November 2008

Well, dear and faithful few, what reward for this long  blog-drought?  Naught, I fear (for the moment at any rate) but a meagre haiku.  I am safely and most happily arrived in the household of my fair fiancee, and this is just a wee heids up to announce that gladmaking fact.  The following verselet was composed on my way thereto, and you should probably take into account my inevitably distracted state of mind when appraising it.  More from Seraphaville when the delirium of it all subsides so do keep checking in now, won’t you.

Ocean Pie

Floating high above

Forked-over mashed potato,

Mid-Atlantic cloud.


BetrothalIt’s pathetic, really.  Ask me to trot out several thousand words on a trip to the barber’s or a single solitary day spent in town, and you can barely get me to shut up about it.  But confronted suddenly with something truly, life-alteringly, alchemically glorious—like, say, having my beautiful, witty, kind, devout, gifted, loving lady-love accept my most inadequate proposal of marriage—I’m reduced to drooling inarticulacy.  Like dear Uncle Gilbert, I may be able to trifle tremendously (or at length, at any rate), but unlike him I don’t really have the literary wherewithal to do anything approaching justice to such truly magnificent things.

As the more astute of you will have picked up by now, on Friday, the feast of St Lawrence (O’Toole) of Dublin, the delightful Seraphic Single of Still Seraphic  (very soon to be blogging under the new banner “Seraphic Meets Bridezilla“), practically my longest and certainly most loyal reader here, agreed to marry me.  Yes, amazing, isn’t it? Fulfilling one of my own McRules criteria, I’m pinching myself black and blue.  Fulfilling another, she seems to have fallen for me just as I am (“without one plea,” etc.).  “Jings!” with added “Crivvens!”, and also at the same time “Help ma Boab!” (or, “Assistez vous mon Robert!” for my French(-Canadian) readers). If you think I am anything other than the luckiest man alive (and very well aware of being so) then I’m afraid you simply haven’t been paying attention.

I am trying terribly hard not to gush about my fiancée ( *grins athletically* ) and my luck at the moment—the poor creature has suffered enough in private—and another couple of dozen words into this and I’ll blow it completely by blurting out things like Providence, eye-watering loveliness, deeply blessed, most gorgeous of creatures, etc.  Nobody really needs to hear that kind of loved-up old tommyrot, so I’ll leave off for now.  If you would know the circumstances under which all this marvellous stuff came to be, follow the (charmingly accomplished and mercifully discreet) account of it as it gloriously unfolded over on Still Seraphic.  Oh, and while you’re there—buy a blinkin’ book! Transatlantic nuptial arrangements being terribly expensive and we parties thereto being endearingly hard-up, buy several. There’s dears.

To end then, I would like with an unfeignedly grateful heart to thank all of you who supported us in any way—by nod-and-wink, by cheering-on, by hint-dropping, by buying my sweetheart’s splendid books, by wining and dining us, but just dropping by our blogs.  Thank you all.  My final and most important request is that you pray for us—please help us give thanks to Him who wrought all this joy-making work, and ask that we may be the husband and wife He would have us be.

Now I really will sign off, for I think I must, ahem, have something in my eye…

This entry, a very welcome relief for you all from my McRules series of presumptuous, unsolicited advice-proffering, is really just a place-holder, “tiding” you over until I get the chance to post properly later today.  In the meantime, you could do worse than pop over to dear Seraphic’s blog—say, here?  Judge my current state of mind from there!

3.  The “Pinch-test”

clickingheelsI don’t recall where I heard this, nor when, nor even from whom, but ever since I’ve remembered the following piece of advice: “Never think of marrying a girl unless you can’t believe your luck that you’ve found her.”  Of course, this is one of those “rules” that probably ought to apply to the gals as well as the chaps; but, my dear fellows, we I think it is who as a sub-species are the more likely to be unwittingly presumptuous and ungrateful.  Rule of thumb, innit. 

Now I know that this is supposed to be a bunch of courtship rules I’m blagging here, and this one might seem a bit too advanced for those just thinking of, say, asking a girl out to lunch for the first time or some such.  But, believe me—if you are in the quite early stages of a budding romance and find you’re pinching yourself to check you’re not in a cruelly bliss-making dream, this is a terrifically good sign.  The converse also applies—if you’re not blinking in delighted incredulity at the profligate blessing of a gal’s presence in your life pretty soon into the game, you may be in danger of “settling”.

“Don’t settle” is in itself quite a good rule, because it reminds us that we need to have a very good reason indeed to relinquish our single state—better than, “Ach, but I’m lonely and this gal’s taken a shine to me, and she’s not at all bad—better to marry than to burn, eh?”   But this rule has been dealt with by others before me, so I’m not going to say too much about it.  What I will say is that the pinch-test is a way of checking whether you may be “settling” and therefore whether you may be surrendering the (by divine precept, superior) state of singleness for something temporarily more appealing but ultimately less rewarding than the fullness of life offered by persisting in your current state (temporarily, or permanently).  Work at being “seraphically single” [due acknowledgement, my dear!] (harder work for some than for others, of course) unless and until you are smacked about the chops with a romantic prospect so appealing that it strikes you as positively your vocation to pursue it.  If you’re miserable being single, you ought to exercise the strictest of caution when confronted by the prospect of entering into a relationship: to a hungry man the odour of freshly-baked bread seems to waft from every available loaf-shaped item in the vicinity.

This may seem a counsel of perfection, or even a bit of overwrought self-projection.  [To those sitting at the back and shouting out, “Get a blog, man, and spare us the smug rot!” I send the timely reminder to, well, pinch themselves…]  Not everyone, it will be objected, feels the same intensity of emotion at the beginning of a relationship and yet many people who drift steadily and un-self-harmingly into a romantic partnership end up having long and happy marriages.  This certainly seems to be true.  But I have seldom encountered a chap in a genuinely happy marriage or engagement whom I wouldn’t imagine at some stage thereof having gleefully chuckled to himself at his luck in bagging his gal—it’s not reasonably to be expected that he would do so in front of me.  And ask yourselves this: how many couples about whom there’s no evidence of a continuing sense of deep gladness and gratitude for their being with their spouse, however decently and reticently borne, would you really call well-matched?

“Alright,” some of you are saying, “I know a bit about this B.A. chappy from reading around the blogosphere: it’s all very well for him, the smug blighter, to grin and croon and crow, having inveigled one of the most delightful creatures ever to have trodden the sod to associate herself with him—but we can’t all be that lucky.”   Well, none of you, I hope, will ever be quite that lucky—I’m not intending to let this one go I’m afraid, chaps.  But.  The point is that whomever you consort with should inspire at some stage this kind of pinch-test.  Or so it seems to this admittedly smug blighter.

May I call you, darling?  Just as soon as theyve invented the telephone, that is...

"May I call you, darling? Just as soon as they've invented the telephone, that is..."

The next thrilling instalment in our series “Men behaving wisely” is…

2. Don’t date or court women who can’t retain your respect (or who fail to respect you).

Sounds rather awful when put baldly down like that, doesn’t it?  “Aye, laddie, watch oot fur they wee minxes that grow their fingernails lang and chew gum in the street!  Yer mither would turn in her grave—uh, if she were deid…”

What’s this rule about then?  Well, it’s really another piece of astonishingly anodyne common-sense, I suppose.  [Lector: “Fancy that…” ]  It is less judgemental than it sounds.  The shelf-life of a relationship in which one or both of the parties has insufficient respect for the other cannot be expected to be long.  Sometimes, for no fault of the insufficiently-respected party, their counterpart has an aversion to a particular character trait or piece of habitual behaviour or persistent attitude that drives them potty.  It might be something as small as a habit of interrupting other people mid-sentence, or something as serious as a malicious or deeply selfish streak.  Sometimes these failings in the would-be spouse can be lived with, overcome or even embraced as a part of the otherwise-wonderful creature he-or-she is.  Marvellous, and a sweet victory for love over irritability.  But often it is otherwise. 

It would not even be necessary to delineate this rule were it not for our weakness (admit it now, chaps) for becoming attracted to women whose behaviour is often egregiously bad.  If the bad behaviour is such (e.g., throwing tantrums when thwarted, outrageous flirting with all and sundry, getting squiffy and argumentative at the drop of a hat, etc.) that you would be embarrassed and disgusted at it in the conduct of a friend’s gal, you are well advised to resist whatever other charms you are attracted by, because trouble’s almost certainly a-brewin’.   

You may think that her beautiful figure and charming sense of humour, her kindness to animals and refreshing lack of physical self-consciousness outweigh the irritation you feel every time she acts out the bad behaviour, and she may actually be a decent enough person and all of that jazz—but be vigilant about your inner responses.  Watch out for troublesome symptoms like frequently being drawn to take the opposite side in a disagreement or argument from that of your amour, or becoming uncharacteristically resentful of her small misdemeanours on a regular basis.  If these manifest themselves often enough and early enough, you may need to re-assess your suitability as her beau.  She is, after all, a beloved creature turned on God’s wheel in the image of Himself, and needs someone who can respect her for who she is, if such a one there is.  If, for whatever reason, you cannot muster enough respect for her general person  and character, you let both yourself and her down by persisting.  You will both value yourselves less if you manifest this lack of respect: she because she doesn’t feel respected, you because you’ll feel you’re “settling” for less that you deserve in a relationship (and, if you’re a decent enough cove, because you feel badly about not being able to repect her more).  And this can only lead in the long run to treating one another badly, at some level or other.

It is as important, of course, that you can be sure that she respects you.  If, for example, she is highly critical of your involvement in a centrally important pursuit in your life (let’s say, singing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas—though it could at a push be battle re-enactment, or playing the spoons) without good cause, and goes on about how stupid/boring/hypocritical such a pursuit is, that’s a danger-sign.  You need her to be able to respect any important enough innocent part of your life, and you (probably) deserve that respect. 

A sign of having truly fallen in love with a woman is a (non-pathological) feeling that she is somehow more worthy of your attentions than you of hers—should she return them, you really feel like the luckiest man alive.  You skip, you jump, you babble, you write drippy blog-posts.  If on the other hand you feel she’s got a pretty good deal in you and she should be jolly grateful (even if a neutral bystander might think the honour even between you), you may be suffering a lack of the relevant respect and devotion.  It’s just not meant to feel like that.  This is closely related to the “pinch test”, about which I will blog anon…

In the certainty that I’ve missed out or misrepresented some of what I meant to say here, I’ll leave this McRule in its rude and thready state.  Rough-hew it how you will.

Thinking about his tweed-heart...

Thinking about his tweed-heart...

In a Rule-breaking discussion with me about The Rules, that dearest of dear creatures Seraphic suggested to me that since I was sceptical about them, perhaps I should blog about why.  I instead suggested that, ill-equipped though I may be for such a delicate task, I might try to come up with better courtship advice for men, and this she thought worth a try (or a laugh). 

In an attempt to forestall the perfectly understandable snorts of derision from my readers ( “What the bally-flip does BA know about courting women, eh?  B.A.!”) I offer the observation that past gaffes often bring with them the conciliatory wisdom of hindsight—and moreover, I have recently been rather luckier on the romantic front than any man has a right to hope for.  So there.  And anyway, a chap’s got to blog about something.  [Cry from the cheap-seats: “Oh no he doesn’t!”]

Given the utility of the virtue of modesty to love, life and letters, I propose to begin with but one McRule, but it’s a biggie:

1.  Be Yourself

Hardly original, I grant you, but that just underscores this rule’s importance.  Yes, really.

Being yourself means letting your genuine character be what the world (and the woman whose affections you’d win) sees.  Don’t assume a persona, or conceal essential parts of your own personality or life circumstances, in order better to appeal to woman.  Heaven knows, there are plenty things about the-man-who-is-Benedict-Ambrose which have always seemed unlikely to him to appeal to women, but trying to conceal them has always failed on multiple levels.  Core values, character traits and life-history are things that, after a certain (fairly early) stage in a chap’s life, he is unlikely to change, and dissembling about them carries with it all the usual problems about lies, and is quite literally self-defeating into the bargain.  Even if you manage to pull this shape-changing trick off, you will have won her only by deception and at the cost of your own integrity.  Impersonating someone else (which is effectively what this sort of gambit amounts to) for the sake of gaining the admiration or love of another is not just deceptive—it’s also got a short-to-medium-term chance of success at the very most.  Truly, who can carry that kind of long-term denial of themselves off, without some catastrophic failure at some level or other?  If you would be truly loved by a woman (and there are few more heart-gladdening fates than to be loved by a truly good woman), you must let yourself  be loved.  What availeth it a man if he gain a woman’s love but lose his own soul, eh?   

Only, and here’s the rub, be the very best version of yourself that you can possibly muster. That, I think, best celebrates and increases a proper self-respect and respect for the other person.  If there are aspects of your character or life-circumstances that you really ought to be working on anyway—perhaps you’re addicted to filthy literature (the poerty of Pam Ayres, say) or spend too much time on t’internet reading toshy blog-posts about “being yourself”—let the fact that it will make you more worthy of another’s love help you to change them.  And try to make good progress on that before getting too involved with a lovely gal.

Do not, however, use some poor woman to “save” you from yourself—instead, make yourself more deserving of her first.  If your life or character is such a mess that it needs urgently sorting out, try to sort it out without involving “her” in the mess first.  It’s hardly fair to ask someone to be your personal saviour by becoming your (prospective) wife.  Unfair burden altogether, old chap, innit.  If you fail to win her despite the effort of making yourself worthy of her, you have lost only what you could not have kept anyway, and you’ll be all the more ready to woo someone else now you’ve got yourself in Bristol-fashion.

Also, resist the temptation to fall a certain type of women because you know they will not challenge the aspects of yourself that you really know you ought to change.  Don’t date for convenience.  If you do, you not only show her a lack of respect, but let yourself down rather badly into the bargain.  You will also be “settling” for less than you know you need, and you are unlikely to keep a healthy respect for such a woman. 

“Only date women you can truly respect” will be a subsequent McRule, so keep tuned in now, chaps.