Pals, Not Prey
"I'm going to the Newman Centre to find a husband," I announced to my parents one evening. "Pray to St. Joseph for me."
I was well over thirty at the time, and I remember that my father in particular was amused by my bluntness. While convalescing from grad school in the US, I was given to loud, dramatic statements like that. "I'm a ripe fruit withering on the vine," was another one.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said my kindly father.
It was a rather dull evening at the Newman Centre, I remember. We half-watched the Dorothy Day movie while we talked and I looked in vain for husband material. I was well-behaved and boring, which probably did not stand me in good stead. It's a good thing I was rather blunter with my blog-pal Aelianus and said things like, "I want to get married. Who do you have for me, Aelianus? I'm looking at your Facebook friends..."
I met Benedict Ambrose because of Aelianus, Boeciana and Berenike, who were all blog-friends in the UK, devout Roman Catholics of great intellectual integrity, fans of my writing, beginning with my serial "Why Seraphic Hung Up Her Gloves" (renamed The Flyer's Ring). I came to the UK to meet whatever British blog-pals I could in person, and that is how I met Benedict Ambrose in person. I decided when I first saw his online photo that we were going to be just friends, even though he was smart, devout, had a great sense of humour and was very probably into me, or would be if we met.
Reflections on the first thirty-eight years of my life lead me to conclude that the best way to approach the question of finding a husband is to focus on making friends. Covert husband-hunting is actually a bad idea, quite ruinous to your peace of mind. Although it is morally superior to hunting easy sex, it is in the same acquisitive spirit. And it sounds like a recipe for disaster: women in bars hunting marital conquests among men hunting sexual conquests. Or Catholic women brazenly chasing old-fashioned Catholic men who want to do the chasing themselves, thanks.
So when you go to college or join a club or take a night class or go to a conference, don't look over all the men like a desert sheikh at a slave auction, mentally rejecting the ordinary-looking ones and fixating on the cutest. Just strike up a conversation with whoever is beside you, male or female. Repeat. You're a friendly person, and you want to make friends. That's it. One day, barring falling in love with religious life or deciding you prefer Single life or some unfortunate catastrophe, you will marry one of the male ones. Maybe you'll talk to him first. Maybe he'll see your friendly face across the room and talk to you first. It will all begin with a friendly, perhaps even flirty, conversation. And, in my case, it began online because I enjoy friendly conversations with readers, and B.A. was a friendly reader, and also the friend Aelianus told me about, the one I should meet.
And now I will say something about temporary boyfriends. Read carefully.
Men are not collectibles
When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I got it into my head, probably from sheer observation, that dating usually involved being dumped or dumping someone yourself. I started dating at fourteen, probably because my mother thought dating was still just agreeing to go with someone somewhere nice, like the prom, not the beginning of a romantic relationship. I believed dating had built-in obsolescence and was by its very nature a temporary arrangement that would lead to marriage or rejection. The more "relationships" you had, the more popular and desirable you obviously were. Although I liked them a lot and assumed I would eventually marry them, and talked about it seriously, I ultimately had very little sense of loyalty to whichever current boyfriend. Familiarity bred contempt, I am afraid, and when I got bored or fed up and--in one case--warned to flee by a female relation--that was it. In one case, the problem was that I was a disloyal, self-absorbed and spoiled little madam who was not rooted in reality. In the other cases, I should never have let things get started in the first place. After three dates--and only three (not three thousand) meals at his (and then his, and then his) expense--I should have asked myself some hard questions. Unfortunately, nobody ever told me that or gave me a talk about JUSTICE.
We talk a lot about dating and chastity, and we sometimes talk about dating and violence, but we never talk about dating and justice.
Men think about money the way we think about sex
Seraphic at 18: All I owe a man who pays for my dinner is the pleasure of my company.
Seraphic Now: Yeah, I know Mum said that, but what does that actually MEAN?
Seraphic at 18: Uh, he gets to spend time talking to me, and men like talking to women?
Seraphic Now: So he's paying in food to talk to you, like Jake Barnes having dinner with the hooker in The Sun Also Rises?
Seraphic at 18: NO! I guess it means that, uh, I'm a good dinner companion? Um. That he wants to give me a present? To show that he likes me? As a courtship gesture?
Seraphic Now: I think we are getting somewhere. So how many courtship gesture dinners should he have to pay for?
Seraphic at 18: Well, all of them, I guess. If he wants to have dinner with me, he'll have to pay for it. I don't want to spend my own money having expensive dinners!
Seraphic Now: You wouldn't spend your own hard-earned cash having dinner with this man?
Seraphic at 18: No! I'm saving for something IMPORTANT.
Seraphic Now: In that case, I think you should call it quits.
I have eaten way too many free dinners in my time. (I don't expect much social fallout for saying that for the male reaction will be "SUCKERS" to the unfortunate men involved and "Finally some woman admits it" to me.) And this is why I now hold that after coffee (it's just coffee, more anon) and two subsequent dates, a woman should decide if this guy is worth spending her own hard-earned money to see. She may have already been saying "Let me get part of this" and "Well, at least let me get coffee afterwards", which is just good manners, especially when he is still a student. But after the third date, if you continue seeing this man, you must contribute to your outings--at least a third, or whatever seems fair to you, based on your income. Otherwise, if it all goes belly-up, he is going to resent the vast sums he spent. I am beginning to believe that men feel the way about money women feel about sex. Women worry that men will take sexual advantage of them (and some men do), and men worry that women will take financial advantage of them (and some women do).
All this said, when a Single man asks you for coffee, and you have no reason to believe he is a bad man, like a habitual PUA or sex tourist, have the coffee. It's just coffee. Your coffee and his coffee, plus two pieces of cake will cost, max, 10 pounds, ten pence in expensive Edinburgh, a whole lot less in Poland or the USA. He can handle that. It's no big deal. It is so psychically good for him that you say yes, that you really are doing him a favour. So let him pay for the coffee if he insists. He may never ask you out again, for whatever reason, but you will have improved his confidence as a man an eeny weeny bit, and that is a very good thing, especially if he is a Catholic man looking for a Catholic wife. Your generosity and subsequent loss could be another Catholic girl's gain.
If he does ask you on a "proper" date afterwards, unless you now have reason to believe that he is a bad man, I think you should go. It's just dinner. One dinner, or even one dinner and a show will not break him. And if he completely makes an idiot of himself, but has the guts to ask you out a third time, I think you should go (unless he has proved himself to be a bad man), but take charge of the venue. Choose somewhere unpretentious and inexpensive yet not, you know, somewhere that screams "break up" like McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Just somewhere easy on the wallet, like a diner. But if he insists that the third date be at his place or your place, say no. Whereas I think three dates the correct number of times to decide if you want to continue encouraging a courtship or not, I am also aware that "three dates means sex" for the segment of the world who take their social cues from "The Big Bang Theory." Proposing sex on the third date is a deal-breaker. On the bright side, it's an opportunity to share the Gospel of Life. If he whines later to his pals, "I spent $50 over two dates and all I got was a sermon," he's the jerk, not you, as I hope his friends all tell him.
Any authentically good guy deserves an hour of your time over a cup of coffee, just for being an authentically good guy. Any Nice Catholic Boy who really is one deserves two dates after that. Let him do the asking, so you know he is willing to put his ego on the line for you. And let him pay if he really wants to. But after those three outings, you either have to tell him there is "no spark" or you are going to have to pay your way, at least most of the time, like you do with your other friends.
Meanwhile, when you are hanging out with male friends, going somewhere together but not as "a date", you have to pay, or at least offer and even insist most of the time. If he really wants to pay, you could raise an eyebrow and ask "Is this a date or a friend thing?" Boys talk (and how), and if you assume a male friend should pay for non-dates, he will complain to the other boys, and you may get a reputation as a gold-digger, alas. One of my vengeful ex's told mutual friends that I was cheap. Listen, I was worse than cheap. I felt entitled. He should have dumped ME.
With male friends, as with female friends, you are well within your rights to ask how much a proposed plan will cost you. And if you are the man friend who wonders why you end up paying for female friends all the time, you are going to have to speak up and say things like, "Tickets are $20, ladies; the cash machine is over there." Women are told so often that men have more money than us that we tend to believe it, even when the poor guy is a student who works in a coffee shop, if at all.
A nice young man told me the other day that what women value most in men is money. I thought that was hilarious. He expressed it in the same spirit in which women tell each other what men value most in women is sex. It's both true and not true at the same time. Women want to feel loved/protected, and men want to feel loved/respected. Women feel loved by men when they are given presents (even something as cheap-in-money as a letter or a handful of wild flowers), and men feel loved when they get physical expressions of affection, from hugs (female relations and friends) to the marital act (wife or mistress, er, partner). In general, I mean. Some men and women want respect even more than love (not that they are opposed), and I had a Jesuit classmate who hated being hugged by anyone. He would literally flee from women who chased him with arms outstretched. I can't think of any woman I know who hates presents, though.