I heard a horrible story the other day. It reminded me why I write this blog day after day.
In short, a strictly-brought up, very devout Catholic girl decided that, because she had no boyfriend, she was a "freak."
"I'm a freak," she wailed at the kitchen table. "I'm a freak!"
It was useless to persuade her that she was not a freak. She was sure she must be a freak. All of her newest friends had boyfriends, and she didn't. Ergo, freak. And, therefore, the minute a man showed an interest, she welcomed it.
It's not that she was really attracted to him, apparently. She wasn't. It's not that she was in love with him or even found him interesting. She didn't. It's not that she even liked him all that much. She didn't. But in her mind if she accepted his attentions, she wouldn't be a freak any more.
Now they're living together. She has given up the practise of her faith. Will they ever marry? Well, if it's true that she doesn't love or like him, I certainly hope not. And as for attraction, I certainly hope she is attracted to him because I cannot imagine anything more icky than sleeping with an unattractive man. In fact, to force yourself to do so seems to me rather, well, freakish.
If you are 18, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you are 20, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you are 25, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you've never had a boyfriend, and you think you are a freak because of it, you lack any kind of historical and cultural perspective.
Newsflash: Millions of women across the world, long dead or living today, never had boyfriends. Their parents did (or do) their very best to discourage boyfriends. The idea of a young, never-married woman who is not a prostitute openly dating a man for years and years without a peep about marriage is a very new phenomenon, dating from about, perhaps, 1965.
Boyfriends are sometimes, but not necessarily, suitors. A boyfriend is someone who enjoys your company and whatever else you are granting him. A suitor is someone who thinks he wants to marry you. Until recently, parents have been very nervous of boyfriends. Caring ones made darned sure they were not just boyfriends but suitors.
We hear a lot about honour killing and frightened parents trying to maintain control over something (or someone) in a new country where they feel resentful and powerless. However, we hear rather less about those parents who simply want their daughters to be happy--as happy as they are, for example--when they discourage them from dating.
For millennia, dating willy-nilly put any chance of making a good marriage at risk. For millennia, young women with boyfriends were not considered marriageable by marriage-minded men. And therefore, for millennia, young women "from respectable families" tried to discourage all young men but those whose intentions they thought honourable.
When men seem to be attracted to us, it is often a nice sop to the old ego. Despite all the advances in women's suffrage, being found attractive by men is still touted by the world as the primary goal and end of Woman. Super-models, actresses and high-class prostitutes still make more money than most of the rest of us. Pretty girls can still achieve fame and fortune in high-profile marriages. And those of us in the West who long for husband and children know that parental pressures and dowries mean nothing here: it's being found attractive that will count.
However, we are so much more than the sum of our attractions. We are not just sexual objects; we are sexual subjects. Like females of other species, we can accept our suitors or we can turn our back on their attention-seeking and amble away. And we have to get over the idea that it is a miracle, an utter miracle, when men find us attractive. It isn't. It's just normal. And it is perfectly normal to say "No, thanks" to men to whom we are not attracted. It is NOT normal to date some guy just for the sake of dating some guy.
Christianity liberated women from the necessity of marriage. When Christian women elected to stay virgins, living as if the Kingdom of Heaven had already arrived, they were doing something REVOLUTIONARY, something hitherto confined only to the tiny number of elite Roman women chosen to be Vestal Virgins. For the first time, it was okay for unmarried women to AVOID being found attractive by any man. Being found attractive by men was no longer a young woman's primary end and goal.
It is a shame we see so few nuns in habit around any more, for they would serve as a reminder that a woman without a man is certainly not a freak. This is one reason why I am always so delighted to see young nuns. Young nuns can serve as reminders to other young women that there are things much more important in life than, for heaven's sake, "having a boyfriend."