As you might have ascertained from this post’s very blunt title, it is about, shall we say, extended singlehood. Far be it from me to brag, but singlehood is a topic I feel relatively equipped to write about since I have been single for the vast majority of my 35 years on this earth. Whether you are in the single lady boat with me or a hitched lady of 5, 10, 20, or 30 years, I hope you keep reading. Not because my single life is extraordinary, but because, in fact, it is utterly ordinary. But sometimes (most of the time) we can learn good things from the ordinary, so here goes . . . .
If you were to have told me when I was 25 that I would be single at 35 I’m not sure what I would have done. Cried. Laughed in disbelief perhaps.
Like many woman, it wasn’t part of my grand plan to be single at this stage in my life’s journey. In fact, my anticipated route through life was as follows: be married by my mid-to-late twenties with a frolicking band of kiddos by 35. I’d homeschool and garden and raise chickens on our little country plot and he’d have a day job in the nearest town and handily help me with projects at home. We’d read nerdy Catholic literature and he’d sing Matt Maher’s Set Me as a Seal to me and it would just be this beautiful, Catholic marriage. (Okay, maybe I wasn’t that particular in my dreaming but it was close.) I was firmly rooted in the knowledge that the Church upheld marriage as a Sacrament, a beautiful path to holiness, and I loved all the things that were written from the heart of the Church on marriage. Among other things, the Catechism says:
“Since God created them man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1604)
I wanted that. I wanted another in my life to whom I could love and give myself fully. I wanted a marriage that reflected, albeit imperfectly, God’s love poured out on humanity. It’s at the very core of our nature to desire to make this vow, a forever promise, whether that be to marriage or to consecrated life. So, when that doesn’t happen for someone, it stings, sort of like we’ve been invited to a party and we’ve arrived dressed to impress, but our name isn’t on the guest list. Sometimes it feels just rotten. I’ve been there. I totally get it.
There were years in my post-mid-twenties, post-late twenties, post-early thirties, where the reality of not being wed was exceedingly difficult. I’d dread the weddings of friends and family members, not because I didn’t love them or desire their happiness, but because the pangs of loneliness were too fierce. (For the record, bouquet tosses are less fun for single ladies than one might think).
I spent years praying for my spouse, praying to be introduced to my spouse, praying for patience as I waited for my spouse. I was so focused on the one good thing that wasn’t happening in my life that I was missing out on so much of the good that was happening. I had found my professional calling and was growing in leadership roles in my community. I had the blessing of fantastic friends and housemates. I was learning to be a more devoted daughter and sister and auntie. But I couldn’t see those things. I was often neglectful and petty and negative. My heart railed at God, “If you can’t give me this one thing, then I refuse to be thankful for the hundreds of other good things you’ve given me!”
It wasn’t a pretty time for me. But in the angst and frustration and hard-heartedness I slowly learned (thanks be to God) that God has chosen me to be schooled in my single-ness. In this school, I’m learning lots of things, most recently that I have the great blessing of being available when those in my life need me. Like when my dad was sick or a friend had a baby or a marriage in my community is really struggling. I have the freedom to be present in a way that is a whole lot harder when you are married and have kiddos. I’m learning to embrace that availability while at the same time still longing for my vocation. It is possible to exist in both of those worlds.
If you are single and frustrated, I’m in the journey with you, and I’d like to share a few suggestions while you are waiting for Mr. Right (because, sisters, there is much to be done as we wait):
Keep a journal.
Perhaps One Line a Day variety that allows you to reflect from year to year on the good things that God is doing in your life. Sometimes what is most helpful when you are playing the ever-dreadful waiting game is to remember that even when life feels like it’s not moving, it is. Life lessons are learned, jobs and promotions and degrees are attained, and we, by His grace, become holier and more attentive to His will. Take note of what you’ve learned, what you’ve been struck by, what you are most grateful for. Writing down what you are noticing from year-to-year is a helpful way of reminding yourself that we are moving forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Read about marriage.
One book on my bedside table currently is Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. Reading about the Sacrament of matrimony is my way of learning and allowing my heart to be cultivated in preparation for meeting Mr. Right, if that ever happens. That being said, if you’re at a place in life where it just hurts too much to read about/talk about/pray about marriage, I get it. It’s okay to take a step back and not dive-head first into all that stuff. Do other things that bring you joy, whether it’s taking up an art form or hosting a meal for friends or joining a pick-up sports team. Our hearts are multi-faceted, and sometimes we need to polish up one side before we can work on another.
Pray about love.
About a year ago my morning prayer, for whatever reason, changed from praying for and finding my spouse to: Lord, show me how to love and to be loved today. Because to be a good spouse, it’s not just about learning how to love and be devoted to him, or even in general about learning how to love well. It’s also about learning how to be loved well. And the outcome of that prayer has been so fruitful. I’ve become closer and more vulnerable in a good way, I’ve learned to share my emotions, I’ve learned to be more honest and authentic. Say this prayer, sisters, whether you’ve found your vocation or not. It is powerful.
And for all of you happily married readers out there, might I request the following three things to support those single gals in your tribe:
Pray for holy marriages in your family, church, and community. If your church prays for vocations at the start of Mass, make sure to pray also for good and holy marriages. In your prayer share quietly in a moment of suffering for those who are desiring of marriage and haven’t yet found their vocation. This single lady would be so grateful, and is praying for you, too, in whatever difficulties you are encountering in your marriage.
Say hello to a single person at Mass.
Sometimes, going to Mass is lonely (just a touch ironic considering that the Eucharist is celebrated by thousands upon thousands at the same moment in time). Come out of your shell, just a bit, and introduce yourself to that single person. Say hello again the next time you see him/her. Maybe even go out on a limb and invite that single person to brunch with your family. I learn so much from my coupled friends when I see what marriage and family life looks like for them. Don’t be afraid to be the imperfect teacher. We single folks need a healthy dose of realism in our lives. We all do.
Be willing to play matchmaker.
Our contemporary culture has lost this fine art and it is so unfortunate because the best matchmakers are not online dating websites (even though, I admit, they can be helpful tools). Be willing to say to your single guy friend, co-worker, or sibling (with permission from any affected woman of course), “Hey, I know this great woman, she’s faith-filled and genuine, and . . . can I give you her number?” If the first date tanks, it tanks. It’s not the end of the world. Really and truly, as a single person, I honestly don’t mind being set-up, assuming it’s more than simply a “Hey, he’s Catholic, your Catholic; you’d be perfect for one another!” set-up (which, by the way, never turns out well).
Ultimately, here’s the bottom line, Sisters. Being single is hard. Sometimes, so is being married. Sometimes, so is the religious life. Sometimes it’s exceedingly hard. But it’s in the hardness of these sufferings that we come to realize that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:3-5). Let us use the blessing of waiting to allow our hearts to grow and be nurtured.
I would never have thought that I would be grateful for being 35 and single but (gasp!) I am. God is about it. He knows what He is doing.
Written by Karen Schultz. Find out more about her here.