A friend of mine just put me onto this fantastic article by Maria Walley on the Grotto Network: What the world needs to understand about single people.
Maria hits the nail on the head about a number of issues, including common myths surrounding dating and marriage, how married couples should (and shouldn’t) speak to singles about their love lives, and how unmarried men and women should approach life.
“So…how’s the love life?” I ask an old college friend on the phone — words flowing out as fast as I regret them.
“Oh, um, fine,” she awkwardly pauses. “Had a couple of mediocre Tinder dates… you know how those go.”
“Yeah… I guess I do,” I lie. I can imagine what bad Tinder dates are like, but honestly, I don’t actually know. I met the man who became my husband without the benefit (or burden?) of dating apps, that modern-day crutch for romance.
So without thinking, I reaffirmed the tired narrative that romance is the most important thing in our lives, and if you don’t have it, you’re just not living. I had put my friend in a corner, instead of allowing dating to come up naturally — on her terms. After all, when there’s no romantic drama to speak of, single folk can quickly feel like something is wrong with them. In today’s society, to be single is to date, correct?
You know how it goes: to be single must mean that we’re searching for that proverbial someone — that person whom we’ve been wishing for, praying for, yearning for. That person who makes us finally come alive, whose very presence starts our life. After all, aren’t we all ultimately fated for a mate — happily ever after, etc.?
Here’s the short answer: No.
And we should stop talking to single people like their romantic status is intrinsically connected to their happiness.
This is one of the biggest myths circulating in society at large – not just in church circles: if you’re not in a relationship, your life is incomplete. This myth has been perpetuated in film, television, novels, popular music, ads, billboards – you name it. And people like me buy into it without even realising it.
Fighting against this myth has been one of the most constant battles of my life. It’s marvellously pervasive, and I find myself thinking and behaving on this assumption all the time. But apart from being untrue, it’s antithetical to Christianity. Neither God in the Old Testament nor Christ in the New said marriage and relationships are the most important things in our lives. In fact, not much is said on the topic at all (outside of a few rules outlining morality in marriage and sex).
Despite the romantic soulmate narrative that has infiltrated our songs, literature, and cultural expectations the past few centuries, single people can lead joyful, meaningful lives completely on their own. Not one, single person in this entire world can complete anyone. In fact, believing that it’s your partners’ duty to complete you — and your duty to complete your partner — is a sure way to set you up for disappointment and failure. Why? Because it’s absolutely impossible.
I touched on this in my article; I would never expect my spouse to fulfil all my yearnings and expectations in life. Like Maria says, not only is it unrealistic and unfair, it’s not possible. Your spouse is, after all, just another flawed human being like you.
I also appreciate how Maria gives some practical tips about how to speak to singles in a helpful way:
So if your single friend confides in you about their loneliness, be careful of pushing the idea that one single relationship would solve it. Ultimately, that notion is only a distraction that masks a bigger problem. Instead of scheming how they can improve their Tinder profile, talk about how they can use their time to get involved in things that matter to them — or point to where their skills could be better leveraged in their community. Maybe there’s a basketball team that needs to be coached, or a garden that needs to be grown.
The idea here is both practical and compassionate. Singles usually can’t help the fact that they’re single, so talking about why they’re single or trying to help them find ways to not be single any more are often unhelpful and even painful. Chances are, your single friend has already been through every suggestion you come up with and it either hasn’t worked or hasn’t panned out.
So rather than reminding your unwillingly unmarried friend of his or her marital status (as if they could forget), talk to them about something else. An interest, a project, a practical suggestion that can help your friend grow and thrive. Of course, if your friend wants to talk about being single, listen to them, talk to them and sympathise, when appropriate. Sometimes it does help to get these things off our chests – especially as women.
Maria then touches on the topic of one of my recent blog posts: don’t idealise marriage:
Of course, happy relationships are great, and strong marriages should be totally celebrated! But let’s be clear — the married or in-relationship state shouldn’t be idealized. Single people need to be told that they’re loved and admired just as they are, wholly unattached.
Coupling up might be awesome, but finding that someone shouldn’t be anyone’s main focus if they’re trying to live a joyful life. Rather, we need to remind single people that their lives can be filled with just as much purpose, joy, and — yes, even selfless sacrifice — as their in-relationship counterparts.
Sure, we can talk to them about dating, but we needn’t push it on them. Perhaps they’re looking for a partner, but maybe they’re not. Either way, their singleness isn’t a waiting room for leveling-up to sharing life with someone else. They are living life, itself, right now — and probably doing just fine with that. Remind them that, as a friend, you’re in it with them.
I just want to respond to every paragraph of Maria’s article with the word, this!
I know precisely what it’s like to feel as though my days are being spent “in the waiting room” of life. Often, we single women feel this way. I can’t speak for single men, but this is a very pervasive attitude amongst women, in my experience.
It’s extremely difficult not to feel this way, when getting married and living happily ever after are so glorified in our world, and by popular media in particular. Finally, Maria gives some wonderful insights into the rare gift single people have:
Like all married people, I was once single. And to be entirely transparent, I had no idea what a gift — yes, a gift — the entire single experience could have been because I totally squandered it. I was always on the lookout for that someone and hyper-aware of my interactions with certain members of the opposite sex. I poured all too much time, energy, and thought into making relationships work that didn’t have a chance. Somehow, unconsciously, I had gotten it into my head that my life wouldn’t start until I met that someone. Using this limited lens, I missed out on a lot of potential joy.
And now that I’m married to that someone (who is amazing, I grant), I see how I could have spent so much more of my single years living life instead of stressing out if marriage would ever happen. And in doing this, I could have been a better, fuller person for my spouse.
I can completely relate to this. I’ve spent so much time on the lookout for my future spouse – hyperconscious during conversations with potential someones – that I forget to just be me, sometimes. I’m extremely grateful that I hardly ever do this these days. I’ve learned to practise mindfulness, to be present to what’s happening in real life, not in my head.
But singleness is also a gift!
On the days when I’m struggling most with being unmarried, I like to think of the wonderful freedoms I enjoy by virtue of my state in life. I love my nieces and nephews to death and cannot get enough of their cuddles, but I have the advantage of being able to give them back at the end of the day.
I can leave the house whenever I want and drive anywhere I like with my music pumping and nobody says boo (except, perhaps, other drivers).
I can change plans at a moment’s notice to go to this party or that gathering without inconveniencing anybody or affecting someone else’s schedule.
Of course, there are practical advantages to being in a relationship, too. I would love to have someone available and willing to go hiking with me on a weekend. It would be lovely to go to the movies to watch an anticipated film with a boyfriend or husband, especially when all my friends have plans. And yes, it would make me very happy to have a husband I could snuggle up to at night.
Like any situation, there are advantages and disadvantages. These days, I choose to focus on the advantages of my current state in life. Because there are many, many of them.
So maybe your single friends will meet someone — and statistically, that is very likely. But maybe they won’t. And if they don’t, we need to realize that it’s not some sort of tragedy we need to fix with their dating app of choice, but an opportunity to live in a way that inspires joy in all people — no matter their relationship status.
13 thoughts on “How to navigate the single life (and how to talk to your single friends)”
I think it’s a great piece.
Don’t get me wrong: I am all in favour of marriage, especially sound Catholic marriage. But I also think that a good Catholic single life – busy, happy, involved, fun – is the best preparation for it, for both men and women. It also happens to be the best preparation for a future single life if that’s what happens.
I love weddings when I see a couple (who I know both have meaningful independent lives) who have found each other, and have really taken time to build up the relationship. They know the risks, but they have done the preparation and are both committed to a common vision of marriage and family. This takes time and sacrifice and patience, all of which are part of their mutual love. They also have a shared Faith that they were able to develop when they were single.
I worry about couples who haven’t done the real work that only time can do. Or worse, who have had an exciting passionate start but who have now decided to get married when the relationship is on the wane, and who don’t have a shared strong faith. Or the strong whiff of desperation and of having finally trapped the other person. I don’t enjoy those weddings quite as much.
Either way, I ALWAYS cry at weddings! You just want me to be crying at the beauty of human commitment, rather than because I am anticipating the painful divorce.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette life is not good training for marriage. The good that most people will see in it is that a happy bachelor life is an indicator that one will have healthy expectations of the kind of happiness that marriage will provide. But outside of that, many of the habits one will form in the bachelor/bachelorette life will not serve you well in marriage, and we all know that the longer a habit has been in force the more difficult it is to break. The best training for being married is an involved and dependent family life, not a busy and independent single life.
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This. A thousand times this.
I’m not even remotely talking about a conventional, secular, sexually active singlehood.
There is actually a happy medium between the sexually active lifestyle and the cloistered stay-at-home. Women can and do share house with other women, and men can do the same, and they can support each other in navigating the world in a Christian way. Obviously, you choose your housemates carefully!
This is a great way to separate from your family of origin (especially necessary for men to mature properly), and to learn how to be independent and manage your adult life.
The best preparation for marriage I can think of is to have lived with a same sex housemate. You will learn how to have adult conversations about daily living, how to take reaponsibility, how to make sure other people assume responsibility, how to budget and pay bills, clean up after yourself, and have fun.
You also learn about how irritating another person can be, and how to manage this. In turn, you will learn how irritating YOU are to someone who hasn’t known you all your life.
I was not even remotely talking about a secular sexually active singlehood either. Forming habits of being able to go anywhere you want whenever, spending money however you please without having to talk to another person, getting used to a certain level of prosperity that’s only sustainable as a single person, and many other of the tiny little habits that are formed just by living day to day as an independent single person are all habits that have to be broken when you become married; the longer those habits are in force the tougher they will be to break.
It’s why seminaries and religious orders generally won’t take people after a certain age. After a while the transition to those lives is simply too great because the person has formed very deep-seated habits and ways of thinking that will have to be broken down, and it’s generally just too difficult.
All of the benefits you list of having a same-sex roommate can easily be had in a healthy family life. If your family actually has to cooperate and communicate, if they make the men contribute to paying the bills, and if they make sure that the men start getting age-appropriate levels of independent responsibility as they get older, then there’s no need for a bachelor/bachelorette life.
And I’ll just end with these words of Pope Pius XII:
A while back I was thinking about the last Catholic wedding I attended. It must’ve been around 1996-1997. I used to serve at funerals and weddings. I always got $ for serving at funerals. For some reason the newlyweds must’ve thought it was a privilege to serve at their wedding and didn’t give me $ for serving!
Based on what I’ve heard, women in general have a stronger desire to be in a relationship than men do. In conversation women seem to talk quite a bit about relationships. I recall having heard a female acquaintance mention that, unlike her, all her friends were married and had kids. This seemed to bother her a great deal. I don’t wake up at night thinking about things like that. Maybe other guys do, though…
I’ve always struggled to make myself at peace with this kind of mindset. Yes, it’s silly and self-destructive to act like one’s life hasn’t started yet if one isn’t married. You do miss out on very important things if the vast majority of your energy before your wedding-day goes into self-pity. Like anybody, I’ve got multiple productive callings operating on my life at any given moment, and I’m grateful for them. Right now, for example, besides being a son and a sibling and a parishioner of a small Lutheran mission parish, (unfortunately too small yet to offer many opportunities for lay ministry,) I’m working on a graduate degree so I can be an academic and teacher, maintaining a handful of important friendships and trying to cultivate greater discipline in my prayer life. In particular that last item is arguably more important than marriage, at least in itself (though Christlike service to spouse and children would ALSO be pretty intensely sanctifying if done right.)
And yet. It’s often hard to think that I’ve got any particular calling. at least for the present or foreseeable future, that I couldn’t be fulfilling just as well or better if I were married. (Even with regard to prayer, I know myself well enough to think things would probably improve if there were two of us praying together, at least some of the time.) Though Protestant myself, I understand the rationale for and the appeal of celibate religious orders. Devotion to spiritual concerns, within a context of community, is meant to be so all-encompassing that family life would just get in the way. But once you feel fairly confident that your own constellation of callings is in the world, it becomes hard to perceive indefinite singleness as much more than an absence of something. Yes, marriage is not the only or highest good. But it and family are significant enough goods that a couple extra hours a week volunteering at a soup kitchen aren’t going to sufficiently replace it. Maybe that betrays a lack of creativity on my part (I’m open to suggestions for more intensive acts of service.) Maybe this is all to leave me open for circumstances down the road I can’t foresee. But it is a difficult cross to bear NOW, regardless.
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Kyle, that’s fair enough. Most people do get married, and that’s not a bad thing. It just might be later than before.
It’s not so much a question of jamming every day full of soup kitchens and rescued animals and so forth. It’s taking each day as it comes, offering everything you do to God, and accepting what happens. This is what all of us have to do, whether we’re married or single. Living in the Will of God is really difficult at times, and really easy at other times.
You sound like a great guy, and your heart is in the right place! Maybe God wants to fill that hollow place in your heart right now.
Great post 🙂
There does appear to be an incongruity between the blog’s purpose and the message of this post.
I repeat, as the Boss said, “it is not good for man to be alone”.
The Hitchingsian Conundrum is emblematic of just how fundamentally disordered our societies have become. Therapeutic consolations are not going to get us out of this mess. The very people who have helped create our unfolding disaster are often the very same “authorities” advising us on how to live. It is untenable.
Something more radical is needed or we will continue down the path blazed by the Shakers to oblivion–minus the fine woodworking in the meantime.
Reject Therapeutic Individualism! I repeat: Reject Therapeutic Individualism!
Great article! Was thinking and talking about this subject with a close friend the other day, and we reached this conclusion. I showed it to him, and we were like ‘woah, this is exactly what were talking about but very clear.’ Thanks for articulating an important aspect of single life that is often overlooked so well!