While the tried and true guide to helping Catholic women ‘survive’ the single years has been written by American author Emily Stimpson, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my own advice on getting the best out of your singlehood.
Just for the record, I don’t think being single is something that should be ‘survived’; I think we should be able to thrive in whatever state of life we are in, because that’s what God has willed for us now.
Live out of home
As one of my readers put it in a comment:
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.
Having lived in a female share-house for the past five years, I can attest to the truth of every word of this. I had no real ‘reason’ to move out of home, other than an uncomfortable awareness that I wasn’t as responsible, independent or able to take care of myself as I should at 27. And boy, was moving out a learning curve!
I learned how to balance a budget, shop prudently for groceries, cook and manage meals every day, schedule laundry and other chores into my week, tidy up after myself and, perhaps most importantly, live amicably with other adults. I learned quirks, habits and other details about myself I never knew I had. I learned which battles to pick and what hills to die on when it comes to sharing a household. I did a huge amount of growing during this time and I seriously recommend – especially to anyone over 25 who has never lived out of home.
Start checking things off your bucket list NOW!
Too often I see women waiting around to get married so their life can really ‘begin’. This is nonsense. Apart from anything else, once you get married – and especially once you have children – you just won’t have time to do all the things you want to do. Start doing those things RIGHT NOW!
Personally, I love dancing, music and languages. So, I make an effort to go to swing dancing classes every week, I’m learning to play the guitar (or trying to) and I’m studying Latin. Your single years are the unrepeatable, precious time in your life to invest in hobbies, education, wishes and dreams.
You can, of course, do all this after you get married and start a family – but it’s a lot harder.
Start saving – buy the Barefoot Investor
Your future husband is not going to come riding along on his shining steed and rescue you from the black hole of debt and/or lack of savings you find yourself in. You need to get your s**t together now, girlfriend.
I came to the unflattering realisation very recently that I was guilty of this sin. Without even realising it, I had been unconsciously waiting to get married before looking at such trivial things as saving for a house deposit. You can imagine how much I’m regretting that now. And even if you do end up marrying a guy who has some decent savings, it can only be a good thing for you to bring something to the table, too.
For Aussies: Seriously, for all you financial illiterates like me, the Barefoot Investor is the funniest, cruisiest, most idiot-proof guide on how to save and be fiscally responsible that you will ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. In fact, stop reading this right now and go buy yourself a copy.
Invest in a good speaker
Nothing says single like belting out your favourite tunes at the top of your lungs while cooking, driving or just dancing around the house. To me, this is one of the greatest joys of being single. No children in the car to accidentally wake up. No busy husband to disturb. Just you and the music.
I recently bought myself a UE Boom and I couldn’t be happier – I leave it on the bench top whenever I prepare a meal, I take it into the shower, I put it on in the background while reading or writing. Plus, it’s great for parties! If you are single, whether willingly or not, you might as well do it well!
See a good (Christian) therapist
I’m deadly serious about this one. When it comes to learning about, and bettering, oneself, nothing has come even close to helping me as much as seeing a psychologist. I’ve learned about how to cope with stress; how to stop worrying; how to be assertive and deal with difficult people; I’ve learned about decades-old wounds I didn’t even know I was carrying; I’ve learned how to let go of resentment and forgive those who have hurt me, and I’ve learned how to heal quickly from the wounds they gave.
And what I keep coming back to is this: thank God I’m learning all this now! I hear so many stories of couples who brought all their problems, their issues and their wounds into their relationships and were only driven to therapy when their marriages were at breaking point. It is so much harder to deal with all the issues once you’re already in a marriage. The success rate of marriages does also tend to be much higher, so I’m told, for those who started seeing a therapist before getting engaged or married.
But even leaving marriage aside, being able to free yourself from old unhealed wounds, resentment and bad habits, from stress, anxiety or depression, is wonderful for its own sake. It is enriching and liberating and vastly contributes to quality of life.
A few caveats.
1. You need to find a good therapist, preferably one who shares your Christian faith. I’m lucky enough to have found a fantastic Catholic psychologist who brings my faith into each session (which also begins with a prayer). I’ve heard some dreadful stories of people who went to any old counsellor or psychologist and got bad or even harmful advice. Ask around before you start seeing someone. If you are already seeing a therapist and you’re not experiencing any improvement or getting any real help, you might need to shop around some more. Christian psychologists are rare but they are out there!
2. Yes, it’s expensive. But my life has improved so significantly by every measure since I started regularly seeing my psychologist that I don’t look at it so much as a cost as an investment; in my life, my mental health, my happiness and my overall peace of mind.
3. You don’t need to be crazy to see a psychologist. I’ll repeat that. You don’t need to be crazy to see a psychologist. Therapists have a bad name in a lot of Christian spheres. People associate them with Freud and tend to view the whole thing as pseudo-science and quackery. “I don’t need a psychologist, I have God.” This is what I used to say to myself. Little did I realise then that perhaps seeing a psychologist was part of God’s plan to help me in the ways I needed helping. (When people say this I’m reminded of the story of the drowning man.) And the fact is we simply do live in a busier, more stressful world than ever before. Apart from all the other problems you’re probably dealing with, this in itself can be a huge issue.
The only regret I have about seeing a psychologist is that I didn’t start going about 10 years earlier.
So, these are my top suggestions for how to make the most of your single years. I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions. What tips do you have for us singles?
Update: comment from a reader:
The fact that these things seem to not be learned at home for many people is a testament to a colossal failure within the home. These things should begin when you’re 13, not 25. And as I posted on the last thread, Pope Pius XII disagrees with your advice for women to leave the family home:
I also think many of the advantages you mention of having a therapist ought to be things worked out in solid friendships, so I consider the fact that it isn’t for many of us a failure for friendships to be sufficiently challenging us to virtue.
The biggest piece of advice I have for singles is to pray. As St. Paul tells us, the biggest advantage of being unmarried is having an undivided heart, to be solicitous of things of the Lord. St. Francis de Sales recommends an hour of mental prayer a day; St. Theresa of Avila recommends 2 hours per day. While how much time one has to pray is circumstance dependent, It’s difficult for me to think why at least an hour of mental prayer isn’t possible for a single person. King Louis IX assisted at 2 masses a day, and he was a king and married. It’s about priorities.
A few points on this.
I was brought up in a home that hugely valued personal responsibility. I’ve written about this before but my siblings and I were always on a chores roster; we were expected to help out around the house, we were expected to make our beds in the morning and, if we wanted to buy things, we were expected to get jobs so we could pay for them ourselves. This is a lot more responsibility than I see in many other homes.
However, none of this taught me how to balance a budget so I could navigate the best way of paying bills and buying enough groceries of a given week. I learned how to cook and bake growing up, but it’s a very different story if the sole person responsible for you getting fed is you! Also, for a time I bought my groceries with one of the girls I lived with, so managing meals for two each night, and having enough for lunch for both of us the next day, presented its own unique challenges.
And as I said, living with your family and living with others are two very different stories. Other people are generally not so forgiving of all your quirks and annoying habits as your family members. Learning how to navigate tricky conversations in a share house and getting used to the faults and foibles of others is all excellent practice for marriage.
I respect Pope Pius XII but I think it’s important to take into account that he lived in the early 20th Century – a vastly different world to the one we have now. Social mores have changed. People don’t learn the same level of responsibility they once did. Homes often require a double income these days. I’m not saying any of this is right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. At the end of the day I can only speak from my own experience and that has been as I described above: I learned invaluable lessons from living out of home, despite having had a very thorough and responsibly-minded upbringing.
Also, the reason I so strongly advocate for seeing a good therapist is because they can help you in ways friends are not always able to. I say this, again, from experience, despite the phenomenal friends and friendships I have. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with virtue, either. My close friends and I encourage each other in virtue all the time. The fact is, there are solutions to problems you may have that are not intuitive. I, and others I’ve spoken to, have abundant experience showing this to be the case. There are also trials you may go through that none of your friends have experienced, and talking to them can only help so much. A therapist is trained to deal with all manner of things, and will generally have had other clients who have the same issues and experiences as you.
The point on prayer is a really important one, though. I didn’t mention it because I was focussing specifically on practical advice. But yes, prayer is the most important thing you should be doing, single or not. If people struggle to fit mental prayer into their day, I recommend doing what I did and just trying to practice it for five minutes each day. It sounds easy but it’s surprisingly hard. Eventually though, once you get into the practice, five minutes is not enough! You will naturally spend longer and longer periods of time in mental prayer, building up your relationship with God. It’s a beautiful thing! I highly, highly recommend it!