Saturday, 30 October 2010

When Love Comes Late

Today we have a guest blog from the wonderful Kim P! Kim P has been reading my blogs for three years or so. And recently Kim P, who is 46, began talking marriage with a nice man, and I was surprised by this news, even though the statistics show that almost everybody (in the USA, at least) gets married. It's just that I was so used to Kim P being Single!

When I found out that almost everybody gets married, my thinking about the Single Life changed a little. Given that the divorce rate is so high, and that the stakes are so high, it seemed to me that one really important reason for glorifying the Single life is to encourage men and women not to settle for less than mature, adult married love. It is much better to marry the right person at 47 and be happy than to marry the wrong person at 25 and be miserable.

But enough from me! Here's Kim P:

Hi all, Auntie Seraphic has asked me to write to you, dear singles, as a 46 year old life long single and a faithful reader of this blog now that I have finally met the right man for me. It is my great hope that my experience, along with my ancient age, will give you encouragement to do what Auntie always advises: wait for the right man!

I had no idea that my first kiss at age 14 would be the start of 31 years of dating. I don’t know when my teenaged brain thought I would get married but I am certain I never thought it would be well into my forties.

At age 45 (gasp!) I still had not met The One despite doing all the things I should: I went to Mass every week; I joined the local Catholic singles group; I exercised; I remained close friends with my former single girlfriends; I started reading Seraphic’s Singles blog about two incarnations ago.

I did a lot of things wrong too. Like seriously dating a guy for way too long who not only announced that he would never marry, but was actually hostile to my faith. (If this is happening to you, dump him immediately and replace him with a good spiritual director – I did and I’m glad!) And I got bitter at times. Weddings became teeth clenching affairs, and I gave up on baby showers completely. I started to lose patience with young women who complained about still being single at age twenty-eight. I won’t even describe how un-seraphic I became when well-meaning people told me that I’d find the right man if I just “quit looking”.

But lo and behold, I finally met the right man for me! I won’t bore you with all the details of what brought us together (those stories are really only interesting to the couple involved and their smug friends), but I will say I wasn’t smitten right away. While Jamie was clearly taken with me from nearly the first moment, it took me about a month to go from “probably just friends” to “there might be something to this man”. And then we fell in love. That was eight months ago and the biggest surprise has been how my life has changed.

How I spend my time has changed.

There is far less sewing, reading, blogging, knitting, and emailing than before I met Jamie. Obviously, that’s no surprise but the reason is: it’s not just that I spend time with him, it’s that when I am with him, I am really with him. We are totally present to each other, or as present as two flawed human beings can be. And this being present to each other not only takes up my time, but is an intense emotional experience which leaves me with less energy to give to these pursuits which used to fill my life.

My relationships have changed.

When I fell in love with Jamie an amazing thing happened. All my other relationships seemed to magically shift into their proper places. Unhealthy relationships naturally died on their own (are you still talking to that old boyfriend from time to time just to feel a connection?), and other relationships that I perhaps put too much emphasis on were put into proper context.

I think the biggest challenge of singleness is the loneliness; oftentimes there is no one in your life just to hear about your day and listen to your impressions of life. I relied (not improperly) on my girlfriends for a lot of this interaction, but I found myself wishing my girlfriends and I were even closer. Frankly, they couldn’t give the attention that I needed and wanted due to the emotional demands of their own families. I hope I wasn’t a burden to them, but I suspect I took more of their time than they may have been able to give.

Once I met Jamie, and my emotional needs were being fulfilled, I was actually able to give more to my girlfriends. The love I receive from him has energized me to the extent that I have been able to expand my service to others who weren’t previously in my life – for example, taking on additional ministries at my parish.

I’m more grateful.

Being alone all those years, or worse, dating men who were wrong for me was not fun, but then I don’t need to tell you that. But the upside to finding the right man at my age is that I don’t take it for granted. I am pretty certain that had we met in my twenties, I would have viewed our relationship with a nod of the head and an “of course” - this was all how it was supposed to be. I probably would not have seen the hand of God in it at all. We expect to met our husbands in our twenties, have babies, and then settle in for a lifetime of picking up after everyone and making macaroni and cheese.

I suspected, even before I met Jamie, that God was using that time to get me ready for him; I was hoping that when I did meet the right man, it would be all the sweeter. My deep insecurity was that it was taking so long because there was something wrong with me: maybe I was more horribly selfish, immature, and emotionally stunted than I ever thought. But that turned out not to be the case at all.

What I have learned is that God was using that time to not only get me ready, but to get Jamie ready too. That really never occurred to me. “I wouldn’t have appreciated you had I even met you just a few years earlier,” he admitted several months after we met. Not only was Jamie being prepared for me, but his conversion to Catholicism was in the works as well. I discovered a more important aspect to all of God’s timing: Jamie’s salvation was at stake, and these things can’t be rushed. I am deeply humbled by God’s perfect gift of salvation to us both, and how His plan for me – with a loving, Catholic husband - is even better than I could have ever dreamed for myself. God has blessed us both.

Finally, I have learned that I did not earn this gift. I have done nothing to deserve this love. It is a gift that God, in all His wisdom, has decided to bestow upon me now. I have received it despite my imperfections, my lapses into selfishness, and my failings when I attempt to love. Conversely, I have realized that the 45 years without Jamie were not a punishment or a commentary on my worth as a human being. Those years were simply “life” and all we can do is live it in obedience to God. Dear readers, Auntie Seraphic has consistently told us that we are single because it is God’s will that we be single. And we will be married when He decides otherwise. I now know this to be absolutely true.

"Kim P"

Friday, 29 October 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Lady In Waiting

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I moved to a new city from a small town about 2 years ago. I got involved with the young adult group here and have met a few nice guys but so far no one has expressed any interest in me whatsoever. I just turned 24 years old and have never had a boyfriend, let alone gone on a date. I am so tired of waiting around for someone to come along. I thought that moving to a bigger city would help in finding a NCG, but the guys that I like never ask me out or single me out in any way. I have tried to "redeem the time" by doing other things, but it is really hard to watch as the people around me marry and are starting to have kids. I love my friends and I'm not jealous of them, but I feel like there is nothing I can do to remedy the situation.

I would appreciate your thoughts,

Lady in Waiting

Dear Lady in Waiting,

Thank you for your nice note! The first thing I want to say is that it is difficult to be 24 in the western, English-speaking world. If it weren't, I would love to be 24 because 24 year old girls have (A) lovely, glowing skin and (B) all the time in the world for men and babies and career.

But it is difficult to be 24 because if you're not married, you worry about being single at 25 (which is a completely irrational worry that seems to affect almost all religious girls in Canada and the USA), and if you ARE married, you feel left out of all the fun things Single 20-somethings do (like backpack around Europe, go to grad school, go out dancing, go to rock concerts). My mum got married at 23, and although she loved baby me (born 13 months later), she felt she was missing out on all the parties and fun. At 24, the grass ALWAYS seems to be greener on the other side of the fence.

The second thing I want to say is that you have already done something very good by joining the young adult group. Now I want you to mentally write off all the young men in it as future husbands and think of how you can make them your friends, if they aren't already your friends. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that most people find The One through their friends, be the friends male or female. In your twenties, you should make as many friends as you can, leaving the whole husband-question to God. If God wants you to get married, He can send you a husband.

And I really mean that. Although since the feminist revolution young women have been told again and again that they can pursue men now, human nature (especially male human nature) hasn't changed. Men still value only that which they have to work to get. Men still hold cheaply girls who throw themselves at them. Men still refuse to fall in love with women just because the women love them and would do anything for them. That's just the way men are.

So the answer is that girls just have to wait for love, and yes, that hurts. However, I didn't meet Mr. Perfect for Me until I was 37, and he was totally worth the wait. My greatest wish is that I had known Mr Perfect for Me was waiting for me in 2008 because then I wouldn't have wasted so much time and energy and dignity pursuing/dating this man and that!

Meanwhile, strive to look and feel your best and to make many friendships with men and women of all ages. Live as much in public as you can, which is to say, get involved in work activities or in school activities, stay involved at church, take an evening class in something that fascinates you, or join a Meet Up group involved in one of your interests.

Also, take note of, and celebrate, all the accomplishments from other parts of your life. Many women put too much value in courtship milestones, like "first time a guy held my hand" and "first kiss" and "first date." I could understand this in 19th century women, for back then attractiveness-to-men was the most (or only) important thing a woman had going for her. But today we have so many other opportunities and challenges, we can and should learn to treasure OTHER kinds of milestones, like our first big paycheque, our first university degree, our first piece of published work and our first visit to France!

It is true that being married to the right man is one of the sweetest things in life. (Being married to the wrong man is one of the worst!) But very few of us know when God is going to send us that man, and being able to wait is one of the great challenges of womanhood.

I hope this is helpful. Please know that you are not alone. Unless the statistics have changed drastically unbeknownst to me, most people who read "Seraphic Singles" are American, Canadian and British Single women in their 20s.

Grace and peace,

I've Been Invited to Notre Dame

Breaking News: I've been invited to speak at the University of Notre Dame as part of the Edith Stein Project which takes place between February 11-12, 2011.

Thank you very much, Rebecca and other Notre Dame readers for your invitation to this event, cocktails, etc! This is so awesomely awesome that I called my Notre Dame grad dad (Class of '62) long-distance on a weeknight and off the plan to boast.

South Bend, South Bend--yay!

South Bend in February, South Bend in February--oooo... Wait a minute.

Oh well, it's not like Toronto is a sunny paradise in February either. And I'm longing to meet some American readers. You guys make up something like 60% of my online readership, and I do see a Notre Dame presence on my StatCounter!*

Ask and you shall receive was definitely working for me yesterday. Who wants to invite me to write for Our Sunday Visitor?

*Catholic U in Washington, D.C., Steubie, Scranton, Boston College and others are there, too. Of Canadian schools, the University of Toronto logs in most often. Of the British schools, Oxford is number 1. Somebody at Oxford loves me.

P.S. My American gran'ma lived in Indiana for decades, so that is where I always spent childhood beach vacations. Yes, there are beaches in Indiana.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Feast of St. Jude, Patron of Seraphic Singles

I just realized that today is the Feast of St. Jude.

Four years ago, on October 28, 2006, I was washing the dishes in my Boston abode after a fraught week of houseguests when I decided that it was okay to be Single. It was a total "Tolle et lege", St. Augustinian, dawn breaks, penny drops moment. For years I had been fussing and freaking lest I end up Single for the rest of my life, and then suddenly I knew it would be okay.

Amazed at this revelation, I checked the calendar and saw that it was the feast of St. Jude, the Patron of Lost Causes. And, still enthused by my St. Jude's Day revelation, on November 4 I began the first "Seraphic Singles" blog.

By writing "Seraphic Singles," I both wrote my first published book and met the man who would become my husband. It makes you think. Well, it makes me think. It makes me think that having revelations that the Single Life is okay on the Feast of St. Jude, Patron of Lost Causes is a very good thing to do.

Who Wants to Invite Me to Notre Dame?

Today I got a lovely piece of fan mail, and suddenly it occured to me that I wouldn't mind speaking at Notre Dame, the next time I am on that side of the pond. And, come to think of it, Ohio is not so far from Indiana, so I wouldn't mind speaking at Franciscan University of Steubenville, too. Doing so would probably please Liguori, for appearances sell books and, lo, they pubished the American version of my book.

My daddy went to Notre Dame, and somewhere or other at Notre Dame is a statue of Father William Corby, who was my great-grandmother's best friend and therefore the namesake of my grandfather and my uncle, too. So I think fond thoughts of Notre Dame, and when I was studying grad theology at a different American college, I used to encourage "accepted students" to go there instead. After that, nobody asked me to help with the Accepted Students Days, ROFL.

Steubie U, Christendom and Ave Maria are also American Catholic schools with good names among North American Catholics who prefer Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Merton and ETWN to NCR. I think people would enjoy what I have to say at those schools although I am not, you know, the most obviously OBVIOUSLY "solid" person in the world (like, for example, George Weigel). I mean, I am solid, but I am solid with a sense of humour and I share a publisher with Sister Joan Chittister, which tends to make people go "Hmm."

Anyway, I don't have a speaker's fee, and if any group at ND or Steubie would like to pay or defray the costs of a round-trip (plane or train) from Toronto to hear little me, send a little email to I'm thinking of going home to Canada Februaryish. Meanwhile, please buy my lovely book!

Update: My conscience tells me I have to say something nice about Sr. Joan now. Well, I know this guy who took one of her classes, and he was the only guy in that class. And he loved her class because he was (and, as far as I know, still is) a committed feminist. Meanwhile, he is also a very, very nice man--unlike most committed male feminists I have known. Anyhoo, there he was in Sr Joan's class, and the only man, and one day one of the girls in the class started attacking him for being a man, and Sr. Joan stood up for him. (Mary Daly, the historians among you may know, would not have let him into her own precious class at all.)

I always enjoyed this story, and now I appreciate it even more because later I was in an [X] Theology class, the only non-[X] (being [Y]), and one of the [X] students (a male religious) announced that [Y] women made bad wives. He told a long rambling anecdote to prove it, and instead of suggesting that one failed [X]-[Y] marriage failed to prove that [Y] women made bad wives, the [X] professor, nervously eyeing me, agreed that [X]-[Y] marriages were indeed very problematic. Bastard. I mean, bless his little ugh ugh heart.

Oh well, he gave me an A. Still, give me Sister Joan over Father Bigot any day. It's not like he was orthodox, even. Au contraire. In fact, he is the only professor I ever even considered shopping to the CDF--as if they'd care about such small potatoes, anyway. He gave a stronger impression than any prof I've ever met that he got his theology degree out of a cracker jack box.

Okay, I'm stopping now.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Discern This, Drama Boy!

I wrote this in 2008, and most of it still applies. I'm dedicating it out to every Nice Catholic Girl in the world who has had her heart handed back to her, bleeding, on a tray by some self-absorbed moron who thinks maybe he really does have a vocation to the priesthood after all, oops.

Discern This, Drama Boy ! (Archives)

A younger friend emailed me saying, "Everyone I'm interested in ends up discerning the priesthood! What IS that!!!! Madness! Argh!!! Blaaah!!" I thought that that was a most articulate way of summing up the human condition of actively Catholic girls in their early twenties. Of course, the kicker is that precious few of those "discerners" will ever feel the oil of consecration on their hands. When I was this girl's age, I knew a lot of Catholic boys. And a lot of them discerned. And only two of them became priests.

Now I don't want to kick discernment. Discernment is great. When I was 21 and my boyfriend began to explore a call to the Scalabrinians, I said, "You go on ahead, honey" and fired off an inquiry to the Daughters of Saint Paul. Ha ha! So there.

Where was I? Oh yes, discernment is great. However, it is not so great if your discernment becomes a soap opera starring you. Discerners get the kind of attention that others only dream of. You have special meetings. You have special advisors. You have special weekends away. You get fancy brochures. You get the attention of Nice Catholic Girls, but it isn't scary, 'cause you're discerning. Of course, the real test is if you tell your mother. Actually, I wouldn't take any "discerner" seriously who hadn't told his mother. Of course, the Fear of Telling Mum can be spun into a whole separate drama in the Saga of My Discernment.

I love other people's dramas. It is a great problem. If there is a great dramatic secret that everyone hints around, I go nuts until I find out what it is. And if it is dramatic enough, I hang around the edges, watching the drama unfold. However, then I care too much. It's like beginning to care about the Toronto Maple Leafs at play-off time. The agony! So personally I would keep a strict distance from any discerner to whom I was attracted. Of course, now I am in my mid-thirties, and any guy my age who is still discerning simply cannot be attractive to me. I mean, come on. When at the tender age of 32 I suggested to Jesuit friends that I might become a nun, they burst out laughing and all but rolled on the floor.

Nobody should waste their youth dreaming of men who have no interest in them. Thus, we Catholic girls should hear "I'm discerning a vocation to the priesthood" and translate it into "I'm just not that into you." And at this point, we should drop the discerner like a hot potato. After all, he is thinking of foreswearing the greatest sweets of human love; we should give him a hint of that loss pronto. Once he's actually in the seminary, we can be nice to him again. But not too nice. And if he doesn't go into the seminary (for so few of them do) we should cold-shoulder him until he shows up, weeping, with flowers, at our door. (Incidentally, make sure a discerner really is discerning before shunning him. There are a lot of mums and priests out there who hint to pretty girls of their darlings' precious vocations when these vocations exist only in the minds of the mums and the priests.)

Now my tone might be too flippant for the subject. Apologies in advance. I really do think it is important for young men and women to consider the religious life or ordination. I would even go so far as to say that it is your duty. However, don't let your discernment stretch on for years, and don't bore everyone around you with your internal struggles. In fact, if it's such a struggle, the religious life/priesthood is probably not for you.

The reason why I am so cranky on the subject is that I am tired of vocation-discernment homilies in which the homilist tells us of the Girl He Left Behind. One character even admitted that he dated his girlfriend all through the seminary, and then said, "Honey, I've gotta tell you this. I've decided to be a priest after all." Well, all I can say is that any guy who strings a girl along for three years is a cad. And I want to hear her side of the story. We never hear her side of the story.

Thus, young ladies, treat all discerners as if they are boring and elderly priests, and gentlemen, you're not really discerning until you've told your Mum. Otherwise, spare the women of your circle your vocational discernment highs and lows, thanks. And if you do go into the seminary, stop handing girls your phone number.

--Seraphic Singles Archives, April 4, 2008

Update: I know a girl, a very NCG, who was dumped by two seminarians. The first seminarian left the seminary "for her" even though it was clear to everyone including me (at whom he had made a pass) that he hated the seminary. Then he claimed that now that he was out of the seminary, he wanted to see what dating a lot of women was like. He had lost so much time, etc., etc. The other guy dumped her to go into the seminary. Then, a few years later, he dropped out mere days before he was to be ordained to the diaconate. One of his greatest (male) friends was utterly astonished that he didn't go through with his ordination. Not so Seraphic, not so.

Update 2 (May 27, 2013): Welcome readers from the Callaxaty Files. And thanks to Lizzy B for the kind words.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Teenage Dances, Grown-up Dances

I ignored a lot of my mother's old-fashioned, time-tested advice when I was in high school. In hindsight, this was a bad idea because most of it was sound. Mum was very popular with boys in high school and college, so I ought to have taken notes. Unfortunately, though, my mother had no sense of saleswomanship. Instead of explaining why it was pointless to ask boys out on dates, she squawked, "Is that a BOY you're telephoning, you brazen hussy!"

Calling girls brazen hussies is no way to win hearts and minds. If you do that, don't be surprised when they decide your ideas must be completely out of date.

But there was one opinion that, pace Mum, was well and truly out of date and simply not applicable to teenage life. The morning after a high school dance, still gleeful from all the excitement, I listed off all the boys I had danced with.

"So Victor asked me, and Albert asked me, and then I asked Sean..."

"That doesn't count," said my mother.

(Cue Alisha to faint dead away in horror.)

I felt completely deflated. At dances, sometimes boys asked me to dance, and sometimes I asked them to dance, and it was all very fun, no matter who did the asking. Being asked to dance is good for the ego (and for impressing my mother), but sometimes you'd rather dance with the man of your own choice, just for the fun of it. Back when girls could almost NEVER ask a man to dance, the special "Ladies' Choice" was a big deal.

Now, at Singles Dances as eligible grown-ups, with the possible exception of swing-dancing, if swing-dancing is basically your life's blood (as it is for Alisha), I don't recommend women ask strangers to dance unless it is completely sanctioned by the DJ announcing that it is "Lady's Choice". (And even then I might suggest strategically asking, not the cute man who looked at you, but his buddy.) Unless you are really the Dancing Queen (like Alisha), you're not there as much to dance as much as you are to meet nice men.

HOWEVER, in high school, where there is no marriage or giving in marriage, I think girls may and should ask boys to dance and simply dance up a storm, just for the fun of it. And I think I will extend this to freshman year at college, too. ANYTHING is better, in the psychologically crucial high school and freshman year, than to hide in the bathroom, crying from loneliness and pre-emptory despair.

I love to make up rules, for nature abhors a vacuum. My rule is that if you are under 21, you can ask boys to dance. But if you are over 21, it is time to lengthen your skirts and put up your hair (so to speak) and wait for men to ask you. Hopefully you will have developed such a reserve of confidence and fun from your high school and freshman year asking-boys-to-dance days, that your face will exude a glow of fun and friendliness irresistable to at least one or two of the men around.

Incidentally, at the last big dance I was at (Newman Centre Pre-Advent), I mostly danced with a female friend. There we were--she 27 or so, and I 36 or so--in full evening dress swing-dancing all over the wooden floor to "Sing, Sing, Sing with a Swing." It was hilarious and much more fun than crying in the bathroom because we were 27 (or so) and 36 (or so) with no man in sight.

She's married, too, now. Most of us do get married in the end, so any time at a dance spent crying that it hasn't happened yet is time wasted. If you really can't have fun, home you go to your comfort snack, your specially-selected DVD and your blankie.

Update: That is me at the Newman Dance, Single at 36 (or so). I'm relatively sure one of those beers was for someone else.

Update 2: Oh, as for Prom. I must talk about Prom, which for my year at the all-girl's school was called "The Formal." The social event of the year, when I was a teenager, was called "The Semi-Formal." Tickets were offered to girls in Grades 11 to 13, and if there were any leftover they were offered to the envious Grade 10s. It being a girls' school, obviously you had to invite your own guest. Some girls gamely went with each other, which simply never occured to me. For three years, I agonized over who I could ask, since I didn't know many boys, and both times I did, I got turned down. Eee! Fortunately, I knew lots of boys by Grade 13, and so I had a Formal Date. Some amazing sense of self-preservation prompted me to ask the friendly boy I was good friends with and not the nasty boy I had had a crush on all year. The nasty boy was extremely annoyed that I had not asked him, for he had very much wanted to go to our Formal. ROFL.

Update 3: My most fun dance ever was two weeks ago in an Edinburgh flat when suddenly a friend struck up a waltz medley, I danced a few steps, and B.A. grabbed my hands. Singing "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do" we whirled around the room. The medley ended with "Edelweiss," and then that was it. Three minutes of dancing, tops, but it was the best ever. Come to think of it, it was our first dance as a married couple. Aw. Have I mentioned that we're old and squishy? We're comparatively totally old and squishy.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hosting a Single Friend/"Never Had a Boyfriend"

My best friend, a long-term Single, is visiting me here in Scotland from Canada. I was up at 5:30 AM to meet and accompany her on the last leg of her journey, and therefore my brain is not all fired up with things to write about the Single life.

I suppose I could say, once again, that one of the great freedoms of the Single life, is that--job and money permitting--you can just pack up and go visit friends far, far away, without clearing it with anyone else first.

And so there she was, my old buddy of college days and beyond, getting off the bus from Glasgow, in a nice new red hat and with just two carry-on bags. This meeting was quite a contrast to meeting my brother and sister-in-law and their children and friends and their child already camped out in a rented house in Barcelona.

There is no way either my brother and sister-in-law can go ANYWHERE with only two carry-on bags. Their children alone are the size and weight of some carry-on bags. Married people with children have a lot of luggage when they travel (including, in that case, a portable crib). Heck, even B.A. and I had a carry-on each plus a ginormous suitcase; B.A. does not travel light.

However, Trish is a Single, generally Seraphic, and can get away with two little carry-ons, even for a two week sojourn in chilly Scotland. She can, absolutely guilt-free, lodge her little dog with friends and hang out with me, her married buddy, for two weeks of cruising art galleries, marvels of architecture, and maybe a Highland glade or two. She has no boyfriend or husband I have to learn to like. Needless to say, she already likes my husband because he is objectively marvellous.

Man, I always wanted a buddy or a relative with a pad in Europe. And now I am the buddy and the relative with a pad in Europe. This is, of course, due to marriage, and thus this is just another fantastic example of how marriage and the single life complement each other and give each other glory, just as it says in the Catechism.

Anyway, blogging may be intermittent for a bit because of taking care of one very special Seraphic Single. But if you have a head-scratcher of a Single issue, send me an email, and I will be happy to respond. Here at Seraphic Singles we (ahem, I) see in every problem the silver-lining of a new post that will comfort others with almost exactly the same problem.

Incidentally, one of the most frequent search phrases that lands people on this blog is "[number] and never had a boyfriend." There are umpteen women who are "22 and never had a boyfriend" "25 and never had a boyfriend" and "40 and never had a boyfriend." Whereas I am saddened that people are saddened by never having had a boyfriend, I am happy to tell them that they are not alone.

Meanwhile, boyfriends in themselves are no big deal.* Fiances and husbands are the big deal. Also a big deal are handsome men friends who might, if the friendship is (A) real and (B) catches fire, become fiances and then husbands. Boyfriends-as-boyfriends are a waste of time and occasions for sin--not to mince words or anything--although I guess normally there is a friend to boyfriend to fiance transition. Thank goodness my transition from girlfriend-to-fiancee lasted only five days or whatever. I would have died from the suspense. (N.B. Once again, I was over 35. Zany whirlwind romances are for older, wrinkly people who have recovered from the ghastly mistakes we made in our youth. Can you imagine Romeo & Juliet at 40? No. Which is why they had to die.)

*I know why they're treated like a big deal. It's because women get the message early on that our value is primarily in being attractive to men, and therefore the more men who are attracted to us, the more valuable we are. This is, of course, total crap.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Both Attitudes are Okay

Some men and women never wish to marry. They long for something they feel is greater than that--some adventure or calling, something spiritual or temporal or both. And as long as this desire precludes using others for sexual gratification, there is nothing wrong with it. Saints almost without number have chosen lives of virginity or celibacy in religious life and/or the priesthood. Others, like Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier, have lived Single lives of Christian service without taking vows. These men and women are all prophetic, living in their day what will be true in the Kingdom of Heaven: no marriage.

However, most men and women do wish to marry. Marriage is the natural end of the human person, a state our bodies are made for, and the great guarantor, not only of the human race, but of the stability of human society. There is no shame in wanting to marry.

Sadly, women often feel ashamed for wanting to marry. For millenia there have been misogynist jokes about the rapaciousness of women and how we want to get "our hooks in" and all kinds of nonsense. Alas, some churchmen of old were responsible for promulgating some of this rubbish, but I tend to forgive most of them on the grounds that they never in their lives actually sat down with a thoughtful young woman and had a good chat. St. Thomas Aquinas knew the writings of Aristotle better than he knew any woman; he went into a monastery as a tiny boy, he went into the Dominicans as a young man, and when his family kidnapped him, they shoved a hooker into his room. Really, he did not have many opportunities to discover that women can be just as brainy as men.

Some young women go so far as to internalize misogynist attitudes and brag that unlike other women, they are not interested in getting married. They are above all that; they have higher ambitions; they want to be the next Charles Bukowski, the next Damien Hirst, the next Donald Trump, blah blah blah. Women like that love to be the highest (or only) woman on the man's-world totem pole. They simply believe men and "men's stuff" are ontologically better than women and "women's stuff"--although they would never ever word it that way.

So, on top of all the garbage promulgated by men, some contemporary women have added their disdain for the majority of women who "just want to get married," and it's all tremendously stupid. Gloria Steinem, who proclaimed that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, spent her pretty days dating rich and powerful men, and then married Christian Bale's father.

Most men and women want to get married, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What is unwise is to announce your passionate desire for marriage on (or before) first dates because all men and women want to be loved for themselves alone and not as the necessary adjuncts to the married state. Neither do they want to be seen as walking wombs or sperm banks. There is a happy medium. On the one hand, we shouldn't be ashamed of our desire to marry. On the other, we should be sensible and sensitive to the feelings of others.

I get a number of emails from women who feel guilty because they do not feel 100% happy when their friends announce their engagements. My attitude is that of course they don't feel 100% happy. For one thing, their friendships are going to change, and change is scary. For another, it feels very uncomfortable when your circle of Single friends shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. It leaves you wondering if you will be the only Single girl left, alone and palely loitering. Possibly it brings back the agony of being the last picked for teams in gym class (as I always was) or, eek, standing awkwardly with your back against the wall during school dances (as I always did until I was 14).

The emotional upheaval around weddings is inevitable and staggering to experience or even witness. It is like a force of nature. Suddenly bitter Single friends snap at brides-to-be, brides-to-be cry. Single friends feel lonely or guilty; Single friends cry. It's a mess.

I remember getting a phone call from a friend, a wonderful, pretty, fun woman who was going around the bend emotionally because she wasn't married yet. She was losing hope, and she couldn't understand why she was feeling like this.

"It's because [your housemate] just got engaged," I said. "This a perfectly normal reaction."

Happily, this cheered my friend right up. Well, she wasn't entirely cheered up, but at least she had been told her feelings were normal. Meanwhile, the fate of most wonderful, pretty and fun women befell her: she got married two years later.

Most people do get married, which can be both a hopeful and a lonely thought. It is hopeful if you wish to marry, and lonely if you don't. Fortunately, there are enough seriously Single people out there that, if you look, you will see that there are whole communities of serious Singles, communities that are happy to share the occasional supper or retreat with a non-vowed serious Single like you. And married couples, like BA and me, are very happy to spend time with interesting serious Singles who are content with their state in life.

Meanwhile, because most people do eventually get married, another of my mantras is to be the right person and then marry the right person. When I say "Don't settle," I don't mean you should hold out for a millionaire or supermodel. I mean that you should hold out for an truly admirable and sexy-to-you person whom you love and who loves you.

*Update:Forgot the footnote, which was "Yay, SMCS October Dance, 1985!"

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Gracious Guest/Bride's Eye View

One problem with emotional pain is that it corrodes the character. The number one enemy of long-term Singles who don't want to be Single is bitterness. Bitterness is a powerful enemy who must be guarded against with strong fortifications of self-care (sleep, food, exercise), gratitude, chaste friendship, enjoyable work, homemaking, humility, prayer and a sense of humour.

There are times when a Single has to retreat right behind these solid walls and shout "Battle stations!" Hearing of a friend's engagement is often one of those times. Receiving a wedding invitation is another. Feel the yucky feelings, forgive yourself, and let them go. Let them drift like phantom balloons through the ceiling into the sky out of sight.

"Oh Seraphic," wailed a friend over IM. "I have seven weddings to go to this summer. Seven!"

"That's great," I said. "You must be very popular--much more popular that me. I haven't been invited to any!"

The friend stopped wailing. She had not considered the invitations as evidence of her popularity, only as reminders that some other women--and not she--were getting married that summer.

Mass, dinner, dancing. If it weren't for the emotional upheaval, weddings would be nothing but fun, really. Local weddings, I mean. I don't think anyone ought to feel obligated to travel more than 100 miles to a wedding. If you'd rather DIE than miss it, that's quite another thing. As for the gift (I am shockingly bad at wedding gifts, but I have no money), well, it reminds me of old-fashioned children's birthday parties. You dress up, you bring a gaily wrapped present, you play traditional games, you eat cake, you drink fizzy, er, pop.

Girls often write to me about weddings, and I say the same things again and again (A) you do NOT have to go to every wedding to which you are invited; (B) almost all Single women feel Single Woman's Angst after (or, worse, during) almost all weddings; and (C) if you do accept a wedding invitation, you must never show a gloomy face while there.

Her wedding day might not, in fact, be the most important day of a woman's life, but it certainly feels like it. Take me, for example. No boyfriend in high school. Married at 25. Divorced at 26. Annulled at 27. Single until 38. It took me forever just to get used to the idea of being Single for the rest of my life, and then a fantastic guy fell in love with me and actually wanted to spend the rest of his interesting life with me. Quite understandably, I wanted to celebrate.

But not everyone else did. Readers sent in notices to quit. Near-strangers sneered at my bridal nerves. My parish priest did his best to argue I had no right to be married in his pretty church. He also preached a homily on the selfishness of brides. (We steal attention from Our Lord during the nuptial mass, you see.)**

The person who made me feel best about the whole deal (after BA, of course) was, oddly, Albus the extremely camp make-up artist at MAC. Albus was excited. Albus clapped his hands. Albus and I now wear the same same of tinted moisturizer, so I am unlikely ever to forget him. Whenever I pick up the bottle, I hear Albus say, in his sing-song voice, "Your eyes are not--tee hee hee--small; they are medium."

A bride is an emotionally fragile creature; you simply have got to be nice to her in the same way you would be nice to a woman beginning labour. I was so stressed out about my tiny home wedding that my nose started to bleed the day before. You must not argue with a bride about her wedding plans unless she is making too fierce a demand upon you personally. And you must not, on a day when she fruitlessly longs for everyone to be as happy as she is, show her how unhappy, lonely and envious you are. I know it is a cliche, but like many cliches it has the authority of truth: It's HER day.

Do not go to a wedding if you don't think you will enjoy it. It is better for the bride not to see your unhappy face, which she very well may remember for the rest of her life. It is better for you to do something you find fun that day. And if you do go to a wedding with the best of intentions and suddently find yourself crying in the Ladies', it is time to go home. Have a good cry in a stall, wash your face, fix your make-up, and leave with an Oscar-worthy smile. Take a cab, because I can't imagine a more depressing way to get home from a wedding than the night bus. Have something yummy waiting for you there, plus a good DVD, plus a blanky.

Having crossed from Single to Married, it now hurts me to imagine that any of my guests (and my guest list was draconian) might have suffered on My Day (TM). Mindful that it was a second wedding (for me, not BA--hmm, didn't think of that), the spirit of the whole thing was rather "Don't Mind Us! This Won't Take Long!" The reception lasted two and a half hours; the food was on the table pronto; there were no speeches; there were bottles and bottles of Henkell Trocken. The one insensitive thing I can think of doing was making my friends and sisters go outside for the bouquet toss. But as my first bouquet toss was such a failure (hit the ceiling, exploded), it was tremendously important that I get this one right. It wasn't about who-was-still-Single. It was about ME.

B.A. thought it a perfect wedding; now I feel aggrieved that I didn't say "**** the traditional shame of second weddings; I'm booking a ballroom!" Being so meek and unassuming was so not me and--hmm, this post is going in strange directions--my advice to Single women who find themselves suddenly not Single is to be brave and bold and rent peacocks to strut on the lawn if that is what your heart desires.

Oh my little Singles! Act on a friend's wedding day the way you hope your friends will act on yours. It's the golden rule for weddings.

** The pinpricks continue. Someone recently asked me why I wore a white dress to my second wedding. Her tone was judgmental, and I will not forget. However, to end on a cheerful note, I am so glad I was a hardliner about my wedding dress. It is white (with green buttons), it is silk, my mother made it, it is beautiful and fabulous and I love it, love it, love it!

Update: And no making snarky comments all the way through Mass or dinner. Snarky comments have a way of finding their way to the bride's ears. Snarky comments mean you shouldn't be at that wedding, eating the food the couple or their parents spent so much to provide.

Update 2: In my mind's ear I heard someone (ooh, two people! Three!) wail, But when will it be MY day? Poppets, seriously, I have no idea. Ask God right now. (I'm serious. Shut your eyes. Ask. Listen for an answer.) It's almost completely up to Him, you know.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Long Distance Wedding Victims

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

My friend and I are angsting over a decision which we finally decided you would be well-equipped to answer. We have a feeling we know what you will say but we're wondering if you can give the reasons in a more eloquent and less embittered way than we are inclined to, given our situation.

Here is the deal. I have been invited to weddings of near and dear friends who have gotten married all over the US and overseas. With every wedding invitation comes the analysis of friendship vs. cost: deciding if I am close enough to this person to validate the expense. I haven't attended many weddings as a result.

However, my single friends and I have noticed a disturbing reality. Regardless of how close we were to friends before their wedding, regardless of how much we help assemble favors in the days leading up to the blessed event, regardless of how much time we spend cleaning up after the wedding while the newlyweds escape on their honeymoon, regardless of the fact that we sacrificed vacation time, money, etc... we really don't hear much from the friends after their weddings.

Newlywed friends cross over into that blissfully married-hanging-out-with-similiar-vocationed people and only communicate with us in attempts to set us up with other single friends or babysit their eventual children. They don't attend the weddings that occur after their own ([too busy with babies]). Their Facebook messages are restricted to wedding pictures, sonnogram pictures, over-sharing about Natural Family Planning strategies, and commenting that our lives seem so fun and easy, and they sure wish they could trade places with us and leave the diapers for a day (LOL)...

Never again do they ask us about our jobs, lives, etc. There have been one or two exceptions to this rule, but it's a reality that we've grown used to and have even embraced as an opportunity to find more friends and validate not attending some weddings that in our younger, naive state, we may have attended thinking it would make us closer friends.

Here's the question. A best friend--the kind of really good friend that we've known and traveled with and talked to about everything and have laughed with and cried with and swore that no matter what happens and who you date you'll stay friends--is now engaged. To complicate matters, she's moved to a very random town that is a day's drive away and very expensive to fly to, and this is where she's having the wedding. We're looking at a trip that will cost us around $800, and the bride has already started to demonstrate the "distancing" that has become all too familiar.

At what point do you say no? Obviously, a good friend should understand that some things are just not financially possible, but we all know that brides-to-be are not always in the most rational state of mind. And, obviously, as a single person you can work extra hours, go without luxuries, beg, borrow and steal and make it work, but frankly, we're starting to feel like hamsters on a social treadmill that ends with a humiliating bouquet toss. While it can be fun, it often leaves us exhausted, broke and behind on work.

There's nothing my single friends and I want more than to take the thousands of dollars we spend on weddings each year and just go on a cruise, but we fear that re-prioritizing would mean the end of our friendships. But then again, weddings have seemed to be the end of many friendships over the years anyway.

So we ask you, Auntie Seraphic, as the authority on being gracious yet realistic, What are nice Catholic girls to do? When do you say "enough is enough"? And is it a universal truth that friendships seem to be lost after weddings? We know we're both at fault, but after a while you grow so tired of trying...

Your wisdom would be much appreciated,

Long Distance Wedding Victims

Dear Long Distance Wedding Victims,

I feel your pain. And I would like you to know that instead of getting married in my husband's beautiful, exotic city across the Atlantic Ocean from my family and girlfriends, I got married at home in my dear old hometown. This is, in fact, the traditional thing to do, and I am all about tradition. There are reasons for tradition.

Sure, I invited friends who live in the USA, in Scotland and in Germany, but I didn't really think they'd be able to pony up the airfare. It would have been cool, but even a bride must be reasonable, and that fact that one of the Scots and the German (Der Gute, from the book)did come was a great treat.

What also would have been a treat would have been gifts from the friends who couldn't make it, not because I am a monster of greed, but because gifts work as representatives of absent friends. Der Gute, who came, also gave me a crystal cake plate, and every time I see it, I think of dear old Der Gute, away there in Germany.

My advice is that you not go to friends' expensive long-distance weddings but always send a wedding present. Send your regrets as soon as you get the invitation, and then send the present. The regrets will momentarily sadden the bride, but then she will mentally subtract $50-100 from the cost of the wedding dinner and feel better. And when your present arrives, she will be delighted with you.

Meanwhile, weddings are beautiful occasions in which to say good-bye to the past and to wish your friends all the best in their new lives, lives in which you will not hold as much importance, especially if you live far away.

It just occured to me that, although I've very often read Singles' complaints about the new priorities of their Married friends, I've never read a complaint about their friends who get ordained or go into religious life. No-one has written, "Ever since Susie went into the cloister, she never calls me. She never hangs out. She never even uses Facebook. In fact, she only writes twice a year: Christmas and Easter. What gives?!!!!"

Speaking as a Married woman, being Married is not like being Single with benefits. It looks like that from the outside (and in the bridal magazines), but it so isn't. I love my husband, so I won't say Flee! Flee! Let's just say that "blissful" is the wrong word to sum up married life, especially married life with children.

The fact is, Married people have a vocation to each other and our children (if they arrive), and very often this does not leave us much time to socialize.* And when we do socialize, we long for people who understand what it is like to be us. When a NCG marries, she has to get used to (A) sleeping with a man (B) living with a man (C) doing housework for/with a man (D) fighting with a man she can't just leave (E) being pregnant (F) having a small, screaming baby. This is an awful lot, and it often happens all at once. No wonder the frazzled newlywed turns to other newlyweds, and not to her Single college pals.

So far you have very wisely been filling in the new gaps in your social life with new Single friends. That is an excellent idea. I suggest you also maintain ties with your old, married friends by sending birthday cards, Christmas cards and perhaps even little presents. I send a Christmas parcel to my girlfriends back home and assign one of them to hand out the gifts. Oh dear. All of a sudden I felt a wave of missing-my-friends.

And that reminds me: just because your engaged and married friends seem distracted and distant doesn't mean they don't love and miss you. So please don't be bitter. Just accept that their vocations mean constant sacrifice (including of fun with you), and keep them in your prayers. Send the wedding presents, send the Christmas cards, and go on your cruise with your still-Single friends.

If Married friends write "Nice to be you" on your Facebook cruise announcement, don't get in a snit. Simply write "YES IT IS!!! :-D "

Grace and peace,

*I don't have any children yet and I work from home, so I have an unusual amount of freedom for a Married woman.

Update: My conscience says I have to say something about married people with babies not going to their friends' weddings. One of my best friends, whose husband was one of my two ushers, went into labour the day before my wedding. And therefore, quite obviously, neither friend nor usher could come. It was sad for both my friend and me, but c'est la vie. Another friend sent wedding photos via phone to her hospital bed.

When I think of how difficult life with babies is made for my friends-with-babies, I want to cry. Some people write "Adults Only" on wedding invitations. Some priests reprove parents for bringing babies to Mass. People on airplanes look at babies with undisguised horror.

The thing is, babies scream. They scream and scream, and it is one of the worst noises in the world. And parents know only too well what other people think about that. They, too, must do an analysis of friendship vs cost--not just cost in money and time, but cost in patience, energy and guilt for (A) upsetting Baby's schedule and (B) Baby's slightest scream upsetting other guests.

Update 2: Nobody should pay $800 to attend a social function. That is simply outrageous! It costs less than that to go to some high-society charity balls!

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Age Old Question

It is a fact universally acknowledged that young people are better-looking than old people. A woman knows this vaguely at 19, and she knows it vehemently at 39. I remember one baby-faced writing student; dear me, she was a sweet-looking thing---except for all the facial piercings. Alas for facial piercings. Why do you do that to yourselves, girls? Eating disorders are bad enough without drilling holes in your faces, too.

Beauty, of course, does not simply tank when you hit 25 or 30 or 40, or whatever your bugaboo age is. The pretty 16 year old who becomes the knock-out 26 year old becomes the handsome 36 year old and the striking 46 year old and the envied 56 year old and then, if she wore sun block and has good luck, a pretty 66 year old. After 66 it is really time to stop worrying and just eat doughnuts with impunity.

Personally, I escaped all this by becoming a belle-laide at the age of 19 or so. I believe I had one brief shining moment of prettiness at age 10; alas that I didn't know it at the time. At 27, when I was as muscular and slim as a whippet, I almost achieved objective beauty, but I just missed it. A belle-laide is a woman who is neither exactly pretty nor ugly but striking and stands out. THE best-known belle-laide of our times is probably Sarah Jessica Parker.

There is no point lying and saying "Oh, Seraphic, of course you are pretty" like all nice women do. My own grandmother, in the nursing home, not far from death, pronounced, "You're not pretty, dear, but you are striking." And my friend Lily's eccentric downstairs neighbour, who had two kitchens (kosher) but also two lovers (not so kosher), told Lily, "You know, your friend is very attractive---but in a strange way." Personally, I am hoping I retain this belle-laide quality until death. Hopefully I will be a cult figure by then, and graduate students clutching digital film cameras will visit me in the nursing home.

But never mind that. That is a tangent. What I am really writing about this morning is how older people crush on younger people, and how dumb and pointless that usually is. And I should know because I had a dumb and pointless crush on a 14.5-years-younger hottie, and you can read about it in my book.

To my knowledge, though, no old person has ever had a dumb and pointless crush on me. "Old person" in this context means "person who is way older than me"; it's slightly subjective and also circumstantial. If you are 14, and someone aged 19 takes a shine to you, s/he is definitely an old person. However, if you are 34, someone aged 39 is your peer. Anyway, the oldest person with an interest in me was only 10 years older, and that is when I was 30, so it wasn't creepy, and we dated for two years. (I was the bad, feet-dragging-on-marriage half of the couple, and would have been dumped, were it not for the 9/11 effect.)

We believe that men always want younger women, but I found a report somewhere or other that men actually prefer relationships with women around their own age. This is very good news for aesthetics, for men who chase much younger women look like plonkers. Stretched-looking women in their 50s with blood-red talons and leopard print jackets lurking in frat bars have a sort of louche glamour; men with comb-overs in red convertibles blaring "Sympathy for the Devil" to get attention simply look ridiculous.

As I have said before, when I was under 30, I barely noticed men over 40. They weren't really men; they were their jobs: Dads, Bosses, Neighbours, Professors, Priests, Janitors. Then I turned 30, and all of a sudden there were all these handsome, slightly craggy men around. They didn't have the heart-walloping beauty of a, say, Polish 19 year old named Jan, but they had their charms.

So, the age-old question being, "Should I pursue people much younger than me?", the answer is "If you are a man over 40, leave all the women under 30 ah-lone!" The fact is that older men creep very young women out. However, older women do not quite as easily creep younger men out, so although I wouldn't advise a 32 year old woman to make moves on a 25 year old, I wouldn't suggest she immediately discourage his attentions, if he offers them and she likes him. After discussing the subject at some length with friends, I think you, both men and women, can consider people up to ten years older and down to ten years younger than you as potentials. If you are a 22 year old man, though, you may have your work cut out for you convincing a 32 year old woman that you are serious and mean business. But go on. Nothing like a challenge!

Meanwhile, if much older, and indeed very old, men or women, do take a shine to you, try not to see it as a horrific insult. Unless they are exploitative old wretches, they are paying, in their way, a tribute to your youthful beauty. Compare them to Uncle Monty in Withnail & I and if they are nothing like him, count yourself fortunate. Thank them for their fatherly (or motherly) interest; this will ruin their day but also gently smack some sense into them.

P.S. My husband is a year and some months younger than me. He's even a few months younger than one of my brothers. I don't know why this makes me feel so gleeful, but it does.

Congratulations to Sister Mary Thomas

The first thing I would like to do this morning is congratulation Sister Mary Thomas of the Benedictines of St. Cecilia's, Ryde, Isle of Wight. She took the veil and her first vows this morning. There was a small gathering of her friends, some of whom are also bloggers, at the church today. I await their reports with some avidity.

In [secular] life, Sister Mary Thomas was a pretty young woman in her twenties with a doctorate in history. We chatted a few times on Skype, and I had the privilege of being phoned up during her good-bye party (I think) before she left Scotland to become a postulant.

If reports are blogged, I will link to them in updates on this post. I think nuns are very interesting, but only if they belong to the tradition-leaning orders that are attracting young postulants. I am mean that way.

Update: Sorry for the wrong details. It was a very busy writing morning.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Nice New Nuns!

Hey, I haven't mentioned this in awhile, but there are two or three whole other vowed ways of life beside marriage.

Here are some pretty pictures of obviously seraphic Singles seraphically becoming nuns. (Warning: music.)

I loved the photo with the scissors. If it had been me, the Cardinal would have needed pruning sheers.

H/T Orwell's Picnic.

Incidentally, two happening women's orders are the Nashville, Tennessee Dominicans and the Benedictines of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Interestingly, St. Cecilia is the patron of both these houses. Meanwhile, their novices are young. I heart young novices. There's nothing sweeter in the entire world than a 20-something novice, except maybe an 18 year old novice.

Everyone who knows a woman in, or thinking of entering, the Tennesee Dominicans or the Benedictines of St. Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde, report in the comm box!

Don't Forget My Book!

"When is your book coming out in Poland?" asked a Polish friend from church.

"Ha ha ha," chuckled a British friend from church.

"Some time within the year," I said. "I'm not really sure."

The British friend stopped chuckling.

"Oh," he said. "You're serious!"

Yes, it is all very exciting to little me, Auntie Seraphic, that Seraphic Singles, which became The Closet's All Mine in the United States, will become something else in Poland under the auspices of Homo Dei, the press of the Polish Redemptorists.

Meanwhile, there are still lots of copies available in Canadian English (Seraphic Singles) and American English (The Closet's All Mine), so if you want to know what I was writing about the Single Life when I still WAS Single, either pop down to the closest Catholic bookshop or order online. This will make my publisher (his name is Joe) happy, and since he is pondering my next project, happy is what I want Joe to be.

The one sad thing is that I will not be able to read the Polish version of my book, since I do not know a single word in Polish. Were the translation Latin, French, Italian or German, I could muddle through with a dictionary. Possibly I could even piece a Spanish version together. However, as the Catholic devotion of Poland is a light to the nations, I am very proud that my book is to be published in Polish.

(By the way, if you're already read the book, consider leaving a review on (or here), or Reviews make me happy.)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Online, On the Fence

Complicated situations like this are why I get sooo annoyed about internet dating.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I've been reading your blog for months, and I appreciate all of your commonsense advice. I've been debating for a few weeks whether or not to e-mail you. I've prayed a Novena to St. Joseph a few weeks ago for this situation.

I'm not sure how to assess a situation with a NCB. Let's call him Fitzwilliam (because isn't that a fun Austen name?). He and I have been long-distance friends for a few years, after we met online; he lives in [a distant city]. In the last year or so, Fitz has expressed more and more interest in me and in meeting in person. We talk on Skype a few times a week. (And I let him do the calling).

Although I've wanted to meet him, I was a bit apprehensive last time he invited me to visit last winter. [He offered to pay, and as neither of us has much money, I felt bad about that.] Now, recently, I've been thinking and praying about it more, and feel like I'm ready to meet in person. I'm off work for the holidays, and hinted to Fitz that I'm free that week, and he's made allusions to visiting me with frequency in the future.

However, he hasn't made any concrete invitations/requests to visit for the upcoming holiday season, and I don't know what to do. At your recommendation, I tried reading The Rules, but it just made me uncharitable and ill-at-ease for a few days when talking with Fitz. I know that I should just shrug it off and ignore him until he makes a move to try to meet, but I don't want to turn my back on our friendship.

But it's hurting me to stay friends with him because I feel like he's using me to talk to so he won't be lonely. Our conversations are a weird combination of flirting, Catholic faith discourse, and him being a bit depressive.

The question I have is: When is it too much? Can I "pull the alarm," as you put it in your recent post, and tell him that I can't continue communicating with him unless he wants to meet up? I'm torn and I need some advice.

Online, On the Fence

Dear Online, On the Fence

Let's get this straight. You've been long-distance friends for years without ever meeting? And only in the past year has Fitz expressed interest in meeting--and the one time he came up with a concrete plan, you turned it down?

Actually, that part makes sense, because I wouldn't let a man-not-my-husband-or-relation pay for my airline ticket, either. But the romantic prognosis for a years-long friendship in which neither person has tried to move heaven and earth to get together is not good. St. Thomas More and Erasmus developed a nice friendship through letters, but you'll notice that was (A) in the 16th century and (B) platonic.

My hunch is that The Rules is not the book for you because the problem is not that you've been making yourself too available, but that you are not available enough. Fitz has been hinting that he'd like to see you; it is your job to issue the invitation. He can't just get on a plane and show up without you saying, "Hey, why don't you come to my town over the holidays? It would be cool, after all these years, to do something in person."

Personally, I do not believe that real love--love between two people who actually know each other--can spring up without the two people ever having met in person. Assuming that you really do care for him on some level, I think you should meet ASAP, so to see if there is any real spark. If there isn't, you can move on. Mostly what I get from your letter is a sense of unsubstantiated fear about being used, premature despair and even a desire to be free of him. This is quite a contrast to other letters, in which my readers enthuse about their NCBs' melting smiles and kindness to old ladies.

Anyway, I leave it up to you to determine if you really do want to meet Fitz and find out who he really is, depression and all, without hoping against hope that deep down he is really is Mr Darcy. (Personally, I don't get the worldwide attraction to Mr Darcy, except on the Colin-Firth-in-a-wet-shirt animal level.) If you do, make a clear invitation and determine an actual calendar date.

Oh, a note about The Rules: I also recommend that readers take them with a pinch of salt. I have debated again and again with a Rules purist over whether they are cross-cultural. I say they apply to North American and Latin situations, and not necessarily to British and German ones. She swears up and down that they work on a psychology shared by all men. We do agree, however, that some of them are ridiculous and just filler. And we've noticed that the more we admired a man, the harder The Rules were to obey. (We're both married now.)

Hope this is helpful and not too harsh!

Grace and peace,

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Fighting the Blues

Poppets, this is the part where I tell you that I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist and that you should not be reading my blog as a subsitute for medical advice.

But I will also say that I know very well what it means to have the blues, not to mention the mean reds, not to mention a growing feeling that your school/workplace is, in fact, the anti-christ. If you are at the anti-christ stage, it is time to see a doctor. But assuming that you're not there yet, let's chat about tips for warding off depression.

The most obvious non-drug ways to prevent depression are nutrition, exercise and gazing at beautiful things, just so long as those beautiful things are not delicious marrieds or other cute people 15 years or more younger than yourself. I am thinking more in terms of the art gallery and Georgian architecture. I live near Edinburgh, so any time I want to look at Georgian architecture, I can take my pick of buses for £1.20 and gaze at classical symmetry all I want.

I found some great anti-depression nutrition foods listed in Redbook (UK, Feb 2009), so here they are:

1. Vitamin C (oranges, kiwis, sweet peppers, broccoli)
2. Omega-3 (salmon, mackerel, sardines, flaxseed)
3. Theanine (green tea or, in smaller amounts, ordinary black tea)
4. B Vitamins, esp. folic acid (leafy greens, wholegrains, seeds, beans, nuts, eggs)
5. L-tryptophan (turkey, chicken, beef, soybeans, cottage cheese)
6. Magnesium (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
7. Vitamin D (oily fish, eggs, cod liver oil, liver)

And of course you get Vitamin D from the sun, so you should get outside into the sun when you can (but wear sunscreen).

From mediaeval times, scholars complained of melancholy and today grad students seem to pop anti-depressants like candy, and it's been suggested to me that it is because we readers-and-writers sit too long in one place for hours at a time. Moving around is a great mood booster, and back when I had a student (i.e. free) membership in a gym, I found that 99% of the time, if I felt lousy on my way into the gym, I felt great coming out.

I leave it up to you what beautiful things you have to gaze at. I got through a very bad time by watching every single episode of Sex and the City because it reminded me of my friends, although I hasten to add that none of my friends behaved like the characters on SATC and that I do not recommend it for young people.* But I also got through it by listening to Gerard Le Norman's Les Plus Belles Chansons over and over again and, alas, by eating a lot of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream, the effects of which my figure has still not recovered. (Woe!)

The Jesuits advise that you read sad things when you're happy and happy things when you're sad, to even you out. I think it works with music, too. Les Plus Belles Chansons is very happy, even "Voici Les Clés", a song about a man who is sending his runaway girlfriend the house-keys in case she decides to come back.

I listened to Les Plus Belles Chansons last night, not because I was depressed but because I was in a musical mood. Meanwhile, I try to walk four miles a day along the sea, which surely must be good for me in all kinds of ways, and I today I ate a menu practically guaranteed to make me euphoric:


Omlette (2 eggs, cheese)
Coffee (only 1.5 cups--apparently more is bad)
Orange Juice


6 Almonds


125 g deli turkey on 1 slice brown bread
glass 1% Milk

6 more Almonds

(4 Mile Walk)




Roasted Portobella Mushroom
Tin of Salmon mashed up with yogurt on mixed Leafy Greens, Sweet Peppers, red onions, small tomato, 1 oz cheddar cheese chopped into weeny pieces
1 small glass white wine

I don't actually feel euphoric, but I do feel well-fed.

*Two of my husband's friends watched every single episode and claimed that they only did so because they knew I had watched it, and they wanted to know what kind of woman B.A. was marrying. Every time they say this, I get really unseraphic indeed.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Small Rant Against Internet Dating

Yes, it's an old theme, but I feel an anti-internet dating rant coming on. When people email me with questions born of internet dating, I begin to doubt my auntly omniscience. Men who seem like lions or heroes over the internet show up on real dates looking like mice or extras on Star Trek. Women who put up glamour shots on their profiles show up looking ten years older. No wonder almost everybody drags their feet over meeting up. Being leonine or forever twenty-two in fantasyland starts to seem better than being just you in a cafe.

My absolute, ironclad rule about internet dating is that if you meet someone you find attractive on a dating website, you should meet them as soon as possible. And if you really aren't able to relocate 500 miles away for love, stop claiming on dating websites that you can. If you live in Brighton, Massachusetts, stop looking at photos of men in California.

The usual rules for meeting strangers apply. Google his/her name and read up on him/her on the internet. Arrange to meet for afternoon coffee in a public place. Tell a friend where you are going. Carry a mobile phone, cab fare and enough money to cover the bill. (If you are a woman, there is always the chance that he will dine and dash. This happened to a friend of mine on a dinner date; it turned out the man was notorious.) Be kind and polite for the entire 1.5 hours of date. Never bring him/her home or go back to his/her place or to his/her friend's place.

Meanwhile, I loathe loathe loathe internet dating because almost nobody will take my "meet up ASAP" advice and the birthrate of awkward half-friendship, half-fantasy relationship monsters will continue to rise, preventing Singles everywhere from becoming Seraphic.

This is where a newish reader will say "But, Seraphic, what about you?" and I will state the following:

A) I met my husband through my blog, not through a dating site
B) I was friends with one of his friends, whose brilliant idea our marriage first was
C) we corresponded through our respective comboxes and by occasional emails, not by instant message
D) his emails were so few and far between, I never got my hopes up
E) before my Scotland holiday I sent him the most recent, least glamorous (but still descriptive) photo I could find: my own dear current self smoking a cigar. This was to discourage any hopes that I might be a peerless beauty, and in actual fact, my real-life personal appearance was, he claims, a nice surprise. Wearing a skirt proved to be a good move.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

What Counts?

By the way, we all know that Auntie Seraphic is not a substitute for a competent parish priest, right? Although (or because) I myself have an M.Div., I would be the very first to encourage you to get a second opinion from your parish priest. And a third opinion from your mother, if you did not go to her first.

Now that I've said that I feel better about coming up with a list of which courtship gestures actually mean something. Every young man is different, of course, except when they're all the same. Hey, if Chesterton could trot out a paradox with impunity, so can I.

Okay, so here is my list of stuff men do and whether or not you should get excited about it:

1. Whistles at you on the street.
No. Ignore him.

2. Pays you a compliment.
No. But smile.

3. Gives you his phone number and says, "Call me."
No. But smile. Don't call him.

4. Asks you to be a Facebook friend.
Not yet. Some guys collect Facebook friends like kids collect stamps. Wait a day before deciding to be his 245th Facebook friend.

5. Asks for your phone number and says, "I'll call you."
Mostly no. Smile, say, "You do that," and try to forget his very existence unless/until he really does call.

6. Calls you up just to chat.
Flicker of interest. What kind of guy calls you up just to chat? What is going on here? Is he psyching himself up to ask you out? Or does he need a feminine ear into which to pour his woes? I know this is as easy as pulling out your own tooth, but after 10 to 15 minutes tell him you have to go. This may make him cut to the chase, if there is a chase.

7. Calls you up to ask you out.
Yes, moderately. You can now allow yourself to feel interest. Whenever a man takes a real risk, putting his tender ego on the line by positioning himself where you can reject his polite, decent, evidence of interest in you, he is actually interested in you. This is good. Of course, we don't know exactly what his interest is yet, so if you accept the invitation, keep your mind, eyes and ears open.

8. Asks you to dance.
Yes, moderately. See above. Unless he's been drinking. Have fun.

9. Buys you something.
Yes. You may sit up now. You know how I always say that for women giving is almost like a disease? With men it is not so. So when a man you know socially starts buying you (and you alone) a coffee here, and a muffin there, and a cool pen he found, and a book that made him think of you, it means something.

How do I make it absolutely clear that this is not money=love? It is not. And, in fact, if a suitor offers you an expensive or overly personal present, unless you are now both discerning marriage to teach other in a serious (e.g. you are over 21) way, you should refuse it. (An overly personal present includes $100 hairdressing appointments, for example.) Never, ever, ever allow any man to think for a second that your affections can be bought.

A useful sentence: "Oh, thank you, but I'm afraid I could never accept such an expensive present." A useful follow-up: "My parents would think it very odd if I accepted such an expensive/personal present. In our culture/religion/TLM community, that would be--ha, ha, ha--tantamount to being engaged."

Incidentally, if any nice man wants to give me stuff, I will assume that your motives are as pure as the driven snow and are merely tributes to my maternal/sisterly/auntly heart. Just be warned that if it is milk chocolate, my husband will eat it. (Hint: dark. Buy the dark.)

10. Pays for dinner.
Yes. This is 2010, and I hope we are all on the same page. If he pays for dinner, it's a date. If you go dutch, it isn't a date. If you still think it is a virtuous feminist act to pay for your own dinner on a date, go read my book again. Have you read my book? Go read my book. The Eighties are over, and thank God for that.

However you are not allowed to get too excited. A first date could be a last date, and I once went on a first date with a very nice 22 year old who paid for everything although he spent half the evening trying to trick me into telling him how old I was. We had met a few nights previously in a club when we were both smashed and I was 34. In the cold, cruel light of sobriety, I probably looked it, and no second date was there. Incidentally, "So what's your confirmation name?" is a sure-fire converation starter when you meet a man with an obviously Polish name, even when smashed in a club. (NB St. Paul says you shouldn't get smashed at all.)

11. Calls you up three days later and asks you out a second time.
Yes. And if you are a NCG and he is a NCB, my vote is that you should give him a second chance, no matter how dorky he was on the first date. Legions of NCGs and NCBs are dorky on the first date.

Once again, you are not allowed to get too excited. A second date does not mean wedding bells are going to chime. It's just a date. It's just dinner, or just a movie or whatever. Chill.

12. Holds your hand.

Yes, and now it is time to give into the feminine tendency to overthink. Congrats if you have managed to avoid overthinking until now.

Hand-holding makes a man look like he means business. But what business does he have in mind? Do not, I beg you, ask the man "So where is this relationship going?", no matter how many friends you ask when you get home. Again, keep your mind, eyes and ears open. Incidentally, if you don't want to hold his hand, let it go after a face-saving 15 seconds.

I have an awesomely awesome story about handholding so scandalous, I can't tell you. It involves a really cute male religious with really bad judgment and a woman who might possibly have been me. One word: DRAMA.

13. Kisses you.

Yes, and now you have to ask questions, unless the answers have already been forthcoming. I remember being suddenly seized (in a Goth bar of all places) and kissed by a young man I had suspected had a crush on me, who then ran away. He actually ran away. So of course this meant the next time I saw him, I had to give him The Talk, and he cried. He actually cried. We were both 23. Ah, youth. Unless your swain preceded or followed the kiss with "Can I tell my friends you're my girlfriend?", you should say something witty like, "But what does this mean?"

14. Asks you to be his girlfriend.

There is probably no point in my telling you that "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are stupid, made-up relationships that make no sense and that the only romantic boy-girl relationships that have serious, lasting meaning are engagement and marriage, so go right ahead and do your happy dance. If you're out of school and he doesn't mention marriage for a whole year, ask him where this relationship is going. If he doesn't know, dump him. Incidentally, asking "Where is this relationship going?" is the relationship equivalent of pulling the fire alarm in the subway; you only do it if you absolutely must.

I know we were a meel-yon years old at the time, but I only had to wait five days between "be my girlfriend" and "take my grandfather's watch and consider marrying me." Obviously both B.A. and I are elderly and insane, but we're still together two years later, so just think about that for a bit.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Costing More Than You Can Give

Domestic Diva wrote in the other day, mentioning that she had had a number of dating relationships that ended up costing more than she could give. And although it it is common to talk about relationships this way, I was momentarily taken aback by the language of "give" and "cost". People also talk about relationships being "work." Now, call me cold-blooded, but the only romantic relationship I can think of that demands "give" and "work" is marriage.

Maybe I should write a book called Zen and the Art of Dating. What prevents this is that I don't exactly know what Zen is, other than that it implies a certain detachment, tranquility and che sera, sera.

"Relationships aren't supposed to be work," said a good friend to me one day. "They're supposed to be easy."

She said this in an art gallery in Montreal. At the time we were talking about a chap I was dating, who enjoyed all the hanging out, but didn't seem to be in love with me. He never held my hand in public, for example. If He's Just Not That Into You had been published, I would have understood exactly what the trouble was. But, anyway, there I was with my happily married friend, and she gave me this great revelation: dating relationships are supposed to be fun. If they're not fun, why bother? I mean, really, why bother? If it's not fun before you're married, if marriage is even in the cards, what makes you think it will be fun afterwards?

Friendship is different, but friendship takes time. In general, when we make friends, it is an easy if lengthy process. In short, birds of a feather flock together. I don't know how men go about this, but a woman sizes up a new woman and often just knows that she is a potential friend. A certain sympathy just springs up between them, based on some shared trait or trait, belief or beliefs. And, in general, adult women take these new relationships calmly. We all know our friends can't meet up daily or sometimes even weekly. We have family and work commitments; they have family and work commitments. We manage a comfortable detachment about our friends. If a good friend doesn't call, we don't lurk by the phone. We call them up ourselves when we think about it and say, "You swine. You never call. What gives?" And then she says, "Swine yourself. You never call me." Et cetera.

This easy banter does not seem to extend to the greater part of dating relationships, and perhaps it shouldn't, really. When it comes to romance, we're hoping this acquaintance or friend will become "more than friends." We're disappointed by offers of continued friendship. We're devastated by the idea that the Beloved might want to be "just friends."

I don't like devastation, which is why I counsel detachment again and again. Detachment keeps us sane. Detachment keeps us from demanding more than someone wants to give. Detachment keeps us from giving more than we ought to give. Which brings me again to this whole question of giving. Women are addicted to giving. It turns into a freaking disease.

A young woman asked my advice about a plain young man who's shown interest in her for years. She finally consented to going out for dinner with him, but wondered if she should cancel. Because she couldn't think of anything wrong with his character, I said "No." It's rude to cancel dates; you should only do so if you realize that the man is evil. But other than that, my attitude is that you should do what you want, as long as it is moral, and don't do what you don't want to do, as long as that is moral, too.

If someone asks you out for dinner, and you want to go, go. Don't assume this is a tacit understanding you're getting married one day. Detach. If he doesn't call you afterwards, don't call him.

If someone asks you to a film, and you want to see it, go. Don't assume this is a tacit understanding you're getting married one day. Detach. If he doesn't call you afterwards, don't call him.

But this is about meeting up. Obviously if someone makes some sort of move that, if you go along with it, frankly discourages other suitors, then you have to start asking questions. The most obvious one is when a suitor takes your hand in public, and you wonder what that means, or if he kisses you on the lips, and you wonder what that means. It shouldn't mean squat. Make sure it doesn't.

Meanwhile, your lives are too precious to waste on dating relationships that go on for years and then peter out from boredom. The longest an exclusive, post-school, situation should last before a marriage proposal is one year. I know various people think it should be much longer, for how can you know a person's whole character in just one year, etc. but I've known my husband for two years, and whole parts of his character are still a mystery. And I don't mind the mystery, for without it, I would probably be bored. A year is plenty of time to know if you're the One or not.

IMHO the answer to how much should you give a man you're not related, engaged or married to is practically nothing. Give him only as much of your precious time as you wish AND can afford to give. Send him a birthday card. If you give him a present, make sure it is just a book or an inexpensive trinket. Give him advice if he asks for it. Above all, do not make a martyr of yourself. There is no call to make sacrifices for attractive adult men to whom you are neither related nor married. Doing so is the primordial female sin. When we give until it hurts to some man who never gave a damn in first place, we have only ourselves to blame.

Update: I anticipate a dozen comments demanding "But what if he's sick? Can't I bring him chicken soup?" Well, obviously, we are called to perform works of mercy. So perform works of mercy, but don't expect anything back. Detach.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Canada Reads!

Oooh! Oooh! Kids, if you're Canadian and liked my book, you know what to do.

What is Falling in Love Like?

When 15 years ago or so I asked my father how he knew he wanted to marry my mother, he was somewhat taken aback. But he admitted that this was the sort of question a father ought to answer, and so he hemmed and hawed and in the end said it was metaphysical.

The classical answer to "How do I know this is the right person?" is even more unsatisfactory, as it is "You just know."

"You just know" never worked for me, for I have fallen "in love" about a dozen times, although usually with people I barely knew and who barely knew me. Feeling dizzy when seeing a certain attractive young man, feeling overcome with grief and going home to listen to Beethoven is not, I have at long last decided, actual proof of true love. In fact, any kind of drama can in general be thrown out by the court as inadmissible evidence of true love.

I really don't have the heart this morning to go through a very long list of things I once wrongly thought were the tokens of true love (e.g. a man's suicide threats) but are actually symptoms of infatuation or hallmarks of immature or control-freakish personalities. Instead I'll try to wring some generalities out of particulars. To do this I will look over the blue notebook I brought to Scotland to record my impressions of the majestic highlands, etc., and ended up full of the perfections of B.A., a blog reader (and friend of friends) who had offered to put me up in Scotland for a week.

1. Happiness without Hysteria. From the first moment I met B.A. in person, I felt happy around him. In fact, when I first heard his voice, I felt very relieved because it was such a nice voice, pleasant, friendly and attractive. Also, I had been travelling for 20 hours straight, and there he was with a cup of tea. When I woke up the next morning, I felt perfectly happy.

2. A Grip on Reality. This happiness was not 24/7, however, as I soon caught a cold, and B.A. seemed to talk incessantly. I spent a third of the time wanting to gag him, a third of the time chatting along, and a third of the time either sleeping or writing about how happy I was and how interesting B.A. and Scotland were. When I wasn't thinking "He's so attractive," I was thinking, "He looks just like one of my father's bearded British colleagues, only younger."

3. Clear Knowledge of the Person. B.A. was about to make his first confession, so in the manner of unwary people on a first date, he practised on me. It was a very exciting conversation, I must say, covering about 30 years and including B.A's process of conversion. And this is when I got a very strong crush on B.A. Nevertheless, I do not recommend that anyone sit down with their foreign houseguest and just blurt. I had a back-up running-away plan, incidentally, should my host have turned out to be a weirdo.

4. Justified Respect for the Person. B.A. was so kindly and cheerful, that eventually my one fear was that he wasn't a little in love with me, he was just that nice to everyone. I have never had such a thoughtful host. "The great thing about B.A., besides being charming and witty, is that he is extraordinarily kind," I wrote. Since I was laid low for what has become my annual Michaelmas cold, he brought me endless comfy blankets and pots of tea. Meanwhile, when we first went to Mass, I discovered that he had many friends in the small congregation, who invited him (and me) to their parties and whatnot. I met his boss; she liked him too. B.A. never had an unkind word for or about anybody, and he was very well-read, intelligent and had an educated taste in literature and music.

5. Attraction. I wrote, "Dear me, I wish my host were not so attractive... He will no doubt marry the first British traddie who comes along." Meanwhile, I knew he had had for years a crush on the singer Emma Kirkby--who has fuzzy red hair--so I could hope he had a thing for fuzzy redheads in general. When for mysterious reasons he told me what his annual income was, I took it as a good sign.

6. Realization that you and the Person could have a really splendid life together. I loved his town, his flat (so comfy!), his job, his traditional Latin Mass, his cooking, his friends, his friends' conversation, his friends' dinner parties, his interests and his jokes. (Still do!)

7. Friends watch avidly and cheer from the sidelines. One of his friends buttonholed him after Mass to tell him how splendid marriage is. Other friends simply smirked at us. I remember quite a lot of smirking. And hints. Lots of hints.

8. Being Seized and Not Minding. So eventually B.A., who had had his own process of faling in love, seized me in his B.A.ish arms and demanded to know if I would be his "darling girl." I said yes. Then five days later he asked me to think about marrying him. I said yes.

It was very romantic and so, despite being a cynical 21st century person, I do believe in love. Love is a fact. It can be experienced, understood, judged and decided upon. In fact, I have worked out a whole Lonerganian reflection on it.

Meanwhile, B.A.'s baby-having potential did not really occur to me until he told a relation that he had found "the One" and she asked, in the manner of cynical non-religious relations everywhere, "Is she pregnant?"

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Auntie Seraphic & "Should I Apologize?"

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

Four years ago I dated a guy we'll call Quiet Clive. He was nice, and a good Catholic, but very reserved, and I never felt like we clicked. We'd meet up every couple of weeks, or he'd come over to my house when I came home from college, but he never even held my hand, or said anything "romantic," or asked me to be his girlfriend.

It was my first dating relationship, and the only rules I knew were to Let The Man Lead. But I was never sure whether we were "just dating" or "boyfriend and girlfriend," or if he was just lonely, or trying to take things slow, or what. I knew he liked me, and I wanted to give him a chance. He was a quiet guy, so I figured this might take a little longer than normal to heat up. After about 5 months of seeing him on a weekend here and there (in between college stuff, it went by really fast) I was starting to fall for someone else. So I told him I enjoyed hanging out with him, but wanted to be clear that I wanted to see him just as a friend. Within a very short time of having this conversation, I heard that he was moving far away. It happened that we said goodbye with my family around, and I felt like maybe he was tearing up, but I couldn't be sure.

When I saw Clive about a year and a half later at a concert, he hid from me. Literally. (He was not there with another girl.) Again, I kind of tried to follow his lead, so I didn't push it. I had been the one to break it off, so I figured I would respect his boundaries.

Over the years, I haven't thought of Clive much, but for some reason he came up in my prayer the other day. I'm kind of discerning my career path right now, and I've been thinking a lot about my own character and relationships, particularly the relationships that have gone sour. It's always sucky to have the "I just want to be friends" talk, but I wonder if I hurt him really badly, more than I realized at the time, and if he felt like I was leading him on. I was self-centered and inexperienced, and I didn't understand or appreciate his personality very much. I still think I did the right thing by breaking it off, but I wonder if maybe I should write him an email or letter and apologize, just in case I hurt him unduly in the process.

There are a couple people in my life who have hurt me, but I know I will never get an apology from them. I don't want to be that person for him. Sometimes I think, "hey, if I'm right I've helped to heal the wound, but if I'm wrong I just look like an idiot, and he can shrug it off." But then again, I don't want to be some neurotic girl showing up in his inbox. Maybe this is just coming out of my own existential crisis and I should ignore it.

In matters of the heart, when does one apologize, even conditionally? Is there a statute of limitations? On the flip side, when should one ask for an apology? What do your readers think?

"Should I Apologize?"

Dear SIA,

Hold the phone. This was four years ago? I'm assuming wildly that you and Clive were not 12 or 14 at the time although that is how Clive is coming across. I am also assuming that since you say the relationship never heated up Clive never suddenly seized you in his Clively arms, which is the one-and-only non-verbal way these decadent days to know that a man is really attracted to you. (On second thought, he could take your hand.)

You do not owe Clive any kind of apology whatsoever. You gave Clive some quality time (off-and-on) for a whole five months, five months in which Clive could have seized you in his Clively arms (thus showing his intentions), and then you very wisely got interested in someone else, and told Clive. It doesn't sound like Clive put up much of a fight, and hiding from you at the concert was utterly lame.

I vote 100% against sending Clive an "I'm sorry if I hurt you email" especially considering that Clive might not have thought of you in 2 years and would be offended to think that you thought he was that hurt. I had a guy apologize to me in front of his then-wife, and what I said was, "Well, So-and-so, it was NINE YEARS AGO, you know." Frankly, I thought he was horribly conceited, and his poor (now ex) wife's face.... Eeee!

What you might like to do is look up old Clive on Facebook and try to Facebook befriend him. That way your curiosity about Clive will be slaked, without you making either of you feel bad.

Meawhile, it is perfectly normal to have an existential crisis and wonder about all your old flames. You should have seen me at 29 or so. I was calling them up on the phone. The horror. Try not to succumb to this common temptation, and don't read anything into it when your old flames do. Meanwhile, only offer and expect apologies to and from your family and current friends, that's what I say.

Grace and peace,

P.S. to Men of the World: Please. We beg you. If you're that into us, ask us out for dinner. Take our little hand in yours. Ask, after a month or two of dating, "Can I call you my girlfriend?" That way we'll know what is going on. (Unless we're married or nuns. In that case leave our little hands alone!)