Monday 22 June 2015

Auntie Seraphic & The New Normal

I haven't published a "Dear Auntie Seraphic" letter in awhile, as I have been pondering whether or not I am really called by God to dispense advice to you young things. However, yesterday I read a Dear Auntie Seraphic letter so jaw-dropping and yet so much of a snapshot of our times, that I am indeed going to post it.  Here it is. Sit down. Don't spit coffee on the computer screen.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am perhaps writing in the heat of the moment, but I feel I need to, else I will forget about it as work and other obligations take over.

I frequently attend an EF Mass in a place in suburban [X]. Which is all good, by the way. Now after Mass, it is an informal custom for all the young people to hang about the edge of the parking lot, where we socialize.

Now there was this girl (let's call her Stacy - not her real name, obviously) who I knew (and who I admit I carried a torch for a little bit) who I had not seen for a while (in part because recently I've been [away] ). So this Sunday, after Mass, I go see her, and like any normal male, I say, "Afternoon, Stacy, haven't seen you in a long time!" She greets me back in a friendly manner. Then I ask,  "How is Charlie (again, not his real name)?" Charlie was last I checked her boyfriend.

She says, "Oh, no, Charlie and I broke up. I have a girlfriend now."

Naturally, I was bewildered, so I asked clarification, and yes, she was, in fact, stating that she not only had SSA, but was in an, ahem, relationship with another woman.[...] I was naturally caught off-guard, so I tried to change the topic, but most of the rest of the conversation was rather awkward to say the least. (Let us remember this discussion is taking place immediately after Mass.)

How can I a) make amends, and b) try to be friendly with Stacy, even though I believe all that the Church teaches on those sorts of relationships? I naturally can't affirm everything is all right, given Church teaching; on the other hand, I do still want to be her friend, and don't want to be the one who drives her out of the Church even more. I'm asking for advice.


Caught off-guard.

When I was at my own local EF Mass yesterday, I contemplated Middle Eastern Christians who tattoo Christian symbols to themselves as a safeguard against forced conversion. I suppose the idea is that even if in the agonies of fear and torture their tongues forswear +Jesus Christ+, their very flesh will continue to proclaim him Lord. Of course, the Christian tattoo might result in death. However, there are many things worse than death. 

I pondered whether or not it would be a pious action to have myself tattooed with a "nun" or some other Christian symbol, but then discarded the idea as fanciful. Living in the UK, I don't need a tattoo to keep faith. After all, I have the internet. 

So, knowing perfectly well that social death may ensue, in a few years when this post is found by the curious, if not now, I shall tattoo the following to my blog:

Dear Caught Off-Guard,

First of all, you didn't do anything wrong. It is weird when, after the EF, someone tells you that they are (in effect) living in a state of mortal sin--or contemplating doing so, as we can assume in charity that Stacy never lays a lustful hand on her "girlfriend" and by "girlfriend"  she means only "we go to the movies together, read each other romantic poetry and swear undying fidelity to each other."  But even if we assume this (in charity), it is normal for your jaw to drop and your brain to freeze like ice-cream. You don't need to "make amends". 

If Stacy had said "Charlie and I broke up. I'm dating Mr Smith now", and Mr Smith is a married father of four, we could assume again in charity that they never lay lustful hands on each other. Nevertheless, we would still be surprised and shocked that someone who goes to Mass, let alone the EF, would feel so comfortable mentioning her unusual and scandalous entanglement to us afterwards.

In short, Stacy has blown it. Not you. You are and were uncomfortable, and understandably so. Stacy was rude. I don't feel I can say anything else about Stacy. But I do feel comfortable saying that Stacy was thoughtless and rude.  I wonder if she considered what an effect mentioning her lesbian relationship would have on the sexual imagination of a young man. Probably not. Girls can be incredibly stupid. And thoughtless. And scandalous.

As you were hoping for a relationship with Stacy, I don't think Stacy would make you a good friend anyway. So I recommend just being polite to Stacy when you see her. "Hi, Stacy, how are you?" is friendly enough. "Coming into the parish hall for a cup of coffee?" is as friendly as I'd recommend. Otherwise, you might find Stacy trying to get you to "affirm" her relationship by acknowledging her "girlfriend" at parties, etc. 

Actually, it has just occurred to me--happy thought--that Stacy might have just said that as the ultimate way of discouraging your regard, had she noticed it. In short, she might have been lying. That would be a sin, but at least it would give you an excuse--actually, the obligation--not to think about her in future. For a girl to tell a guy she knows outside Mass that she is in a lesbian relationship just to discourage him would be pretty extreme, though. So I admit this possibility is far-fetched. 

Ultimately, Tracy is not marriage material, and I highly recommend not spending any time worrying about her and her social life.  There are people whose job it is to talk to Tracy about her life choices; you are definitely not one of them. So continue to say "Hello, how are you? What's new?", but otherwise keep a respectful/wary distance and go out and meet three new girls.That's my advice.

Grace and peace,
To wax less charitably about Stacy this morning, I wonder if she wasn't deliberately pushing at the boundaries of traditional Catholic modesty in a most unladylike fashion. As we recall from Anna Karenina, as far as fashionable society was concerned, Anna's big sin wasn't having an affair with Vronsky, it was being open and obvious about it. These Russian Orthodox sophisticates could understand and even wink at adultery, but acting like open vice was virtue was highly dangerous to society and therefore RIGHT OUT. 

Well, as we all know, increasingly the only sin non-Christians recognize is hypocrisy. However, hypocrisy isn't just "the tribute vice pays to virtue"--it protects virtue.  One wonders if Stacy would be so open about her sex life (if sex life it is) to her four year old cousin, but--alas--I suspect she might be. Because, for some reason, she chose not only to say "Charlie and I broke up" but the truly gratuitous "I have a girlfriend now" right after traditional Mass, to a traditional Catholic. 

Of course, the most charitable explanation is that she made that clear because she didn't want my reader harboring renewed hopes of romance. Still, "I have SSA" would have made that clear without scandalizing my poor reader. Still, perhaps she is very young. Perhaps it is harder to say "It turns out I'm gay" than "I have a girlfriend now."  Never having been there, I do not know.

But I have been situations in which a woman or a man has told me gaily of an irregular relationship as if it were all perfectly alright and only a Big Meanie would think otherwise. The biggest temptation to Christians in the comfortable West is the temptation of feeling tolerant and open-minded and splendidly hospitable towards The Marginalized Other, especially when the only other option is feeling like a lemon. Well, too bad. If feeling like a lemon because people are rude enough to embarrass us after Mass with the details of their scandalous-to-us love lives is the worst we have to put up with in our public fidelity to God, we are seriously lucky. 

Update: I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have a similar conversation myself.

Me: Well, hello there, old crush object! How's my principal rival, old whatshername?

Chap: We broke up. I have a boyfriend now.

Me: A whatsit?

Chap: A boyfriend. I'm gay.

Me: Holy crap. That's rather hard cheese for poor whatshername, isn't it?

And it occurs to me I never considered how dear Charlie the ex-boyfriend must be feeling.


  1. Dear Auntie Seraphic:

    Thanks for a good post today, which I enjoyed not least because I delight in feeling like a lemon, an orange, a grapefruit, and all other kinds of citrus fruits. But I wanted to remark upon your concern as to whether you are called to dispense relationship/dating advice to the NCGs of the world. I do not presume to speak for the Almighty, but in my admittedly unsolicited opinion, you are CERTAINLY called to dispense such advice. Consider:

    1) The dispensation of advice elicits your best work. Your advice columns are always smart, punchy, and quotable.
    2) No one else does it as well. Have you read some of the internet drek posing as good advice for the lovelorn? I've seen better essays spray-painted on abandoned buildings. And some of the advice dispensed on ostensibly Catholic/Christian sites is not much better. I like "Thou shalt not" as much as the next lemon, but the naivete and other-worldliness on some of those sites is appalling. By contrast, Auntie S gives good advice while keeping at least one foot in reality.
    2a) If YOU don't give romance advice to NCGs, who will? That woman at Salon? Carolyn Hax? Dan (shudder) Savage?
    3) The need for such advice is acute and growing more so every day. Look, when NCGs seek out dating advice from an inveterate reactionary like me - me! of all people! - things have come to a pass. The mating situation for pious young singles in the Anglosphere is dire, and few cultural resources are providing any support for these poor, deracinated, overstimulated, under-advised, under-employed creatures. That's where you come in.
    4) You are uniquely situated to give credible advice to NCGs. I know of no one on the Internet who has your particular personal background. Your romantic, international, educational, religious, and professional experiences are singular. You can speak to these relationship issues with an authority that few others can match.

    I'm sure you'll make the right decision, but for what little it's worth, I want to encourage you to keep on dishing out the advice. If you're not called to do it, then no one is!

  2. Hmm. I am impressed by what you say. I shall ponder it with due humility. Are you saying that the advice columns are of much more social value (and, what is more, better written) than my musings on art, Polish and traddery?

    If this is the general consensus of readers, maybe I should go back to the old Auntie Seraphic routine.

  3. Dear Auntie Seraphic -- I heartily concur with everything that Leo said! I keep turning to your book, your old blog, and this blog for advice and guidance -- sound Catholic guidance -- on how to be a young Catholic woman in today's world. Over and over again. Finding your blog when I googled '25 and never had a boyfriend' a few years ago was like seeing a beacon of light in the middle of the storm.

    Anyway, I decided to comment because I have had a similar experience to the writer's, except it was one of my dearest, oldest friends, whom I had always known as very traditionally Catholic. She dropped a bombshell on me, casually mentioning her girlfriend in conversation and completely throwing me off guard. I didn't handle it very well in my surprise and made some comment to the effect of was-it-because-of-boyfriend-X-do-you-reject-all-men-now? (Yes, I know. Still ashamed of that.)

    I felt horrible about it for months, horrible about the way I'd handled it, about how I might have hurt her feelings. And suddenly one day it occurred to me that she knew me just as well as I knew her (or thought I had known her) -- and she would therefore have known perfectly well how disclosing her orientation to me would have affected, and indeed, upset me. She intentionally put me in a weird place, between my Catholicism and our friendship. It completely changed my perspective on the interaction. So, yes, I would agree with your interpretation of what Stacy said as 'thoughtless' -- or even disregarding/calculated.

    1. Poor you. How all very hurtful, especially your beating up of yourself.

      Meanwhile, I don't see why you should continue to beat yourself up over even "Was it because of Boyfriend X?" I have no doubt whatsoever that unpleasant early misadventures with men (or plain old sex abuse by boys as children) sometimes drives girls and women into the arms of other girls and women, so I don't see why--among great friends--you shouldn't have asked this. Women born this way? Sometimes, perhaps. Always? Nah. Sometimes "a stage"? Yes. Is there such a thing among women as "gay till graduation?" Yes, although they might be as surprised as anyone when they fall in love with and marry a man, as two such women I know did. I suspect men-in-general are a heck of a lot more programmed one way or the other than women-in-general are.

      And as this was your dear friend, I don't see why that question would have been off the table. I think having real, no-question-is-a-stupid-question, conversations is a sign of real friendship. Once you have to watch what you say lest you offend not your friend but some politically correct principle, the intimate friendship is basically over.

      Meanwhile, homosexuality is never an excuse to be rude. I am sure many people who experience SSA are unfailingly courteous and would never dream of embarrassing or scandalizing their friends.

    2. Thank you for your reply! I didn't expect that when I came back here to browse the comments, and really appreciate your thoughts. I did stop feeling bad at myself for what happened in the end, I sort of realized that she was being, as you say, rude. But it's interesting that my 'boyfriend X?' question might have been a legitimate reaction -- discussion of this event came up with a separate unrelated friend a short time ago and she was aghast that I had actually voiced such a question. (She is totally secular and politically liberal, I should clarify). I suspect the same as you do, re: programming. And you're right -- no question should have been off the table. Sadly, I never asked her the question I wanted to ask, which was how her SSA fit with her faith -- because that's something I've been struggling to understand as I have other friends with SSA who are practicing Catholics. (Interestingly, none of whom have ever embarrassed or scandalized me.)

  4. Dear Seraphic,

    I also find your thoughts on navigating the social minefield of dating at a time in history when there is practically no common understanding of what dating is, how it should be carried out and what it is for, extremely helpful. Your articles and advice are doing real good (for me, at least).

    And as Leo says, if not you, then who? A married aunt's experiences and thoughts on these issues are valuable to us singles in a way that an unmarried priest or nun's often cannot be. And many of us don't have the luxury of real married aunts who are willing and able to dispense sound advice.

  5. Auntie S, I certainly enjoy your musings on the Polish tongue, traddery, art, Scottish cultural foibles, etc., and I don't want to dissuade you from writing about the topics that please you. We all want a seraphic Seraphic. It's just that your advice columns are just so on-point and so helpful! To put it in perspective: much as I enjoy the lovely writing and thoughtful insights in the Polish musings, et al., I don't forward those links to my friends and advisees; they don't care for that sort of thing, however well done. The advice columns? Those links get forwarded, with subject lines like "READ THIS NOW."

    It was my impression that you transitioned from Seraphic Singles to Edinburgh Housewife because you had grown weary of wading into the relationship problems of NCG's specifically and a declining West generally. And that's completely understandable. But I have always hoped that, once you recharged your batteries with a full literary exploration of domestic beauty, grace, and simplicity, you'd come raring back with a new incarnation of Seraphic Singles.

    I'll be reading either way, of course. But don't let your due humility cause you to overlook the fact that a) you excel at giving good advice, and b) it's usually wise to focus on the areas in which you excel.

  6. That's very moving. Hmm. I shall take it onboard. And I will have to remember to write "25 and never had a boyfriend" on another post, so as to reach other 25 year olds who have never had a boyfriend. I used to do that deliberately, thinking of girls who Google that.

    O tempora! O mores!--as Cicero declaimed in 63 BC!

  7. I do hope you'll keep the advice columns also. I understand the weight and accountability involved in giving advice - especially thinking of your soul, and judgement day... But you helped me once before to avoid a wildly inappropriate situation that I was completely blind to, and I'm grateful for that. As the others are saying, when a girl is in a terrible fix and has no one to ask for help, she often has no recourse but Google, and who else is she going to find? It's a comfort to know that you are a faithful, orthodox (and now TLM-going!) Catholic, and that you have experience in these matters.

    But if it's a matter of conscience, then don't feel pressured. You can always redirect women to a good local priest, if they have one, since it's their job to be accountable for the souls of others, and they have the grace of state necessary for giving advice.

  8. Oooh, Catherine. I'm terribly glad I helped you.

    It's more of a matter of feeling out of the swim. What's a 1990s Rules girl to do in the 2015 world of instant messages? Still, human nature hasn't changed. i suppose I could open up questions concerning "How soon before I text message back?" to the general readership. Incidentally, does anyone know how I can transfer Microsoft Office from one computer to another? Having no children, B.A. and I are helpless before our computers, not to mention computer shops.

    As for my soul, I will just constantly remind everyone that I have no teaching authority. None. Zip! Nada! Actually Judgement Day. On Judgement Day it will probably be pointed out that I was incredibly rotten to various boyfriends, and I will be squeaking, "Yes, but look how I atoned with my helpful blogs!"

    For it must be said that the principal reason that Auntie Seraphic has all this good advice is because she was monstrously insensitive and also not very rooted in reality in her extreme youth.

  9. What Leo said, both times. And the others too. I enjoy all your ponderings, but most appreciate your singles advice.

    And since you are humbly telling us about your mistakes so that not just you, but we, may learn from them, I do suspect your posts atone for your previous "insensitivity."

    I will add a comment to your thoughts about Stacy's friend. I have not despaired of meeting Mr. Right for Me, but I often wonder if the reason so many of us are single for so long is that it's a kind of martyrdom that meant to witness to the good of Marriage As It Really Is, not Marriage As Society Currently Wants It To Be. Your reader, and a commenter above, suffered greatly in these situations. Many of us who are single don't HAVE to be...we could give in to pressures for pre-marital sex or renounce living our faith in a thousand ways just to get a spouse/Someone To Love Me. Yet holding out for The One Who Is Right For Me, so that we can be a good witness to Christian marriage, brings suffering for as long as it lasts. Such suffering, bravely born, may very well be key to defeating these crazy heresies.

  10. I would like to second what everybody else said. Your advice for singles is really helpful. As everyone likes to give advice (especially online), the more people like you join in the better. Reading your blog has not saved me from any spectacular mistake, but it has certainly helped me to be more content with my single state. For what it’s worth, within the last week I was told twice that I seemed to be quite happy with my single life. That was certainly not always the case (and it is not now, I would really like to get married and feel horribly lonely sometimes, but it is uplifting to see that I leave a good impression with others; which I am sure is at least partly due to your writing). That said, I’ll add that I enjoy your other topics as well!

  11. I like the advice too! That's why I've asked for it! Leo's points sum up my thoughts.

    Seriously, I haven't found anything quite like your blogs. Other blogs aimed at unmarried Catholic women are very often nauseatingly pious in tone.

    I think I found the Seraphic Singles blog through Google, but I can't remember the search term I used. It was several years ago.

    As for the poor reader who wrote in, all I can say is WOW.


  12. Yes, the advice is great. I do hope you continue to write it from time to time. I can understand wanting to write about more than just the single life, but the single life advice is truly unique. I second Julia's comment about the nauseatingly pious tone of other blogs. They remind me of yet another modesty lecture more often than not, and those, er, those make me want to tear the feathers out of a cute little cherub's wings. Please save the cherubs, write some good Auntie Seraphic advice now and again! ;-)

    1. I second the cute cherub wings thing.

      Back to the reader's dilemma -- it's just so bizarre. I'm not sure how I would react if one of my TLM friends casually mentioned being in a same-sex "relationship". I'd be more than a tad stunned, if I'm honest. A TLM-goer revealing a homosexual orientation would be no big deal, but actually having a "partner"? Well, that's pretty hard to reconcile with mainstream Christian morality.

      In a way it reminds me of my TLM friends (strangely, it's never my Novus Ordo friends) who proudly advertise that they "got sooo drunk at X's wedding". I though getting drunk is a sin. As in, confessable. I'm not talking about tipsiness here, and neither are they. They're talking about showing up at Mass hungover.

    2. Poor cherubs! Woot!

      Yeah, TLMers who experience SSA is really not such a shock. First of all, the TLM is man-friendly--by which I mean it is quite obviously not just for women and children, as one archbishop very early on said the NO was--and second, it is beautiful and, dare I say, tasteful. And third, if devout Catholics with SSA who want to remain chaste will get more encouragement from orthodox priest than a member of the "there's nothing wrong with having a boyfriend" brigade hiding in a confessional near you.

      Getting so drunk that you can no longer make moral decisions in freedom is a sin. Showing up at Mass hungover is not a sin. That said, when various parishioners--usually the college age--show up hungover, they don't go up for communion. I find that edifying. Meanwhile I woke up this morning slightly hungover myself, thanks to that delicious elderflower-raspberry champagne I had with pudding at the Master of the Schola's birthday party last night. That said, I can get drunk from one G&T by 2 PM and be slightly hungover by 3.

      I am not so sure your friends were advertising, Julia. I suggest they were telling amusing anecdotes to recapture the joy of X's wedding. However, there doest seem to be a bit of a culture of drink in Young Fogey circles. (Not, I hasten to add, the Homeschooling Parents' circles.) Could it be the Chesterbelloc effect?

    3. Perhaps it is the Chesterbelloc effect, although they don't restrict themselves to fancy spirits. They drink Canadian Club Dry, for goodness' sake. Also, it's not just the men, but the women too.

      I'm not, like, super scandalised or anything, but it's just that they (the blokes, anyway) seem to talk about getting drunk (not just at weddings) so frequently that I'm just like, "Why are you telling me this...?" It's a theme, and they seem pretty pleased with themselves, and I sort of don't get it.

      Well, they are Australian. And a few of them are country boys too. Drinking to excess is a BIG thing in Australia across all age groups and among men and women. Probably pretty much like Britain I guess.

    4. I seriously don't get it either. If I squish my mind up, I remember a few girls talking like that in high school, but that's about it.

      Time you left Australia and traveled the traddy world.

  13. Personally, I do not know how I would have navigated my twenties thus far without the Seraphic Singles blog (If only I had had this resource in the highschool/college years!) I regularly read this blog and enjoy all the various topics, but the other has helped me SO MUCH. I have an aunt more or less comparable to Bertie Wooster's Aunt Dahlia, but there is no way she would ever have helped me in this way. Seriously. Not even close.

    Domestic Diva, I want to say thank you for your thoughts above. That makes total sense to me, and gives me a wonderful sense of purpose for dealing with the hard stuff about being single. Also, it relieved my sadness on account of a couple of dear friends who are turning grey in singleness. Maybe that's something they've come to realize, and that's why they're such kind and pleasant people in spite of their loneliness.

    1. You're welcome, Amused! I used to wail and gnash my teeth: "Why are all these people getting married when they aren't living according to Church teaching, and why am I not, when living marriage according to Church teaching is exactly what I want to do?" Pope St. John Paul wrote that there is meaning and redemptive significance in all suffering, and if the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians, then I don't see why our courageous witness as singles couldn't be the seed of Christian marriages...even if we do ultimately marry. Meanwhile, our courageous witness as singles includes being seraphic, and Auntie's advice definitely helped me with that.

  14. I never comment on your posts Auntie Seraphic, although I have been a reader for two years. However I would just like to reiterate what everyone else has been saying – i.e., that, wonderful although your musings on art, traddery and Poland are, you are at your outstanding best when giving relationship advice. You truly are the only person who seems to hit the nail on the head, and your advice has helped me so many times. Please continue – your readers need you!

  15. Okay. I weep tears of gladness. If you all want me to natter on in my married, forty-something way about boys, girls and romance, I shall. However, I shall attempt to keep myself from getting too much in the way by focusing on the letters. And maybe only one letter a week.

  16. I agree with others that you have a particular gift for relationship advice, even though I don't need it anymore! However I really enjoy many of the other posts, especially about art, and hope they continue as well.

  17. I also enjoy the ones about traditional devotions, even though I really love reverent masses in the vernacular.

    To others: Verily magazine usually has decent relationship advice that deals with technology issues.

  18. I concur with all the glowing comments above. I have been a quiet reader of your blog for more years than I care to count, and as a 40-something still wondering if marriage will ever happen, I very much appreciate your advice, thoughts, and frank acknowledgment of how hard it is to be a single NCG. Nowhere else can we find this. So while I enjoy your other posts, I was very happy to see Singles Saturday emerge and look forward to a reminder, from you and your commenters, that though it feels like I have been left behind while all my peers succeeded in catching the marriage train, I am not really alone waiting at the station.


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