The Crisis in the Single Life

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile now, but haven’t had the energy to really collect coherent thoughts on the subject.  The SCOTUS decision made me come back to it.  I figure I’ll ramble here, maybe get some feedback, and then post my coherent and articulate thoughts on joanmwatson or at Integrated Catholic Life.  So if you’re reading this, know that you’re my guinea pigs well-loved friends with whom I can be vulnerable and open.

Over the past ten or twenty years in the Church, we’ve heard talk about crises in the priesthood and crises in marriage.  This post isn’t going to contradict those ideas. We have been bombarded by false images of those vocations, and a lack of understanding of those vocations have led to severe problems.

But I think we’ve neglected to think about the crisis in the single life. Sure, a false understanding of marriage has led to the Supreme Court decision. Absolutely. But so has a false understanding of the single life. And in the Church we can even perpetuate it with a false emphasis on vocation.

Let me ‘splain.

I was struck when the French bishops came out this spring encouraging the synod on the family not to forget singles. The article mentioned that theologians “studying the issue said the Church should not ‘absolutise states of life’ and idealise marriage.”  While I hate vague references to no one (“theologians” is like saying “they” and never talking about who “they” might be…), it got me thinking about the idea of “absolutizing” states of life.

I think I’ve said here before – I don’t think the non-vowed single life is one of “VOCATIONS” of the Church, like marriage, consecrated life, and priesthood are. (the capitalization here and what follows is all completely intentional. I want you to feel yelled at. haha)  I think we actually do damage to those of us living this non-vowed single life by acting like it is.  It’s sometimes thrown into petitions and whatnot, probably somewhat out of pity and/or fear of neglecting someone. But I don’t know if God made me to live alone. I don’t think He did.  If I thought He did, I would take vows as a consecrated virgin.  And then I wouldn’t be alone because I would be in a vowed relationship with Him.

I don’t think He created me to be alone, but here I am. And here are hundreds of thousands of young men and women.  Now, if you find yourself in this spot, don’t immediately assume your Aunt Betty or your newly-engaged-best-friend are correct in asserting that you’re in this position because you’re too picky or because you don’t get out enough.  (you’ve heard that, I know- we all have.)

It might be a consequence of something…. such as our sexed-crazed culture that has destroyed babies, destroyed morals, destroyed an understanding of sacrifice and love, and destroyed the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

And as a result, there are a many of us who find ourselves single.  Is this our “VOCATION!!!”?  I don’t think so.  Will all of us get married someday?  I don’t think so.  And you know what?  That’s okay. Because our ultimate vocation is holiness.  I think that’s what the “theologians” might be getting at when they talked about “absolutizing” vocation. We’ve begun focusing so much on “PRAYING FOR YOUR VOCATION!” and “FIND YOUR VOCATION!!!”  that we’ve neglected to talk about the vocation we don’t have to go searching for, we don’t have to wait for, we don’t have to wonder about… because it’s right in front of us, in the every day grind of life, in our friends and family … holiness.  Ulitmately, all those vocations just serve one purpose: holiness.  So rather than getting your panties in a wad because you haven’t “FOUND YOUR VOCATION!”, why don’t we all just concentrate on being holy?  If God brings a spouse to you during that time, or proposes to you in the form of an attraction to priesthood or consecrated life, great.

But if not, you’re not a horrible person.  You’re not a failure. Will life be hard because you’ll feel alone sometimes?  Sure.  Will holiness be difficult because you won’t have the grace of a sacrament or the grace of vows?  You betcha.  But it’s okay.  There are crosses in every vocation.  Yours are just easier for you to see.

“Absolutizing” the vocations has repercussions when we look at our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction.  How do we tell people struggling with these attractions that holiness is possible if we’re so busy absolutizing vocation? “You should go find your vocation!! … oh, but you can’t get married to the one you want to marry.  Um, no, you can’t become a priest.”  Hm.  And so what do we do?  We try to make the single life a vocation.  But how can it be a vocation if it 1) might not be permanent and 2) it’s not vowed to another (either God or a spouse)?

Why don’t we stop trying to make it a “vocation” and instead accept (and work through) the uniqueness of the transitional single life… that might not be transitional?  Why don’t we teach what chastity actually is? I know chastity has to be lived in every vocation, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist (or a psychologist) to know that it is particularly difficult for those living the transitional single life.  Sorry, married friends, I know you have your unique struggles, but don’t try to tell me our struggles with chastity are equal, haha.  If we are going to preach this Gospel of chastity to those struggling with same-sex attraction, it would behoove us to understand the nature of the transitional single life (that might not be transitional).

Until we try to understand the nature of this unique stage (that might not be a stage) of life, we aren’t going to be able to preach to our society that is so in need of healing.  I’m not just talking about those of us who are trying to live chaste single lives in this sexed-crazed world, or those who struggling with same-sex attraction.  What about those people who are divorced but can’t remarry because their first marriage was valid?

A few of my transitional-single-life-that-might-not-be-so-transitional friends and I were discussing some of these things recently.  We agreed that we’re sick of people telling us to go find our vocation, as if we never think about it (when we’re reminded of it in some way every.single.day.)  We agreed we are sick of people praying for “an increase of vocations to the single life.”  STOP IT.  Really. Just stop.  No one deserves your prayers for that. Stop.  And we’re sick of people telling us that we are picky, we need to get out more, or acting like we don’t understand life because we haven’t “found our vocations.”

I read an article once that said, “Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage.  it’s an entirely different sport– and if you haven’t played it, you haven’t mastered it.” Yes. A million times yes.  At risk of someone thinking I sound snarky, I’m going to say that I’m tired of married people thinking they know what being single is like simply because they were single before they got married (by age 25) or because they’re alone some evenings when their spouse is at work.

It’s time for us to start looking at this unique state of life.  Not by adding it into the petitions (again… please… no…) or by throwing more “singles events” at the parish (aka mixers) or by acting like it’s one of the permanent vocations, but by really trying to undertand how this transitional-maybe-not-so-transitional way of life fits into the parish family and society as a whole.  It’s time to listen and figure out what we have to share with a world in so much need of healing.

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8 thoughts on “The Crisis in the Single Life

  1. Doreen says:

    Well said Joannie!! As a divorced/now widowed Catholic tired of my sister ‘waiting for me to have the perfect life she has’-married 40 years. And she does say I’m not out enough -not true etc. pressing to use on line dating- been there done that – yuck!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Great, great thoughts Joannie.

    Might be a typo here: “You should go find your vocation!! … oh, but you can’t get married to the one [you?] want to marry. Um, no, you can’t become a priest.”

    Love, your guinea pig.

  3. Amy says:

    Love your ramblings. Thank you especially for that comment about the petitions. 🙂 Definitely looking forward to any future posts.

    Recently I was talking to a friend who has bought into the culture’s message about sex, marriage, etc. She’s a little mystified about me, as you can well imagine. And one thing I told her was that I’ve learned that love is more than romance, more than a spouse/partner/significant other. I was always afraid that if I didn’t have a spouse, I wouldn’t have love in my life. And I’ve learned that is absolutely not true. The love of family, friends, and God is more than enough. Do I wish I was married? Sure, assuming I’m married to Mr. Right for Me. Can I have a rich and full and even loving life without ever being married? YES.

    If the Church could help us get to that understanding, not just in our heads but also in our hearts, then I think we singles could have quite a powerful witness to the world.

    • I agree. I wish there was something in the Church that was a “ministry to singles” without it sounding 1) pathetic or 2) like a meat market.
      We have definite spiritual needs… like how to live out that rich and full life to serve the community … while finding a balance between service and not getting burned out. Since we don’t have a vocation that neccessarily calls us to service/life lived for another, there can be a danger of living selfishly OR on the other hand never thinking you’re living selflessly enough.

  4. Cathy says:

    It would be great if the single transitional-not-so-transitional community could unite with the spiritual friendship movement (www.spiritualfriendship.org) in the gay-celibate-Christian community.
    I think many great conversations would result from this interaction along with mutual help and healing.

    PS: Hi, old friend!

    • It was such a surprise and treat to get this comment in my inbox this morning!! Thanks for the link, Cathy — I agree, I think there needs to be more interaction along these lines — for many reasons!

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