Thursday, 8 March 2012

Marrieds and Singles Are Not Enemies

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.


Sarah said...

Maybe it's because I'm still too young to be really worried about getting married or not, (apparently 25 is the threshold for when women start to feel anxious? I'm a couple years shy of that, still.) but I have never felt even the slightest twinge of jealousy or bitterness of a friend who's getting married. There was a rash of marriages amongst my friends last year (I had two consecutive weekends of weddings in November) and I was nothing but excited for my friends, though about at least one, I did think "Goodness, I can't believe she's getting married! She's so young!" Then I realized the girl was actually OLDER than me and I started feeling old. Ditto when I found out another married friend of mine who is only a couple years older than me is pregnant with her third child.

But anyway, my point in saying this is that I hope I always feel happy and excited for my engaged and married friends. I know the closer I get to 30 without getting married, the harder it might be, but I hope I keep a tight lid on those negative feelings.

Meredith said...

Not that I believe in karma, but how does getting bitter at married people get a single closer to being married herself? Before you nourish resentful feelings towards marrieds, imagine finally being married and having your single friends turn their basilisk eyes on you.

Johannes Faber said...

This is why I love being a man. If I get married, the only things I'll be concerned about are whether the ministers know how to do a High Mass properly, the standard of the choir and that my brother doesn't get anything untoward for any stag parties that may occur!

Or am I just being naive? How did BA cope, what were his worries?

Danielle said...

Great post! I was in spiritual direction recently and my spiritual director said that being single is not as painful as being married to the wrong person. She said that she talks to many, many women who are married to the wrong man and the pain that they go through is awful, and particularly awful when there are children involved.

I also wanted to chime in on the often used fiances and husbands only policy at weddings because I think it can be damaging in certain contexts. Knowing that this is not the point of this post! :) I completely understand not doling out "and guest" to every single person you know. However, if you have a girl friend who has been dating someone seriously for a long time, you may have met them multiple times or, if you live far apart, know how much this person means to them, I think it can be a bit unfortunate (searching for the right word) to not give them the plus one. I think it can send the message that the relationship isn't legitimate or important -- even if that is not the intention. I don't think this applies to friend's flavor of the month boyfriend or the new guy she's really excited about, but I think it's important to think carefully about. Certainly, you are either married or you are not, or you are engaged or you are not and those are very important milestones, not to be diminished in any way -- but I also know people who have lousy relationships who are affianced and married, and people who have much better relationships who are dating and heading for marriage but aren't quite there yet. I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that I think being engaged and then married doesn't give a person a gold star next to their name -- just like never being married doesn't give one permission to attain martyr status.

All that being said - if you don't get the plus one I think the right thing to do is very gently mention it to engaged friend and see what she says. Accept her decision either way and be a fun and gracious guest at the wedding.

Seraphic said...

Johannes, B.A. was terrified that I would not show up. I was in such a state of nerves the night before, that he actually started to think this was a possibility.

Danielle, three years later, I can still remember exactly how I felt having to justify my own guest list for my very small, very modest, very second wedding, while at the same time trying to wrack my brains as to how to save my Single friends from post-wedding letdown and block out the angry readers who didn't think I should be getting married at all. Some part of me is still not over it.

sciencegirl said...

I fully agree, though I do not excuse brides who are rude or nasty to their friends.

I am single. I stood up for the bride in the last post because she unwittingly slighted a friend with her announcement method. Letting little things go is part of friendship. If a bride does something cruel, rude, or unreasonable, I will stand up for the bridesmaids or the guests.

Comments that are not acceptable in happy times are still not acceptable in stressful wedding planning. Criticizing the weight, style, or appearance of a bridesmaid or wedding guest is not excusable. Bullying guests is not excusable. I have, though, never seen a deliberately rude or offensive bride, popular as such women are on reality TV. What I have seen, time after time, is a set of family members and sometimes friends wearying the bride and groom with their demands and expectations. These demands would not be reasonable requests to the hosts of a normal dinner party. They are more like "What? Where is the raised print on my invitation? Why is there no Electric Slide? It is not a wedding without raised print and disco!" I've seen a lot more Guestzillas than Bridezillas.

TGWWS said...

Electric slide! Jeepers creepers ... If there's one thing I know about my wedding, whether it be in two years, or ten, or never at all, it is that it will have NO ELECTRIC SLIDE! Lots of Dean Martin, though.

Fortunately, my friends already know I'm crazy like this.

To the larger point: I think it's just plain silly for friends to care about the details. Mother and father--maybe, at least if they're paying. Groom--sure, if he cares--but he probably won't. Anyone else--well it's not their wedding!

Seraphic said...

What in the name of all that is holy is an electric slide!!!!???

I've just informed B.A. that we should start saving up for a 10th anniversary party.

TGWWS said...

Oh, Seraphic, you are not American! The Electric slide (you can find examples on Youtube) is a four wall line dance put to a song called "Electric Boogie." Basically, a bunch of people stand up in a square and go through the same set of motions in unison, turning 90 degrees after each set. Like square or contra dancing, but no fun (because no partners) and with worse (IMnotsoHO) music.

Eowyn said...

Oh, we know about the Electric Slide in Canada. Maybe they just don't know about it Toronto.

Anna said...

Why do the electric slide when you can shim sham?

Eowyn said...

Anna, I fully agree :) . But in circles where no one knows the shim sham, the electric slide can lend a certain sense of community to the group when most people know it. But it would be way better if we all did the shim sham.

KimP said...

My wedding was 3 weeks ago tomorrow so I can attest to the stress of a wedding - and I had it easy! At age 47, my parents and mother-in-law to be let me do whatever I wanted. My groom was nothing but supportive. I had no bridesmaids. No best man. No dancing. It was as simple a wedding as possible - we had the reception in the Commons area at our parish.

And still. I made my own dress. I'm glad I did it but I'm glad I'll never have to do it again. We had 160 guests - many of whom weren't Catholic and I was concerned they wouldn't know what was going on during our Nuptial Mass. Many guests travelled a long way just for our wedding, and my family came in from out of town. Just having everyone around put me in a state of nervous exhaustion. (I'm an introvert.) So many people did so much for us -decorating the sanctuary, baking cupcakes to supplement the wedding cake, cleaning up - we can never really repay those who went to so much trouble to make our day a happy one. I was overwhelmed.

Still am. A couple of single friends left after Mass and didn't stay for the reception - and I completely understood. I've been there; its hard being at a wedding without feeling like it will never happen to you.

Charming Disarray said...

Everything I hear about wedding planning makes me want to elope. If I do have a wedding, though, I will have the electric slide. I really, really like it. We used to do it at my highschool proms along with the Padda Padda.

Seraphic said...

Thank you for filling me in on the Electric Slide. I kept thinking about a playground slide all lit up with Christmas lights and wondering what anyone would do with it. Something horrible, I imagined, like the garter toss.

For all I know the Electric Slide is well-known in Toronto and it is not a geography thing but a (gulp) generational thing. On the other hand, I was at a Toronto wedding last year and there was no Electric Slide. There was an "All the Single Ladies" dance.

I always advocate that Singles subtly leave a wedding if/when they start feeling rotten and go home to some prearranged treat. The important thing is to manage this without upsetting the bride in any way. Sigh.

I suspect there aren't such heart storms over weddings like this in Continental Europe. That's what I'm told, at least. Singles flock to weddings keen to eat and drink and have as much fun as possible with nary a thought for the future.

Now I'm starting to plan our 10th anniversary (which is, um, seven years away) with details. Engraved invitations! Ceilidh band! Rivers of whiskey! Roast pig with apple stuffed in mouth! Because although there are oppressive restrictions about second weddings (esp. when grad school has rendered bride and groom dead poor), there are none about anniversary parties.

The key, I think, is to actually have the money saved up by then.

Sheila, I am so sorry that happened. It would be nice if the phrase, "Have you heard X's news? No? Oh, I'd better let her tell you herself!", became enshrined in law.

Meanwhile, I repeat that poor old brides, so stunned and (initially) happy, should be treated with great care, like babies. If they are naughty like babies (and thank you, science girl, for noting that Bridezillas seem to occur more often on TV than in real life), you can say "No, no! No, no! Mustn't say that to bridesmaid! She has feelings, too!"

I love the expression "Guestzilla" incidentally. VERY useful!

Christine said...

I am planning a wedding (fifteen days away!), moving house, changing parishes to accomodate my sweetie, just got out of a bad job situation, needing to start thinking about job hunting... oh, and travelling from Ottawa to Toronto and back so that my parents' friends can throw me a shower. And did I mention planning a wedding?

All of the above in fact landed me in hospital two weeks ago, coming out with a prescription for sleeping pills and a follow up at the psychiatric outpatient clinic. Like Seraphic, I've told my maid of honour that I don't want any sort of shower or bachelorette, because I just can't deal with that right now. I am only going to Toronto because my parents will be Hurt if I don't.

Wedding planning SUCKS. Even though we're having a fairly simple, relatively small wedding. Even though my fiance has been an absolute rock and has gamely taken on his burden of things and more besides. It still sucks.

We'll be encouraging our children to elope!!

Seraphic said...

Dear me! That is just terrible. I'm so sorry it came to that.

I have a theory that some wedding stress is useful because unity in adversity helps the bridal pair to bond emotionally, but ending up in the hospital is much, too much!

Sundancer said...

I was Maid of Honor for my elder sister's wedding, and I did my best to buffer her from the stress and pressure of family and friends whenever possible. I gently convinced my overbearing mother she was not allowed at the bachelorette party, and shamefacedly rescinded the invitation I accidentally extended to an ex-girlfriend of the groom when my sister almost went apoplectic.
There was so much planning and work of so many little things that just had to be PERFECT! I barely got to sit down or even eat at the wedding, as I had to run around and help grandma find a band-aid, etc. It was SO STRESSFUL! My sister, however, remained reasonably serene and insulted from trivial requests on her big day, as was the goal!

A few years later, my sister ended up in a similar situation for her sister in law's wedding, and called me in tears one night, asking if she was as difficult to please, and if I was as stressed out planning her wedding as she was planning her SIL's.

I have heard many a complaint from bridesmaids and guests alike about many a wedding. I hope if I get married one day, I will be sensitive to others needs... but protected from their vicious tongues!