Monday, 19 September 2016

Paradox Clarification

Last night I made the mistake of Googling myself--a strong temptation for a writer--and I discovered my immature self being roundly abused on a Catholic forum for this post a post I've  removed. I was comforted, however, by the memory of my mother saying, the first time I came crying to her about this sort of thing, "If you stick your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at."

Words to live by, especially if you are dumb enough to write about yourself on the internet. 

The point of my post was to muse, for the sake of the Single-and-panicking, on Phyllis Schlafly's warning to career-minded women that if we don't get married and have children, we will have a lonely old age. 

A more direct answer to her warning is, "Eligible bachelors haven't been knocking down my door, Phyllis."

I said something similar in an open letter to Mark Steyn years ago. 

Most women want to get married. That is, the majority of women in the west want to fall in love with good men we respect, live in tolerable economic circumstances, and enjoy a happy life of companionship with or without children resulting from our unions.  Sadly, infatuation or desperate loneliness will make us settle for less, if we let it. 

Having been unhappily married in my 20s and being now happily married in my 40s, I am a true believer in not settling. Childlessness has put this belief to the test, and I have concluded that I still believe in not settling. I'm glad I have Benedict Ambrose, and if I'm all alone in the nursing home, I will tell the nurses how great Benedict Ambrose was. Given the Scottish birthrate, the nurses will all be Polish, so it's a good thing I'll be fluent in Polish by then. I will be their special Polish-speaking pet, fed on cake smuggled in from the kitchen.

This, by the way, is the paradox: I'm simultaneously glad I married B.A. and sorry I didn't have children.

In my post I pondered why it was that I felt marrying any of a number of suitors would have been settling, and I observed that I myself was not mature enough to marry until 32, which my critics found blameworthy. Perhaps I might have pointed out that a bad marriage, divorce and annulment process can knock you right back to gibbering infancy, if you're unlucky.  The experience is why I have spent so many years writing variations on "Don't settle." 

Meanwhile, I did not (as is alleged) suffer menopause at 38. As far as I know, I'm still not there.The kind functionary who phoned up to smash my dreams of motherhood merely said I had hormone levels consistent with peri-menopause; I think I was over 40. It's not a day I treasure, so I'm not sure of the year. My mother had her last baby when she was 35, so fertility issues at 40+ was not a surprise. 

To return to the painful issue of immaturity, it was in hindsight a blessing, for like everything else it somehow led to marrying B.A. However, it is not something I would wish on anyone else, since you are not going to marry B.A.  Let us leave me out of it, except to use my experience to figure out how to cure immaturity. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the combox. 

How to Cure Your Own Immaturity

1. Stomp on the idea of serial dating.

Thanks to books about teenage life in the 1950s, I honestly thought that the point of dating was to go out on dates with as many boys as possible so as to figure out which was the best one to marry. This possibly made sense in the 1950s when the social trend was to marry young. 

It sort of made sense within Catholic circles, where the social trend was to marry soon after university graduation, although not really because there was no agreement among the boys that if Mary agreed to go out to the movies with Mike on Friday, Pat was still with in his rights to ask Mary to the college ball. Bad feelings could and did ensue.

If I knew then what I knew now, I would have said, "Sorry, So-and-so. I'm flattered that you like me, but I'm getting married to a Scottish guy in 2009." But, naturally, I didn't know that. 

Make a lot of friends of both sexes, but put off "dating" until you are a grown-up. I'm not sure how to tell when you have actually grown up. This will take more thought.

2. Understand ASAP that boys have feelings. 

Thanks to an unusually violent and profane group of elementary school classmates, I had doubts on this score. I did not know at the time that these boys were unusual. Meanwhile, thanks to the female pecking order, I absorbed the idea that as rotten as boys were, the more of them who were attracted to you, the more social caché you had. It didn't matter if you liked them or not. 

Although this may sound stupid, it was an idea reinforced by Gone with the Wind, almost all romance novels, and the works of Louisa May Alcott.  Louisa May would have been horrified, of course, as Polly in An Old-Fashioned Girl gave up trifling with an eligible bachelor for the sake of her best friend's feelings. Still, LMA did present "scalp-hunting" as normal feminine behaviour. 

We need to take responsibility for our sexuality and be aware of its effect on others. It has been fashionable for some years to blame everything on boys. If boys are uncomfortable with your top, or can't keep their eyes off your pushed-up bazooms, that is entirely their fault, etc. You can wear however little you want, and they just have to deal with it, etc. One of the many problems with this point of view is that it denies your moral agency. 

That said, it is true that there are bad men, and you should stay away from them.

Meanwhile, if you're not sure what is appropriate wear for any given social group, ask a trusted authority. For example, you don't have to wear a mantilla, hat or anything else on your head at the 12 Noon Edinburgh EF Mass, but if you wear skin-tight leggings with a little T-shirt, we will look at you funny.

3. Understand ASAP that you have agency. 

Maybe you don't feel "like a girl". Maybe you're a real tomboy. If you were a guy, you are absolutely sure you would not be attracted to a girl like yourself. Therefore, there is no danger if you hug and squeeze random guy friends, (pretend to) flirt with them, wear the sexy Hallowe'en costume (as a joke), ask them to marry you if you're both Single at 40---right?

Wrong. See 2. You're a girl. Sometimes you may wonder if any guy notices this. Believe me, they all do. All. That said, not all of them will find this wonderfully exciting.

You are not the football of fate. You can make things happen in your life, either through carelessness or through serious thought. Your choice.

4. Understand ASAP that boys don't have it all worked out either.

I have many readers over the years who just want to get married and have children. They are not interested in alternative careers. They expect their future husbands to have careers. They expect their future husbands to make enough money to support a wife and family. 

I have suggested to such readers that in this case they do their best to meet men who are somewhat--maybe a few years--older than they are. Boys of 22 are more unlikely now than ever to have the financial means to support a wife and a child, and although sometimes this is their fault, it usually isn't. Any man who says "I really don't know what I want to do with my life" is not marriage material. But he isn't Hitler, either.

5. Understand ASAP that you will not be defined by your husband's job.

Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, has been defined by her husband's job. She is one of a very few women in England of which this is true. It would cease to be true if there were a Revolution and the new communist overlords sent Citizen Windsor to a reeducation camp and then employed him as a plumber. Citizen Kate would then be free to define herself as she wished, either as the mother of Citizen George and Citizen Charlotte, or as a Hardworking Member of the People's Republic of England and Wales 

Because most books written before 1950 were more real to me than real life, I honestly worried about being stuck as Proletarian's Wife, well down the social scale from Doctor's Wife or Prime Minister's Wife unless through my own efforts I managed to get my own professional title. 

This was, of course, complete unadulterated, out-of-date, snobby nonsense, Mrs Doctor Dear. All the same, I knew deep down that I would not be happy married to someone who didn't dazzle at dinner parties. B.A. dazzles at dinner parties--or at least makes everyone laugh like drains. 

***
Well, I realize I may regret this post, too, but I am a great believer in encouraging the young to learn from my folly. Because it is increasingly unlikely that I shall ever have children, I am really very pleased that various friends and readers give me partial credit when they marry and have babies of their own. I do love babies. May my words help bring more babies into the world.

Update: I've removed my post. Indeed, I may shortly remove this one, too. There was just something so awful about self-professed Catholics discussing another woman's fertility (or lack therefore) like that. Ugh. I know you meant well, Xanthippe, but reading that conversation was like finding slugs under a rock.

Update 2: And I've taken down Edinburgh Housewife. After all these years, I think it's time to ring down the curtain on my unhappy twenties. If it is true that many other "conservative" Catholics are spreading the message of "Wait for the right man, don't panic and settle" there is no need for me to do it anymore. 

29 comments:

  1. Reading that forum made me feel physically sick. How awful for you to read it. For what it's worth, your advice about not settling served me very well when I read it in my twenties and I thank you for it.

    Aussie girl in NZ

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    1. Thank you for suffering with me! I read it thinking, "I can take it... I'm tough... Freedom of speech... I put myself out there, so I deserve it" but actually I felt sick too.

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  2. Ditto to Aussie girl in NZ!

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  3. I'm sorry you felt you had to remove the post. I thought it was very good. I'm an unmarried 25 year old female and it was rather reassuring to hear the idea that you don't have to settle. It's also something my mother has told me quite a lot over the years that despite marrying late only having one child despite wanting more and subsequently being widowed in her 50s that she was always glad she didn't settle. I've always found your columns and singles advice extremely helpful and interesting to read, and a very refreshing antidote to a lot of what is written about how your meant to live as a young woman these days (although disclaimer I'm not Catholic I have been thinking of converting).

    Kate

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    1. Thank you! And I hope you meet many good people on your faith journey. This is a rocky time in which to become a Catholic, so I hope your way is made straight!

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  4. And I'm sorry you've had to take down EH. I hope you don't/haven't taken down Seraphic Singles...I still go there occasionally! (Actually, I was just looking at EH last week to revisit your review of A Casual Vacancy.)

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    1. No, I didn't. I still think it is a valuable resource for the Single and suffering, and I've forgotten what embarrassing things might be on it.

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  5. People are jerks. Being a Catholic unfortunately doesn't make one immune from being a jerk, as I have discovered many times through the evidence of my own behaviour and the behaviour of others.

    I really don't get why people got so up in arms about your post.

    As a side question, do you think that it's worth keeping kids away from pre-1960s books? They seem to be pretty destructive for some people.

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    1. The problem with the internet is that people forget that the people they are writing about are real. Cloaked in anonymity they think they can say anything and get away with it. Meanwhile, I think they were up in arms because they didn't understand it. Part of the reason I took it down was because I could see how unclear it must have been to a new reader. That said, "Red Pill" guys are quick to scream "misandry" before going back to bragging about how smart they are not to get married at all. One amusing way to bait "Red Pillers" is to mention I married a younger man who makes WAY more money than me, and I just sit at home doing my thing and eating bonbons. "You're lying" gibbered some chap on Takimag.

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    2. Sorry about that episode!

      I really like your Red Pill-baiting technique.

      It is kind of a bedtime story with those guys that all the girls who didn't love them are going to die alone with cats, so it's hurtful for the Red Pill guys to find out that no, they actually don't.

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    3. Yes. Sigh. That's why the best revenge is living well. Marrying a younger man who makes more money than you do can definitely be part of that!

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  6. Prayers, Auntie Seraphic. I'm sorry for what you went through finding that forum post and also feeling the need to take down EH... I am glad to have had the chance to read EH as it came along. Just wanted to tell you that your words have alternately comforted, calmed, and challenged me over the years and I turn to your blog(s) pretty nearly every day to see what you have to say. I don't know if I always agree with everything, but I want to hear it anyway because of your wisdom and faith! (I'll chalk up a good part of my not agreeing with things to probably being.a bit immature and more influenced by secular life than I care to admit.) I think your advice about not settling is hugely important and your honesty about your own life experiences has been very helpful to many young women all over the world, myself included.

    Will keep you in my prayers, and those forum people too.

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    1. Thank you very much! In a way I'm delighted you don't agree with everything because I'd rather readers thought about what I said later and decided for yourselves if what I said has real insight or not. That said, secular life currently has some extremely poisonous if sweet stuff in it, like soft drinks--sugar being a poison in large quantities.

      This gives me a good idea for a post: what I like best in secular life. Maybe Wednesday, for today I am writing about Trad Stuff.

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  7. That forum also made me sick. I think people forget they are talking about a real person and not just a character in a TV show. It's pretty sad.

    I would add to 1 and making a lot of friends of both sexes that this does NOT include frequent one-on-one hang outs with male friends. If you like each other enough to be BFF, date. If not, don't hang out alone all the time, even if you keep things chaste etc etc. See #2 as well as just the fact that the sexes are complementary.

    (This is not against the occasional coffee with a male friend.)

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    1. Yes, I agree. One must be prudent, and one must remember that a guy friend is not just like a girl friend.

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  8. I was repelled but not surprised by those comments. Something similar happened to me once, years ago, after I had made a casual reference on my blog to not having met a suitable man yet. (I had not then met the man who became my husband.) That was all I said, in a post that otherwise had nothing to do with marriage, and yet it led to a sustained attack on me on a men's rights forum, about how I was another 'special snowflake' female person who was probably too old and ugly for marriage by now and it served me right, etc. Sigh. I rarely had such bad experiences on that infamous blog-you-know-of where I used to comment. Perhaps because I was there at the invitation and under the protection of the blogger, these raunchy rude angry men would step in to defend me. 'Twas odd.

    Alias Clio

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    1. Single-and-frustrated male anger is never a pretty sight. When it descends to "she's probably too old and ugly" it takes on a strange infantile note. I suppose they see fear of becoming "old and ugly" as weak link in female chainmail, whereas with many women, the older we get, the more confidence we have.

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  9. Slugs indeed. Ugh. People can be so nasty over the internet.

    I was married before I started reading your writing so I don't have anything as exciting as marriage or babies to attribute to you, but I am definitely happier because of your writing. (And wiser and holier, I hope!) I often think of your advice about bitterness v. cheerfulness and confidence, praising husbands, etc.-It's not just helpful for singles!! :)

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  10. Those people were mean, but I think their audience is limited. I didn't find them when I googled you, as I had lost the bookmark for this blog.

    It is certainly a hurtful experience, but the casual person probably won't find it.

    Ill miss the old blog...

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    1. Well, if I get enough emails from people saying "I was looking for the post on such-and-such, and I couldn't find it" I'll put it back up. Mostly I wanted to prevent them from enjoying the unhappiness expressed in the post X. linked to. (Obviously X was trying to heal the situation by explaining where I was coming from, but I don't think they were interested, really.)

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    2. It's best not to feed the trolls.

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    3. You are right. Those weren't trolls, though (except Mr Red Pill, yakking at a captive Catholic audience), but fellow Catholics. Oh dear.

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  11. I'm not sure it's true that the Catholic "don't settle" message gets a strong enough airing. The "PANIC NOW!" lobby is really loud.

    Of all people, those who believe in the permanence of marriage should be the most, not the least careful with regard to who we marry. Plus, having babies occupies a relatively short percentage of marriages these days--my grandparents are 90-something, have been married 70 years, and only had children at home for a fraction of that.

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    1. That's true, but as a trad I have to point out that the primary end of marriage is children. And also that in many (of not most places) the chicks don't fly the nest to the other end of the world, but hang out in the same farm yard, lo until the third or fourth generation.... Okay, my metaphor is getting a bit confused. Actually, though, that's another reason to marry carefully: children often turn out like their parents, and you're not allowed to stop being their mother just because they are too much like their dad, etc.

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  12. Single male reader here.

    I haven't always agreed with your advice, but I realize you're writing for a female audience.

    However, I've been impressed many times with your understanding of the male mind and increased sensitivity to how tough it can be on this side.

    As for that forum thread, I notice the most uncharitable criticism you received was from women who've already had kids.

    NCB

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    1. Fear not! I noticed that, too.

      Thank you for the praising my knowledge of the male mind, for this will deeply impress my majority female readers! :-D

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  13. I almost missed it all. Seems I have left the blogosphere recently in favour of logging out to real life and its demands. But I check on your blog every now and then and here I am reading THIS. Argh.

    It makes me wonder what on Earth makes married people think they are in position to patronize Single/Childless people? What magical quality do they possess? And do they really have nothing to do in their busy, happy and fulfilled lives better than to criticize people that they don't even know in person? Sorry to be a hater but it makes me wonder.

    Bottom line for me may be that disclosing personal details online, no matter how distant they are in time, and being overtly critical (if honest) about yourself will backfire on you sooner or later. That's why I find it almost impossible to blog.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience with best intentions and so sorry about the outcome!

    *Pearlmusic

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