Monday, 31 January 2011

Who Wants to Live in Rome?

Are you a woman? Are you hankering to go and live in Rome for the rest of the year? Have you dreamed of studying at the Gregorian but are afraid to face the Roman housing market?

If so, perhaps you are Hilary White's next flatmate. She has a very nice apartment just outside Rome, and she works in Rome itself, as the world's nastiest, wittiest, most orthodox Roman Roman Catholic correspondent. I'm sure she'd be nice to you. In fact, she might just kiss your feet in gratitude for coming to Rome to share the rent.

Anyway, here's Hilary's latest plea for a flatmate. See if you can help Hilary. She is your fellow Single after all. And she is good peeples. If carnaptious in print.

Getting Serious

Once again I read an article about how the prime baby-having years are between age 20 and 35 and how "career women" should stop putting off having children because they will be sorry.

My usual response to such articles is to click away or to write a snappy little comment about how the problem might not be "career women" as much as it is "lazy, commitment-hating men"--although, of course I know that that is not always the problem, either.

When I was 23, I had three suitors, each of whom would have married me, which I don't mind telling you for this startling situation has never been repeated. I didn't much like it, either, for I wasn't in love with any of them. Possibly I was a lazy commitment-hating woman. Possibly I had the emotional age of 12. And, anyway, God's plan was that I would marry B.A. at the actual age of 38, not that I knew that. I eventually caved, decided I was in love with one of the three, married him and was divorced by age 27. Yay, annulment tribunal!

At any rate, I always try to balance remarks about the strange social circumstances the Sexual Revolution has thrown us all into with thoughts about God's Plan. Many aspects of the Sexual Revolution fly in the face of God's commandments, but He allowed the Sexual Revolution to happen. It's a mystery.

What I think I can safely say is that men and women both waste a lot of time, energy and money on people who do not want to marry them. American-style dating, once a means to an end, has become an end in itself. Women sleep with their boyfriends, which in France would be known as "taking a lover," and this does not always translate into marriage and babies, although babies certainly happen and, if allowed to be born, usually stick around longer than their fathers.

Someone commented under the article I described above saying that infertility was women's fault because women drop their knickers too soon and too often, and this makes men immature and spoiled and unlikely to make commitments. I found this statement rather ahistorical because men have always managed to find women to have sex with them, even if only for pay. What is new, though, absolutely new, is the idea that any and every woman could and should have sex before marriage. This is absolutely unprecedented in the West. Even before Christianity, the Germanic tribes who roiled and boiled across Europe were very strict about female chastity.

The marvellous thing about female chastity--you might not think this is marvellous, but try to see it objectively--is that it often separates the sex tourists from men who just want to marry a "nice girl" and settle down. I don't want to get too romantic about this: there are lots of nice non-Catholic girls whose idea of chastity means not sleeping with their suitor for a solid six months after meeting him. (I always think it's a bad idea to ignore the fact that lots of premarital sex-having women marry their boyfriends and live happily ever after.) But sex touristy- type men do not hang around waiting for six months, let alone for wedding prep classes, unless they have a stubborn, sociopathic need to conquer, and these men—thank God—are rare.

But alongside physical chastity there is something called emotional chastity. Emotional chastity means not hankering after people who do not love you. Almost everything we have been taught to find romantic--unrequited love, going into a decline for love, writing impassioned love-letters, standing outside our ex-girlfriend's window holding up a ghetto blaster playing "In Your Eyes"--is actually irrational and extremely stupid. The early 19th century has a lot to answer for. I reserve special blame for Goethe.

This is why I do not think anyone should date a person for more than a year without discussion of marriage. Male psychology being what it is, I don't think the person to mention marriage should be the woman. And if the man doesn't as much as mention marriage within that year, I think the woman should dump him.

Now that I have more male readers, I expect a flurry of comments saying "How can you know within a YEAR?" And my answer is that if you are an adult, and out of university, you should know within a year. If you don't, stop wasting your girlfriend's time. Meanwhile, women should take the incredibly painful revelation that their boyfriends, whom they might very well and unwisely love very much, don't want to marry them on the chin. If he doesn't want to marry you, he is Mister Wrong, and continuing to date him or even to sleep with him or let him move in with you, is not going to change that. Get out while you're young.

If there's anything I can't stand and that I certainly hope to undermine, it is the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. I don't think people (especial women) should make informal years-long emotional/sexual commitments to people who don't know if they want to marry them or not. I think people should make dozens of friends and acquaintances, and that women treat regard the men who court them as old-fashioned suitors--with kindness but with a certain reserve. "Can I call you my girlfriend?" is no substitute for "Would you marry me?", although these days, of course, the second question usually follows the first, if it is asked at all.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Two Temptations

I am working on my Notre Dame speech, so I have time only to throw out one idea to you poppets today. It is that there is a social golden mean in healthy Single life.

One of the greatest temptations of Single life--and this is a problem for seminarians, priests and religious, too--is becoming self-absorbed. There are many reasons why this happens: you live alone, or you live with able-bodied parents, or you live in a community of self-absorbed or very busy people. Then there's the fact that you are remarkable for your very Singleness, and when other people ask why you're Single, you brood on yourself for hours on end. At any rate, being responsible for yourself and not obviously for anyone else means that you quite often think of yourself, your own needs, your own ideas, your own wants, your own shortcomings, your own talents, etc., etc., etc.

Now Single parents are often saved from this temptation by their children. Single parents, like some Singles I know in lay ministry, are more likely to fall into the other extreme, which is living for others at the expense of their own health or happiness. This can also be a problem for some priests and religious, but the image that comes into my mind is a very busy woman "chaplain" of some kind. (Yes, I know only a priest can really be a chaplain, but hospitals and schools and prisons in Canada and the USA call even Catholic laywomen chaplains when they are doing chaplaincy jobs.)

This woman chaplain is unmarried and childless, and she is working what is considered a "man's job," never mind a priest's job. She has aging parents and so, while keeping her own apartment, often visits to check up on them and take them to their doctors' appointments. She never does this at the expense of her job, however, and feels a special responsibility to prove that a woman can be just as good at it as a man. Everybody knows that if you need somebody to bake a cake or circulate a petition or read the lessons at a special liturgy, she's their girl. Her day starts at 6 AM, it ends at 11 PM, and sometimes she just wants to relax, but if she did, she might let somebody down. In fact, she might not be considered The Nicest Woman in the World anymore. In fact, the world might just BLOW UP!

I think you can all see what I'm getting at here. There's a golden mean. Don't become entirely self-absorbed; figure out how you can work with and help others, how you can really contribute to the community. But on the other hand, don't stretch yourself too thin. Think of how you can put some absolutely sacrosanct time for yourself in your day or, at very least, your week. You need time for prayer, to start with.

Guard your prayer time and any other down time. Don't be afraid to explain to others that you need your space, just like married couples need "family time," religious need days of recollection and priests need golfing holidays.

Update: One quick and satisfactory way to think of others is to send valentines and chocolates to Single pals who might not otherwise get anything on the dreaded Feb one-four. Consider pledging to join Operation Valentinus. For the details, read yesterday's post.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Operation Valentinus 2011

It is that time of year again. The shops are full of white, red and pink, and you all know what that means. Yes, Valentine's Day looms.

Now, if you are Single, Valentine's Day is the worst day of the year. It doesn't help if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend either, because then you have EXPECTATIONS, expectations that are often dashed and trampled by fate. Long-term girlfriends silently expect engagement rings, and long-term boyfriends silently expect their girlfriends to be thrilled by the charm bracelets they bought them.

Really, the whole thing is ghastly if you're Single.

However, when you are a Single woman without a boyfriend, as I knew first-hand for years and years, Valentine's Day still dominates your consciousness, and you feel lousy at the end. You feel lousy in part because of the faint hope than an "Anonymous Admirer" might send you something. If you have an "Anonymous Admirer" surely Valentine's Day is the day he will declare himself, but--guess what? He so rarely does, and that sucks.

So I have come up with a campaign for Single women, and this is its second official year. I call it Operation Valentinus. It's simple:

1. Draw up a list of three-five Single boyfriendless women you care about.

2. Buy each a valentine and a box of chocolates. The chocolates are more important than the valentine, so don't stint on the chocolates. Sign your own name on the card, of course.

3. Post the valentines and the chocolates (preferably together) to your Single friends. Write "Do Not Open Until Valentine's Day" on the package.

4. Organize a Girls Night In for February 14th. (The "In" part is important so that you aren't hit on by predatory men looking for lonely women that night.) Figure out who's bringing the supper, the cake, the candy, the DVD, the champagne, you name it.

Now, I don't want to punish girls with boyfriends, here, so if you want to, you can put girls with boyfriends on your Single Woman Mailing List. And you can put Single brothers and uncles and whatever other men you could not unwittingly mislead on your list. Last year I sent chocolates to my Single brother.

Oh, this reminds me that I did a poll, and more Singles were enthusiastic about getting valentines and chocolates from their Single female friends then from their Married female friends. So if you are married and long to inject some chocolate cheer into Single friends' lives, consider your list carefully. In your case, relations and bestest friends only.

I do not at all recommend that Married men send valentines and chocolate to ANYONE but their wives. Leave care of Single women to your wives. Seriously.

Now I will put up a poll, so if you want to pledge that you will send valentines and chocolates to 3-5 Single friends, click on the button.

The beauty of this is that even if you get NOTHING, not a card, not a chocolate, not a candy, not a flower, YOU will have given a lift to 3-5 other Singles. And that thought should keep you smiling as you await your cozy Girls Night In.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Another Year Auntier!

It is my birthday, and to celebrate B.A. and I are having lunch with four Singles in a French restaurant. We did not invite them with an idea of pairing them off (which thought rather boggles the mind), but because we like them. They are all very amiable, talented Singles with interesting Single lives.

On my 35th birthday, I stumbled around the dark, rainy streets of Boston with my Single male housemates (bless their little hearts) looking for a club. We found one, and it was not really the place for philosophy/theology Ph.D. students such as we. It blasted rap and Hip-Hop for the expensively dressed twenty-something white yuppies standing fashionably around with cocktail glasses, and I was simply miserable.

It occured to me that I was tired of a decade of being 25, and that I would like to grow up now. THIS birthday (it being one of those BIG birthdays, hint, hint), I vowed, if I were still Single, I would like to spend with children, real children, like my nephew, as their very grown-up aunt.

Well, that nephew is with his mother in Ecuador, and my subsequent nephew and niece are with their parents in Canada, so I will not have the mateteral thrill of watching small children spread my birthday cake all over their wee faces. However, I am glad B.A. is taking me and four of our friends to lunch, and that instead of going to a club after, we are going to watch The King's Speech.

Since this is a Singles blog, you may be wondering what I would be doing today if I were not married. And the answer, I think, is that I would have taken a train to my brother's house, and ordered the biggest chocolate cake his children had ever seen in their tiny lives. Yes, no doubt I would have returned to Toronto this weekend to go dancing with my girlfriends--and indeed next week I will go dancing with my girlfriends--but for the day itself I would have kept the vow I made at 35. I would have rejoiced in being Auntie.

P.S. Do you remember Operation Valentinus? It is time to think about sending your fellow Singles chocolates by mail. Stay tuned tomorrow for details.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Famous Again

I just got off the phone/radio with Brian Patrick of Sacred Heart Radio and--whew--my pulse is going! That was an intense 10 minutes, people. And he asked me the hard question: eeek!

He didn't ask me about the Edith Stein Project after all, so here's a link to their website.

Did anybody hear me? Was my accent totally weird? Was it weird to hear me say things you usually see written down? When B.A. met me, he dreaded I might have a squeaky voice; something about my blog made him think I might be squeaky.

Now I'm going off into the wild blue yonder to buy groceries and, if I can find one, a nice new-to-me thrift shop dress. It's my birthday tomorrow, and I want to look nice for my French restaurant Scottish birthday lunch!

Update: Reboot tomorrow at 6:45 Eastern Standard Time on EWTN! See Matt's comment in the combox for details. How awesome to be on EWTN.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Live Tomorrow on Sacred Heart Radio!

Guess what, poppets? Tomorrow I will be on American radio at 8:50 AM Cincinnati (Eastern) time. That will be 1:50 PM here, so I will be wide awake and hopefully brainy. The station is called Sacred Heart Radio, and they have a working relationship with EWTN, which can only be good.

The interview will be by Brian Patrick, host of the SonRise Morning Show and will last about ten minutes.

Here is their website: You should be able to hear it online. Just figure out what time it will be where you are. I think I'll be asked about the Edith Stein Project, so that will be nice for my hosts at Notre Dame.

Hopefully he doesn't ask the really hard questions like, "Why is a Married Lady talking about Single Life?" Everyone asks that because my book wasn't accepted for publication until after... La, la, la!

The truth is that we're all on God's time, not on our own time, and He so does not care about publishing schedules. I don't want to say that developing a career as an advocate for the Single Life is THE most effective way to get married, but that is what happened to ME!

Take My Wifie Please

One of the more surprising things about living in Scotland is that old jokes about marriage still linger. I meet perfectly nice old bachelors who seem to exude glee that they have managed to escape matrimony and any other kind of female domination. They would be the first to condemn any poor treatment of the lassies--possibly even to the extreme of fisticuffs--but they greatly prefer to be footloose and fancy free, their living spaces unencumbered by woman stuff. Meanwhile, incredibly old jokes about marriage can still make Scottish men roll on the floor, helpless with laughter. Scottish women sigh resignedly. Well, I think they do. I sigh resignedly. And then I make notes.

Here is a joke that convulsed the 99.9% Scottish audience at a concert in an Edinburgh hall during Hogmanay (New Year's) festivities. It also convulsed some of B.A.'s friends when he repeated it to them. They laughed until they cried.

An Edinburgh woman was brought before the sheriff (magistrate) on a charge of shoplifting. It was an open-and-shut case (no pun intended) because she had been caught on CCTV and found with the goods. The woman was a repeat offender, so the sheriff thought a little time in jail would teach her a lesson.

"And what did she take?" he asked the prosecutor.

"Well, my lord," said the prosector. "It was a can of tomatoes."

"Was it now, indeed? And how many tomatoes would you say were in the can?"

The prosecutor conferred with his clerk and once again addressed the bench.

"My lord, I believe, there were perhaps as many as 12 tomatoes in the can."

"Very well then," said the sheriff. "In that case, Agnes McAuliffe, I sentence you to 12 days in prison."

Suddenly there was a disturbance in the gallery as the shoplifter's husband jumped to his feet. He gripped the rail and stared imploringly at the magistrate.

"It wizny a canny tomatoes," he shouted. "It wiz a canny PEAS!"

The principal problem I have with this joke is that there are twelve tomatoes in the can. Never in my life have I found that much fruit in a can of tomatoes. Which just goes to show you who usually does all the ordinary cooking--not the fun, gourmet stuff--in the jokesters' families.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Joy of Shopping Alone

Today I went to an art opening without B.A, and on the way home stopped in at Jenner's to have a look at their ladies' suits. Since I am giving a paper at Notre Dame, I have a good excuse to go looking at proper ladies' suits instead of combing the local thrift shops for struggling writer chic. It was all a bit mad, as the January sales are on, and if there is a stereotype to be proud of, it is that of the penny-pinching Edinbourgeoise stalking her prey through the 70% Off sales rack at Jenner's.

As I hunted for my suit, I spied a little old Scotsman in a chair in a corner by a fitting room. He was well appointed in smart tweeds and mackintosh, but was otherwise the very picture of husbandly gloom. There is always something very comic about the Waiting Husband, and I couldn't help smiling. He spotted me smiling and, to his very great credit, chuckled himself.

I enjoy poking around thrift shops with my own husband, but I really wouldn't want to lead him through the Women's Wear section of any department store. Neither would I want him trailing me through an (shudder) outlet mall. I suppose there are men with whom one CAN go clothes' shopping and enjoy it thoroughly, but I have yet to meet these men. Although I sometimes enjoy going shopping with a female friend, for me clothes' shopping is a solitary endeavour, one in which I have to concentrate.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Singles For Dinner

I have no time to properly blog today, for I decided to have a dinner party at the last minute, and now have to go marinate some fish. Thankfully, it is a small last minute dinner party.

Dinner parties are my favourite non-ecclesial, non-literary thing in the world because they combine food, wine and talking. B.A. and I have a lot of them, and sometimes we invite married people, and sometimes we invite Single people, and sometimes there's a mix and occasionally there's a priest, although I don't think we've had more than one priest at one time because you never know whether priests are going to get along together, or what. Sometimes we have Old Tories and Old Commies at the same time, and then things get interesting.

One thing we haven't done is orchestrate dinner parties to cleverly throw a lovely Single female friend with a lovely Single male friend, although we have had what I call Youth Dinners, to throw various 20-somethings together and see how they all get along. It is actually a very bad idea for Married people to orchestrate dinner parties to set up Friend A and Friend B; either Friend A or Friend B or both will know what you're up to and be mortified.

No, the thing to do, Married People, is just to invite Single people over for dinner with absolutely no ulterior motive. You invite them over because you like them and because they make a nice change from staring across the table or the sofa arm from your spouse all the time. Don't be embarrassed if you have babies, because most people like their friends' babies. If your children are a little older, you can do the time-honoured routine of giving them pasta at 6, packing them off to bed at 7, and having Grown-up Dinner at 8. Or am I totally naive about children here? I think it's okay if the children creep out and sit stealthily on the staircase after you have put them to bed; as a child I always crept out onto the staircase and came to no harm. In fact, I usually got bored and went back to bed.

Single people should also have dinner parties, or if that sounds to complicated, to invite people over for dinner. The downside is that you have to wash the dishes afterwards, but the upside is that you don't have to go home by yourself (my least favourite part of Single life) because you are home.

Port Pause: La, la, la! Here in the Historical House, the ladies often escape from the table when the port goes around. This is intensely old-fashioned and no doubt should be banned, but I enjoy the chance to sit in a soft chair in my cozy parlour and hear what the women have to say without the men interrupting. For all I know, I am the LAST hostess in Edinburgh to offer this privilege.

Tonight I am the only lady, so I am in the drawing room all by myself, checking my emails and relaxing. After cooking a three course dinner, it's good to relax. Ahhhh! Goodness only knows what the men are talking about, but it probably includes the worst excesses of Oliver Cromwell.

Update: A young priest has written in to remind me that he was to dinner at my house with an older priest. As far as I recall, they rubbed together very well, possibly because they are both very amiable. I will now amuse myself by thinking up impossible dinner-party priest combinations, e.g. a certain FSSP priest and a certain Jesuit liturgist. Snort, snort, giggle.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Don't Forget My Book!

Poppets, it's so nice to see so many of you--in my "stats" and amongst my "Followers"! You're definitely giving credibility to my hypothesis that Singles deserve more attention and want to hear more about the Single Life than just "Chastity" all the time.

Of course, chastity is very important, but quite a few Singles have no overwhelming problems in that department.* If you don't have a boyfriend or men flopping about at your feet, being chaste should be relatively easy-peasy. Just don't read racy romance novels or Cosmopolitan, for you'll drive yourselves insane. A much bigger problem is adherence to "emotional chastity," which means stopping yourselves from developing ever-more-agonizing crushes on Mr. Wrong.

Sadly, when I was a teenager (just yesterday, my dears) I loved chastity lectures because they were a certified excuse to listen to talk about sex. The lecturers were usually Evangelical ladies, and they had innocence-fall-punishment-redemption down to an art. It was very thrilling. The narrative was very simple: premarital sex led to absolute hellish misery--and they detailed their premarital sex and their hellish miseries--and marital sex was the absolute best thing on earth, better than ice-cream, chocolate, the first warm sunny day after a long, cold winter, a loving card from a friend you thought would never talk to you again...

This, of course, made people who never dated at all absolutely panic that they would never marry and get this most delightful of earthly experiences. It also led to unrealistic expectations of wedding nights, of which the secret thought of many a woman has been "Is that it?" (Answer: It gets better.) St. Thomas Aquinas would have something stern to say about the Sex-is-Almost-Divine approach to sexuality. In fact he did, in the part of Contra Gentiles where he rubbishes Muslim heaven.

Anyway, if all my lovely advice sometimes grates upon you because I am married now (or even if it doesn't), I recommend that you buy the lovely book I wrote when I was still Single, Seraphic Singles, which in the USA is called The Closet's All Mine, and which in Poland will no doubt will be called something which uses a startling number of consonants. If you're going to the Edith Stein Project at the University of Notre Dame in February, there should be copies of The Closet's All Mine there. I hope they get bought up because, goodness, how embarrassing if they aren't!

I am told that the people who make the most from books are not the authors (alas) or the publishers but the booksellers, so I urge you to help out Catholic businesses by either buying straight from the publisher (which means Novalis, Liguori, and Poland's Homo Dei) or from Catholic bookshops run by lovely nuns. In Toronto, Crux Books is not run by lovely nuns, but they are very good people, and I adore them, so go there. I believe they have THE best prices in Toronto on THE best selection of theology books ever in Toronto amassed.

If you can't get to a Catholic or otherwise theological bookshop, there is always Amazon, and if you buy from Amazon, you can leave a lovely review, if you like. In Canada, I know my book is available from Indigo and Chapters, too.

P.S. If you are Polish and want to know when Homo Dei is going to publish Serafikiego Singli, or whatever they wish to call it, feel free to email them. One enterprising Polish reader already has. It will be such a happy day when I have my Polish book. Usually the books of people I know get translated into French or Spanish first, so this is very, very exciting.

*As I have more male readers these days, I should state that I understand that staying chaste is not even relatively easy-peasy for Single men, especially young Single men. Go ask your very favourite celibate priest how he manages. Do priests tell men these things? I hope so, for who else could better advise a Single man than another Single man, one presumably advanced in holiness?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

In the Path of a Speeding Freight Train

Can you ever save your girl friend from a really bad man?

This is one of the toughest questions in female friendship. And it has gotten me into all kinds of trouble. I once got into trouble because a much younger female friend confided in me that she was being pursued by a man who did not share her religious values, argued for atheism, and had been sexually active. She was very worried about this.

"Beware," I cried. "Beware!"

But then she went out with him anyway, and since they later moved in together, I assume they eventually slept together, and guess who she sent inexplicably harsh friendship-ending emails to? Yes, me. She even suggested I was racist, which was ridiculous as her boyfriend, like me, was white. From a psychological point of view, it was fascinating, but at the time I was heartbroken. They were said to be "engaged." Haven't heard if they ever got married. But I will always wonder if my young friend was so nasty to me because it was easier than being nasty to her real mother.

Then there was the friend whose supposedly religious boyfriend was pressuring her for sex, and the rest of our set was wailing over it. So I called her and left a message of support ("We've all been there!") on her answering machine, and got back a furious email. I was out of town, so there was no way of patching it up face-to-face, so I just left it. I was very embarrassed and hurt by her rejection.

Then there was another friend whose definitely non-religious boyfriend was pressuring her for sex, but she adored him, so she wouldn't break up with him. Once again our set wailed and wrung their hands. Some went to meet him. They hated him. They couldn't see what she saw in him. But the girl clung on. Me, I could hear the freight train coming.

"What if she sleeps with him?" texted one girl.

"You can't stop it," I texted back.

"I think they're getting married," texted the friend.

"In that case, it won't be so bad," I texted back.

"But we hate him."

"You don't have to marry him."

In some cases, women simply cannot see what other women see in their boyfriends. The best they can hope for it that the man isn't an out-and-out toad. An otherwise nice man brought up to assume that sex is always part of love and the way you show love is to use a condom might be astonished to discover that his Catholic girlfriend's Catholic girlfriends think he is Jack the Ripper.

Meanwhile, there are very few people who can sit down with a woman and say "The man you love is an out-and-out toad" without ruining their friendship. The problem is, those who can often love the woman so much, they are not willing to risk their relationships ending. Even mothers are afraid because mothers know that their daughters are going to run right back to their slavemasters and repeat what they say, either to complain about Mom or as a weak form of rebellion.

Girl: My mother says you shouldn't talk to me like that.

Boyfriend: Your mother is a complete bitch who hates me because I'm [not her ethnic/social group].

Girl: Oh, don't say that. My mother isn't bigoted.

Boyfriend: Oh, yeah, right, sure. I don't think you should see her so much. Every time you go home, it's the same thing. Nag, nag, nag. We always fight afterwards. Is that what you want?

The ironic thing is that girls often do listen to and obey their mothers. My parents' generation was brainwashed into thinking that whatever they told their children, their children would do the opposite. However, my generation was actually quite biddable, which is why there are a number of Catholic women my age still mouthing "Spirit of Vatican II" type stuff. Heck, when I was in high school in the 1980s, we were listening to The Beatles. We were doing the Twist to "Twist and Shout." We felt bad that we had missed the Sixties. In university we sat, openmouthed, at the feet of the Sixty-Eighters. In that case it is to gag, but it is true.

So I think mothers should not be so quick to abdicate their responsibilities to their daughters, and start talking about what a good man is like when the girls are still small. A good basic line to repeat once a month is "If a man ever hits you, you must leave at once." However, this isn't enough. I used to hope a man would hit me so I would have the strength to break up with him, which is definitely screwed up. So another good line is "If a man isn't willing to wait, he doesn't love you." Another is, "If a man tries to isolate you from your family and friends, he's a dangerous power freak." The idea is to drum these ideas into daughters' heads, so that when dodgy guys come around, the ideas will spring spontaneously into the forefront of the daughters' minds.

Sisters, I think, also have a responsibility to each other, although like mothers they are also frozen into silence by fear of losing the woman they love so much. Sisters need to say things like "Are you happy?" and "I don't think I hear happiness here" and "Personally, if a guy ever said that to me, I would walk, and he would never hear from me again." Little tiny sisters, and possibly nieces, would exude a lot of power. If only it could be harnessed! Ah for a four year old to say "I don't like [X]--he scares me" and then burst into tears. Ah...

Brothers! Why are brothers such an overlooked commodity today? Back in high school, Sister Wilfreda told us always to introduce our swains to our father and brothers because they would know if they were bad guys. Of course, fathers and brothers often think that good guys are NOT GOOD ENOUGH, so it is hard to find the golden mean here. There is also the danger that brothers sometimes get banged up for assault. Still, many a man has been scared sensible by the idea of big, angry brothers. Listen, you brothers out there, have you met your sisters' boyfriends yet? Do the boyfriends know you exist?

Then there are best friends. Best friends, too, are in a position to say the right thing at the right moment. Best friends have probably had fights and made up again, and so of all people they are the ones who might have the most confidence speaking their minds. It still is tricky, though. I am not denying that. Sometimes all you can do is say your piece, make sure the woman knows that you are loving her, not judging her, and then scrape her off the tracks when the train hits her. Painful? You bet.

Other friends, in my opinion--I'd love to be wrong, believe me--can't do much. I suppose that they can orchestrate casual conversations about abusive relationships and books they've read about psychological, verbal, and physical abuse. Good luck.

And then there are complete strangers. Complete strangers have absolutely nothing to lose by saying to a woman--when the bad boyfriend is nowhere around, e.g. the ladies' room--"Listen, I couldn't help overhearing what that man said to you. You don't deserve that, honey. There are nicer men out there." The shock of being addressed by such a complete stranger may drive the ideas right into the woman's foggy mind.

Also, complete strangers have nothing to lose by saying, "My, that's some black eye you've got there." Battered women go through life wearing dark glasses and heavy foundation and yet wonder why nobody notices that they are being battered. I notice. And if I can, I always say something about a woman's black eye. Now I pretend it's because I used to box. Really, if you work with the public, safe behind a desk or counter, it is so easy to casually respond to bruises and then end the conversation with, "You take care of yourself now."

I recommend that all women read up on the cycles of domestic violence and the different ways in which abusive men get women under their power. That way, if it ever happens to them, it won't hit them like a freight train. I will NEVER forget the moment I read a pamphlet on domestic violence--I got it at church--thinking I'd like to work with battered women, and realizing that most of the checklist described my current relationship. At the time, I just thought I was a bad person who didn't deserve the really smart man I always made so mad.

I don't have time to get into it all, but I will say something about isolation. As a friend, you want to make sure that your friend can always get in touch with you after she begins a serious-sounding relationship. Control-freak husbands and boyfriends consolidate their power by separating "their women" from the women's family and friends. Good husbands and boyfriends have no problem with their wives and girlfriends spending time with family and friends. In fact, they often welcome this and plot some serious guy time.

Oh, dear. It's so sad. I sprang into the world after high school graduation convinced that my generation was smarter and better than my parents' generation, and that we would never become alcoholics, battered wives, single mothers, etc., etc. How very wrong I was.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Auntie Seraphic Again

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I love everything you write about the Single Life and I totally buy everything you say about living your life as a Single person and finding your mission as a Single person and never settling for Mr Almost-Good-Enough, let alone Mr Totally Wrong.

The one problem I have with what you write is that you don't talk about women who really love babies but don't meet Mr Right until they are too old, or almost too old, to have babies. I mean, I guess women who are over 45 or 50 are resigned to the idea that they can't make babies anymore, but what about the women between 35 and 45? How do they cope with people mentioning their future children, and people asking if they're pregnant yet when blogs keep posting articles about how fertility takes a nosedive at 35? How many times can you say you are familiar with Natural Family Planning until your head explodes?


Auntie Seraphic

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

First of all, I must say I am a personal fan of yours.

Second, I know exactly how you feel.

Third, you know perfectly well how happy you are that you married the right man, and you are glad you were blessed enough not to marry the wrong man again before you met the right one. You've met many unhappy Single mothers who love their children and would never part from them, but nevertheless don't feel that they are a perfect substitute for a loving marriage.

Meanwhile you have met a woman whose daughter was murdered. She was a shell of a human being, a living embodiment of pain. The pain of never having children is nowhere near the pain of having a child murdered. You can get on with life as usual; it's not so easy for bereaved mums.

Fourth, you can use your voice in the community to ask people to stop predicting to childless married women over 35 that they'll be pregnant soon, or to ask them if they are pregnant yet, or to envision them with little children eventually. People say or ask these things with kindness, and they have no idea that their words open up holes in your heart.

Fifth, this is a blog for Singles and not really for married ladies, so I don't think I can help you out that much. However, I think there is Biblical precedence for women who haven't had children yet demanding of God why this is so. So I recommend that you take this up with God.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

P.S. You know your sister-in-law? The doctor? Email her.

Looking a Fact in the Eye

If I could write only one thing on this blog it would be "Stay rooted in reality."

Now, staying rooted in reality can be very tough, and sometimes it is much easier to hide from reality, when it is unpleasant, than to grapple with it and figure out what is best to do. The Canadian philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. called this tendency "the flight from understanding."

The greatest example of this from my own life was math class. Although I got through Grade 9 math, thanks to a very good teacher, Grade 10 math was hell. It was hell because I couldn't grasp the concepts from the beginning and instead of turning to other books or teachers for help, I took refuge in daydreams until the teacher started screaming abuse or philosophy from the blackboard. Sadly, some of the messages that she banged into our heads were that boys were better than we were at math, and that her husband was a better math teacher than she was, and that we spent too much time crying over boys, whereas boys didn't care about us.

Today I can't dial my husband's mobile phone number without carefully following it on a sheet of paper. Nothing frightens me more than long strings of numbers. And for a long time I asked male friends if they had, in high school, cared about girls.

It will not be a surprise to you that I failed Grade 10 math. But what is astonishing is that, when I repeated it, I got the same teacher and I made no protest. I didn't even tell my parents the things she said, not even when they furiously scolded me for not doing my math homework, which by then I was as incapable of doing as a four year old child is of translating Thucydides. I took refuge in stories and daydreams, living in a semi-fog it took me a long time to escape. Not once did I go to an adult and say "I have a serious problem. I write A+ papers on Shakespeare, but I can't understand polynomial equations. What is wrong with me? Surely it cannot be, as our teacher seems to think, because I am white/a girl/incurably lazy. Help me."

Why do we not tell our parents these things? This is a serious question. If there are any child psychologists who know why children do not tell their parents about the really messed up things that happen at school, please tell me.

In adult life, we still stay silent on some very messed up things. As Searching Singles, we hear and read all about "red flags" and how to recognize "red flags." So far I haven't read anything about how to recognize a red flag and then force yourself to DO something about it.

I was delighted one day when the man I was then in love with drove me to his hometown to visit his parents. In my private universe, driving a girl home to visit your parents meant that a man was serious about her. (This, of course, is not always true.) In reality, it is certainly a good way to find out if a man comes from a "good family" or if his family is entirely messed up and best avoided.

Well, into the house we went, and it was a nice house, the house of a successful research scientist and his wife, and the one thing I remember clearly is that my boyfriend's parents were both terrified of him. They seemed to walk on eggshells around him. They were amazed to see him. They were amazed to see me. They spoke carefully, almost pleadingly, and hoped we'd stay for dinner, which we didn't, despite the two-hour drive. It was clear there was something very, very wrong going on, but I was in love with this man (absolutely head over heels), so I ignored my insights. Later he told me that his biggest kick in life was hurting those who loved him.

So it is not enough to see the red flags. One must understand that they are red flags and take appropriate action. In my own case, I think my mistake was becoming so completely infatuated before I knew the man at all well. On our first date, he drank and told me he had a drinking problem. I thought he was exaggerating. On a subsequent date, he told me he had attempted to seduce his girlfriend's gay friend because she had always had a crush on him. I thought he had repented and would never do something like that again. Why, I wonder, did I so badly want things to work out with this guy that I ignored so much horror?

"You should try to find a man from church," sighed an elderly man I consulted.

"I met him at church," I said, through gritted teeth.

And that's probably why I shut out reality. I wanted to marry a Nice Catholic Boy so badly that I was willing to sacrifice the "Nice" part. And no doubt this is part of the reason why I blog every day to invite Singles to find the good and the purpose in their Single lives and to stay rooted in reality.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Auntie Seraphic & a Nice Old-Fashioned Girl

In case you were wondering why I was so passionate on Saturday, it is because I got this letter on Friday.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I met a young man recently. He is [my age but] he is sexually experienced and I'm not. We went on two dates that went well, and on the third date, although he never pressured me into anything physical and we did hold hands and kiss, the sex discussion did come up.

He is from out of town, [though] planning to move closer, and was staying with a friend for the weekend. It was late at night and he said he didn't have a key to his friend's apartment, and asked if he could stay with me on my couch (I live alone).

I trusted that he wouldn't do anything inappropriate, but I still did not feel comfortable, and refused. I told him I'm old fashioned and I don't let someone stay overnight if I don't know them very well (side note - I later called his friend and apologized for waking him up and asked if my date could go to his place and everything turned out fine).

Anyway the discussion with my date kept going towards the sex topic and away from the staying-on-the-couch topic. And of course I eventually mentioned that I'm waiting for marriage.

This is a nice Jewish boy that I met in shul [Seraphic's note: her synagogue]. He seemed religiously observant, as he properly read the prayers in front of everyone, which normally takes a lot of practice. Even if a guy goes to shul it's very very rare that he shares my values. I'm talking about extremely religious guys as well.*

At first he kept saying things like "You don't belong in modern times, this is not how things work nowadays" and "You'll be single forever", and "I have friends who are waiting and waiting for their girlfriends, and I think these guys are total morons"

But then the questions went more towards "Why? If you've had sex before, why does another guy get the goods and I don't?" .. And then "The only logical explanation is that you're a virgin... Is this true?" well of course I had to tell the truth.

The next day he apologized for being a jerk, but he still told me I needed to learn to be more flexible and less stubborn, and that I need to meet him "in the middle" (He didn't specify - heavy petting? clothes on or off? it's something I've been wondering about).

He said if a woman makes a man wait for sex, then she has all the control over a relationship. And he doesn't want that, he wants an equal relationship with equal partners. [Seraphic's Note: I emphasized this part because this is the part where my head almost exploded.]

I asked him to give me a week to think about it. He agreed. But then we talked last night after the week was over, and he said it was inappropriate of me to make decisions like not talking to him for a week, that again I'm not being fair and an equal partner. [Seraphic's Note: Head exploding...] I tried to explain that I was upset and needed time to think. He said he was just honest with me and not saying things out of malice and I need to not get upset/defensive over him expressing his mind.

Since the first few meetings with him went so well, and this change so sudden, I'm trying to decide if he's just young and stupid, or if he's a manipulator, or... I don't know. We agreed to meet again tomorrow in daylight in a public place, but I still have time to refuse. My questions to you:

1) You mentioned before that virginity is only something discussed when you're engaged to someone, to let the person know he needs to be more gentle with you, etc. Well, clearly that didn't happen here.

I tried to answer his question with "Why does it matter if I'm a virgin or not, this is my life and my decision" but he would not let it drop. So, is it okay to mention virginity while still dating? How can I avoid these discussions? Clearly a guy who is dating me wants to sleep with me, it's going to come up sooner or later! And if I mention that I'm waiting for marriage within the first few dates while he still has no feelings for me, he won't call me again. However if I mention my virginity, then who knows, I might turn into another target for a conquest (which is a possible reason for why this guy still calls). [Seraphic: Indeed.]

I think the only way a guy would wait, is if he shares my values (I have not met ANYONE like that in the Jewish community) , or if he has feelings for me and is willing to be patient. I need to somehow make sure the feelings are there before I drop the bomb. But then I feel like I'm trapping the poor guy! Of course you can say that I need to find someone who shares my values, just like your husband shares yours. But your husband was well into his 30s when he became a Catholic, and while I'm willing to wait as long as it takes for the right man, guys in their 20s and even 30s are not willing to sacrifice something so important to them.

2) What should I do about this guy? I know I've mentioned mostly negative things, but I just don't know, he is nice in other ways. And through our conversations and spending time together I began to feel attached. He's a young horny guy and sexuality is a HUGE deal to him, as it should be, [Seraphic: I will return to this below] and now he finds out that a girl who seemed so much fun and he really liked is not what he expected. That's why I thought I'd give him another chance tomorrow. However when we talk on the phone he always turns it around to show that he's right and I'm the one that has something wrong with her. He also went as far as to mention that the only guys who would date me are either super religious (who likely sleep around anyway), losers who can't get anyone else, or guys who truly like me (I told him that's what I'm looking for but he focuses on the "loser" idea more).

By the way, I have another date tomorrow evening as well so it's not like I'm set on just this guy,but I know eventually it'll get to this with all other dates as it always has. I am not going to change my stance or values... but I just find it so hard. This whole thing is so upsetting to me... and I'm getting older (yes I know 2z is still okay, there's still time) and I try not to lose hope but every day I have less and less.

My parents, who are completely secular, say that there's nothing wrong with a woman waiting until marriage. They said a normal man should respect that. He should feel special and honoured that she has chosen him. So at least they're on my side :) They think it's okay for me to meet him again. I don't want to waste my time, but I also don't want to be a rigid unforgiving woman. I know I'm a warm, fun, loving person, and I think he saw that before the stubbornness of no sex came up.

So please, Auntie, let me know your thoughts... You can take your time to answer but if you could please give me a brief response asap regarding whether or not I should meet him tomorrow. Thanks.

A Nice Old-Fashioned Girl

*Long section specific to problems within the Jewish community with ritual purity vs sexual ethics excised. I found it very interesting, but not appropriate, perhaps, for non-Jews to comment on.

First, dear everybody, I know a lot of you had several heart-attacks while reading the above, so I want you to know that I wrote back to this girl right away, that she went on that date, and she was okay. Nothing bad happened, and the guy said he was tired of fighting. I think "fighting" was the wrong word. The word he was searching for was "bullying."

Dear Nice Old-Fashioned Girl,

Well, this is my fourth or fifth letter to you on the subject, so I'll just start from the beginning.

Thank you very much for allowing me to print your letter because it is a good reminder that Catholic and other Christian girls are not the only girls who value chastity and face such problems. In the part I left out, you refer to loopholes in Jewish sexual ethics of which some otherwise religious Jewish men take advantage. In orthodox Christianity, there are no such loopholes. This does not stop some Christian theologians from offering watered down sexual ethics, and many religious Christians from coming up with justifications for their own dodgy sexual behaviour.

Because I am, of course, not Jewish myself, I encourage you to discuss all the ethical problems you mentioned to me to a rabbi that you know and trust. I also recommend getting in contact with Wendy Shalit, the author of A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Not many people know that she is Jewish, but she is. She is also religious, so she might be able to give a defense of religious Judaism that I cannot.

One rather radical question that I just thought of is, How important is it for you to marry a Jewish guy? I keep thinking that there must be Jewish guys who share your values. But if you cannot meet any, I know that there are men of other religions/ethnic groups who do. However, if your most important bedrock value is marrying a man from your own ethnic group, go ahead and ignore my veiled suggestion!

Now, back to Mr. Bully, as I think of him, when I am not thinking of him as The Jerk. First of all, I am very impressed and thankful that you stood your ground and did not let him stay overnight at your place after your Third Date. It was not lost on me that the Sex Talk and his sudden need to stay at your place, not his friend's place, happened on the Third Date. He had this planned, don't kid yourself.

The fact that he argued with you at all does indeed show that he is a jerk. And a bully. I notice that right after he apologized for being a jerk, he continued being a jerk. His argument that being chaste gives a woman all the power in a relationship and that he wants an "equal" partnership is the most horrible, cynical and disgusting attempt at a guilt trip I have seen in a very long time. The only "equal partnership" that involves a man and a woman having sex is marriage--and although I don't believe in it, for the sake of secular readers, I will include common law marriage here, but only when the man and the woman both have a philosophical problem with real marriage. Everything else is too open to exploitation.

Mr Bully bullied you into confessing something very, very private. This made me think a lot about why women think they HAVE to do or tell things. You did not HAVE to tell him, but you thought you did. Why? Is it because women think we must always answer direct questions? Is it because it is so embarrassing to say "That's none of your business, and the subject is closed?" Gentle women often have a hard time saying that.

Okay, now I will answer your questions.

1a. First of all, yes. Sadly, nowadays interested men are almost always going to bring up the Sex Topic sooner or later, and usually sooner, unless they themselves are chaste. However, a simple, "I don't believe in sleeping with men I barely know" should suffice. If the man pushes with "How well do you have to know them?", I recommend a firm "Very well." If he continues to push with, "Well, give me a timeframe here," you are free to say, "I don't feel comfortable discussing this. Let's change the topic." If he doesn't change the topic, tell him you are no longer comfortable speaking to him and LEAVE. You now deserve an apology and flowers.

1b. Proving yourself to be a chaste woman is not dropping the bomb. Men today have "No means no" drilled into their heads in high school and college--at least, they did when I was in college. It should not be the HUGE shock they pretend it is that women sometimes say NO. You are not trapping anyone by going to the movies or dinner with them without planning to pay for it, like a prostitute, with sex. It is not a universal that women have sex with any or every male friend who asks. Only very weak-willed girls and women do that, and as you may have noticed in high school, nobody rewards them for that. Sex is not a necessary component of every affectionate relationship between a man and a woman.

1c. Since you brought him up, I am happy to say that my husband, who was active in the Episcopalian/Anglican Church from the age of ten, shared my values long before he was received into the Catholic Church.

1 d. By the way, I think you are exaggerating the importance of sex to men.* Acting like it is as necessary to himself as food, water and sleep is one of the ways an immature man guilts a woman into giving him her body to use. It is NOT "as it should be" for a young man to be obsessed with getting sex. For at least three thousand years, men have considered disciplining and schooling their desires the mark of a civilized man. Again, this is something you might want to discuss with a rabbi you like or a wise Jewish woman like Wendy Shalit.

2a. I think this guy is a complete jerk and a bully and that you should keep him at a friendly distance from now on. When I asked my husband for a man's eye view, he said "Tell her to run!" You mentioned in another email that he has a high-status job, but I don't care. A bully is a bully, a jerk is a jerk, no matter how much money he earns. You also mentioned that you are worried that he will go around telling everyone at shul that you are a virgin. First of all, I think it is unlikely that he will want to go around telling people he tried to pressure you into sex and you turned him down. Second of all, at a shul I once visited, the rabbi preached about the Jewish value of modesty and I suspect he would have nothing but praise for a 20-something or 30-something Jewish woman who was a virgin.

2b. Yes, it is hard. It is so hard. But it is a million times better than being used sexually and thrown away like a kleenex. The one guarantee that this will never happen to you is to be very careful of the men you choose to associate with and to wait for a man who loves you enough to wait until you are married to him.

2c. I am very glad your parents are supportive of you and that you can talk about these things with them.

2d. I am not a rigid, unforgiving woman, and I think your date was a horrible bully. Did I mention this? I hope he removes himself from your life sooner rather than later.

I hope also that this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

P.S. I think this man was lucky to meet you and that you may have taught him a very important lesson about modesty. I hope he remembers it.

P.S.2 One ex-Catholic guy I once dated told me years later that he really respected me for turning him down.

*Update: Having just received a furious comment from an unhappy man on the topic, I should stress that although men will not die from abstaining from sex, many married men become very, very unhappy if they are forced to go without it. Obviously sex is important to men, as it probably is to most women. But it is not so important that women have to lie down prostrate before men's sexual desire. Spouses, of course, should work together on sexual needs and wants.

To the furious commentator I can only recommend--in charity--a professional marriage counsellor. Professional counselling helped me immeasurably after my divorce.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Everything Short of Rape

Rape is illegal in most countries but, in the West, people's fathers and brothers don't usually go after seducers with a baseball bat. That is why thousands of young men think nothing of sweet-talking, tricking or bullying young women into having sex with them.

These are not necessarily scary looking men, unshaven and dressed like Keanu Reeves in that serial killer movie. These are nice-looking young men. They smile. Their clothes are clean. They go to or went to university or have a good trade. They are actually marriage material. But they don't want to get married yet. Instead they furl their brows and look genuinely astonished that, in this day and age, a woman does not want to have sex before marriage.

This kind of man will very logically, and possibly citing modern thinkers, explain to you how wrong you are and how unfair you are, and what a terrible position you are putting him in. He will point to the many, many women your age or of your religious or ethnic group who have premarital sex all the time. He will ask you why you think you are better than these women. He will shake his head at your wickedness. He will predict that you will never get married.

And unless you are have a strong, bullish personality, you will feel terrible. The thing to remember is that everything he is saying is complete garbage, and every syllable of it has but one object: to brainwash you into admitting he is right and that you should surrender your body to him.

Me, I live a life of extraordinary peace and gentleness. I live and work in a gently kept house in a gently kept landscape, and go for pleasant walks along a gentle shore to the grocery store, where I listen to the gentle accent of my favourite cashier. I go to the butcher's shop or the fishmonger's, where gentle, cheerful men and women address me with "Yes, my dear?"

My husband is a gentle, kindly man. His friends are all gentle, kindly men. I walk along a tarmac ribbon between two fields to see my gentle neighbours, but my social life more or less revolves around my gentle Catholic church community. There are no seducers, no porn, no talk of sex, no third dates. It's easy to forget the moral hell of Edinburgh life as depicted by Irvine Welsh.

Back in my town in Canada, most of my Catholic friends live equally gentle lives. There is a big enough practising Catholic community that my young female friends need never leave it. You can work for it, go to Mass in it, socialize in it. You never have to converse with a man who isn't a practising Catholic, and you can ruin a man's reputation if he pressures you for sex. It's easy to forget that outside the Catholic ghetto, there are legions of pleasant-looking men working their connections day and night to get laid.

But Single girls are often lonely, and the religious ghetto does not immediately produce the husbands that they long for--or it produces semi-imposters, men interested in religion but not in keeping their trousers on.

A NCG friend of mine made a date with a guy she met over a dating site. I can't remember if it was a Catholic dating site, but that hardly matters, as this guy belonged to a famously macho profession.

"Watch out for the third date," I said.

The third date, in case you haven't made this unpleasant discovery, is when contemporary men with no interest in chastity begin to pressure women for sex.

My friend went out on the first date. It was to a salsa night, and she had lots of fun. The man was very handsome and personable. He called and they made a second date. It was for dinner at a fine restaurant. Again my friend had a lot of fun. And then the man called to make a third date. I believe he left a message.

"Well," he said. "We can't go out to salsa or restaurants every night, so why don't you come on over to my place for dinner?"

My NCG friend was floored. When a guy asks you to come over to his place on the third date, sex is on the menu. It's, like, practically a law in the secular world, the world that claims to respect women's autonomy so much.

Not knowing what to do, she did nothing. And the guy called her up and left an angry message. So--if I remember this correctly--she didn't call him back. And the wonderful thing about this, from my point of view, is that she never had to make The Speech or put up with the bullying who-do-you-think-you-are routine so popular with men today.*

I first made The Speech when I was 17. In hindsight, I was really lucky. My boyfriend was a refugee from the Middle East, and he had no clue how to browbeat women into sex. Perhaps he was just too astonished by my explanation that I was a Catholic, since his first Canadian refuge had been in Montreal and he had slept with lots of Catholics. This news annoyed me very much because in my innocence I thought the entire world knew that Catholic girls didn't have pre-marital sex, and that the two or three that did were making things needlessly difficult for the rest of us.

His next argument was that you couldn't get pregnant the first time. Having learned from seventeen magazine that you can, I laughed this to scorn. Then he informed me that his friends were accusing him of being gay. I rolled my eyes at his friends. Then he accused me of having slept with someone else. I slapped him.

I suppose a lot of Canadian men would have slapped me right back or worse, but instead he seemed very pleased. And, later being treated to my very over-the-top and positively mediaeval harangue on the beauty of virginity, he was very impressed. And eventually he asked me if I would marry him once I graduated from university. Reader, I wouldn't.

But I will say this for him. Although he so badly scared seventeen year old me with what I thought was an outrageous, unthinkable demand that I barely talked to a man who wasn't a Catholic for years afterwards, he did not try to make me feel guilty or wicked or naive or ahistorical. Possibly he wasn't very smart. Possibly he had lost his skills in the smorgasbrod of female flesh on offer in Montreal. But possibly he was a fundamentally decent Muslim chap who actually respected women who respected themselves. I used the word "honour" a lot, assuming it would mean something. It did.

A lot of men have no honour. They just want to get laid. They're too venal to get married, and they're too cheap to use prostitutes. So they'll go after you. "No means no?" Don't make me laugh. They won't let a little slogan get in their way. If they are intrigued enough not to go after easier meat, they'll start a brainwashing project called "Get Her to Yes." They'll try everything short of rape.

Sometimes the most beautiful words in the English language are "I can wait." A decent man--from any culture or religion--either gives up at once or says "I can wait."

*For a brilliant description of a man who was a genius at getting good, moral women to surrender their bodies to him, read A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. Byatt was fascinated with H.G. Wells, and wondered why such a horrible man had so much success in seducing and exploiting wonderful, intelligent women. The character she came up with is based on both Wells and D.H. Lawrence.

Update: "Tell them you don't hate men," said B.A. I don't hate men. Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. But I hate bullies. And I hate hearing seduced women cry.

Update 2: I want to acknowledge that there are women who do believe pre-marital sex is okay for them and do not think having it shows that they disrespect themselves. However, these women do not necessarily hand themselves over to proven jerks. In fact, they might be a little more confident than religious women in telling sexual bullies to take a leap off a pier. They wait until their suitor/boyfriend has proven himself decent and trustworthy. I know non-religious women who slept with their husbands before they married them, but I simply can't imagine them having being suckered or browbeaten into it by some jerk.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Pondering Second Marriages

This is an Auntie Seraphic letter right out of the combox, so this is one of the names I made up.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

If you are thinking of marrying someone who is divorced (post-annulment), how much should you ask about their previous marriage? Not to pry into sordid past details, but to try and figure out whether anything could possibly go differently in a new union, or if one's potential husband/wife has learned anything from their first try at marriage.

Perhaps you have written about this already, but I would be grateful for any advice.

Pondering Second Marriages

Dear Pondering,

This all depends. If you are a man (and not formally engaged yet), and you want to ask a woman, "Honey, since we're thinking about marriage, do you have any thoughts on the topic?", then go for it. If you are a woman (and not formally engaged yet), and you want to ask a man that question, it might be better to say, "If you ever want to talk about what happened with [ex-spouse], I'd be happy to listen." Then wait. The idea is to spark the discussion, not to become the Inspector Rebus of the heart.

However, let me tell you: if you really want to hear the horribleness, marriage had better be something you're already discussing. In fact, these are the conversations engaged people have, should have, and indeed have to have in marriage prep class. In many dioceses, previously married people have to go to special marriage prep class. (I wonder if widows and widowers have to go or just us scabby divorced folk?)

Recently divorcing or divorced people are not good candidates for marriage. I remember that a minister's wife told her daughter to keep away from a handsome pal of hers who was divorcing because "divorcing people are crazy." And heaven knows I was pretty crazy myself. I started dating a guy with a history of dating crazy women, and when we broke up, he found another crazy woman. It was one of those things that make you go, "Hmm, am I, perhaps, crazy?"

In an ideal world, divorced-and-annulled people would be all healed by the time they met someone special, but it isn't always that way. However, I would say that the fact that a woman is not spontaneously discussing her lousy marriage is a very good sign, and I suspect the same might be true for men, too.

Incidentally, if what broke up the marriage was your intended's violence, infidelity, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, etc., etc., you need to have serious discussions about how he/she knows he/she will never do such things again. One reason why the divorce rate is so high is because divorced people sometimes (often?) divorce again.

B.A. has never asked me about my previous marriage. Of course, he read my whole entire blog, so he might have been on information overload. On the other hand, men don't usually like hearing about The Other Guy---one of the many ways in which they are unlike women, who sometimes have an unwholesome fascination with The Other Woman.

I don't know about men, but I suspect divorcees are haunted by their first weddings when planning their second. I certainly was. I bent over backwards to have the quiet, tasteful, humble wedding that my culture historically said befits second marriages. The one rule I broke was to wear a white dress, and long afterwards an impertinent person (not family) voiced her displeasure at this. Anyway, I suggest that grooms of previously married women should be prepared for their fiancees to have a bit of a meltdown about their first marriage during the horrific stress of their own wedding planning. I didn't, but after all I had been divorced for 10 years.

Finally, don't marry a man/woman unless you are head over heels with him/her and confident that your marriage could not possibly end in divorce.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Note to Young Virgins

This post is not at all to make young women who are not virgins feel badly. I am not a virgin myself, obviously. I've even been married twice, which is slightly mind-boggling to a trad Catholic, but there you go. From the start, B.A. knew perfectly well that I had married at 25, got a divorce, got an annulment, and all that stuff, and he didn't care. He fell in love with me anyway.

Occasionally I make a reference to my first wedding to make super-trad friends shriek with horror, and I have super-trad aquaintances who would find this in the worst of taste, but I myself am pretty sanguine about it. I dealt with all bad stuff in the confessional and therapy and in the fullness of time healed and moved on.

I've also written about the problems of obsessing about purity (see "Pure" in my book). And before I married the first time, when I was a virgin (with beautiful, radiant skin, too--sigh!), I worried about purity an awful lot. Probably I should have worried more about being a kinder, more prudent person. And, really, I shouldn't have been snogging boyfriends--not because it was perhaps sometimes impure to do so*, but because it made it so much worse for them and me when we broke up.

It occurs to me that there are many very innocent young girls who think, in their innocence, that they are sexually impure. It is good to be humble, but it is not good to dwell on one's sinfulness (real or imagined) so much that it leads to despair. When I was a virgin, I thought I was almost entirely corrupt, jaded, and knowledgeable about the facts of life. In hindsight, I knew and had done almost nothing.

One of the blessings of a good confessor is that he will convince a virgin--if she has ears to hear--that the sinful thing she did doesn't matter any more, now that she is sorry and has confessed it. Of course she should leave off such sinful silliness, but she should not mope and feel ruined. If she does, she must pray for the grace to accept God's forgiving love.

Actually having sex--not just kissing--has important psychological ramifications. It is a crossing of a sexual Rubicon and actually matters. I know perfectly well that there are those who say that this is only a social construct and are doing their damnedest to change six thousand years of human nature about this, but as a matter of fact, it matters psychologically quite a lot. And that, after God's injunction, is why you should wait for a man who has given you himself and his whole life in marriage.

I feel, probably like many, many, many traditional married Christian ladies through the centuries, protective of young virgin girls and women. You are so vulnerable, and so many people wish to prey upon you--not just immoral or weak men, but bitter women who resent their own mistakes and/or your happiness and peace. We old trad married ladies, on the other hand, often get maternal and wring our hands a bit. "Take care," we cry, fearing embarrassment or rejection. "Take care!"

As a Single, divorced and annulled woman, I felt even more protective of non-virgins like me confronting those elements of conservative Catholic male society who were obsessed with marrying virgins. And whenever I heard of someone telling a woman practising "secondary virginity" that this didn't count at all, and she should stop giving herself airs and just come across with the goods, I hit the roof.

However, I seem to be moving psychologically from sisterhood to motherhood**. Maybe I should try to remain in the middle, in auntiehood, where I can balance my championship of young virgins on the one hand and of Single non-virgins on the other. You are all so precious in God's sight.

*At the time I was confused on this issue. And then at the age of 36 or so, I was amazed when I heard a Theology of the Body speaker admit that his answer to "HFCYG?" was "no prolonged kissing." And now I am more of his mind, and yes, I know how hard that is.

**This does not mean I am pregnant. Don't phone, family! (One family member just did.)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Leave It In the Confessional

I've forgotten when I last wrote about this, but it doesn't matter because I probably should write about it once a month. This topic is of enormous importance, bringing together female psychology, male psychology, sin, forgiveness, reticence, modesty and heaven knows what else. If I remember correctly, the last time I wrote on this, a priest emailed to say "Good job." So here I go again.

Men and women commit sexual sins. Some are venial (not as serious, but still sins). Some are mortal (serious). Some sexual sins are committed alone, and some with others. Many of the serious one are committed with a good helping of such rationalizations as "we're probably getting married, anyway." If you don't believe in the concept of sin, stop reading now and go here.

Anyway, if you commit a serious sexual sin, it is important for your ultimate happiness that you feel sorry, that you confess it, and that you do penance. You confess your sin to God through, Catholics maintain, a priest in the confessional. And then you keep your mouth shut.

Men, I read the other day, process pain and stress by hiding away in a cave. Women, I know very well, process pain and stress by talking it out. Having committed sexual sins can be extraordinarily stressful for women in particular, not only because/if they have well-tuned consciences, but because the consequences can be extremely serious. As this is not a chastity lecture, I will not list them. You know what they are. The point I am making is that even if you are longing to talk about your sexual sins with your sympathetic new suitor, you absolutely must not do it.

For about six thousand years, the fewer men she slept with, the more honoured a woman was. Polygamy is not unknown, whereas polyandry is almost unheard of. In the early Christian era, widows were discouraged from marrying again, and although widows remarry without shame, many widows have prided themselves on being one-man women. And although there has almost always been some tolerance for the sexual sins of men, tolerance for the sexual sins of women is brand spanking new and hardly universal.

Is this fair? No, it is not. Human society is, was and will probably always be unfair until the end of time. Nature is unfair, too. In her Woman: An Intimate Geography, biologist Natalie Angiers is perturbed by the fact that the more men a woman has sex with, the more likely she is to get cervical cancer, even if she always uses condoms.

So if women feel deeply, deeply guilty over our sexual sins, even long after we have confessed them in the confessional, done our penance, and pulled up our moral socks, it is little wonder that some of us feel permanently damaged. We might even be haunted by the thought, "Would they/he still love me if he knew...?"

I am not a man, so I can't tell you firsthand what it is like to be a man hearing firsthand how a woman he loves or admires has been with another man or other men. But I believe that, in general, a mature, honest man born between 1940 and 1980 doesn't like it that much and doesn't really want to hear about it, but accepts that these things happen. If he is a humble man, he might remember that he has blotted his copybook himself, with himself if not with another person.

But many young religious laymen, I'm told, freak out. And goodness knows, anyone who wants to know what laymen think about women telling them their sexual sins can find out quickly by finding a chastity blog, or reading Jeff McL's comment in the "Reticence is Golden" combox below.

Many young religious men (I'm not talking about Jeff McL, here) are obsessed with virginity and terrified of sexually experienced women, and haven't a clue what goes through women's heads. To them we are either sexual angels or depraved demons, pure as the snow or base as the mud. Fortunately, most young men grow up and realize that women are human beings, much like themselves, only usually less inclined to self-abuse and looking at porn.

That reminds me, men are very visual about sex, which it is another reason not to confess your sexual sins to laymen (or to confessors in technicolour detail). They will immediately picture them in their heads. They can't help it, and it will make them feel terrible. Really, you should never tell your male friend, boyfriend or fiance these things, unless it is absolutely necessary to his health or your health that he knows (e.g. if you have herpes, your fiance needs to know).

You might also think twice before telling a female friend, unless she is the enviable kind of woman who can keep your secrets and other women's secrets, even from her boyfriend or husband. Otherwise, heaven knows who will find out. And these things stick in the mind.

On this blog, Single women occasionally make direct reference to their own sexual sins (e.g. losing their virginity to their last boyfriend, thinking they would get married anyway) in the combox under their habitual pseudonym. I think this is a terrible idea and never allow them to appear. The internet is forever.

In short, if you need to discuss such personal things after you have gone to confession, go to spiritual direction, a therapist, or a medical doctor.

Are women's sexual sins worse than those of men? No. I'm inclined to believe that men's are often worse and certainly more frequent. However, men are much less likely to go around telling people in the hope of obtaining absolution (or blessings) from all and sundry. They shut their mouths, and the good ones pray that the women they love never find out. They leave it in the confessional.

We should all leave it in the confessional.

Update: I had a sudden horrible memory of an article about sex discussion workshops in some American university or other. I fear it was one of those universities that stress how Catholic they are in the brochure, and then you get there and find something completely different. Anyway, I've long been haunted by quote by a nice Catholic girl at this workshop who confessed shame over "having inhibitions."

"You don't have inhibitions," I shrieked at the paper. "You have natural, healthy modesty!"

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

What's Your Mission?

Just a thought today for the Serious Singles and for the very long-term Searching Singles: What's your mission?

When you are Single, you are freed up for mission, whatever it might be. And as society places so much meaning on the pair-bond and parenthood, it can be very helpful to pause and reflect on what gives meaning to your Singleness.

Quite obviously, being Single frees priests, male religious and nuns for prayer and badly paid but absolutely necessary work, either in their own communities or in the world. But being Single also frees schoolteachers, for example, to concentrate fully on their students. Being Single frees scholars to devote themselves to their research. Being Single frees doctors and nurses to volunteer their services to the Third World.

When I was 36, Single, and thought I might be called to remain Single for a very long time, I made writing about Single life my mission!

So to the Serious Singles and super long-term Searching Singles out there, what's your mission? For what good works does celibacy free you?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Reticence is Golden

I am sure that I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: don't tell suitors/the girl you are pursuing about your ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends.

Obviously, don't deny that they ever existed. If (IF) you are asked about one, then talk, but be brief and as positive as possible. I am cudgeling my mind for a memory of some suitor desperately wanting to know about an ex-boyfriend, and I can't think of any. But I do remember wanting to talk about ex-boyfriends, either because they made for good anecdotes or because I wanted to process the leftover pain with a sympathetic soul, and this always drove the future ex-boyfriends insane. By the way, never, ever, EVER discuss an ex on a first date.

This is by no means solely a feminine failing. Some men can talk endlessly about the women who broke their hearts into a trillion pieces, and I know of one woman who put up listening to a man vent about me for months and months. Finally she told him that if he didn't stop, she would walk. (I'm afraid she was otherwise a doormat: she gave him years of devotion, and he never married her. When he left town, he didn't take her. Very sad.) Obviously I heard this story secondhand, but I'd bet the grocery money it is true. I have listened to other men go on about other women who got away.

I cannot stress how important it is when you meet a new person not to sound off in a bitter fashion about an ex. You might feel like the new woman is a kindred soul who understands you like no-one before, but many women are startled when you inform them that your last ex-girlfriend was a cheap, money-grubbing, psycho-bitch from hell. And if you mention the rest of the harpies it was your misfortune to date, the new woman may very well reflect on the long list and conclude that one day she, too, might be described by you in such unflattering terms. Buh-bye.

Even worse is telling your new flame how perfect your old flame was. I remember feeling very miserable as I listened to how smart and how sensitive my predecessor was. I heard about her child (from another relationship), her dog, her job, her work rivalries, her skin cancer scar, and on and on and on. It was rather foolish to have been so surprised when he went back to her, but I was. Now, of course, I thank my lucky stars.

The time to mention pain from a last relationship is when you are having a fight in a new relationship. If the girl of your dreams is demanding why you do X, Y, Z, and it dawns on you that this is because of your last relationship, you can tell her that. ("I'm sorry. It's not you. You're wonderful. It's her.") A woman in love, and a woman who has grown to trust you, is perfectly willing to believe you when you say your ex was bonkers if you provide examples of her bonkertude. Women almost always take their man's side when it's him versus another woman.

So women feel wary or sad when men trash or extol their ex-girlfriends. Men, I have read, throw another wrinkle into the dynamic. Men take their cues from other men, and so if you tell them that other men have treated you badly, they subconsciously get the message that they can treat you badly, too. Therefore, if you keep finding yourself being treated badly over and over again, ask yourself if that might not be at least partly because you keep telling men how badly other men have treated you.

I can't remember if this is in the Rules or the book I used to hide under my bed, but the idea is that if you want a man to treat you like a queen, you have to give the impression that you're used to being treated like a queen. And by that I don't mean some spoiled brat of a prima donna. I mean a real queen--like the Queen of England (Scotland, Canada, etc.) when she was a young thing like yourselves. Gracious, smiling, lady-like, and a wonderful listener. Feathery hats optional.

A NCB left a comment in yesterday's combox about an ex-girlfriend who keeps a scrapbook of all her ex-boyfriends. What blows my mind is not that she does this (although it does seem a bit weird for a woman to emulate Don Giovanni) but that she let him know about it. It is just not very smart or healthy to lead a man, especially a marriage-worthy man, to believe that he is just another man in a long, never-ending list of temporary boyfriends.

So this morning I encourage all of you to remember that your past is your own, and you neither have to nor should necessarily share it with the objects of your affection. If asked about a former relationship, sum it up briefly and kindly with, "A nice man/girl, but we had different interests/there was no real spark." The fact that s/he was a raging alcoholic can wait for the day you have a fight because your beloved got drunk, took his/her shirt off and sang the national anthem on a park bench.

And, girls, I beg you. Stop telling people how badly you've been treated. If it's become a compulsion, consider therapy. I know some people take it as an insult when I suggest therapy, but I was in therapy for five years and say so without an ounce of shame. I found it very helpful. I have two caveats:

1. Freud and most of his disciples hated and hate Catholicism, so make sure your therapist is a practising Catholic or at very least Catholic-positive. I've heard of therapists assuring their clients that their problems stem from Catholicism. If your therapist tells you this, find another therapist.

2. Therapy is a business. Your therapist, like your hairdresser or trainer, has an interest in you returning to him/her. Be clear with yourself how long you wish to work with a therapist, and when you feel done, be clear with your therapist that you feel done. Don't expect your therapist to tell you when you're done. And sometimes they are done. If they start asking you for advice, or make inappropriate revelations about their lives, they're done. Say good-bye.

If you cannot afford therapy or find a Catholic-positive therapist, spiritual direction can also be a great help. Usually spiritual directors are not qualified psycho-therapists, but they can help you develop a closer relationship with God, the great Healer.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Boyfriends are not Husbands

Now as stomping on the idea of the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is a mighty counter-cultural idea, I forgive you in advance for dismissing my ideas as one of Auntie Seraphic's weirder turns. But I will point out that there are many societies that frown on boyfriend-girlfriend relationships and think that if you are old enough for a boyfriend, you are old enough to be married off to cousin Whatsit in the next village.

I am not just thinking Pakistan here. I am thinking about the children-of-Italian-immigrants who dominated my high school in the 1980s. A lot of my friends were not allowed to have boyfriends. And one of my Italian-Canadian friends came to the Graduation Formal (which Americans would call the Prom) with the wealthy 30 year old fiance her father had found for her. I'm not advocating this, incidentally. I'm just pointing out that boyfriend-girlfriend relationships are not a universally accepted fact.

I grew up thinking that you had to have a boyfriend to be a whole and normal girl or woman, an idea I suspect I got from Archie Comics, the teen romance novels so popular in my elementary school library and the sexual dynamics of the schoolyard.

Being adored by boys has long been a major female desire, transcending centuries. I suppose having a boyfriend is proof that, even though you aren't the Scarlet O'Hara of your social set, at least one boy finds you attractive. The kicker is that you aren't supposed to have sex before marriage, a rule it is easy to obey if you have no boyfriend, but rather harder to obey if you do. It boggles the mind that Veronica Lodge has done nothing but leave lipstick prints on Archie since 1930. Of course, she leaves lipstick prints on Reggie, too, so I suppose that makes it more believable.

The problem with the whole boyfriend-girlfriend relationship as it is practised today is that it is modelled more on marriage than it is on platonic friendship. Girls and boys (or men and women) fancy each other, begin a sparky courtship which very often includes physical sexual stuff, beginning and not always ending at prolonged snogging, and begin hanging out as often as they can. If they go to the same school or work together, this mean every single day.

When the honeymoon period ends, both come down off Cloud 9 and see their girl/boyfriends' flaws, which can be incredibly painful indeed. There may be attempts to resolve conflicts, usually by the girl/woman who simultaneously resents that women seem to do all the heavy lifting of relationship-building. Very often one or the other starts feeling bored with the status quo. Then, either the couple moves in together, or gets engaged, or has a public pseudo-divorce, following which both are free to start another pseudo-marriage.

And if you think this is very cynical and unfair, you should read the "Canadian Dating" chapter in Seraphic Singles!

Since I usually got bored and fed-up with boyfriends after a year of snogging and hanging out almost every single day, I was a bit worried that I was irreparably fickle and would make a lousy wife. However, now that I am a wife and have been for a year and a half, I can report that I am not bored at all. I am also as snug as a bug in a rug. Possibly--I'm just throwing this out as a suggestion--it is because I didn't have chance to get bored of B.A.-as-Boyfriend. And maybe it is because marriage is a real relationship with a real, committed, till-death-do-we-part future. When you're just a girlfriend, you're left guessing. Yes, maybe you'll get married one day. But what woman in love can stand not knowing when that day will come?

Looking back upon a dating career that resembles the Battle of the Somme, I wish today that I had been more detached from it all. If I hadn't hung out with my nice, devoted boyfriends every darn day, they wouldn't have had so much cause to blame me when I, bored, broke up with them. And if I hadn't chased those who would have been happy just to be friends, I wouldn't have been hurt so much. At the same time, of course, I don't regret that somehow everything came right in the end, and I married Mr. McRight and hopefully will live happily ever after. But I wouldn't mind saving you unnecessary boredom and heartbreak.

I was very much struck by a comment in yesterday's combox about a boyfriend who exhibited his rubber-band nature by stretching away for two whole weeks before snapping back to be Mr. Wonderful. I now realize that we weren't told how long Mr. Wonderful's snapping back period lasted. If it were six months or so, then it wouldn't be so outrageous that the man takes two week holidays from boyfrienddom. But if he snapped back for only a week or so, then my conclusion is that Mr. Wonderful wasn't so wonderful. And I wonder why anyone would want to be the steady girlfriend of such a man.

When someone is not your husband but only your boyfriend, you are not in a position to make wifely demands. The same goes for men. If a woman is not your wife but only your girlfriend, you are not really in a position to make husbandly demands. This leaves you in a kind of limbo. Happy the girlfriend whose boyfriend doesn't push her for the stuff only a husband should expect. Happy the boyfriend who is not pursued 24/7 by his girlfriend.

What is the way forward? Well, as I've written before, it is that men get serious about courtship (which should follow or accompany finding a trade or a career) and that women not push for emotional intimacy by calling men up, or asking to meet up, or asking where these relationships are going, or demanding that men share their feelings whether they want to or not.

Boyfriends are not husbands. Hopefully, though, they are friends.

Update: I just told B.A. that I would have been so mad if he had kissed me without having decided already that he wanted to marry me. I would have been SO MAD! Words cannot express how furious I would have been. Extremely furious. Medusa furious, with hair turning into fire-spitting snakes.

Friday, 7 January 2011

And Seraphic is from Mercury!

Well, off I went to the library to work on my Notre Dame presentation, and guess what I read? I couldn't find anything by Alice von Hildebrand or Christopher West, so instead I settled down with Mulieris Dignitatem and (drumroll) The Essential Mars and Venus by John Grey. And this was mere yards away from one of Edinburgh's most famous historians, so you see how confident I am in my own intellect.

Now, I have never read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, so I was shocked to see how much of this stuff I knew already. I was also surprised to discover that the author's tone was supposed to be funny. So when the "Bridget Jones" books make fun of such ideas as "men are like rubber bands," they are making a joke about a joke. And, really, Dr. Grey is right to be comical, for it is very dangerous to make such claims as "most men are like this" and "most women are like that." You are most likely to get away with it, I suspect, if you make everyone laugh.

Anyway, here are a few notes from The Essential Mars and Venus which leapt out at me:

"Differences make our partners interesting and attractive...The biggest problem, however, is our tendency to expect our partners to think and feel the way we do."

In dealing with men, women's biggest mistake is offering unsolicited advice. This may explain why the percentage of male readers of Seraphic Singles is way, way down!

Women need to learn to stop changing a man. Well, I knew that. That's why you can never settle. You have to marry Mr. Perfect for You, and then smile upon his fashion sense, his posture and his tooth-picking habit when you come down from Cloud 9 and notice them.

To feel better, women discuss and men hide in caves. There were many illustrations of caves. I was intrigued. My father has a sort of cave in the cellar, but my husband doesn't have a physical one. Maybe books can be caves? Come to think of it, I'm the one with the home office. But I definitely discuss to feel better. Definitely. I gripe and gripe and gripe (or type and type and type) until I feel better. The book listed a whole number of things men should not say when women are griping, e.g. "Don't do it, if you're going to complain about it." Oooh, I hate that one.

Men assume that if a woman is not asking for more, he must be giving enough. Alas, you have to tell him what you want for Valentine's Day. He can't guess. If you want support or most other things from a man, you have to ask for it. Clearly. In plain sentences. Incidentally, this book was most definitely for married people.

Men feel better by solving problems, women by talking about problems. Possibly this is why men get annoyed when you complain about mean people. They can't solve the problem of the mean people, so why are you telling them? They get frustrated by the idea that somehow they are expected to solve the problem of the mean people and then, when they do hit on a brilliant solution, women don't appreciate it.

Men are like rubber bands. Okay, this is something that might be helpful for Single women who date. According to John Grey, men have a natural cycle of get close-pull away-get close again-pull away again. This is no doubt why you shouldn't panic when a man doesn't call you immediately after a wonderful date, and why you shouldn't phone him first. Grey is positively evangelical on this rubber band thing:

If a man does not have the opportunity to pull away, he never gets a chance to feel his strong desire to be close. It is essential for women to understand that if they insist on continuous intimacy, or "run after" their partner when he pulls away, then he will almost always be trying to escape or distance himself; he will never get a chance to feel his passionate longing for love.


There was something interesting about women being like waves, which rather blew my mind. I thought it was just me. You know, one minute/hour/day you feel on top of the world, fun, beautiful, lots of love to give, and the next minute/hour/day, you doubt yourself, feel fat and want to hide under a blanket. For more details, go read Grey's stuff on women and decide if you believe it or not.

The secret of empowering a man is never try to change him or improve him. Basically, you have to praise him whenever possible, and I firmly believe this. The trick is to marry Mr Fabulous in the first place, so you do not run out of things to praise. Meanwhile, if you ask me this is not just the secret of empowering a man, but of self-empowering a woman. Once a woman accepts that the man she loves is who he is and not who she wants him to be, she sheds a burden of responsibility. She can go back to improving herself, if that's her bag, free from the idea that anyone is going to judge her for her husband's Megadeath T-shirt.

Now, I am not going to stand at a podium in the pre-eminent Catholic university of the United States of America and quote The Essential Mars and Venus. However, the Domers might not want me to deal with my Ph.D. drop-out's inferiority complex by quoting Bernard Lonergan in Latin at them either. So what is it, my dear Edith Stein Project people, that you would like me to talk about? Sound out in the combox, please!

P.S. In case you're wondering, it's because I occasionally fly too close to the sun.