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Like it was part of his name

naples_-_old_couple_1890s

My husband and I both work at our computers off and on throughout the day, and we email back and forth a lot.  Every once in a while, I get what looks like an empty message from him — just a series of dots in a box.  This makes me  laugh every time, because I know what happened:  It’s just Gmail being too smart for its own good again.  When you end every email the same way, Gmail thinks it’s your signature, and thinks it doesn’t have to include it in every email, especially if it’s a response to a response to a response to a response to a response.  The recipient must know who it’s from by now.  So smart, right?

And so, when I get an empty email from my husband, I know it’s because he wrote “I love you.”  He says it so often, at the end of so many emails, Gmail thinks it’s part of his name.  Gmail thinks that’s who he is.

I used to be skeptical of people who dashed off a hasty “I love you” all the time.  “Don’t forget to pick up some ketchup and laundry detergent!” — “‘Kay, love you!” Way to cheapen the sentiment, I thought to myself.  Why not save it for when you can say it from the bottom of your heart?  That way, you both know it really means something.

I don’t know if I’ve grown softer or what (mentally, I mean.  Physically, there’s no question), but I’ll tell you what:  I need it now.  I need to hear him tell me he loves me, over and over again, especially when we’re talking about ketchup and laundry detergent and dentist appointments and parent-teacher conferences and taxes and who needs more fiber in their diet.  I need the reminder that he knows who I am, even on the days when, according to our accomplishments, we could easily be replaced by some unskilled laborers and an adding machine.

And I need to hear it when I know he’s mad at me.  He writes it then, too.  He always writes it, and he always means it, because that’s who he is.  It’s almost like it’s part of his name.

Husbands and wives, do this for each other.  Say “I love you.”  You don’t have to do it all the time, but do it!  Don’t let it go unsaid.  We all need to say it, we all need to hear it.  And, if we want to stay married, we have to act like we mean it.

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[This post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2013.]

Image: Anonymous (Old postcard) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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We can rediscover the truth about love

Ever taken a look at those cave-dwelling, bottom-lurking creatures that have adapted to the dark? They are interesting beyond belief. Their standard-issue organs go dormant, to be replaced with specialised appendages, antennae, and adaptive organs to make their way around.

The same thing happens to our souls, to our understanding of what life and love, childbearing and sexuality mean, if we spend too many generations shutting out the light. We sprout cumbersome appendages to our consciences; we develop outlandish workarounds to facing the truth. We have eyes still, but they no longer function. A sense of right and wrong is still graven in our hearts, but layer after layer of scar tissue forms over it until our hearts appear blank. Whatever we want to write on them, we may: we call it “our truth”, and it passes, in the dark. It passes.

Read the rest of my latest at the Catholic Herald UK.

Image by Mark Basarab via Unslplash

The Catholic Weekly

Undeserving, unremarkable, unreliable, and beloved

Odd for the magi to know enough to prostrate themselves, in their jewels and flowing robes, before the seemingly unremarkable but truly extraordinary son of Mary; odder still, odd times a billion, for that Son to prostrate Himself for us, who are truly unremarkable.

Why? Why would He do this?

Because, to Him, every last one of us is that child who is unlike any other child. Each one of us is cherished like the “little man” who is adorable just because he enjoys eating eggs, or sweet beyond compare just because he has learned to blow kisses, like billions of other babies. To Christ, each of us is that special one, that cherished child, that singularly beloved one who makes his parent’s heart swell with affection.

Read the rest of my latest post at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: detail of photo by Andreĭ Osipovich Karelin, Public Domain

The Catholic Weekly

Shh, there’s a baby nearby!

The speaker said that one fellow at the back of the line had his wife with him, and she was begging to leave the hall so they could get some lunch and see the sights before it was time to make the long drive back home. “Stop!” the husband hissed in a rage. “This is my only chance to talk to Dr LoveExpert!”

And the good doctor heard, and despaired. The fellow was so on fire to talk about marriage that he didn’t have time for his actual wife.

We all do stupid stuff like this …

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

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Image by Vera Kratochvil

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No, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” doesn’t need to be updated to emphasize consent

Unpopular opinion time! “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t a rape song. It’s not even a rapey song. It’s a seduction song, and we used to know the difference between seduction and rape, before we elevated consent to the highest good.

Apparently there is an arch parody that updates the song to emphasize consent. I despise arch parodies, so I refuse to watch it, and you can’t make me.

For the record, I don’t even especially like the original song. It’s okay, as far as cutesy duets go. It does an adequate job of capturing a familiar relationship between a man and a woman. As with any song, you can make it come across as creepy and criminal; but you can also make it come across as it was originally intended: as playful.  The couple is literally playing a game, a very old one, where the man wants what he wants, and the woman wants it too, but it’s more fun for both of them when he has to work for it a little bit. It’s a song about persuasion. That’s what seduction is, and that’s what makes the song interesting: the tension. If there is no tension, there is no song.

Here are the full lyrics. The woman’s lines are in parenthesis. If you’re convinced this song is a rape song, please do read through the lyrics before you read the rest of this post!

You’ll note that the only protests the woman makes are that her reputation might be soiled. She doesn’t say that she wants to go, only that she should. This is because  . . . I’m dying a little inside because I actually have to say it . . . she actually wants to stay. As women often do, when they are already in a relationship with a man they are attracted to and with whom they have been spending a romantic evening, and whom they have been telling repeatedly that they are actually interested in staying.

Most critics get hung up on the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” The assumption is that he’s slipped a drug into her cocktail (or, occasionally, that he’s spiked her virgin drink with alcohol). Okay. Or maybe, at the end of an evening of dancing and drinking, he’s added a little more liquor than she’s expecting. Or maybe he hasn’t done anything, other than give her the “half a drink more” she just asked for, and she’s playfully making an excuse for what she’s about to do:  Whoo, what’s in this drink? I’m acting all silly, but it can’t be my fault, mercy me!  This was a standard trope of that era. Anytime something weird goes on, you blame the bottle.

Again: there is no indication, unless you take that one line out of context, that there is anything sinister going on. There is overwhelming evidence, if you listen to the whole song, that it’s a song about a pleasurable interplay between the sexes.

Heck, if we’re going to give this song the darkest possible reading, and single out one line while ignoring the context, why not call it the False Rape Accusation song? After all, the woman says, “At least I’m gonna say that I tried!” You see? She’s calculating a malicious plan to claim that she didn’t give consent, so that when her family and neighbors look askance at her for spending the night, she can make it seem like it was against her will!

Humbug. This is what happens when we’re all trained to see consent as the highest good. This is what happens when we’re trained to ignore context. People who can’t tell the difference between persuasion and force are people who have forgotten why consent is so important.

Consent isn’t valuable in itself. If it were, then it would be a holy and solemn moment when we check the “I agree” box when signing onto free WiFi at Dunkin’ Donuts. Consent is only a good thing because it’s in service to other things — higher things with intrinsic value, such as fidelity, free will, self sacrifice, respect, happiness, integrity, and . . . love. These are all things that you can’t have unless you have consent.

But when all you look for is consent, and you ignore the context, you get two human beings who see each other in rigid roles — business partners with black and white contractual obligations. In short, you have what modern people say they despise about the bad old days: love as a business arrangement.

My friends, I firmly believe there is such a thing as rape culture. When we wink and smirk and say, “Boys will be boys,” we degrade both women and men, and we teach women that they have a duty to give men whatever they want so they’re not a tease or a downer. We teach men that they can’t control themselves. We teach women that they can’t really say no, and that if they do, they’ll be scoffed at or blamed or disbelieved. When we tell the world that “no means maybe,” we’re setting the stage for rape.

But is this song doing that? Or is it just a little vignette of that deliciously warm in-between place, where reasonable people can have fun together? Because when we step outside, and make everything black and white, then, baby, it’s cold. So cold.

We degrade both men and women when we tell them that sex is just another contractual obligation — and that there’s no difference between a violent encounter between strangers, and a playful exchange between a romantic couple, and a violent exchange between a romantic couple, and a loving relationship in marriage, and a violent relationship in marriage. We’re told that the relationship doesn’t matter, and that the actual behavior has no intrinsic meaning. The only thing that matters is consent. We think that focusing on consent will ensure that no one will be degraded or taken advantage of; but instead, it has won us abominations like “empowering porn” and 50 Shades of Gray and even the suggestion that children can give consent.  It wins us a generation of kids that asks things like, “How can I tell if she consents or not, if she’s not conscious?” (A real question I read from a high school kid; I’ll add the link if I can find it again!) These miseries are not a side effect; they are the direct result of a culture that elevates consent to the highest good.

It’s not only promiscuous, secular types whose lives are impoverished by the cold rule of consent. I’m a member of a group of Catholics where one young woman wrote for advice about her husband, who, she tearfully reported, kissed her without first asking consent. This made her feel violated.

It was her husband.

Who kissed her.

And she thought he needed to ask consent every time.

This is where the pendulum has swung. We’ve pathologized the normal, healthy, give-and-take of love. We’ve taught people that there is no such thing as context: that’s it’s fair game to ignore the entire relationship and to reduce each other to business partners.

Now, if you’ve been victimized or abused, then this is probably not going to be your favorite song. You’re free to find it creepy, and you’re free to change the station. But we don’t heal from abuse by turning the whole world into an isolation ward. Healthy relationships, where the context does allow for some interplay and ambiguity, should be the norm, and they should dare to speak their healthy name.

And one more thing (and I could write volumes about this): not everything is a lesson. Not every pop song is a primer for how to behave. I tell my kids that it’s our duty to be aware of what the world is teaching us, for good or ill; but just because we’re learning something doesn’t mean there was a life lesson intended.  Sometimes art, including pop art (like pop songs) is just giving you a slice of human experience, and when it feels familiar, then it’s done well, period.

No wonder people have no idea how to stay married anymore. They expect everything to be a lesson, and they expect those lessons to be black and white. They think that life is going to give them crystal clear boundaries. They think that it’s always going to be obvious what they can expect from other people and from themselves.

I’m not talking about sex, here; I’m talking about love, and about life in general — life without context, life without tension, life without ambiguity, life without play. Baby, it doesn’t get any colder than that.

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Image: Pedro Ignacio Guridi via Flickr (Creative Commons)
This essay ran in a slightly different form on Aleteia in 2015.

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Should we smile, smile, smile?

Mother_Teresa_of_Calcuta,_portrait_painting_by_Robert_Pérez_Palou

What’s the difference between feigned joy that cult members are required to display, and a suffering saint’s determination to smile at everyone she meets; and what does it have to do with the awful client with the beautiful blue eyes?

Read the rest at the Register.

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image: By Robert Pérez Palou (http://www.robertperezpalou.com/) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Up from Unity Candles

My marriage is now an adult! It’s eighteen years old as of yesterday.

wedding pic

Oct. 25, 1997 and Oct. 25, 2015

Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2011, wherein I recount some of the ridiculous things that happened during our wedding ceremony, and how little they mattered.

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Here is a nice little explanation of what a Catholic wedding looks like, compared to what you might see on TV. No one “gives the bride away,” for instance, because a valid marriage requires that the bride and groom freely give themselves. Likewise, the priest does not pronounce the couple man and wife, because his function is as a witness: The ministers of the sacrament are the man and woman themselves. (For another perspective on what the typical Catholic wedding actually looks like, you might check out this post by Reverend Know-it-all.)

My own wedding, a bunch of years ago, was somewhere in between the one described in the first article and the circuses in the second. Everyone had the best intentions, but it was perhaps not the most meticulously-planned ceremony known to Christendom. The priest, for instance, referred to me as “Simminy” throughout the ceremony. (To my husband: I checked, and it’s still all valid. So put that suitcase down.)

For another thing, I had to give my little brother strict instructions not to squeeze the ring-bearer’s pillow too hard as he carried it up the aisle. This is because I had forgotten until the night before that we’d be needing a ring-bearer’s pillow, and although the one I hastily made looked lovely, it was held together with packing tape. Crackle crackle!

During the sermon, the priest wanted me to list the priorities of a married woman. At one point I nervously blurted “Parents?” Which was silly enough, but everyone thought I said “pets.” Seriously, who quizzes the bride? Sheesh.

But the low point of the ceremony was the Unity Candle. I know, I know—you’re not supposed to have a Unity Candle. It’s tacky and newfangled, a superfluous gesture in a sacrament that already expresses unity quite nicely. We didn’t so much plan the ceremony as get swept along by it, though—so I was as surprised as anyone else to find myself next to my new husband (who is a good foot taller than I) with a taper in my hand, trying to light the stupid thing.

The idea was that we each had a little flame, and were supposed to reach up and join our little flames together in one big flame, and then that would be Unity, like marriage is unity, plus love. Or something.

What actually happened was that my husband reached up and lit his part of the candle, no problem. I, on the other hand, was too short even in heels to even see where the wick was. So I fiddled around for a bit, then pulled my taper down to see if I had done it.

It had gone out.

So I tried to relight it from the Unity Candle, but it wouldn’t go. I whispered to my husband, “My candle went out!” At this point in the ceremony, we had been standing up there for a suspiciously long time, and people were beginning to cough and stir in their seats a bit, maybe thinking about all that delicious deli meat and pasta salad waiting uneaten in the church basement below. And so my resourceful husband whispered back to me, “JUST FAKE IT!”

And that is what I did. Giggling spastically and making the most unbridelike snorting noises through my nose, I twitched my candle around over my head until I figured it might as well be lit. And we slunk back to our seats.

As it turned out, that little gaffe was actually the best possible symbol for our marriage, inauspicious and embarrassing though it was: If it’s not working out the way you hoped, JUST FAKE IT. Every little detail isn’t important. There are plenty of other candles, so just keep the show moving. The guests were cheerful and hungry, the music played, we had some cake and then zipped away for our little honeymoon.

The next morning, we attended Sunday Mass in a little church we’d never been to before. Nobody knew our names, or that we had been husband and wife for less than 24 hours. I don’t know why, but the priest went straight over to us and asked if we’d like to bring up the gifts.

And this second sacrament in that quiet, sunny church was the simple, grace-filled moment that we had missed at our actual wedding. We brought up the bread and wine together and went back to our seats, full of joy, ready to begin our strange and wonderful journey toward unity.

New couples, listen to me: If your candle goes out, all is not lost. Unity is a long, long lesson that takes practice, patience, and most of all TIME. It doesn’t happen in a moment. Sometimes, it’s okay to fake it. A moment’s symbolism is nothing compared to what’s in your heart. You are the ministers of the sacrament—not just at the wedding, but every day of your married life.