Saturday 12 September 2015

Significant Birthdays

I received an email this week from a reader who was a few days away from her 30th birthday.She wondered if  the fact she wasn't married yet was God's way of telling her He wanted her to go into religious life, so naturally I roughed her up a bit.

When God tells you He wants you to go into religious life, He doesn't take something away or withhold some treat. Instead He gets someone like me to say, "Hey, if you're curious, why not read about Benedictine life in the Middle Ages? I know a gal who read all about Benedictine life in the Middle Ages, and now she's a fully professed cloistered Benedictine nun!" Then when you read about Benedictine life in the Middle Ages, the scales fall from your eyes, and you shout, "This is the most awesome awesomeness ever! I wonder if someone like me could ever .... Nah... But, I wish... Oh, I wonder...." And off you go to the internet to look up Benedictine foundations near you. That's much more likely to be God's way of telling you He wants you to go into religious life. In fact, YOU want to go, and you ask Him, and He says, "Sure!"

Meanwhile, what intrigued me most about my reader's email was that she is turning thirty, which is a significant birthday, and I love birthdays. 

When I was 29 and underemployed and divorced and generally feeling like a big, fat--well, not big, fat as I was as thin as a pin--like a small, thin failure, I planned a marvelous 30th birthday party for myself. This was not as expensive as it sounds, for the Ontario convention is that if you all go out to celebrate a friend's birthday, everyone pays for him/herself and probably also for the friend.  I lived out of Toronto then, but I invited a pile of old friends from Toronto and some new friends from my then city. We ate dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in town, and then we went back to my small, thin, failure flat for cake and champagne. I got some very cool presents, including a small sponge I was supposed to put in a glass of water, for it would apparently turn into a boyfriend-sized sponge if I did. (I never did.) Photos were taken, and I had them developed, so I also have a lot of lovely photos of friends, all roughly 30 themselves. 

That was a marvellous party, and the thought of it made me smile all through my thirties. Then when I was almost 40, Benedict Ambrose and I arranged a smaller--for more expensive--party, and invited four friends to have lunch with us in our favourite French restaurant. We gave them lunch, and they gave me some splendid presents--including champagne flutes, baking tins and a red sequined bag that wouldn't look out of place on Old 42nd Street--and now I look back on my 40th with great enjoyment, too.

The other 40th birthday I remember in vivid detail is my father's, for my mother--very eccentrically--invited just his male colleagues and cooked the supper and didn't eat with them. Dinner was served by my brother and me. This was in 1980, so I am amazed we weren't denounced to my father's union as counter-revolutionaries or something. 

Anyway, my favourite advice about Significant Birthdays is to celebrate them with as much vim and vigour (and cash) as you can command, inviting your friends and carefully selected family members to celebrate with you and, indeed, to celebrate you. This they will be happy to do, and there is no need to invite anyone likely to say, "Not married/no children yet?"


  1. When I was about the same age, I decided I would stop pining over the vocation I had not been given and start enjoying my life instead. I highly recommend it. In general, I can even take the "aren't you seeing anybody yet?" questions with perfectly good grace now. The answer to "Why not?" is, "because I don't want to" (as I survey mentally all the guys I know, and indeed, practically all the guys I have ever known).
    I think a huge help in this regard was that I achieved financial stability (ie, a steady job) around that time. That is a big boost to your self-esteem and confidence. It also means you can afford to do fun things, like Polish classes, without feeling stressed out.
    I remember vaguely looking at one vocation or another at various times with no real enthusiasm. A nun once happily showed me around where she lived, with descriptions of how she spent her days. My reaction was a polite, That's nice. So pretty sure religious life is not anywhere in my near future.

  2. Out of curiosity, was that a religious sister (apostolic life, running around) or was that a cloistered nun (stability, behind grille). I am guessing sister of apostolic life. Very, very different. I do not think I would ever have had a running-around apostolic life sort of vocation, but the cloister just looks so... (Benedictine fan-girl sigh.)

  3. I'm glad you point out that it's not about nothing else working out that we get a vocation. I think maybe some things can help clue us in, but it has to be a positive step.

    I'll hit the big 3-0 next birthday. I'm a bit bothered, if I'm honest, but not too much. I'm still planning, as I mentioned a long time ago on the prior blog, to have a hobbit coming of age birthday party at 33, so 30 is needed to get there. But I also realized it'll be Friday the 13th! So I'm planning to have a superstition-themed party. My birthday often doesn't quite work out (whether because classes are out, or it's first communion and wedding season), so I'm planning ahead. I think it will be great fun, and maybe I can make a broken mirror costume. :D

    1. Friday the 13th for my 30th. I'm hoping not everyone comes as a black cat. I'd love to see someone wear a mini ladder on a hat or something. :-)

  4. This is a request for a future Seraphic Singles Saturday, or just a question for you, Seraphic (I apologize if this is not the proper place to post it). What do you think about going on dates with Nice Catholic Boys who don't really have any future career plans? They are just "seeing where God leads them"? It makes me super nervous, as a woman who wants to marry and have children, to date someone like this. I don't want to HAVE to work, and I worry that I would date and fall in love with the man and he might continue to putter around and not get a real job (or pursue further education). However, I don't want to rule out Nice Catholic Boys who will eventually figure things out, find a job, and marry someone else because I didn't give them a chance. What do you think?

    1. Actually, this is a big problem and has been going on for some time now. It was a problem for my own generation of Catholics in Toronto. One of my male pals pointed out that the Catholic girls had it all together--education, training, careers--whereas the Catholic guys were lagging behind "discerning". The Catholic girls were adults, all ready to get married, and the Catholic guys their age were not. The girls had "done everything right" but the guys didn't step up to the plate. They talked a good game, I noticed.

      I recommend going out for coffee with anyone who asks (unless he is mad, bad, dangerous to know or has been hanging around making boring awkward conversations for a month), and when you have determined that the guy has no serious plans for adult life, you turn him down if he asks you out again. You may even tell him, with as much kindness as possible (for such an immature guy will take anything you say as a nuclear attack) that you would prefer to date a man with a plan.

      This would be a kind thing to do, both for him and for the Catholic community in general, and it would be great if all other Catholic girls did this, because it might sting the lollygaggers into action. Meanwhile, if the guy likes you enough, he might put a plan into action and call you up again.

      But I wouldn't stress the "I don't want to HAVE to work" issue, as it sounds like you want to marry a bank account, not a man. I know what you mean, of course. However, in your economy (you are American, yes?)--don't count on it. I absolutely support a woman's right to stay at home to care for her babies and small children, and I think everything possible should be done to make this an option. However, chances are (given the economy) that you will need at least a part-time job, so as to take some of the financial burden from your husband's shoulders. It really depends on the circumstances of the man you decide to marry. Meanwhile, don't imagine that "love" is this crazy force like a disease making you do stupid things against your will. As long as you keep your hands to yourself, you should be able to continue to make rational decisions.

      By the way, getting a real job is WAY more important than pursuing "further education" if "further education" is theology, creative writing, media studies, English lit, 20th century Italian cinema, medieval basket weaving, etc., etc.


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