Friday, 31 December 2010

Parallel Universe?

I passed a betting shop this afternoon and noticed that there weren't any women in it. And my sister, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, upbraided me for having dropped in for tea with two bachelor flatmates.

"I was with you," I said crossly. "Anyway, I'm a respectable early-middle-aged married woman."

The year that ends tonight is 2010. It seemed very odd, in 2010, to be walking home with my shopping, declaring myself to be a respectable early-middle-aged married woman who therefore can drop in on bachelors for innocent cups of tea. I have led communion services, for heaven's sake. I once gave the reflection at a college reconciliation service. I earned the first diploma in Lonergan Studies ever awarded by my college. I have frightened lefty priests into fits. I was the first woman boxer at my boxing gym. I was a pioneer---or so one of the only women on the theological faculty told me, little realizing how much the idea of being a pioneer repelled me by then. Do I have to obsess over the fine shades of propriety like a Georgette Heyer heroine?

I pondered the sea, and the past week, a week of church (mostly men, as Trid congregations seem to be mostly men), pub (mostly men), football (mostly men) and last's night Hogmanay fiddle concert in Edinburgh, of which B.A. said during the intermission, "It could be 1956." The comedian's jokes were of an ancient, gentle order, not so much family-friendly as old-fashioned-lady-friendly. When we got home, B.A. did imitations of the Edinburgh ladies the jokes were chosen for.

Sometimes I wonder if I haven't fallen into a parallel universe where people in 1960 took a look at the future and firmly said, "No, thank you." Obviously history still went on, but in a different way from everywhere else.

But surely this cannot be geographical. Although the male/female divide is sometimes astonishing, Edinburgh is not Brigadoon, and it is a world capital. It must be as post-modern and post-Christian as any other city in Europe (excluding, of course, those of Poland and Slovakia). So why is it that I seem to live in a society where the women do these things and not those, and the men go here but not there, and my old theology school, where we took Elizabeth Johnson and Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza seriously, seems a million miles away?

And, believe me, I know I am myself a willing participant in something that strikes me as decidedly old-fashioned. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis's distinction between Albion and Britain, or Tolkien's Faerie alongside the ordinary world, or Aelfheim beyond Midgard, or J.K. Rowling's Wizard community hidden in what its natives call "the U.K."

We've been hearing a lot about "parallel societies" in Europe, although usually these parallel societies are not Christian, but Muslim to some degree or another. The epitomic figure of a parallel society is the rural Turkish or Pakistani woman who lives in Berlin or London and cannot speak a word of German or English. However, I imagine only a tiny number of Muslim women live this way. Surely the rest drift from society to society, group to group, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, creating their own hybrid, slightly solipsistic, Berlin or London.

And I wonder today if this is not what is happening to Catholics--by whom I mean Catholics who actually think about being in a state of grace and therefore don't miss Sunday Mass--these days. Mainstream society and Catholicism seem to have parted ways forever and Catholics, always considered slightly odd by the majority in English-speaking countries, now find themselves more out of step than ever with cultural mores.

Society believes in women swallowing pills to make ourselves infertile 24/7. Catholics don't. Society believes that women should be able to kill their children for any reason whatsoever--even for just being a twin or female--as long as they haven't been born yet. Catholics don't. Society believes that choosing not to have any children is moral and virtuous. Catholics think it is rather sad. Society believes certain kinds of sexual partnership are equivalent to marriage. Catholics do not. And in all those respects we are like most people of our countries in 1960.

"In the world but not of the world"--I was taught as a child that this is the place of the Christian. Our true home is heaven. But what is our place in society, then? There used to be something called Christendom. Have we relinquished it, or is it just underground?

Feel free to chime in in the combox. Perhaps living in a parallel society is the ultimate form of post-modernism. At any rate, there are some among us with apocalypic ideas that we'll have to go underground one day. But my question is, are we already halfway there?

Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Weighty Matter

First of all, I am not a doctor. And second, I am not so super-pleased with the photos my brother has taken of our Christmas revels this year. Married couples often gain ten pounds after the wedding. I think I have gained more than that. Curse you, British eating habits!

One of the most painful, poignant questions that comes my way--so painful that it is usually only alluded to and never phrased in a direct question--is "Am I Single because I am overweight?"

My answer to this is a quick "I am not a doctor" although my first question (much more delicately phrased) is "How overweight?"

There are many gorgeous fat women. They are not usually called fat, though, which has become a mortal insult. They are called curvy. They include Queen Latifa, Jessica Simpson, Kelly LeBrock, Carnie Wilson, Elisha Cuthbert and any plus-sized model. Kelly Osbourne was until very recently pleasantly plump, and my guess is that she will become so again. And these are just the celebrities. The world is full of beautiful, plump, curvy women. Plumpness was itself a hallmark of beauty until the 20th century.

That said, obesity is on the rise, and because fatty food is so plentiful and so comforting, many women--including me--are tempted to munch away our sorrows instead of eating healthily. And only since I saw my brother's photos of me in my married state have I realized what being overweight makes you look like: it makes you look married.

Now this could be complete nonsense, so feel free to chastize me in the combox. I am not advocating dumb diets and reckless exercising or self-blame or all those other things otherwise intelligent women embrace. Apparently the average adult woman of childbearing age should be eating 1500 calorie a day, so if your doctor says you should eat 1500 calories a day, eat 1500 calories a day. I am just throwing out there the only original thought about weight that I am ever likely to have: that too much weight makes you look married already. Everything else possible has been said.

For example, it is quite clear (and repeated by me over and over again) that men are not attracted just to model-thin women. In fact, many men think model-thin women are TOO thin when they see them in real life. This is not great news for model-thin women. However, I must say that when I was a boxer, and was 117 pounds of muscle, I got hit on a lot more than I got hit on when I was 140 pounds of squish.

Of course, the most memorable person who hit on me was a woman. She thought I looked like a Greek goddess and said so and followed me around a bit. But I do remember more men than before or since hitting on me at the gym and in the clubs, and my telling a male friend that the great secret of becoming attractive was weighing no more than 119 lbs when one is only 5'2". I don't believe that now, however. I was squishy when I met B.A.

Men like who they like, and although fashion designers and other tastemakers have done their damnedest, they can't get all straight men to love only those women who look like teenage boys. Keira Knightley looked so much like a teenage boy in Bend it Like Beckham that is it no mystery to me that the hot Irish football coach fell for pretty Jesminder instead.

Jesminder, of course, was also rather slim, being both a teenager and a brilliant footballer. But she was slim in a very feminine way, and I have noticed that Indian women I have met have the most feminine, graceful hand gestures I have ever seen outside of ballet. And traditional clothes for Indian women are so beautiful, it is little wonder that many choose to wear them outside South Asia.

I wonder if the secret to being attractive while being very slim or being rather plump isn't the ability to make it seem very feminine. Certainly, being obese isn't very feminine--or, in men, very masculine either. It is unhealthy, and healthy people are attracted, not only to happy people, but to healthy people.

If any reader is wondering whether they have crossed the line between deliciously squish and bad-for-their-health, then I encourage her (or him) to toddle off to her (or his) doctor to ask.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Truth and Joy

The Truth will set us free, we are told, and Christians take this metaphorically to mean that Christ, who is Truth, has set us free. But we can move (somewhat) beyond metaphor because Aquinas writes "The truth is what is." Now that which is is being, and all being derives from God, whose existence is His essence, and therefore is Being.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am trying to make an argument that truth is extremely important, much more important than we generally think (and you should read St. Augustine on the subject), and that no matter how many fibs, evasions or lies you offer other people (not that I'm suggesting it), you must never lie to yourself.

Being a Seraphic Single does not include telling yourself lies about yourself and your Singlehood. If you love being Single, and just want to stay Single, either as a nun or monk, a consecrated virgin or priest, or a woman or man living free of any vow but her or his baptismal and confirmation vows, then that is great. That is marvellous. Don't pretend to yourself that you really want to be married. You don't have to. It's okay.

Louisa May Alcott explained her 19th century singleness by saying (apparently, I heard this from a tour guide at her house in Concord, MA) that she'd rather just paddle her own canoe. And, my goodness, what a lot of freedom there is in permanent Singledom. You can be one of the guys forever and ever. If you're not a nun, you make your own money knowing that's all the money you'll have to work with. You organize your own retirement plans. You save up and buy your own house. You never have to ask anyone's permission for any of your choices ever. You never have to figure out or pander to the male (or, if male, female)psyche. Ahhhh....

However, if you hate being Single or like being Single for now, but hope to get married eventually, the one person who absolutely has to know and acknowledge this is you. When you take ownership of this wish it has less power over you and how you act in public. For example, I remember a desperately lonely young man at a wedding getting absolutely smashed at the open bar while bragging, "I'm sure glad it's not me putting my head into a noose!" He didn't fool anyone, and I'm happy to say he's married now. People who simply long to marry but sneer at marriage are extremely annoying.

Of course, you don't have to--and should not--tell the universe. When you are Single and you want to get married, you have to be as peaceable as the dove and as cunning as the serpent. In short, you have to take into consideration the male psyche, if you are a woman, and the female psyche, if you are a man. Women do not naturally think like men, and men do not naturally think like women. I think we should just all accept this right now. This has absolutely nothing to do with Reason. We all participate in Reason. It's just that we function differently, and women who want to get along with men simply have to accept that men are not very logical and plan for it.

The prime example of this is the guy who pursues you and then, when you are hooked, drops you like a hot potato. This stems from the average man's love of a challenge and his illogical yet undeniable disappointment when something turns out to be easier than he thought it would be. It is for this reason that both the infamous Rules and Auntie Seraphic tell you that you are never allowed to talk to the man you are romantically interested in every single day. If you honestly think of him ONLY as a pal (and be honest here), then text him every hour; I don't care. But if you can barely keep yourself from seizing him in your womanly arms, then for heaven's sake don't communicate with him every day. At least don't see him every day. The Rules says you should see him only twice a week.

I just stared at my husband, pondering his psyche. Since we had quite a whirlwind romance, I suspect that the necessary challenge was the whole distance thing, not to mention the difficulties he suspected the U.K. Border Agency might throw in his way. Then there's the whole brass involved in asking a Canadian to live in an old Scottish house with no central heating and limited hot water. (Don't ask.) And it is just possible that the bonds of marriages are cemented by all the challenges, once you are engaged, of getting married: your parents, his parents, the Church, the State, the banquet hall, the florist, the hairdresser, the dress...

Another thing you must do is be open to invitations to meet men (or women), and therefore school your own psyche to be intrigued, not insulted, when people offer to introduce you to them. Yes, it is embarrassing and more than often disappointing. Yes, it would be a million times better if people would ask you first. And it would be a billion times better if married friends invited a sloo of Singles to their parties, instead of just two: you and The Other One. However, married people usually have incredible amnesia about what is most comfortable for Single people, and if you get married, you probably will, too. Bless our little married hearts.

This brings me to the subject of joy. I hope you have some because this is the part of you, if you are Single but wish to marry one day, that you must show to the world as often as you possible can. Healthy people are attracted to happy people. So be happy. When someone asks you how you are, you are not just fine, you are great. When you blog, you blog about what you love and what is great about your life, not about what you hate and what is lousy about your life. Own your sorrows, but share them with only a tolerant few. Own your joys, and trumpet them about.

Be joyful, be confident, and, if you are a woman, ask Single men to help you with stuff so that they know that you are not 100% self-sufficient and that--if they are supremely fortunate and/or hard-working--they might be allowed to add to your joy.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Sunday School Teacher

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm curious about your thoughts about pushy-if-well-meaning older ladies. Recently I was socializing in the narthex after Mass and one of the venerable older ladies of the parish, whom I'd never properly met but see often at Daily Mass, approached me.

After introducing herself and complaining to me about something over which I have no control (music at the liturgy), she immediately dived into "Are you married?"

"No," said I, a bit apprehensive. I knew what was coming.

"Are you seeing anyone?"

"Not just now," I said softly, wishing to melt through the floor.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-x." (At this point in my life I'm not terrified of my age so I don't think this question was as rude as it could have been had I been four or five years older. Maybe it was rude of her to ask; I don't know. But I digress)

"Well then, you'll have to meet Joe!* My grandson!" she boomed. "He's twenty-six! He'll be home for Christmas and needs a nice girl. And you too would be so lovely together!"

"Ah well, I'll be at my parent's through New Year, sorry," I said, blushing like the sun. She gave me beady glance.

"I'll tell him to look you up online. Mary* [her granddaughter, who is in my religion class] says you're on facebook. And you'll add him back, of course, and then maybe meet when he's home again for Easter!"

And then she turned away and I stood there, head a bit fuzzy, lost for words.

Later I thought about why I was so uncomfortable about the whole exchange. I think it's two-fold. Firstly, and most annoying, this lady doesn't know me at all, other that that I work for the parish and therefore must be a nice Catholic girl. She doesn't know my personality, tastes, interests, or anything. All she knows is that I'm single. I have no problem with being set up by my friends- it's how many of my favorite couples met, actually - but when you're friends with someone you know them, and if they might actually be a good match for another of your friends. I've done this myself in fact; I've thought "Hmm, so-and-so and so-and-so have a lot in common. I bet they would get on well. I'll have to sneakily introduce them at a party" And I do, and off they go. But this lady, even with good intention, seemed to be thinking "Well, she is single and he is single. Clearly they should be together!"

If marriage were just a matter of finding another single person and picking a date to marry, there wouldn't be anyone single in the world over the age of 25, except for priests and religious. But just because I am single and another person is single doesn't guarantee anything! I just found it a bit off-putting that after literally two minutes of conversation (none of which were about me) she felt it appropriate to rather pushily assume I should meet her grandson.

The second reason for my discomfort, perhaps, is that many people, especially older people I meet, tend to categorize me solely based on my singleness. It drives me crazy. The first question a person asks (an older person, not usually a peer unless it's someone I haven't seen in a while) is if I'm seeing someone, as if the whole sum of my personhood is wrapped up in whether or not I'm dating, engaged, or married. When I meet a new person, I very seldom ask if they are dating, married, etc, unless they bring up their spouse or children, because I HATE when people do this to me.

Am I being oversensitive in this? Perhaps I am. Maybe I'm being uncharitable; I'm sure this lady just wants her grandson to be happy. I came away from the discussion with older lady feeling very... I don't know... very shy and a bit sad. I logged on to facebook and checked to ensure my privacy settings were still intact (everything is friends-only; I really really really do not like the idea of sharing too much over the Internet, and online dating gives me the heebie-jeebies). It was. I don't think I'll approve the grandson's friend request if he sends it; I limit my facebook page to people I've actually met in person and consider friends. I never, ever approve friend requests if I don't actually know the person.

What do I do about these pushy older ladies? Is this an instance where I just think, "Bless her kind pushy heart!" and smile placidly?

*Names changed.

Sunday School Teacher

Dear Sunday School Teacher,

Okay, I understand that at the moment this does not seem hilarious. But in five years it will seem hilarious, so save the email for future reference.

It is indeed annoying when married or widowed people stare at Single people with their beady little eyes and wonder why you all are not married and wonder how to get you all married off ASAP. On the one hand, it is annoying because it is not nice to feel that being Single makes you defective in some way. On the other hand, it is annoying also because most Singles do indeed want to get married, but don't want others to rub it in.

But complicating all this is the fact that in some cultures it is the job of older people to pair off the younger ones, and when the older people don't do this, the younger ones sometimes sort of wish they would. I used to complain loudly and bitterly that priests didn't seem to be interested in introducing NCGs and NCBs to each other, unlike rabbis, who apparently introduce NJGs and NJBs to each other all the time. (I wonder if this is really true, though, or just an idea I got from the movies.) I understand that old Ukrainian Catholic ladies work like the dickens to get their own seminarians married off before their ordinations.

Now, you can react to Older Lady in two ways. You can be sad that she sees you as marriage material for her beloved grandson. Or you can be flattered and amused that she sees you as marriage material for her beloved grandson. It's up to you.

Personally, I'd be amused and flattered. It's not that you are Single. It's that you [A] go to Daily Mass and [B] teach her granddaughter in Sunday School. And I am loving this crazy woman who has decided, on the strength of your looks, and the fact that you go to Daily Mass, and (very likely) the good opinion of her tiny granddaughter, that you would make her a fine granddaughter-in-law. And imagine how her grandson must feel. "Grandma, you went up to a complete STRANGER and told her---? How could you?!?!?!?!?"

If, from some miracle, Joe actually does hunt for you on Facebook, and I doubt he will, so embarrassed will he be by his grandmother's loving shenanigans, you almost owe it to him to reply and tell him that his grandma must love him a lot.

Pray for this marvellous, kooky lady who thinks, without much evidence, that you are simply a lovely girl. I would be flattered. Go ahead and be flattered. And, as a matter of fact, she isn't really a stranger. She's a Pillar of your Parish and the grandma of your own wee student Mary. I know it is a scary world, but the good opinion of an outspoken parish grandma is no reason to run frightened to your Facebook settings.

I remember being sad that the nuns I boarded with wanted me to join their order. My spiritual director pointed out that meant they had a high opinion of me, and I should feel happy, not sad. I took his advice, and think you should take mine!

Grace and peace,

Monday, 27 December 2010

Matchmaking or Meddling?

Many married ladies begin to scheme for their Single friends' marital happiness before the ink is dry on the parish register. You may have noticed this trend in your own married friends. My darling friend Lily has spent a goodly amount of time plotting and planning, with some notable success. She never came up with anyone for me, which is just as well, as I found someone for myself, although she did veto a Potential, which is just as well. B.A. got her stamp of approval, which was expressed with the sentiment "I'm very relieved. I was worried he'd be too normal."

I suspect that married ladies love to matchmake for the same reasons we love a cracking good romance novel: the great love crisis of our lives has been resolved, and we either miss the buzz of the A-HA moment, or we hope to relive it. At any rate, it is a great temptation, and we weigh the blame we might incur if we too obviously seat our Single girl friend next to a Potential against the gratitude she will feel on their wedding day.

Most of the time I am able to stave off the temptations of matchmaking because I live across the ocean from most of my girlfriends, and few of the greying bachelors I know on this side of the ocean would suit my girlfriends anyway. However, I am feeling a sense of lost opportunity because my young, handsome and witty Single brother and young, pretty and witty Single sister are here, and most of the delightful young things of my parish are at home in Poland for Christmas. What a tremendous tragedy, I think, that I cannot introduce my Single kin to the lovely Single Poles of the parish, woe, woe.

W would do so well for X, and Y would do so well for Z... Stop me if this is just too meddling married ladyish.

Update: Stay tuned tomorrow for a brilliant Auntie Seraphic letter on this very topic!

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Few Thoughts on Christmas

This is the second year I've been married at Christmas, and the first Christmas that I have been in charge of Family Christmas. This is definitely where a sense of vocation kicks in. For example, the kitchen drainpipe, whose oldest bits may be two hundred or so years old, is completely blocked by ice, which meant I spent an hour and a half this morning boiling water and washing the dirty dishes of six people in two plastic basins. This is what marriage and subsquent hosting of Christmas can mean.

Christmas is often tough on Single people because Christmas has been recently marketed as a Couple's Day, although why this is beats me, since the central couple of all my Christmases until last year was my parents. For me, Christmas has always been a Family Day, which is why I had a fit last year when the only family around was my poor husband.

Christmas, however, is not really a Family Day or a Couple's Day. It is the celebration of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Holy Name embarrasses advertisers everywhere. It's not about you; it's about HIM. The central event of Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day is not the food or the presents but the Mass or Masses. Keep the Mass in Christmas, that's what I say.

When you are at Mass, you will notice the absolutely crucial role of Singles. These Singles are called priests. Like other Single people, priests go home alone or with other Single people or (more rarely) with their families. They are too busy or holy to sit around feeling sorry for themselves. Besides, feeling sorry for yourself on Jesus's Birthday is not a good thing to do. It is classical sloth, and although I remember being hit with waves of it as a long-term Single, I generally tried not to encourage it in myself. And everybody go read the part of my book where I run away from my former (and non-Catholic) in-laws to get to Midnight Mass.

Priests and, I imagine, most married women, are incredibly busy and stressed on Christmas Day, so although I didn't realize this when I was Single, I now think it might be the Christmas job of non-ordained Singles to help priests and married ladies in any way needed, even if that is just staying out of the way or handing around tissues to the sneezing.

My father has just come into the sitting-room, and addressed my mother and me:

"Why aren't you guys cooking?" he asked.

He was joking, so we didn't kill him. However, I must go. But before I do anything else, I will put on another layer of skin cream because my poor scalded hands still feel dry and my thumbs are starting to flake.

Merry Christmas to all, and remember that Our Lord lived His earthly mission as THE most Seraphic Single of all.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Singles with Married Siblings

No huge post today because three members of my famiy arrived at the Historical House this morning, and one more arrives tonight! Two are Singles, so I have decided that one of the great treats of Single life is visiting your married sister in Europe.

On the other hand, my sister already lives in Europe. Hmm... Hmm... Well, I think of Scotland as being a midpoint between Canada and the Continent. At any rate, I still think one of the perks of Single life might be visits to siblings who generously married foreigners, thereby eliminating the need for hotels when visiting exotic locales like Edinburgh.

Feel free to exchange messages in the combox!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Drinking Alone

"Hello. My name is Seraphic, and I am helpless over other people's alcoholism."

This is what I did not get to say one rainy night in the year 2000 because the lady on the Al-Anon hotline sent me to the wrong church basement. When I got home, I called a friend to complain.

"Maybe she was drunk," she said.

Ha ha ha.

Having dated a so-called "high-functioning" alcoholic, I never want to be in a romantic relationship with an alcoholic ever again. In fact, I don't think I could be in one without turning once more into the stereotypical weeping mess who goes from bar to bar looking for her man. Ugh. Never, never again.

That is my tragic alcohol story and the only way alcohol has any power over me. I seem to be okay around non-drinking alcoholics, and I am friendly with at least two women who are drinking alcoholics. Their drinking does not affect me in the slightest, although that may be because I don't see them very often. I do not like how heavy drinking is so firmly ensconsed in British culture, but as long as my husband doesn't get drunk and the police give drunk drivers merry hell, I can cope.

When it comes to drinking, I myself am a lightweight. At last Sunday's gin-and-tonic party, someone employed a liberal hand, and I found myself instantly drunk on a single g-and-t. And although my dad keeps a friendly bottle of gin for me back in Toronto, I am perfectly happy just to settle back into the general family habit of not drinking much.

However, I would like to state for the record that I have never taken this freedom from alcohol for granted. I never drink alone, and I never drank alone when I was Single. I never drank when I was lonely and depressed--except in one or two ceremonial post-break-up rituals with friends. The one dark period of my life when I self-medicated, I self-medicated on Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I cared about myself way too much to look for solace in a bottle. And, after that disastrous episode in 2000, I learned to recognize alcoholic men, and I crossed them off my Potentials list.*

How much alcoholism is rooted in genes, how much in environment and how much in bad habits is anyone's guess. But I am relatively sure there are widows and widowers who developed their alcoholism only after their spouses died. I am sure there are lots of lonely elderly men and women who have gradually become addicted to their nip, and I never, ever wanted to become one of them.

So, my little Singles, since the Christmas holidays can be some of the toughest days of the year for Single people, I thought I would trot out a little sermon about drinking alone. Don't do it. If you're drinking more than you usually would, then stop. If you can't, call a crisis hotline. You can find them online and in the telephone book.

Meanwhile, you are powerless over other people's drinking, so if you find yourself turning into a crazy, weeping, crumpled tissue over someone else's habit, call Al-Anon. Hopefully you will be directed to the right church basement.

Incidentally, one of the most helpful books I ever read in my life was Melody Beattie's Co-Dependent No More. And, meanwhile, I am not a doctor and I was never trained for ministry specifically to alcoholics. If you suspect that you are an alcoholic, the best I can do for you is to refer you to Alcoholics Anonymous.

*His own admission (usually when drinking) that he drinks too much is a dead giveaway. The hard part is actually hearing him and accepting his words as fact. I dated an alcoholic not only after he told me he drank too much, but after his bartender told me he drank too much. I was not rooted in reality. I even had some sort of notion that nobody of my generation could possibly be an alcoholic. We knew better than that, he must be exaggerating, blah, blah, blah.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Unlike a Rolling Stone

I got a very interesting email from a twenty-something the other day. She has a job in a big cultural centre in Eastern Europe and is planning to return to her home country next year. She says she has never dated, but is ready to date, and she would like to know how to show this.

I found this a fascinating question for three reasons. The first was the idea is that dating is something that you are ready to do. Most people hate formal dating and either skip from "hanging out" to "sleeping together" or long to get married so that formal dating will be over forever.

Of course, what we are ready for as adult women is not dating but courtship. We used to signal this around the age of 15 or 16 by growing breasts and fleshier bums and thighs. However, thanks to better nutrition, we hit puberty much too early for courtship. And thanks to civilization, we haven't learned at puberty everything we need to know to flourish as adults.

It has become common to show that we welcome courtship by dressing in skimpy outfits, getting drunk and sending men emails we would not like read out at our funerals. However, this does not attract the long-term courtship most women of religion want, so we are forced to be subtle, subtlety being considered feminine and attractive by the sort of men we wish to court us.

Beyond wearing bright colours, skirts, updos and all the other external things I love to bang on about, I think the best thing to do to show you are courtship-positive is make men feel that they are useful to you in some way on principle. If your hands are full, ask one to open the door. If the jar lid is stuck, ask one to unstick it. If you have a question, ask one for the answer. Apparently men are so demoralized by the take-charge attitude of women today that any suggestion that they are still necessary to us makes them shine like the sun. For this reason, think carefully before asking a married man to do anything for you. But, in general, practise on all Single men alive.

The second reason why the question was so fascinating was that "dating" was presented as a compartmentalized activity that you can be ready for. I started dating at 14; I went to a parish youth group dance with a handsome first-aider. I remember it well. Obviously I was not ready for marriage. I don't think I was ready for dating either, but the 1980s were fortunately a more innocent time, although not as innocent as it was in the 1960s when my mother went on her first date at 14.

Going to dances and dinners and grabbing a coffee and making friends is something you just do while your life is going on. There are whole legions of teenage boys and girls meeting for coffee and chat about St. Augustine. They don't call it dating, but it is dating of the best kind. It's no pressure, it's fun, it's life. Dating is not an already-out-there-now-real, to appropriate the work of Bernard Lonergan, S.J. in my usual frivolous way. It's just a kind of friendly social activity.

The third reason why the question was so fascinating was that my correspondent was divided between nations. Presumably she spent months telling her aquaintance she was bound for Eastern Europe, and presumably her Eastern European aquaintance all know she'll be going home next year. There's a reason behind the expression "a rolling stone gathers no moss." Few honest men dare to court a rolling stone, and few healthy women take rolling stones seriously. My correspondent wanted to know how to show that she is "ready to date," but in fact this would be a bad time for her to begin a romantic relationship.

I love Scotland, but sometimes I mournfully contrast my situation with that of my dear friend Y, who married the cousin of the husband of my dear friend X, and so they are now family and will no doubt bring up their children together and grow old together, etc. Transatlantic (or transpacific) marriages are all very romantic, and sometimes ordained by God, but they take even more work and sacrifice than usual.

Anyway, when I realized that I was in love with B.A., I stressed how much I loved Scotland and, when he tentatively referred to my love for my native land, I showed a most unpatriotic indifferentism. That meant he was encouraged, rather than discouraged, to suggest I make my home with him before I flitted off to my next appointment, which was to visit my ex-boyfriend in Germany. Although I had not yet gathered moss, I showed myself willing to gather it here.

To sum up, women can show they are open to courtship by making men feel useful, dating should neither be compartmentalized nor romanticised, and rolling stones gather no moss, so if you are one, don't stress this to all.

I hope all this is helpful to someone.

Update: Welcome, Modestia readers! Grab a mug of coffee or tea, and click around!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Today I Miss My Friends

Today is one of those days when I contrast the busy, scholarly life I had in Toronto--packed with students, family and friends--with the much quieter, rather isolated life I live in Scotland.

Tell me what holiday japes you've been sharing with your friends or plan to share with your friends in the next two weeks.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Gift-Receiver

It is like my undergrad self travelled forward in time and sent me this email.

Dear Auntie Seraphic

Thanks so much for your blog and advice! It's been really helpful to me (both as a Catholic and a Single).

I suppose I'm technically single right now, in that I'm not engaged or married. I am, however, in a relationship that seems to be heading that direction. I'm nearing four years of dating a young man who I really like, and who seems to like me equally -- or maybe more. He's 2-, and I'm 2-. [Seraphic's Note: she's younger; he's working.]

My question regards Christmas/birthday presents and relationships in general.

He has a tendency towards lavish gifts, while I'm more on the frugal side. I think he's planning to get me a nice [piece of jewelry] that I've wanted for some time, and has already sent me an early Christmas present -- a really nice and expensive [piece of clothing] that I had at one point expressed a liking for, but noted was way too pricy/un-useful to justify purchasing. He has expressed a desire for a nice watch and some other things.

The conundrum: I'm a little uncomfortable with our present status (ha!). I feel like a nice watch is something that a wife would give a husband (or a fiancee her fiance), while simple jewelry is slightly more acceptable in a pre-marital state. I do want to be egalitarian in gifting, but I'm not ready to act like we're married. We have been dating for a while, but I want to get him to slow down on the nice presents. I feel as though spending $-00+ on each other is excessive. Although I like the [piece of clothing], I kind of feel as though I should return it, especially if he's planning to get me this [thing] as well.

I don't think he's trying to "game" or own me with these presents; he's generous and a giver by nature, while I'm on the frugal side. When I try to push back, his response is something along the lines of "I have a beautiful girlfriend who I love and think is worth spending money on, and I want to get you X because I know you wouldn't get it for yourself," which seems to be a typically male rationalization. I don't want to be rude or mean by returning the [piece of clothing], or imply that I don't think he's worth X amount because I tend not to spend in the same way. Am I being irrational/stingy? Any ideas as to how to respond?

Perhaps those questions lead to an underlying issue.

This young man has said that he would like to marry me. He hasn't explicitly asked me yet, possibly because I've hinted strongly that I couldn't possibly entertain proposals until I'm at least 2-. However, he has also hinted strongly that he's willing to wait until I'm ready, if that's what it takes. I'm pretty sure I want to marry him, but I'm definitely not ready to right now. I have things to do, like work, graduate school, being young, etc.

Sometimes I almost wish I wasn't in a relationship yet, as though maybe we met too early. And sometimes I eyeball other guys who have things that he doesn't have (like Y or Z), even while acknowledging that he has all of the qualities that are most important to me. (He's a NCB!, handsome!, loving, kind, tender, caring, my best friend, and loads of other amazing qualities). I think we've helped each other grow and improve since we've been together in a real way. But then again, sometimes I don't think his jokes are funny, and sometimes he annoys me, and sometimes we fight.

Basically, I have lots of conflicting feelings, and don't really know what they mean or what to do.

Do my hesitations indicate that I've just been deceiving myself into thinking that I like him enough to marry him, and I really just don't like him as much as I tell myself I do? (Sometimes I worry because I don't feel as incandescently and obviously "in love" as my newly married/engaged Catholic friends seem to be.)

Or am I just being swayed by the "You're young! You should play the field! Date lots of guys so that you get lots of experience! Make out with a near-stranger!" track that most of my non-Catholic friends are on?

Are they right? Does this mean that I should break up with him? (We've broken up before for awhile; it was horrible for both of us.)

Are all of these seemingly negative or conflicting feelings natural in pre-marital relationships at a point of seriousness, but blown out of proportion by me because this is my only real relationship, and I'm trying to live up to some self-created "ideal" that doesn't exist in reality?

Also, more immediately, how can I deal with this Christmas thing?!?

I know that you can't answer all of these questions for me, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

And I hope you're having a wonderful Advent!


Dear Gift-Receiver,

This is heavy stuff, reminding me of how difficult it was to be your age. (For some reason, I can't get my alma mater's bookstore out of my head as I write.) It also reminds me of how painful it is to date a guy for a year or years without knowing if this is the man you want to marry. It is just so easy to get attached to a comfortable routine, the cool presents and the compliments. You become like half of an old married couple, without any commitment on your part, although you become uneasy when you get a sense that it is time to pay the piper. Breaking up feels impossible, but getting married seems unthinkable.

But let's talk about presents.

First, you don't have to give someone an expensive present. Ever. The most expensive present I ever gave my husband was his wedding ring, which was something like $200. The next most expensive thing I ever gave him was a cool messenger bag which was £60.

Before we married, the only thing I gave him was a secondhand novel which cost me $2 for the book and $5 for postage. But I would have given him my left kidney if he had needed it because I was so in love I was just this side of insane.

Never give men you're not related to or married to expensive presents. Never. Incidentally, I don't believe in egalitarian gifting. Women make less than men and spend more on their appearance. This means women shouldn't have to cough up just because men do, hello.

Second, you shouldn't be pressured into accepting expensive presents. I don't like the sound of this piece of jewellery that you've wanted for some time, and I don't like the sound of this pricey piece of clothing. My mother always told me I could accept only flowers, candy and books from men. The problem with accepting expensive presents from men is that it can make you feel obliged to them. This is bad. Very, very bad.

I suggest telling him that you loved the first gift, but you are not comfortable with accepting such expensive presents. This Christmas you think you should be creative rather than lavish and spend no more than $50 on each other. (He can use his own money to buy his watch himself.)

In future, stop sharing your enthusiasm for expensive clothes and jewels with your boyfriend, for in doing so you are sending mixed messages. You will have to exercise some discipline, which I know is easier said than done.

Now, love. I notice you haven't said you love your boyfriend. You said "like." Like, like, like. Like is enough for marriage in India, but not in the West.

Four years of dating without getting engaged is usually too long. (Childhood sweethearts excepted.) I wonder if you are bored. The fact that you are actively comparing your boyfriend to other men suggests it. I understand that your break-up really hurt. I wonder what would have happened, though, if a Yer, Zer man had swooped in during your break.

St. Ignatius basically said that when you don't know what to do, you make no sudden changes. So I wouldn't recommend that you break up right now. Meanwhile, of course you have conflicting feelings, and of course you don't know what they mean or what to do: you're 2-. It's a frightful age to be. Your skin is probably fabulous, but your poor brain cells are zapping and your hormones are zipping and it sucks. It is very smart of you to hold off on any marriage decision until you are 2-.

But don't marry a guy you're not in love with. Ask yourself, "Do I want to have sex with him twice a week for the rest of his life, have his babies, scrub his kitchen floor, be nice to his friends, do his laundry and watch TV shows with him?" Because THAT, not some glorious all-expenses-paid Mediterranean vacation, is what marriage is. If you're not head-over-heels with a man, it's hell. If you ARE head-over-heels, you can't sign on fast enough.

It's okay if you don't want to marry him now or ever. Just please don't accept any more expensive presents because if he does ask, and you do turn him down (or worse, go through with it and later get divorced), those presents will come back to haunt you.

Dating guys "for experience" and making out with strangers are both incredibly stupid activities. There is a golden mean here. It is seeing who God sends, dating them cautiously, and marrying the one who is a good man AND makes you feel crazy-in-love.

I hope this is helpful. I hope you understand that your mental freedom and ability to make life-changing decisions without pressure is worth more than any rag or piece of jewellery. Meanwhile, I can't tell you if you really love this man or not. Yes, it is a pity you met him at such a young age.

Grace and peace,

P.S. Readers, park any envy at the door before you write in the combox. Thanks!

P.S. 2: Being "in love" is not a myth. It is a beautiful reality that, like a match, lights up a well-prepared hearth, creating the warm fire that marriage should be. What is a myth is that a married couple feels crazily "in love" for the rest of their lives. It comes and goes. But if it's not there at the beginning of a love match, there is a problem.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Incidentally... my lovely book!

Canadian/UK/Irish version: here and here.

American version: here.

Of course, you can buy it elsewhere online, or you can toddle into your nearest Catholic bookstore and tell the friendly nun behind the counter that you read my blog, too. (At my favourite book shop in Toronto, Crux Books, it won't be a nun but a hungry theology student, probably male and incredibly cute.) If you read the book very carefully, without squishing the pages, you can give it away as a Christmas present when you're done.

The more copies of my book that sell, the more likely it is that my lovely publishers will take another risk on original (and, let's face it, super-trad) little me!

When Women Bully

One of my lovely Single readers was bullied by a gang of Married women the other evening, and I am as mad as a sack of hedgehogs on speed. It was a potluck supper, my reader brought a spicy dish, the Married women made faces and one actually said, "No wonder you're Single."

Not to be judgmental or anything, but I wonder if the divine light of grace left this Married woman's soul that instant or if it had been cast out long ago.

Frankly, I think "Now wonder you're Single" counts as fighting words, and I am indulging in a fantasy where my reader whips out her pearl-handled revolver and shoots her verbal assailant in the heart right over the jello salad. My reader is, of course, arrested, but she is in luck because the judge is ME, and when I hear that the soi-disant "victim" said, "No wonder you're Single," I bang my gavel on the desk and say "Case dismissed."

Being a woman's woman does not mean I am blind and deaf to the evil that women do. I have a long, resentful memory, and I could list dozens and dozens of girls and women who screamed, yelled, mocked and hurt my feelings from Grades 3 to 13. Occasionally they invite me to be their Facebook friends, ah ha ha ha. My all-girls high school, by the way, was utter heaven compared to co-ed elementary school, which was like the Lord of the Flies with sexual touching. And if the female bullies, child and adult, of elementary school were not enough, there were the bullies of Girl Guides, women's hockey, ballet and piano lessons. Ah yes, dear Mrs "Your-brother-is-so-talented-what-is-wrong-with-you?"

Looking on the bright side, however, years and years trapped with female bullies taught me how to cope with them, and I had very little problem from them in high school. That was a very good thing, for whereas the girls of elementary school had emotional torture down to an art form, the girls of high school were into physical violence.

The way to cope with female bullies is to not give a damn. My elementary class was small; there was no escaping "the Popular Girls." My secondary class was huge; I quickly found girls who were a lot like me and ignored the wilder sort. (The wilder sort still get together, and their Facebook photos, showing them tanned and fake breasted, are sadly hilarious.) I have a few favourite memories of my high school bullies; after a day of nasty whispers that Evelyn was going to beat me up, I found Evelyn and said "I hear you want to beat me up." Evelyn had a hangover, so she told me to forget about it. Happy days.

Anyway, off I went to university, and I have rubbed along pretty well with most women my age and younger--except abortion rights activists, of course--ever since. Older women are often a bit trickier to deal with, since they were brought up to fear younger women. It is sad. Personally, I love younger women. Competition is just not my thing.

Some women never get beyond the bully stage. As a temp, I got to see what women who waste their lives in purchasing departments are like, and it was certainly awful at times. I've seen mean-faced middle-aged women plot against another middle-aged woman and shriek with laughter when they made their victim cry.

Another way to cope with female bullies is to avoid them. Cut them right out of your life. If there is one making your life hell at work, tell your supervisor. And if the hell continues, quit and tell your supervisor why. Quit at a time that will be the most difficult time for your supervisor to replace you. You won't be there to deal with your supervisor's frustration, but the bullies will.

Bullies at work are hard to deal with, but there is absolutely no need for any woman to put up with a bully in her social life for more than 30 seconds. Family life--well, you may need a counsellor. But social life? No way. I advised my reader to never have anything to do with the Married Woman bullies she had to deal with ever again. Saying "No wonder you're Single" is emotional abuse, almost as much of an assault as a punch in the gut, and no-one should put up with that.

In my next fantasy, one of the married bullies, missing the scapegoat of her twisted little set, phones up my reader and invites her to another party. And my reader, beginning to plan a fun event for that very evening, tells her she would rather stick lighted fondue forks in her eyes, thanks. Buh-bye!

Update: Speaking of fondue forks, some nice person has sent me a raclette from England without including a card or anything. My husband has brightly suggested that it is a bomb from Al-Qaeda at last. If it was you, please send me an email. Thank you!

Update: The raclette was from my brother in raclette-loving French Canada.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Ribald Humor

As this is one of my favourite topics, my original answer was long enough for the lead article in a special issue of a magazine. Let's hope I can be more concise this morning.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I would be grateful for your insightful on crude humor in the realm of flirting. Admittedly, I have a bit of a low brow sense of humor. It can also be laden with sexual innuendos when I like a gentleman. I do not mind this type of humor directed at me from an interested male either, as long as it doesn't get too vulgar and crass.

However, I am beginning to wonder if this type of humor dripping with spicy innuendos is not the way to go. Do men respect women who think and talk like that? Does it intrigue them or make them think less of you? Would a man who genuinely likes and respects you never speak to you in this manner. When it is OK during the course of getting to know/date a man to introduce a little "cheek" into the conversation?

I have a hard time distinguishing sexual interest from genuinely interest when it comes to men. Be it over indoctrinated feminism and the sexual revelation or the fact I raised without a father. Whatever the cause, I am trying to learn the differences now to better judge how men behave when they truly truly like a woman.

I observe my male friends with their girlfriends and see how they act like completely different individuals around them as opposed to around myself and other men. It used to irritate men that they would behave one manner around their spouses and another with friends, like they were being fake and putting on a show.

For so long I thought I knew men because of my close friendships but in truth I know nothing about healthy relationships and am only learning now what they look like.

And what does that say about me that I actually ENJOY cheeky conversation and low brow humor sprinkled with a dash of dark? Does it mean that I am doomed to never be respected by men and only thought of as common? Should I do nothing and accept this is my sense of humor and hope one day some man with an equal delight for the devilish finds me endearing?

Oh, Auntie Seraphic. Help this hapless soul!

Ribald Humor

Dear Ribald Humor,

Listen, sexual innuendo is right out in Seraphicland. The one man in the universe who hears double-entendres come out of my mouth is my husband, who is no slouch himself, although if he says those things in public, I will slay him.

Before I married and moved away, I enjoyed saying awful things in front of my girlfriends, who screamed with laughter. But it was funny only because I do not have bona fide lesbian tendencies. If I did, the girls would have fled like deer before wolves.

So I have a double-standard. I'll say anything in front of my closest women friends and let them say anything as naughty as they like and shriek with laughter along with my fellow harpies. But put a man in the room, and I am vinegar and lemon juice when the bad words come out. I even go so far as to leave my dinner table with the ladies when the port arrives, creating a space in which men can be men, which awes my husband's friends, and whacks it into their heads that I am not the sort of woman they can curse before, etc.

This probably checks their conversations at other tables when I am present, but I don't care. I am a firm believer in Catholic women ennobling generally-decent Catholic men by good example, just so long as the men have their breathing space, far, far from sensitive, feminine me. Incidentally, you'll have noticed the great and awed love devout Catholic men have for the Blessed Mother.

Subtle flirting, at which many a woman is much better than I, is an art of which I approve. But over-the-top flirting is read by many men as sexual aggression and therefore is a bad old idea. I'm not sure what you mean by low-brow humour. In principle I can't see how loving Will Farrell movies will lessen your attraction in the eyes of men, but dirty jokes are right out.

There are many problems with spicy innuendo. For one thing, it's like writing a cheque you can't--and shouldn't--cash. When I say something positively volcanic to my husband, he should have a reasonable expectation that I mean what I say. If you say something spicy to a male friend, he should have a reasonable expectation that--it's a total joke, and that's not really fun or flirty. It's more like a college boy yelling "I cain't quit yuh" as his buddy puts him in a headlock and they scuffle on the kitchen floor.

If you can't put sex on the table--and you can't--you shouldn't pretend you can. How far can you go? I suggest the impression you might to create is that if X were to lose his head and kiss you under the mistletoe, you might not slap him.

Another problem with spicy innuendo is the "that kind of a girl" problem, which still exists in Catholic circles--and non-Catholic circles, don't kid yourself. Obviously you're not "that kind of a girl," so why pretend? And being an divorcee myself, I know perfectly well that the younger of Young Catholic Men do not think of divorced women as perfectly chaste pure snow angels, so it's all very dicey.

Do men think you are cheap or common or whatever for telling ribald jokes and doing a female impersonator impersonation? I doubt it--if you're their friend. If you're their friend they think you're a card, one of the guys, a great sport, but not necessarily wife material. Alas. Bette Midler is married, by the way, but her kind of brash, out-there-ness has won her more gay guy admirers than straight guy admirers.

Now, as for men sounding one way in front of their girlfriends and wives (mothers and sisters) and other around their friends, it's not a show. It's respect. Hopefully, we all tailor our conversation to our company. We're careful of what we say in front of children, for example. We strive not to use bad words before Mom.

I find British TV startling because the dirty words and curses just flow from the screen, and I rarely hear men use these words in real life. My father doesn't curse around me, my brothers don't curse around me, my husband doesn't curse around me, my husband's friends-under-65 don't curse around me. This stems from chivalry, and I do my best to keep up my end of the the bargain of chivalry, which is to look and sound like "a Lady."

One of my husband's friends opined that my husband treats me like fine porcelain china, and that is okay by me. Men take their cues from other men, and so men respect the women they see other men respecting. (This, by the way, is why you should never complain to dates of bad treatment at the hands of other men. "We had different priorities. Let's talk about you" answers the so-why-did-you-break-up question.)

To sum all this up, although a man might enjoy spicy humour from a woman when he knows that it, like she, is for him and him alone, a reputation as a ribald jokester may not foster your image as Wife Material.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Cutting the Cord

When people think you're dating each other, but you're not, it's not cute. It's sad.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Your posts "Treated Like a Yo-Yo", and "Right Now Just Friends Man" really hit home.

I have been "friends" with a Nice Catholic Boy for longer than I would care to admit. By reading your posts, I have come to realize that as much as it deeply deeply hurts, it is time to say goodbye to the NCB. We text, call, and email almost everyday. Most people think we are dating, but we are not, and it has gone on all too long.

I know that I need to say goodbye to the NCB, but I also don't want to be rude and just drop off the face of the planet and not return his calls, emails, or texts. Like you said in your post, the "NCB wasn't wicked". He has actually been there at some of the most trying moments, I do deeply value his friendship, and all that I have learned in our friendship. He has been a good friend, even a great friend.

Once or twice I have thought of writing him a letter explaining that I need to step back and not have contact so he understands but have never followed through. So, all-wise Auntie, what is an NCG to do? How do I cut the cord without coming off as cutting and cold?

Most sincerely,

Cutting the Cord

Dear Cutting the Cord,

You might as well go for broke. He's your boyfriend in all but name and (I assume) kissing anyway, so this may call for one, go-for-broke, betting the rent money on one roll of the dice verbal question from you, which could be "So, want to be my boyfriend?" or "I was thinking of us getting married a year from June, what do you think?"

Normally I would never suggest this, but you are stuck in a total friend zone, thanks to all the daily phone calls, texts and emails.

If you're going to go down--and it looks like you're willing to crash-land the plane--you might as well go down in a blaze of glory. Obviously don't do this if your NCB is a priest or seminarian. But, frankly, if you two are such great friends--and you love him--why aren't you getting married? At least bring up the issue. That way, if it doesn't go the Hollywood way, and if you really never do want to talk to him again, he will definitely know why it's over. Anything is better than the slow death of love.

Yes, I am advocating The Talk. The Talk should not be dramatic or surprising or involve cupcakes with hearts on them as I saw quite horribly done on a British TV program about internet dating. It should merely be something like "We're such great friends; why aren't we more than friends?" (If he says, "Do you want to be more than friends?" Say "Yes." It's been more than a year; either he does or he doesn't. Time to find out.)

This should lead to an important conversation that might be painful, but might also bear a lot of fruit. If the outcome is that (for whatever reason) your friend wants to stay "just friends", you can gently tell him that, as much as you care for him, you need some emotional space so that you can find a husband. Be that blatant. Every woman called to marriage deserves a husband and shouldn't be impeded by less committed men from being available to real, honest-to-God suitors.

As I don't know if there are other women in his life, I have no reason to think he might be gay. However, I have to say that this is certainly one explanation of why a man might have such a close relationship with a woman without ever making a move. In the Catholic world, especially, such men are so terrified of rejection and isolation that they might take a very long time indeed before outing themselves, as one NCB eventually did to one of my letter-writers. If you have a sneaking feeling that this might be the case, I recommend reading "Always Our Children" by the American bishops.

The worst thing to do is to just try to starve the friendship to death. In your case, I really think it is time for The Talk. And I would say the same thing for a woman who has been dating the same man for a year without his ever mentioning marriage. One year, boyfriend or crush, is enough time to spend on a man who has no marriage intentions.

One last word about male-female buddy-buddy relationships. It's too late for you now in this case, but I think there is a real danger of falling in love with the wrong man when a woman's best pal is that man. Male-female friendships can be great, but I am very suspicious of buddy-buddy ones that don't soon blossom into romance.

I very much hope this is helpful. As a reader, you've been added to my Sunday prayer list.

Grace and peace,

AND NOW: a special treat!

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I just wanted to write to you and say thank you. I finally got up the courage to have "the Talk" with the NCB. The NCB was shocked to learn of my feelings although he has since admitted that he realizes he has been leading me on for quite some time. He found it quite shocking that I would want to step away from our friendship to guard my heart. I had to laugh. Hearing him say this helped me to understand how much I have been torturing myself. I am so peaceful now that I have been able to step away. We haven't had any contact.

Also, I should let you know that no sooner did I say goodbye to NCB then a GCM (GREAT Catholic Man) magically appeared in my life. While it has been a short time I have not met a man with more purpose, character, and chivalry than GCM. He has pursued me and made his intentions very clear.

I have you to thank, Auntie, for this new adventure. Had I not said goodbye to NCB I would have missed out on GCM! Thank you for reminding me not to settle and to have faith and hope that there are great Catholic men out there.

Cut the Cord

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Living With Loneliness

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Over the past few years, I had managed to forget that I was lonely in my singleness, which recently got me into a bit of trouble (thankfully, only a bit). In recovering from this trouble, I have been learning that it is not in forgetting or ignoring that loneliness but in coming to terms with it that one is able to live a healthy single life. Now I get to learn how to live as a lonely-yet-healthy Searching Single, and I'm curious to see how that shapes up.

I expect you might have some wisdom to impart on the subject of living with loneliness, and I would love to hear it. I know this isn't your typical Auntie Seraphic letter, but I look forward to reading your response.

Living With Loneliness

Dear LWL,

Loneliness is so much a part of the Single life that an entire section of my book Seraphic Singles is entitled "Loneliness Happens."

Although everyone in every state of life sometimes feels lonely, I must say that I feel loneliness a lot less now as a happily married woman than I did when I was Single. However, the loneliness I felt as a Single, divorced-and-annulled person was nothing to the loneliness I felt as an unhappily married person. There is no worse loneliness than being in a marriage with someone you dislike and who quite obviously is disappointed in the reality of you.

So the first thing to say is that there are worse kinds of loneliness than the loneliness you feel because you are not married.

The second is, of course, that everyone feels lonely at least part of the time.

The third is that having a boyfriend or a husband is not the great cure-all for loneliness, although being married to the right person certainly keeps it at bay quite a lot of the time.

For some reason probably having to do with the odd nature of teenage brains, I was sure that the deep, deep loneliness I felt at 16 would be alleviated if I had a boyfriend. Logically, what I needed to do was find more friends, and hang out with lots of friends, instead of pining for my best friend, who was always out with her boyfriend. And, indeed, eventually I joined the local student pro-life movement, and then I barely had time to be lonely. My life was jam-packed with people and activities.

The fourth is that loneliness has its bright side, which is that it forces the lonely person to cry out to God and beg for God's company in one's aloneness. Loneliness is a holy suffering, mirroring Our Lord's ultimate suffering on the Cross, which seems not to have been His battered body's war with gravity, but His sense of having been left totally alone: "My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?"

The fifth is that, aside from its spiritual opportunities, too much loneliness is a dangerous thing. The last time I dated a man of bad character, my judgement was swayed by the anger, resentment and loneliness I felt when my male religious classmates were sent to exotic lands to do very meaningful work over the summer, and I was assigned an almost meaningless make-work parish placement a twice-daily two-hour bus journey from my home. It was absolutely ridiculous, and today I think that was a terrible position for a lay woman to be in. (For true loneliness and humiliation, try standing outside a church, trying to gladhand parishioners like a trendy priest while they file by with embarrassed eyes averted.)

Therefore, I encourage Singles to reduce your loneliness as much as you can without forgetting its central holiness. Single people can live with those family members you get along with well or with friends. You can adopt pets. You can go to daily Mass. You can get involved with MeetUp groups or parish activities. You can use the internet to chat with others as long as you remember that this is a poor second-best to real relationships. You can blog. You can read and research. You can take night classes. You can budget to take taxis instead of busses home at night. You can prepare for empty evenings with specially chosen CDs or DVDs. You can reach out to friends more often. You can pray. You can remember that God wants to be with you, and will be if you choose Him.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 13 December 2010

Happy Birthday, Seraphic Singles Blog

Gracious me! I have been blogging here on the renewed Seraphic Singles for a year! I picked the official start day to coincide with my parents' wedding anniversary. My mum and dad have been married for 41 years, so congratulations, Mum and Dad!

Age of Anxiety

The other day a young friend contacted me over Skype because her friend was freaking and wanted my advice. Rarely do I give advice over Skype, but I've known my young friend for years, and it was not a complex situation. Indeed, the situation was even simpler than it sounded at first because the real problem was that the friend of my friend was 25 and having "I'm 25" wobbles. It seems worthwhile to write on 25 again.

It was incredibly dumb of society to arbitrarily make 25 the age at which youth ends or something. This has nothing to do with present generations. Let me quote to you from An Infamous Army (1937) by celebrated romance novelist Georgette Heyer:

Lady Barbara Childe was no longer in the first flush of her youth. She was twenty-five years old and had been three years a widow.

If Lady Barbara Childe was no longer in the first flush of her youth, I must have a foot firmly planted in the grave. Of course, Lady Barbara was in her second flush (or whatever) at the Battle of Waterloo, and I suppose back then I might have already been in my grave at 39, what with the short lifespan of women until someone came up with the brilliant idea of doctors washing their hands.

Anyway, today 25 is young. I agree (in hindsight) that at 25 you should be out of school and into work, or at least well advanced on your useful (e.g. dentistry) post-graduate studies, but in terms of marriage-and-babies 25 is still young. As far as I can tell the only (and I mean only) age any woman who likes children needs to worry about is age 35, for that is the year fertility specialists currently say your fertility drops off. But, of course, God's actions are not limited by the opinions of fertility specialists so, girls, feel free not to settle for Mr. Just Okay when you are 34.

Men, of course, do not need to worry quite so much about their fertility dropping off, but it is a sad fact of life that most young women do not fancy balding men, so don't think your rugged good looks will continue to attract 25 year olds for the rest of your life. When you are 30 or so, even if you are incandescently beautiful, young women will begin to say "Yes, but he still doesn't know what he wants to do for a living." And you will see your less good-looking, more mature pals marrying marvellous women of all ages. Don't you settle, either, but don't think men can put off adulthood forever without severe consequences.

The most helpful thing I ever read about age was an article by a journalist who was always ashamed of how old she looked. Decade by decade, she compared photos of her current appearance to photos of her more youthful appearance. And then one day, she was struck by something. While looking at a beautiful picture of herself in her 30s, she realized that when that photo was taken, she was hating herself for looking so old. And she realized that when she was 70, looking at photos of her current, 40-something, self, she would think how beautiful she had looked. In short, it was all relative, and she stopped worrying about it.

The aristocratic heroine of Turnip Tops (1929) by Ethel Boileau, notes that men now look at her beautiful daughter Veronica in the way they used to look at her. This obviously makes her sad, and she feels older than the hills. Veronica Mallory, described as the most sophisticated, although physically virginal, of the Jazz Age generation, is only 19, and her older brother is about 22, so Mrs. Mallory is probably 45, tops. Now I never had a glorious, Country-Life-Model, beauty to lose, which is perhaps why I feel much better about getting on in years than Boileau's heroine. Also, this is 2010, and health care is immeasureably better. All the same, I think Mrs Mallory was rather silly.

Anyway, there is no real point in worrying about turning this age or that. It happens, of course, and people feel real grief over turning 25, 30, 40 and (I believe) 60. But this grief is not very logical. The alternative to turning 40 is dying before 40, and personally I don't feel I am done with living yet.

The way to cope with Bad Birthdays, I have held since shortly before I turned 30, is to have as big a birthday bash as you can afford and tell all and sundry how old you are, so that they can, truthfully or merely politely, tell you you don't look it. You should be left with memories of a great night.

I simply cannot remember what I did for my 25th birthday, but for my 30th, I organized a big birthday dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in town (and everyone insisted on paying on their own dinner AND mine) with cake in my tiny bedsitter afterwards. It was a marvellous party, and not only did it help me turn 30, it helped my one-year-younger brother rethink his dread of turning 30.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Ex-Seminarian's Girlfriend

I had to change this letter massively to protect privacy all around. You'll just have to trust me on what I said about the dates, which I've removed. It's still a long letter. Get a coffee, read, learn, pray for your fellow reader.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Thank you so much for your straight-up, solid, and spiritual advice in your blog. I'm a 2- year old graduate of X living in Y, [in a service profession, ministering to Catholics]. I love serving God and I have a full life with great, supportive friends, a spiritual director, and a prayer life. I'm working towards loving God and knowing Him more and more every day but I think I'm finally at a point of stability in my life where I can seriously pursue my vocation, which I believe is to marriage, and that brings me to my current situation, that I hope you can offer some insight on.

I've been seeing a NCB for more than - months. He is the newest addition to [my workplace], a former seminarian who [very recently] left the seminary (Auntie, I know...) after discerning that he believes he is called to marriage. He is tall and handsome.

Of course, my feminine heart fluttered the first time I saw him, but I thought I would be wiser this time and entrust everything to the Lord. I prayed unceasingly to the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. Ann, and St. Therese. I guarded my heart, I did not initiate conversations, or invite him to hang out, offer my phone number, or facebook friend him.

I let him, completely and totally, pursue me like a gentleman and pursue he did, slowly and carefully, getting to know me little by little, first through casual conversations after school, then coffee, then walks by the beach, then to dinner, multiple times, a crazy romantic date at [a special place], all the while being a perfect gentleman. Literally.

So I prayed and prayed that God's will be done, if it was his will that we be together, then let's go, if not, then strike it down, Lord! I don't want to fool around and I don't want any more heartbreaks. He didn't even hold my hand until a month of hanging out had gone by, then put his arm around me, and then finally he kissed me. Soon after he asked me if I would be his girlfriend and since [then], that's what I've considered myself. I would be lying if I said that at this point I did not have any marriage fantasies.

He is 3- years old, he allegedly knows what he wants, he's financially secure, we agree on morals and values, the faith, money management, we both hope to raise a family in this area. There are so many wonderful things that I love about him and I really think that I'm in love.

A few days ago, we were talking about our relationship. We haven't been having ridiculous "OMG I WANT TO MARRY YOU IN 6 MONTHS WHERE SHOULD WE HAVE THE WEDDING?" conversations, more vague and theoretical but this was seeming to be a great conversation about where we are going, that we're not dating each other just to have fun, but with a purpose of discernment.

He asked me if I'm free to discern marriage, and I told him yes, I'm not considering religious life, and I don't have anyone else holding me back. I asked him the same, and [Seraphic's note: ALARM ALARM WHOOP WHOOP CLANG CLANG!] basically it came out that he has been having lingering thoughts about the priesthood and the seminary, especially brought on by the death of a close priest friend that happened last week.

It turns out (I just learned this last week too) that he left the seminary because [ALARM!] he kept thinking about a girl he met the summer before with whom he pursued a relationship with [WHOOP!] the permission of his bishop but then decided [CLANG!] to go back to seminary. He said that in the seminary he was having a hard time having a concrete relationship with Christ and this girl was so concrete, so affectionate, and it was much easier to love her and have a relationship with her than with God.

He decided to leave in -, left for real in -, dated the aforementioned girl in the summer, but [WHOOP! WHOOP!] they broke up (unclear as to why exactly). He told me[EEE-OOOO], tearfully, that he was thinking about his deceased friend and how he was so smart and talented and could have married any woman that he wanted [Seraphic's Note: Why do they always think that?] but he laid down his life to serve God. He knows that he has many talents that could serve him well as a priest or as a husband and father. [S.N.: The fact that he sounds like a conceited, self-absorbed ass, however, has passed him by.]

At this point I was fairly certain that my life was over, we were breaking up, and I was never going to recover. He told me that he was worried about hurting me [S.N.: he, of course, is risking nothing] and I said very honestly, "X, if you discern that you're not called to be with me, I will be hurt, there's no way around it."

He thanked me for my honesty but while I felt kind of doom and gloom (God asks us to sacrifice the things we love the most and lay them down to prove our love for him etc.) he seemed to feel relieved to share this with me [S.N.: therapists are so expensive] and was hopeful about a future. We went on to have a lovely evening, though at this moment I'm still pretty distraught.

Seraphic, I feel like I know what I need to do. I know I need to be honest about my thoughts, feelings, and expectations, but I can't help but try to be extra perfect so that he won't leave me, though I know that's not what it's about at all. He's told me that he wants to be with me and that he loves the person that I am and that I have amazing qualities.

But theoretically this is about what his vocation actually is. Both of us need to be more serious about our relationship with God and NOW if we're discerning a vocation to marriage with each other. I really thought that's where this was heading but now I'm confused by his priestly leanings, I think he's confused too.

I really thought when we started seeing each other that he was confident that marriage was his vocation and I do feel a little deceived. Should we seriously discern marriage with each other or do we need to break up so he can figure this out?

Do you think it's possible that he's only feeling that way because of the death of his friend and the feelings it's raised? How does one "seriously discern marriage"? I'm so head over heels for him and I'm terrified but I know that whatever happens, God will give me the grace to endure it.

Is there anything I can do? I think that the things I am learning about him now and the fact that I realize that I need to run to the Lord with this is good... but I need some concrete steps to take in the relationship. There are so many layers to this problem and I am really blind-sided. I hope I'm not leaving out any essential details because I would really love your input. Thank you so much!

Ex-Seminarian's Girlfriend

Dear Ex-Seminarian's Girlfriend,

Here I am, having given this some thought and prayer and also asked myself, "What would you do, Seraphic?"

To look at the timeline again, your ex-seminarian friend went into the seminary before [V], and then dated a girl in [W] "with the permission of his bishop," went back to the seminary despite the girl, decided to leave because of her in [X], but left as late as [Y], kept on dating the girl in [Z] and then broke up with her--and you don't know why. He's told you everything else; I wonder why not that?

In [A] (I'm assuming) he joined your workplace and started to pursue you. By the end of [B], he had asked you to be his girlfriend. So he left the seminary just - months ago, and he broke up with his girlfriend potentially just - months before he kissed you. Fast work. And now he's crying over the seminary again. I wonder if he cried to his last girlfriend, too.

If I were you, I would tell him that he's great, but I'm not into unstable guys. I am 2-, I have a job I love, and I am a great catch, not a safety blanket for some guy who can't decide if he wants to be a priest or not. I want a guy who is so crazy about me, he would rather lose a finger than go anywhere near the seminary again. He can give me a call when he's got his head together.

Easier said than done, I know. But the more I hear about on-again, off-again seminarians and how they treat their interim girlfriends, the madder I get. A 30 something should be too old for this crap. Meanwhile, if he insists he really wants to be with you or pursue things right now, and you take the chance, the second he mentions discerning the priesthood again, dump him. Dump him flat.

I hope this is helpful. Meanwhile, because of the sensitivity of all this, I strongly encourage you to talk to a priest, your mother, or another older woman who loves you for a second opinion.

Grace and peace,

P.S. To all other Single Girls: Run, don't walk, away from recent seminary drop-outs. Turn down their date requests with a smile and "Oh, I think we'd better wait until you're more acclimatized to the outside world." I think about a year would do it, and by then they'll have broken up with their post-seminary rebound girlfriends.

By the way, I think it is outrageous that bishops give seminarians permission to date. Listen, if any of you are dating actual seminarians who are still in the seminary, don't tell me, because my head will explode. The 1970s are over; the restoration has begun.

P.S. 2 Watch out for men who weep on dates. To quote Elton John, "Those crocodile tears ain't tears of pain/Look a little closer--it's acid rain."

P.S. 3 If you can manage it with a straight face, and not crying, if any man you are dating tells you he think he should go into the seminary, tell him absolutely he should. Be really enthusiastic. Stress how we need priests. Don't give him the slightest idea he would be missed by a single Single girl on this side of the wall. That should deflate him a bit. Meanwhile, don't answer his next phone call. It's over. Don't take him back without an abject, and I mean abject, apology.


UPDATE: A seminarian left his interesting and respectful seminarian's eye view under Discern This, Drama Boy.

Friday, 10 December 2010

LifeSiteNews is in Trouble

Someone just emailed to say that LifeSiteNews is in real financial trouble. My correspondent didn't even say "Sister, do you have a dime?" He just asked me to blog on their financial plight, and I said yes. He asked me to tell other bloggers like Andrew Cusack, and I said yes.

LifeSiteNews fights the good fight for the rights of unborn babies, the disabled, the aged and women who don't want to share their bathrooms with men dressed like women, and it collects a lot of news items of interest to Catholic and other Christians that you can't easily find elsewhere. It is quite unabashedly pro-traditional this and that, and it blew the lid off the Development & Peace scandal, which my Canadian readers may have heard about.

LifeSiteNews is more-or-less associated with The Interim, Canada's pro-life, pro-family print newspaper, which has managed to stay in print for so many decades, I'm starting suspect divine intervention. LifeSiteNews is also, IMHO, the most wide-reaching, influential thing the pro-life movement in Toronto has ever done, and I know what I'm talking about. It also employs Hilary White, who is a very good writer, I must say. She's got a tongue that could shave a hedgehog and has denounced me once or twice, but the woman can write.

If you happen to have $5 or more that you can spare on a needy internet newspaper, I suggest you send it to LifeSiteNews.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Homesick But In Love

Please see update below.

Some decisions are easier to make when you are in your late thirties, let me tell you.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I know this isn't the normal line of question you have, but as you have first hand knowledge of being an immigrant bride, I thought you could help.

I am from the US, and have attended university in Europe for the last few years. There I met a wonderful British man and we intend to marry. Our original plan was to return to the US for a few years, especially as we don't really like the area in which we both live.

However, he now says he has seen how homesick I have been and isn't sure if he wants to move so far from his home. He has suggested that I return to the US for a few months, and also told me that if I thought it would make me happier in the long run to leave him and go back to America for good, he would be devastated but would understand.

The idea of living so far from my family makes me quite sad, but I also truly believe that this is the man I am meant to marry. He is one of the most decent, honourable, compassionate, thoughful and generous men I have ever met. I believe I would be truly happy as his wife, and I can't imagine my life without him.

This is all complicated by the fact that we both live in a town that has no real sense of community and where neither of us has been able to really find friends or put down roots. We have both found new flats in a nearby town that has more going on (including an active young Catholics group), which I think may help combat my homesickness. I also have a job which is perfectly ok, but not very stimulating and not what I wanted to be doing.

I was hoping you could give me some advice on this situation. I know you have made a huge sacrifice to live in Scotland with BA, so perhaps you could shed some light. I really love this man, but I also really love my family, and I need some auntly advice.

Homesick But In Love

Dear Homesick,

"God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten son..." (John 3:16). Love is wonderful, but it usually entails sacrifice. It is also a leap of faith, and so when taking any kind of vow, we have to be 90% sure that this is what we are called to do. Rarely are we at 100%.

When I realized that Benedict Ambrose was going to ask me to marry him, I knew that this meant that one of us would have to emigrate. And I knew it would be me because B.A. simply isn't the emigrating type and besides he has carved out a career for himself here. My writing I can do anywhere; he has to be in Scotland.

Still, I knew that this would be a big sacrifice all the same: I would be across the ocean from all my family, all my girlfriends, most of my readership, all my business contacts. Last Christmas morning, the first Christmas I ever spent apart from my family, I was almost hysterical with homesickness.

I have a Jesuit friend who very much loves his widowed father and his brother but he almost never gets to spend Christmas with them. This Christmas he'll be in Italy again. And I have a cloistered Benedictine friend about your age, whose father is so angry she became a Catholic nun, he may never go to visit. And yet my Jesuit friend, my Benedictine friend and I are all very happy in our foreign homes, far away from all those we loved best in our youth.

If you truly love this man and he truly loves you, you will have compensations to make up for your sacrifice. And even if you did end up living in your hometown, your friends and family might not always be there for you. Your older relatives will grow old and die; your girlfriends will marry and move away; your younger relatives will marry and spend more time with their spouses and children than with you. That is just how life is. We must embrace the future, not sacrifice the future to prolong the past.

I cope with living in a new country in a number of ways: I made good friends with my husband's Catholic friends (whom I adore), and I enjoy spending time with his non-Catholic friends and their wives. I go out of my way to befriend women in my TLM community, be they university students, young mothers or grandmothers. I do work I enjoy (tho' badly paid, alas!), and I keep up with both the Canadian and the British news via internet.

I keep up with my old friends via internet and with occasional phone calls. I invite family and friends to stay in exotic Scotland, and I send them Christmas cards, Valentine's chocolate (if single), and little gifts. I make new friends by going to Historical House-related events and parties, and I get along very well with my nearest neighbours, who are in their early 60s.

Of course I miss my family and sometimes I miss my girlfriends so much I could cry, but there is always the phone and, thank God, Skype-with-video, and I am just so thankful I have B.A., who is a great companion though not (obviously) as good at girl talk as girls are.

I concentrate on what I love about Scotland (without being blind to the drawbacks, e.g. the Central Belt's helplessness before snow), and I compare how beautiful Edinburgh is compared to my hometown (so disloyal, I know, but Edinburgh really outshines Toronto).

If you wanted to do an experiment, I would recommend going home to the USA without your fiance for six months to see how that feels. However, that might be an expensive way of figuring out what you already know and might feel like your heart is being ripped out, chunk by chunk. I hate being apart from my husband.

I am sure this is not a universal, but back in the day, men used to raid tribes and steal women for wives, carting them off triumphantly home. It didn't work the other way around. Possibly there is some deep cultural instinct that women can cope better having been carted off into a foreign tribe than men can. Maybe from centuries of being carted off, women-in-general developed a greater ability than men to thrive socially in new circumstances.

After thinking about this for a week, the only thing I have to add is that finding the love of your life in your mid-twenties is a gift that should not be thrown away. My great regret is that I did not meet B.A. when we were in our twenties.

I hope this is helpful. Oh, and I should mention that youth is very resilient. At 39 I should be a basketcase, having emigrated so late in life, usually the province of the adventure-seeking young, but most of the time I am as happy as a clam.

Grace and peace,

UPDATE: I wrote my reply assuming my reader was formally engaged to her fiance. It did not occur to me that they might not be engaged, although readers have pointed out that this might actually be just a boyfriend-girlfriend thing. If so, I would certainly advise my reader to go home. If she is not engaged, but her, um, boyfriend is serious about marriage, he will be there within three months with a ring. B.A., who formally asked me to marry him before I left Scotland, arrived in my hometown two months later with a ring. That doesn't solve the "where will we live" problem, but it certainly clears up any doubts about whether the marriage will happen or not.

As a tip-to-getting-engaged-to-foreigners-abroad, I would say that it is an extremely bad idea to go on to them about how homesick you are. When I realized that I was in love with B.A., I worried that he would think I would fear homesickness too much to want to get involved with him. Of course, I wasn't homesick, and I very rarely am homesick.

Absolutely, there is a difference between a fiance and a boyfriend. I do not want any reader to give up anything for a relationship as tenuous and, in the end, meaningless as "girlfriend-boyfriend."

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Solidarity Again

As you know, I'm married now. But it just so happens that marriage does not scare away all rejection forever. Married people still face rejection in buckets although Single people don't always realize this. And for this reason, I drag myself to the computer to tell you whenever I've had a manuscript rejected.

Today I had a manuscript rejected.

This morning's rejection was a particularly ill-timed one, I must say, although that isn't anybody's fault. And the reasons for the rejection were understandable, although by the moral criteria of the editors, almost everything by Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, plus a good chunk of Morley Callaghan and Piers Paul Read also would have been rejected. This makes me feel better and worse by turns.

Anyway, I carried a printed copy of manuscript to Mass in a yellow bag with "Papal Visit to the UK Pilgrim Pack" (a yellow bag) written on it and sent it off to the next name on my list.

The only way to deal with rejection is to keep on going.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Freedom From "Femininity"

Femininity is certainly a controversial issue. And here on Seraphic Singles, whenever an issue seems particularly controversial, and feelings are high, I write about it again.

Femininity is controversial firstly because social codes of femininity have been used--and still are (burkha, spike heels) used to restrict women's freedoms and flourishing. It is controversial secondly because if we don't measure up to someone else's standard of femininity we tend to take it personally. At Mass on Sunday, our priest extolled motherhood and condemned how some today actually hate motherhood and I felt all very sorry for myself because I'm not pregnant yet and what's with that?

Anyway, I thought to myself later, how did this turn into a "How to Get Guys" blog? Beyond the part-self-help book, part-Catholic-anthropology, part-learning-from-mistakes philosophical mishmash that my group of friends collectively known as Les Girls and I concocted, what do I know? Mostly what I know is how to avoid Mr Wrong and how to spot other women's Mr Wrongs in those women's honest emails to Auntie Seraphic.

How not to scare Mr Right away, I think I have a good handle on. But as to finding Mr Right, that I leave to God. Let go, I say, and let God. The only three great truths about men-in-general in this area that I grasp with both hands are that 1. Men will work for what/who they really want; 2. Men are terrified of marrying the wrong woman; 3. Men prefer women to look like what they think "women" look like; fortunately there is quite a lot of variety here.

If you are a happy Single, and do not give a flying fish what men think women should look like, then you are free, free, free as a bird to ignore what men prefer. And why not? Go take a look at a modern-style nun, the kind with no habit. How does she dress? And how short is her hair, eh? I know umpteen modern-style nuns, and they all have short hair. And they love pantsuits. If you are wondering who is keeping the pantsuit makers in business, it is thousands and thousands of modern-style nuns over 60, bless them. And one thing you can say about nuns, ancient and modern, is that they rightly have zero interest in attracting men.

Two of my favourite modern-style nuns are not very feminine. I love them, and they could kill a rude man at ten paces with a glance from their nunly eyes, and they are not very feminine. I know feminine nuns, but these ones aren't. They are sharp-talking and loud and raucous. They love football, which they watch on TV. They wear trousers in and out of season. If you handed them a row of false eyelashes, they would take it outside and lay it on the porch to run free, since they could only assume it was an unusual new spider.

They have their Rule, their devotions, their convent, their household rituals, their paid employment, their other ministries, their lefty theologies, their responsibilities to the oldest sisters away in the nursing home, their holiday cottage. They have an amazing way of life. I could have shared their amazing way of life because they asked me, and I am very proud of that, but I just couldn't.

I couldn't, not just because I couldn't be a modern-style nun, but because it would just about kill me to cut my hair short, cutting my hair short meaning that it was over between me and men-as-caffeine-in-the-cappuccino-of-life forever. And indeed, that is why old-style nuns originally had their hair cut: it was THE sign that they were permanently unavailable. Buddhist nuns shave their heads, too.

Meanwhile, I know non-nun Single women who are equally as uninterested in attracting men. They live make-up free, cute-shoe free, skirt free, short-haired existences, and they have beautiful lives. They have their jobs, their hobbies, their pets, their friends (men and women), and nobody could care less that they can't flirt their way out of paper bags. It just doesn't matter.

St. Augustine, when contemplating which female lives were best, rated Permanent Virginity (proto-nun life) first, then Marriage next, because married women have to looking pleasing to only one man, and then Unmarried But Wanting To Get Married dead last because those women have to look pleasing to many men, which St. Augustine thought terrible.

My Searching Single readers may say "Thanks for nothing, St. Augustine," but perhaps this will cheer Serious Single readers who wonder if there is anything wrong with them for not being at all interested in men-as-caffeine, and prefering a quiet, busy life of comfortable shoes, Pears soap and cats.

And of course there isn't. It seems like a marvellous way of life to me. Perhaps when B.A. shuffles off this mortal coil, I'll live that way, too. When arthritis hits, I'll have to cut my hair anyway. But for the time being, I will continue wearing cute shoes and mascara, not only because B.A. likes them but also because other men seem to, and if St. Augustine thinks that is simply appalling, then I can only grovel and say "Amen, for, lo, I am a frivolous thing."

UPDATE: EEEK! Viking hordes from The Crescat! Welcome, welcome! Buy my book for Christmas! IF you have one, buy one for your buddy! Buy two! There's a special one for Americans, protecting you from Canadian spelling conventions! Special Inside American Version: an imprimi potest!