The easiest way to make yourself feel bad, short of a hammer, is to compare yourself to others.
I'm not suggesting you not have any heroes. Christians have a lot of heroes, right from when we're kids: there's Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and all the Saints. The saints are to be admired and, as much as we're able or called, emulated. (Nobody seems to be called to sit on a pole anymore. What must St. Simon Stylites be thinking? "Kids today...") I wish I had known, as a cast-off wearing kid, that Dorothy Day wore nothing but cast-off clothes for most of her adult life. Kids in particular need heroes, models and guides.
What I am suggesting is that you not see how you measure up to other people your age and younger in day to day life. You can drive yourself nuts doing that. And not only that, if you have a problem with self-absorption already, as Single people often do (alas), you lose sight of the person to whom you're comparing yourself. You can't see them; you just see what they have, which you want, and you don't got and why don't you, etc., etc.
As you probably know, I'm 39. I don't repeat this over and over again because our society rewards a woman for being 39. No. I repeat this over and over again because most of you are much younger than I am and worried because you haven't yet been called to marriage or religious life or permanent Single Life, including (but not limited to) the priesthood. Well, I wasn't called until I was 38. And I don't have any kids yet despite being 39. And nevertheless the sun is shining in through the window, and I am enjoying a nice cup of tea, and I am pondering what I shall have for lunch, and life is very good. So I keep telling you that I'm 39 so you will feel better about being 27 or whatever you are.
But if I decided to compare myself to a younger woman, a younger woman with children, one who makes tons and tons of money through her writing, I would go simply bonkers. So I don't. And the one time I did complain that I wanted to publish my first book at 14, not 39, a kind friend said Tolkien published his first book at 63. I mean, Tolkien. 63. Wow! It makes you think.
Recently a young Single friend of mine was wigging out about her situation in life. She was definitely wigging. (I wig enough to know wigging when I see it.) She burst into a furious monologue about another woman she knew. It went something like this: "She's only two years older than me, and she's got a charming husband, and she was wearing three massive diamond rings, and she's got a baby. My life is utterly hopeless, hopeless, hopeless."
Now, I just did not know what to say. I mean, I was a meelyon years older than both these girls, and whereas I do have a charming husband, I cannot call Ringzilla massive, and I most definitely do not have a baby. But I decided that this was one of those times I should keep my mouth shut, and the very next day this young Single friend got a fantastic, fantabulous career boost.
We are often encouraged to compare ourselves favourably to those poorer than we so that we will count our lucky stars. I disagree with this technique too. It seems so freaking patronizing. (I'd sure like to know whose brilliant idea it was to ship crates and crates of condoms to Haiti, crates of condoms that slowed down the distribution of food aid.) When charity tourists come back from their Liberation Theology trips to El Salvador or wherever, they usually say something like, "They're so poor, but they're so happy." Well, then.
I suspect I may have been pitied by a bondslave. There I was in a nail salon in Brighton, Massachusetts, one staffed by Vietnamese girls working under the steely eye of their older Vietnamese bosses. These girls didn't speak much English, and as Brighton's aerobicized and sun-bedded bottle-blondes chatted to each other, the Vietnamese girls crouched at their feet, polishing away and exchanging remarks in Vietnamese. The youngest of these girls used to test her pidgin English on me, and one day, as she dug away at my cuticles, I discovered that what she liked best about America was watching the cars go up and down the street outside the salon. Apparently that was all she had seen of America since her husband had brought her from her tiny village. I hid my horror under a smile.
"Are you married?" asked the possible bondslave.
"No," I said. "Not yet?"
"Ooooooooooh," said the girl. But then she reflected, "Plenty time. How old are you?"
"Thirty-six," I said.
The girl looked up swiftly. And there, in her widened eyes, was definite, sincere, and absolute pity.
So, anyway, that is my message today. Don't compare yourself to others, and don't compare what you have to what other people have. This is not exactly an original thought, and when our Lord had it, he told us to compare ourselves to birds and flowers instead.
Update: Speaking of comparisons, Seraphic Singles' Amazon.com ranking yesterday was 128,958. This morning it is 59,692. I have no idea what this actually means, but it feels good. Thank you for buying my book!