" business, which seems to be more of a cop-out for guys who are immature or have no intention of it ever progressing past friends?

Margaret O'More said...

I second Maria's question. I've been very strict about keeping my friendships with guys just friendships by opting not to "hang out" with them one-on-one (i. e. situations that look like dates) unless it was clear that his intention in inviting me was in fact to ask me on a date. I enjoyed a nice long friendship with the gentleman I am currently dating before it became a romantic relationship, and in the course of that time I declined a few invitations to things such as the theater or concerts, because they sounded too much like dates. But after we started dating I learned that my friend (now boyfriend) had assumed based on my refusal of those invitations that I might not be interested in him (when in fact I definitely was). So I'm curious what is your policy on accepting from male friends invitations-that-look-like-dates-but-aren't?

Sheila said...

My guess is, if you want to see a movie or go someplace with the guy, then you should -- friends or dates. However, if he starts using you as his personal counselor, that would be a time to pull back.

I think parents should definitely talk about career choices with their kids. And they absolutely shouldn't encourage (or worse, fund) a kid to go to college who has no idea what he is going to do with that. There are way too many people spending four years and $100,000 to find out what they want to do with their lives. Better to take a gap year or two, save up some money, and then go once you know.

Meanwhile my parents won't let my preteen brother study programming -- which he is madly obsessed about -- because they don't want him "spending all day in front of a computer." I am not sure what career they have in mind for him. Lumberjacking? That's a case where I think the kid knows much better than his parents how he should spend his life.

PolishTraveler said...

I've actually always been attracted to older men who know what they want from life. After a few bad experiences I have no desire to 'assist'/stand by/offer a shoulder to cry on/ for boys who are still figuring out what they want to do and who they are.

But again, how much older? It's easier if you're 20+ but the pool gets significantly smaller once you reach 28+.

Amused Observer, was this a school in Pennsylvania? It sounds oddly similar to the boarding school one of my close friends went to.

I don't think parents should tell kids what exactly to study - but I do think parents should talk to their children about the ramifications of choosing a particular educational path. My family tends to be a bit lofty/impractical about such things, which is nice when you want to study languages/psychology/political philosophy but not so helpful when you graduate with a degree in said discipline only to find you need to completely re-market yourself and your skills to get a job.

Iota, did you go to college in Poland? It seems to me that any Polish educational choices will be less momentous/future-impacting then ones undertaken in the US simply because there isn't the awful specter of massive student debt if you get into a good public university in Poland.

Girl with the yellow hat said...

Amused Observer . . . if the boys' school is the one that Polish Traveler is referencing which I think is the same one I'm thinking of . . . it has reopened in PA under a slightly different name . . .

Seraphic said...

Good heavens. I'm starting to think you all secretly know each other without knowing you all know each other.

Amused Observer said...

Haha, who would have thought? I suppose St. Gregory's is not a secret!

Sheila said...

Oh, St. Greg's? We had a lot of those guys at Christendom. Kind of our version of "bros." I was not impressed. They were too ... unwashed. Though they did play rugby, if you're into guys with scars and torn ears.

PolishTraveler said...

I love how small the conservative Catholic world is... I think it was a great school for a lot of guys (my own family included), although I never had the impression that AmusedObserver did. I rather got the impression that the guys who went there were a bit awkward around girls (then again, that was mostly when they were still teenagers in the school - I've since met a lot of the graduates in other social situations and they seem to have lost their initial shyness around women and are quite fun).

Margaret said...

Well, it seems to me the rules about the best age gap in dating are not set in stone. I'm nearly thirty. Having grown up with two brothers 14 and 16 years older than me, I always felt more attraction towars older guys. My peers didn't seem to get me (and the other way round) unless they had SSA.

Unfortunately, my convictions have been shaken recently. I had a couple of dates with a man of 41, and on the rebound. he initially pursued me hard but started to give mixed signals very soon. When I learnt that he had just ended a long-term relationship I was concerned and told him that it probably wasn't the best time to date. After a few strange encounters and the relationship-never-to-start-but-always in the bud he said he felt I was too mature for him despite being more than 10 years younger. What's worse, he said he felt there was an intelectual abyss between us and when he tried to imagine a perfect man for me, he could think of a sensitive art gallery curator.
Oh, no I thought. The man you think would be best for me, would probably be gay:-( Qited depressing.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear! Listen, when a 41 year old tells a 30 year old she's too mature for him, whatever else he says is worthless. His ideas about the best man for you are totally worthless? What does he know!

Anyway, not all sensitive art curators are gay. B.A. is a sort of museum curator who talks about art all the time. (The conference in Glasgow was about painter Allan Ramsay!) And he isn't gay (and neither was Allan Ramsay).

Not that the perfect guy for you IS an art curator, for I have less data on that subject than even your 41 year old acquaintance!

So cheer up! Even bright men talk a lot of nonsense.

margaret said...

Well, you're right. He was a particular guy. It was funny, though, too hear that I probably suffered from a split personality which he couldn't handle.

well, he was the first person in my life who came up with such a diagnosis and the basis for it was the fact that I managed to be serious and rational in some aspects of my life while being playful and sensual in others. The other reason why he considered me insane was the fact that I was a conservative catholic who didn't feel repulsion towards gay guys.
But the most disconcerting thing about me was for him the fact that despite working at university I baked muffins for friends on Sunday afternoon...

Seraphic said...

AHHHH! Where do I start. What a little handbag of misconceptions and narrowmindedness he was.

First of all, a conservative Catholic woman is not going to feel repulsed by gay guys if she is around gay guys quite often, e.g. she lives in a city or goes to university. (The shock wore off for me when I was 20 and that was before we heard about them 24/7.) And she is going to see them as human beings worthy of respect and care, in part because the Catechism says to do so.

Well, you know this. It just makes me furious that people are so intellectually lazy that they cannot grasp what it is that Catholics actually believe about homosexuality--or marriage, for that matter.

But any guy who experiences serious cognitive dissonance because a university-educated woman enjoys baking muffins for her friends on a Saturday afternoon must have the IQ of a tuna fish.

Seraphic said...

*Sunday afternoon.