Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Last Week: 3. Focus on Friends

Pals, Not Prey

"I'm going to the Newman Centre to find a husband," I announced to my parents one evening. "Pray to St. Joseph for me."

I was well over thirty at the time, and I remember that my father in particular was amused by my bluntness. While convalescing from grad school in the US, I was given to loud, dramatic statements like that. "I'm a ripe fruit withering on the vine," was another one.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said my kindly father.

It was a rather dull evening at the Newman Centre, I remember. We half-watched the Dorothy Day movie while we talked and I looked in vain for husband material. I was well-behaved and boring, which probably did not stand me in good stead. It's a good thing I was rather blunter with my blog-pal Aelianus and said things like, "I want to get married. Who do you have for me, Aelianus? I'm looking at your Facebook friends..."

I met Benedict Ambrose because of Aelianus, Boeciana and Berenike, who were all blog-friends in the UK, devout Roman Catholics of great intellectual integrity, fans of my writing, beginning with my serial "Why Seraphic Hung Up Her Gloves" (renamed The Flyer's Ring). I came to the UK to meet whatever British blog-pals I could in person, and that is how I met Benedict Ambrose in person. I decided when I first saw his online photo that we were going to be just friends, even though he was smart, devout, had a great sense of humour and was very probably into me, or would be if we met.

Reflections on the first thirty-eight years of my life lead me to conclude that the best way to approach the question of finding a husband is to focus on making friends. Covert husband-hunting is actually a bad idea, quite ruinous to your peace of mind. Although it is morally superior to hunting easy sex, it is in the same acquisitive spirit. And it sounds like a recipe for disaster: women in bars hunting marital conquests among men hunting sexual conquests. Or Catholic women brazenly chasing old-fashioned Catholic men who want to do the chasing themselves, thanks.

So when you go to college or join a club or take a night class or go to a conference, don't look over all the men like a desert sheikh at a slave auction, mentally rejecting the ordinary-looking ones and fixating on the cutest. Just strike up a conversation with whoever is beside you, male or female. Repeat. You're a friendly person, and you want to make friends. That's it. One day, barring falling in love with religious life or deciding you prefer Single life or some unfortunate catastrophe, you will marry one of the male ones. Maybe you'll talk to him first. Maybe he'll see your friendly face across the room and talk to you first. It will all begin with a friendly, perhaps even flirty, conversation. And, in my case, it began online because I enjoy friendly conversations with readers, and B.A. was a friendly reader, and also the friend Aelianus told me about, the one I should meet.

And now I will say something about temporary boyfriends. Read carefully.

Men are not collectibles

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I got it into my head, probably from sheer observation, that dating usually involved being dumped or dumping someone yourself. I started dating at fourteen, probably because my mother thought dating was still just agreeing to go with someone somewhere nice, like the prom, not the beginning of a romantic relationship. I believed dating had built-in obsolescence and was by its very nature a temporary arrangement that would lead to marriage or rejection. The more "relationships" you had, the more popular and desirable you obviously were. Although I liked them a lot and assumed I would eventually marry them, and talked about it seriously, I ultimately had very little sense of loyalty to whichever current boyfriend. Familiarity bred contempt, I am afraid, and when I got bored or fed up and--in one case--warned to flee by a female relation--that was it. In one case, the problem was that I was a disloyal, self-absorbed and spoiled little madam who was not rooted in reality. In the other cases, I should never have let things get started in the first place. After three dates--and only three (not three thousand) meals at his (and then his, and then his) expense--I should have asked myself some hard questions. Unfortunately, nobody ever told me that or gave me a talk about JUSTICE.

We talk a lot about dating and chastity, and we sometimes talk about dating and violence, but we never talk about dating and justice.

Men think about money the way we think about sex

Seraphic at 18: All I owe a man who pays for my dinner is the pleasure of my company.

Seraphic Now: Yeah, I know Mum said that, but what does that actually MEAN?

Seraphic at 18: Uh, he gets to spend time talking to me, and men like talking to women?

Seraphic Now: So he's paying in food to talk to you, like Jake Barnes having dinner with the hooker in The Sun Also Rises?

Seraphic at 18: NO! I guess it means that, uh, I'm a good dinner companion? Um. That he wants to give me a present? To show that he likes me? As a courtship gesture?

Seraphic Now: I think we are getting somewhere. So how many courtship gesture dinners should he have to pay for?

Seraphic at 18: Well, all of them, I guess. If he wants to have dinner with me, he'll have to pay for it. I don't want to spend my own money having expensive dinners!

Seraphic Now: You wouldn't spend your own hard-earned cash having dinner with this man?

Seraphic at 18: No! I'm saving for something IMPORTANT.

Seraphic Now: In that case, I think you should call it quits.

I have eaten way too many free dinners in my time. (I don't expect much social fallout for saying that for the male reaction will be "SUCKERS" to the unfortunate men involved and "Finally some woman admits it" to me.) And this is why I now hold that after coffee (it's just coffee, more anon) and two subsequent dates, a woman should decide if this guy is worth spending her own hard-earned money to see. She may have already been saying "Let me get part of this" and "Well, at least let me get coffee afterwards", which is just good manners, especially when he is still a student. But after the third date, if you continue seeing this man, you must contribute to your outings--at least a third, or whatever seems fair to you, based on your income. Otherwise, if it all goes belly-up, he is going to resent the vast sums he spent. I am beginning to believe that men feel the way about money women feel about sex. Women worry that men will take sexual advantage of them (and some men do), and men worry that women will take financial advantage of them (and some women do).

All this said, when a Single man asks you for coffee, and you have no reason to believe he is a bad man, like a habitual PUA or sex tourist, have the coffee. It's just coffee. Your coffee and his coffee, plus two pieces of cake will cost, max, 10 pounds, ten pence in expensive Edinburgh, a whole lot less in Poland or the USA. He can handle that. It's no big deal. It is so psychically good for him that you say yes, that you really are doing him a favour. So let him pay for the coffee if he insists. He may never ask you out again, for whatever reason, but you will have improved his confidence as a man an eeny weeny bit, and that is a very good thing, especially if he is a Catholic man looking for a Catholic wife. Your generosity and subsequent loss could be another Catholic girl's gain.

If he does ask you on a "proper" date afterwards, unless you now have reason to believe that he is a bad man, I think you should go. It's just dinner. One dinner, or even one dinner and a show will not break him. And if he completely makes an idiot of himself, but has the guts to ask you out a third time, I think you should go (unless he has proved himself to be a bad man), but take charge of the venue. Choose somewhere unpretentious and inexpensive yet not, you know, somewhere that screams "break up" like McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Just somewhere easy on the wallet, like a diner. But if he insists that the third date be at his place or your place, say no. Whereas I think three dates the correct number of times to decide if you want to continue encouraging a courtship or not, I am also aware that "three dates means sex" for the segment of the world who take their social cues from "The Big Bang Theory." Proposing sex on the third date is a deal-breaker. On the bright side, it's an opportunity to share the Gospel of Life. If he whines later to his pals, "I spent $50 over two dates and all I got was a sermon," he's the jerk, not you, as I hope his friends all tell him.

Any authentically good guy deserves an hour of your time over a cup of coffee, just for being an authentically good guy. Any Nice Catholic Boy who really is one deserves two dates after that. Let him do the asking, so you know he is willing to put his ego on the line for you. And let him pay if he really wants to. But after those three outings, you either have to tell him there is "no spark" or you are going to have to pay your way, at least most of the time, like you do with your other friends.

Meanwhile, when you are hanging out with male friends, going somewhere together but not as "a date", you have to pay, or at least offer and even insist most of the time. If he really wants to pay, you could raise an eyebrow and ask "Is this a date or a friend thing?" Boys talk (and how), and if you assume a male friend should pay for non-dates, he will complain to the other boys, and you may get a reputation as a gold-digger, alas. One of my vengeful ex's told mutual friends that I was cheap. Listen, I was worse than cheap. I felt entitled. He should have dumped ME.

With male friends, as with female friends, you are well within your rights to ask how much a proposed plan will cost you. And if you are the man friend who wonders why you end up paying for female friends all the time, you are going to have to speak up and say things like, "Tickets are $20, ladies; the cash machine is over there." Women are told so often that men have more money than us that we tend to believe it, even when the poor guy is a student who works in a coffee shop, if at all.

A nice young man told me the other day that what women value most in men is money. I thought that was hilarious. He expressed it in the same spirit in which women tell each other what men value most in women is sex. It's both true and not true at the same time. Women want to feel loved/protected, and men want to feel loved/respected. Women feel loved by men when they are given presents (even something as cheap-in-money as a letter or a handful of wild flowers), and men feel loved when they get physical expressions of affection, from hugs (female relations and friends) to the marital act (wife or mistress, er, partner). In general, I mean. Some men and women want respect even more than love (not that they are opposed), and I had a Jesuit classmate who hated being hugged by anyone. He would literally flee from women who chased him with arms outstretched. I can't think of any woman I know who hates presents, though.


Frank said...


I laughed so hard at this in particular:

"I don't expect much social fallout for saying that for the male reaction will be "SUCKERS" to the unfortunate men involved and "Finally some woman admits it" to me."

That was exactly my "male" reaction to it. You have excellent insight into the male psyche that is valuable to your target audience (i.e. single females), as well as being rather amusing for your non-target audience (i.e. males).

I will very much miss eavesdropping on your blog!

Seraphic said...

Well, I'll have another blog. Meanwhile, thank you! Understanding that men are entertained when other men are ripped off while being mightily careful that they themselves never get ripped off in some way is indeed very important.

Just as women get annoyed when men they are eating with keep checking out other women, so men get annoyed when women talk about other men, and how great they are. Still the upside is that if a woman gives men the impression that she likes men because they have always been so good to her, so polite, so generous, and this and that, then a man will want to rise to the occasion and be just as polite and generous, if not moreso, to outdo these other guys, these morons who somehow let this great woman go, SUCKERS.

MaryJane said...

I am going to miss your writing on this blog very much! Regarding being friendly: what are your thoughts regarding women who are friendly having men (in whom they are not interested) fall for them simply because they are friendly? The friendly woman doesn't want to be mean, but is perhaps a little tired of having to figure out ways to convey (often to socially awkward men who are unused to women being friendly towards them) that she really is only friendly.

Claire said...

I second MaryJane's question! I may have this situation brewing myself but hope that he and I can remain friendly acquaintances rather than awkward you-rejected-me-eyes friends should it ever come to a head.

Re:presents...interestingly, although I very much enjoy giving little presents to people, I do *not* enjoy being showered with gifts from romantic interests. The last time someone brought me a bouquet of flowers (on the second date, a huge expensive one from a specialty florist) I freaked out and behaved quite rudely in hindsight (practically dropped it like a hot potato), because I felt it was waaaay too extravagant for a gift from one student to another.

I'm reading all your posts this week with great attention, Seraphic. I'll miss your daily posts on Single life but I'm looking forward to your new work as well :) AND I just remembered that 1) my electronic copy of your Book was on my lost Kindle, and 2) I have an unused balance on an Amazon gift card. I'm off to purchase a hard copy before it leaves circulation!

Stellamaris said...

I feel for you both! This is something I find very hard to deal with as well. I'm not good at "giving guys a chance" when I don't already find them interesting. It doesn't matter how kind and good they seem - I know from personal experience that I will spend the date simmering in silent resentment at having private time with someone I don't want private time with.

This has happened once or twice with women as well, who thought that "we absolutely must see each other again!" I may find some people ok to spend time with socially within a group, but not an hour or two trying to have a one-on-one conversation. I know when it will be painfully difficult and I don't recall ever being wrong.

Regarding awkward you-rejected-me eyes, there is nothing you can do about it if a guy chooses to take it that way. I've been subjected to an extreme example for going on eight months now. I'm certain I did nothing to merit such behaviour so I just ignore him. The hardest part is resisting the temptation to trashtalk him to my bestie and especially to out him as a total loser in front of his friends. (Deep breaths, Stellamaris. Deep breaths.)

TRS said...

I agree with Stellamaris... I object to and resent time spent with suitors whom I don't already find interesting. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

Further, I resent a man who, taking me for coffee or dinner, spends three hours on the project, making me think he's interested, only for him to never call again.
I'll never get those three hours of my life back.

Surely you know within 45 minutes whether you want to see me again... Don't use me as a therapist just because I'm a good listener, and I make you feel good about yourself.
Therapists are $100 an hour where I come from! Don't make me tempted to charge you.

Seraphic said...

One coffee. One hour. Surely one hour with a guy who thinks you're neat can't be THAT terrible? I mean, God made him. There must be something you can chat about!

Seraphic said...

Guys who wallow in self-pity aren't very manly, that's for sure.

Seraphic said...

Presents CAN look like bribes, of course. Better to take it easy until a courtship is well underway.

Julia said...


LTR said...

Aw, Seraphic, quality posts this week! I'm going to miss your single insights; but looking forward to your new endeavor!

-LTR (long-time reader)

Anonymous said...

Saying that a good man 'deserves' an hour of a good woman's time seems rather dangerous to me. What if he is a good man, she knows it, and she just isn't interested in him? Something like that happened to me in college, when I was still extremely shy and inexperienced. I knew he was a good Catholic and a good man, but I didn't like him. When I turned him down, he argued that I should still go out with him because "attraction might take time to develop". That just set my back up, and I spent the next 2 years avoiding him.


Seraphic said...

Heavens! It sounds like he was reading my blog. You spent the next two years avoiding a man just because he tried to convince you to have a coffee with him?! Still, I guess when I was an undergraduate I was scared of outgoing men, too.

When I say "deserves", I mean it not as a " human right" but as a kind of non-snobby neighbourliness. I mean, it's just coffee. It's not sex, marriage, a promise, a contract, or a major donation. It's just coffee--and a chance to be gracious. And I'm talking about men in your social circle you know to be good guys, not strangers.

You know, I had a major epiphany when I consciously changed my attitude toward men--something difficult after a divorce, but I was in therapy. Changing my attitude changed my life for the better and see men-in-general as potential friends instead of potential boyfriends or rapists. Sure I meet the occasional man who is super-boring and awkward, but only very, very rarely.

Seraphic said...

By the way, this is still important for women with calls to religious life or permanent Single Life. Coffee and conversation with men is a great way to develop an understanding of men, as individuals and also as a group. If stuck for a topic, you can ask them about aspects of male life that intrigue you. For awhile I asked men if they had ever been in a fistfight. The replies were always interesting!

Seraphic said...

Oh, but I mean just coffee. If you're not a Searching Single, it's pointless to go for dinner. If you want, say No to dinner but suggest another coffee. Or say No to dinner and explain that you don't date because you're discerning conventual/permanent Single life. This has to be TRUE, however!

Anonymous said...

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I love your blog and will miss it as I got used to reading it every day. I'm a single Polish woman in my forties.I find your blog very helpful, inspiring and uplifting. I think that you have a GIFT!!!
I'm also impressed with your deep knowledge and interest in everything Polish (culture, history, language and soul!).

God bless

Your Polish Reader

Julia said...

LadyWisdom, why didn't you like the man? Yoou say he was a good man, but was he incredibly annoying or something?

Anonymous said...

Julia, he had some personal hygiene and personality issues that made him unattractive. Seraphic has said before that one should go out with a person if one wants to spend more time with him, so I guess I was just being nit-picky.


Sherwood said...

I think Ladywisdom's swain made her feel uncomfortable not because he asked her out, but because he immediately second-guessed her "no" and "told her she SHOULD STILL go out with him" (my emphasis), thus crossing the line from polite request into insistent demand.

Seraphic said...

Yeah, it is really hard for a girl to tell a guy to wash and wear clean clothes. I'm not sure I would categorise a dirty man as "good", especially on top of personality issues. However, if that was the reason, you would have done a good deed if you had told him that, difficult as it would have been. At least about being smelly. Apparently quite a number of college guys are smelly. Totally clueless & seriously lazy about laundry. They need a verbal smack upside the head.

healthily sanguine said...

I've never had trouble getting a guy NOT ask me out. Here is my secret: if I suspect a guy friend is interested (one can always tell, open your eyes and start looking for the signs) and I know I'm not even the slightest bit interested, I don't look him in the eye. It's that easy. It sounds frightfully rude, but not maintaining eye contact and turning your body slightly away is a clear indication to all but the most obtuse of men that they would be wasting their time to pursue you. I have friends who still struggle with the problem of having guys they don't even like, much less want to spend an hour with, ask them out, so I sympathize. I guess the only thing I do differently to avoid the time-wasting situation is look out for when guys are attracted to me, which by the way also takes realizing that you are attractive in the first place (you are! be humble and realize the truth), and providing the negative body language that will save them the time, money, and embarrassment.

healthily sanguine said...

By the way, I always want men to pay for dates with me. This is not because I value money but because I value generosity. If a guy is not going to be generous at the beginning, when exactly will he have the opportunity? Does this make me entitled? I'm not sure. The last guy I went out with said it came across that way at the beginning, so maybe that's a bad thing. Am I just setting the bar too high to expect to be taken out, even after three dates?

Julia said...

'I'm not sure I would categorise a dirty man as "good"'

Hahaha! Me too! The thought that he could have been a smelly pain-in-the-side occurred to me too, but then I thought, "Well, she said he was a good guy, so that can't be it!"

Seraphic said...

Healthily Sanguine, I think after the first two dates, it really is time to make "Let me get part of that" noises. This gives the guy the opportunity to be generous from his heart. When you say "Let me get part of that" you are signalling that you aren't there for the free food. It's more attractive than a manicure. Skip the manicure and keep the money saved in reserve.

For awhile I've had opportunities to hear the Contemporary Young Catholic Man's attitudes about women and money, and they have given me much food for thought.

Sheila said...

I don't really like presents. Well, at this point in my life I kind of do, because I'm poor and need things, but at that point "presents" are just my husband and my mother and my mother-in-law picking things off my wishlist twice a year and sending them to me. Unexpected gifts, especially expensive ones, make me uncomfortable.

And I never did like having men pay for me! It made me feel indebted, and I hate feeling indebted. Also poor. Because if a man offers to pay for you, and you really *can't* afford it, then you feel poor and kind of powerless. I'd rather go somewhere I could afford and pay my own way.

I still remember accepting a ride to Mass with a large group of people with my now-husband, back when I barely knew him. We stopped for breakfast after, which I hadn't expected, and I had a grand total of seventeen cents in my wallet. My future husband paid for my breakfast, just to be nice, not knowing I was starving and couldn't afford it myself ... and I felt so terribly shamed because I couldn't say, "No, please, I'll get it myself." Ugh. Awful.

In fact I am pondering picking up an income stream of some kind, just because I hate being a kept woman! Kind of odd, because one would expect a full-time mother to be okay with spending money out of the family budget, but for some reason I'm not.

Not sure if this makes me an anomaly among women, but I thought I'd mention it.

Julia said...

Sheila, I'm not sure that you're an anomaly. While I don't think that there's anything wrong with stay-at-home mothers spending money from the family budget, I'd probably feel guilty about it too. I'd feel guilty having to a husband for money too (if that's how it works - my own mother is totally in charge of the finances, which my father is very happy about, and he asks her for money, and actually I pay my dad's "pocket money".)

I earn more money now than I ever have, but there were times when I was an undergrad where I was in situations like the breakfast one you describe. I had to back out of spontaneous social outings like that because I wasn't prepared to admit that I couldn't afford it.