Dear Auntie Seraphic,
Do you have any advice for how to deal with friends and family who seem to think that because one is single, one has excessive amounts of time and money to offer to the service of others? I love helping others, I love my friends and I love my family. I also thought I was pretty good at saying "no" to people, but now as I read your advice I realize maybe I'm not as good at it as I thought.
For example, after examining the past few years of my life (I'm [in my late twenties]) I realize that I have not taken a single non-work-related trip that hasn't involved a wedding or a baby related event. I realized that much of my free time is taken up with helping friends and family with "issues" (childcare, moving, illness, etc) that I am not just politely asked but asked with an air of expectation that I can and will assist since, what else have I got to do?
I know that other singles have shared this frustration. Do you have any advice on how to carve out time for oneself while still being a Nice Catholic Girl who genuinely helps those in need?
No Time for Self
First of all, I think you have answered your question. Go book a holiday. Now. If you can't stand the idea of a holiday on your own, I recommend signing up for a retreat. And you might want to structure some recreation for yourself in the form of a night class. If it costs money, any reasonable person will understand your reluctance to skip a night.
Having people assume you are always on call is a common problem for Singles, according to a great book called Celebrating the Single Life by Susan Annette Muto. Muto is mostly thinking about those who have made a commitment to permanent Single life, but I think much of what she says applies to Searching Singles, too.
Muto correctly points out that people are more understanding of a married person's vocation, and of a nun's vocation, and of a priest's vocation, than of a Single person's vocation, so Singles have to work a little harder to convince people that you too need time apart for rest and prayer. You have to set the boundaries, politely and firmly. Ain't no-one else gonna do it for you.
Since you're a Searching Single, your vocation at the moment is waiting for your marching orders. You're out in the world, you're open to marriage, you're ready to shoulder the duties of marriage, you're being a good friend and member of the family you have already. But to flourish, you too need your space, your prayer time and your holidays.
Priests have to be careful that they don't burn out. Single women have to be careful that they don't burn out. You know how in the airplane safety rules, it says you have to put the oxygen mask over your own face before you put a child's over the child's? It's not because you're worth more than the child--it's because you can't help the child or you if you pass out.
It's really insensitive to say to a Single person, "What else have you got to do?", so I hope nobody is seriously saying that to you. If there's a voice in your head telling you that, tell it to jump in the lake. You have tons of stuff to do--like book your holiday or religious retreat.
Muto writes that Singles run the risk of either A) getting isolated or B) getting spread too thin. B) is your problem.
Are you afraid that you will lose friends or a reputation as "The Nicest Girl Ever" if you say "No" more often? Believe me, no friend worth having will freak because you say, "I'm afraid I can't this time. I've been so swamped, I need some down time." Saying this from time to time is called good self care.
Our Lord is the model of Christian Life for everyone, no matter what their vocation, and the Scriptures are quite clear that He took time out during His ministry for recuperation and prayer. Sometimes He spent time alone with His friends, and sometimes He spent time on His own.
I hope this is helpful.
Grace and peace,
P.S. Money. If people are trying to borrow or get cash gifts, this is one time "I am a Single woman" comes to your immediate aid. You say, "As a Single woman, I need to be careful about money 'cause--let's face it--there's no man to take care of me." As Ann Landers loved to say, no-one can take advantage of you without your permission. Set yourself a strict budget for the million and two wedding presents and baby gifts your set expects you to buy.