Friday, 30 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Successful But Lonely

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I finished my doctorate at a rather young age and jumped immediately into a full-time professorship that pays very well. I have students who (usually) like coming to school, and every day I make decisions that really matter to the school. I also lead several church groups in which people are very active, kind, and faithful, and where I am making a real difference in their lives.

The problem is that the job is in a locale where I know absolutely no one and that is a desert for one searching for Catholic comaraderie. There are several obstacles to my meeting new people and making friends, even among the parishes where I'm active. Either people are too busy to make time to spend with a new acquaintance (my invitations for coffee and the like are frequently turned down because the invitee is "too busy"), or they live a lifestyle that is so antithetical to my own that I don't have any hope for real friendship with these people.

I've hosted a number of large-ish get-togethers that have been fun, but the relationships are still growing and aren't yet ripe enough to share struggles that really matter to me. Also, the frequency with which I can do this sort of thing is limited both by my time constraints, as well as the type of personality for whom one major social event is sufficient for a month.

Having also moved to a brand new place, I rely on my circle of friends from other places I've lived to get me through the days when I've tried (unsuccessfully) inviting people living in the same town as me to some sort of social event. The problem with friends who don't live near you, though, is that you don't have the opportunity to make living memories with them by physically being there. I thank God for my phone, but phone calls only go so far.

All this boils down to the fact's very hard to be chipper when you're a very social extrovert and your only real friends and family are 1000+ miles away. I know that it is sometimes hard for my friends at a distance to listen to me when I tell them of problems that I'm having -- most have never moved more than 100 miles from home, and most are not in academia. They don't understand what I'm going through, and I'm sure they tire of my problems (though I do talk about other things with them, especially what is going on in their lives.) Not to mention the fact that I sometimes wonders if it's not just a problem with me that makes having friends difficult.

How can I be more joyful and self-confident when I feel like I have no one (besides the One whom I meet in frequent prayer and sacraments) who really understands and sympathizes? I really don't want to be bitter, but the temptation grows stronger every day. I want to be the kind of person that goes out of her way to be hospitable and make conversation and help people enjoy themselves and be happy. I also want to be a source of support during trials for those whom I know. But it is very hard to do these things when one feels so isolated.

The desire to connect at a deep level with others often makes me into the person who gives away too much time and energy and information better kept private to those who are not really yet a "bosom buddy." Even more than that, I want to be the type of woman who can bring all these virtues to a strong marriage if I meet Mr. Right.


Successful But Lonely

Dear Successful But Lonely,

First, stop being so hard on yourself. You sound like you are ALREADY the kind of person who goes out of her way to be hospitable and a source of support. So never mind that. To heck with that. What you really want are people to be hospitable and a source of support to YOU, and why not? You deserve it. Let's work on you not becoming bitter because I think it's that--not you becoming a social Scrooge--that is the danger.

Second, what jumps out at me from your letter is that you have been doing all the work. YOU are the prof, and YOU make the decisions, and YOU offer the invitations, and YOU are the hostess, and YOU are a leader at church. This does not surprise me, since you have landed such a great job. You probably worked your butt off for it, but--guess what? The tactics that make us so successful at school and at work do not always win us friends, to say nothing of Mr. Right. For friends and suitors, you have to stop working. You have to start relaxing. And you have to stop LEADING all the darn time. Leading is great for school, work and ministry, but not for making friends.

All of a sudden, I am reminded of Aragorn son of Arathorn and how he and Boromir son of Denethor, the only other Man in the Fellowship of the Ring, weren't friends--probably because both Aragorn and Boromir wanted to be the leader. Hmm...

Anyway, my idea is to get you away from the university, from the students, from the decisions and from the parishes. (Parishes? How much work are you doing?) My idea is to get you into a place where you are completely equal to everyone around you, and where no-one will call you "Professor." Somewhere where you can't lead because, if there is a leader, it's somebody else.

I'm thinking "Meet Up." I'm thinking Improv.

Last night I went to a "Meet Up" for people interested in learning how to do Improv (improvised sketch comedy), of all things, and I had been invited to it by a local blog reader, who teaches it.

The co-ordinator and your fellow reader cleared away all the chairs and tables of a coffee shop and gave us name tags to write made-up names on.

"You can be anyone you want to be," said my reader, so I was Bee.

Various things struck me as Bee.

The first one that the introductory improv games loosened everyone one up and made us able to interact with complete strangers in amusing, extroverted ways.

The second was that because I was in no way in charge, I could just relax, and be, and see what was going on.

The third was that most people there were in their 20s-30s. There were some older guys (50s), and two or three older women (40s & 50s), but the majority were young and even attractive. There were some very attractive men. And I was not seeing any wedding rings, which makes complete sense because married people do not go by themselves to Meet Ups like Improv, if they go to Meet Ups at all!

The fourth was that having a "new identity" made it completely un-Singles Night-like. I might have been the only one there who thought seriously about everyone's marital status. People were there just to have innocent fun.

So, SBL, I am thinking about the Meet Up phenomenon and wondering if there are Meet Ups in your town. And even if there are no Meet Up groups, per se, I am wondering if there are evening Improv classes at your university or in the town. As an extrovert, you might not be as intimidated by the very thought as many would be.

I cannot guarantee that you will meet fellow Catholics at such things although--no word of a lie--at the Improv Meet Up group tonight, one man and I recognized each other from my former parish. I gave a lecture years ago to his RCIA class. But what you will do is meet other people, and in a position of equality, too, since you won't be leading or teaching.

I do hope this is helpful. I know it is awful not to have close Catholic friends nearby. But one of the things about being a minister to all Catholics is that it can be difficult to make Catholic friends. Try a not-Catholic-specific, not Singles-specific social/hobby activity and see what happens.

Stop do-ing so much, and start be-ing. And let people be, too. See them first of all as interesting fellow creatures, and let the friendship chips fall where they may.

Finally, I strongly recommend finding a spiritual director. As you are leading church groups, you really should have a spiritual director of your own. Ask the priests at the parishes you know for recommendations. As you have a good salary, you could certainly pay a professional lay pastoral counsellor. She or he could help you come to terms with your feelings of isolation and sometimes excessive longing for intimacy. As we learned in "Intro to Ministry," such feelings and longings can cause even lay ministers serious problems.

Grace and peace,

P.S. For what it's worth, there are only three women in Scotland I regularly have coffee with, only one of them is Catholic, and she is leaving in June.

P.S. 2 There's a really great book on Singles and spirituality by Susan Muto called Celebrating the Single Life. It warns that Singles are in danger of two extremes: doing too much for others and getting isolated. I've read it, and with a few reservations, I recommend it.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Formerly Naughty

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Recently my sister and I debated about an issue concerning sex and dating. (She's spiritual and tends to be on the liberal side on everything from sex, drugs, values, economics, etc.)

After not having been to church since my early teens, I have recently returned. My past is far from pristine. However, I am trying to be a Nice Catholic Girl. Even if at times I'm more of a Confused Catholic Girl, with all the things that I'm learning and trying to figure about Catholicism in general.

To cut to the chase, I told my sister that my plan would be to date a Nice Catholic Boy and stay chaste. Her reply was that once you lose your virginity Nice Catholic Boys or Nice Protestant Boys or Nice Religious Boys in general will look the other way. Secondly, Nice Catholic Boys would only respect those wishes from a Nice Virginal Catholic Girl. To insist at my age that I wish to abstain from sexual relations ensures that I will not find any relationship and I will ultimately end up alone. Thirdly, I was told that by insisting we stay chaste at my age I am not only being naive, but I am setting myself up for failure since most older adults do engage in sexual relationships, with the exception of virginal adults or those who were married and later saw their marriages dissolve in divorce or annulment.

What I want to know is if that is true among Nice Catholic Boys. Am I wasting my time wanting to one day date a Nice Catholic Boy if my past is far from perfect? Should I just search for a Nice Boy minus the religious affiliation? I guess the real question is if I can be accepted into a Catholic community, not being perfect. I know we're suppose to be charitable and forgiving, but I'm wondering if my sister is right. The US for all its perks can at times be very unforgiving, especially within certain Christian denominations, and it would pain me to make this attempt to start new if really in the end I'll be rejected.


Former Naughty Catholic Girl

Dear Formerly Naughty,

Yours is an incredibly important and sensitive letter, and I've taken some time to think before posting. Be warned: this is going to be a long and nuanced post.

First, it is only perpetual virginity that is important in itself. If someone plans on staying a virgin all their life, that is the highest calling in the Christian tradition after martyrdom--and martyrdom is not a gift we can give ourselves. (St. Francis tried to be martyred and failed.) Rape cannot take true virginity away: loss of virginity requires an act of will.

The reason why those who wish to be married stay virgins should be obedience to God. However, there are host of secondary and tertiary reasons to stay chaste before marriage, which I will not ennumerate because this is not a chastity blog, although of course I advocate chastity to everyone according to their state in life.

Second, loss of virginity is NOT a deal-breaker to Nice Catholic Boys, so you are not wasting your time. Many NCBs are not virgins themselves. Many have had their period of rebellion, have drunk from the world's poisoned cup and are sorry now. Fairminded, they know they have no right to judge women who have had similar experiences. However, they may avoid women who have the appearance of inchastity. Men are very visual, and I will return to this point below.

About 99% of men are given to what the chastity books call "self-abuse", so I have no patience with the few immature NCBs who are obsessed with marrying virgins. Even if they have never experienced normal sex-with-a-woman, they have committed sexual sins, and they should remember that and be humble.

Third, refusing to put out weeds out a lot of men. But not the right man. Definitely not the right man. He will always respect your decision, and frankly, I think it would just hurry up his proposal. Men tend to want to sleep with the women they passionately love. If they can't until marriage, okay, they'll just get married.

Fourth, I and my NCG friends have managed to have great adult relationships--even romantic relationships--with NCBs without having sex with them. We have dated NCBs we didn't sleep with or marry, and we have managed to be engaged to NCBs without consummating the marriage until after the wedding. NCBs are just as interested in NCGs in not having to make highly embarrassing confessions at their pre-wedding shriving.

Fifth, yes, some NCBs are obsessed with marrying virgins. This is more of a patriarchal-control thing than a Catholic thing. Guys like that often have ISSUES. Guys like that wouldn't even marry a young WIDOW. And guys like that can make lousy husbands.

Therefore, I always advise virgin NCGs not to talk about their virginity . Don't discuss it. Don't brag about it. It's nobody's business except her fiance's, and that only so they can talk about how to commence their married life without trauma. If virgins boast around, virgin-hunters of all levels of neurosis (or evil) might come out of the woodwork. Incidentally, purity rings are stupid.

Sixth, some "N"CBs (often the guys above) are afraid of sex and of women more than they are afraid of sin. Being immature, they slap labels on women, left and right. It never occurs to them that their evil slander is worse than some premarital sex is. Speaking as a former divorcee, I can tell you that this SUCKS. And therefore, NEVER tell anyone--except a therapist and/or trusted priest in the confessional--about your sexual past. Immature, gossipy "N"CBs and bitchy "N"CGs can do a girl's reputation a lot of damage. Also:

Seventh, men-in-general have very vivid sexual imaginations, and so if you tell a suitor about you and some guy, he might imagine you with that guy and get humph-y and jealous. Again, my advice is to not tell until your fiance starts to tell you about HIS sexual past, and then be as vague as possible.

Our North American cultures--American and Canadian--put too much emphasis on what we call "honesty" at the expense of privacy and prudence.

Eighth, if you are dating a Catholic man, even a lapsed one, he knows what the rules are. You tell him you are a practising Catholic, and he should know that this means no sex. If he doesn't, remind him. If he is incredulous, dump him. Walking away from his car, you will feel worse than you ever have in your life, but you'll be in good company. You don't have to admit to being a virgin or non-virgin. IT IS SO NOBODY'S BUSINESS.

In short:
1. Almost all NCBs have themselves sinned sexually.
2. A good, mature NCB does not think non-virginity a deal-breaker.
3. Some NCBs are obsessed with virginity, however, and need to grow up.
4. What is important NOW is your current chastity, and therefore do not let your past distract or detract from that. The question is not, "What did you do?" but "Who are you becoming?"
5. A man who really likes you respects you and will wait. If he can't wait, He Is Just Not That Into You. Ditch him.

Finally, there is a long essay in my book called "Pure" which sums all this up. Dawn Eden writes passionately on "secondary virginity": you could google her.

I hope this is helpful. I believe your sister is right that NCBs (being men) prefer the APPEARANCE of lifelong chastity in the women they admire, but wrong that non-virginity is dealbreaker for (good, mature) NCBs.

Meanwhile, you are not the first woman to write to me about this. And the Gospels are very clear that there is more joy in heaven over the reclaimed runaway sheep than the 99 who stuck around. And, you know, nowadays, there are probably more reclaimed runaway sheep than homebody sheep. Like, 80 sheep ran away, and 20 stayed. The 20 sheep are to be envied, but the 80 sheep are to be welcomed home with joy.

Welcome home, my dear.

Grace and peace,

Update: I will allow anonymous comments today if they are civil.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Confused in California

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

Two and a half years ago I met a wonderful European guy through an exchange program. We talked a lot and despite a few language mishaps, I thought we had a lot in common. I was supposed to go to visit his home country (not staying with him) but a long story short, that didn't end up panning out through no fault of either of ours.

Now we're occasionally in touch, mostly via emails. The last time I had a phone call from him was New Year's the year before last. I am still interested in being friends, but I don't know if he is. I feel like I'm always the one asking the questions that keep the emails going. I'm still interested in him. Is this too long? He's not taking up my every waking thought, but I do use him as a yardstick when considering new guy friends. Help?

Confused in California

Dear Confused,

A year and a half ago I met a wonderful European guy after he invited me to stay at his place in Europe. We talked a lot and despite a few language mishaps (like my calling Scotland "England"), he asked me to marry him before I left. He called me on the phone almost every single day until we were married seven months later. The last time I had a call from him was just now.

I'm not reminding you of all this to rub it in, but to show how European men act when they fall in love with a lady who lives far, far away.

My first impulse was to say, Confused, go to Europe and visit Mr. European instead of just sitting around wondering, "What if?" But then it occured to me that this guy could be French. Or Italian. Or one of a dozen nationalities of men who have a good time on vacation and then gradually forget the girls they met while practically kidnapping the women they actually want to marry.

When men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, they are practical and active. They know what they want and they try to get it before some other man can take it away from them. If your European friend was That Into You, he would be calling, emailing and visiting you whenever he could afford to. To quote Greg of HJNTIY fame, he's JNTIY.

So you shouldn't be that into Into him. Forget him. Scrub him from your mind. Ditch his sexy European imagine into the gutter at the side of the road. Break up with him right now by taking out his photo or whatever souvenir you're hiding from me and burning it in the back garden or bathtub.

As the acrid smoke swirls upwards, say, "You haven't called me since January 2009, you foreign bastard. You almost never write and you definitely never visit. When I couldn't make it to Europe, you could have offered to come here. But did you? No, you lily-livered cheese-eating surrender monkey, you did not! So I am hereby washing you right out of my hair, and calling up my friends to say that from now on I'm going to keep my eye out for a brace or two of red-blooded American men to be friends with."

The sheer futility of using some neglectful European as a yardstick when most Europeans use metric just goes without saying. Meanwhile, the first litmus test for the charm and smarts of any eligible man is that he shows up, unbidden, at your door, in your in-box or on your answering machine.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Nixon's Sister

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

My brother is a man in his late thirties who would like to be married very much. His continued single status could be attributed to being somewhat socially inept (he is a stereotypical Science Guy), or perhaps to his career choices. He has lived a nomadic life abroad for the last several years where cultural differences have made it even more difficult for him to connect. Or perhaps he just hasn't met the right woman yet. He's dated some rather nice Catholic women in these various places, but none of the relationships have developed into anything serious.

Recently he was offered a choice of jobs. The first job was in China, a very prestigious position which would both further his career and be exactly the kind of work he most wants to do. However, it would be very unlikely that he would meet anyone there he could marry. The second job was a lower level position, but located back in the US, at a university only an hour away from my parents, in a city with a rather large and thriving community of Catholic young adults. It seemed more likely that he might meet someone there he could marry.

At one point in his discernment he asked me what I thought. I told him that basing your choice of job on the potential for meeting a future spouse was not a good criteria. I said that it didn't work that way, that if getting married were just a matter of meeting enough good Catholics of the appropriate gender, I would have been married years ago. I said that you should choose what makes you the most fulfilled, and if God wants you to be married, He'll make it happen. People meet their future spouses in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of places. In the end (and probably unrelated to my advice) he chose to take the job in China.

However, I'm not sure if I gave my brother the right advice. It's always a good idea to trust God and go on doing the best you can, living the life He gave you to the best of your ability. And I don't think there's anything you can do to make your future spouse show up even a moment sooner than God wills. However, there are things people do that make themselves much less likely to marry, like making themselves unavailable to potential spouses. The truth is that it is highly unlikely that my brother will find a good Catholic woman to marry in China. However, stranger things have happened, and perhaps God is bringing him there in response to my future sister-in-law's prayers. Or maybe not.

Anyway, I would like your take on this. Faced with a choice between two jobs, one of which would be good for your career but would make it less likely that you would marry, and one which would be not as good but potentially make it more likely for you to marry, what would you choose?

Nixon's Sister

Dear Nixon's Sister,

I'm glad your brother got his dream job. I think your advice was good, and that your brother made the right choice.

My one quibble--and I hate to say this because for once I am not sure I am right--is that the rules for men are different from the rules for women and that men can be more aggressive than women in their mate-search. As annoying and retro and sexist as this sounds, it is the man's job to get out there and find a wife, if that's what he feels he's called to do.

However, that said, God has a plan for each one of us, and if a future Mrs. Nixon is in His plans, than He will use whatever Nixon gives Him to bring that about.

When I was 34, I chose a career path that I knew would significantly lower my chances of marriage. In fact, when I told my family I had been given a Ph.D. fellowship to a prestigious theology department in the USA, the first thing my sister said was:

"How long will this (the degree) take?"

"Four, five, maybe six years," I said.

Her big blue eyes bugged.

"So when will you have babies?" she demanded.

There was a studied silence from the rest of la famille, and all the air went out of my balloon. I knew the theology department would be packed with the same men all Catholic theology departments are packed with: priests, religious, openly gay men, and cute young things who married at 22.

But I went ahead and picked career over marriage prospects.

Now, the Ph.D. didn't work out, and so the career didn't work out either. BUT because I took the fellowship, I met Ted, my blogging flatmate. And because I met Ted, I started blogging. And because I blogged, I met Benedict Ambrose. And because I met Benedict Ambrose, I am married. And the blog led to another career, the one I wanted when I was a kid.

In short, you just never know. We just control what we can control, e.g. career trajectory, and leave the rest up to God.

But I will add one more word about active courtship because you are writing about a brother, not a sister, and because he is living in China. So far your brother has indeed "been out there", actively meeting women, the way I think men should. That's great. Now I would suggest he somehow actively market himself, perhaps by finding the blogs of other Westerners in China and becoming a faithful, commenting fan or by finding a matchmaker to the local Chinese Catholic community, if such a person exists.

Frankly, I think your brother sounds very attractive: there may certainly be many women reading this who think the idea of meeting a faithful Roman Catholic American man in his late 30s with a great career he loves in romantic and exotic China very thrilling. I'm assuming he'd be delighted to support a wife and not demand that she be a fellow economic powerhouse in a foreign country.

Finally, I think you are a good sister. I have two younger brothers, and I understand.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Miffed at Meddling Mother

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

I am in my late twenties, living the life of a Searching Single. I have many friends and interests, and would love to be married one day, but in the meantime I am attracted to a profession which I hope will help me to be useful and happy, whether or not my singleness becomes permanent. One of the things I like about this work is that it would be equally possible to continue if I married and started a family. I am beginning a graduate program that could potentially take me into my thirties before completion.

The fly in the ointment right now is my mother. She seems to be laboring under the delusion that there are scores of eligible Catholic suitors I have rejected in favor of becoming a Career Woman, and thus I am unmarried due to deliberate choice rather than circumstance/fate/timing/will of God. Her concern for ticking biological clocks has outstripped my own, and her disapproval of my graduate studies hurts my feelings. She has even gone so far as to try to set me up with the local plumber/repairman, although the differences in our interests and personalities leave us little in common.

Of course, she wants me to be happy, and she doesn't seem to realize that I could potentially find happiness even as a single, when she herself was so happy as a mom. Ironically, I'm sure she would have been equally concerned if I had gone to the opposite extreme, neglected my intellectual development, and started a family at age 18. I can't win.

Do you have any hints and tips for how I can charitably deal with this situation? I have hope that she might come around if I approach her right. I've always known that singles might have to make peace with the possibility of being ultimately childless and alone... I never thought Mom would have issues with it secondhand!

Miffed at Meddling Mother

Dear Miffed,

Ah, mothers! Mothers, mothers, mothers.


There are a hundred women reading your words right now, nodding as they chew their lunch or snack. "You should meet MY mother," they are saying.

But one mother is enough, and how to deal with yours. Well.

Mothers sometimes lack imagination. THEY were happy as married women with babies, so they assume YOU will only be happy if you are a married woman with babies. Sometimes they think this even if their own marriages were miserable or just so-so. But the redeeming part of this is that such mothers want their daughters to be happy. Some mothers couldn't care less. But yours does, so you are lucky.

So the thing to do is to assure your mother that you are happy. Every time something great happens--you get an A, or your professor tells you you should publish your paper--call up Mom and tell her. Happy, happy, happy. If she speaks disparagingly about your successes, call her on it. Say "Mom, I'm happy. I wish you could be happy for me, too."

The fact is that sometimes mothers are envious, or just plain uncomprehending, about career and academic success. That's not really their daughters' problem, though. That's their own problem. But daughters want moms to be perfect moms, like Marmee in Little Women.

Mothers are who they are, and not who you want them to be. But just as you owe your mother honour no matter what, she is not allowed to exasperate you. That's in the Bible, too. So don't be afraid to use the gentle art of verbal self defense, including "I'm happy, I wish you could be happy for me, too." Oh, and telling her that you want her support because you love and respect her and want to believe she is proud of you probably would not go amiss, either.

Do not call up your mother when you are having a bout of Single Woman angst and complain to her about your Single State. This will only encourage her to worry about your happiness and give her tacit permission to nag you about marriage. Call a Single friend instead.

I find your mother trying to set you up with the plumber touching and rather funny, although if I weren't married, I wouldn't sneeze at a plumber or any skilled tradesman. They make great money, and sometimes they spend it on season tickets to the opera and read Plato at night. It all depends on the plumber. Of course, this plumber and you have nothing in common, so never mind him. It was nice of you to humour your mother.

To cheer yourself up, give Mom little gifts from time to time. For some magical reason, we feel better about people when we give them something. So bring her some tulips one day, and chocolates another, "just 'cuz."

Finally, the clock isn't really a problem until you're 35. Thirty-five is when (apparently) fertility begins to pack it in. And although people (including fertile women married to infertile men) are sometimes childless, we will never be alone. Every crucifix says "I will always be with you even until the end of time." So do not be afraid. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders.

Meanwhile, I haven't read her work, but I believe Dr. Christine Whelan (see "Marry Smart Blog" link on my sidebar) argues that the more education a woman has, the more likely she is to marry well. She might have some consoling words for your mom.

Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Flatmates' Friend

Dearest Auntie Seraphic:

Two of my friends are about to begin different post-doc programs in a large city where they know no one else. They (a man and woman) are the same age and we've all been friends throughout college & grad school. They have a good, solid male-female friendship and there is, so far as I can tell, no funny business wherein one is attracted to the other. They are solidly platonic. We are all, of course, Nice Catholic Girls (and Boys). My question on their behalf: should they share an apartment to save rent in their scary new big city where they'll have no other friends at first? Or would living with a person who's not your spouse cause lots of problems, even if they're not dating?

Flatmates' Friend

Dear Flatmates' Friend,

I'm now going to shock all regular readers by putting on my black lace mantilla of married Catholic lady authority and say to your friends "Go forth and rent the apartment together."

One of the worst things in student life is moving to a new city and trying to find a decent flat and flatmates who are not horrid, impossibly slovenly or insane. Dealings with a landlord or landlady can also be fraught with worry and drama. So a housemate whom one already knows, likes, trusts and shares the faith with is worth his or her weight in gold.

That said, I believe your friends should agree to a six-month "No hard feelings" opt-out clause. This means that, once they are settled in the city, and have made friends and contacts, one or the other can choose to live alone or with members of the same sex, if that's what they'd prefer to do. The caveat to this is that the person who wishes to leave must help the person staying find a new congenial flatmate.

Once upon a time, the Big City featured clubs where career women, female students, and even elderly women in reduced circumstances could live together in a genteel, prudent and modest fashion. It is one of the outrages of the Sexual Revolution that for the most part these places no longer exist. I once lived as a boarder in a convent for a year, and I was as snug as a bug in a rug.

But I have lived with male flatmates, too, and although I did not think this was an ideal situation for a woman like me, they are both great guys and I was lucky. How I came to live with Jon and Ted is in My Book.

My primarily psychological problem in living with Jon and Ted was that I thought that we should eat together like a family, and say when we were going out and why, and then come back and chat about it. You know, like girls do. But Jon and Ted preferred to cook massive separate meals in the kitchen and carry them back to their respective lairs. They saw no reason to inform me of their comings and goings every single time.

This made me lonely, and I missed my girlfriends back home (some of whom shared a house, having a marvellous time) like crazy. This is not to say my male flatmates and I never hung out together, because often we did, and it was great fun, but I pined for real family life and/or girls-together life.

My female friends with male flatmates report their maternal feelings for younger male flatmates and that their maternal instincts, advice, etc. get rebuffed. I have a hunch that men resist all attempts by any woman to domesticate them until they're good and ready to be domesticated by a live-in lover or a wife. Outdoors, men are definitely the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Indoors, they can be freaking bears.

Therefore, I advise your friends to sit down and work out if they're going to live together like a family or religious order, or if they're going to live together like friendly bears in neighbouring caves. They should also work out how much cleanliness and dirtiness each can tolerate. They should work out a cleaning day and stick to it, both of them cleaning at the same time so there is no flatmate thinking "Here I am cleaning, and there s\he is playing X-Box, grrr!"

As for marriage prospects, I don't see a problem. My friend Boston Girl was sitting in a cafe with her hair in a mess and a Boston Red Socks cap jammed on it as she marked student papers, cursing, and the future Love of Her Life approached and asked if he could share her table. The fact that Boston Girl had a male housemate did not daunt this suitor. For one thing, in Boston where students are gouged by landlords and supermarkets for every cent, it is unremarkable to have one or more housemate of the opposite sex. And for another, the suitor didn't at first know. The housemate had his own life and was rarely in public with Boston Girl.

Since your friends know each other well and have already disqualified each other as romantic interests, I don't see much problem with the Ol' Black Magic---unless one comes home with their heart ripped out and in a doggy bag. In that case, the other has to be careful, in a week or two, to make sure he or she is not being sized up by Mr. or Ms. Crazed-with-Grief as the replacement, as in "Why did I bother with an X like Y, when all along I've been so happy here with Z?"

I do hope this is helpful. Thirty years ago, your average Black Mantilla probably would have said "No way!" But it is 2010 and platonic housemates of the opposite sex have become commonplace.

Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

Monday, 19 April 2010

On Holiday

I Seraphic am on holiday in Quebec. Also, my brain is exhausted and empty of any thoughts about the Single Life. If you must get a hit of Seraphic on the Single Life, I recommend reading this blog from the beginning or ordering Seraphic Singles from OR buying it at Chapters-Indigo. I went to the Bloor-Bay Indigo in Toronto and, lo, there were four beautiful copies. They were not, however, in Religion where the computer said they were but in Relationships beside Don't Date Him Girl. How they got a whole blog-book out "Don't Date Him Girl" (without being sued, anyway) is a mystery to me. If you already have your copy, you could entertain yourself by writing a review on So far there are six.

Meanwhile, you could always write in with your Single Life question because I can never resist writing an Auntie Seraphic letter, although people don't always like the result since I am a wee bit more frank than is strictly pastoral. However, the first thing they teach us in ministry school is not to give advice but to listen, so just by giving advice I am being totally non-pastoral and strictly married aunt-ish.

And now I am going for a stroll through this bee-oo-tee-ful stately neighbourhood to the patisserie for a croissant aux amandes. It is good to be me.

Friday, 16 April 2010

How Not To Be Rag-Mannered

Nothing puts me to sleep like a good relaxing read of a Georgette Heyer novel. Georgette Heyer is the mother of the Regency Romance genre, and in her lifetime no-one in the world knew more about Regency language than she did. Her work should not be lumped in with the racks and racks of bodice-rippers and other such trash that dominate bookshops today. No. She is a worthy acolyte of Jane Austen. It's as if she put down Persuasion, decided that it was a pity Jane died so young, and did her best to continue what Jane had started. With highwaymen added, of course.

Heyer's heroines strive heroically always to appear lady-like in public. And in private, too. No matter how boring this suitor, or how rude that villain, or how deeply annoying that family hanger-on, the Heyer heroine wrestles her emotions into submission to her reason. Romanticism may be sweeping Europe, but Heyer's well-born ladies are coolly classical, even if their hearts race under their cloaks and capes and tippets and whatnot. They make it their aim to always present a pleasant, polite face (except to pert servants and encroaching suitors who are just begging for a "set-down"), to find favour in the eyes of their elders, and to set the shy at their ease. If they are overpowered by the troubles that beset them, they complain of headache and retire to their rooms, where they vent their feelings in privacy upon a pillow. If they are subsequently late to dinner, they apologize brightly for being so "rag-mannered".

If we can learn something from Heyer's heroines, it's not to complain in public. If a Regency heroine as much as heard about The Jerry Springer Show, she would faint dead away and, when brought to, apologize weakly for being so rag-mannered.

The motto of Britain B.D. (before Diana) was "Mustn't grumble!" This might strike some as funny, when one considers the governments, the newspapers and the labour movements of the kingdom. But those things, like my conversations with my lawyer, are the stuff of business. In the domestic sphere, the sphere of shopping, cleaning, cooking, homework, examining the weather, chatting to the neighbours, the motto "Mustn't grumble!" must have been the sword and shield of social life. Grumblers are very dull, unless they are Frankie Boyle, and then one watches him on TV or far from the front row at the theatre, with children nowhere in earshot.

When the teenaged I used to complain, as only teenagers can, my mother used to sniff and say, "She knew not what it was to suffer in silence" in the theatrical tone that denoted quotation. I thought that most unfair, for I had a Female Complaint that made me feel as though a fox were chewing out my innards, and, similiar to the Spartan boy with his real fox, I obeyed the social norm that forbade me to talk about it: Too Much Information. But no doubt in general my mother was right, and I was a moaning bore, especially on the theme of "Boys don't like me."

There were so many thoughts that sprang to my mind that afternoon of reading the forum of [Catholic dating website] that I can best deal with them in a list:

1. Don't be bitter.
2. Don't be bitter.
3. Don't be bitter.

I know this is easier said than done, so I will give you another, more positive list:

1. Be grateful for what you have.
2. Ponder your gratitude for what you have.
3. Express your gratitude for what you have.

The revelation that Gratitude Saves came to me from Melody Beattie, who wrote Co-dependent No More and other books in the same vein. When I finally got the hang of practising gratitude, it turned my inner life around. Outer life eventually followed inner life.

In general, people do not like people who brag, but people do like sunny, friendly people who are so confident in their own dignity, that they are willing to listen to the stories and hopes of others and to keep their private sorrows private.

I once dated a man born with severe hearing impairment; he was slowly going blind, too. And he never, not once, complained about it in my hearing. He complained about Deaf Culture, which he avoided like the plague, but he never once complained about all the extra work he had had to do to become successful in the hearing world. His favourite boast was "The Lord took my hearing, but He left me with great hair."

The men I like most I like for their enjoyment of life. "Marvellous" says one. "Mahhh-vel-lous!" And then there's the one who always says "Splendid!" as in "Oh, it's simply splen-did!" Both men are well-loved by their friends for their unabashed love of ideas and things: "Marvellous!" "Splendid!" They don't talk about their problems or the things they don't like; they talk about ideas and the things they do like.

I do not have a baby, which sometimes makes me a bit sad, but a quick reflection that I do have a very nice husband, two nephews, a niece-on-the-way and a promise (from the very nice husband) that I can have a puppy when I go back to Britain, never ceases to cheer me up. And, I have to admit, I sort of gave up on having a baby when I was 36 and had no husband in sight. I did my mourning then. Falling in love at 37 with Mr. McRight was a complete surprise, a total gift. So I can't really complain. And even if I could, I would try not to do it in public.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Hostile Waters

"...Second, we don't like getting threatening letters from people even though they benefit from the traffic they get from [Catholic dating website]..."

ROFL! The "threat" was me cordially adding to the bottom of my letter that my lawyer would be pleased to offer them more information, if required.

That hasn't inspired them to take down "Modest Millie", but I digress. This most unbusinesslike passive-aggression (in lieu of a quick and apologetic email) is very bad PR, and I could amuse myself very much by writing about it in the Catholic Register, were I not loath to give [Catholic dating website] more publicity. (Update: their PR person, much more diplomatic, has now sent me a polite note. Further Update: And now they've taken down "Modest Millie". Problem solved, albeit with their head-shaking over the "odd" situation. Yeah, professional writers LOVE to have their stuff stolen and then be insulted to boot.)

I am glad that some of its members have decided to keep reading Seraphic Singles, but I don't see any economic benefit, unless they buy my book. And my book is definitely not in the spirit of Catholic dating websites, which I think exploit the suffering and loneliness of Single Catholic people. Yes, I know some people do actually manage to find spouses through them--as the Jesuits teach, God in all things.*

The snapping and snarling I found on [Catholic dating website's] forum shocked me very much (and made me once again grateful that (A) I no longer subscribe to such things and that (B)Benedict Ambrose never wrote or writes like that). But after thinking about it, I realized that what ailed the men, at least, was that they were horribly lonely, sometimes bitter and in a few cases kitted out with anger goggles. As the focus of their ire, I realized that they could not have been reading my work either word for word or in the spirit it was offered. And, poignantly, they could not have had the slightest idea how they might appear to the woman they were insulting. On the other hand, perhaps they didn't care. Some clearly had a grudge against women.

(Incidentally, I hope the woman who was posting my stuff wasn't kicked off her dating site. I believe she initially meant well, and I initially took the posting as a compliment. As for her decision to link to my photo (see above) to mock my appearance, this was nasty, but I'm not angry any more. We are all sinners, and we all screw up occasionally, for whatever reason. So if you are sorry, poster ...)

Religious websites can be very nasty. B.A. has a great devotion to "Ship of Fools", an ecumenical Christian (I believe) website where Christians of all stripes practise apologetics, polemics and seething rage. Once again, the posters probably have no idea of how awful they appear in the eyes of strangers. And yet most of them are probably very nice people.

It's amazing what people will write when they think they are anonymous which, unfortunately, they very often aren't, on account of leaving too much information about themselves on the internet. So my unsolicited advice today, my dear Singles, is to remember, whenever you write something, that someone somewhere might know who you are, and that the objects of your derision might find out what you say about them. I myself have gotten into trouble more than once by describing anonymous people at anonymous events, for somehow someone always seems to recognize them and inform them of their new internet immortality.

But besides that, you will want to put your best face forward in public, as the internet actually is, so as to look like the ladies and gentlemen you actually are or are striving to be. And, since I know many of you long to get married one day, I will let you in on not such a big secret: you don't have to pay a monthly fee to meet Catholic Singles on the internet.

Across the Catholic blogosphere there are witty, intelligent Catholics who write entertaining blogs about their favourite interests. Many are married or priests or vowed religious. But many others are indeed Single. Since bloggers enjoy writing about themselves, who these Single people are will become quite apparent as you read a variety of Catholic blogs. Perhaps I should begin keeping a list.

As many of you know, I met my husband through my blogs. He was a friend of two men who read my blogs, one who seemed to do so to engage me in theological battle and also because two of his best female friends (one Single, one now Religious) were avid fans. (Bless them!) He himself kept a blog, and I thought it--and therefore him--very funny and witty. And my first impressions were not wrong.

So, my dear little Singles, of whom I am fond because I was Single so long myself (and did so many dumb things because I was Single and unhappy in it), that is my advice to you. If you are feeling lonely, don't go to Catholic dating sites. Go to the Catholic blogosphere and make friends with the bloggers. Become a Catholic blogger yourself, writing as well and as charitably as you know how, and prudently examine the offers of friendship that are made to you.

Money can't buy you love.

Update: I have now received a belated but polite email from [Catholic dating site's] PR person promising to look into it.

Update 2: And also a nice message from the help desk after a brusque message from the co-Founder, who shares the Christian name of the chap quoted above.

*Berenike would like me to firmly state that KathTreff, an Austrian Catholic matchmaking service, does not exploit people. She knows the people who run it, and says they are normal working Catholics hoping to spread the gospel of life in Austria. Presumably they do not send out ads reading "Alone this Christmas/Valentine's Day/Easter? You don't have to be."

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Hellooooo Catholic Matchers!

Monica, how nice! But don't put up the WHOLE thing, poppet, or it makes it harder for me to sell later. Like Catholic dating websites, I'm in it for the money. Well, not as much as Catholic dating websites, but I do like to get paid occasionally.

So much to say! Well, first of all, I think Robert-XXX130* sounds like a very nice man. And thanks to everyone who said they enjoyed the articles.

Second--poppets!!!--I know this is a "let's just be honest" society, but try to think of how you come across to people reading your comments. Think "happy"! Think "fun"! Use words like "happy" and "fun". Talk about stuff you like, not stuff you don't like. I don't mind if you say you don't like my stuff, but men and women alike go for people they perceive to be happy and fun. Reread Robert-XXX130* and ponder his brilliance.

Third, I'm not American. Many of my ancestors are American, but I'm not. Be more discriminating in your insults. And, really, American men should not use the word "American" as a way to insult women. It's disloyal to your country, and it's dumb to use it that way on dating sites read primarily by American women. Come on. Use your brains!

Fourth, at no time ever would I ever tell a woman to hide her intelligence. At school and at work, strut your stuff. Win all the arguments. Knock them dead. But--and here's where we women can learn from men--try to compartmentalize a little bit. Compete like crazy at school and work, but afterwards let your hair down. Relax. Don't have this conversation in the church hall:

Man: So where do you go to school?

Woman: I'm doing my PhD at UCLA but I did my M.A. at Brown and I did my B.A. at Harvard.

Man: Whoa, Harvard!

Woman: Yep, I was class valedictorian, too. So what do you do?

Man: Oh, well, I work at a law firm, but you know it's not really... Wow, Harvard!

Woman: Yeah, it was pretty great. Where did you go?

Man: Oh, well, uh. You know. State.

Woman: Oh, uh, cool.

Man: So, Harvard. Whoa. I guess I'm totally out of my league here. Got any friends who went to State?

I mean, HELLO, the poor man was just trying to get a conversation started. It was not a job interview!

The number one thing that men hate to feel is stupid. Girls, please, please, please don't think you are going to make a man respect you by insulting his intelligence or his education, or bragging about yours at the expense of his. Of course, the same applies to men, but men seem to know better than women that this is completely counter-productive.

Man at Party: You know, I just don't support what the governor is doing about the highways.

Woman at Party: Are you stoned? Listen, unlike you, I have a B.A. from Duke in urban planning, and I think... blah, blah, blah.

Man at Party: Uh, excuse me, I just am going to get some punch. (Gets some punch, says) Jeepers!

Second Woman at Party: Sorry?

Man at Party: Oh, nothing! I just mentioned how I felt about the highway plan, and this woman jumped down my throat.

Second Woman at Party: Oh, the highway plan. I read about that. What do you think about it?

Man: I love it!

Woman: Really? I thought everyone hated it.

Man: No, I love it.

Woman: That's intriguing! How come?

Man: Well, to put this into perspective, I own a fleet of trucks, and so as a businessman...(etc).

Is there any conversationalist better and smarter than someone who is willing to listen and ask intelligent questions? No. That's all I'm saying, girls. That and it's okay to read Georgette Heyer novels on the bus.

Update: (This was advice to the poor woman who first posted my blogposts in their entirety and THEN had the temerity to link to my photo to make fun of it. Presumably she's seen the update, and I've taken it down.)

Update 2: The thread is gone, but my mixed feelings remain. I think it's great more Singles have discovered my blog, but I have this thing about copyright violation. It makes me (or my editor at the CR) contact websites and mention lawyers. (I get most of my photos from wikicommons, peeps!)

*Since the post is down, there's no point in me pointing out that specific Robert as a model, and Robert might not have appreciated the extra publicity anyway. I still think he sounded like a nice, intelligent man, though.

Auntie Seraphic and Miss Timmy's

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm Canadian like you, but I've been living in the UK for two years now. My very traditional Catholic parish's choirmaster (an elderly widower) likes to have the choir over to his place for a buffet lunch after noon Mass is over. It's basically informal, and sometimes I'm the only woman who goes. (It's a Gregorian Chant choir, or schola, as you like to say, and there aren't a lot of women in it.)

Anyway, most of the guys in the choir are way older than me, and pickings are slim, Auntie. So on the few occasions cute new boys show up to Mass and get invited to the choir lunch, I have waited for someone to introduce me to them. It almost never happens!!! Being a lady, I sit down right away so that the men can sit down, but that often means I'm stuck talking to the same man all afternoon. Meanwhile, all the others form impenetrable circles of men.

On the one occasion I introduced myself to someone, and he practically ran away! What is a girl to do?

Miss Timmy's

Dear Miss Timmy's,

First of all, I must inform our readers that you are referring to Canada's favourite brand of coffee, and that this is a secret code amongst Canadians, a way of identifying each other as Canadians without having to sew the Maple Leaf flag on our knapsacks, etc.

Second of all, I must remind you that you are in the United Kingdom, and if you are spending your social life in drawing (pronounced "droring") rooms with traditional Catholics, you have to understand that nicely brought up Englishmen do not approach females at social events unless they (the men) are drunk or thirty years older than you.

I have it on very good authority that the way Englishmen and Englishwomen, and even Scotsmen and Scotswomen, who have been to (or are at) university win sweethearts is to have a Deep Meaningful Chat at 3 AM at a party after both parties are at least slightly drunk. Another authority has informed me that there would be no marriage and no indigenous birthrate to speak of in Britain if alcohol were suddenly banned.

Thirdly, since it is your parish, and your choir that is having the lunch party, it is YOUR job to approach the shy strangers to say "Hi", not vice versa. (Of course, if you're on friendly terms with your choirmaster, and he won't tease you mercilessly afterwards, you could try asking him to introduce you.) Frankly, I cannot think of a better place to approach cute new boys than in your aged choirmaster's droring room after the noon Mass. Think of yourself as a hostess or, to use a most untraddie phrase, minister of hospitality.

The easiest way to get into a knot of woolly, tweedy Englishmen is to pick up a bowl of crisps and offer it to everyone in the room. This way you get to interrupt, to smile, to introduce yourself, and to make a graceful exit. It's like speed-dating on speed. At a particularly boozy occasion, you can volunteer to refill glasses. This can only serve to make you popular.

Meanwhile, most men in the universe (even in Britain) have forgotten the rule that men shouldn't sit when a lady is standing. At a casual gathering, the dim recollection that this rule ever existed is most unlikely to stir in their minds. So never mind that. Grab the crisp bowl.

Finally, if you introduce yourself to a likely looking lad and he runs away, it's definitely not you. It's him. In my opinion, young traditional Canadian men are not afraid of women, but they are deathly afraid of feminism, whereas young traditional British men are not afraid of feminism (because they refuse to acknowledge its existence) but they are utterly terrified of women. Thus, sigh not so, but let them go, and be you blithe and bonny converting all your sounds of woe, into hey nonny nonny, as a trad Catholic Englishman once said.

Incidentally, there is nothing like teaming up with a bunch of women to create an impenetrable circle of your own. The sight of a lot women completely ignoring them and having a marvellous time drives men mad. When I leave my dinner table with all the women because the port bottle has appeared, some of the men look affronted, some are envious, and when they rejoin us, they all want to know what we talked about.

Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

Monday, 12 April 2010

Auntie Seraphic and Ticking Clock

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

There may very well be some eligible Catholic bachelors of a decent sort and age out there, but then the hurdle is how do you meet them? We don’t normally attend bars, or social clubs, and at church-related gatherings everything you do is on the spotlight. You can’t lift a pinky without everyone knowing. Catholic websites are a waste of time; I’m constantly having to turn guys down who think that when I say what I’m looking for I don’t really mean it. I’m tempted to let myself go and not try any longer and accept I will never get married.

OK. So there's my plight. It's Eastertide, and again I'm alone. My clock is ticking. So I turn to you, a complete stranger (no pressure). I'm trying to brainstorm ways of connecting with like-minded individuals on the internet. Maybe you can help. I'd like to try to 'meet' someone once and for all, but I can't think of how to go about it. It seems I've tried all the conventional ways. I'm not unattractive, but I'm out of ideas.

Ticking Clock

Dear Ticking Clock,

What if you got a telegram from God saying you were never getting married? Game over. Mystery solved. Would you roll into a little ball and die, or would you have a bit of a cry, sigh, and throw a "Mystery Solved" party, complete with No-Wedding gifts? After that, would you live the life of a hermit, or would you throw yourself into activities without an ounce of self-conciousness, knowing that whatever you did, it wouldn't hurt your marriage prospects because you have none?

My advice is to get out there, bask as unself-consciously in the church spotlight as a naturalist on a sunny nude beach, and stop sizing up men for their husband potential. Get off the stupid dating websites, which are next door to mail-order catalogues, and meet all kinds of people. Young people who need mentoring. Old people who need visits. Mothers your age who would kill for a chance to leave their kids with you and get their hair done. Party like it's 1999.

You are never going to meet the Mr. Perfect you are carrying around in your head, so dump him on the side of the road. My imaginary Mr. Perfect was tall, blond, clean-shaven and German. The love of my life turned out to be short, brown-haired, bearded and Scottish. If I had written him off just for having a beard, I would not be Seraphic Spouse today. Meanwhile, I wasn't really looking when I found him. I just thought of him as a nice friendly guy who had offered me a place to crash in Scotland.

Hang out with people you have classified as "nice & friendly" and there's no telling what might happen. Let go and let God.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 10 April 2010

An Edible Book

Mothers are familiar with last-minute baking demands. They expect them more from small children then from gallumphing married daughters who bounce into their sitting-rooms shouting, "I have to make an edible book!"

I was invited to an Edible Book party, a recent trend meant to mark early April, and I forgot. Originally I had the clever but expensive and time-consuming idea of having a bakery print out a photo of the Seraphic Singles book cover in cake icing, as they now know how to do. (Photo-cakes look vile, but they could definitely look like books.) However, I forgot, so I cudgeled my brains this morning for another idea. Then it struck me that I could just spell out SERAPHIC SINGLES with cookies or iced cup-cakes or meat pies.

But the kitchen is not mine, and there is no meat around, and I hate making icing, so I decided to make letter-shaped cookies. As yet I don't know how they will turn out, for this is a rolled cookie recipe, and the dough is currently chilling in the fridge.

You have to use a rolled/icebox cookie recipe for letters. Whereas I had dreams of just pushing spoonfuls of sticky peanut butter cookie dough into letter shapes, I know very well that drop cookies just naturally turn into rounds, and if you try to make them look like something, they look like nothing on earth. So if you want nice shapes, you just have to start in advance, and make use of fridge and rolling pin.

Here is the recipe I used, but I can't guarantee it. It is from my dad's handy-dandy Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book (c. 1960) and is there called "Mary's Sugar Cookies". Let's hope it turns out!

Edible Letters

1 1/2 cups sifted icing sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

1. Cream butter and sugar in a bowl.
2. Mix in egg, vanilla and almond extract.
3. Mix dry ingedients and then add to first bowl and blend.
4. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours. (But I only have one hour, so we will see!)
5. Heat over to 375 F.
6. Divide dough into two and roll out to 3/16" thick.
7. Cut with cooky cutter, says the recipe. (I am going to cut out letters with a knife.)
8. Sprinkle cookies with sugar and place on baking sheets.
9. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or "until delicately golden"

Makes 5 dozen 2-inch cookies, apparently. Me, I just need letters.

Don't make this recipe until I return with an update!

Update: They turned out quite well! The one caveat is that they are fragile, and you must take great care in packing them if you are taking them across town.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Call for Reviews

Good morning, my beloved Singles! Today I have another mission for you. To find out what it is, toddle over to Seraphic Goes to Scotland.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Available to Aussies

This appeared overnight. Australian and Kiwi readers, take note! How exciting. I won't be satisfied until my book appears in the entire English-speaking world. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Don't Drown Your Rescuer

My friend Eleanor is a genius at rescuing lonely people. At parties and university events, her eyes zip around hither and thither, from corner to corner, looking for the solitary and scared.

"Just a minute," she says to whatever friend she is half-listening to, and rushes off towards a complete stranger. After a few minutes of chat with this stranger, she escorts him or her (usually her) to another friend or group of friends, and, after a few more minutes of chat, leaves him or her there.

So far no-one she has rescued from their awkward solitude has fallen in love with her, although she says she has made some great friends that way. And she was very touched when, as we made a visit to a male religious community, a young African priest she didn't recognize opened the door and said "You're Eleanor."

"Why, yes!" said Eleanor.

"I remember you," said the African priest shyly. "You were the first person to talk to me at school."

"I was?"

"Yes," said the priest. "And I didn't know anybody and I was very homesick. But every time I saw you, you said hello and smiled at me. And that always made me feel happy."

Now, it had been some time since Eleanor had graduated, and she had rescued several dozens more since then, so she didn't remember all this. But she was too polite to say so, so just smiled and said she was glad that she had made this priest welcome at X. He beamed and went back upstairs to wherever--his cloistered chamber, I suppose.

This was a lesson to me to be more like Eleanor, and to do my best to keep an eye out for lonely people and to help them find new friends. So far nothing bad has happened to me as a result, not even the accusation that I had strung anyone along.

Thus, I was troubled when I read a comment from a reader yesterday who described being "strung along" by a man who spoke with her a large Catholic event "for hours", introduced her to his friends, who took her along to eat at a diner, and then never asked her on a date.

I'm troubled because my gut feeling is that this young man had never presented himself as a suitor: he may have been a rescuer. And I don't want potential rescuers to be dissuaded from rescuing strangers, alone and palely loitering, from awkward loneliness out of fear they'll be later accused of leading the strangers on. Equally, I don't want the rescued to think that being rescued shows anything more than brotherly love on the part of the rescuer.

Rescuers, be generous. Rescued, be grateful.

The much-maligned book The Rules, which I keep mentioning in my own book Seraphic Singles, claims its goal is to encourage women to want only those men who want them. Its anthropological supposition is that although lazy men will take whatever life throws in their arms, stellar men want to work for what they get.

Fein and Schneider, the authors, firmly believe that if a man is attracted to you, he will make a real effort to see you again...and again...and then at last nail you down to a commitment so that some other man can't steal you away. Perhaps because they are Americans, the authors think men value even more those women they had to strive to get. This makes me think of a hunter pointing to a moose head mounted on his wall and bragging of how he tracked it day and night through pouring rain, but you get the idea. I don't think all men are like this, but American men might very well be. My Scotsman had to strive against geographical distance and the rigours of UK Spousal Visa applications. I suppose that's the sort of thing that gives us foreign brides part of our exotic value.

Anyway, the great message of The Rules is that you shouldn't throw yourself at Mr. So-so, for he will either drop you or half-heartedly sign on with your romance plan, as long as he doesn't have to exert himself, ever. Instead, you should gently encourage those attractive men who really are interested in you, and then marry the one you fall in love with.

I think The Rules work in a negative way. If you obey them, you might not find Mr. Right, but you will certainly stop yourself from throwing yourself at Mr. Wrong, and thus save you from making an ass of yourself.

So, if at a party, a nice man comes up to you, introduces himself and begins to talk, do not talk to him for more than half an hour. After you feel a certain amount of time has passed, ask him if he knows anyone else there. If he does, say "But I shouldn't monopolize you!" This give him the chance to politely slide away if he wants to, or to say "I don't mind being monopolized", which is encouraging. But by the end of half an hour (don't check your watch, just estimate), you really should say "Well, I guess we should circulate." (Touch his arm as a signal this is not a rejection.) You are, of course, allowed to go up to the man at the end of the evening to touch his arm* and say "I just wanted to say that I very much enjoyed our talk. Good-bye!" If your beauty and half hour's chat were enough to intrigue the man, he will ask for your phone number. If not, never mind. No big deal.

At a big dinner party, of course, you do end up talking to a man for more than half an hour. But you should remember to talk to the man on your left as much as you talk to the man on your right. Afterwards, if you are gathering in a sitting-room for coffee, try to talk to someone new.

What I am getting at, is that you should never get yourself into a position where you talk to the same man for hours on end the first time you meet him. Yes, we all loved Before Sunrise, but you'll notice that relationship lasted for a single night. Ethan Hawke went back to America and married Uma Thurman, or whomever.

The primary reason why you must not do this is that you might be boring him rigid and he is too polite to ask you to stop. But the other reason is that you want to retain some of your feminine mystery (to say nothing of your feminine dignity) so as to arouse the curiosity of a man who has taken an interest in you. It's like watering a plant: you don't dump a bucket of water on the poor thing; you gently water it little by little.

Take as your motto is "Always leave them wanting more," and never slam a man for having spoken nicely to you in the first place.

*The surest, yet still modest way, to show a man you think favourably of him, is to touch his arm.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

How To Seem Like a Good Catholic Boy

You didn't seriously expect me to write a post about How to Look like a Good Catholic Girl without writing a post about How to Seem like a Good Catholic Boy, did you? I admit it's more of a challenge, but I'll give it a shot. A lot of careful thinking has to go into this. Notice, for example, whereas Girls have to think about how they Look, Boys have to think about how they Seem. As simple men like to tell me, men are simple and women are complicated. Thus, as far as men are concerned, sensory impressions (Looks pretty, sounds nice, smells good, soft hands) are paramount, whereas for women the evidence (discussed obsessively) has to stand up in the court of female opinion.

WHAT a cynical and sexist beginning! Oh well. Boys, never forget that I think you are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Existence would be so dull without you. Which reminds me of the only time I thought someone else's fiance was super-attractive. This fiance's profession was X, and because I was worried about a Y, he gave me his card.

"I hope you don't have to call me," he said with a smile, and whoa.

Anyhoo, down to advice for Nice Catholic Boys:

1. Think Career. Either you are going to claw your way up through the office/departmental/military food chain or you are going to be your own boss one day. When women say, "So what do you hope to do after school?", tell them you hope to be the head of your own company/Chief Justice/Admiral/full professor of Biology at Columbia. Do not say, "I don't know. I thought I'd just, you know, take it easy, maybe backpack around Australia...."

Every trad woman's nightmare is that she is going to have to work a 40 hour a week job or, worse, two 20 hour a week jobs, plus have to take care of the house, plus doing all the shopping, plus having to pay some other woman to take care of her children--all because she's stuck with a man who can't get his career together.

This is not about class. I'm Canadian. I could not give a tinker's damn about white collars vs. blue. This is about the financial security every woman deserves when she hands herself, her future and her future children to some man in marriage.

2. Cut your hair. You are not a girl. You should not look like a girl. Maybe there is a Catholic Surfer subculture somewhere, so I will make exceptions for Catholic Surfers. Shave your face. You can do whatever you want about sideburns and goatees and all that stuff. But generally speaking, women think full beards are weird. Don't shave anything on the rest of your body unless you are an athelete and have to. And then don't tell. Oh, and if you pluck your eyebrows, don't overdo it and, again, don't tell.

3. Be Clean. Wash. Scrub. Brush. Floss, if you can remember. Wear clean clothes that do not have holes in them. Try to keep your soul clean, too, which means absolutely zero porn and also going to confession. Keep swear words to a minimum and apologize if you cuss in front of a woman. Do not, I beg you, tell stories that feature the words "sex", "sexual" and "sexy" to women. Banish the word sex from your social vocabulary.

4. Go to Mass. And not just on Sundays. So few people go to Daily Mass that you will stand out. Some of the unmarried women at Daily Mass will note your presence. They will think, "Aw! It's a man at Daily Mass! I wonder if he wants to be a priest. I wonder if he is married. I wonder if he'll be here the next time I'm here." Go to evening devotions, too. Go for the wrong reason (girls), stay for the right reasons. The right reasons include praying for a Nice Catholic Girl to fall in love with and for the ability to seem like a Nice Catholic Boy.

5. Talk to women at Church and Catholic School Socials. Be attentive. If a girl is sneaking looks in your direction, smile at her and toddle over. Incidentally, if you are 20, it's okay to talk to a woman who looks 30. But if you are 50, it is not okay just to march up to a girl who is 20. Do not be afraid to walk up to two girls standing together. Yes, I know two or three girls standing together are scary. But they don't bite. So if the circle they are forming is open, and not as tight as a rugby scrum, then pop right over.

That said, it's even better if you can get someone to introduce you around. If you don't know anybody, but the parish priest is there, you can introduce yourself to him, and tell him you'd love to be introduced to other people. He can do it, or he can get someone else to do it. It is a completely reasonable and laudable request.

Ask girls about themselves. Ask if they're still in school. Ask what they study. Ask what they do for a living. Ask them if they like that. Listen to their questions and answer them in a laidback, not bragging way. Tell them good things about your family, things that stress your Good Catholic Home, e.g. "My dad's a carpenter, so he has a great devotion to Saint Joseph." If you don't come from a Good Catholic Home, focus on some positive aspect, like your baby nephew.

6. Women are not Baby Machines. Women like men who like children, but they don't like being objectified as Babymakers. If you're over 40, and you only talk to women under 35, we know what you are up to, and we don't like it. I know a woman who was asked during a Catholic event if she were Single, and when she said she wasn't, she got this whole confession about how this guy really wanted a big family and so he really wanted to find a woman to be the mother of his children. My friend, quite understandably, felt rather uncomfortable. We want to be loved for ourselves, not for our reproductive capacities. And you could be sterile anyway, big boy.

7. Be Kind to Children, Women and the Elderly. Don't complain when kids cry or gabble at Mass. Don't diss your mother, sisters or (unless to your fiancee) your ex-girlfriends. Don't be rude to servers in restaurants or to sales staff. Hold open doors for elderly people, and give them your seat on the subway or bus.

8. Be Opinionated But Not Insane. Strong, confident opinions in keeping with the teaching of the Church are great. Conspiracy theories involving Jews/Masons/the Illuminati/John XXIII are whacked. If you have a nervous titter, find some way to get rid of it. And learn from the career of Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson is the king of Screwed up Catholic Boys. Incidentally, every time you do or say something dumb, pray for Mel Gibson.

9. Avoid looking like you belong the local gay subculture. If you actually do have SSA, you don't have to tell anyone, unless you want to, and hopefully you know that this is sensitive information you shouldn't tell just anyone. Nice Catholic Girls are very, very fond of their male friends with SSA, especially if you are doing your best to live a sex-free Christian life. All Catholic boys, whether or not they have SSA, should know that dying your hair blond once summer rolls around is kind of a gay thing, and, sure, you can do it, but Nice Catholic Girls will mentally cross you off our Potential Boyfriend list. Incidentally, bisexual men scare us out of our tiny AIDS-phobic Catholic minds.

10. Don't string a girl along forever. Don't waste a woman's precious time. Don't date girls you know you could never marry, no matter how cute and fun they are. Once you know she is not the One, say so. (She may be furious--I always was--but she'll live.) But when you know she is the One, say so. You don't have to have the ring already unless you are really, really sure she will say "Yes."

Sometimes you know after 10 days, like my husband did. Sometimes you know after six months or so. Sometimes it takes a year (or two or more, if you're in high school). But when you know, you KNOW. Meanwhile, keep in mind that when you are dating a Nice Catholic Girl, you are preventing her from meeting and dating Nice Catholic Boys who might treat her better than you do. And don't you dare pressure her for sex--or even kisses, if she doesn't feel ready to kiss you. (If she pressures you for sex, ditch her. Nice Catholic Girls do not pressure men for sex.) But if she gets worried because you've been dating for weeks and you've never even tried to kiss her, that is 100% normal.

Personally, I don't think you should kiss a girl on the lips unless you want to marry her. Feel free to tell a girl you think kissing is for engaged people. Don't tell her that right after she has grabbed you, though, because then she will be MORTIFIED. Nice Catholic Boys do their best not to embarrass Nice Catholic Girls.

Let the comments begin!

Update (April 14): Well, hello, Catholic Match! Your conversation has been fascinating!

©Dorothy Cummings McLean 2010

I'm Number Ten!

Tonight anyway. On the Amazon UK Hot Future Releases (Christian Living) list. I don't know what that means, but it sure feels good! I am ahead of Marcus Borg. I am ahead of Sister Joan!

I must find a video on Youtube to celebrate. Oooh... You know which one I am going to pick! This goes out to all my British readers.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

How To Look Like a Nice Catholic Girl

This is one of those mornings when I enjoy saying the truthful unsayable. I don't know why it is that when I switch from Seraphic Goes to Scotland to Seraphic Singles I get stroppy and cynical. Cheerfully cynical, mind you, but still cynical. Is it because I'm married now, or what?

Maybe it's because I keep thinking about the chastity speakers who were my age now when I was your age then, and I don't want to be like them. Poor women! I am sure they did their best. But all they talked about was sex, and I am more into the social dynamics of being Single and, if someone thinks they'd like to marry, stopping being Single. So I tell you all the stuff your mother would tell you if she weren't so afraid of you getting mad at her.

So today, assuming that the majority of you dream of marrying Nice Catholic Boys, I am going to tell you how to present yourselves as Nice Catholic Girls, always remembering, of course, that your vocational fate is ultimately up to God and He is the Boss of you. Auntie Seraphic ain't no Pelagian, that's for darn sure. Incidentally, most of these rules will suit Nice Non-Catholic Girls, too.

1. Don't cut your hair short. Of course, if you are one of the very few women in the world who can pull off pixie, go for it. But men are attracted to long hair, and traditional men associate short hair with grandmothers and active lesbianism. In general, no shorter than a chic chin-length bob, mes filles.

2. Don't wear jeans or trousers all the time. Men who like girls like girls who look like girls, okay? Jeans are great for a collegiate look, and younger, slender women look marvellous in them. But trousers and leggings do not say "Hello! I am the beautiful princess you've always dreamed of!"

3. Nice Catholic skirts have two lengths. There is the knee-length skirt, and there is the ankle-length skirt. I wouldn't, like nuns of yore, kneel at your feet with a judgemental tape measure, however. If your knee length skirt rides up when you sit down, I'm cool with that. If your ankle length skirt reaches the floor, that can look very hip. Just make sure you don't trip. N.B. I was wearing a knee-length, sleeveless blue silk shift dress with pearls the moment my husband fell in love with me. I was freezing. Should have worn a cardigan, too!

I do not like below-knee or mid-calf length skirts. They look dowdy on almost everyone. Modest does not equal dowdy. Too many traddie Catholic women make this egregious error, giving the rest of us a bad name. Think modest, yes, but always think pretty.

4. Nice Catholic shoes don't wreck your feet. Classic, trendy, rock star, sporty: all these looks can work as long as you are thinking "pretty and feminine" not "sexy". Spike heels are not pretty and feminine. They're sexy. (And stupid, almost as stupid as Chinese footbinding.) Nice Catholic Boys find sexy unnerving. Whatever their embattled sex drives tell them, they really want pretty girls who will make them happy and help them get into heaven.

5. Do not advertise things on your bottom. Western Civilisation hit a new low when girls began to wear sweatpants with "Juicy" written across the bum. It is a good rule of thumb never to wear words at all. None of my best-dressed Nice Catholic Girl friends allow themselves to be used as billboards. You belong to God, not Abercrombie and Fitch, and so the only signature on your visible person should be the cross at your throat.

6. Do not exhibit more than the veriest hint of cleavage. I'm serious, girls. If you're an unmarried Nice Catholic Girl, you cannot get away with overanxious boobage. If you go to a party with it all hanging out, other Nice Catholic Girls will shoot you foul looks and the Nice Catholic Boys will start sweating and looking for the exit. There are better ways to get attention. I once saw a very modestly dressed traddie girl in a whole new light when she accepted a cigarillo after dinner. One cigarillo once a year is not going to kill you; boobage can kill your chances with NCBs. Yes, you do so care.

6. Be Seen at Daily Mass. Now that I've got you nicely kitted out in a pretty, knee length (or ankle length) skirt, a modest but stylish top and cute shoes, I'm sending you to lunchtime daily Mass. I'm sending you for the wrong reason, in the hopes that you will keep going for the right reasons: to further develop your devotion to and relationship with God, giver of all blessings.

The truest hallmark of a Nice Catholic Girl is that she loves God and wants to obey Him. And the truest hallmark of a Nice Catholic Boy is that he loves God and wants to obey Him. And just as a Nice Catholic Girl wants to meet the right Nice Catholic Boy, a Nice Catholic Boy wants to meet the right Catholic Girl. And if he sees her at Daily Mass, so much the better, because Daily Mass is a clue to her NCG-ness. As we know, we have to go to Sunday Mass. And, alas, many of us do it out of habit or identity. Those who go to Daily Mass or evening devotions, however, show a more signal devotion.

Once again, here are the three stages of praying for a spouse:

1. Fun. "Saint Anne, Saint Anne, send me a man."
2. Petitionary. "Please, Lord, help me! Please, please, please! Help, help, help!"
3. Accepting. "Not my will, but Yours be done."

Obviously, #3 is best, but I, no saint, always found myself bouncing back to #1 and #2.

7. Don't, however, look bizarre. At the Extraordinary Latin Mass, wear a mantilla if that's what the other ladies wear. At the Ordinary Form of the Mass, wear a cute hat like a beret or go bare-headed. Never be the only woman in the church with lace on her head. Never be the only woman in the place with nothing on her head. Avoid being mistaken for either the Tridentine Avenger or the Feminist Crusader. Both ladies scare Nice Catholic Boys rigid.

8. Read historical romance novels on the bus. Yes, you have a fierce intelligence, and if you ever found yourself in an elevator with Christopher Hitchens, you would leave him a crying, defeated wreck of a man. But you don't have to prove this every second of the day. Contribute to discussions as well as you can, and do the best job at work or school you can do. But don't brag about how smart you are, and don't pose in cafes with Jean-Paul Sartre novels.

9. Don't say bad things about babies. In general, Nice Catholic Boys don't give a flying fig for your career until they fall in love with you. Then they care about your career only because you do. They aren't looking for husbands. They're looking for the feminine companion of their soul, the guardian of their home and the possible mother of their children. So although your guidance counsellor was impressed when you said you would rather be an astronaut than a mother, Nice Catholic Boys won't be.

10. Don't say the F-word. Alas, when I am in great perturbation of spirit (e.g. once a day), I say the F-word. And I am sorry because a cussing woman is not a lovely creature. It's called the F-bomb for a reason, you know. Do not use obscene or blasphemous language, however mild, and although you shouldn't nag men for the occasional mild indiscretion, in general do not allow them to use obscene or blasphemous language around you.

11. Think about how your words reflect on you. Do not trash other girls in front of men. Do not complain to men about all the past miseries of your life. Do not refer to the Holy Father as "Ratzinger". Do not talk non-stop about yourself, your parents, your friends, your anything. Ask other people about themselves, their ideas, their opinions and their feelings. That way, you'll never be a bore.

12. Be clean and smell nice. Clean you, clean hair, clean clothes, clean teeth, clean shoes. Not too much perfume: soap and deodorant are usually enough. A clean soul goes without saying, too, so don't forget to go to confession. As a priest once upbraided me in the confessional, "Don't stay away so long next time." Yes, sir!

The photo is from 500 Days of Summer, and no, Summer was not a Nice Catholic Girl, but she did dress like one.

Update: I'm reading and signing copies of Seraphic Singles in Crux Books at 5 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto (sandwiched between Wycliffe College and Hart House) on Tuesday, April 27, between 7 and 8 PM. Come on time and consume refreshments, compliments of Novalis!

Update 2 (April 14): Hel-lo, Catholic Match! I may be an "authorESS", but I'll trouble to remind you that I'm Canadian. Thanks ever so.

Update 3 (Jan 13, 2012): Okay, who is the super-popular person with a facebook account because I am having an avalanche of hits here today!

Keep Your Shirt On

The other day, I discovered that yet another classmate was on Facebook and I beFriended him. And lo, seeing that he had photos, I clicked on them with abandon. And to my great surprise, I saw more of my classmate that I had ever seen before, i.e. his gleaming hairless chest. Glued to this arresting sight, my eyes became unstuck only with great difficulty and the recollection that he is now, ahem, consecrated.

To return to the subject of chastity lectures, we all know that men are visual and women are emotional, so women should be careful what they wear and men should.. um... er... Open doors? Be "gentlemen"? Assume that a woman is upset only because it is "that time of the month" and she is hormonal? (Don't, for the love of Mike, EVER do that, boys!) Oh, let's face it. Boys STILL get a pass at chastity lectures because we all want to believe that Nice Catholic Girls are magically non-sexual, and that 12 year olds read Tiger Beat for the articles.

The reality of female life is that most of us are sexually attracted to at least a few males, beginning around the age 12, if not earlier. My first crush object was Speedy Gonzales, the Mexican cartoon mouse, with whom I was smitten at the tender age of five. I think I enjoyed his effervescent personality--one shared by my husband Benedict Ambrose I have just this second realized. (Page Melanie Klein!) Then I had a crush (at seven) on Speedy Gonzales-sized eight year old with long, beautiful eyelashes. Later (like at 12) I got crushes on boys because of facial bone structure. The eureka moment where bare manly chests and flat manly tummies began to put me at risk of whiplash has been lost to history, but I am certainly at risk today.

My mother would not let me purchase Tiger Beat or its competitors, but I did not mind being consulted by friends on the relative merits of Scott Baio and C. Thomas Howell. John Stamos was a big deal when I was 12, as were Duran Duran, Boy George and Michael Jackson. It seems very odd today that the mascara-ed Simon LeBon, the transvestite Boy George and the, well, Michael Jackson made 12 year old female hearts flutter, but they did. My own personal idols were HRH the Prince Edward, who was then only 19 years old, and Sebastian Flyte, whom I imagined to be blonde, blue-eyed and as beautiful as the morning star. I had no idea Lord Sebastian had SSA, or if I did, I thought it was just a teenage boy thing that he would grow out of, etc.

This, of course, is a rather privileged look backstage at the female psyche. Nice Catholic Girls do not generally admit that their maidenly or matronly exteriors hide hearts and lungs and veins seething with animal passions. This is because we know better. None of us wants to be Big Ethel, skinny and snaggle-toothed and drooling over Jughead Jones. None of wants to scare the living daylights out of Nice Catholic Boys determined to be chaste. And none of us wants to attract the attention of rapists and other scum. Better to be as taciturn as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park: my favourite moment in Jane Campion's cinema version is when Edmund (in love with Another) falls asleep on his besmitten cousin Fanny's shoulder, and Fanny rolls her eyes towards heaven, as if to say, "Oh great, God. Thanks. As if I weren't suffering enough already." Meanwhile, I probably would not be telling you all this stuff if I weren't safely married.

As an unmarried woman in my 30s, surrounded by cute men, "Don't touch the hottie" was my personal mantra and possible salvation. As 20-something seminarians unsure in their vocations batted their eyelashes at me, I inwardly chanted "Don't touch the hottie!" for years. When I first met B.A., I inwardly chanted "Don't touch the hottie!" for a whole ten days until, finally, he seized me in his McAmbrosely arms.

Anyway, I mention all this scary sexual stuff because Nice Catholic Boys, unlike Nice Muslim Boys, think nothing of taking their shirts off and running glistening around fields after footballs, and they have no idea of what effect that might be having on Nice Catholic Girls nearby.

"Oh," comes the masculine grunt. "if it's that big of a deal, maybe you shouldn't be looking."

"You're right," I say. "Never mind this whole brother's keeper stuff. I'll go resurrect that halter top of mine, the one shaped like a butterfly. I've never worn it before, I don't know why I have it, but---Why not? If it's that big of a deal, maybe you shouldn't be looking."