An Israelite Without Guile
On Dating Nice Catholic Girls
So what did I miss?
Call it the buzz—it feels like a mighty caffeine jolt. It's the sense that something big could happen to change your life for the better. You might meet someone and have an experience your experience hasn't prepared you for. You're attractive, you're not dead. Life isn't that empty. Why not?
Annie Proulx once ascribed to a crippled ex-rodeo cowboy "a carved-wood quietude common among people who had been a long time without sex, out of the commerce of the world." That's it: the visible sign of an invisible buzzless-ness.
I was approaching carved-wood status, though not quietly, when I met—really met—my first nice Catholic girl. It was at a vocational discernment retreat. I was standing on the monastery porch, peering through the French doors toward the living room, wondering whether I should bolt now and apologize later, or vice-versa. I heard tires on gravel. Turning, I saw a girl step out of a Honda wearing a tight pair of jeans. They were not, I hasten to add, skinny jeans; they were cut '80s-style, high at the waist.
When the girl faced me, I saw that her glasses, too, were cut in the style of the Reagan Revolution: square, in every sense. But her legs—timeless. Perhaps her ensemble seems to spell out a mixed message? Not for me. I read: I am beautiful, but either don't know, or don't care.
Why, you could be my vocation, I thought, as she skipped past me, smiling.
It's moments like this when I love the Church. The world condemns bolts of magical thinking as lunacy. The Church dignifies them as the beginning of discernment. In I went.
Long story short: Her name was Melissa, she was 29, a nursing student. Like me, she doubted her vocation for religious life. But she was pious enough to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament for an hour without squirming. She was also one of those fangirls who spoke of sci-fi and comic book characters as though they had real Social Security numbers. The second night, we stayed up late in the kitchen, drawing parallels between Catholic saints and X-Men.
"Nightcrawler?" I asked.
"Martin de Porres," she answered, with a teacher's pet's promptness. "Both were healers, both faced discrimination because of their colors. Martin bilocated, and Nightcrawler teleports."
The retreat ended. Over the next couple of months, short e-mails led to long e-mails, which led to long walks in the park. One evening, to a note confirming our plans to meet the following day, she added the postscript: "By the way, are we dating?"
In seconds, I wrote back that, by the way, we were.
That blurting candor, that dash around pretense, was to become typical of us. Both of us being underemployed, we spent more time together, in the following weeks, than most married couples. Melissa was a talker, and from her talk I discovered she was also a survivor. Raised in the Midwest by clenched Calvinist parents, she passed her childhood in an airless bubble of solitude. As she grew older, her loneliness gave rise to depressive episodes of increasing depth and duration. When one of these episodes overwhelmed her, she checked herself into a rehabilitative facility and found Catholicism.
Having gone so long without friendship, she fretted over those she now had like they made up her stock portfolio. E-mails, IMs, and LiveJournal updates demanded timely and detailed response. She kept dossiers on her friends, their tastes and opinions, snits and neuroses. I imagined them committed to paper, each friend's vital stats and bio presented alongside a Paul Smith portrait, like entries in the Official Guide to the Marvel Universe.
Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon. His Open Salon blog is here.