Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Recognizing the Single Experience

There is an idea out there that being married is the norm and being Single is a weird and unfortunate accident of fate. However, women tend to live longer than men, so a woman who marries at 30, is widowed at 60 and dies at 90, lives only a third of her life as a married woman.

We are born Single and most women die Single. That's how life is. The youngest women are Single, and the oldest women are usually Single. The 25s to 65s tend to be married. The middle bit is the married bit. Most of us get married. Whether we stay married, or marry wisely, is another question altogether. Heaven only knows how many unfortunate women and men are married only because they did not have the guts to stay chaste Singles.

The world needs happy Single men and women who are not afraid to stay chaste Singles until they are given a much, much better offer. The more men and women we have like this, the fewer men and women we will have marrying and divorcing Miss or Mr Not Quite What I Was Hoping For. Single people will take heart from other Single people. I might be talking about a revolution here.

The revolution I'm talking about has little to do with the Sexual Revolution. The Sexual Revolution was about men and women feeling safer having sex outside marriage, and we all know how that turned out. (My brother told me that 1 in 5 men and 1 in 4 women have herpes. I hope this statistic is not true. I'll see if I can find it online.) The revolution I'm talking about is men and women feeling happy as Single people and given respect as Single people.

The Feminist Revolution tried to do this with the honorific Ms. I use Ms myself, as my passport is in my maiden name and my professional name is my married name added to my maiden name. (The only time I am Mrs is socially in Scotland--and the whole thing is a nightmare when dealing with the bank.) The honorific Ms was not supposed to denigrate marriage; it was supposed to eliminate the shame Single women felt for being Single. It didn't work.

It didn't work because the Western world is obsessed with sexual partnerships. Now women are made to feel bad not only because they aren't married but because they don't have a "partner" or a boyfriend. And men--good night--men who have neither a wife, a "female partner" or a girlfriend are often assumed to have SSA, which is not something men without SSA particularly appreciate.

I think it is the duty of everyone in the Catholic Church to support Single people, including and especially elderly widows and widowers, in their Single lives. Too often this takes the form of "helping" them get married. Now, I have come to the conclusion that most Catholic Singles want to get married, but even these need something that affirms the good moral life they are living RIGHT NOW unmarried.

There are so many ways a parish church could do that. First of all, homilists, who in the Latin Rite are mostly unmarried men, should talk about the goodness of celibate life, not just the priesthood. Priests sometimes complain that married people tell them they pity them because they're "not allowed to get married." Well, if priests would stress how great a chaste Single life lived in service to others can be, married people might be able to think outside their own particular box.

Priests also have a duty to admit how much the Single life can suck. Single people need to hear other Single people--Single people they respect, Single people who are leaders in the community--acknowledge what they themselves go through as Single people.

The vocations directors who visit parishes to give the sales pitch for the priesthood and--oh yeah--religious life for women should stress that a call is from God, and God is on His own time. If you don't find the right seminary, community or person by the age of 25, that does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with you. It means God's plan for you is unfolding at a different speed than His plans for others. But it is not very nice to feel that you are the last one being picked for the Vocations Team, and it would be nice to hear a vocations director admit that.

I'm a liturgical purist these days, but even when I wasn't, I hated it when priests asked mothers to stand after Mass on Mother's Day, so all the men, children, and women who never had children could applaud them. It is not as if mothers do not get attention on Mother's Day from their own families. I know what it is like to stay sitting, and I always looked at the faces of the other adult women who had to stay sitting. The sadness would break your heart.

One much more pastorally sensitive priest I knew quoted John Paul II's ideas about how all women are mothers and made sure each and every woman in the congregation got a flower for Mother's Day. There was no division of the women into applauded standers and ignored sitters. A little thing, but it's the little things that really make the difference.

Then there are parish groups. Catholic Pen wrote in yesterday about married women's groups, about which I had never heard. Mothers and Tots groups, yes. Married women's groups, no. And I guess I sort of see the point to married women's groups, since I know very well married women need to talk about being married women to other married women without worrying about hurting Single women's feelings. I don't see why married women's groups should take precedence over all-women's groups, however.

I don't know why married women would want to exclude Single women, except to talk specifically about their joys and sorrows as married women. It's hard to feel comfortable talking about something so personal when there's an ever-present danger of someone, someone who isn't really listening, saying "Well, at least you're married."

And I know what I'm talking about. When I got engaged, I got angry comments from one male reader, break-up emails from two or three male readers, and accusations of treason from new female readers. An editor for a British paper turned down one journalist who wanted to write about Seraphic Singles on the grounds that I had gotten married, and people often ask me what right I have to talk about Single Life when I am married now. If married people are sometimes aggressive about singles, single people are sometimes aggressive about marrieds. This is sad and foolish.

There should be no rivalry between married women and single women. We should seek to include each other in our social circles as much as possible, not because of our states in life, but because we like each other. In the schoolyard, girls get a thrill out of excluding other girls, and the excluded girls illogically long to be accepted by the nasty, popular set. Sadly, this tendency sometimes lingers in adult life, and we need to get rid of it. Women should erase our love to exclude AND we should temper our longing to belong.

Contemporary theology likes to talk a lot about inclusion and marginalization. While understanding that marriage and parenthood are not exactly a basket of roses, Single people should gently point out to their pastors and friends that they feel excluded and marginalized. And I recommend that you do something about this yourselves. If the only women's group in your parish is for married women alone, see if you can begin a women's group open to all women in the parish.


dark but fair said...

Thanks for a great post, Seraphic!

Louise said...

Thankyou for writing that! I am so glad to have found a blog that makes sense to a woman, aged 37, who looks younger than her years and has lots of things going for her, who just simply hasn't meant the right person yet. When people want to talk to you about how you will meet someone ( as if that's the only thing that matters) it's so easy to feel like you are some kind of social failure. Truth is, I would love to meet a good Christian man who I feel is right for me, but equally I feel like its wrong to have someone in your life just for the sake of company... it would not be fair on them or you. I have cried to god about meeting someone I can see myself with ( and I', not loking for perfection) but I know He wants me to trust Him. Ad, at the end of the day, as you say, this is about His timescales and not ours.

amseraf1 said...

married or not, you've given me great advice and I thank God for your blog. I actually found this blog after you got married. I've been reading your articles in the Catholic Register for a few years. I remember reading about your wedding day and the Catholic Register is how I found your book which led me to this site. Thank you so much Dorothy for continuing to do what you do!


Blipfillypicklepoo said...

I am one of those single woman who has been left sitting in the pew on Mother's Day applauding the women who have "done something valuable with their lives". I am so grateful to women who have had children and have spent my entire adult life working with other peoples' children. I think kids are amazing and hilarious. My parish priest has made it a point every Mother's Day to acknowledge ALL the women in the parish as offering mothering in one form or another to people in their lives - he acknowledges ALL the men in the parish on Father's Day too. I also have some very nice friends and family who acknowledge my single, childless self on Mother's Day for the gifts I bring to the lives of their children. Thanks for this post. It made me feel that what I have to offer the world as a single woman is of some positive consequence.

Christine said...

I e-mailed my pastor once, telling him how I felt alone & excluded in the parish. He had me meet with the youth minister to brainstorm ideas, which we did swimmingly, and formed a general idea of what kind of a group meeting we'd like to initiate. The youth minister said he'd just arrange a date with the pastor. However, after that, I never heard anything from either one again. I guess I've been "managed." Luckily, I'll be moving to another town by Autumn and another parish.

Seraphic said...

Oh no, Christine! I feel overwhelmed by the urge to hand out yet another piece of advice. Call up the youth minister or priest, and cheerfully ask whatever happened to that meeting idea. That way if there was an honest mistake or good explanation, you won't carry the feeling of being let down with you into your new parish. If you really were "managed," however, that absolutely sucks.

Thank you, everybody, for your kind remarks! I keep on blogging six days a week because of all of you. Meanwhile, my publisher would like me to tell you that if you want to find out what I was thinking and doing the last years I was Single, get your hands on "Seraphic Singles" (in the British Commonwealth) or "The Closet's All Mine." If you're Polish, however, you might want to wait for the Polish edition, coming out with Homo Dei.

AveLady said...

Seraphic - just got two copies, one for me and one as part of a Valentine's package for a friend. Enjoying the book immensely already!

Seraphic said...

Hey, that's great!

OntarioGirl said...

The girl who wrote in here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/ask-a-health-expert/ask-a-psychologist/how-can-i-accept-being-single-am-i-just-being-too-picky/article1901413/ should have written to you!
Perhaps you could leave a comment on the article?

JaneC said...

I have, probably unusually, had an experience exactly opposite of what you describe. In my previous parish, I was the only woman in my age/social group who was married. The single women didn't invite me to their 'girls-only' social gatherings. I don't know whether they assumed I wouldn't want to come, or whether they thought it would be awkward to have a married woman there, or what the deal was. I wanted to go--even a happily married woman wants to hang out with other women sometimes!--and felt left out. But I didn't know how to tell them that.

So, thanks to all women, married, singles, mothers, widows, nuns, who don't make other women feel excluded, whatever their station in life!

Christine said...

@Seraphic - So, thanks to your advice, I did try again to contact my pastor & youth/y.a. minister. I left them both voicemails a week ago, and I haven't heard anything yet. I'll try again tomorrow (maybe messages to the secretary) then I'll leave it alone after that. Thanks for encouraging me to not give up [too] easily.