|A coffee is just a coffee.|
Now it is no longer assumed that women want to get married and have babies, or that such desires are even good. Women are taught--via pop culture--to fear being tied down by marriage-and-children, and men are taught--also via pop culture--that wives, especially stay-at-homes--see their husbands as brain-dead bank machines. In my humble opinion, homilists ought to condemn television shows much more than they do.
Faithful Catholics complain in and out of season that sex and reproduction have been wrongly uncoupled from marriage, and they have. The more astute observe also that the unitive aspect of marriage has been insanely more stressed than the procreative in the post-Vatican II Church, with the inevitable and suspicious shrinkage of the Catholic family. However, the bright side of all this is that nobody is "on the shelf" just because her fertility has taken its inevitable dive. It used to be that if you were Single at thirty-five (heck, thirty), people thought of you as an Old Maid, and your marriage prospects began to rely even more heavily on your economic situation. If your parents died and left you their shop, well, the widower in the shop next door might suddenly find you more interesting. Charming.
The good news of the reign of sex and companionate marriage is that no-one is deemed too old for marriage. The bad news, of course, is that many men aren't interested in marriage until women their age are too old--or almost too old--to have children. Occasionally readers tell me that it's not missing out on romance they fear most: it's missing out on having children. I understand. At the same time, I very much hope readers do not settle for someone they do not passionately love and admire just to ensure they have children.
I meant this post to be about Coffee, Date 1 and Date 2, but I realize we need some background to this Coffee, Date 1 and Date 2. And I suppose the most important consideration is economic. With the prevalence of no-fault divorce--and in Scotland the vast majority of divorces are instigated by women--many men are terrified of finding themselves the sole breadwinners for themselves, their wives and their children. And who can blame them? Say a man marries a woman and they agree that she will stay home and take care of the kids. If she decides to divorce him, he is on the hook for her support and the children's support, even if she is habitually beastly to him and poisons the children against him. He has to work for years (decades?) without all those nice things--being loved, cherished, honoured--he was promised on his wedding day. Therefore, it is not enough to convince men-in-general you are not the divorcing kind. It behooves you to show men-in-general that you can and will support yourself economically if need be.
Therefore before any consideration of dating, I highly recommend that you choose a trade or profession and get cracking. If you dream of being a stay-at-home mother, find a trade or profession that involves what you like most about homemaking. Pastry chef, for example. Early Childhood Education. Tailor. Carpenter. Gardener. Nurse. Get qualified. Get a job. Show yourself to be economically self-sufficient. I spent my youth planning aloud to become a university professor, and my admirers were sure this would come about. Faithful B.A. thinks I will make a mint as a writer one day. Goodness, I hope so.
Okay, so now you have interests and a trade or profession you are gunning towards or already practice. Excellent. Welcome to adulthood in the 21st century. Notice I couldn't give a stuff if you have a CAREER. Men aren't impressed by careers. They don't care what women do for a living, as long as it makes the women cheerful and not inclined to look down their noses at them for what they do.
Now you can go for coffee.
If someone asks you out for coffee, and you find him or her a reasonably interesting and pleasant human being, and you are Single, accept. (If you are married, there are many more qualifiers.) A coffee is just a coffee. It is always a compliment to be asked, for this person is willing to spend an hour with you. (Never assume a coffee will last more than an hour, and if female, end the coffee meeting within the hour.) While chatting, you may be able to establish if you have core values in common, and if there is anything you and this person have to offer each other. At very least, this person might come to a professional event you are planning, or is planning a professional event you find interesting. If you are a gardener, this person may know someone who needs a gardener.
The coffee time is much too soon to determine whether or not you are in love with the person. Indeed, if you are female, the idea of being in love with such an ordinary-looking man may make you laugh. And if you are in love with the person after just one coffee, you are not in love--you are infatuated. Unless you have corresponded for some time, or spoken to them several times before, you need a serious reality check. All the same, I hope you get asked out on a date.
Hopefully this date is at least ONE WEEK after the coffee.
If the person who asked you out for coffee asks you out again, don't ask yourself if would marry that person. 99% of the time, you wouldn't. After all, you have only had one coffee. You barely know them. It is way too early to think seriously about marriage, except to ponder if the man or woman belongs roughly to the KIND of person you would like to marry. Do you have anything in common? Do they share your core values? Have they already told you they hate children? Have they already expressed disappointment in anything you hold dear?
If your core value is Roman Catholicism--and I don't mean if it should be, I mean if it IS--don't accept a date from a non-Catholic or a non-practicing Catholic. Be blunt. "I'm sorry. I date only practicing Catholics" is not that hard to say. It will hit a non-practicing Catholic upside the head, but no doubt that will be good for him/her. If you want to marry a Roman Catholic, there is no point dating non-Catholics. Coffee is just a coffee, but a date is a date.
Of course, you might be a Roman Catholic whose core value is something else. It might be your ethnic group. For example, you might think Polishness or Italianity the be-all and end-all of life, and although you may have been surprised to discover that the Polish-American/Italian-Australian across from you at the coffee table hasn't seen the inside of a Catholic church in years, you may feel inclined to go on a first date with him/her anyway.
Women: I firmly believe that any pleasant man who shares your core values deserves two dates before you give up on the idea of ever feeling physically attracted to him.
Men: Don't date girls you don't think are pretty. Don't ask them, and don't accept dates with them. Coffee, yes. A coffee is just a coffee. Network, network.
Almost nobody is at their best on a first date. However, I have a few first date rules:
1. It should be in a public place, never in a private home.
2. Be very careful of what you talk about. Talk about your core values, if you like, but don't spill your guts or express strong negative emotions. Don't, for the love of heaven, bring up the topics of marriage, children, or what kind of a parent you would make.
3. Don't drink too much.
4. For the purpose of this First Date, your life has been an unclouded oasis of joy. If he/she asks, you broke up with your ex-bf/gf because you really didn't have that much in common. That he/she killed your dog is something you may divulge much, much later. You don't want him/her to think you are the kind of person who has relationships with people who behave like that.
5. Listen and don't ignore red flags just because he/she is cute. For some reason, men love to tell you at least some of their bad stuff on the first date. If he's an alcoholic or thinks he may be one, he will very often tell you, or at least hint. Do not ignore this. When men tell you they are bad guys, they are not being modest or funny. They are bad guys. You cannot save them. Save yourself.
6. Don't lie about or hide your age. I've done that, and it's childish, stupid and dishonest. It's also a red flag. Nothing screams "ISSUE" like someone too ashamed to admit how old he or she is.
7. How he or she treats the server really is a good indication of how they treat people. All my adult life I have not wanted this to be true, but it is true.
8. However, just because he/she is a dork on the first date doesn't mean he/she is actually a dork. First dates often make people nervous, over-eager, and generally an embarrassment to everyone. And therefore, unless this person has revealed (consciously or unconsciously) to you that, although they share your core values, they have serious personality problems, you should go on Date 2. I don't care if there's no spark yet.
[Update: 9. If you're divorced-without-annulment and/or have children, the person across from you deserves to know that. Telling someone either fact on the first date may indeed mean there is no second date, for nothing so destroys the comfortable first date illusion that your life has been a cloudless oasis of joy. I am tempted to say you shouldn't tell them until the second date. However, I once found out the guy I was out with was divorced-without-annulment only on the second date, and I was furious. I felt like I had been tricked.]
Date 2 should ideally be no sooner than ONE WEEK after Date 1.
Date 2 is when people living according to my philosophies--how nice that would be--should decide where in the social order of their lives the "pleasant, shares my core values, has no scary issues" people across the bistro table from them belong. He/she may remain an acquaintance, or he/she may already be someone you think a friend or ally, or he/she may be someone you could fall in love with. Falling in love with someone in as few weeks as three is rare*, but I think three weeks--with no more than a meeting a week--is the minimum requirement in peacetime for determining whether a person is at all marriage material.
Naturally you are not going to tell the chap/girl on Date 2 what list you have put them on, for you are not going to put them there until you have had some time to mull. When he/she contacts you to ask/hint for Date 3, that is the time to tell them that you don't feel a spark, but you hope you will remain friends--and as such have coffee again eventually. Or, if you are overjoyed by their continued interest, you can just say yes.
Nota Bene: if you accept the third date only because you are lonely or flattered by the attention or for any other reason than that this person has made your marriage-potential short list, you are now leading him/her on. This is not cool. Break it off as soon as you realize your impure motives. Apologize. Accept the blame like a grown-up. Go to confession. Don't, however, marry anyone once you realize you don't want to marry him/her.
If female, do not bring up the future, marriage, children, or where this relationship is going for at least six months. If you really like the man, and you do these things, I will come to your house and beat you with a stick. The six month rule is for women over 30. If you are under 30, I would say wait a year. If he hasn't proposed in a year, it is time to clear your throat and ask delicate questions.
Being cynical, I think having sex with a guy before you are officially engaged removes a very attractive incentive for him to propose marriage sooner rather than later, if ever. And of course all premarital sex, including between the merely engaged, is a serious sin. But putting the fear of eternal damnation to the side for a moment, I think having sex with a guy before you are officially engaged removes a very attractive incentive for him to propose marriage sooner rather than later, if ever. ** (Not that it kills all hope: if his friends are all getting married, he may think it is high time he married too.) As for anti-marriage principles, I know married Marxists. My friend Fishie (male) is absolutely convinced that when a man loves a woman, he marries her. End of.
And that is my current dating manifesto. How happy I am that I shall no longer date again. If B.A. should come to an untimely end, I shall fly to the Benedictines of Ryde and throw myself outside the cloister door, begging for entry.
*B.A. and I corresponded a bit and read each other's blogs religiously for months before we met. And we were old and wise and so thoroughly banged about by life we knew who we were and what we wanted. Ordinarily, two-weeks-together-constantly-and-then-separated-for-months kills a holiday romance stone dead.
**This is not an attempt at morality but at psychology and common sense. If you think smart, self-respecting, non-Catholic girls just hop into bed with whoever at any stage of their relationship, think again.
Update: Meanwhile, do not repeat my cynical thought around an uncatechised man. There are some men that think they somehow have "a right" to premarital sex and that by dating them without intending to have premarital sex with them, women are trying to "control" or "manipulate" them into marriage. Try to avoid men like that; the concepts of Christian purity are probably beyond their shriveled-peanut brains.
One of the interesting hypocrisies of the PUA movement is that these men want to, er, sleep with all the women they can seduce, but then, if they should deign to marry, marry a woman who has had no or only one or two, er, partners. PUAs are such animals, I was delighted to discover one of their big gurus was recently chased out of a Montreal bar by a mob. Generally I am down on mob violence, but in this case: woot!
Update 2: I return for a Reality Check. Although naturally I would like to be Queen of the World, these Coffee/Date 1/Date 2 rules are purely my own invention. I do not expect them to become the latest rage, even among Catholics. (I don't have that kind of clout.) However, I think they are easily defensible. "But you went out for coffee with me!" makes for a rather feeble guilt trip, should a discouraged suitor/suitoress start to cry. (Repeat after me: "A coffee is just a coffee.") "You let me buy you dinner--twice!" is also rather feeble, and can easily be countered with, "Well, you invited me."
But I'm not really worried about tears and hurt feelings. I'm more worried about Single Girls saying "No" to the right boys too soon and "Yes" to the wrong boys long after a "No" was called for.
The hardest part will be the CLEAR and HONEST "No" to Date 3 (or Date 2, should the chap beat the server to a pulp, reveal he is an alcoholic, mention he is married, etc.) instead of hinting, hiding, qualifying, apologizing, disappearing and other cowardly behaviour we women are so good at. Just say it (or email it) . Here is a sample letter:
Thanks again for dinner! I got your message about Friday, and I have to say that although I enjoyed our dates, I don't feel that we are ever going to be more than friends. I wouldn't mind catching up over a coffee some time, since we diehard Traddies [Lefties, Trekkies, Georgette Heyer fans] ought to stick together, but I think accepting another dinner invitation would be unkind.
Don't have a cow if, within minutes of receiving this email, he asks out another girl from your social circle. It's his right to do so, and your duty to yourself to tell anyone who asks what a great couple you think they might make. Incidentally, note the total lack of apology. You're just not that into him, and that's not your fault.
Update 3: My five male readers may be wondering what they can do to appear more physically attractive to the pretty girls they ask out for coffee within three weeks. As most women are more imaginative than we are visual, you go out and do something manly and athletic before Coffee, Date 1 or Date 2, and when Prettiness asks what you have been up to, you can truthfully say "I climbed Ben Nevis" or "I played football in the park" or even "I shot a few hoops with my pals." This is particularly effective if you have a scholarly reputation.
Meanwhile, you never, ever, EVER mention sexual stuff during Coffee, Date 1 or Date 2. If the poor Child of Mary, having an awkward First Date moment, asks you if you believe in premarital sex, you should say you believe it sometimes happens to other people.
And don't send the girl umpteen emails between appointments. Totally unnecessary and bad psychology. Short delays are important.
Your schedule: Coffee. Wait two days. Request Date 1 (scheduling it at least a full week after the coffee). Go on Date 1. Wait two days. Request Date 2 (scheduling it at least a full week after Date 1). Go on Date 2. Ponder if you want to date this girl again. Ponder for two days. If you do, request Date 3 (scheduling it at least a full week after Date 2). If you don't, you don't have to do anything until the inevitable email/text arrives. ("How's it going? What happened? Don't be a stranger!") If she turns you down for Date 3, you can cry (privately) and then thank your lucky stars she was that honest and respectful of your time and resources. A lesser woman would either have eaten your entire student loan or seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.
UPDATE 4: Hello, Catholic Answers readers! Gladden the hearts of the sales staff at Ignatius Press and buy my book. Alternatively, startle Liguori into action by buying the Singles one unless you are Polish, in which case proszę wzbogacić the coffers of the Krakow Redemptorists. Support Catholic publishers today!