B.A. and I had another dinner party yesterday. Our guests were four Single men; one has a fiancee studying far away. He and she may be staying with us over Easter; we don't have much lucre, but we certainly have a lot of room.
Our guests are usually Single, although occasionally we invite a married couple or two. In January I had a dinner party just for women. Of those guests, two were married and three were Single. We all got along like a house on fire. What did we talk about? Hmm... Oh, actually, we talked a lot about masculine beauty. I wonder who started that? Probably me. La la la.
When I got engaged, I wasn't sure if I should continue writing for Singles or not. I put it to my readers, and the readers said "Keep writing to us." So I wrote about being engaged, and then when I got married, I wrote about my new life in Scotland, and then my publisher sent an email and said, "Resurrect Seraphic Singles."
So I did. And before I knew it, women (and very occasionally men) were writing to me about their own Single lives, asking for advice.
In my Jesuit M.Div. program, we were told never to give advice.
People in ministry (including lay ministers) are not suppose to give advice, but to listen and listen and listen and then ask leading questions which brings the ministered to their own answers. It is quite interesting and helpful, but you sort of have to be there. You can't do it over a blog. So I do the next best thing and give advice. For free.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was big on people doing stuff for free.
And, of course, I am married--for the second time. I know how it feels to be a 20-something Single, to be young and engaged to a guy you're not sure about, to break off an engagement, to pick up the engagement again, to be in an unhappy marriage, to be divorced, to go through an annulment procedure (brutal), to be a thirty-something Single, watching the sands of time escape through the hourglass, and then--mirabile dictu--to meet the love of your life when you have, just maybe, a chance at motherhood after all (but maybe not).
That's a lot of experience. Gold and silver have I not, but what I do have, I give you. And why? Because when B.A. and I got engaged, we discerned that part of our vocation as married people was to care for such Single people as came along.
The Catechism backs us up:
1658. We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live--often not of their own choosing--are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family, often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbour in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the 'domestic churches', and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. 'No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who "labour and are heavy laden".'[Familiaris Consortio, 85; cf Mt 11:28.]
But such sympathetic care for Singles cannot include encouraging Singles in feelings of resentment for engaged or married people. Single people are right to be indignant when people in any state of life are rude to or blatantly contemptuous of them. But they must not take personally anything having to do with the marriages of others.
That is where the line is drawn. And it's a painful line because so many Singles want to be married themselves. But nevertheless, there is a police tape around the marriages of others marked "Do Not Cross." And that includes weddings.
I was Single for a good long time, and I often felt lonely and frustrated and angry. But I never had a total meltdown about it. When I was engaged, however, I was often on the edge of hysteria.
Planning a wedding--even a tiny, simple wedding, for both poverty and conventions around second weddings demanded it be both tiny and simple--was incredibly stressful. A good friend called to argue with my perhaps draconian "No boyfriends, only husbands or fiances" guest list, and I cried and cried. I cancelled my hen party because I just could not cope. And--the defining moment, the moment that will remind me for the rest of my life of the vulnerability of brides--the moment I was on the phone, trying to decide if, having cancelled my hen party, I had enough time just for a coffee--just a coffee!--with my friends, and my nose began to bleed.
At ministry school, my ethics prof would have us read various pastoral problems and then inquire, "Who is the most vulnerable person in this situation?" Christian ethics, we learned, always means protecting the most vulnerable person in a situation.
Very often that is a Single person. Very often. But not always. Sometimes, believe it or not, the most vulnerable person in a situation is an engaged or married person. And when it comes to that person's own wedding or marriage, believe me, it is she.