Getting Singlehood Right
We've heard it all before. We hear encouragement when waiting on our own Prince Charming is hard. We read endless advice on learning to love ourselves and we watch episodes of single women like Ann Perkins learning to date herself. Meanwhile, we as Catholics write about dating fasts, read endless listicles about single woes and dream of our future self sacrificial wedded bliss. However, it is very rare a single Catholic would be told they should consider being single their vocation. Sometimes I wonder if we are afraid that if we praise it too much it will become so seductive, attractive, and enticing that no one will want to accept the heavy cross of marriage so well advertised by exhausted mommy blogs and marriage jokes.
Don't get me wrong, people who are unmarried have committed the whiny web crimes too. I don't want to insult the struggle of either vocation. Of course it's real. Of course giving oneself, pouring out oneself to a little person, a sloppy person, an irrational person, or ANY person other than yourself is hard (see the cross). But, weren't we taught so well by St. JP2 that giving of ourselves is exactly how we find ourselves? We glorify marriage and the family so much but then we rant about it. Then, we publish blogs on why waiting is hard, why it's valuable (in reference to the future life of marriage), and why we should pray for our spouses, write them letters, look for them, be open to them, and how not to lust after them (see emotional chastity). We hear we should run toward God and look around and we will find our spouse. So, what's my point?
The bombshell: What about the beauty of being single with no next. No future. No waiting. Just single-hood. Gasp! Even writing it hurts a little. It goes against so much. Is it selfish? Is it hopeless? Is it an avenue of thought only those who have had no luck by a certain age must desperately go down?
For some it is a reality. It must be talked about.
See, if there are many aching hearts out there longing for companionship and love, but who know some day it's coming, there are also a plethora of hearts out there who know it will not come. Who have been told it must not. It can not.
When we only preach about the beauty of marriage, and we never uphold the beauty, the triumph, the JOY, the life giving, fruitful way of being single, you see, we not only leave a bunch of desperate romantics pining for their "some day" without living now, we also leave no reason to be attracted to, or desire this beautiful way for those who will never marry. We leave it as the afterthought vocation for the leftovers...and just think about those connotations.
Take my friend with certain disabilities and a situation who has known for some time she can not marry, or the man with same sex attraction who longs to be faithful to the Church's teachings, or the most emotion provoking religion class scenario about people who can't get married due to anatomy. Why do girls always freak out about this? Because, in their minds, if you don't marry, you are expelled from your chance at love, passion, companionship, purpose, and the list goes on and on. We have a large amount of hurting people in our churches, schools, and ministries who rarely hear a thing about what we preach must be their future: a life of celibacy. A life of being single. Isn't that what we say if someone has a homosexual orientation? And yet, do we say anything happy about it?
Look, I'm a girl who is 27, unmarried, and surrounded by people who love me. I'm in no way desperate, but I have felt almost constantly the sadness, frustration, awkwardness, whatever, of being Catholic and single. I've been made to feel like there's something wrong with me. I have had people tell me my lifestyle is selfish because I am still single (yes, really). My mom has had to answer questions assuring people I'm happy even though I'm spouseless. I've reassured even relatives and good friends that I'm quite fulfilled regardless of my lack of boyfriend/husband/fiancé. I have been left out of things too many times to count, and told I don't understand because I'm not married and am childless, and I've had times I have just hated all people and all things because I felt so misunderstood. That's my experience, and I know someday I can get married. Think of how it must be for those who can't.
We live in a world made for marriage and the family. Of course. How many times have I heard that in Catholic school and Mass? But how many times have I also felt so guilty wishing it were different. Immediately, I feel like, "Oh, how could I want it another way?" We, the Church, are on a campaign to protect, guard, and defend marriage and the family and yet I want people to calm down about it? I want people to pay attention, be more compassionate to those with no one to attend the holidays with. I want to stop being made to feel like a temptation to all committed males because of a lack of marital status. Am I selfish? Oh my gosh! But, honestly, I don't think I am...We focus so much on promoting marriage and spend so much time telling certain people they can't get married. Hello? There's something sad here. Something heart wrenching. If all the beauty and joy lies in marriage then how dare we deny it? Of course I know why, but it's easy to see how this feels.
We expose our daughters and sons to careers and lives they'll dream of having. We teach about the vocations so that they won't feel it's unheard of to become a priest or a sister. We need to do this with the single vocation so that our children won't feel it is a Plan B, or a failed waiting game. If we can do a better job with this kind of promotion when a kid knows that singlehood must be their path there is some good connotation to it. Let's allow dreams to form that might include being single and not in the selfish way. I remember teaching Totus Tuus at a wealthier parish and one of the first grade girls shared how she never wanted to get married because then she could be rich, buy fancy clothes, and drive a sports car. I think back on that example a lot (still waiting for my sports car!). If that's how people view the single life no wonder people of good will struggle to desire it or encourage it in others.
My proposal is that in lessons, homilies, and movements where we seek to protect marriage and the family, we also at least begin to study the works and lives already teaching the radiance of being single. See Pier Giorgio Frasatti to start. Lay out how beautifully all three vocations can support each other. Stop pretending the single don't need your prayers or even a proper nod in the vocation world. Will it help the impatient or heartbroken? Will it comfort the lonely? Sure. Of course. But even better, I believe it will give purpose and right place to the life of celibacy, whether transitional or permanent, chosen, or as a consequence of something out of a person's control.
I believe this attitude will elevate back to it's right place love that is not sexual or romantic. You see in this world right now, without this emphasis, all love is sexual. All companionship is a questionable relationship, all affection is sexual, and all admiration is attraction. (See the comments in the last month on John Paul II and a female friend and correspondent. Here is a great article worth a read.) That is not how it should be, but that is how it will continue to be if we don't start talking, offering other examples, and supporting the single people in our Church. I believe our Church can remind everyone that love and companionship is something real and authentic, and something we offer all people-not just the married. I also firmly believe it will get married people to live in a more outward and open way in their families. Reminding our world how important non-romantic friendships really are. It will bring compassion to all vocations so singles won't despise the remarks, "live it up while you can" and our wedded friends will feel supported too. Finally, and most importantly, it will teach those who are celibate that they have something to be joyful about. I believe this understanding will give a beautiful place for gay Catholics to be. Otherwise we preach about homosexuality with no hope. No option. No promise. And this Mother Church I know is full of promise.