Friday, 31 May 2013

Gentlemen's Day, May

Today is Gentlemen's Day, the day that male readers are invited to say what they think in the combox, as long as they don't think naughty words. Gentlemen do not type naughty words onto the blogs of respectable married ladies. It's one of those defining characteristics.

The fact is that my majority female readers love to read the Gentlemen's Eye View, possibly because the vast majority of my female readers are great fans of gentlemen and, like me, believe they are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life.

Today I have two letters upon which gentlemen readers are asked to comment. The first is a doozy.

Dear Gentlemen Readers,

I have a couple of grown-up brothers (in age more than maturity), and they are sweet as can be, except for their sense of hygiene. Somehow - and I don't for the life of me know how - they seemed to have missed learning some major life skills that my sisters and I picked up without trouble. Examples include not brushing their teeth or showering on any kind of regular basis, not throwing away trash or food wrappers like EVER, but actually SLEEPING in them;  never ever attempting to put away or fold or hang up clothes....leaving gross messes in the bathroom that they share with some of us girls...

Now, I understand that some people are chronically messy and that's okay by me, but we're dealing with unsanitary messiness, which I cannot stand. I am embarrassed for my brothers, and ashamed that they will not do even basic things like brush teeth and take showers. They are big, strapping, college-going boys, and they often smell bad. Really bad. 

My sisters, mom, and I have tried many things to get them to care - everything on the spectrum from negative to positive, from shaming them and asking them how they ever think they'll get girlfriends to encouraging them and complimenting them when they occasionally deign to put on deodorant - and yet they still behave the same way.

I feel that hygiene is not only a personal issue, but an issue that effects everyone around you, and that therefore this is partly my business too. I want the best for my brothers. I want to feel proud of them and know that they'll be able to make it in the world without being total slobs. Unfortunately,  I know I would never want to marry someone as slovenly as they are at this point.

My question for you gentlemen is: How do I help affect positive change in my brothers' lives? If you had a sister, what could she say or do to help you improve? I feel like everything I say, no matter whether it is negative or positive, has absolutely no effect. Will they just magically grow out of this one day?

~ Concerned Sister

My own first thought is "Where is their father in all this?" Because frankly it sounds like they need a huge chewing out by a patriarch. However, as the father has not been mentioned, I am assuming he's not on the scene. If I were their mother, I would throw them out of the house until they cleaned up their act. For me the issue would not be "Will they ever attract a girl?" For me the issue is "How can my daughters and I thrive and feel happy in a home made extremely unpleasant by anti-social men?"  However, it's Gentlemen's Day, so hopefullly the men will have something to say.

The next letter is about how men feel about tall girls with thriving businesses.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I have a question for the eavesdroppers that I'm not sure how to phrase so I'm going to type my thoughts out to you and hope for the best!

Do men find women who are taller than they are intimidating? I'm sure it depends on lots of things but in general? I'm 6'1" in flats and find that only guys who can look me in the eye (so not shorter than ~5'10") are the only ones to ever express interest, not that there's been lots of that...

But that leads me to other intimidation related thoughts: I'm 27, have been running my own [...] business for the past 10 years, making a full time living from it for the past 5. Also, I own a house now.  I've only been asked out twice in the past three years and neither of those went beyond a second date. How intimidating to men is the whole owning a business and house thing?  

Tall Girl with Business and House

Perhaps it is because I am a woman, but I am not a whit intimidated but extremely impressed. To have your own thriving business and a house by the age of 27 is amazing. Well, let's see what the men have to say.

Gentlemen, please feel free to comment on these and other issues, and to ask your own questions.

Ladies, you may not comment on the gentlemen's comments until tomorrow.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Falling Out 2

How many times can a heart break? Seven times seventy-seven, I'd say. My heart has been broken so many times, I've lost count. And it is interesting what broken-heartiness can do to you. It can make you into a tough, angry, insensitive person, and it can make you into a caring, deeply creative, sensitive person. Or both.

I had a particularly bad break when I made a new female friend in my early thirties. She was twenty or so, talented, fun and both amused and frustrated to find herself a fish out of water. She was as brilliant and enthusiastic as the sun on a July day. Always the youngest around, she gravitated towards me, and although I was much older, I learned all kinds of things from her: new kinds of food, new dances, even how to use crayons. (She: "Are you AFRAID of the crayon?") I read over her papers. And I offered a listening ear when she told me about a troubling atheist classmate. I gave solemn advice about the atheist classmate. Atheists, ick.

As luck would have it, she started dating the atheist classmate, and my earlier sympathetic denouncements of the atheist classmate came back to haunt me. My young friend worried that I would not like her classmate-boyfriend, and although he seemed like a nicer guy than she had first described him, I could not be sufficiently enthusiastic. The upshot was her out-of-the-blue, incandescent-with-rage email that accused me of, among other things, racism.

In my town, the worst thing you can call someone, especially a white person, is a racist. And I hadn't started writing for the CR yet, so I was still very thin-skinned. The unfairness of the email struck me so violently that I burst into tears, and as soon as I could, I went to see my spiritual director and cried my heart out. I hadn't felt so betrayed by a female friend since elementary school, and I was completely bewildered. I decided that the easiest explanation was that my friend had not really seen me as a friend but as a mother/mentor figure and had had to violently break ties with me so as to bond with her new man without getting mad at her real mother. Or something. And I said I would never be friends with someone so much younger than me ever again.

But the next term, Lily arrived. Lily was not much older than my friend (who had left town with her man) and she was even more beautiful--model-beautiful, in fact--but she was a lot quieter, a lot deeper and an old soul. Somehow we became friends, and we still are friends, even though we have had at least  one really bad fight. Fortunately, that fight was on the phone, not over dratted email.

As Single women in your thirties, chances are that you are going to make friends with people much younger than yourselves because you are more likely to share the Single lifestyle with them than with women your own age. This can be challenging because many of the young are still in flux. They are still working things out, and their adult brains may not be entirely hooked up yet. Although you may think you are equals, they may even project all kinds of ideas onto you---"mother figure," for example. Mothers are not just loved by the young;  they are avoided, rebelled against and sometimes even hated. Being a mother-figure when you are not actually old enough to be your friend's mother is a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. It's safer if your young friend has an old soul.

It is safer, too, if you stop yourself from ever writing an angry email to a friend. In the case of younger friends, I belatedly think you should avoid anything at all contentious. "Hey, you know, you will have a  lot of trouble in life from Macedonians if you make such anti-Macedonian remarks to Macedonians" is best saved for the phone.

Meanwhile, I suppose you have to watch against a tendency to turn your younger friends into your children. This is more of a murky area for me, for I never had any older friends who did this. I imagine, though, that some older friends could become overbearing, especially if they are much richer or successful or advanced in their careers and convinced that they know better than you what is good for you. They might completely underestimate their effect on you, too, as pop culture constantly tells us (especially women) that our social value to the young decreases us we age. (This, incidentally, is nonsense, but it is hard to forget that it is nonsense.)

In that case, I think the best thing to do is tell your older friends exactly what you are thinking, only in friendly language. "I love the time we spend together, but I feel X when you say Y" is a good start when talking to an overbearing older friend. Overbearing older friend might not have any idea she is overbearing. I rarely have any idea of what effect I am having on people, as one of my theology profs once observed. (Apparently I often intimidate people [like left-wing priest-professors], and I really don't understand why, as I am so small and powerless.* Maybe it's because I say whatever most things that come into my head, e.g., "Not only was Cardinal Ratzinger completely right about the liturgy, he was terribly handsome," because my filter is rather eccentric.)

Anyway, I very much wish my young friend had told me right away when she felt annoyed with me instead of letting her discomfort build up until she wrote me that horrible, friendship-ending email. A nice coffee date and an explanation that she had to work through a lot of issues as she got so intimately involved with a man so different from her would have been nice although, I suspect, too much to expect. As for me, I think I could have listened more carefully and to what she said about at least one issue on an earlier occasion.

When sex is in the air--as I suspect it was--older woman friend is rarely a match for wily young lover. Sex is a freight train, and sometimes when your friend is stuck in the tracks, looking with avid interest at the steel behemoth racing towards her, all you can do is skip out of the way.

*That said, any adult who assumes he or she is powerless should do a good examination of conscience. Some priests assume they are powerless flower petals ground down under the boots of the parishioners, entirely unaware of the emotional and spiritual power they have over those very same parishioners. Some young women have absolutely no idea that their clothing, conversation and behaviour are driving male friends to distraction because "I'm so ugly/famously pure, it doesn't matter what I wear/say/do."  At any rate, if a friend is driving you crazy, it is most charitable to assume she doesn't know and to tell her--but very probably not by email.

Update: Tomorrow is Gentleman's Day, so send me some question for les gars and I will post them up tomorrow. If any men are still reading, they may answer them and ask their own questions for you to answer on June 1.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Falling Out 1

I read a fascinating column yesterday about how cavemen did not have friends. They had wives and children and parents, and that was allegedly it. Of course, the columnist did use the word cavemen, which makes one wonder about the cavewomen. And the column also insinuated that cavemen lived in nuclear families,  which is ridiculous. I would be very surprised to discover that cavepeople did not live in huge extended families and that the various women added to the families did not make friends with each other. I mean, hello!

In Austen's day, people spoke of family as being friends; instead of writing about people being returned to their "family-and-friends", Austen just said "friends." And I think that it is sensible to conflate family and friends, especially in cultures where your family and friends are for life.

When I was in Germany, Germans assured me that Germans took friendship more seriously than "Americans," which is why it can take a very long time indeed to be invited to a German colleague's home for supper and why next door neighbours may call each other "Frau [This]" and "Herr [That]" even after forty years. Once Germans make a friend, they told me, they keep them forever. Thus, the caution about friendliness and the home-as-fortress attitude.

This makes perfect sense to me because until very recently Europeans did not move around a lot--at least, not voluntarily. In Canada and the USA, we move all over the place--for work, for school, for adventure. As the descendants of immigrants, we have migration in our blood. Not so with the majority of the Europeans who stayed in Europe. My mother-in-law won't leave her town even to visit us. That's how rooted she is in her town. And I loved seeing German students, when summer term was over, rushing off by train in huge numbers to their ancestral villages.

Being able to make friends quickly and being able to drop friendships with as little pain as possible are, perhaps, very North American skills, and if Europeans think we are no deeper than our bathtubs, well, alas. Maybe we are. But if we are, we have to be to survive the mad migration patterns of American life.

As a child, I read various books that hammered home the message that girls have to say good-bye to their friends when they get married because they often go away to live somewhere else. Nineteenth century girls seemed quite traumatized by this: Jo March was furious when a man wanted to marry her sister Meg. Anne of Green Gables mourned when her best friend Diana got engaged. And Anne herself eventually (plot spoiler ahead) leaves Green Gables to live clean across Prince Edward Island, the horror, PEI being 140 miles long. The message was that you may feel that your friends have dumped you but getting married, but you have to accept that change is a part of life, etc. Note that Little Women and the Anne books are North American books.

Still, women need friends. When I came to Scotland, I missed my Canadian friends terribly and it was a long time--possibly even a year or more--before I made women friends who felt like friends (przyjaciółki) instead of just amiable and admirable acquaintances (koleżanki). (You know what I mean.) For company, I spent a lot of time with male friends, for traditional Catholicism is rather male-dominated in these here parts, which was great fun but not the same thing as having women friends. You can't phone male friends and weep because professional historical house curators invaded your flat without warning when the flat was a disaster area because you are a lousy housekeeper and now strangers know. At least, you can't phone my male friends.

And because women need friends, it is terribly important not to fall out with the friends you have, especially if you have moved to a new city. When you go to your old home city, you will want to catch up with your old friends, and as you are in your new home city, you need the friends you have made. You may not see some of them that often, but you have to treat them well and speak of them well for you are likely to run into them, and you want your interactions to be pleasant and a source of joy and strength.

The ordinary patterns of contemporary life are generally what keep you from seeing your friends, or what make friendships crawl underground and fall asleep for a bit.  Friends who fall in love have a tendency to disappear for weeks or even months before reappearing, smiling or weeping, and although you can text, write or call saying pointedly that you miss them, you have to make allowances for human nature. Friends who have babies are slaves to their babies, and although they miss you terribly, they have no time for themselves, let alone for anyone else but their baby-masters and their increasingly jealous husbands (if, indeed, husbands they have). Friends who leave town come back to town expecting to see a whole shopping list of people. And friends have shifting jobs, timetables, budgets, health, etc., etc. Really, it's almost a miracle adults have  friends.

All the better reason not to fall out with your friends.

Tomorrow I will ponder further the issue. For now, the combox is open.

By the way, this morning I discovered to my horror that almost all the comments you sent yesterday went straight to Spam. If you ever send a perfectly reasonable comment, with a name attached, and you are a girl, and you can't think why the comment didn't get passed, it's most likely because it mysteriously went to Spam. Sometimes I remember to check Spam, but very often I forget.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Surviving Baby Shower Season

As I set my fingers to the keys, I suddenly asked myself how I would feel if there were a baby shower for me. After all, most of my Edinburgh friends are childless. Actually, I am not sure who would host this baby shower. Obviously I could not host it for myself. Thus, if there were a baby shower for me and my imaginary miracle baby (or babies, since twins would be better), it would be held by one of my Single, childless friends, which would be an act of tremendous love and generosity.

If I, aged 39++, managed to have a baby, I would be deliriously happy, and the baby would be such a magnanimous gift from God that it would seem to me horribly self-absorbed of childless Single friends not to come to this baby shower unless they had a really good excuse. Hello! Miracle here. Years of waiting. Scary doctors. Blood test phobia. Husband struck mute.

Ideally this baby shower would involve delicious cocktails that everyone but me could drink as I sat in the middle of room like a fat spider sipping water. Also ideally it would be in the ninth month of pregnancy when I would be an object, not of envy, but of pity--terribly swollen and sweaty and moaning, "Baby!!! When are you coming out?"
That would be extremely awesome. Much more awesome than when I went to a baby shower in my early-30s and everyone there except one other woman and me was married or widowed and babies swarmed the floor. I hadn't been to a friend's baby shower before, so I was excited to be invited to this one, and I was not expecting to feel so out of it. The other Single woman felt out of it, too, and we hung out for most of the afternoon, talking about our world travel. I wonder if frazzled mothers  overheard us and felt intensely envious and resentful. Oh to be single and childless and participate in world travel.

There are two kinds of baby showers that I know of: work baby showers and social baby showers.

Work baby showers are great because they give you an excuse to stop working, and also an excuse to duck out of the baby shower early. They aren't usually that expensive because all you have to do is chuck $10 or $20 at the woman organizing the baby shower. (At least, I hope it's only $10 or $20.) Although it is pretty ridiculous to have baby showers at work, it is a good time to witness to the Christian beliefs that babies are good and that being a mother is more important than being the purchasing manager at Beeptronics.

Social baby showers are great if you love the woman having the baby. How many of your woman friends do you love? I don't mean like. I mean love. If you love someone who is having a baby, you don't care that much about yourself and your own disappointed hopes after your first effects-of-original-sin twinge of "When will it be my turn?"  It is natural to think, "When will it be my turn?" but it would not have been before the Fall.

However, social baby showers are not great when you are the only--and I mean the only--adult woman there without any children. In fact, they can be pretty darn boring because, if the few baby showers I have been to represent the genus as a whole, women at baby showers talk a lot about their babies. And why not? If a woman can't talk about babies at a baby shower, where CAN she talk about them? I don't think it would be fair to expect fifteen women with babies to watch whatever they said so that poor childless Seraphic didn't feel sad.

By the way, for sheer grotesquerie, read an online message board for fertility challenged married women. After that, you will not complain about baby chat again. Nor will you ever want to read an online message board for the fertility challenged. Trust me. Ick.

My recommendations are as follows:

1. For work baby showers, pay up your $20, sign the card and say you are very happy for your co-worker. Have a glass of whatever and go back to your desk.

2. For social baby showers, consider the invitation carefully and ask yourself if you love the woman having the baby. Be honest. If you like her, but you don't love her, RSVP that you can't attend and send a card. If you feel guilty, send a present. Cards and presents symbolize respect. Post some respect, and nobody feels disrespected.

3. That said, if you don't love her, but you see her socially at least once a week anyway, you should accept the invitation.

4. At a baby shower, keep an eye out for the other childless women. Ask them how they know the mother-to-be and then ask them how they enjoyed the circumstance, that is, did they enjoy their high school, college, job, living in that city. If you start feeling sad at a baby shower, the attendance of other childless women can perk you up. Remember that the party is not about you but about the guest of honour.

5. Don't be dramatic or wallow in your feeling of being left out. Who knows what the other women have suffered, and yet there they are. Perhaps the mother-to-be had two miscarriages before this baby. Perhaps the cheerful woman gabbing on about breast pumps lost her first child to crib death. The great-grandmother making sandwiches in the kitchen may be thinking about how her late husband would never let her have another child. The glowing woman with the five year old may be ten days late on her period and is hoping against hope that her second baby has finally come. Fifteen women in a room means fifteen stories that are mostly secret to everyone else.

Other suggestions welcome in the combox.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Burden of Love

Love can hurt, as we all know. But not having someone to love can hurt, too. I think this one of the similarities between being Single and being childless by not-choice.

Of course, it's more complicated for Singles. Our world seems to be absolutely obsessed with pair-bonding, or a very least with the power to attract the opposite sex. The more admirers you have, the better. The more deeply and sincerely they care about you, the better. There's an amazing scene in Fellini's 8 1/2 where the hero imagines all the women he ever admired in his life living in his childhood home, telling him he is wonderful and kicking and screaming rather than be expelled from his god-like presence. The female version of this is Scarlet O'Hara in the party scene in Gone With the Wind. Of course, not even Scarlet can make all the men fall in love with her for, annoyingly, Ashley likes good little Melanie better.

Since the world has always told women that we can find our ultimate value in the eyes of good men who love us, it can hurt like absolute hell to be Single. We have to remind ourselves again and again that we find our ultimate value not in the love of human men but in the love of God. Mother Teresa was never a looker, not even when she was young. Do you think she cared? No. But when Elinor Roosevelt, who was as famous and almost as beloved a celebrity, was asked if she had any regrets about her life, she apparently said, "Just one. I wish I had been prettier."

Well, no wonder, poor lamb. Her husband cheated on her like crazy.

So on top of wanting someone to love, there is a terrible need to feel loved, and if we listen to the world and its obsession with sexual attraction, we don't think the love of God, the love of family and the love of friends are enough. In fact, the love of God, the love of family and the love of friends can seem like a hollow mockery when we don't have what the world says is the ultimate love: sexual love. Many women even hold the love of their dependent children as nothing compared to the love of a man, as is quite obvious from the women who consent to live with nasty bruisers who are a danger to their children or grandchildren.

Happily married women do not feel starved of love. But we can feel frustrated love anyway, if we do not have enough people to love. Most happily married women have a baby or more, and that does the trick, although I have come across mommy bloggers who are sad because they even though they have had their eighth baby, they would like another, and Baby Nine hasn't made an appearance.

It's interesting, this hunger to love. I am sure Single women have this, too, for I know Single women who throw themselves into service and are never happier when they are doing something for someone else, expecting nothing more than thanks. And sometimes just having the opportunity to express love is sufficient thanks because not being able to do so is such an intolerable burden.

I felt quit frustrated during my Ph.D. years when I couldn't find a way to serve others that did not conflict with going to my favourite Mass. That's why this blog exists. And I think it is a good solution. Do-gooding is only a problem when it makes others feel oppressed.

And that is the terrible thing about the burden of unexpressed love: it can make others feel oppressed, as you might if a besotted auntie kept knitting you ugly jumpers that she expected you to wear. Poor you, and poor auntie, trying to unburden her heart by way of wool. Germaine Greer writes about this in The Whole Woman, and although I am not a Germaine Greer fan, I was deeply struck by her thoughts in this book.

What is the solution? I have more ideas about fighting the inordinate need to be loved than I do about about fighting the inordinate need to love. I suppose on a spiritual level, the solution to one is the solution to the other: to pray to God for remove the inordinate feeling, every hour on the hour, if necessary. There is volunteer work, if your work is so badly needed that you know you are making a difference. And after that, there are, of course, pets.

Dog people know they are loved by their dogs. Cat people do not know they are loved by their cats. I will go out on a limb and suggest that cat people have a greater need to love than to be loved. Ditto rabbit people, I imagine. The human instinct to have pets suggests that human beings will love any order of creature rather than to have nothing or no one to love at all.

Sadly, my domestic circumstances are such that I cannot have any animal pet. I accept that: it's the price of living in the Historical House, which I dearly love to do. But having grown up in a home that was packed to the rafters with relations (and the occasional cat), I feel extremely frustrated in my maternal instincts.  So I have bought a basil plant.

This is a big step for me because I have always have a brown thumb and terrible luck with plants. But this time I am taking the survival of my basil plant alive as a challenge. I realize that this sounds extremely pathetic, but a basil plant is better than nothing. Also, unlike a cat or dog, a basil plant is very useful in that I can use some of it for seasoning meals and it doesn't mind at all.

Well, sound off in the combox.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Surviving Wedding Season

I seem to write posts like this every year! But having indulged myself in mentioning two weddings
I hate slow songs! Stupid DJ.
yesterday, I will now pay for it with a fresh new post on surviving wedding season when you are Single.

1. You do not have to go to all weddings. If invited, you probably have to go to family weddings to keep the peace, but even then there might be an out. Check with your mother.  And you should go to the weddings of your dearest friends, especially if they are in your town. But after that, no.

2. The bride won't be crushed if you don't go. If the bride is neither close family nor one of your dearest friends and you don't want to go, send your regrets ASAP. If you can afford to, send a present. It doesn't have to be a big present unless she is family and your culture demands it. The bride will like the present and will scratch your name off the list with mingled regret and relief. On the one hand, no you. On the other hand, one fewer mouth to feed. On my wedding day, my number one priority was my dress. That probably sounds bad. But really. Must. Keep. Dress. Immaculate.

3. Tell the bride to seat you at a table with cute guys, preferably her cousins. This is, of course, only if you do not know many people at the wedding. Naturally you would prefer to sit with your friends. A mix of friends and cute guys would be ideal.

4. Prepare your Getaway Hideout. You will need cab fare, a delicious snack, a new DVD you have been longing to see, warm slippers and a dressing gown. Feel free to buy new slippers and dressing gown, if you can afford them. Alternatively, plan to go to a friend's house or alternative party after the wedding reception. The important thing is to have somewhere much nicer than the wedding reception to go, should the wedding reception suddenly resemble the sixth circle of hell.

5. Dress to kill. Nothing kills your self-esteem stone dead at a wedding like realizing you look dowdy.  Go to the hairdresser or to the manicurist or to both, depending on your cash flow, and wear a great dress. Wear great shoes. Look utterly fabulous. I never looked more utterly fabulous than at the first wedding I went to after my divorce. I looked so fabulous, I confused myself with Mae West.

"I'm a doctor," said one of Single men at my table.

"Well," I said. "My mother would want me to sit next to you."

6. Carry a snack. Sometimes it takes them an hour to get dinner on the table, or the photographs take forever. If your blood sugar drops, your mood will also drop. If you carry many snacks, you can offer them secretly to famished-looking cute guys. I'd go with almonds. Peanuts are too smelly.

7. Singles' Wedding Angst happens to almost everyone. If suddenly your heart drops to your stomach, which is most likely to happen when dinner is over and the married people are groping each other on the dance floor, do not think you are weird. You are just having Singles' Wedding Angst. It's as common as a hangover.

8. But do not cry. It's the bride and groom's day. The bride is happy (I hope). She wants everyone to be happy too. Be happy. If you can't be happy, fake happy. If you can't fake happy any longer, go home. Brides are like precious baby kittens and must be protected from all unpleasantness. I'm serious. Whatever happens on a woman's wedding day, she will remember f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

8. Make your getaway.  If, during the reception, you are hit with a wave of Singles' Wedding Angst and you think you will cry or go insane, run away. Paste a smile on your face, say good-bye and thank you and congrats/best wishes to whomever you must say that too, and then get in a cab.

Once upon a time nobody was allowed to leave before the bride and groom. However, the bride and groom now often stay until 2 AM. The wedding was expensive; they want to be there for all of it. However, it is outrageous to expect absolutely everyone to stay until 2 AM. Therefore, if you do not think you can stick it out anymore, perhaps an hour after the cake cutting, say all the pretty things you must say, and flee. Don't make it look like fleeing. Walk, don't run. Smile, don't weep.

9. Don't forget you look fabulous. There you are in your cab. Do you want to go straight to your cozy hideout, or do you want to visit friends? Is there an alternative party that you know about where friends are hanging out? Are your friends out bowling? I personally find it amusing to go to bowling alleys, etc., dressed to the nines.

10. But don't be stupid.  However, if there's nothing going on, don't for heavens sake go to a bar or something like that by yourself, as if you were a jazz singer who has just been dumped by her coke-dealing boyfriend. Go home to the snack, DVD and fuzzy slippers.

IF YOU ARE THE BRIDE. Don't think too much about whether your Single friends are enjoying themselves. Put them at tables with each other and cute guys and then stop worrying. I really mean that. I drove myself crazy worrying about my Single friends and if they would come down with Singles Wedding Angst at my wedding.  It is their job, not yours, to manage their Singles Wedding Angst. Saying, "Oh my goodness, I love your dress" would be thoughtful, though. "Did you wear that for ME?"

Don't forget that my baby Graham Greenesque novel is due in July! Pre-order here or, if you seriously can't afford the shipping, you can get it from your nation's Amazon. Alternatively, you could go to your nearest bookshop and demand that they order it for you from Ignatius. Bookshops want to see you, and Ignatius has distributors in Canada and various EU countries.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Just Two Girls from Notre Dame

Very occasionally this blog sends best wishes to long-term readers who are about to get married. And I am a bit stubborn about this, since some yahoo, who obviously only read a post or two of my blog, wrote on his blog that my readers never seem to get married. Well, so much for him because sometimes my readers do.

This time it's Tess and also Holly, both of the University of Notre Dame. They're getting married tomorrow. Tess is my Number One Notre Dame fane, and Holly was my personal assistant at the Edith Stein Conference. Yes, they give speakers our own personal assistants. They do things big at Notre Dame.

So best wishes, Tess and Holly, and may God bless you in your vocation to the married life!

Kraków Appearance Postponed

The retreat in Kraków for Singles to be held in October has been cancelled. However, I have been invited to speak at the women's retreat in May 2014. Cieszę się, że jadę do Krakowa w maju bo wtedy będę umieć lepiej mówić po polsku.  

Details will be forthcoming. I am sad not to have an excuse (or the money) to go to Poland in October, but I am relieved I will not have to talk about Single life to men and women together. Speaking to a big crowd of Polish women about their personal lives, no problem. I could do it all day long in English and broken Polish and, if desperate, broken French. Speaking to a big crowd of Polish men about their personal lives, problem.

That reminds me of my last Polish appearance, and how I dropped the ball.  A Polish fan dropped by the the Kraków book fair to ask me how she could meet men. Stumped and speechless, I did not say, "What about THESE men?" After all, there were literally thousands of men at the Kraków book fair. Thousands. And she could have even have figured out what the men were interested in by what books they were looking at. Why it has taken me months to come up with that answer is a terrible mystery.

Possibly it is because I would rather have been run over by a car than attempt to talk to men at the Kraków book fair. Speaking Polish to Polish men is just extremely scary for me. I am sure all the ones who go to book fairs are very nice, but they scare me anyway. Young English-speaking ones in their twenties are okay. Most of the time.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

"We want to see the nuns!"

I could have been a nun--after I gave up the Star Trek obsession.
I've been thinking about teenage girls worrying that they'll never get married (or, thanks to Beyoncé, that nobody will "put a ring on it" ) and was reminded of my own teenage emergency plan. My emergency plan was that if I were desperate I would just go to Communist-oppressed Warsaw and casually drop my Canadian passport by "accident" outside churches after Mass. Now that I think about, this was flattering neither to Warsawians nor me, but hey, I was a teenager.

It might have been as unthinkable to my generation of teenagers that we would never, ever get married as it is to the current crop. And perhaps it was even more unthinkable because there were no young nuns around. This may make you laugh, but there were fewer young nuns when I was a teenager than there are today. And although there were about 900 girls in my convent school--by which I mean it was a school attached to a convent--there was no, no, NO attempt to interest us in the religious life. (Oh wait. There was one. More anon.)

Generations of girls were curious about the nuns, most of whom we never saw. Most of us walked past the convent part of the building, and the big chapel, to get to the door to the school. We knew they had a swimming pool somewhere, too, just for the nuns. They were among the great mysteries of the place. Where was the swimming pool? Where were the nuns?

When I began at the school, the most infirm nuns were kept on the top floor, and a door with major locks and bolts kept them safely on their side of the building. (An infirmary has since been built.) That added to our curiosity, to say nothing of our dread of old age and dementia.  In contrast, a few elderly nuns in ordinary if dowdy clothes pottered around the library. There were two or three nuns among the teachers, and the principal was a nun. Two nuns gave music lessons in a sort of musical corridor hidden behind the auditorium. So, as a matter of fact, nuns were not that hard to find. They were, perhaps, just hard to see  because they wore ordinary, boring, dowdy old lady clothes. (Except for the principal, who wore power suits.)

Boy, we hated their clothes. Have I mentioned their clothes?

I discovered more nuns when I started going to daily Mass in the chapel--something nobody ever encouraged us to do, although I believe there was an altar guild of some kind. And finally my friend Stef and I went to some nun-authority---or perhaps just the nun who sat in the porter's office near the convent doors--and said, "We want to see the nuns!"

There was some communication about this, and Stef and I were permitted to see the nuns. That is, we were permitted to visit the very oldest nuns on the third floor. And I remember us chatting with a very sweet shrunken nun with an Irish accent who might have been one hundred years old. But that is all.

I wonder if the nuns thought the 900 female barbarians of many nations who came lolloping past their convent five days of the week, white shirts untucked and blue kilts rolled, were more of a pain in the posterior than potential nuns. It's a shame because underneath our underclad exteriors beat devout, passionate and energetic hearts. We were ready to be inspired by nuns, had there been any nuns who wanted to inspire us. And as the high school program was then five years long, the nuns would have had a captive audience for five years.

Any adult in a high school has a captive audience for five years.

The one attempt to attract us to the religious life was extremely lame. When we were on retreat, I believe, a plump, bespectacled, dowdy 39+ nun (presumably the youngest around back then) was brought in to tell us about her life. She emphasized that her sexuality was not dead, and that when she saw a cute guy in a grocery store she thought, "Wow!" And she punctuated "Wow" by throwing her arms in the air.

We were very embarrassed.  Other authority figures over 39+ did not share the secrets of their sexuality with us, so we were appalled that this nun did. And I think I was actually disappointed that religious life did not kill sexual yearnings stone dead. So much for that.

Looking back, my last year of high school was the last year of my life that I could have heard a call to religious life. The summer between graduation and the first year of university I discovered I had caught my first real Catholic victim boyfriend, and that was it. The whole messy cycle of infatuation-boredom-break-up-infatuation began. And although it all worked out in the end, and I have B.A.,  I must say I am an eensy bit cross.

But I do not blame the poor nuns. As a matter of fact, when I was 38, a few weeks before I came to Scotland and met B.A., a nun at that very convent crept up to me while I was strolling the grounds and asked me if I had ever considered joining the order. (Bless her heart!) No, I blame history, really. I was a teenager in the 1980s, when religious life in my city was at its zenith nadir. The Sisters of Life, the first of the "new" nuns, did not get started until the year after my graduation, and it was some years before they came to Toronto. Amazingly, they had habits. When I first saw a Sister of Life in person, I was blown away. A nun...a young a habit! She looked beautiful.

I am absolutely delighted that the situation is so much better for young women today and there are now religious orders with young women in them, religious orders whose charism I can really get behind. And, realizing that I am probably more read by teachers than by teenagers, I implore readers to make sure teenage girls actually know about them.  When I was eighteen/nineteen and thinking about religious life, I really had nowhere to go and no-one to speak to who was not old (or "old"). Nobody really welcomed me or encouraged me, and of course I gave up the idea as soon as the first cute NCB asked me to be his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, nineteen is not too late for other women. I know two women who went to the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Cecilia at Ryde, one after finishing her PhD, and one some years after finishing her B.A.  In my UK circles, the Sisters of Saint Cecilia is where you go, darling, if they'll take you.  And in the USA and Canada there are of course the Sisters of Life, not to mentioned the fabled Tennessee Dominicans and the Dominican nuns (average age 28) in Ann Arbor, MI.

Of course there are other orders, too, but these are the ones I think of first, as they are the ones most attractive to younger women--and to me. As I never cease to brag, the Tennessee Dominicans turned me down sight unseen, and I would never want to join any order that would have me. I mean, come on. They'd have to be desperate, and this is not humility speaking. It is self-knowledge.

I wonder if religion teachers ever arrange class trips to convents and monasteries....? Just throwing that out there.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Teenager's Job

It's Teenage Week at Seraphic Singles, mostly because I talked to a woman recently about a terrible dating relationship she suffered as a teen. It would have been great if an adult had noticed what was going on and stepped in. She was, unfortunately, the kind of teenager who never tells her parents anything. I was just going to say that my parents couldn't shut me up, but of course that is not true: I never told them about my café co-worker's description of the huge bowl of cocaine at a party downtown. And after I went to university I quickly learned to shut up about stuff that seemed to give my parents mini-seizures at the dinner table.

In hindsight I was a kid all through high school and a teenager all through university. That so explains a lot. But enough about me.

The last time I did a poll, I did not have a big teenage readership. This is a relief to me because I do not like the idea of teenagers thinking of themselves as Single. Although Catholic teenagers should start thinking and praying about their adult vocations right after Confirmation, I really see no good reason why they should identify with unmarried people over 25. Even if in your community (e.g. rural Poland), most people marry at 21 or 22, at 15 or 18 you should be focused on learning. Your brains are soft and pink and spongy and will never be able retain so much information so easily again.

Also? Sunscreen. Sunscreen, my little teenage poppets! Although for the past 20 years I have been very careful indeed about the sun, I had a really bad burn as a teenager and as I dab super-exciting Polish anti-wrinkle cream around my 39+ eyes, I wonder if I'm seeing the long-term damage only now. Never forget that if you don't die first, you'll be forty. And if you make it to forty, you will either bless or curse your younger self for its attitude towards the sun.

Occasionally teenagers write to me about attracting boys, and I send back probably unsatisfactory letters about the importance of learning. But honestly the job of the teenager is to pray, to obey her parents (in so far as she is not damaged thereby) and to learn about the world. And by learning about the world, I do not mean repeating her teachers' political opinions. (Only my worst, craziest teacher allowed herself political opinions.) I mean how things work and what things are called and what various words mean. I mean reading books and listening to lectures on art, music, math, science, theology, poetry, history, geography, computer programming and languages.

I also recommend that, alongside the latest books and lectures, you read books by, and listen to speeches by, men and women who were famous before 1963. For example, Winston Churchill is going to have a take on the British Empire that you are unlikely to hear in many schools today. And if you are English and feeling depressed about it (as too many people want you to be), Winston will surprise and cheer you.*

I recommend, also, that teenagers write, draw, paint and compose as much as they possibly can. Youth culture is obsessed with music and dance, and even when I was a teenager, teenagers reconstructed pop videos for performance at school assemblies. That's okay, but how much better it is when teenagers write their own songs and choreograph their own dances. In fact, that's how pop music gets going

I do not recommend that high school students become politically active. Why? Because adult activists exploit the enthusiasm and idealism of the young, that's why. Adults get huge ego-rushes from young disciples, and very often the young pay adult activists a lot more respect and attention than the adult activists deserve. In return the adult activists pay back in cheap coin: "Aren't these kids great? Everyone give them a round of applause." Adult activists can become like parents, but unlike real parents they don't care about you as much as they care about the Cause. Instead of tempering your youthful enthusiasm, they exclaim over your heroism and wave to you cheerfully from outside the prison windows. I speak as a former very politically active, once-spent-an-entire-afternoon-behind-bars teenager.

If you hunger and thirst for justice, then wait until you are in college, at the earliest, or your twentieth birthday for political stuff. (More obviously charitable stuff, like feeding the poor, is okay under trusted adult supervision.) Political action involves giving yourself, and as a teenager you don't have a unified self to give yet.  You are highly impressionable, and that very impressionability should be used for your good. Think learning fluent German, not learning fluent ideologue.

I am trying to recall how mad I would have been if someone told me I didn't have a unified self yet and my brain was still rewiring itself. Frankly, I think I would have been relieved.

*History is taught differently from country to country, as you will find out if you leave your country and travel. If you want to be thought of as a truly educated person by Europeans, you must know the history of the Second World War, not just from the perspective of your countrymen, but from the perspective of other European nations involved in the conflict (and India). I do not recommend ever mentioning the Second World War, but--believe me--the subject still comes up.

If you are American, be ready to explain, without defensiveness or rancour, why the USA did not enter the war until 1941. If you are British, be ready to explain why Britain did not attack Germany immediately after declaring war. Always remember that what you were taught in school was not what others were taught in school, and what your grandparents told you is not what others' grandparents told them. If you hear something that surprises you, there is nothing wrong with saying, "That surprises me! I never heard that. Tell me more." Then sneak off and look it up on the internet.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Teen Romance Myth

It's Teenage Week here on Seraphic Singles as I ruefully survey my own teenage years and my adult conclusions that teenage dating is pointless, stupid and risky.

Yeah, good morning to you, too.

My friend Lily and I have an ongoing argument as to whether it is better to have dated a lot, which teaches you much stuff about relationships (says Lily), or to have dated only a little, which leaves you less jaded about the whole thing (says I). Personally, I think you can learn a lot about relationships just from having a lot of acquaintances and friends, male and female. There is no need to start going on dates at fourteen or eighteen or whatever. 

My thoughts keep returning to my leafy suburb in the 1980s and my assumption then that teenage dating was the norm and having a boyfriend would be simply heaven on earth.  I suppose it started in elementary school and "going around." From about Grade 5--which is to say, when my classmates and I were ten--life would be enlivened with rumours that Jennifer, say, was "going around" with Jason. "Going around" generally meant that they paid each other marked attentions, to the increased social status of both. 

I now grind my teeth at the fact that couplehood increased social status from the age of TEN. That's how it was, however, and it's not like it was anything new, for even Tom Sawyer had a girlfriend back in 1873 and Anne Shirley was, of course, greatly admired by Gilbert from the age of  11 or 12.  

To tempt girls into reading, my elementary school library stocked many teen romance novels. They were very enjoyable. They provided the script to teenage life--with one problem. They did not at all reflect teenage life as many of my friends and I would live it. Naturally, I assumed our lives were wrong, not the romance novels. And I waited for the teen romance script to start unfolding in vain.

One of the marked differences between the novel-world and the real world was that the girls in the novel-world all went to co-ed high schools and my friends and I went to girls' high school. I would not have exchanged my school for a co-ed school, but it did limit the opportunity to be friends with boys. I am sorry for this because I think it would have been better to see boys as colleagues and friends instead of as Potential Boyfriends.  

Potential Boyfriends could be found at boys' school dances, and such dances were the highlight of my teenage life. I cannot think of anything in adult life that approximates the glamour and excitement of a Catholic boys' school dance.  Not that I ever got a boyfriend from such a thing. I could have, but I was never interested in the boys interested in me and the boys I was interested in were never interested in me, and that's how it was. I never went on more than one date with the same guy until I was 18. 

In case you are now feeling depressed because you did not go on any dates in high school, I should underscore that this was in the 1980s in a city with a huge and varied immigrant population. Immigrant populations are by nature conservative and old-fashioned. Courtship behaviour--as opposed to just hanging out and getting as much as you can get--is conservative and old-fashioned. Which, now that I think about it, makes the fact that I asked guys out ("Of course you can ask, ladies, it's the Eighties!") all the more stupid.   

As you may have noticed, it hurts one's feelings never to get to a second date, and so I thought there was something seriously wrong and unattractive about me. Alas. What was mostly wrong is that I was too busy looking for signs that a teen romance novel was about to start to notice the details of real life.

Real life for friends who had boyfriends often involved sexual negotiations that the romance novels, pitched for twelve year olds, forgot to mention. And luckily for highly idealistic me, who believed firmly in the morality of Much Ado About Nothing (i.e. better to be thought dead than a sexual sinner), I did not have to cope with this until I was 18.

It would be terribly funny to make a teen novel out of dating Iqbal. I am not sure it would be suited for the American market even though Iqbal hated the mujahideen* as much as he hated the Russians (i.e. the Soviets). On the other hand, it could be a Canadian Literature classic, since I am sure the Canadian Left would absolutely SWOON over the idea of dating a 22 year old Muslim refugee. Thanks to the bizarre new affinity of the Left for Islam, be it ever so fundamentalist, there is just something so CBC about Iqbal remonstrating with a friend in the CN Tower Revolving Restaurant for drinking a beer. Obviously I was ahead of my time. 

Why am I telling you this stuff for free instead of winning the Giller Prize? I shall have to keep some details to myself. At any rate, Iqbal appeared in the café where I worked after school and put a lot of change in the tip jar, while mentioning that charitable giving was one of the Five Pillars of Islam. I had only heard once before of the Five Pillars of Islam. Back then Islam was just one of the Great World Religions, which I associated with the baklava-like pastry whichever Catholic elementary school classmates handed out during their class presentation on Islam. 

Iqbal followed up his charitable giving later by offering to walk me home, so we had a nice walk up Yonge Street, arguing about whether or not men were more intelligent than women. Iqbal's principal argument was that the Koran said so, and eventually I went looking for the Koran in the school library to find out if it did, and after a very long and boring search I found out that it did.  

 In hindsight I wonder why I got involved with someone who so adamantly believed that men were more intelligent than women, but it may have been because I promised to help him with his English. And also I found Iqbal very attractive although for the life of me I could not tell you why. Maybe it was his older brother's cologne, which he stole on a regular basis. Of course I felt sorry for him, too, as he had been in a Red Cross camp in Pakistan after climbing over mountains out of Afghanistan and suspected that his mother was dead and his siblings back in Kabul were hiding this from him.

Total Giller Prize. Seriously, I should be charging you money today.

Anyway, to return to the theme of the perils of teen dating, nobody had told Iqbal that NCGs don't put out, as I assumed the whole world knew. To my horror, I discovered that he was very confused by this concept, for he had had a Catholic girlfriend in Montreal and she had certainly put out. How mad was I that there were some Catholic girls who had fallen so low as to wreck our chaste reputation and necessitate us having, like Protestant girls, to give The Talk. Iqbal did not seem to take The Talk very seriously, and accused me of having slept with someone else, so I slapped him. 

Slapping men is generally a bad idea even though it always works in the movies, and if the guy protests Humphrey Bogart is there to say "You'll be slapped and like it." But this occasion, however, it actually worked like it does in the movies and although momentarily annoyed Iqbal was vastly amused.  Now that I think about it, the most effective way to communicate with Iqbal was not like a well-brought up Anglo-Saxon Torontonian but like a Shakespearean drama queen. 

"Do you see this bit of paper?" demanded the Shakespearean drama queen who, don't forget, was only eighteen and believed completely in the moral message of Much Ado about Nothing

"Yes," said Iqbal.

I dropped it on the dirty pavement and ground it under my heel. Then I picked it up and illustrated its grubbiness.

"That would be me if I agreed to sleep with you," I trumpeted.

"Ooooh ahhhhh," cried Iqbal, taking away the piece of paper and trying to de-grub it by brushing it with his hand. "Oooccchhhh! Nooooo!"

Now that I am 39+ I certainly don't believe that although I think it very helpful to my general health and well-being that I believed it at 18. I am not sure Iqbal believed that either, since he hated the mujahideen and came from an educated family. However, he did start thinking about marriage at that point, ROFL.

Being a Shakespearean drama queen, although/because the epitome of emotional honesty, exhausted me, so I broke up with Iqbal rather soon after that and firmly decided that I would date only boys who (A) were unlikely to need The Talk and (B) spoke fluent English. 

Dear me, what a long post. Feel free to chat in the combox about your experiences with either teenage dating or foreign men, i.e. foreign to you. 

*The Taliban back when they were still just soldiers and everybody--except the Soviets, educated Afghans and my mother--seemed to like them.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Important of Telling Grown-Ups Stuff

Being a teenager was difficult, but I was lucky. Until I was eighteen, I mooned around vaguely wishing I had a boyfriend. I never had to actually deal with having a boyfriend.

Now I don't want to demonize teenage boyfriends. It could be that many, perhaps the majority, of teenage boyfriends are like boyfriends on television or romance novels or movies like Juno, where the person calling all the shots is the girlfriend. It probably is that there are as many different kinds of teenage boys as there are different kinds of grown men. I don't really know because I went to an all-girls school, and generally I only ever saw teenage boys in the bus station and at dances.

But, as you can imagine, girls in my school talked about boys and boyfriends quite a lot. I knew one girl whose boyfriend was a perfect gentleman, who called her once a week, and took her out once a week. I knew another girl--actually at least two--whose boyfriend pressured her for sex. And I knew another girl whose boyfriend said he would never pressure her for sex because he loved her.  I knew girls who never lacked for boyfriend because boys asked them out all the time, and I knew girls who were absolutely forbidden to date. I knew a girl who entered into an arranged marriage right after high school. (I know what you're thinking, but actually she was Italian.)

Many of us talked incessantly about boys, which was probably a good thing, but I am not so sure many of us talked to adults about what was going on, even when what was going on was seriously messed-up. You would think that a girl being pressured to have sex by her boyfriend would tell her parents, but only if you have completely forgotten what it is like to be a teenage girl. Teenage girls develop strong feelings of loyalty towards other teenagers, and get mad when their parents don't respect these feelings.

Parents run roughshod over teen friendships at their peril: my mum's response to my crying over a sexually active friend's bad treatment by her sexually active boyfriend was to tell me not to be friends with that girl any more. What I wanted to hear was something like, "That's very sad. It's very sad that So-and-so, who is such a nice, friendly girl, was so poorly treated. Teenage sexual relationships are such a bad idea, because teenage girls' emotional intensity crashes into teenage boys' horniness like a truck. I wish they would drop Romeo and Juliet from the curriculum." Meanwhile, my poor mum had probably read some newspaper article about how girls are more likely to have premarital sex if their friends have premarital sex and did not know that I would rather have thrown myself out a window than have had premarital sex.

Parents are not mind-readers, so as embarrassing as it is, teenage girls should strive to tell their parents what they think, believe and value and not just shut up and go away and stop telling adults anything. However, if it is just too agonizing to tell parents stuff, then teenage girls should talk to trusted adults, and by trusted adults, I mean favourite aunts and uncles, grandparents, favourite female teachers and, perhaps, guidance counselors and youth ministers.

Update: Drat. Blogger is going very weird things today, and I have just lost half this post.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

A Rare but Heartfelt Endorsement

I have been neglecting my reponsibilities to the blogging community by not mentioning other blogs I like. So I should mention the Orthogals today, because they are a hoot. Here's what they wrote about trying to find fellow Eastern Orthodox Christians on dating websites.

The struggles of young men and women in small, devout, liturgically, er, colourful Christian communities cut across ye olde ecumenical divide. One of the problems is the small dating pool. Another is that the small dating pool is full of people stubborn and eccentric enough to belong to a small, devout, liturgically colourful Christian community instead of to much bigger and much more easy-going communities. And if the people are stubborn and eccentric about religion, they might be stubborn and eccentric about other things, too.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as love. If you fall in love with someone, you don't care if he is obsessed with Peak Oil or the JFK assassination. Maybe, out of love, you too will read up on Peak Oil and stare at grainy images of grassy knolls. And if he falls in love with you, he will fall in love with your collection of garden trolls and forgive you for your obsessive and somewhat embarrassing hatred of whales.

A Word about Math

I very much enjoyed reading responses to yesterday's question, "What if you were kidnapped by space aliens and they zapped you with alien technology so that all your XX chromosomes warped into XY chromosomes and when you regained consciousness, you were really and truly a man?"

The point of the exercise was to ponder what it might be like to be a man. Occasionally I ask men what it is like to be men and they usually say they have nothing to compare it with, so they don't know what to tell me. Possibly this is to avoid saying, "It's like being intellectually shackled to a frustrated sex maniac," which is not something the men I know would like to say to inquisitive NCGs.

Anyway, in this thought exercise some of us changed our professions, not just because our imaginary new muscles gave us new opportunities, but because we figured our new male brains would give us other interests. And this is why conscience directs me to say something about women and math. 

I grew up in Canada, and I believed that girls were bad at math. I believed that girls were bad at math because in Canada and the USA, it was believed that girls were bad at math. I can't quite remember when I hit the rocky patch in elementary school that convinced me that I was bad at math, but I remained firmly convinced. My struggles with math blighted my teenage life. So much time wasted in worry, self-hated and procrastination. I wish with all my heart I had spent the summer between Grade 8 and Grade 9, or between Grade 9 and Grade 10, learning that I could learn to do math. 

It was not until I went to Rome two years ago and met an Eastern European reader who is also a mathematician that I heard that most women in Eastern Europe can do math. I already suspected that education was different for women in Eastern Europe, at least in Communist times, because years before I had met a young Slovak nun who had been trained as an electrician. She did not at all think it odd that she had been trained as an electrician. However, I did not realize that there was such a gap between North American women and Eastern European women when it came to math and science. And it shocked my Eastern European mathematician reader to the core that women in the USA were, in general, so deficient in math and science skills, and had so much less of an interest in math and science than women in her country.* 

It seems that the gender gap between English-speaking women and English-speaking men when it comes to math is about culture, not brains.  It may be true that men are more likely to be TOP mathematicians ( I just checked the Faculty list for Warsaw University and  only 77 of the 330 people on the Mathematics, Informatics and Mechanics are women.) However, this in itself is no reason to despair that more American, Canadian and British women could become skilled in math. 

It's amazing how our assumptions about gender and intellectual ability can hold us back. I was struck by the remark of a young Polish man who glumly decided that women were better at languages. He was almost entirely fluent in English. 

In a climate where it amounts to a thought-crime to say that men and women are fundamentally and radically different, I believe that men and women are fundamentally and radically different, and that our differences are complementary. However, I do not think that these differences involve intellectual ability, at least not on anything but the elite level. (This is to say that I believe that something besides culture has resulted in more top male mathematicians than top female mathematicians.)   

One day I hope to prove this to myself, too, by going to night school and learning all the math I so frustratingly could not learn in high school. Meanwhile, I do wish there was the same panic around girls not being able to excel in math as there is about boys not being able to read. When boys can't read, nobody says, "Oh well. Boys can always just become hunters, trappers or fishermen."

*True story: I was translating a Communist-era Polish comic song about mathematicians, and I got entirely bogged down in a line where one of the mathematicians clumsily kisses another mathematician. I was completely confused that there was such a explicitly homosexual element to this Communist-era song. A Polish girl (a biochemist) had to explain to me that the other mathematician was a woman. Isn't that pathetic? I was so ashamed.  

Friday, 17 May 2013

Extreme Empathy

Thanks to your prayers, I slept like a log. I don't have to go in for this blood test for some hours yet, so I will calm myself by returning to "Let's Praise Men Week." (In case you didn't read my terrified midnight post, by 14:20 British Summer Time I will be in a waiting-room waiting to have a blood test. I suffer from an irrational fear of blood tests, so there is a Pray-for-Seraphic campaign going on.)

Today's topic is, "What if you were kidnapped by space aliens and they zapped you with alien technology so that all your XX chromosomes warped into XY chromosomes and when you regained consciousness, you were really and truly a man?"

Being married to a former lecturer in Philosophy, I already know that there are deep theological and philosophical objections to this question. I also know that men so much hate thinking about what women they know would be like if they were men that I am recommending Anonymous replies from all Single women today, so that the sneaky Eavesdroppers don't start picturing you as men and throw up.

It is, however, too late for B.A. who said he didn't want to think of me as a man, and anyway if aliens turned me into a man there would be no me anymore, and no continuity between the woman that was and the man that is, and the soul is the form of the body, and my soul is feminine so how could I have a feminine soul and an actually male (because totally XY, responding to androgen, etc.) body at the same time? Et cetera. Et cetera. Men are simply no fun at all when you ask "What if I were kidnapped by space aliens and they changed me from a woman to a man?"

So never mind them. Paradoxically, we will have to ignore men's squeamishness in our quest to identify with them. Today we are going to imagine what we would be like if space aliens transformed us brain and body into men, leaving us with our memories intact.

There should be some honesty here, though. Don't say you would look like Ryan Gosling unless your brother looks like Ryan Gosling. (One of my brothers is a dead ringer for Ryan Philippe, but I am waiving my right to look like Ryan Philippe.) And don't say you would be a tall dark guy if you are a short red-headed woman. The idea is that the aliens have zapped you in such a way that if you mother saw you, she would do a double-take, for you would look exactly like a son she never had, like a male version of her daughter who, sadly, was abducted by space aliens.

For example, I am the shortest woman in my family, so I don't think my alien zapping would make me any taller than 5'7". I would be a short, healthy, moderately fit, nearsighted, ginger-headed man of 39+. Male pattern baldness is present but not a given in my family, so I'm choosing to imagine I would have a bit of a receding hairline. To make up for this receding hairline--stop reading now, B.A.!--I would be otherwise hirsute, like a ginger Sean Connery.

Poor me. Thanks to these cruel space aliens, I am now a short, fit, hairy yet slightly balding, ginger, 39+ year old man. Fortunately I live in Scotland, so I could blend right in after the scientists let me go. (I know from the annals of science fiction that the first thing that happens after space aliens zap you is that scientists do a lot of intrusive tests.) Obviously I would divorce poor B.A. at once, and let the canon lawyers sweat over the annulment process. Stumped you now, canon lawyers!

The first thing I would do is to refuse to talk to a grief counselor about my losses because my XY brain would hate that kind of thing. Then I would go to the gym. Every day. Maybe twice a day. Obsessively.

If  I were zapped, I would be all about upper body strength. Never mind male social privilege. I'm 39+, so it would be too late to reap the most of the benefits of what remains of that. I would simply be stronger, and doors would be easier to push open, and groceries lighter to carry, and I would want more and more of this magic physical strength power. I would also want to be stronger than  the other men around because a male version of me would most definitely be thinking, "I could take 'im. I could take 'im, too. That one might be difficult."

In terms of work, I would march into the retraining center and learn a lucrative, upper-body-strength trade like fishing or plumbing. (Okay, plumbing is way more lucrative than fishing.) B.A. says I wouldn't, and I would be bored, but I am telling you, if the aliens zapped me, all I would care about would be (A) strength and (B) money. My present reluctance to allow people to tell me what to do would sky-rocket and so either the fellowship of fishing boats or being an independent contractor would be the way to go, not some white-collar job being pleasant to managers. Ick. I would spend holidays doing all the stuff I would be way too afraid to do as a woman, keeping in mind that although I could take on a lot of bad guys, I could not take on all of them, or more than two at once. Going camping by myself would be really cool, as would hitchhiking across Europe on my own. Were I 25, I would still worry about truckers making passes at me, but being 39+, not so much.

In spare moments, if I had any, between work, the gym, and eating high protein suppers out of cans, I would write philosophical reflections on being a fisherman or a plumber. For company I would go down to  the pub and drink too much or go to a football game. If the budget allowed and I still lived in Edinburgh, I would most definitely get season tickets for Easter Road. No matter how lousy Hibernians are playing, they are my team and that's just the way it is. For relief I would occasionally take a cheap Ryan Air flight to Germany and watch Bayern.

My problems would involve loneliness and wanting to be friends with women while fearing they might look at me as if I were either a potential rapist or the solution to all their problems.

I would worry that people wouldn't be my friend or hire me if they found out I was that guy who was a woman until completely zapped by space aliens, so I would never ever talk about it or admit it.

I would worry a lot about having  enough money saved against the day I just couldn't lift heavy stuff  anymore, although hopefully I would eventually hire guys to work for me. Plumbing is really starting to look better than fishing.

I would be a bit worried about being beaten up, but generally men  don't like to pick fights with short, middle-aged gingers with the muscles I would obsessively develop. (I might go back into boxing, too.)

I would hate going to the doctor even more than I do now, and sulk when he told me I drank too much.

I would go mental over the extremely lousy playing of Hibernians.

I would also go mental if tall men stood very close to me in an attempt to intimidate me with their height.  Bad idea, Stretch.

If I were still straight--weird thought--I guess I might eventually get married so as not to be so lonely, but only to a woman who really loved her job and didn't complain all the time about being bored and unfulfilled. I would like having kids, for sure, especially if my wife believed the Man is the Head of the Family and the Woman is the Heart of the Family stuff the priest says, so that my familial duties were mostly reduced to shouting and handing out pocket money.

If B.A. reads this he is going to wonder how the aliens managed to make me working-class as well as male. The truth is I would not want to be a middle-class guy after 39+ years of being a middle-class woman. If I had to give up being a woman, I would really be all about strength, money and calling all the shots in my life, and that would mean a decent trade. Besides, I saw Fight Club, and I do not want middle-class guy problems. No way. No way, Hosea.

Well, I enjoyed that. Your turn. I very strongly suggest you remain Anonymous for this one. Or, to really freak out the Eavesdroppers with impunity, pick a guy's name. Don't give yourself any advantages you are not likely to have. If you are a short girl, ponder the difficulties short men face. If you are a tall girl, exult in the unfair advantage tall men get in this unfair world.

P.S. Don't forget to pray for me at 14:20 BST (8:20 in Chicago, 9:20 in Toronto, 15:20 in Berlin and Warsaw).

UPDATE: Here I am back from the medical center. Thanks to all those who prayed, either before or at or after 14:20 BST! I think the first needle went in around 14:35. At any rate, the nurse was very kind and listened hard when we discussed how we were going to do this. I didn't cry and I didn't freak out. I made myself do the stuff I had to do (like straighten my arm) and when the needle went in I just said "+Jesus+-remember-me-until-You-come-into-Your-kingdom" under my breath about 250 times in the space of 90 seconds or however long it took to get three vials of blood out of my poor wee arm.

"Whatever you're saying, it's working," said the kind Scottish nurse.

I did not think that up in advance; that's just what came out, and later I wondered why that particular wording. And then I realized: Taizé. Which is very funny given my mad traddery, but there it is. And I was very comforted, indeed, as I hurried to the centre, to know readers were praying for me. Vobis gratias ago.


Long-term readers know that I am scared of British doctors. However, I made myself speak to one two weeks ago. She understood right away when I said that IVF was out of the question, so I tried not to mind that she consistently used the word "fetus" instead of "baby" and mentioned "termination" twice.  There is a measles epidemic in Wales, the effects of which could be catastrophic to a "fetus" and she supposed I would consider a "termination" out of the question. Yes, I said. I would consider it out of the question.  So this means being checked for immunity to measles on top of everything else.

Anyway, since I have been declared clear of the yucky diseases all wannabe mums get tested for, the next step is blood tests. And this may sound very silly and wimpy, but I hate blood tests more than anything, even dental surgery. I am more frightened of being tied off like a junkie than I am of speaking in public, speaking in public in Polish, and sleeping overnight by myself on the floor of Stansted airport the night before speaking in public in Polish.   

I usually weep, which is not very nice for whoever has to do the job, and I am afraid that if I get hysterical, they won't do the blood test at all. And poor B.A. is in charge at work tomorrow afternoon, and his mother is in Dundee, and I don't want to fall apart in front of a friend or make a friend come all the way from central Edinburgh just to watch me freak out for ten minutes. Thus, I am going in alone.

I know. It's a First World problem. And maybe if I had concentrated less on my "career" and more on getting married and having kids, blah blah blah blah blah. But, actually, the older I get, the more likely it is I will have to give blood anyway. The sooner I get over this irrational phobia, the better. 

At this point, I think I need supernatural aid. Would readers remember to pray for me tomorrow at 2:20 PM (14:20) British Summer Time? This is 8:20 AM in Chicago and 9:20 AM in Boston and Toronto and 15:20 in Poland and Germany. That way when I am waiting in the hallway---and it is a nice hallway, really, newly painted white, with lots of natural light and fresh pinewood fittings--I can think of you who are already awake praying, and I will feel a lot better. I don't care if it hurts. (It will. My veins are small, and in the past they have always poked around trying to find a good one.) I just don't want to panic or cry. 

I am sure it would be helpful. Thank you in advance.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Unsuccessful Matchmaker

It's "Let's Praise Men Week" here on Seraphic Single because whether or not y'all are Serious Singles or Searching Singles, getting along with men is something we have to do. Sometimes this is difficult, so it is good to concentrate on the virtues of the good ones we know and the ornamental charms of scrumptious strangers. Ooh la la.

Of course, we cannot reduce men to mere sex objects, even if it crosses the mind of some of the eavesdroppers that they would not mind this.  But if they think they wouldn't mind, it's because they don't realize that young women usually reduce men to mere sex objects by expecting them to act like Ryan Gosling in a Ryan Gosling film or like the hero of whichever romance novel we they last read. Young women's imaginary sex objects say a lot of nice things and scatter diamond bracelets like frost from a windscreen.  Possibly some older women are a lot more like men when they we reduce people to sex objects, although I imagine all those poor Egyptian waiters must have to work very hard and tell a lot of lies for their British and German old lady tips.

What a thought. Anyway, here is the letter:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

What are your thoughts on the following situation?

 A pleasant young bachelor has recently entered my social circle (rather devoid of eligible males) and one of my good friends has a crush on him. He has paid her some attention, but hasn't asked her out. I wanted to get the two of them together, so I organized a group event and invited them both. The young man was unable to attend, so that effort didn't go anywhere.

However, lately he has been paying me some attention, possibly thinking that since I invited him out I am interested in him. I didn't intend to send that signal, and I am worried about my friend thinking I am pursuing him and feeling hurt. She has told me, unprovoked, that she thinks it is awful when girls get territorial about someone who isn't actively dating them, but I know it would hurt her feelings all the same.

I am not particularly attracted to the young man, but he is pleasant and civilized, and if my friend weren't interested I would probably say yes if asked for coffee, in hopes he would turn out to be a fascinating and dashing character. On the other hand, I think he could be just right for my friend and wish he had the sense to ask her out. Unfortunately, though, my friend is very reserved around people she likes.

Should I tell mutual (married) female friends that I wish he would ask my friend out (knowing they will repeat it to him) or is this going too far?

Am I really, really, over-thinking this one?

Unsuccessful Matchmaker

Dear Unsuccessful Matchmaker,

I'm delighted that a pleasant young bachelor has entered your social circle, especially as eligible males are rare there. It is too bad that your friend came down with a crush on him, but that is not unusual. In fact, it would be odd if nobody got a crush on a pleasant new young bachelor.

Your email is pleasantly full of the guessing, second-guessing and machinations I expect in any nice social circle of young people, but, yes, it all adds up to over-thinking, frustration and, worst of all, DRAMA.   

I have many thoughts. 

The first is that the pleasant young bachelor is a human being and potential friend in his own right, and only he gets to decide which girl he is into. Your first attempt to attract him to your friend failed; stop trying to attract him to your friend. Stop. Stop at once. I know you are fond of your friend, but the one thing you cannot give her is The True Love of a Good Man. A new lipstick, yes. Mr. New Guy, no. So DON'T involve your mutual friends.

The second is that I would not at all be surprised if he took your invitation to a group event as your action on your own behalf (or, better, his own) and as evidence that you think he is a decent human being you'd like to spend time with. This is one reason why it is good to invite a man to parties instead of on dates: it signals interest in him as a human being without giving off aggressive vibes. The man now thinks, "Ah, at least in all this crowd of strangers, I know the woman who invited me to her party/group event must like me a little." It could be the little dab of encouragement a man needs. Smiles help, too.

The third is that you could save a lot of time and guesswork by asking your friend how she would feel if you did go for coffee with Mr New Guy. You don't, in fact, know how she feels. You won't know until you ask her. And you don't actually need to ask her unless Mr New Guy does ask you out for coffee or unless she repeats her cryptic remark.

Meanwhile, Mr New Guy has not asked you out for coffee, and possibly never will, especially not if you have started behaving coldly to him (if you have) as a way to bounce his regard from you to your friend. All that will do is confuse the poor man, and you don't want, at the end of your life, to hear Someone say, "I was a stranger, and you only welcomed me until I didn't fall in love with your friend."

I hope this is helpful. 

Grace and peace,

It occurred to me after I wrote this letter that Mr New Guy might prefer sunny, confident, busy women who organize group events to reserved girls who are too scared to talk to men they think are cute. Some men prefer the quiet, shy type, and some men don't. Meanwhile, a new guy is almost always going to feel a bit awkward coming into a new group, so of course he is going to gravitate towards the funny, friendly dames who invite him to group stuff. It's the confident, established guy who is most likely to notice the shrinking violet in the corner.

Update: Okay, okay. I admit that many of the British and German old ladies who go on holiday to Egypt, Turkey, Cuba and other places packed with good-looking dark-eyed young men do not make the first move and actually believe their waiters/tour guides/drivers when they say that age means nothing and that they love them.

And I also admit that many of these waiters/tour guides/drivers are not motivated by love of money but by love of unpaid sex with exotic foreign women who are leaving in a week.

Really, it should not be an ego-boost to be 45+ and hit on by an 20-something Egyptian. It should be an ego-boost to be 45+ and hit on by a 20-something year old Swede. If, when I am 45+, I am hit on by a 20-something Swede, I will buy him a drink as I indicate my wedding ring and then rush off to brag blog with glee.

Update 2: Just remembered I was recently hit on by a 20-something Swede. Yay, me!

Update 3: Actually, I think he was probably over 30. Oh, well.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Let's Tell Men What to Wear

How much if you throw in the lot?
Kidding! I'm just kidding. I belong to the "Accept them as you find them, or leave 'em alone" school of thought. That title was just to spark a discussion about what we like men to wear. I suspect men are interested in what women like them to wear even though if we told them what to wear they would get all mulish, like a ten year old who has decided he is old enough not to have to listen to his mother's opinion on the topic anymore. And fair enough.

But I think it sad that clothes are so ugly now. Last night B.A. and I went out to see  Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes, a French film noir of 1955, and I was charmed by how, even on their way to a heist, the French crooks wore snappy suits. The street scenes of Paris showed every man, young or old, in a smart suit and every woman, young or old, similarly well-turned out.

Where did you get that hat?
Okay, sure. The crooks walloped their ex-mistresses or slapped their wives on their behinds and said "Run along now, chérie." I'm not holding up the Paris Underworld of 1955 as some sort of model society. But their clothes were better than ours.

This is what I was thinking as our double-decker bus stopped at stop after stop, and I looked down (literally) on the crowds of people in black, grey and denim blue jackets, sweats, jeans. Urgh.

Fortunately, this is Scotland, and here many men choose to wear kilts to sporting events. Unless they were bought for £20 by a tourist in a tartan tat shop or worn without socks, kilts are inherently smart, even with a rugby shirt. A guy who goes to a rugby game in a kilt, knee socks and rugby shirt or (better) cable-knit pullover is infinitely better dressed than 99% of the men who don't.

Also infinitely better dressed than the average guy at an Edinburgh bus stop is a Young Fogey in tweed. No matter how wild the neuroses and opinions of a Young Fogey become, at least he presents a pleasant appearance.

Feel free to tell the men of the world via my combox what they should wear. They can't see you, so they may actually pay attention. Continuing this week's "let's praise men" theme, emphasize the great outfits you've seen men wearing.