Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Singles & Selfishness

I write this post with reluctance and only because yesterday's combox indicated that you want to hear what I think about Singles and selfishness. Not being Single anymore, I am naturally reluctant to talk about a moral failing that I personally have the opportunity to overcome every day. As a spouse, I have to think daily about the happiness of Other Spouse and remember that there is no such thing as "You do 50% and I'll do 50%" in Christian marriage, to say nothing of housework. In marriage, each spouse has to assume that they should do 100% of everything and not actually having to do 100% is an astonishing bonus; it's the only way marriage can work, if you ask me.

In Poland the English loan-word "Single" suggests not just an ordinary, unmarried person but someone we might call a swinging single. Thus the Polish title of my book, Anielskie Single, is controversial and attention-getting. In Poland a "Single" is assumed to be a selfish person who is anti-marriage and anti-family and just wants to fool around. They can't possibly be "Angelic." Well, I love that Poland is so marriage-and-family-oriented and so comparatively Catholic, but yikes.

I suppose the bright side is that the pressure on Polish men to marry is enormous, so Polish men in general are perhaps a little more keen to get on with it than American and British men in general. However, it's not so nice for the long-term Single Polish women. Pray for them.

There is some justice to the Singles-are-selfish stereotype when we are talking about Single people who take advantage of each other or their parents. It is egregiously selfish for an adult to live off his or her parents, if that adult is able-bodied and able-minded, without contributing money towards his or her upkeep or doing chores or helping with childminding. It is also selfish to use other people for sex or perpetual ego-boosts.

If adult Single you are paying your own way, either in money or in help, and if you are not engaging in premarital sex, you are already fighting a good battle against selfishness, if you ask me.

Oh, wait. I am including recreational making-out in the "using people" scenario. Making-out is not sex, of course, but it is nature's way of making women ready for sex, so don't kid yourselves. You shouldn't be making-out with someone you're not engaged to. Hugs and pecks on the cheek are fine, traditional expressions of affection. Yes, this is easy-for-[me]-to-say-[I'm]-married. Actually, it wasn't until I was married that I understood the truth of all this. Hindsight is 20/20.

Where was I? I always get so distracted when I write about making-out. Selfishness. Right.

Actually, I don't think of selfishness as being an overwhelming problem for Catholic Singles. What is more of a problem is self-absorption. In Single life, but also the priestly life and even the religious life, there is a terrible temptation to think about Me Me Me all the time. MY relationship with God. MY celibacy. MY priesthood. MY three meals a day. MY boundaries. MY little drinkie. Taking some time for ME. Okay, this desire is technically wrong, but I have given up so much and done so much good that I deserve a little something for ME.

This is very clearly revealed in the story of the male religious who went all over a married female friend's house, including her bedroom, admiring everything. When she visited him in his house, she asked if she might have a tour, and he got very prim and made a small speech about privacy.

It is also revealed in the story of the male religious who talked to a Single friend all the time about his emotional struggles, and when she tried to talk to him about her own, he said, in effect, "Whoa. Boundaries. I'm a male religious, you know."

I'm not going to get into the religious-or-priests-with-girlfriends stories, of which I have heard a few, except to say, "Oh I wish we could be together forever but I'm afraid of my bishop whimper whimper."

And it is not just unmarried men who are at risk of becoming self-absorbed, of course. There are Single women who simply make assumptions about other people, based on their own wishes. For example, there is the woman who invites herself over to your house because it simply hasn't occurred to her that you might be busy or that you aren't actually on just-drop-in terms. Or the woman who tells you you're "like her sister" when you certainly don't think of her as being "like a sister" and wonder where on earth she got that idea.

Then there is abject resentment about being Single. It can be tempting when you are Single--and I was Single for a looooooong time, so I know--to moan and fuss as if you are the only woman your age in the world who is not married. This is a thought-bog very difficult to escape unless you grasp the idea that other women your age and older are unmarried and might be suffering even more than you. And that there are lots of women who are happily unmarried, like nuns and merry widows.

Despite having a lot of Single friends, I did not entirely overcome my "OH POOR SINGLE MEEEEEE" tendencies until I started my Seraphic Singles blog. When I started my blog, I had to seriously think about other Single women, both famous Single women--usually but not always virtuous ones--and my readers.

In my experience, the best way to deal with unhappiness about being Single is embracing the identity of Singleness and looking around for other Single women to hang out with and discuss successful Single women. Yes, it could be temporary. (Most of the time it is, unless you are over 60 or a war has killed off the men.) And, yes, you'd like it to be temporary. But that's not the point. The point is to wrest joy from the state of Singleness, and the best way to do that is to reach out to other Single women and help them to be Single in the happiest, healthiest, most virtuous way.

Okay. Sound off in the combox.


Married with a Heart full of love for Singles said...

I was a single for a long time, and oh how I would have benefitted from this thoughtful blog! I married at 37, and have two lovely daughters. I love my Catholic faith. I will always have a special place in my heart for singles. Regarding self-absorbtion, I do think that this is a trap that we all fall into, and perhaps singles are especially vulnerable to this trap. When I was single I joined a group of like-minded women in praying the rosary every week for the intention of finding husbands. We were all a little older, most of us in our 30s and 40s, and one women was at least 50. The "rosary group" became such a blessing for me, and for every woman in that group! The friendships blossomed, and we were all incredibly supportive of each other. We prayed and prayed. Interestingly though, it would take us longer to go through our list of intentions than it would to pray the rosary. We prayed about our desire for marriage, but we prayed for so many people besides ourselves. This experience opened my heart in a new way to the sufferings of others. Best of all, there were marriages! There were seven of us (if I am remembering the core group correctly) and five of us eventually married. I can only think that God was preparing my heart for marriage through this lovely group of women. We still meet, though no longer weekly. I will always be grateful for my sisters in Christ. As women, we have so much to learn from each other.

Joan of Quark said...

Know what got me out of the rut? Reading two really good Protestant books on singleness, one by a married man and one by a single woman.

Harold Sala, Joyfully Single in a Couples' World

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Singled Out For Him

The latter in particular is short and very to the point, and it's a brilliant antidote for what ails ye.

Anonymous said...

Making-out is not sex, of course, but it is nature's way of making women ready for sex, so don't kid yourselves.

[Raises an eyebrow] It's much more than that, actually. So much so that your statement is more inaccurate than accurate.

Women are able to use kissing as a way to determine whether they should even have the guy around at all: it is a screen-out mechanism, not a screen-in one.

Look, if a NCG has the guts to dump her fiance a week before the wedding because she starts to figure out that sex with him sounds like a bloody nightmare, or is genetically a bad idea (no matter how nice, supportive, and Catholic he is), then understandable, but I don't think that many twenty-somethings would say, "Hey, wedding's off; why? I don't want to have sex with him for the rest of my life."


Anonymous said...

(That said, I understand that the way in which Single Selfishness is truly anti-social is in the area of sexuality, and thus, it should be treated with extreme caution. Married people can also be sexually selfish, but its effects tend to be to kill a marriage, not ruin a society.)


Jam said...

When I was growing up, I was afraid to "end up" single because of a woman we knew; I'll call her "Marta". Marta would call my mom and keep her on the phone for ages, with Marta doing all the talking, almost every day. A lot of times her phone calls came when she was bored: in traffic, doing laundry, between meetings etc. She would invite herself to our family parties, e.g.: "I found this recipe for seasoned nuts, I thought I'd make it for your New Year's party!" Sometimes she even acted like she was the host of the party, giving opinions about what food there should be, giving tours of the house to guests etc. She was embarrassingly cheap, the only time she paid when we went out for a meal was when she had some combination of gift cards and coupons, and she was shameless about letting you know what a good deal she was getting. Before I found this blog, this was basically what I thought I would turn into as a Single person, sooner or later. The horror!

I don't want to dump on poor Marta, who had her good qualities as well as many problems in her life. But generosity, consideration, and a healthy spiritual life are more the cure for Marta-ism than getting married. (Generosity and love: starting with recognizing Marta as a fellow daughter of God rather than a bogey(wo)man of my own fears!)

rmvb said...

I used to hate going on Facebook and seeing all the updated relationship stati, albums, etc about everyone (especially younger-than-me women) getting married, having babies, and the general "Life is so Good, God gives such great blessings" statements written by girls who "had a man," (usualy in light of having said man and babies) because it felt like I was the ONLY one who was single. Since reading this blog and considering the ideas brought up in it, talking with my other single friends, I realize that I was horribly wrong! Just considereing FB alone, I now go on with the eyes of reality and see that probably little more than a third of my friends on there are getting married, etc. The rest are learning to surf, experamenting in the kitchen, taking classes, teaching, studying scripture, going on vacation to the Bahamas with their parents and little siblings, getting their PhD's in English, running marathons, etc, etc, etc. It doesn't make having the babies paraded in front of me any easier (just got an image in my head of a literal baby parade) but it DOES make me realize the solidarity I have with the majority of my 20-something friends. Which makes it much harder to selfishly whine about not being married and babied yet. (harder....not impossible;))It also makes it easier to be less self centered because I want to get out there and try all the new things my friends are trying, so I can share with them even more.

Maggie said...

I agree about Facebook, rmvb. While I do love it and fiind it useful for networking or staying in touch, much of the time it is an exercise in narcissism, for our culture is quite obsessed with the outward appearance of having it all. A friend whose facebook stati were constant chipper statements about her successful career confided - in person, privately - that she and her husband were struggling financially and had suffered a miscarriage, but she would never say that publically because it woould tarnish her carefully-honed online image. There must be prudence, of course, and many struggles are inappropriate to be broadcast to the world online, but by only seeing everyone's chipper stati and photos we might lose sight of reality and fall into "woe is me!" In all things moderation....

MaryJane said...

I think this is great advice. Maybe we should have a regular time/ forum to celebrate what we're doing. As in, "hey, although I don't have a husband/ children, I just tried the best new recipe" or "instead of having to worry about waking up with a sick child every hour, I got to go to adoration this morning." Not to dismiss the goodness of marriage/ children, but to focus on the good that we do have, right now, in our lives.

Mustard Seed said...

Amen! I do think marriage and children are blessings, but they are also huge responsibilities, and for the time being it's nice to not have to make those particular sacrifices. But I guess there are sacrifices in every walk of life.

Urszula said...

Very helpful post. It's nice being told that we are not most at risk for selfishness, as some Catholic culture makes it seem that way. Then again, I spent my college years in Poland brushing up against the pro-family and unfortunately anti-single mentality you mention. My roommate and I were a bit upset that almost everywhere we went for spiritual edification, someone was telling us to stop being selfish and get married. Even retreats seemed to focus on 'love’ and staying pure and were attended mostly by hand-holding couples.

It’s honestly been kind of a relief to be rediscovering singlehood outside of Poland, where people are much more accepting (by and large) of the single state and others who find themselves in it.

I like Jam’s idea of a ‘day of thankfulness’. I’ve been making a conscious effort to see the good and beauty and happiness in my life at this point, and it’s starting to feel more and more natural.

Urszula said...

Sorry, I meant MaryJane!

MaryJane said...

In college, one of my roommates had a "thankfulness journal" that she wrote it every night. At the time, I thought it was a little Pollyana-ish, but I've since adopted the practice of recording what I'm grateful for, and it really does help form a more positive outlook on life! Even little things like: "I can enjoy this cup of coffee in peace while I know my best friend has a constantly screaming two year old and would kill for five minutes of solitude" helps a lot when I am feeling lonely.