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Auntie Seraphic & Young Catholic Girl

Monday, May 6, 2013
Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Thanks for all your good and witty advice! Reading your blog, I've learned the error of so many ill-advised things that I just know that I would have done if I hadn't heard what you had to say! 

I'm 19, and will be heading off to college in the fall. I've never dated, and haven't had much to do with guys other than family friends from church.

Several weeks ago, my dad and my siblings visited the farmer's market near our house. I walked around talking with the vendors and trying out samples. One of the vendors was a guy maybe a few years older than me. He was fairly friendly, and we chatted about the various products on sale before I wandered off. 

After a few minutes, he caught up with me and told me that he was new to the area, and that he hadn't made any friends yet, and that I seemed like a peaceful sort of person, and would it be okay if he got to know me a little better? He seemed rather flustered. I was surprised, and, not knowing what to do, said the first thing which came into my mind, which was "Um, let me go ask my dad." 

My dad, being the protective, cautious type, said that it would not be a good idea, and told the guy so. (My dad thought he seemed like a decent person, though not a NCB--I heard him use the F-word when talking with a friend. Also, he asked me if I was in high school, while I was looking at the stuff he was selling, but I'm not sure if this was especially significant.)

Thinking back on the whole incident, I'm quite mortified, but am not sure what I should have done better. In the future, if I'm approached like that, what would be the correct response? 

Thank you,
Young Catholic Girl

P.S. Is there any way to let a guy know that my idea of personal space and his are different without being rude? I'm certain my coworkers at shop I work at aren't attracted to me, but they stand way too close! And I've been working there for a couple of months already, so I don't want to say anything all of a sudden. I've kind of gotten used to it--should I just bear with it because I'm leaving in a few months? Thank you again! 

Dear Young Catholic Girl,

If your first impulse was to ask your dad, then you did the absolute right thing. You could not have done anything better than to ask your dad about a strange man's offer of friendship. Although I can see that it was terribly embarrassing for you, for me it is a beautiful example of a dad being asked and allowed to do his job, which is keeping even his teenage-almost-adult daughter safe. 

The man asked you if you were in high school to determine if it would be legal for him to have a sexual relationship with you. Of course, not being there or completely psychic, I should say that I am only 99.9% sure of this. 

Personally, I think that until you get more practice dealing with men hitting on you--and "Will you be my friend?" is most definitely hitting on you--saying, "I'll go ask my dad" is the absolutely best thing you can say. It will scare the heck out of the bad guys, and only the bravest, most honourable (or, more rare, smartest, most confident) guy would say, "I'll introduce himself to him."

If you go away to college, of course, your dad will not be around, so one way to keep yourself safe and scare away the bad guys while not scaring away the good ones, is to mention your dad in general conversations from time to time, making it clear that you love him and have a good relationship with him. 

I also recommend telling your dad about all the people you meet at college, including the boys, and ask him for advice about them, too.  (You might want to tip him off before you go to college that you're going to do this, so he is prepared.) At college, focus on making friends with boys in Catholic chaplaincy and other clubs. The more you become acquainted with boys in non-romantic, non-sexual associations, the more easily you will be able to deal with courtship (or seduction) overtures.

As for the people at work, I recommend a sudden shout of "Hey! I need some space to breathe here!" Repeat as necessary. People hit on 19 year old girls or stand too close to 19 year old girls because 19 year old girls look like pretty adult women but don't have the same confidence as adult women. 

I hope this is helpful. Your dad sounds great. I am all about your dad this morning. 

Grace and peace,

Many readers may feel doubtful about my "Ask Dad" advice, so I will stress that asking dad was this reader's first impulse. I am a great believer in gut instinct and not second-guessing one's gut instinct afterwards. Also, a young woman who has never dated or known many guys other than the one she meets at church is often at risk from men whose intentions are "How do I get this pretty girl into bed as soon as possible?"  A young women who has been fielding passes since she was fourteen is much more likely to get the measure of a man in a first conversation. She probably doesn't need to ask Dad--especially not for permission to say No.

Older men love teenage girls because teenage girls are often pretty, idealistic, polite and eager to please everyone around. Bossed around by parents, teachers and advertisements for their entire lives, they are unused to people trying to please them. If a grown man tells a teenage girl "I'm lonely; will you be my friend?" she is much more likely than an adult woman to believe he is telling the truth and that she should be his friend. Even when terrified, she will smile and "be nice" i.e. a potential victim.

I have an ex-friend who always hit on young girls no matter how much older we got. As we neared thirty, he was still sighing over nineteen and twenty year olds, whom he showered with presents whether they liked it or not. He did not like women our age because we were "so jaded." He did not make the connection, or did not care, that the "so jaded" women of 29 were once the naive, idealistic, eager-to-please nineteen year olds he fancied.

The transition from idealistic, happy, eager-to-please adolescent to informed, contented, confident adult woman is a very dangerous one. You can learn about men the easy way--with the guidance and protection of your parents, aunties, uncles, priests, teachers and religious tradition--or you can learn about men the hard way--all by yourself with only other girls your own age and Anne of Green Gables to guide you. Sometimes your parents don't do a good job of teaching and protecting you, but sometimes your parents have just done the best they can, given that both advertisers and the state would rather you listened to them than to your parents. Ever wondered why your parents seem so "uncool"? It's because a million ads and ten thousand songs have told you they are.

Never underestimate the love of older men for "guiding" younger women (especially as an exciting substitute/rival for her father) or of other adults--perhaps especially the childless--to mold the minds of other people's children. This, incidentally is one reason why, if you are under 20 and absolutely love my blog, you should discuss my ideas with your parents or favourite aunt or favourite priest. This applies especially to the ideas you like best. Although I myself have the best intentions, I am not your mum, and I don't know how my ideas might influence you in ways I did not expect.