Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Concerned Married Sister

As far as I can recall, this is the first letter in six years about someone else being Single!

Dear Seraphic:  

I have a good topic for you to cover if you are so inclined.  How does one strike the balance between letting God be in control of one's life, but not being passive?  I ask this specifically in relation to discerning a call to marriage.

The background on this is that I am the oldest of sisters.  I am in my mid-40s now and married, but I married in my late 30s.  My youngest sister is now in her early 40s and not married yet.  She is the source of my concern.  I know it is awful of me to be a meddlesome older sister!  I am  not a  nag, though.  I am quiet in my observations and concerns.  I try to spend as much time with my sister as I can, and to shower her with love and support.  Meanwhile  I do worry a little.  And I know my mom worries a lot.

My sister has never really dated, but she expresses a very strong desire to be married and an equally strong conviction that she will be married one day.  Meanwhile -- good for her -- she is not dying of loneliness.  She has a lot of friends, and is very involved in her church and the community.  She does not always open up to me, but my mother says that a priest told her that she would be married one day and that that is what forms her very strong conviction that God has spoken to her and that she is not to worry about it at all.  I get the sense that this priest's words were a sign to my sister, perhaps even a mystical sign.

I am -- I confess -- skeptical of mystical signs!  On the other hand, I believe that God does wonderful things for his children, and sometimes goes above and beyond in meeting our needs.  Maybe my sister needed that mystical sign, and the good Lord gave it to her.  I am open to that possibility, though not completely convinced.  To me it seems like she used that sign to shut herself off from the normal process of being young and open.  It almost seems like she is scared of dating and of men, that she is very unsure of herself.  But she is very convinced that she is right!  I find myself scratching my head.  I just don't know.  Maybe she is right!

Anyway, I am just curious as to whether you have any thoughts on this.  Whatever you say, it will not change my approach to my sister.  Nor will I present it to her with an I-am-right-you-are-wrong approach.  Since she has never asked for advice, and isn't particularly open to advice either, I have never given it.  I wish she did ask for advice!  I just love her and try to be there for her.  I would love for her to meet a nice man.  It's hard to imagine who that would be.  He would have to be pretty incredible.

Whereas my sister is very passive (I use the word "passive" for lack of a better word, and I know that it expresses my admitted bias), I was very active in my pursuit of marriage.  When I hit 30 I had the realization that marriage was not going to fall into my lap.  I did as much as I could to meet people.  I dated quite a bit.  I made some mistakes along the way.  But I also learned a lot about myself in the process and I grew spiritually.  

When internet dating became available, I used it with great success.  I met a wonderful Catholic man, a good man, and we married and are quite happy,  blessed with children.  I know the internet dating thing is a whole other topic! But it is just funny to me that my sister and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum, or at least that is the way that I see it.  My other sisters were somewhere in the middle.  Marriage did just sort of fall in their laps.

This is a topic that is on my mind.  It is not a personal problem per se, and whatever you say it will not change the way that I approach my sister.  It is just something that I sometimes puzzle over, and am curious your thoughts.  If in the process of a reply you are able to help a young single woman form her thoughts on how to approach men and the possibility or romance, all the better!

Thanks, Seraphic.

With Gratitude,
Concerned Married Sister

Dear Concerned Married Sister,

I am an oldest sister too, so I know about worrying about younger brothers and sisters. I used to worry a lot about my oldest brother, for he seemed genuinely lonely, but then God sent him  a wonderful wife and later two lovely children. 

The rest of the gang is still unmarried, but I don't worry about them. I married late, so they might marry late. And, meanwhile, the girls seem well-contented to me. They generally having busy, productive, forward-looking lives.  I haven't the foggiest clue if my sisters are out there trying to meet men, but I could not care less, for they already have a family: our family.  

Your sister, like me, is in her early 40s, so chances are that it's already game over for her ever giving birth. However, if she does marry, she might marry a widower or annullé with kids, which would be very nice, or she might adopt or foster, if she likes. But that doesn't interest me. What interests me is you.

Why are you so invested in your sister meeting a nice man? She's already happy, and she has an enviable tranquility about the future, possibly because she believes in this priest's prediction. Her passivity, as you call it, will not prevent God's will, but may even be helping bring it about. As you say, marriage just fell into the laps of your other sisters. Maybe God wants her to marry the UPS man who brings her a package when she is 53. Or maybe He wants her to be a model of tranquility for other Single women for decades and then enter joyfully into a mystical marriage with Him. Why do you doubt in His plan for your sister?

Happy married people often have a hard time getting our minds around the idea that Single people--like priests--can be happy just trusting in God. And super-active, go-go-go people can also have a hard time realizing that it is God, not their efforts, who calls the shots. 

When it come to earning money or improving oneself, of course "God helps those who helps themselves"--keeping in mind that God makes the first move: we are not Pelagians. But when it comes to husband-and-children, that's God's territory. There are men and women who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and years on dating websites without getting married, and then are men and women who barely lift a finger, and there the perfect person for them is. 

My advice is to be grateful for what (and who!) God had given you, to accept that His plans for your sister are obviously quite different from His plans for you, and to be grateful for, and even awed by, your sister's trust in Him.

Grace and peace,

People. There is no excuse for married Catholics tying themselves into knots because other Catholics are living chaste lives of celibacy. From Pentecost until the Reformation, a chaste life of celibacy was considered the superior form of Christian life, and this insight pre-dated men's and women's religious orders.

As much as an individual married person hated the Single Life, this does not mean the Single Life is worthy of such fear and contempt. No word of a lie, many Single people are content to wait or follow St. Paul's advice to remain as they are.  And many priests get annoyed by heartfelt married-people sighs of "Oh, Father, what a shame you can't get married! Do you think this new pope will allow it?" 

Meanwhile, there is no formula for getting married. Yes, a Single woman can enrich her life by figuring out how to win friends and influence people, by becoming the sort of woman that marriage-minded men love to be around, by overcoming any anti-social personality traits, by participating in enjoyable activities with like-minded people, by making lots of new friends. But none of these things will guarantee that she will fall in love with a man who falls in love with her and proposes marriage. There are no guarantees about the life-altering decisions of other people. 


Allamanda said...

My reply is going to be a little personal—please excuse it.

I envy the sister's tranquility, whatever the source. It sometimes seems that whenever I manage to reach a stage of peaceful acceptance of singleness, I'm thrown into indecision by loving family or friends who think I'm not "doing enough."

It brings up the "God's will or my fault?" problem, and frankly, I'd just rather believe that it's God's will and get on with the rest of my life.

As an eldest sister, too, I know where the concern comes from, and it's always nice to know that there's someone looking out for you. It may just be too much pressure, though.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that is "pro-active" about seeking marriage, she is always on dates, on dating websites, etc. I am what this delightful older sister would call passive. Neither my friend nor I are married. And I feel like I've saved myself a lot of heartache and, well let's be frank, money. But the point being, I don't think there is anything you can do beyond being yourself and being happy.


Seraphic said...

Happy is key.

Ellie said...

Did my sister write this?

The pressure is even worse as my twin sister is the loudest one pushing for me to "get out there".

One time my young nephew overheard us on this dating/marriage discussion. He chimed in, "Don't worry Aunt Ellie, you can come live in my basement when you are old". My sister replied, "what about me, your mother?". He thought for a minute and said, "I'll get bunk beds".

LOL, now I tell my sister I already have a backup plan.

Seraphic said...

I am pretty sure this is not your sister, but I guess there are many sisters who share her worry/zeal/oldersisteriness!

sciencegirl said...

To be fair to the older sis, I'd be pretty tired of hearing about a psychic prediction from a priest. Saying, "You'll get married someday," is not mystical, it's the same prediction every movie, TV show, and fortuneteller make. I don't think it really matters whether or not this happy, single woman gets married -- plenty of people don't get married -- but Holy Orders don't confer precognitive abilities. I think God COULD reveal the future to someone, but I don't think He often DOES, even to priests. Most people end up married, so odds are, this lady will get married, but no one can say for sure.

Maybe it's just easier for little sis to say, "A psychic priest told me I'd get a husband!" than to say, "You know, I don't really care at this point whether I get married or not. If I do, hooray, and if I don't, I'm already happy as it is." It's a shame we no longer have room in our culture for the cheerful spinster of comfortable means.

Isabelle said...

Ellie, I highly approve of your backup plan. :) Your nephew sounds very sweet! (has anyone else noticed that it is the youngest of men who put many of their elders to shame? They have an instinct to protect and provide for their mums and adored aunts. I remember a story in which a very young Prince William told his mother that when he grew up he was going to be a policeman so he could protect her.)

I understand the older sister's desire to help her sister attain the same happiness she did, but I also hope I'll maintain the same peace as the younger sister.
Fortunately I have a very loving family that never bugs me about such things. (However, my mostly-older-and-married coworkers, bless their hearts, are a very different story. They try to find a husband for me everywhere. Oh well, they mean well...)

Anna said...

Slightly off-topic, but even if the new Pope allows married priests, I doubt they'd be able to get married once they are priests! (At least, that's how it works in the Orthodox church.)

But seriously, married people sometimes are completely unimaginative about people being able to be happy in other states of life.

Maria said...

I wrestle with this concept of being passive vs. proactive too. I ask myself sometimes, "Am I doing enough?" and other times "Am I doing too much?"

At the end of the day, I think it comes back to being attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your own life. For some people, that may mean being very proactive - attending young adult events, joining dating websites, etc. For others, it may mean simply going along with one's daily duties at work, at home, and at church and not necessarily seeking out opportunities to deliberately meet future husband material. I don't think that their is necessarily one "right" way. I think the key is to be true to yourself, faithful to how God is leading you, and humble enough to understand that ultimately it's all in God's hands. Also, when we understand this approach for ourselves, it's easier to respect the ways that our single friends and family decide to live their lives as well.

Anonymous said...

I am the delightful older sister. I'm actually not as bad as I must sound. I care about my sister. She does not want to talk about dating and marriage, and we don't at all. My family is a fractured mess, but I include my sister and think about her, and try to let her know that I love her as much as I can. I was not trying to say that she should go to a dating website. I did it, and it worked like a charm, but I know it is not for everyone. I know several people who have had much heartache because the guy from the dating website seemed so perfect, but there was no happily ever after. I think that what distresses me about my sister is that she is closed. She's been asked out many times, but she says 'no'. If you try to introduce her to someone, she is not interested. I admit, this might be a rare problem! And my sister carries it to a new level. Admittedly, I might not know everything. The other side of the coin is that my sister has a wonderful and fulfilling job, a wide circle of friends, many interests. I look up to her, I really do! But sometimes I am quietly puzzled too.

I don't want to distress anyone. I am not even sure why I wrote to Seraphic. I guess I just had a moment of boredeom and my sister was on my mind. When I was single I had a trusted aunt in whom I would confide my fears, hopes, frustrations, etc. I really thought she cared, but in retrospect she always had the oddest responses. I remember talking to her about how much I wanted to get married, and she would typically say "if it is meant to happen, it will, and if not, it won't", and then she would basically change the subject. I always walked away from those conversations feeling more lonely than ever. When I met my husband-to-be I told my aunt that I thought I had met "the one"! I was so excited. Her response was "I'll believe it when I see it". I could regale you with many other stories of indifferent relatives. I had the "helpful" ones too! I experienced it all. Anyway, at the end of the day, I am not indifferent to my sister. I will continue to love her, include her in my life, and pray for her.

Singles are very much in my heart and prayers. I am married, but I remember the challenges and joys of single life. God bless you all! I love reading about your experiences, and I learn a lot from you.

Anna said...

Just had a friend post this on facebook. Seem relevant to today's post.

"Life Is But a Weaving"
by Corrie Ten Boom

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft' times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not 'til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

Anonymous said...

Science Girl, thank you for saying what I was trying to say. The priest does not know the future. Too much reliance on what the priest says, and insufficient humble discernment, do not a happy future make. My sister has this problem. Maybe others do too, I don't know. Anyway, I love my little sis. Not much I can do but pray. yours sincerely, concerned big sis

Seraphic said...

Pray, allow her to live her life the way she likes, and allow yourself to stop worrying. You have children; she's over 40. They need you to worry about their future; she does not need you to worry about hers.

It will not be a tragedy of epic proportions if your 40+ year old sister goes to her grave a happy maiden lady. Honestly. Really. Truly.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate this conversation both as a big sister and as a single lady of increasing age.

One thing I will add that doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet is that I personally really appreciate it when my married friends make an effort to include me and others in hospitality. I know one couple in particular who are just marvelous at this. There are always interesting people around their table: older, younger, married, single, professionals, professors, etc. They don't make a big deal of it, just a simple potluck brunch from time to time. I haven't met the man of my dreams yet, and I don't "expect" to (although I know they are not above inviting people they want me to meet... they do it discreetly and don't push at all and I don't mind). I just really enjoy the company. But my point is, married people of good will might include singles a bit more, especially if they feel for their plight as singles. Heavens, I know that entertaining is rough with a family, but lots of us love kids and will help with the dishes or bring potluck. We just like the social exposure a home and family can give, especially when we're far from family. This might be a useful direction to channel energy about unmarried singles in your family or about your singleness: no reason the single lady can't do the inviting and fill up her home with fascinating folks.


Jackie said...

Wow, thank you for such a great post and discussion! It has really inspired me to spend more time praying for discernment and trust in God.

I will say, I am *epically* grateful that my family has never -- not even once -- questioned me about this. It's the rest of the world, it seems, that is "concerned." My experience is, as Anna's comment remarks, that they can't conceive of single and happiness coexisting.

I agree with Jean and Seraphic: Happiness (and, I would add, peace) is a great litmus test.

AveLady said...

OK, practically speaking I'm in agreement that no interfering action should be taken (which it sounds like big sis never intended to do), but I'm a big sister too (admittedly we're all younger, but I imagine I'll always feel this way) and if I thought one of my little sisters was actually basing major life decisions on something presumptuous-sounding a priest I didn't know had said, I'd have trouble being detached about it!

Yeah, maybe she just doesn't want to talk about it and it's just a vague thing she mentioned once that's been blown out of proportion through family telephone, which again, is why it's good that everyone's on the same page of no actual interference. But I'd feel squiffy about it too, big sis, and then guilty about worrying about it, and then squiffy again, so I'll say a prayer that you can have peace about it and that she's as truly happy as she seems to be.

Anna said...

Fifi, I adore my married friends who have included me in their lives. What's there to lose? One couple in particular did me the honor of asking me to be the godmother to their firstborn. I hope if I ever get married to remember to have single people be part of my life.

sciencegirl said...

If a woman over 40 is repeatedly turning down dates, it's because she doesn't really want to go on them (at least with those particular guys).

As you get older, romance may actually have less appeal -- so much drama, stress, communication issues, family compromise, etc. Over the years, the goals can change from, "I want so much to be married! I hope to find the right guy!" and more, "I am no longer that interested in marriage, but maybe the right guy could persuade me otherwise."

Actions speak louder than words. A person who says, "Oh, sure, I'd love to get married someday," and turns down lots of dates is indicating a disinterest in romance and maybe marriage as well. In a world so bent on everyone getting married, it's hard to even explain to family that it isn't the top priority, let alone not even truly a major desire. It could happen, but get used to the idea that it won't.

Katy in DC said...

Can I just chime in here on behalf of the older sister? My fellow posters seem to be implying that the older sister wants something for her sister that the sister doesn't want and the older sister should just accept that being single is just as good if not better than being married. But the younger sister does want to be married, and seems quite confident it'll happen. All the older sister is questioning is the "how" of that. Not to overstate but our Blessed Mother asked "how can this be" because she was being told something that wouldn't work with the way her life was structured (abstinent/consecrated). All this sister is asking is "ok, honey, you say you want to be married, and my style is to take steps toward my goals rather than waiting for my goals to materialize without my help. How can your goal be achieved if you don't meet men or put yourself in situations where you might?" Now, that may not be everyone's style, and it may not be required in this case in order for the younger sister to end up married, but it's not CRAZY-TUNES! When we want to change jobs, people will think it odd if we make no job-searching/resume-refreshing efforts. That's not to say that God can't bring us a job offer we didn't openly seek after, but certainly, it's not lunacy to expect that if someone wants something, she might take some active effort in getting it. In marriage it often doesn't work that way, but many many times it does as well. I think what we really have here is a difference in styles about how two women achieve their goals (I bet we'd see this difference in non-marriage goals between them too). I'm of the older sister's style, having actively dated on online sites and what-not for quite a while before finding my fiance at the age of 40 from one of those sites. But I go after all my goals that way. I bet that if this younger sister didn't WANT to be married, her older sister wouldn't be asking these questions at all - so her question was in no way an assertion of the superiority of married life that many of the other posters seem to be suggesting it is. What's more, unlike many an older sister (myself included), she hasn't actually acted on these questions in a way that might torment her younger sister. We should be commending her for her restraint and maturity in recognizing different styles without having to impose her own on her sister! All that to say "solidarity, my sister!" from one oldest sister to another :)

Seraphic said...

Actually, I would love this older sister (and I am an older sister) to free herself from her worry and unhappiness.

You see, the younger sister (so to speak, as she's in her early 40s and this married sister is in her mid 40s, so there's not a huge gap) didn't write to me. The older sister did. So, honestly, I was more interested in why her sister's singleness was such a big deal for the married woman who wrote to me that I was in the single sister's rock-solid confidence.

I'm not sure we got there, but that was my point. There is nothing the woman who wrote to me can do to make her sister less single. She can't make her go on dates with men when she doesn't want to. She can't find her a husband. She can't do anything, and as she is a take-charge-hunt-him-down kind of gal, I can see that this might make her feel a bit frustrated and powerless. And puzzled, since she was so miserable and pro-active as a Single, and can't figure out why her sister isn't the same way. She might be hurt, too, that her sister doesn't confide in her the way she confided in her aunt.

And when you are frustrated, powerless, puzzled and hurt about things and people you can't control, the best thing is to let go and let God.

If the single sister sent me a letter, that would be a whole different situation for me.

Sarah said...

I'm the younger sister in a family and in a similar, though not exactly the same situation. My older sister frets about me a lot, I think. I've not maybe been the easiest to deal with - I was an unashamed slob for a long time and was more interested in my studies than boys. When I did start getting interested, my parents took ill and I ended up looking after them. I had to let a couple of people go as a result. Now I'm past 40 and being a Catholic, I'm into widower/annulment territory. But apart from that, I don't know if others feel the same about this, but I don't like the idea of pursuing marriage as such. Maybe it's the way we're brought up, but I wouldn't like to marry simply because I'm lonely or because it's better to marry than burn. Is it? Apart from the fact I'm so inexperienced with men and it's Amazon territory to me. I do like the comparison with job hunting and it has made me think a bit more about this. On top of it all, I got absolutely smitten with someone last week. And yes, he was good husband material, so much so that he was already married - someone got there before me. I'm keeping away, don't worry, but someone said this was a sign that I was ready for a relationship. Sorry Seraphic, this is a bit of a moan and forgive me, but I have started reading your blog in the hope of getting wiser on these matters. What do others think?

Alisha said...

I like what Maria said - it's about discernment. That applies to the older sister too; she can ask for God to give her peace about the situation and if she is supposed to intervene, then intervene.
If you truly believe that it is a prompting of the Holy Spirit, then intervene but do it by finding out some information first. What's not clear to me is whether or not the implied questions have been asked directly. For example, has anyone said to her, "You know I love you and want to see you happy and that you have mentioned this particular thing as a dream. Can I ask you if you envision it happening a certain way? Because it seems you turn down all it just because you dislike those particular guys or...etc"

Seraphic said...

Oh dear, I do not like the job hunt analogy. I much prefer my fishing analogy, or as Alisha thinks it dehumanizing, my nature photography analogy. I think it a good idea to socialize (especially, but not exclusively) with people who share your values, interests and childless, Single way of life, and to meet many people, all while paying attention to how they respond to you, and how you respond to them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the support and ideas. I appreciate the sisterly solidarity. My purpose in writing was mostly just to postpone doing the laundry. I promise you that I am not lying sleepless at night with worry about my sister. I know I used that word "worry". A more accurate description is sisterly concern. My husband and children are importantt me, but I also feel that my sister is an important part of my of my life, and let's face it, my poor little mother will not be around forever. I try to be a good sister. I was not trying to say that married life is superior. Here I am, a rather faithful reader of Seraphic Singles. If I didn't think I could learn something from all of you beautiful single women, I wouldn't be reading. If my sister remains unmarried all her life, that is fine with me. What I struggle with, and I didn't express it very well initally, is the way that my sister is discerning her call in life. For me, I feel that God speaks to my heart. As one of you said, peace is a great sign of God's will for us. I don't believe that God reveals His will to us in prophecy. Not usually. Maybe not ever. Anyway, I will continue to do what I am doing, which is to love my sister where she is at. I include her in my life, and express an interest in her ilfe without prying too much. That is how it has been, and that is how it will remain. Thank you to all of you for your thoughts and ideas. Your thoughtful comments have brought a smile to my face! Thank you. Yours sincerely, a faithful sister

Katy said...

Perhaps "job-hunting" isn't the perfect analogy, and "professional networking" is better. If you decide that you're hearing the call to switch jobs or careers, you start networking, putting yourself out there, getting to know interesting people who you can help and who can help you and learn from each other, raise your profile, etc. That's more like what you're describing with your fishing analogy. Regardless, it would be awfully odd if you had a goal (or are seeking to discern if maybe you should have such a goal) of any sort of professional move not to include at least SOME networking activity.

Seraphic said...

I absolutely agree about networking. Networking--or just living life out in the open, meeting people and chatting with people--is great and probably the method God most often uses to bring two people together these days.

In the West, that is. The vast majority of the world is Indian and Chinese, so I couldn't really say what the contemporary human norm is. Possibly still parents and matchmakers calling the shots.

The single sister has a lot of friends and is quite active in her church and her community, so it sounds to me like she's out there. But as for what else she could be doing, I'd have to hear from the lady herself before I presumed to pronounce on that.

Honestly, I've never had an email from a married lady about a single lady's singleness before. Well, just "my friend's so great, how come guys can't see that" remarks, anyway.

Personally, I'm all about Single women who want to get married going out and making a lot of friends and a lot of acquaintances with an eye to making friendships, one of which may indeed "catch fire."