Saturday 6 December 2014

Hope for Women's Peace with Current Singleness

When I was eighteen, I thought maybe I'd be better off as a perpetual Single. It makes me sad, now, to read about my worries about dating and boys when I was eighteen. I was eighteen. A very young eighteen.

A big problem in my life was the pressure to be popular and "successful" with boys. My mother very much wanted me to be popular and successful with boys. It's a theme running through my teenage diaries. I don't think my mother quite understood how different the 1980s were from the 1960s. She went as some boy's date to the prom when she was 14, so she thought dating from the age of 14 perfectly fine, reasonable and even desirable. She once told me, in perfect innocence, that she had learned something interesting from everyone she ever dated, by which she meant things like motorcycle maintenance.

Well, I definitely wanted to go out with boys like that. My mother seemed to have been so popular with boys, I wondered what was wrong with me. And I definitely thought having a boyfriend would be a solution to something--e.g. feeling so unpopular with boys. N.B. For someone who went to an all-girls' school, I definitely worked hard at meeting boys. 

In hindsight, I realize that the boys my mother went out with in the 1960s were really just a kind of good friend, not the kind of pre-fiancé 1980s girls had. And this may be why, when at eighteen I was trying to negotiate how to discourage a 27 year old pizza chef from phoning me, my parents were not much of a help. What was also not a help was that he was an Italian Canadian, and my parents were not Italian Canadians, and my father would rather have cut himself shaving than told a young-ish man over the phone to stop calling his 18 year old daughter, who simply was not ready for a romantic relationship with an adult, which is what my Italian Canadian friends' fathers would have done, in a heartbeat.

While reading my diary (and when I was 18), I felt really terrible for the poor 27 year old of whom I was, on one level, so frightened. He was probably a really nice guy. Only this morning do I realize what a terrible situation that was for an eighteen year old girl to be in. It's not like my parents ever gave me the slightest indication what they really wanted me to do was give up on university and marry out of high school. Other than, of course, my mother's and grandmother's questions as to whether I had met any nice boys lately.* 

"I'm too picky," wrote a teenage girl to me the other day.

Teenage girls still write to me, what with the book and all. 

"Good," I wrote. "Be picky. You're still a teenager. You could marry a millionaire."

"I'm never getting married," wrote the teenage girl. 

"Yes, you are," I wrote back. "According to statistics, you are most probably getting married. Only according to the averages, you are not getting married until... Let me see."

I looked up the statistics on  Age for First Marriages on Wikipedia. Like my mum, this girl's mother had married really young. There have been times in history, sometimes depending largely on the place or the community, when women married really young. But the when and where of this girl was not one of them.

Women in UK 28.5 years old

Women in Canada  29.1 years old

Women in USA : 27 years old

Women in Australia: 27.7 years old

Women in Ireland: THIRTY-TWO years old (Yes, dear old Catholic Ireland. THIRTY-TWO.)

Women in Poland: 25.6  years old.

The men are always older.  

I wonder if Wikipedia has a chart for Age for First Shacking Up. It has one for Who has Lost Virginity by Age 15, which is both sad and funny, for in more "trad" countries (most notably Israel), there is this HUGE gap between  boys and girls whereas in places like Canada, they are 50:50 in their sin, and in the UK, there are more non-virgin girls than boys. (HOLY CRAP. Almost 40% of the English 15 year old girls had had sex, whereas fewer than 10% of Polish 15 year old girls had.)

Oh dear. I am supposed to writing about hope, not sending myself into a head-slamming-into-desk depression.  Here is my hope:

My hope is that young women everywhere shelve the whole question of sex and romance until they are in their mid-twenties and just concentrate on making friends--female friends, male friends--and excelling in their studies or trades. The early 1960s have been over in Canada for a very long time, and they ended in Poland after 2000. Early marriage is now RARE.

I also hope parents raised in more family and marriage oriented times understand that, with some exceptions, like romantic Young Fogeys who love watching films from the 1940s, the modern young man thinks romance and dating = sex, not pleasant path to marriage in his twenties. This is not just the jerks. Depending on the country, and most definitely in the UK, this is almost all of them, including a lot of Catholics. 

And it would astonish the boys to know this is wrong, terrible, exploitative, when according to the standards taught to them by their own parents, schools, media, government, sometimes even priests, they are perfectly nice guys who want nothing more than to get pleasure, give pleasure in return, and have a loving relationship suited to their age, with proper and loving precautions, etc., etc. 

The solution is neither trying to isolate children from the rest of all society or shaming girls into marrying young to the first young man who looks game for it. The solution is to promote and support girls in developing mature, chaste, mutually respectful and affectionate friendships with both sexes, without pressuring them to have "love lives", while assuring them they they probably will get married one day. Almost everybody does.  The important thing is for a woman to marry the right guy-- and to be the right girl--the first time around when she is still young enough to have children.

*To be fair, teenage girl culture itself seemed to revolve around Being Found Attractive By Boys. And yet there was another constant theme, which was If You Get Pregnant, Your Life Will Be Over. 


  1. Dear Seraphic. This text saved me today. I'm 23 and I find it hard to wait for Mr Right to show up. I have a crush on a boy which has caused lack of sleep and appetite (not to mention problems focusing during lectures...). After reading this I regained my appetite and stepped out of my dream world of Infatuation. The last couple of days my emotions have been riding a roller coaster, often peaking but crashing occasionally. Hormones are dangerous things.


  2. Dear Emelie! Good for you! I am very glad. Meanwhile, yes, hormones are awful. And not just hormones! The whole process of child brain turning into adult brain is awful, too.

  3. Okay. So. I do not feel - in the slightest - bad for the pizza chef. Why was this 27 year old so CLUELESS as to pursue an 18 year old girl? I mean, where is the self-awareness? For goodness' sake. In general, an 18 year old girl in 21st century Western society is not going to be interested in a 27 year old man, because when you're 18, 27 is pretty much OLD. Gah.

    My sister, when she was 18, was pursued by a 36 year old (?) man with three children by three women (and I think he had a "partner" at the time too.) Want to know how he got her number? She was having her uni ID photo taken, and he was the photo man. On his screen, he could see her enrolment details, and he just jotted down her mobile number and texted her later. And because my sister is a shy, sensitive girl who doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, she didn't call him out on it. She and one of her friends actually ended up going to an open mic night with him! And he asked both of them out for dinner (separately.) They just stopped responding to his texts and he went away (thank goodness.)

    But seriously, what she should have done was to contact the guy's university employer and lodge an official complaint because he STOLE HER CONTACT DETAILS. I can't explain how mad I was at this guy. I wanted him to lose his job, and if he'd tried that act on me and not my sweet sister, I would have MADE SURE he lost his job. Police would have become involved. How dare he?

    Gents. If you are 36, STAY AWAY FROM THE 18 YEAR OLD GIRL. It doesn't matter that she's legally an adult. She is HALF YOUR AGE.

    "It's not like my parents ever gave me the slightest indication what they really wanted me to do was give up on university and marry out of high school."

    Did they really want that? Wow. But they were both university educated...?

    I do understand why the teenage girl you corresponded with thinks she's never getting married. Very often I think I'm never getting married. I'm 24, which is only 3.7 years away from the average age at first marriage for women in my country, according to the stats you state. And like, okay, a lot can happen in 3.7 years, but it's sort of hard to believe that much will ever happen when you're allegedly looking the best you'll ever look but you haven't been asked out in two years, and you've only been asked out twice ever, and the only two guys in the past two years who you thought might be kind of interested have displayed that they're not, by, well, not asking you out.

    And I totally get what you mean about keeping up friendships and meeting new people. I do that. But the Catholic guys I know are attached, or in the seminary, or not interested. And as for just letting a relationship develop? I don't have time for unstructured "hanging out" time. I didn't even have time for it in uni because I worked so hard.

    And when the men in my age group are ready to get married or whatever, chances are that they'll look not at me, but at women five years younger than me (or more.) And most of the men older than me will already be married.

    So it's not about early marriage. I never wanted to be married under 25. It's just that it's REALLY HARD to believe the statistics when your own life is really not playing out in a way that suggests that you're going to be the statistical norm. (But I know you realise that.)

    This really smacked me in the face today during Mass (perhaps Latin Mass gives me more opportunity for reflection?) Being smacked in the face was not fun. And I also realise that the longer I stay unmarried, the more likely it is that people will accuse me of being "picky" or "selfish". Nope. I just can't say yes to a question that's not being asked.

    Today was a bad day. Mostly I am perfectly Seraphic. Sorry for the rant!

  4. And I don't want to do online dating. Most reports I've heard are that it is soul-crushingly depressing. I think that my current MO - assuming that I'll never get married, forgetting about it and finding many things to be happy about - is the best strategy.

  5. Well, you know, a lot does happen in three years. I mean, there I was in 2006 thinking "This is it. I guess I'd better get used to being single", and then I met B.A. in 2008. But between 2006 and meeting B.A. in person, I had written two books, two novellas and had blogged up a storm.

    As for the best you're ever going to look, I looked better at 29 than at 24, I'm absolutely sure. Nicole Kidman was thirty-five in "Moulin Rouge" and I think that's when she looked her absolute best. But anyway, this doesn't really matter as much as women think.

    The photographer was a toad.

    My poor 27 year old met me at a party, and maybe his parents married when they were 18, you know? And what I meant was that my parents NEVER gave me the impression that they didn't want me to go to university, so I am not sure why my mother thought it would be okay if I dated a 27 year old pizza chef---except, of course, that my parents had a very 1961 idea of what dating was like.

    Oh, if it make him sound less skeezy, I should explain that he was an army reservist, like my brother, and I met him at a regimental party.

  6. Observations on how different dating is now than our parents is spot on.

    Julia, I was basically in your shoes at 24. I very rarely ever got asked out, had a few guys seem interested but not do anything about it. Then I met my husband at 26 and got married at 27, had a baby at 29 (and looked my best at 27-28, incidentally). Also my husband is a year younger than me and had dated an undergrad before me, who he broke up with for various reasons including her immaturity.

  7. Dear Auntie Seraphic:

    I respect your position in this regard, but please take note that (comparatively) early marriage is not as rare as unicorns, even in this day and age. I am only a little bit younger than you, and my wife and I married in our early 20s (had to wait until she graduated from college). She was not the only one of her friends to get married right out of college, and a few of my friends did the same. What can I say? We were both traditional (-ish) Catholics who were focused, family-oriented, and comfortable with early marriage, as both her parents and mine got married very young. We knew what we wanted, so what was the point of waiting? It still seems like a good idea, fifteen years and several children later.

    Elsewhere on the interwebz, many wise, thoughtful, and traditional commenters are re-assessing the value of early marriage, and discussing ways for society to facilitate it. Turns out that it really does help with fertility, restraint of concupiscence, and the crafting of a fully-shared life! I understand why you wish to counsel young women to put off serious thoughts of marriage until their mid-20s, but recognize that other young women may well be snatching the good fellows off the market in that time frame. When I met my wife, her plan was to be the youngest Supreme Court justice in history...but she punted that plan when she met me. (Yes, yes; my scintillating wit and boyish good looks make me a special case, but still.) I hope that, whatever plans your faithful readers may make, they remain ever alert to the possibility that God may call them to something else when they least expect it.

  8. "...but recognize that other young women may well be snatching the good fellows off the market in that time frame."

    And THAT'S what I'm freaking out about, Leo. But what do you suggest? As I said, I can't say yes to a question that no one's asking me. Your wife is lucky that you pursued her young. But no men are pursing me.

    Rest assured, Leo, I am keenly feeling the fact that I'm apparently being left behind.

  9. Leo, if I wrote for men, believe me, I would be screaming at them (pretty useless really), to get their act in gear, get a career and start courting women seriously in their twenties. But I don't. I write for women, who start being terrified that they will never be married when they are TEENAGERS. The fear makes them do crazy and even sinful things, if they all into the hands of women who say, "If you're not willing to have sex before you're married, you'll never get a boyfriend. And this is why I hammer home the fact that the reason why men don't ask them on real dates or to marry them or is that most men just aren't there yet.

    Julia. You are not being left behind.

  10. And now I am angry. I realize that young engaged couples do get a lot of grief from cynical older relatives and non-Catholic friends who tell them they should wait and sow their wild oats, etc. But that is NOTHING to the misery of unmarried women in their twenties who are terrified that they will never find a good husband, or find him only when it is too late for them to have children of their own. Again and again they ask themselves what is wrong with them. They think they must be too ugly, too confident, too educated, too employable, too this, that and the next thing. It is not women who are against the idea of marrying young enough to have children! Indeed, forty percent of children in the UK are born out of wedlock because frightened women fear they are running out of time, and even if they can't have marriage, at least they can have kids.

  11. What I cannot stand is that most people assume that Single women are Single because they did not prioritize marriage in their early-to-mid 20s. As if it was all about their decision-making. This is a very uncharitable assumption, actually. There are many, many Single women out there who DID actually prioritize marriage in their 20s (OK, even obsessed on that), who remained Single until their 30s. Because something went wrong. Or because something went right. Maybe they were dumped. Maybe they dated the wrong guys. Maybe it is their own fault, the guy's fault or nobody's fault. Or maybe they have a vocation to become a nun. Whatever.

    That being said, I am very supportive of early-to-mid twenties-marriages. Why not get married while still young (as long as you've found the right person), have dozen of kids and live happily ever after? Yet I realize that while for some of us it "just happens", others have to wait longer and/or achieve the ultimate goal through many trials and errors.

  12. I only wish more women would accept that having children without the presence of a father for them is really not good for those children, nor for society in general. I remember that from the early 1970s until the mid 1990s, all the "social science" studies regarding marital breakdown and single motherhood insisted that these things were not especially important to children, that it was better for children to be raised in a happy home by a single parent than in a miserable one by both parents. I don't think the people who produced this stuff intended to encourage never-married motherhood, but that was what happened, as more and more women started to take the risk and defend it as a valid "choice."

    And then suddenly, in 1994, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead published what was at that time a famous article titled "Dan Quayle was Right," which presented a whole series of contrary statistics that looked at much larger cohorts of children of divorce, for longer periods of time. These showed that such children tended to have more difficulties with school, work and marriage than those born and raised in intact families, even "controlling" for such factors as parental income and education. No one wanted to hear that news, but the article had a tremendous impact on many people. Yet the truth of it seems to have been forgotten in the 20 years since then. I suspect that the push for same-sex marriage and for access to artificial reproductive technology (for people of whatever orientation) has had something to do with that.


  13. Perhaps it is a sign from God that Blogspot just ate my long reply.

    Here is the most important thing: Julia, you are not being left behind. You are still quite young, and you have many years to craft a life pleasing to you and God. I wrote my earlier post to note that, while it is generally wise to shelve thoughts of marriage until one's mid-twenties as Auntie Seraphic suggested, a wise woman should pull those thoughts right back off the shelf if the right man appears in her life prior to her mid-twenties. I know quite a few single women who shrugged off plausible, family-minded suitors in their 20s because work and school seemed more important. Now they are deeply regretful. That phenomenon needs to be discussed as well.

    Auntie, I respectfully disagree with your explanation for out-of-wedlock birth rates in the UK, and I think your assessment of 20-something male fecklessness is not entirely fair, but perhaps this isn't the time or place for that conversation.

  14. Thanks for your encouragement, Seraphic. I know I'm not really being left behind. Just had a weird day yesterday -- I found out that two of my close friends are engaged to marry each other, and my reactions went like this:

    2. Wait...people my age are getting engaged, married and having babies when I haven't even been on a date.

    I think that one's twenties are an odd time. Ten years ago, my peers and I were all pretty much in the same boat. Sure, some of them had boyfriends or part time jobs, but we were all in year 8 at school, all living with our folks, all handing in the same assignments (or at least we were all obliged to hand in the same assignments whether or not we actually did.)

    Ten years later, it's different. I'm no longer in the same "life stage" as many of my friends. That's not really a bad thing, but it's an adjustment.

    Happily, my feelings on my friends' engagement have gone back to:


  15. Leo-I'm just curious; do you really know that many women who 'turned down suitors' (I'm not sure if you mean that they wouldn't go on dates with them, or wouldn't marry them when asked?) in their 20s because they wanted to focus on work and school?
    From your comment about your marriage/other early marriages you know it seems like you run in fairly conservative circles. I do too (home schooled, very conservative Catholic college, etc.) and I have never in my life met a conservative woman who had such an attitude in her early 20s, even the ones who were determined to get medical degrees, etc. In my experience, if a conservative woman turns a guy down it’s because she isn’t interested in him. I suppose it’s possible she could have been if she had given him more of a chance, but it was never because she really liked him but wanted to focus on her career instead. (And even if that had been the reason, none of the women that I know would, years later, confide to a married man that she regretted turning them down unless he was a very, very close friend, perhaps.)
    Have you actually had lots of conservative woman specifically tell you this, or are you just extrapolating from what you have observed?
    Sorry  ; I just get so mad when Marrieds (Especially those who married young, and especially men! And I’m not a man, but I did get married fairly young.) smugly blame Single woman for the fact that they didn’t get married at a young age. In my experience, it’s pretty much NEVER the woman’s fault AT ALL, and it is very painful to be blamed for something beyond your control.
    If you want to encourage young marriage, yell at the conservative young men who are futzing around instead of working on getting being able to eventually good job that they can support a family with. (Or who are getting married at a young age with no idea how they will support the dozen children they want.) I’m no expert, but it makes more sense to me that delayed marriage among conservative Catholics/Protestants/Jews, etc. has more to do with the fact that young men can’t, or don’t, put themselves in a position to get married young. Although personally I’m not sure I agree that there’s really such a crushing need to encourage people to get married in their early twenties, but if that’s how you feel, talk to the men. To be fair, I know tons of good conservative men who do work hard to support/be able to support a family and are open to being married young, but for those who don’t/aren’t, I’m sure they would be more likely to listen to a man, and it’s a shame that there aren’t more older men aren’t encouraging them this way.
    Of course, if you aren’t talking about fairly conservative women, then that’s a whole other ball of wax, and not one that I have much experience with. But then it doesn’t seem like your comment would really be appropriate to this audience.

  16. Thanks for the clarification, Leo.

    I'd like to clarify something too, lest it seems that I'm blaming young men for everything.

    I'm reluctant to blame young men for declining rates of young marriage. It's just hard. It really is. If you are a young man with a Law degree, have fun working at Aldi. That's just the way it seems to be for a lot of people who worked hard to get degrees that have, in previous decades, pretty much been meal tickets.

    A pair of my friends are getting married in a month. They are both around 25 or 26. He's going into a Masters degree next year; she's going into a Bachelor's degree. Neither of them will be working full-time next year, or probably for a little while. I can only assume that their parents have bought the land that their house will be built on. The parents have probably paid for the wedding too. The bride probably has some savings from her current job.

    Another pair of my friends are coming up to their 1st wedding anniversary. She's 22, he's 23. They are both full-time postgrad students. I think they struggle financially. Again, the folks are probably helping out.

    My recently-engaged friends (who I just mentioned previously) are both 24. She works full-time in a professional job. He's studying philosophy, and has a long way to go before realising his career goals (he'll need a doctorate.) I have no idea how they plan to establish themselves.

    I'm happy that these three couples are together. They are good couples. But let's face it, none of the men are in financially stable or prosperous situations, and I do think that most conservative young men would prefer to be comfortable before founding a family. And if they're not financially ready, it's not necessarily because they are being irresponsible. Stable, well-renumerated full-time work is just harder to find. There are more graduates than there are positions available.

  17. I am not smugly blaming anyone for anything. To the contrary: I propose that the idea of blaming one gender for the current woes of marriage-minded singles in the Anglosphere is misguided. Similarly, I do not endorse the idea of holding one gender blameless. Men and women alike played a role in getting us to this state. To "yell at the conservative men" would be unfair and counter-productive, just as it would be unfair and counter-productive to yell at the conservative women. All have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom.

    I do not maintain that Julia or any other single should be "blamed" for unfulfilled desires of marriage; you are correct to note that marriage is a matter beyond the control of any one person alone. And, as Auntie S often observes, there's nothing wrong with being single! But take note of the passage from Auntie S that caught my attention: "young women everywhere [should] shelve the whole question of sex and romance until they are in their mid-twenties ..." If that statement means "don't waste a second worrying about this romance stuff until 25," then I support it, but if it means "blow off the romantic overtures of all men, to include upright marriage-minded Catholic fellows, until you turn 25," then I have a problem. And it appears that Auntie S's statement could be fairly interpreted the second way, which is why I posted.

    To answer your question: I am specifically aware of four women in my life who either avoided marriage-minded fellows in their younger years or broke off relationships (to include an engagement) with such fellows when those relationships conflicted with other life goals. Every story is unique, of course, and there were other factors involved, but in different ways and to different degrees all four of them expressed to me dismay at the realization that marriage-minded suitors are not as ubiquitous as they once thought. Four women is hardly a scientific sample, but as Ben Wattenburg remarked, the plural of anecdote is data. Their "politics" run the gamut from Seraphic to, um, not.

    There is much more to be said about the relative merits and demerits of early marriage in many circumstances, and I hope we will read more about that topic on this blog.

  18. Oh, I see now. When I said that they should shelve the whole question until their mid-twenties, it wasn't because I think there is anything wrong with early marriage. It's because women think about marriage a long time before most men in our cultures are themselves thinking about marriage.

    I don't think women have much luck going out to hunt down husbands, so if the men aren't coming to them, I want the under-25 set to stop feeling like they are doing something wrong/unapproachable/ugly/whatever.

    I myself have no objection to early marriage, as long as the couple are mature enough to accept its responsibilities and disappointments. Frankly, I am delighted when I hear of a 22 year old man who has landed a decent job and proposed to his girlfriend. I wish I had been a mature, hard-working grown-up when I was 22.

  19. @Leo

    "To "yell at the conservative men" would be unfair and counter-productive, just as it would be unfair and counter-productive to yell at the conservative women."

    Fair enough! "Yell' was perhaps too strong, but I do believe firmly that married men really ought to leave young single women alone and confine themselves to offering advice to young single men. Telling young women "You really should be open to marrying a great catch like me in your early twenties" just doesn't come across well.

    And to be fair to me, I did not actually say that you needed to do such a thing! :) Personally I don't have any objections to early marriage, but I also don't think that the fact the average age of marriage is mid-to later twenties such a disaster, either. I was simply pointing out that IF you wished to proffer advice to encourage people towards earlier marriage, it would be much more productive for you (as a man) to encourage young men.

    I see from your last comment that you were simply asking for clarification from Auntie Seraphic, and I’m glad that you clarified that! Your first comment came across as offering advice rather than strictly asking for clarification, and that was what I was responding to.

    I would agree with both you and Julia that not getting married at a young age is not the fault of either sex in particular, and that young men do have a very difficult time getting to the point where they can support a family. (And it is definitely fair that they might not want to do get married before they can!) I'm afraid I was thinking of several specific young men of my acquaintance, and that part of my comment came across badly. There are certainly many young men who do try, and have a difficult time in our current economic state.

    And thank you for answering my question! That’s really interesting, and I do hope you’re your friends don’t have to wait much longer for ‘Mr.-Perfect-For-Them’!

    But I still would not run around telling young women that they’d better consider marriage at an early age because otherwise they might find that when they do look for a husband that all of the good ones have already been taken. In conservative circles like the people a blog like this attracts, your comment is much more likely to make perfectly nice young women panic and feel awful.

    (And for the record, I don’t agree that the situation is so extreme as all that! Plenty of perfectly nice young men aren’t ready for marriage until their thirties, and there are always young, and not so young, widowers after that. Certainly there are often more marriage-minded women than men at any stage in life, but as Auntie also always points out, most people do end up getting married!

  20. Leah's comment is so excellent, I will add only that a woman marrying before she's grown up enough to marry, or marrying the wrong guy because she's been bullied into it, or because she thinks she'd better marry before "it's too late", is one of the worst things that can happen to her.

  21. @Julia. One solution to that problem is to make friends with younger people. When I was in my thirties, I was hanging out with single people in their twenties as well, and now that I am married and in my forties, I still find myself hanging out with single people in their twenties! It's lifestyle--since I haven't called to be a mother of children (wah!), I have time to pursue my interests down at or around the university.

  22. Yeah, I have single friends older than me (none by more than a decade though.) In fact, this New Year's Eve I am going to a fancy three-course dinner to celebrate one of my single girlfriends' 34th birthday. Yay!

    I really don't notice the age gap between me and this woman. We go out together -- to musicals or whatever. It's fun.


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