Saturday 11 April 2015

Hope in the Face of Acute Disappointments

It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, and I am well enough to blog again. What a week it's been. I don't remember ever having a head cold that bad. Normally I just wander about blowing my nose miserably for a week, not lying flat on my back breathing shallowly while mainlining lemon-flavoured drugs.

Today I think I will actually go for a walk and maybe even go to my favourite hipster café to see if I can still read any Polish. But first I will address two very sad emails I have received on the subject of loss in one's late 20s.

The first one was by a postulant who was happily living with a religious community when they told her she didn't have a vocation and she had to leave within hours.

The second one was by a slightly younger woman whose on-off boyfriend of X or Y years is on the verge of getting engaged to someone else. He had begged her to stay with him, but she felt it was God's will that she not be with him, and so a year later he's with someone else (naturally) and she is alone. She is also quite obviously cheesed off with "God's will."

Fortunately I got these emails before B.A.'s nasty virus lost interest in B.A. and started eyeing me, so I was able to give decent responses, geared to the 20-something women themselves. But now I will reflect that there is just something so green and fresh and hopeful about the phrase "20-something."

The funny thing is, I didn't think that when I was 20-something. I didn't think "Oh well, I'm only twenty-four (-seven, -eight). I have lots of time to recover and get on with life and meet thousands of nice men and try all kinds of jobs. The women of my family live to see 86, so I probably will too. Heigh ho!" No. Generally I lived in dread of misfortune. I danced strangely often on the edge of despair.

What women in their forties can tell women in their twenties is that there is a lot of hope and that time really does heal all wounds. This may sound trite, but by the time you are forty, you have discovered through experience that this is actually true. Your boyfriend dumps you, and within two years, another man comes along. The same qualities you have that attracted one man will attract another, and you may have learned something in the past two years that will help you have a better relationship with this new one. Although I was probably more charming at 20, I was a lot nicer to men when I was 40, and not because I had to be. I just liked them more and had gotten over thinking they were all potential rapists.

In the case of the banished postulant, I told her that I thought her order had behaved badly but that there were many other orders out there who would love to meet her. Benedictine orders, for example, are like buses. You miss one, there are dozens of others to choose from. Naturally, I am not sure it is time for her to make an active search. It seems to me that the normal thing to do, for a bit, is to live with her parents and cry and write in her journal every day about how much she misses Order A and how much they hurt her and what their founder/foundress would say to them for kicking her out.

In the case of the ex-girlfriend, I reflected on new beginnings. When I was younger, I enjoyed the drama of a good old break up and get back together, but honestly. What a way to have carried on. I think a quick rule of thumb is that if you break up with a man, or he breaks up with you, it is for a very good reason or reasons, and you should (A)  write them down and pin them to your bedroom wall as a reminder and (B) stay far apart so that you don't get back together just because you're lonely/miss the attention.

I also cannot imagine carrying on a X year romantic relationship without getting married. I mean, how SERIOUSLY boring.  Being attached to the same man for X years and no sex (or no sex you can admit to or feel great about), and no solid plans for the future, no babies or at least being an uncle and aunt together, no finding a Victorian desk in Goodwill and debating if it worth the price. Just an extended teenage schedule of social entertainments and "hanging out." Like a forced diet of dessert, never allowed to eat meat, fish, dairy or veg. Ick.

In such a circumstance, I personally would be heartily relieved to get  rid of my high school sweetheart and start meeting new men in freedom. And if I began this while I was still a twenty-something, with lovely twenty-something skin and young blood running through my veins, so much the better. Because there are millions upon millions of men, and many of them are very interesting indeed. These are the ones that actually leave their caves and DO things. Yet another reason to give internet dating a miss and go looking for men in the real live social world of dancing, sports, outdoor chess, language class, etc.

But I also want to say something about the "will of God." It's a little amusing how sure people are that they can interpret the "will of God" when they think God's will is something nasty, like destroying a beautiful 19th century altar and replacing it with a concrete slab, but not when it might be something lovely, like a seminarian spending all his Christmas money on a gold chasuble. I am a bit worried about Catholic girls getting over-anxious about the "will of God" for their own lives, as if the "will of God" were opposed to your interests and wants, over which you think you have no real say. Is it God's will that you marry Charlie? Well, if you want to marry Charlie, maybe. But if you don't, definitely not.

If you honestly want to marry Charlie, and yet not so much that you think God may be opposed (a thought that never haunted me for a single second regarding B.A.), you can go through a discernment process, perhaps with the help of a priest. But always remember that it is OKAY if deep down you really don't want to marry Charlie. It is not mean to think that Charlie is boring*, if indeed Charlie seems boring to you. It is mean to break up and get together and break up and get together to alleviate the boredom of dating a guy you find boring. Some other girl might think he is fascinating, so it would be much kinder to let him find her. And if you find all men boring, you have my sympathy, but cheer up, for you will probably think differently when you are older.

Finally, anyone who can afford it should always consider taking a holiday abroad to help mend a broken heart. You could go on a young people's tour of Italy, for example. Just don't have a dumb holiday fling. Go to Florence and drink in how beautiful it all is.

Update: Another way to think of a crushing loss is as a very bad cold. You go to bed and stay there for two or three days with a pot of tea and easy-to-read books, and treat yourself kindly and very gingerly and then totter out into the sunshine. If the symptoms still persist, you get professional advice. You may be told to take some holiday time and sit in the sun for a week or two, or a year.

*Or feckless. Or have a seriously annoying whinnying laugh. Or tells a lot of lies about what he reads. Charlie could have all kinds of faults that annoy the stuffing out of you, but some other woman--probably one you could never be friends with--would not mind at all, or won't until it's too late.


  1. "...there is no name, with whatever emphasis of passionate love repeated, of which the echo is not faint at last."

    --Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

    Alias Clio

  2. I wish I would have read while you were still sick and in need of entertaining theories. Well, it isn't entertaining, but I do think it's true: this whole "the will of God is not what I want" is tied to terrible philosophy and theology that divorces the intellect from the will and also the will from the good. Of course we're fallen. But ultimately we do desire the good (the Good) and God wants that for us too. He's not out there ready to stamp out any desire we have!

    With that said, I think you've made a very insightful point, true at least in my own experience: very often the "it's not God's will" card is a way of dealing with "subconsciously there is something I don't like but I feel guilty admitting it or really wish I *did* like it." I wish it could have been banged into my head a lot sooner: it's ok not to like or be attracted to perfectly nice, good (Catholic) men. You don't have to date someone just because he likes you and it seems like few men do.

    But, as you say, in the 20s, there simply isn't the survival experience to draw upon.

  3. Yeah, this is why 20 somethings should actually listen to 40 somethings about capital-L life. The happy 40-somethings, mind you. Not the ones who write "Men suck" as their Facebook updates.

  4. I felt I had to play the "not God's will" card, not for the man I was dating, but for all the busybodies who couldn't understand WHY I would break up with such an "awesome" guy. I had realized that some of his character flaws did not create a good dynamic with my character flaws, and if we had gotten married it would have been an unhappy marriage indeed. But that crowd that thinks that if you go to daily Mass and you don't contracept and you homeschool then you will have a blissful marriage kept getting in my face about what a mistake I was making. I didn't want to expose his character flaws any more than I wanted to expose my own, so I finally just resorted to "it's not God's will." That shut 'em up. I didn't know or care what they *thought,* I was just glad they stopped *saying* it. As for the guy, we had several long talks about it all, and while I was the one to end it, he also came to realize we weren't right for each other.

    1. Oh Lord. Daily Mass + don't contracept + homeschool does most definitely not guarantee = blissful marriage. Not sure what DOES guarantee blissful marriage. I mean there is not a lot that is "guarantee" about marriage. Perhaps I should ask B.A. Clean house + kindness + buying beer as a treat, perhaps. But I am glad "It's not God's will" silences the busybodies. I cannot imagine telling a girl she was making a mistake by NOT marrying someone. I might be tempted to tell a boy that, but never a girl.

  5. Hi---I'm a long-time reader, but I don't comment much. This may be a bit off-topic, but one web-based resource that might be helpful for the recent postulant is the "Leonie's Longing" ministry: It's a organization dedicated to providing peer support for women who have left convents.

  6. I can't believe that poor girl was kicked out of her convent in a matter of hours. How awful.

    And I have a question. I spent a lot of my early to late teens reading Christian books on dating and courtship (I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, etc.) and I think, as a result, I've always really kind of struggled with the idea of trusting in God's will. They always presented it as "If you just trust God, He'll send you a spouse/children/life wonderful beyond your wildest dreams." (And then would tell the story about how they met their spouses at age 16, or whatever. :P) And while I can see that that's trueish, at least, for very many people (I mean like, if you break up with Guy A, whom you don't really want to marry, the odds are very good that eventually God will send along Mr. Perfect-For-You and you'll be head-over-heels happy and in-love, etc.) . . . but for a lot of others, God's will means a lot of suffering. They might get married, have children and then become young widow/widower, never get married, never have children, have a child die young, struggle with poverty, etc.

    I am Catholic, and I know that God's will is ultimately for us to be with Him in Heaven, not to be perfectly happy here on earth . . . but I don't know. What does trusting God's will look like, speaking practically? What does it mean to say that He knows what is best for us? (Let's say that I were to end up a young widow, for example. Would it really be best for me not to grow old with my husband? Or maybe best for my husband not to live to be old? I know we can't see what would happen, but I just don't understand how it could be 'best' for some people not to get married, or have children, or live to a ripe old age with their spouses, etc. How could it be that a particular person couldn't be as holy with a spouse, children, etc.? Or is it just that God knows that suffering in general can bring people to Him/be good for our souls, etc. and so maybe the particular type of suffering isn't as important as simply the fact that the person undergoes suffering?)

    So, I guess, it kind of comes down to, how do we trust God's will when it comes to suffering? What are we trusting Him to do? Just bring good out of evil/give us the grace to bear it?

    I'm sorry if this sounds kind of crazy and rambling, and you definitely don't have to answer if it's too much! It's just something that I've always really struggled with.

    1. Oh, and I don't know if it will show up or not, but thank you for your answer to my last question, about the internet!! It was very helpful.

    2. Booklover, I have totally forgotten your internet question and my helpful answer! As for your "trust in God" question, I shall have to give it some thought. It's definitely in the category of "why do bad things happen to good people." Fortunately, though, we are talking about ordinary everyday peace time relationships and not, you know, freaking ISIL and wicked Germanwings killer.

    3. That is so true. :(

  7. Seraphic, if you're up to it, I have a question. It is not a matter of urgency.

    I keep hearing that holiness attracts. I was talking with a happily-engaged male friend about Why I Am Single, and eventually he mentioned that one of the qualities he finds very attractive about his fiancée (a dear friend of mine) is her holiness. He said, "Holiness is like a good perfume, it has a distinctive aroma that you can't quite explain to someone but it enthrals all of us and changes our mood when we encounter it."

    Sounds pretty good, hey?

    But...I'm not enthralled by his fiancée. I love her and we are great friends and I can list her virtues till the cow comes home, but no, I don't find her enthralling. I don't think I've ever been bowled over by anyone's holiness.

    So does he find her holy or enthralling because he's in love with her, or is my Holiness Detector out of whack?

    His point was that good Catholic men find holiness attractive. I can agree with that for sure. But I'm an INFJ and a melancholic (possibly with a side of choleric) and there are a lot of lovely devotions that really, really do not appeal to me. I tried to read "Story of a Soul", and I couldn't finish it -- nothing against St Therese, but I found the work thoroughly boring. Perhaps I will appreciate it one day.

    So, will a guy be able to "smell" my holiness (if ever I achieve it) even though it would probably involve less Divine-Mercy-Sunday and more Canon Law?

    1. Lol!! I'm sure he's a lovely person, but your friend's comment gave me a good laugh. :) It sounds like he's head-over-heels enthralled with her, but I think his point in general is total bosh.

      Well, maybe not totally. Kindness, cheerfulness, etc. are attractive and they are virtues, so I suppose in that sense it might be true.

      But, honestly, how many saints were 'enthralling'? I can think of some that were, like St. Francis of Assisi, but there are also a fair number of others that were not at all well-liked, and, I can imagine, were probably difficult to get along with.

      I think men, even Catholic men, find women attractive when they are pretty (according to the man, because tastes vary widely) and kind. (And cheerfulness and confidence doesn't hurt either. And I'm sure, to be fair, that many of them are looking for a woman who shares their faith. But I've only ever known one girl who (I would consider, anyway) was very holy and had tons of guys buzzing around . . . and frankly, I think it had a lot more to do with the fact that she was very pretty and had a lovely, sweet personality than the amount of devotions she did.)

      I don't meant to discount holiness and it's importance, of course! And I could be totally wrong. I just don't think that 'holiness' (And definitely not 'does tons of devotions') automatically = some kind of super-attractive perfume.

    2. Julia, I think most of us Single women are wondering WHY is it that nobody married us and WHAT to do in order to change that. We want to become more attractive to men and it’s nothing wrong with that. But when you ask men what is attractive, they will speak for themselves, as if it referred to all men (or most men or some kind of men, e.g. Catholic) in general. It sounds like: No man wants a woman who is this or that. This of that is most attractive to men of that kind. But their answer will never be complete and while it may give you some clues, but it will not explain the actual reason you’re Single, for I don’t think anyone in the world knows it for sure, even your best friend.
      At some point of my life I discovered this kind of enquiry was very depressing, actually. It made me assume I don’t have enough qualities to attract marriageable men. But it did not win me a husband. So, the bottom line for me: if it leaves you feeling bad, I’d say: don’t do it, but rather focus on growing with God as a person and working through your issues in the context of faith. He will shed light on your very own path to holiness, no matter how flawed you think you are.

    3. You. Talk. To. Men. TO YOUNG MEN. About. Why Am I SINGLE? What!?!?!?!?!

    4. A little belated, but here comes another little rant:

      In my case, the problem is that young men (and women) start talking to me about why I am not married. I always try to stop this topic as quick as possible. I am asking myself not why it is that nobody marries me, but why is it that a lot of people think it necessary to talk to me about my single state? I mean, I was walking along somewhere with two very nice, 20-year-old girls, and somehow we talked about our ages, and as soon as I told them I was [over 30], they said to me, completely out of the blue, “you will find someone soon, I am sure”. Why???? And several male friends keep telling me I should start online-dating. You know what? I DON’T WANT TO HEAR THAT. I would like to hear a compliment (without even the tiniest hint about how sad it is that nobody married me yet), and then talk about something else. That would really cheer me up.

    5. The next time that happens, tell your friends exactly that. Tell them straight up. As for the 20-year old girls, they are merely frightened that they might be single when they are over 30, which is why they said that.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Sorry for the bizarre witch doctor spam. It turns up from time to time. Witch doctors are kind of a thing in London these days.

  10. Thank you for this post, Seraphic. (I'm the reader who left a frantic comment to the tune of, 'Is it just coffee? Is it? IS IT?!' a few weeks ago -- and your words helped, then, too, so thank you for that. I was rather embarrassed by my comment so I never did actually reply, but perhaps I will actually email you one of these days if I feel that I have a Seraphic Singles-related dilemma that warrants in-depth advice! At the moment, the former situation has resolved itself, or perhaps I have just grown a little calmer and wiser.)
    I also find myself spending a lot of time thinking over 'the will of God,' and what it means in my life, and what it doesn't mean. Not so much in terms of whether it will bring pain and suffering, but more so in terms of which road should I choose and what decision should I make? I find myself almost testing or seeking, as if God's will is the "should" in "what should I do?" -- constantly looking for signs or clues or indications that "this is God's will." This looking for signs is in all aspects of my life, but it seems to add an especially confusing dimension to my relatively recent foray into the world of potentially-non-platonic-interaction with young men. Relevantly, it's led me to a rather confusing complex of emotions around a young man on whom I have a most awful crush/infatuation. I thought that all the signs pointed to him potentially being...someone... and this morning observed him with another young lady at church; nothing to say, really, nothing needed. I'm sadder than I thought I would be, given that I think this was a crush (hence your title for this post immediately felt very appropriate), and disappointed in my silliness, and also very suddenly aware that this whole romantic-relationships thing is really going to be a process of gaining and reflecting upon experience. I am a twenty-something. I am green. I am hopeful, and ungainly in the intensity of that hope.

    And to Julia, booklover, and Pearlmusic, above, I have also heard of this 'holiness attracts' idea -- most recently in the context of a married friend who confided that her husband (when still her fiance) had told her he was attracted to her holiness. I've often pondered it. It strikes me that what we see and feel as holiness is individual, so what he saw in her may not have been seen by others. But I think that if one is drawn to someone, and valued holiness, one might see holiness in that person no matter what...a problem of causation or correlation.

    1. Thanks, Michelle! Reminds me of a definition of holiness I heard from some Jesuit. "Holiness is not about being perfect. It is about any desire of your soul to do good". And of course, a man in love is likely to see his sweetheart as "holy". Not because she's actually holier than all the others, but because she's the one.

      Seraphic: Yes, I think most Single women who remain Single for longer than they think they should be keep hurting themselves by discussing Singleness with just about anyone (young men as well) and asking what's wrong with them. Until they're fed up with that and just stop.

    2. Men learn what men are supposed to want from other men, so if you go around telling men that other men don't want you, you run the risk of them telling other men that, too. And then all around you are men who have subconsciously got you pegged as "Girl guys don't want."

      Let me tell you, it is way better for me to have blogged about all the boyfriends I was mean to than it would be to have written about being dumped all the time. Male readers don't care that I was mean to other guys. They think, "Sucks to be them---losers!" But if I wrote "Men were mean to MEEEE", B.A. probably wouldn't have contacted me at all.

      When asking someone why you are single, you do not go to just anyone. You go to your most intelligent, honest and brave female friend and ask HER.

    3. Michelle, sorry about this morning's disappointment. But if you had a nodding acquaintance, you still had a nodding acquaintance. If you knew each other well enough to speak to, you still know each other well enough to speak to. One reason why crushes are so awful is that they are very rarely rooted 100% on a true, existing relationship. Instead they take the place of true, existing relationships, or even prevent them.

    4. If some guy told me he was attracted to my holiness, I'd be like, "What are you smoking and who's selling it to you? Is it Fr *******?"

    5. Consider saying, "Oh, thank you!" instead. I don't know why so many of us have to learn this the hard way, but the correct response to compliments and shy declarations of attraction is "Oh thank you!" Depending on the chap, you could follow it up with, "I'm attracted to your [holiness, good looks, kindness to others, slavish devotion to the style of 1947] too!"

    6. Thank you for your sympathy, Seraphic! What you said cheered me up quite a bit. I have to keep reminding myself (between prayers for intercession to St. Joseph!) that the "him" I remember/think about (and trust me, I'm trying not to) in between seeing him at church is a complete figment of my imagination. (Of course, it doesn't help that when I'm actually standing there talking to him, he's even nicer than the imaginary person, but oh well...) :)

    7. Slavish devotion to the style of 1947 is pretty cool.

  11. This is a super cool thread we have here, so I will spam it again.

    Hahaha! Seraphic, I thought you might have a heart attack about what I did! Sorry if you did. It did occur to me that it was possibly foolish to have that sort of a discussion with a man, but I went ahead anyway because:

    1. I had asked my relatives (male and female) and good, wise, female friends (including Mr Engaged Friend's fiancée), and their answers were pretty much "Men are wimpy"; "I don't know" and "There are no Catholic guys" and honestly, I'm at the stage where those answers make me impatient

    2. Mr Engaged Friend is not just Some Guy. I have known him for years, he is mere months away from marriage, I knew he would give me a reasonable, sensitive and yet truthful answer, he has seen me interact socially many times and I trust him to keep his mouth shut. If he doesn't, I can dob on him to his fiancée, who knows that I asked him this question

    3. I know that men talk to other men and form their opinions on women based on what other men say, but a) I do strongly doubt that Mr Engaged Friend will blab to other men; b) this was not a D+M about my sins and psyche, but rather a brief FB chat about what men might think when they meet me; and c) if he does tell and other men think I am a loser, I don't exactly know what I've lost -- I'm a persona non grata to these guys anyway

    Michelle, re: crush seen with another woman, we've all been there. My inner Melancholic wails for you and my inner Choleric is smashing imaginary crockery for you.

    Booklover and Pearlmusic, thank you for your sane comments (and Michelle, too.)

    Did I mention the Young Dating Couples Workshop on this thread? I mentioned it somewhere. I think it's supposed to be about communication and whatever. Singles are invited. I made the point to the organiser that if singles are welcome, there's really got to be something there for them other than just "Hey, you singles should pay attention too because you might one day sorta kinda maybe almost nearly need this one day maybe". I doubt that most single Catholic women over 21 need to know anything more about communication for the time being. Go anywhere -- parishes, bookshops, archdiocesan groups -- there will be stuff about marriage and communication. This is not news to us. We are being prepared to be wives, which is great, but there's nothing about dating for young Catholics. It's like, if you're lucky (or "blessed" -- EW) enough to be in a relationship, well, here is ALL THE STUFF, and, oh, you Singles can tag along too and hear about the joys of marriage and blah blah whatever.

    (I swear I'm not as much of a whinger in real life as I am in this combox. This is just the only place where I don't have to plaster on a smile and coo and nod.)


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.