Thursday, 28 February 2013

Helping Singles Overcome Negativity

There were no comments on yesterday's piece, so I assume you were all too depressed or plunged into a terrible gloom at the memory of being snowed by some guy who got your attention by saying, "You look like you could throw a mean baseball--for a girl."

But as I checked the Seraphapalooza Question List, I see that the next question is full of cheer, for it is about getting Singles to stop moaning about being Single. I hasten to point out that these questions all came from Single women. I personally am cool with listening to Singles moan about being Single--or, rather, reading your emails on the subject. But many people are not, and that includes Single women who are trying to be upbeat and gung-ho and "I can go to Paris without anyone's permission!" about it all.

Since I have spent almost every weekday for the past six years trying to help Singles overcome negativity, I have some insights into how you can do that, too.

1. Ask the shocking question, "What's good about being Single?"

2. Make the shocking statement, "Well, I'd love the right man to come along, but I have to admit I'm enjoying these aspects of Single Life..."

3. Capitalize Single. Don't say and write, "I'm single." Say and write, "I'm Single!" (But not at work or in academic papers.)

4. Consider asking the married women in your group, "What do you miss about being Single?" or, if you think they will smirk at the Singles and say "Nothing! I'm so relieved to be married!", ask "Do married women really have it easier?" People very rarely want to admit they have it easier, so be prepared for some eye-opening stuff you've never considered before.

5. Ask, "What if you were the most beautiful woman in the world, and because of some insane circumstance, you getting married would cause the moon to crash into the sea. What would you do with your life?"

6. Read up on the lives of Single women, both saintly ones, and sinnerly ones, like Greta Garbo. A publisher once turned down Seraphic Singles because some of the Singles I mentioned were not very saintly, or not perfectly saintly. She did not care about my point, which was that successful happy Singles, while not always modelling the Christian life, certainly model satisfaction in the Single state. And, anyway, aren't you stoked that Greta Garbo never married? Greta Garbo!

7. Pay attention to the lives of formerly Single women who married late and were made miserable. This seems like an odd way of overcoming negativity, but I have found that insight into another woman's misery makes me grateful for the life I have. Sure, I would like to have children. No, I would not have liked to have been the mother of [most recent teenage school shooter].

8. Trot out my adventure analogy. Fairy tales usually end with "and they lived happily ever after." Marriage is the end of the story. Nobody cares about Snow White once she's in the palace, installed as Princess Charming. (Possibly there is some trivial day-to-day interest in the kingdom about her clothes and good works.) The only reason why anyone outside Fairyland would be interested in the Charming Family would be the debut of Snow White's lovely Single daughter.

Single people, although your lives are uncertain and perilous, they are full of adventure. But many Married people have ugly monster homes in planned communities and two cars instead. Zzzz. This 17th century attic gig I have is kind of rare, and you'll have noticed I spend an awful lot of time thinking about Single people. It's not just because you need support; it's because you are inherently interesting.

Nobody in the Nine Companions of the Ring was married. The ones who did get married waited until the adventure was over.

9. Being Single means you are free to meet a man (or seek out that religious community) who really makes your heart sing and makes you laugh all the time. It is true that you have no way of knowing if you will meet such a man, but at least if you are Single you will be available if/when he comes along.

And really, I know you are willing to wait because if you really wanted to get married for the sake of getting married, you could do so in a matter of weeks by putting an ad in the paper of any Third World Global South newspaper. Seriously.  (Don't mention this in front of a really desperate friend, however, at least not without reference to the last 30 cases of a First World Global North woman being abandoned by her husband after she lavished thousands of dollars/pounds/euros on him and his family.)

Add any other suggestions in the combox. Alternatively, write therein what you really like about the Single Life.

Personally, I really miss the laundry chute in my parents' bathroom and my mum's big ol' Canadian washer-dryer set. Now I have to hump a bag of laundry down a million stone stairs and through a damp and haunted dungeon to a gloomy ex-servants' hall and stuff it in a tiny, British washer-dryer that, more often than not, destroys my underwear.  When I was Single, all I had to do was shove my clothes down the aforementioned chute and a day or two later I would have clean, sometimes ironed, never destroyed clothes. It was a Single Life miracle.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Escaping the Clutches
Today I wish to return to the Seraphapalooza list of questions. The second and third concerned what to do if you or your friend is already stuck in a relationship with a bad guy. And I keep thinking about negging.

What is negging? Negging is when a man erodes your self-confidence by insulting you with a smile, so that you aren't really sure if he is insulting you or not. And it is the most famous technique of the Pick-Up Artist movement, a movement born of the Sexual Revolution and men's competitiveness with other men. If you think the PUA movement hates women, and it does, it also hates men, dividing them into "alpha males" and "betas." It is a sort of false religion with a banal central myth. Here's the central myth:

Women long to be dominated by men who provide excitement and sexual thrills, pleasant or unpleasant. Such men are called alphas, and because they are smart they have sex with as many women as possible until they feel like marrying someone young, beautiful and relatively untouched, if they want to risk marriage at all. Marriage is more the business of betas, nice guys that women marry after they have been dumped by alphas, and the betas are suckers because the odds are that their wives will get bored, have extramarital affairs with alphas, divorce the betas and take them to the cleaners. So don't be a beta. 

This religion was founded in the 1990s, and its adherents keep a low profile, except online, so female you will rarely know you have met one, unless the words "alpha" and "beta" escape his lips or you are in a bar, picking at a plate of chips while waiting for a pal, and a stranger comes smiling up to you and says, "Ah! A woman who clearly isn't afraid to eat what she likes!"

Women debate whether or not negging actually "works", i.e. gets a woman's attention and makes her try to make the man like her. Some point out that these days women are impressed if a stranger has the courage to speak to us at all. Others observe that when a woman is feeling battered by life, she'll respond positively to almost any non-violent one-on-one male attention. But still others ruefully admit that negging seems to work on them. And I believe them.

I also believe there is a direct connection between insults, lowered self-confidence and being stuck to a guy like glue. I think it may have something to do with parents. We usually spend the first 20 years of our lives with our parents, and our parents sometimes build us up, and sometimes tear us down, and as kids we put up with it because what else are we going to do? So we desperately try to please our parents and feel a thrill of pleasure when they are happy and praise us. Meanwhile, our parents are not perfect so we are often surprised and hurt when they yell at us, not because we have done something wrong, but because they are in a bad mood. And being kids we might not know that and just get confused and blame ourselves anyway to take a weird comfort in believing ourselves to have any control of our lives. Blaming ourselves for the irrationality of people we find attractive (perhaps because they remind us of our parents) can continue into adulthood--one reason why parents should apologize to their confused and hurting children for their own stupid mistakes or bad temper.

(I took an oath as a child not to forget as an adult what it is like to be a child. To be a child is to be often bored, to do stuff you do not want to do very often, and to feel completely powerless. The last part is the worst.)

Women with truly abusive parents often end up with abusive men because they think abuse is normal and how people you love are supposed to behave. It's very warped, but there it is. If you spent 20 years with your mother telling you that you'll never amount to much, there's a good chance you'll end up with a man who will tell you you're nothing. You've been programmed, as if by a cult, and the best thing you can do, if you had a not-good-enough mother or father or both, is to go into therapy as soon as you can, to be re-programmed. You need the voice in your head to stop telling you you're crap and to start telling you the truth.

Meanwhile, there are other voices around us. These are the voices of those family members who really do love us in constructive ways and our friends. These are the people we need around us when we meet a guy to whom we feel attracted, especially if he seems to be at least somewhat attracted to us. All kinds of emotions cloud our reason, and so we depend on the clear-sightedness of family and friends. Family and friends can say "Handsome is as handsome does" more easily that you can because to you the entire world has shrunk to one magnetic presence.  

Of course, there is only so much a friend can do and say. If you are going out with a guy who belittles you and makes you feel less confident and that you are lucky that a guy-as-great-as-him cares about you at all, since no other guy would, your family and friends are eventually going to get mad at you. If they don't like him, and they can't see you unless you're with him, they might stop seeing you at all. This is the worst thing that can happen to your sense of autonomy because you will lose the voices that say "You don't deserve to be treated the way he treats you."

Ultimately, the responsibility for getting out of a bad relationship rests with you, and that can be very difficult. Very difficult. After a few attempts, the only way I escaped a very bad relationship was to tell my spiritual director all about it and to seize onto his words "You never have to see him again."

This was a complete revelation, but it was absolutely true. If I wanted to, I could have sat there in that office until I was carried out, clutching the chair. And as I was traumatized, that actually was a possibility. At some point I called out for sandwiches. I don't think my poor spiritual director was expecting that, poor man. But as a matter of fact, I never did see that man again. Never spoke to him. Never called him. Never emailed him, except to say I never wanted to see him again and he could pick up various items at the campus police station.

Now that is a rather extreme way to end a relationship, and I really think the best thing to do is to promise oneself not to get attached to any otherwise attractive man who insults you, and to report any insults to your best friends at once, so they can tell your addling brain what a jerk he is. Because although many women are turned off at once by men who insult them, I fear that other women gravitate towards them in an attempt to prove they are wrong. It's awful, and it's sad, but it's true and one of my readers was raped by a man like that. He said something like, "You look like the kind of girl who would be afraid to be alone in a room with a guy like me." And I don't think I will forget her email until the day I die.

Update: I live in Scotland, so I should say something about banter. I am at a critical distance from banter at the moment, as I have been in Toronto, where people are rather more gentle and polite than they are in Edinburgh. (B.A. was taken aback by the humour on Canadian television, which he thought overly anodyne and not particularly funny, and he was surprised that his in-laws were so entertained by it.)

Banter is good-hearted ribbing, and Scotsmen usually love it. Non-Scots, however, don't necessarily love it, particularly when it takes the form of men ganging up on women to tease them about relationship or sexual stuff. I have a friend who suffered very much at work from men teasing her all day long, under cover of "banter," about sexual stuff. And I know a woman who finally told her partner to stop using "banter" to belittle her to their friends at dinner parties. It was driving her crazy.

Scottish banter begins at the gates of whichever Canadian flight is leaving for Scotland, and I was greatly amused last year when a group of Scottish strangers gave a man they'd been friendly with hell for flying "Club class." This year, however, I was not so amused when the people in "Club class" were invited to board, and a Scotswoman behind me snarled, "If ye're no' Club class, ye're the scum o' the airth." To which I thought, Oh, get over it. They chose to pay the extra money. You have nothing to complain about.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

And Now I'm Sick

Not a good weekend for Auntie, no.

Update: Excellent article by Hilary White about Cardinal O'Brien on LifeSite, and someone else demands to know who his accusers are.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Eee! He's a Lonerganian!

The suddenly world-famous Father Dariusz Oko, cherubs.

The significance of this probably means very little to most of you. But--oh my goodness. One of the core tenets of Lonerganism is to stare at scary, scary facts and not run away. Another is to challenge and correct group bias. It's all about being rooted in reality, telling the truth and resisting the impulse to hide from truth.

Besides, I didn't know there were any Lonerganians in Poland west of Warsaw.

Remembering Martyr Singles of Good Will

Hans and Sophie Scholl (brother and sister) executed February 22, 1943. They were Lutherans and both open to Catholic thought (e.g. Newman) and Catholic anti-Nazi homilies. Hans was 25; Sophie was 22.

Grim Thought

The Single woman's worst nightmare is finding herself old, alone and homeless--or in public housing, where she will be menaced by young savages.

Many of us--perhaps because we first learn about life from books, babysitters or our grandmothers' fears--think that the great  protection from this fate is A Husband.

But I wonder how many widows there are who, despite these magic if temporary talismans, have found themselves old, alone and homeless or in public housing anyway.

I'm having a terribly busy day, so I can't find the statistic. Does anyone happen to know what percentage of widows in their country end up on welfare?

Update: The good news is that women are allowed to work, earn and sock money away into pension plans. Thought I'd better add that.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Generation Benedict

A rare guest appearance for me on someone else's blog! Scroll down and check it out. I apologize for the two spelling errors and blame jet-lag.

Auntie Seraphic & the Local Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

A million thanks for your encouragement in the single life! And the many, many laughs your wisdom has brought to me! 

I certainly feel silly in  asking for your advice on this matter (only because I think I know the answer) , but I'm so confused in my own head that I need to hear it from someone besides my dear mother. 

Way before Christmas, an EF Mass-going-choir-singing-member (like me) friend of mine asked me to accompany her on a blind date. Her date was bringing two friends and she wanted to make it fun. The fellows were from out of town. I said sure, and promptly forgot about it all until the morning of ~ when I rushed down to the High Mass we were singing, where the fellows were meeting us. I wasn't sure what to expect from these boys. I know, I know, I don't want to be biased, but I've been going to the EF most of my life and never really had hope to meet a "polished possibility" there. They just don't seem to exist! In these gentlemen, though, I was blown away. So polished. Tweeds, three piece suits, courtly manners and gentle courtesy. They took us to lunch ~ it was hoot. All of us got on nicely. There was much of intellectual banter, wit, and verbal challenge. Refreshing and fun and elegant. 

When we had to part ways (we girls had commitments for the afternoon), they asked us ladies what to do in the city that evening ~ would we be open to joining them for something of our choice? Much to my embarrassment, my friend said, "I never go out; [Local Girl] knows all the hot spots in town. She'll organize it." (I do go out with girl friends, but only when I have the money! Its not like I party it up every weekend!) I had to think fast and we agreed to meet at my  'favourite' bar in the evening ~ an expensive, classy place that I've been to ONCE. So we did. 

It was snowing, and Christmas lights were up, and we had drinks, walked around in snow (new to them) had more drinks at another place, then dinner at another place. In the course of all this I never saw a bill ~ ever. When going on dates, I expect the gentleman to pay, but insofar as they already paid for lunch, I fully expected to purchase my own drinks. But I didn't have a chance. 

Dancing had come up as the next activity on the evenings agenda and my favourite place to dance is a foot-stomping western swing dancing bar. I like it, but my classy brother hates it ~ he says it's RAUNCHY and he'd never take a girl there. I think he's uptight. But I hesitated to take these fellows. They seemed pretty classy like my brother and I didn't want to 'scandalize' them ~ I mean, they only knew me as a skirted choir girl. But they insisted that they would only be happy to see us happy, and we should go because, even though they couldn't dance, they would do it for us. 

So we did, for about an hour or so. And they could dance, and I went crazy and Irish stepped danced when the TV screens got RAUNCHY (only once). We declared an end to good times at the tender hour of 11 pm. They wanted to know where we were going to mass the next day (Sunday) but we girls all had separate commitments, so wished them well on their journey home and said good-bye. 

The next evening, one of the fellows (the one I really liked) texted me to say he wished he had gotten my number in person and thank you for such a good time. I texted back and said "You're welcome. Have a safe journey home".  Then he said "We want to go skiing sometime" to which I replied, "Sure, we ski. I'll let you know of our next trip". So Christmas happened and then a few more weeks, and I invited them to join for a ski trip in the mountains. They called me to try and work out times they could come (they were planning to fly) but it didn't work out for their schedules. So, I let a few more weeks slip by, and then invited them via text message, to join us this weekend. I didn't hear back for the longest time ~ until Thursday when they said they couldn't make it. 

Now, my first instinct ~ in my disappointment ~ was to say, 'Hey, no worries! Have a nice weekend!' But I waited and realized that what I really wanted to say was, "I'm so sorry you won't be able to join us! We will go again. Perhaps another time." In other words (and this seems to silly to admit, even to myself) I wanted them to know I was sad that they wouldn't be coming. But then I didn't want to come across as a lonely, wolfish, prowling female, snatching for chances to take advantage of them. So I haven't said anything yet. Please advise on what the correct/honest response should be! 

My brother says that if they don't come back, they're not worth my attention anyway. I trust his judgement, but he also thinks its very funny that I took them dancing. I wish he would stop laughing about it because now I think I did scandalize them. 

My thought is that I'm 3- years old and I have nothing to lose my being perfectly honest in expressing my sorrow  at a lack of their company ~ and let them know they're welcome back. And then to leave them strictly alone, except to say a 'Hail Mary' when I catch myself mulling over it. 

I'm sorry if this is so long and tedious ~ I'm sure you've heard it a million times before. Please take mercy in a confused young woman who doesn't know her own mind and heart and do me the kindness of putting all this back on its feet for me. 

Thank you, Auntie. 

The Local Girl

Dear Local Girl,

The first thing that leaps out at me was that your friend was going on a "blind date" with a nice young man--and his friends. This is the first time I have heard of a 21st century date with three chaperons, two boys and a girl. Already we have misplaced categories. That was definitely NOT a blind date! Okay, it may have been blind, but it was not really a date.

The second thing that leaps out at me were that these boys were from out of town. They were literally "new in town" and "looking for a good time." This is natural, but also suggests that the so-called "blind date" was really just a vehicle by which they had a good time on their mini-break. If these were bad guys, this could have been a total disaster, but they were nice Catholic boys, so the good time they were looking for was perfectly moral and licit. It seems to me that they viewed you girls as Nice Girls, and indeed, fellow traditionally-minded Catholics with whom they would naturally want to be friendly.

Out-of-town men on holiday (vacation) are a completely different kettle of fish from local men meeting people as they go about their ordinary lives. A holiday is a holiday and therefore a suspension of life-as-usual. There is a kind of man who will do all kinds of bad things he would not do at home because there is no-one in the holiday town to hold him accountable. Now, fortunately, these men were not like that kind of man. However, they were still on holiday. And even if there had been a real "spark" between you and the one you liked, or even a whirlwind romance, it might very well have been that VERY illusory and transitory thing, "the holiday romance."

You did nothing wrong when the boys were in town. You were  a kindly, thoughtful hostess at a moment's notice, and you made sure the out-of-towners had a great time. Your one mistake was to assume the holiday friendship could necessarily continue if you took the initiative. In my experience, if a man really wants to see you, he will make sure he sees you. You have given the men enough encouragement to make them feel that they made a good impression. Now you must stop. No more contact. Leave them be. Chalk the whole thing up to nice guys wanting to have a good time among the kind of girls they respect while they were in your town and nothing else. Ships that pass in the night kind of stuff. (For the record, however, I don't think it appropriate to use a dating website for that, if that's what they did.) 

The lesson from all this is not to take men-from-out-of-town on holiday too seriously, and instead of trying to orchestrate reunions, to be pleasantly surprised if one of them contacts you a week or more afterwards. Meanwhile, I can see that this was a very exciting evening for you, upon which you are dwelling in a way that is making you feel unhappy, so the best antidote to your worrying and day-dreaming of what-could-have-been is organizing a fun evening with your real friends, local ones, ASAP!

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Nervous Guy Elucidates

Hello Seraphic,

Thank for posting my letter and giving me advice! Of course, I would like to exchange some help :-).

It was not really fear of rejection anymore, because at one point earlier in time I already had said to myself: it’s a very manly thing, to take the risk of being rejected. Even if you get a rejection, you can be pride of have been exposing yourself.

However, as I said, I was oversteering in the other way.

Just to get the picture correct: I was truly amazed by her, but didn’t yet fell (unilaterally) in love for her. But I know, that she would fit perfect in my preferences and I would definitely want to pursue her.

But why didn’t I just ask her out for coffee?

  • I had no real clue about how Christian women typically expect the interaction to develop:
Can I ask her out with no clear signals from her side (her just being very nice to me and talkative)?
  • I had no real experience with romantic real-life initiation of interest and/or rejection (just in online dating)
  • I have no male Christian friends with girlfriends who are examples to follow (5 are single, one met his girlfriend online)
  • I wanted to develop a friendship first (to play safe and at least becoming her non-romantic friend) and wanted to give her a chance to know me better, so that feelings on her side may develop slowly
  • I felt the need to offer her something really great by entertaining her, since she is such a great girl and surely would be demanding (and we have some very entertaining alpha-males in our group, to whom I felt some competition)

It sums up to: I am unexperienced, the culture is not really helpful and I wanted to be very clever. What do you and the girls think about it?

Nice greetings,

Nervous Guy

I think I should pull another Father Z and put out a line of "It's Just Coffee" T-shirts. Better yet, I may entitle the sequel to Seraphic Singles, "It's Just Coffee."

If a Single, unattached girl is friendly and talks to him, I think any Single, unattached guy may ask her out for a coffee without worrying that she will take this as an outrageous insult. Hopefully, if she wants to have a coffee with you, she will say "Yes" or "No" without her brain having snapped straight to a vision of either a potentially embarrassing or a dreamy marriage proposal.

Incidentally, this letter only strengthens my antipathy to dating websites. If dating websites are training men to respond to women only on the internet and making them afraid to talk to women in real life then...then...then.... I don't know what to say. Then again, I'm jet-lagged.

The problem with waiting and putting off asking a girl out so that she will become your friend and know you better is that the longer you wait, the more likely she will put you into the Friend Zone. When a guy is new and interesting, he will have instant cache as "the New Guy" and even, if you're lucky, "the New Cute Guy."

I am not sure "great girl" and "demanding" go together. The prettiest Single "great girl" I know demands only respect and being asked out on proper dates, e.g. for dinner. She doesn't like nagging or provocative, witty banter or flirtatious argument.

I think you can be successful with a "great girl" if you are willing to listen to what she actually says and become genuinely interested in her interests.  Sometimes the "entertaining" guys are too interested in "entertaining" that they forget about being quiet and listening.

Triumph Over the Atlantic

I always think the Atlantic is going to get me, but once again it has not! I even slept although I woke up in a panic two or three times, possibly because of turbulence. (An old man behind me on the shuttle bus from airport to city moaned that the turbulence was the worst he ever experienced; I slept through it all.)

So I am home and have discovered snowdrops in the woods and paint drops in the kitchen. A man has been painting our kitchen in our absence.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Blogging from the Airport

Free wi-fi is one of my favourite things!

I am quite sleepy, though. If I had been more awake, I might have accepted the $400 to go to Heathrow instead and wait for different flight to Glasgow. But I am sleepy, and I am trusting to a sort of inner auto-pilot that is programmed to get home to the Historical House as swiftly and easily as possible. If all goes well, I will be there within 12 hours.

Random Thoughts from Airport:

1. It is totally unfair that I am not allowed to bring more than one litre of spirits into the UK. >:-(

2. Chanel No. 5 costs as much or more in the airport as it does anywhere else. >:-(

3. I identified myself as a traditionalist in the CR which means many readers may now think I am whackadoodle. <:-o nbsp="" p="">
Oh, well.

4. The most interesting question I got from a reader this visit was "Are you worried about over-sharing?" My immediate thought was, "Oh oh. What did I write?" Because I very often forget what I write. I remember my Canadian publisher telling me how brave I was, and I wasn't sure why. Then I was slowly and painfully trying to decode a bit of Anielskie Single back into English, and I was, like, "Eeek!"

Oh, well.

5. This was a very awesome visit. I think what made it so awesome is that B.A. was with me for the first week, and I worried less about money. Toronto is an expensive city, and any ride from A to B costs $3. This time I just shrugged and paid the $3. And paid it again. And again. And again.

Also I visited the CR and my old theology school and Catholic friends and poet friends and hung out with family and read Agatha Christie's short stories and ate Jewish food three times and Polish food three times. Both my sisters made brownies. I got to see every member of my family at least twice. I got to meet a friend's new baby and have learned conversations with her first one about Batman and Catwoman. I met blog readers and I met CR readers. I had a pedicure and a manicure--a gel manicure, so it should actually survive my trip home.  I piled all my books into a cube of boxes measuring 3 cubic feet and called the movers. I went to one Mass in the Ordinary Form and two Masses in the Extraordinary Form. I wrote a short Polish composition in which a reader discovered only one inadvertent obscene remark.

There was a lot of snow. I enjoyed the snow very much. But my boots are finished, so I threw them out and hope very much there is no snow in Central Belt Scotland. And now my flight is being announced.


Auntie Seraphic & the Nervous Guy

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

As a male former reader, I stopped reading your blog because it is your clear wish. However, I have a story, which might possibly be of interest to your readers. As a young Christian guy, it's not easy to fight against your fears and sometimes you really mess it up and feel having acted like a psychopath, like me recently.

I fought against myself being too afraid to pursue an amazing girl, though she was very kind to me. In the end, I oversteered in the other direction, and in heavily fighting against my fear, I nearly went crazy.

Since she is a very outgoing person, I sought to impress her with (excessive) [energy]. I didn't touch her, but in another way, I didn't respect boundaries.

I'm a good and sincere guy and I was shocked by my behaviour. So, in the end, I was even happy that she drew a clear line and doesn't want to continue to see me outside of church-related activities.

Looking back, I even betrayed myself because I played the role of being the cool and active guy, which I'm not. While I played the role, I also neglected my own wish to just be able to talk with her for longer than 30 minutes.

Part of the problem was that I wanted to win her friendship first while leaving the way open for more. So I was too afraid, to just ask her to have a coffee with me, since this would mean something like a date. Instead, I made too many idiotic proposals for group activities with 3, 4, or more people. In the end, I have just become egocentric....

For me it is nevertheless a good step forwards. Surely, I have oversteered, but at least I have begun fighting against my fear of approaching a nice girl.

If it is helpful, you can publish it. If not, I wish you much success with your important ministry!

Nice greetings from [German-speaking nation],

Nervous Guy


Dear Nervous Guy,

Listen, you might as well read my blog because the guys at my parish do, no matter what I say!  The combox, of course, is usually just for girls. 

I am not sure what it is that you did, but I can see that you are sorry.  Since you didn't touch her or, I presume, lock her in a room with you, it was probably not criminal or even crazy, just inappropriate and embarrassing. Of course you will respect her boundaries now. 

Your email will be of interest to my women readers, as they often wonder what men are thinking. It could be quite helpful to them. But something else would be very helpful to them and to me. Could you explain to us (it will be anonymous, of course) why it is that you were afraid to ask this nice girl out for a coffee?

You see, I have never been able to understand why young men are afraid of women, even of women who are friendly and kind. You are not the only guy like this; there are many, many Christian guys who seem to be afraid of women, and we don't understand why. Many of my readers wish very much that Christian guys would ask them out for coffee, and wonder why non-believing guys seem so much more likely to ask them out.  If you were to explain how you feel about it, this would be very helpful to us, and maybe we could help you, too.

Grace and peace,

Nervous Guy has not written back, but I contacted the two young male colleagues visible in my Facebook messaging window yesterday. Both are confident, outgoing and popular with girls. I asked them my question, and one wrote "Boys can be more sensitive than girls."

The other wrote that there is a terrible risk of rejection, or being told that the woman is already attached, which he said is even worse than being rejected. Approaching women at all is "one of the scariest things to do as a man, especially if you're sober."

This still puzzled me until a female friend pointed out that women feel rejected all the time, so we're a little more used to it than men. For example, many women just feel rejected because absolutely has nobody has asked them out. Most men don't feel rejected just because no woman has asked them out. To feel rejected, they actually have an incident. And when that incident happens, it really, really hurts.

"Like man flu," I suggested. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Questions from Seraphapalooza

On Saturday evening I met four readers in a cafe near a corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto and we had a good chat. (Then I rushed off to a dance club on Queen Street West!) I asked the girls what they thought I should write about in future posts, and here are the questions they proposed:

1. How do you avoid the bad guys?
2. If you can't avoid the bad guys, how do you avoid being sucked in by them?
3. How can you help your friends deal with the bad guys they've been sucked in by?
4. How can you help fellow Single friends overcome their negativity?
5. How can you prevent "pity parties" or derail them?
6. Boundary issues: how many details of a romantic relationships should a woman be sharing with her friends?
7. How can Catholic girls understand that just being Catholic doesn't mean we don't need to avoid occasions for sin?
8. The carelessness of girls around a guy they say is "like a brother."
9. The horrors of the self-proclaimed "Nice Guy."
10. How to deal with guys who keep contacting you, but never ask you out?
11. How to deal with guys from other cultures, whose behaviour is very confusing.
12. Should Catholics date non-Catholics?

These are all interesting questions, and I will post about 2-12 in the future. For the moment I will address the question of avoiding "Bad Guys."

1. How do you avoid the bad guys?

First of all, there is more bad behaviour than there are bad guys. Of course, there are some egregiously bad guys out there, but there are also a lot of good guys who are merely immature, moderately selfish, clumsy, thoughtless, loud, over-opinionated, aggressive and chippy. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if a guy is a bad guy or merely a good guy who would be improved if someone dumped a bucket of water on his head.

I recommend that, instead of being worried about meeting men who are "bad guys", you make a promise to yourself never to be silent in the face of bad behaviour. Instead of worrying about rejecting people, promise to yourself that you will reject bad behaviour. If your boyfriend embarrasses  you in front of your friends, tell him that hurt you and you expect an apology. Don't contact him again until he apologizes. If a man stands you up or cancels a date without a good reason, tell him you are hurt by his lack of respect for you, and don't contact him again until he apologizes.

Good men apologize for hurting people. Bad men don't. Bad men hurt you and then tell you it was your fault because you made him hurt you. If some guy tells you he hurt you because you made him hurt you, walk out of the room. Never contact him again.

Second, don't chase after exciting, charismatic men. If you chase an exciting, charismatic man, you will just be one of the crowd of women who chase after him. Meanwhile, the only real way to tell if a guy is "that into you" is to wait until he contacts you, if he does. You can chat to him, and smile at him, and touch his arm, and invite him to your parties, but that's it. Any chasing behaviour and he may figure you're his to accept, reject, supply him with baked goods, write his essays, etc.

It hurts me to say this, but if you chase a bad guy, you're at least partly responsible for the misery that ensues. If you don't chase any guys, then you are not going to chase a bad guy. Chat. Smile. Touch arm. Invite to parties. End of.

Third, be very careful about the people with whom you associate. If you are a prison lay chaplain then, yes, you are going to associate with felons. But otherwise there is absolutely no reason for you to associate with criminals. If you hang out with girls who hang out with abusive or criminal men, then you are going to come into contact with those men and possibly their friends, too.

Fourth, always carry cab fare at night. If you go to a party and realize you are uncomfortable with what the men are saying or what people are doing, get out. Call a cab. Go home. Phone or email a friend when you get there. Vent your dismay.

Fifth, some girls stick with a bad guy because of their sexual sins, however small those sexual sins may look to a married lady of 39+. There are girls who promise themselves they will only ever kiss one man in all their lives, and that man will be their husband. Therefore, having kissed a bad guy, they  think they must stay with him forever or lose their cherished image of themselves as Pure.

Cherubs. Cherubs. Cherubs. Cherubs. The wonderful thing about a personal life is that it is personal. You don't have to tell anyone about it, ever, if you don't want to. You don't owe anyone but yourself and God a thorough investigation of all the things you have done in your life. And everyone makes mistakes. Everyone over sixteen has done, said or thought things they would not want reported in the papers. (St. Maria Goretti was twelve.)

If you are ashamed of whatever it is that you have done with Mr Not-So-Great, then ditch him explain to him why the relationship must change or end and go to confession. You are not damaged goods; you are a person. So never, ever, ever put up with a guy's bad behaviour and abuse just because you did whatever it was. No, you shouldn't have. Now stop. Your penance should be three Hail Marys, not endless months of mental anguish.

Sixth, it is normal to feel happy and safe in a romantic relationship. If you are in a romantic relationship and you do not feel happy and safe most of the time, something is seriously wrong. You may have read in storybooks that it is exciting and romantic for a man to have tirades and break things because he is jealous, but actually it is simultaneously frightening and boring.  There are authentic ways for men to show that they care about you, and overwhelming jealousy is not one of them.

Seventh, not all non-virgin guys are bad guys. Some are, of course. But most are not. Sexual experience does not = bad.  Lack of respect for you and other women = bad. The fact that a guy had sex with a past girlfriend does not mean that he is an evil, wicked, depraved despoiler of womankind. It means that he is a typical man of the 21st century, perhaps spoiled and weak, but perhaps not.

I agree that it is better and safer to hang out with men who have not been sexually active before marriage or, if they have been, don't like to talk about it and have a lot of respect for people who firmly believe that sex is just for marriage. Perhaps they feel the same way themselves now, or always did, but messed up.

Personally, I feel that a granola-eating, serial-monogamous lefty who thinks there was nothing wrong with sleeping with his girlfriends because it was consensual and they were fond of each other is safer than a man who uses prostitutes or p*rn or one-night-stands. The granola-eater at least associates sex with respect, affection and relationships; the guy who uses prostitutes or p*rn or one-night-stands associates sex with whatever is going on inside his head, which is mightily messed up.

Of course, you are probably more likely to have "The Talk" with Mr Granola than with Mr Humanae Vitae. The only appropriate response from either is "I respect your decision". Mr Granola is less likely to call you after this declaration of respect, not because he is a Bad Guy, but because he is Mr Granola and in his universe "sex is a healthy and essential part of dating."  The important thing is that he did not pressure you or make you feel terrible. If he did, he is indeed a Bad Guy and must be told off royally. The same goes for Mr Humanae Vitae if he does such things, the lousy hypocrite. And he is more culpable than Mr Granola if he doesn't call after "The Talk" because he knows better.

Monday, 18 February 2013


I had a deadline this morning and now I'm rushing around getting ready to see my friend Tricia, who is just back from a funeral out West. I leave for Scotland on Wednesday, so you can imagine how much I long to spend as much time with friends as possible!

I am not sure what this means, but my ordinary "in-box" (not the Seraphic Singles one) is crammed with messages in a way it never is in Scotland. Oh dear, oh dear. I think that just might be the way it is when you migrate to another country after making your mark (however small) in your own.

That's a subject for discussion: the issue of making new friends when you move to a new place far from your old friends. My very best girlfriends, my homegirls, you might even say, I met in university, during undergrad and much later, in theology school. And meanwhile, not to carp and complain, but really, why I am almost the only one in both my Scottish and Canadian circles who likes to write emails to friends far away? AAAAARGH!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

What Do We Do?

Yesterday I took a seat at a graduate seminar in Systematic (Dogmatic) Theology held in the mid-afternoon at my old college. I was delighted to be there and to see faces both familiar and un-. I enjoyed the surprise of those who recognized me, and I told the speaker that I had heard he was giving a paper and so got on a plane. I also enjoyed the presentation and watching the wheels turn in the minds of the men who asked questions out of a pure unrestricted desire to know and not out of a desire to impress their personalities on the air. (Happily, most of the men--and all of the young men--were inspired by the former exigence.)

I say "men" because out of the approximately 35 people in the room, only four were women and none of us said a word. One did raise a hand, but it was either unseen or forgotten by the facilitator. We other three did not.

I did not because the paper was about Nostra Aetate and my only interest in Nostra Aetate is how we sell it to the SSPX and that would have been the theological equivalent of throwing an octopus on the ice during an hockey game.  It would be interesting to know the motives of the other silent women. It goes without saying to say that a knowledgeable female silence beats a stream of trivialities from either sex, as anyone who has been to theology school can tell you.

Still, it interested me eight years ago, and it interests me still that so few women attend seminars in Systematic Theology when women, by and large, are so interested in religious faith, including pastoral theology and, of course, the lobbyist theologies: feminist, womanist, LGBTQ, etc.

It was once suggested to me that so few women go into Systematics--especially the rarified school of it called Lonerganism--because women are more practical and do not see the point of spending long years reading and writing about something few will hire or pay them for. If your aim is a job as a high school lay-chaplain (starting at $40,000/a), then the benefits of pondering the Generalized Empirical Method may not seem immediately apparent.

Still there is something beautiful and satisfying about puzzling out a difficult passage of text, aware of the wheels of your own mind turning, and watching the wheels of the minds around you turning also.

I had a coffee with a reader on Valentine's Day, and she asked me about you girls. Apparently you sound less naive, more worldly and, well, I think she meant more intellectual than women on other Singles blogs. From my last big poll on the topic, I surmised that most of you have been through university and many of you are in graduate school, and that a surprising number are science girls, including mathematicians as well as medical doctors. I know some readers are (or have been) in the U.S. Army (or Navy, I forget), and someone logs in from NASA.

Would you mind very much if I asked you to volunteer what it is you do for a living (or are being trained to do for a living)  in the combox? Anonymous comments are accepted today.

It's not a contest. As all the Christian readers should know, the top job is martyr. We are all of us second banana to all the Christians of our lifetime who were murdered for our faith. After that, tradition tells us the top job is "woman religious," and not too many of us are nuns!

(By the way, if you're wondering where the boys are, there are a heck of a lot of boys at graduate seminars in Systematic Theology. I could not say for sure, but they probably have zero interest in girls during the discussion, so never miss the after-discussion wine-and-cheese.)

(Also by the way, since a dozen people have been asking me what I'm doing these days, I am even more grateful to my Polish readers because thanks to them, I can airily say, "I give retreats in Poland" instead of  just "Oh, you know. This and that.")

Seraphapalooza Confirmed

Okay, Toronto Seraphapalooza on Saturday evening (the 16th) at 7ish at a location you can find out by sending me an email. So far two readers are coming, and the more, the merrier!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Cut-Price Chocolate Day!


I shall tell you what I did on Valentine's Day, I, the married woman. I woke up to an email from my husband saying he had arrived alive at the Historical House, so I was happy about that. Then I blogged. Then I sailed out to see a married friend and she took me out for lunch, a pedicure and a walk in one of my favourite Toronto neighbourhoods while she assembled ingredients for a great Valentine's Day feast for her husband. Then I rushed off to Starbucks to meet a reader, and she told me a beautiful story, and then I went home to my parents. To my delight, my youngest sister had made chocolate brownies. Apparently the batter was in a heart shape when she put it in the oven, but it didn't come out in a heart shape. (An idea for next year's Christmas present emerges. Ooh! Those must be on sale today, too!)

I felt a bit guilty as I watched my friend plot out a glorious Valentine's Day feast for her husband. It has never occurred to me to make a glorious Valentine's Day feast for my husband because I think of Valentine's Day as All About the Girls. Fortunately, a few moments' reflection reminded me that he also thinks of it as a girl's day and, in fact, he prefers to do the cooking.  Therefore, there was no reason to feel guilty.

How did Operation Valentinus go?

Update: Sudden revelation, thanks to the Valentine's Day Bandit (see combox). The way Christians can take back Valentine's Day is to make Valentine's Day not about "romantic love" but about making sure others--not just a sweetheart or spouse--feel loved and/or cherished.

I realize that is what I have been getting at with Operation Valentinus, but I never put it into words. If we all make Valentine's Day about anyone (or everyone) we are fond of, then there is absolutely no reason to get in a chippy anti-Valentine's Day mood every year. And we'd still be buying stuff, so this won't threaten the powers that rule the card-chocolate-rose-sparkly heart industries. ;-)

Personally I love cards, chocolates, roses and sparkly hearts.

By the way, can I get a report on picketing "The V-- Monologues"?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

V-Day 2013

Update (20:40 EST): The Lady M.Div. is IN. Feel free to leave comments and questions, if you feel like asking questions, in the combox, and I'll answer pronto. (Otherwise, carry on with your evening film, activities, etc. I shall while away the time with depressing Polish tango songs.)

Update 2 (23:15 EST): The Lady M.Div. is OUT and going to bed. Zzzz. Whose saint's day is tomorrow?


B.A. flew back to Scotland yesterday, taking a good chunk of my heart with him, which puts me in an appropriately gloomy mood for Valentine's Day. Solidarność!

Good morning, ladies.

My cardinal rule for Valentine's Day is EXPECT NOTHING, and this is helpful not only for Single  Girls without Boyfriends, but for Single Girls with Boyfriends and indeed Married Women.  Boyfriends and Husbands are terrible mind-readers, and they often underestimate the importance of Valentine's Day, let alone understand what it is supposed to look like. If  a woman with a boyfriend or husband lets go all of her ideas of what Valentine's Day is supposed to look like, she may find herself pleasantly surprised.

When I was a child, I was not at all rooted in reality, and I used to imagine that something might happen THAT Valentine's Day although nothing exciting and romantic had happened the Valentine's Day before or the Valentine's Day before that and, anyway, I was twelve. This bad Valentine's Day mental habit continued through high school, although it was not as unrooted in reality as there were Valentine's Day candygrams, and sometimes I got one.

I suppose I should explain candygrams. The candygram was the most exciting method of communication in my teenage life. In short, candygrams were notes delivered from the boys' high schools to the girls' high schools and handed over by the student council with the appropriately seasonal piece of candy. (They were also notes delivered to the boys' high schools from the girls' high schools and handed over by their student councils with the appropriate candy, unless the student council cheated and ate all the candy, as I seem to recall a boy claiming his did.)

The advent of the candygrams was announced over the public address system during "The Announcements" or a note was posted up outside the Student Council room and the news spread like mono throughout the student population. The result was 900 girls crammed between a stairwell and a door to have a look at the Candygram List.

Oh, the joy of seeing one's own name on the Candygram list--especially if it had (2) or even (3) written beside it! I'd like to tell you that it was nothing, NOTHING, to the news that Seraphic Singles would be published as a book but---alas. I'm not sure it was. Like Tosca, as a teenager I lived for art and for love. Sadly, the love was entirely unrequited, but at least I got some candygrams and, therefore, respect.

The one shadowy part of candygrams was that I never knew whether I had received a candygram because I was the delightful sort of girl teenage boys loved to send candygrams to, or because I had sent the senders candygrams myself and they were sending candygrams back only to be polite.  As the boys to whom I tended to send Candygrams  were strictly brought up by their Middle European immigrant parents, I fear the latter.

In hindsight, if I could live high school all over again, I would try to think more strategically about boys, as it is laughable to imagine I could live high school all over again without thinking of boys at all.

And this brings me back to Valentine's Day because it reminds me that we have choices in this life. We can be super-modern and send men valentines in the hope that they will send us valentines back. Or we can be traditional and hope we get valentines anyway and grieve when we don't. Or we can be traditional, hope we get valentines anyway and make sure we have organized a nice treat for ourselves so there will be no grieving.

Now, I will be out having a coffee at 17:30 Eastern Standard Time, but I will be back by 20:00, when I will sit by the computer waiting for comments to respond to. So we can all have a lovely chat in the combox, if you like.

Meanwhile, a very happy Valentine's Day to all my little Singles.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Love of Friends

Love of place, love of music, love of family, love of friends....

I've noticed that a number of popular television shows center on casts of friends. I wonder if it represents a shift from shows about families. In the Eighties, "Cheers" seemed to be unique in that it portrayed a loyal group of friends rather than a loyal family. But in the wake of "Friends" and "Sex and the City", today we have "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory"  among the other shows that advertise themselves on the television in the Historical House.  And I am wondering if the fantasy of a family whose problems can be solved, forgiven and forgotten in 30 minutes has been replaced by the fantasy of a group of friends who never break up because their problems can also be solved, forgiven and (mostly) forgotten in 30 minutes.

Could it be that it has become romantic to have a big group of friends?

To be a migrant is to have part of your heart in one country and the other in another, and it is rare to feel that your heart is whole. This week my heart has been whole because for once I have been in Canada with B.A, who brings Edinburgh with him wherever he goes. The only time this trip  I have pined for Edinburgh was Monday morning when I heard about the abdication and wanted desperately to organize an emergency dinner party so that my EF friends could gather together in an upper room (so to speak) and drink a lot of gin while we made sense of the business.

But otherwise I have been very happy and, having had a good visit with all my family, have begun to go out and find my Toronto friends.

Yesterday B.A. and I went to my Canadian theological school to see a priest friend, and we were summoned to his office for, said the receptionist, he said there was another friend there who'd like to see me.

What a surprise I got.

"Hello, Old One," said a twenty-something year old man in a chair.

"Hello, Small One," I said. "I mean, Young One."

Some years ago I was did an internship as an assistant college chaplain. Among the students who liked to hang out in the chaplaincy offices was a teenage discerner. Somehow we began to call each other "Old One" and "Young One." He says now that this is because I hated being thought of as old, and that there is nothing a teenage undergrad hates more than being reminded that he is young.

I am not so sure of this interpretation. Personally, I think young men love being cheerily insolent to older women if they can get away with it, and certainly I enjoy putting young men in their place, if only with the information that I am older and therefore naturally wiser than they. And, ironically, although Young One constantly called me Old One, he was the friendliest of the bunch, the one who most seemed to enjoy the company of the Old.

Amusingly, the sympathy between Young One and Old One led to the one-and-only-time I earned a professional rebuke for ministerial boundary-crossing. If I remember this correctly, I encountered Young One on his way to Mass during some college break, when almost all the undergrads but he had gone home. It may have been Easter Sunday.  Afterwards I was going to lunch with a number of fellow theology students, including men of the religious order Young One was discerning, so on impulse I invited him along. Young One accepted the invitation with alacrity, as otherwise he would have had a boring and lonely afternoon, so off we went to lunch.  

I do not remember how this came to the ears of my immediate supervisor. Perhaps, I told the supervisor myself. But I do remember I got a LECTURE.

Personally, I thought it  ridiculous that it could be wrong to invite a bored and lonely undergrad to a restaurant Sunday lunch with a bunch of grad students of theology, some of whom were male religious a serious discerner quite naturally might like to meet.  I speak as one who had already listened to no fewer than three seminars on Healthy Boundaries in Ministry. Of course you cannot get romantically or sexually involved with those to whom you minister, even if you are a Single laywoman, but we cannot allow paranoia to stop us from being friendly.

That is my one exciting story about Young One, who is now Young One, [Initial, Initial], and it reminds me of this article I wrote for the CR, which you might enjoy.  

Single people, more than anyone else, must rejoice in their friends.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Seraphapalooza Toronto

Well, which Toronto gals would like to meet up this weekend? Not Valentine's Day--too difficult to arrange--but thereafter?

I'm thinking The Black Sheep in North York (Yonge and Sheppard)--if it still exists, that is. (Must check!)

Love of Family

So far I have written about love of place and love of music as part of a run-up to Valentine's Day. I noticed various splashes of red-white-and-pink in Montreal, where I spent the weekend, and they reminded me to keep the theme going.

The romance of place and the romance of music are less problematic than the romance of family. We can see our favourite places and hear our favourite music through a rosy haze and nothing brings us down to earth with a bump. But families, which involve assortments of personalities, rather resist the rosy glow. Although various members may not be rooted in reality, family is pretty darn real.

My parents had five children who are now grown up, and as we have no uncles and aunts living, family life revolves around us and our own children, of whom we now have three. The contrast between the lives of the children is almost amusing. In Montreal, Peanut and Popcorn ran their scientist/tech parents ragged all weekend, whereas in Toronto on Monday evening Pirate merely said he didn't want to eat his dessert right away when he was metaphorically sat upon by grandparents, uncles and aunts.  

I hope you are struck by my use of the third person plural, my assertion that my parents' children have our own children and that we have three. Although families are composed of individuals, they are more than the sum of individuals, and there are certainly roles other than Parent, Grandparent, Child and Grandchild. There are, for example, Sister and Aunt, Brother and Uncle. There is even, in some households, Nanny. Families are not just I + I +I but WE, and this idea of WE is romantic enough to fuel an industry for the people who sell "family tartans." But although "We, Clan McAmbrose" is actually a polite fiction, "We, Our Family" is neither polite nor fictional. It just is for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.

Living so far from my family as I have for almost four years, being in Canada among them is a great treat. I very much enjoy family dinner--there has been family dinner almost every evening for over 39 years--but what I like even more is everyone doing their own thing under the same roof. One of my favourite memories from Family Christmas in the Historical House was seeing everyone sitting around the living room, wrapped in blankets or cardigans, reading books or laptop screens. To me reading a book as others chat or read is peace and bliss.

And of course I also like to watch the antics of my nephews and niece and hear the stories of their adventures and bon-mots. The battle of wills between my niece and her parents over her violin practice may have been hard work for them, but it was fun for me, and we were all rewarded by Popcorn finally scraping her way through "Twinkle, Twinkle." Popcorn is two years old.

B.A. and I were rather dazed by how much work parenting (as opposed to mere uncle-ing and aunting) is. Like farmers, our brother and sister-in-law seem to work from dawn to dusk. When they are not at the office, they are shovelling one child into or out of snow pants while restraining the other from destroying the sitting-room. On Sunday mornings, my brother is a church organist, and I was quickly pressed into service in the choir loft to make sure neither nephew nor niece tumbled out of it.

One of the aspects of my life as an aunt is that I had no aunts myself, so I am making up the role as I go along. Measured by hugs, I think I am doing a pretty good job so far.  Meanwhile, I hope Popcorn forgot all about me after her valedictory hug at her pre-school classroom door yesterday morning. Last year  after enthusiastically waving as my train left the station, she waited for my train to come back, and burst into tears when it didn't.

Story of a Good Man

It has blizzards, peril, chivalry and rescue. What a nice story I have been sent! So here it is (with permission) for you all to read:


First, my thoughts are with you and the rest of the Catholic world today after hearing the news from Rome. 

Second, I wanted to share a story of a good man. I live in an area that was really hit hard by the blizzard this weekend. We got 2.5 feet of really heavy snow in just over 12 hours. I was home alone, my roommates having left ahead of the storm, when our power went out around 11 pm. When I sent a griping text to this friend about my situation, he insisted that I could not spend the night alone in my house with no heat. He walked out in the blizzard, got his car, and came to rescue me. That may make it sound easy, but was the most horrific weather I have ever been out driving in and required much shoveling out of snowbanks on his part. I then spent the weekend safe and warm on the air mattress in his living room until my power came back on. 

It was maybe not the smartest thing that either of us has ever done, but it is certainly the most chivalrous thing anyone has ever done for me, and I wanted to share. I would love to scream it from the rooftops, but I suspect that this friend would be embarrassed if I made too much of it to our mutual friends.

Rescued from Snow

I love a good Good Man story! I think we should tell them at parties because, my goodness, if men eavesdrop on us at Seraphic Singles, you can bet that they eavesdrop at parties. Good Man stories would make them feel pleased by association and like they have a handle on what we think is Good Man behaviour.

Incidentally, it is necessary to say a praiseworthy man is "such a good man," not "so nice" because men don't like the word nice, and if you say another man is "so nice", they (or some of them, especially from certain countries) think "wimp."

There is space in the combox for more Good Man stories.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Pray for the Holy Father

Girls, I'm very sorry if you hear it first from me. I woke up early and found out from European friends on Facebook, and then woke up poor B.A.

The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who is very old and, I suspect, growing very ill, is abdicating.

If you are a Catholic, you may be shocked and saddened by this news, and thinking about how John Paul II was a model to us of dying. I certainly did. John Paul II died very publicly, perhaps to show us how illness, old age and death should not be shunned with fear and shame. However, if there is anyone who knows what affect an ill, old and dying pontiff has on the health of the Church, it must be Benedict XVI.

Damian Thompson has sensible commentary.

But, oh dear, what a time to be away from our Extraordinary Form community! Our priest is on holiday , too, so we all have to face this crisis without him. Oh dear!

Update: Feel free to use the combox to emote, although don't scare anybody with St. Malarky or whatever his name is purported to be. Such a shock when I checked Facebook this morning; I woke up early (jetlag continues) so I got the news only about fifty minutes later than friends in Rome.

What a lot has happened in eight years! Personally, I am very grateful for Summorum Pontificum and also for the new Anglican Ordinariate, although don't tell the Eavesdroppers I said that. I am also grateful that Keith Cardinal O'Brien, unlike some other bishops I can think of, took Summorum Pontificum seriously.

Today is a sad day for a lot of Trids because we saw Benedict XVI as our great protector from powerful people who simply cannot understand or appreciate the rich liturgical and theological traditions of the Church and want to sweep of them away to give more oxygen to some new but over-flogged and dying liturgical and theological horses. Many of us might also be a little scared because abdicating is not very trad. Dying in office is trad. Abdicating is not. However, there is nothing we can do but pray and trust that Papa Ratzi knows what he is doing and that he knows best.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Love of Music

Yesterday I very much felt love of place for I took Benedict Ambrose around my favourite part of my hometown, the St. George campus of the University of Toronto, in the beautiful blizzard. The University of Toronto, which is distinguished by much Victorian and Edwardian Neo-Gothic and Neo-Tudor flourishes, looks at its very best in the snow.

We had planned to see the permanent collection the Art Gallery of Ontario but, innocent Edinburghers, we weren't counting on the $19.50 (each) tickets and had already spent too much on lunch. Feeling mad at myself, I led B.A. to streetcar and subway and Royal Ontario Museum, but instead of turning right to the Museum (which, whisper it, I find a little boring), I turned left and took B.A. to the Faculty of Music.

The new Faculty of Music building (not so new anymore) has a big atrium with benches upon which music students lurk. A big one in a woolly hat twinkled at me before he was distracted by a fellow student behind him.

"Mikhail! Mikhail! I need you to help me with my Russian. I'm doing a paper on Shostakovich."

A cello growled noisily from down one of the halls, but the most beautiful thing was the view out the window of a rare example of Toronto Regency and, across a snowy expanse, neo-Gothic Trinity College. We soon went out into the snow towards it. B.A., who knows everything about church architecture, explained to me its chapel.

After touring Trinity College--its Germanic chapel, its neo-Tudor refectory--we crossed snow-choked Huron Street to Crux Books, the world's best theological book store, and then popped into Tudor-Gothic Hart House. As I led B.A. to its Great Hall, we were stopped outside the windowed doors of one of the long chambers by the sound of Chopin's "Polonaise in A-flat major."

We peeked in and saw a blond, bespectacled young man seated at a grand piano by the neo-Tudor windows. He had long white fingers and he was not doing such a bad job of it, although he was taking some corners dangerously quick. I thought of my brother in Montreal playing Chopin until his hands hurt so much he shoved them under the kitchen faucet.

I am fortunate that I grew up in house where classical music was valued, but unfortunate in that as a student of the piano, I was very much a plodder--a reluctant one, at that. When it came to music, I had no work ethic, and it certainly never crossed my mind that music could be play. That my brother played the piano for hours and hours a day because he wanted to was a magical and enviable quirk of his personality. But happily some of his love of music rubbed off on me. One of the best aspects of my childhood was waking up on a Saturday morning to the smell of coffee and waffles and the sound of my little brother playing Mozart et alia on the piano.

Hearing my brother play the piano is still one of my favourite things in the world.  (I write this in part in the hope that after he picks up B.A. and me from the train station, he will consent to play me more Chopin, but it is no less true). I also love to hear my husband and his friends sing the Kyrie from Byrd's Three-Part Mass in our echoing stairwell. I love Bach (B.A. approves) and Mozart (B.A. does not approve), and after European travel, my favourite indulgence is the opera.

I know this is easy for me to say, but if I were a young widow (sorry, B.A., that I am always slaughtering you to make a Single Life point), and I had to choose between human romance and ever hearing classical piano music again, I think I would have to pick the piano.

What music moves you most?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Update on Rattling Tin

Thanks again to all readers who pitched in to help me this week, last and not least being M.C., who now goes on my February prayer list. I have now removed my rattling tin because, to my astonishment, the London Media Outlet that promised to pay in January and didn't, has now paid.

Which leaves me feeling a bit dumb and overly cynical because I definitely thought I would have write a strong letter followed by scary legal forms that could be filed only in London, etc. Still, I darned well sold them that piece in October.

So you may very well wonder what I am going to do with your tips. Well, I'll tell you. Whereas my writing fee has gone into our British account, your tips have gone straight into the Canadian account from which I pay Mr Credit Card. So the tips will pay Mr Credit Card and the fee will sit in the Scottish account waiting for the next emergency, whatever it may be. My first bleg was, if I remember correctly, inspired by an insurance-less root canal.

I hope the 43 donors are okay with this!

Talking about money is terribly embarrassing, but I feel there ought to be full disclosure, especially in the blogosphere where most bloggers don't get paid except by their readers in tips. For some reason Patheos has never come knocking on my seventeenth-century door, and I will not put up ads. Blogger doesn't let you discriminate against ads, and the ads I would be saddled with would most likely be for Singles dating websites.
I shall now tell you a story about advertising. When I was a child, I was in a gifted program, and therefore spent a day a week in another school being subjected to educational experiments. One day the "Gifted Kids" were taken away to a special conference about which I remember nothing except a very long and fascinating monologue by a bearded priest who had had once had a nervous breakdown, which we knew because he told us. Hey, it was the 1980s.

Anyway, besides telling us that while he was a missionary in Africa, watching topless women breast-feed taught him how very beautiful and innocent female breasts are, he told us how vile and despicable the advertising industry was and made us all promise never to become advertisers.

Thirty years later I wonder if he soon had another nervous breakdown and/or took off to get married or whether his amazing and compelling hour-long rant was fueled by drugs. But it doesn't matter because along with the idea that the naked human body is in itself beautiful and innocent, I believed his hypothesis that advertisers are in the business of making money by making people feel unhappy and that only by buying something will they feel better.

And here is a story about Saint Ignatius. Saint Ignatius told the early Jesuits that they could not charge for spiritual direction; they could only take donations. And my first theology school, a Jesuit institution, was very much the poor cousin of the colleges of the University of Toronto. The professors worked very hard for their students and the school, for many at the cost of their own professional advancement. Talented men who join the S.J. in many Provinces, at very least, the poorer Provinces are making a real sacrifice. (Life in the SJ killed Gerard Manley Hopkins.) And then there are the richer Provinces of the USA.

When I went to visit Boston College, I was led around the beautiful, manicured campus by a fellow Lonerganian. It stank of money. I don't really have a problem with money and I accepted the fellowship fast enough, but there was something off-putting about a Jesuit institution that charged students $40,000 a year, especially when I never, ever heard a Southie accent among the students, only among the groundsmen and one very aged Jesuit who could also sing in Irish Gaelic.

Anyway, the Lonerganian led me past a new building--I think it was named after Saint Ignatius, although I am not sure--and he told me it had cost a million dollars.  A million dollars--and my Canadian theology school was in a converted parking garage!  It really, really bothered me. Maybe that was silly. But I wondered at once what St. Ignatius would have thought of that, and I used to visit the ugly, modern metal statue of him and say, "Where are you?"

If you work for a business--like that London Media Outlet or Patheos or  Catholic Match---of course you must be paid by that business. But if you work for God, or think you work for God, or other people think you work for God, well....  The mind travels back to St. Ignatius.

Love of Place

One clever reader said that she doesn't like trash-men, anti-Valentine's Day Valentine's Day parties, and I think she's onto something there. It is foolish to spit on something good, like romantic love, when deep in your heart you know it is good. It is a much better idea to celebrate it--although how to do that when you don't have a love interest, boyfriend or husband can be a puzzle.

One solution is to make Valentine's Day about love, not just romantic love, which is what you have done when you have sent cards, chocolate or party plans to your Single girlfriends.

But you don't have to rule out romance entirely. For example, many people, including many artists, feel passionate love for their own countries, their cultures, even their fellow countrymen. In the 21st century, with our worries about (or, sadly, embrace of) racism, this can make some of us--especially in shame-bedeviled English-speaking countries--rather nervous.

But thank heavens nineteenth-century poets and twentieth-century songwriters did not share our timidity about expressing love for our countries, cultures and people! If they had, how impoverished we would be, and some of us might not even have a country. If your nation has been free from foreign rule for over 200 years, you might take national identity for granted: not so the Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Lithuanians, Latvians...

Personally I do not see why loving your own country and your own folk better than other countries and other folk makes you more likely to go to war or be a hateful person than an old hippy like Gilles Vigneult, who wrote, "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver." ("My country is not a country; it's winter.")

As a matter of fact I grew up in Toronto--which Hilary White often says is not really Canada--at a time when the chattering classes (mostly from Toronto) were taking apart the notion of what it was to be a Canadian in our post-1967, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country. As a child I longed to be Swiss, for the Swiss seemed to have a strong national identity and knew who they were, and didn't think being Swiss was reduced to just having a Swiss passport. I also envied French-Canadians, especially in Quebec, for their unique culture was not at all masked or swept away or (then) even threatened by immigration.

Migration does something odd in that it separates a culture or one's sense of oneself as belonging to a nation from a geographical place. One of the odder sights in my parents' neighbourhood is a Pakistani man who shovels snow in traditional Pakistani clothing. Whereas those clothes are probably absolutely perfect for the climate of Pakistan, they make absolutely no sense whatsoever in the northern parts of Toronto in February. But perhaps he is afraid Western clothing will make him Western, which he does not want to be, although he certainly now lives in the West.

I think one should live where one loves, and if one can't live in the beloved place for some reason, then to learn to love where one lives. If this proves impossible, then one should move. On the plane yesterday, B.A. pointed to Toronto out the window, and as I looked at the dear old ugly town, my heart sank and I felt very homesick for Edinburgh. I find it hard to love a city which constantly cannibalizes itself, and which constantly tears down the places I have lived and loved and even studied. In Edinburgh, the homes of my Edinburgh great-grandparents are still standing. In Toronto, my theological college has been ripped down.  Edinburgh preserves and offers its past; Toronto is about money and food. Torontonians don't preserve; we consume.

But Toronto does have snow and it does have trees, and so I can find my love for Canada as Canadians traditionally have, in the weather and the wilderness.

Mon pays ce n'est pay un pays, c'est l'hiver.

And there is also the romance of other places--particularly cities. Paris, for example, is considered wonderfully romantic by womankind, and this has nothing to do with Frenchmen--or potential French boyfriends anyway. (Personally, the concepts of French pastry chef, French baker, French chef and French designer have always thrilled me more than the idea of French boyfriend although I imagine many women would protest.) Just BEING in Paris--always within five minutes of a patisserie--is enough.

Rome is also very romantic and, again, this has nothing to do with boys, although at my age it is particularly flattering to have 20 year olds sigh "Bellissima" at me, the charming wee liars. Florence is very romantic. Venice is romantic. The Rhine Valley is very romantic, if you are lucky enough not to know 20th century battlefield details. Edinburgh is romantic. The Highlands are stunning.

Frankfurt is probably not romantic, but I am very fond of it anyway. I am also very fond of Warsaw.

Well, that is certainly enough from me. But if I am in a mood to celebrate romance on Valentine's Day, which is the day after my husband goes back to Scotland, I think I will read travel books or go for a walk in the snow.

What places do you love best, and which places do you think romantic?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Sweet Potato Fries & Merci Beaucoup!

Despite my gloomy preparations, B.A. and I survived our Atlantic crossing. My parents met us at the airport with news that the biggest snowstorm in five years would be arriving at 4 PM. Well, it is 2:50 PM, and here is the snow.

Happily, the prediction did not dissuade them from taking us to lunch at one of my favourite local delis, a deli I have been thinking about since the last time I saw an American diner on telly. After pondering matzoh ball soup, kreplach and latkes, I ordered a corned-beef on rye, coleslaw and sweet potato fries. Ahhhh! Home in the neighbourhood! L'Chaim!

"I've only seen corned beef in tins from Argentina," said Scottish B.A. and, later, "This is nothing like corned beef in tins from Argentina."

"Just wait until Montreal," I said. "I will take you to the Schwartz Charcuterie Hebraique where you will have Montreal smoked meat, fries and black cherry cola."

My parents don't live in Scotland, so they may have been taken aback when before lunch I danced in the kitchen shouting, "Jewish food! Jewish food! Yay!"

For two whole weeks I don't even have to look at Scottish food. Whoo-hoo!

The one thing that makes me sad is that it is Tłusty Czwartek, and there is no Polish bakery around in which to queue for pącki (rosehip jam doughnuts). For that I'd have to go a long way downtown--a bus, a subway train, and then another bus, and no, thank you. Especially not now that the snowstorm is here. But a happy Tłusty Czwartek to all my Polish readers!

And now I must send out more thanks and promises of prayers to my latest benefactresses and they are FV, AM, MM, JK, MH and MD.  The short-term damage wrought by the reluctance of a debtor to pay me has been almost eradicated. So I am very relieved, and I sincerely hope that none of you threw more in the pot than you could afford. 8-O

Update: Here is my latest, and probably my most depressing, CR column. I wrote it after writing about sexually bullying on this blog and reading your remarks.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

More Thanks and St. Dorothy's Day

I am in the middle of cleaning the flat, packing, tying up my literary legacy in case the Atlantic Ocean gets me, so I am rather frazzled. But I must thank JW, BS, FK, ER,LW, ES, JS, NW, CD (who shouldn't have but she's a girl, so ok, xox), DB, CL,CB,MG, JV and RK. Onto the prayer list you all go.

Today is the Feast of St Dorothy, who has a particularly beautiful story, I am pleased to say.  After Vatican II, the Bollandists suggested that she never existed, but I found an altar with her remains underneath in Trastevere, so I say to Bollandists, whatev-ah! Talk to the hand.

In short, Saint Dorothy was a Christian girl in Cappadocia who got caught in one of the Diocletian persecutions and was brought to trial. A lawyer thought it a shame to execute such a cute Christian crumpet, and offered to marry her instead. She said, "No, thank you, I would rather go and die with the rest of my Extraordinary Form of the Mass parish fellow Christians, but thank you all the same. Would you like me to send you something from heaven?"

"Erm," said the lawyer, taken rather aback. "Sure. Send me some fruit and flowers."

Later he was at some deplorable Roman men-only supper where his friends joked at him for being turned down by cute Christian crumpet. But they all shut up when an angel appeared with a basket of fruit and flowers, (A) because, you know, angels and (B) because even in Ancient Rome fruit and flowers were rather scarce in February.

Among other people, Saint Dorothy is the patroness of brides, which I do not quite understand because she chose to die and go to heaven right away rather than to become a bride. However, I think  is must be because she is a gentle saint, and people should be gentle to brides, who are usually under a lot of stress, especially if they are the young and traditional kind.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

You Never Know What's Going On In Other People's...

Single people rarely live with your Married friends, so you very rarely get a ringside seat to what their Married life is really like. In many ways, this is a good thing. There is such a thing as private, family life, and few Married couples want their friends to hear their most personal remarks, e.g. "Your toenails are like daggers!" and "That's not how my mother makes spaghetti" and "Where the **** is my handbag, AAAAAAAAAAH!"

But this means that you see your Married friends most at their absolute personal best, e.g. when they are in their first flush of LOVE (sparkle) and engaged (sparkle, sparkle) and on their wedding day (sparkle, sparkle, sparkle).  After that, you might not see them that much anymore, especially if they have kids. All this may leave you with an idealistic view of what their married life is like.

Adding to the sparkle-sparkle-disappear factor is the loyalty of many Married couples to each other and the shared project (if I may call it that) called their marriage. Where I come from, you never, ever, ever complain about your husband to anyone but--in very trying circumstances--your mother, priest or doctor and--in the most extreme circumstances--the police, your lawyer and the judge. Meanwhile (where I come from) a wife expects her husband to be even more circumspect: not even the police and judge for him, poor man. All this, of course, is the (slightly problematic) IDEAL, from which one (even where I come from) sometimes falls short.

Then there are Married women who out-and-out lie. I once had a friend who was so loyal to her Project Called Marriage that she pretended to me that her life was absolutely perfect. Even sleepless nights with colicky babies were a joy---while they were going on. It was years before she admitted that they had driven her to breaking point. And I was convinced that there never was a happier marriage. I used to think, as I nursed the long hurt of my failed marriage, that at least she was happy, and at least there was one perfect marriage in the world.

"Why don't you have more children?" I asked one day as we met up for a long-awaited lunch. "Your kids are so beautiful."

She laughed. She told me that everything was so perfect right then, she didn't want anything to change.

Within a year she left her husband, and I finally heard the real story.

Well, what can I say? Marriage may be private but it is also public, and one of the building blocks of society. It's not just about a couple and their family; it's about the couple, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their parishes, their societies. Everyone. I put down the phone, rigid with horror and disillusionment. It wasn't just the unhappiness of a family I loved, and it wasn't just that I had been out-and-out lied to by a friend I trusted, it's that a sparkling symbol of my own hopes had just imploded.  

It's a truism that nobody knows how a marriage works, sometimes not even the two people in it. And I think it is salutary to reflect on the traditional sugar-covered almonds served at weddings. The sugar represents the sweetness of marriage, and the almond--which retains its bitter skin--reminds us of its sorrows. A wedding, with its new clothes, delicious food, joy and jollity, does not sum up marriage. It expresses hope for marriage. Very few married women, I think, say to a married couple, "I know you'll be very happy." What we almost always say, with great sincerity and sometimes with tears, is "I hope you'll be very happy."