Monday, 2 August 2010

Auntie Seraphic & No Time for Self

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

Dear NTFS,

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.


theobromophile said...

First - love the P.S.. It's not just the presents, but the travel - I have better things to do with $2,000 than go to a destination wedding, like, oh, eat and pay my rent.

Miss Manners would be appalled by a lot of the absolute tackiness that people display with weddings and baby showers: inviting co-workers, making a work event out of it, having destination weddings to keep costs down but still soliciting gifts, etc. Single or not, I'm not fond of being treated like a cash cow.


As for the post itself: can't say I've ever run into "You're Single, so you have time", but I do regularly run into the idea that since I don't have anything mandatory, I can travel/spend money/spend time for someone else.

What I've found, though, is that good people are incredibly understanding of the idea that you need down time... and it's easy to ferret out bad people, because they will treat you like crap for not catering to them at the expense of yourself.

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?

You're also asked, with an air of expectation that the answer is yes, because you always do say "yes". :) Once you start saying no - and you don't even have to offer a reason aside from "Oh, I'm sorry, that day is just terrible for me; I have so much going on" - the expectation will diminish. Well, the first few "no" answers will be hard for the asker to take, but they will learn quickly.

As a final thought, there is no reason to travel very far for a baby shower, unless you want to; send a gift instead. If you want to meet a new baby, schedule it when it's convenient for you (and you can meet several new babies in one trip), not because the mother tells you that you must meet her snowflake right now. (The baby will not remember, nor care, if he meets you within a week of birth or a year after it.)

Nekeisha said...

My sister does that to me. She has no problem trying and most often succeeding in taking advantage of me. If I say no to something she often hits me with "Doesn't God say to share" or whatever fits the situation. I have previously been a homebody so she would always call to have me pick her up after she can't get a ride home (what I am going to do leave my younger sister stranded at night???). I went to a retreat in June and now I am trying to put myself out-there joined a group that I had on Saturday and somehow she managed to get herself home early. One thing we talked about on Saturday was that being a Christian does not make me a push-over.

Seraphic said...

Very true, Nekeisha!

Kate P said...

It was really hard for me to admit that I identify with this post as well. . . I feel as if I'm walking that fine line and don't want to come off selfish/resentful.

It's a small but welcome comfort to see that there are others out there in the same boat.

Seraphic said...