Monday, 27 May 2013

The Burden of Love

Love can hurt, as we all know. But not having someone to love can hurt, too. I think this one of the similarities between being Single and being childless by not-choice.

Of course, it's more complicated for Singles. Our world seems to be absolutely obsessed with pair-bonding, or a very least with the power to attract the opposite sex. The more admirers you have, the better. The more deeply and sincerely they care about you, the better. There's an amazing scene in Fellini's 8 1/2 where the hero imagines all the women he ever admired in his life living in his childhood home, telling him he is wonderful and kicking and screaming rather than be expelled from his god-like presence. The female version of this is Scarlet O'Hara in the party scene in Gone With the Wind. Of course, not even Scarlet can make all the men fall in love with her for, annoyingly, Ashley likes good little Melanie better.

Since the world has always told women that we can find our ultimate value in the eyes of good men who love us, it can hurt like absolute hell to be Single. We have to remind ourselves again and again that we find our ultimate value not in the love of human men but in the love of God. Mother Teresa was never a looker, not even when she was young. Do you think she cared? No. But when Elinor Roosevelt, who was as famous and almost as beloved a celebrity, was asked if she had any regrets about her life, she apparently said, "Just one. I wish I had been prettier."

Well, no wonder, poor lamb. Her husband cheated on her like crazy.

So on top of wanting someone to love, there is a terrible need to feel loved, and if we listen to the world and its obsession with sexual attraction, we don't think the love of God, the love of family and the love of friends are enough. In fact, the love of God, the love of family and the love of friends can seem like a hollow mockery when we don't have what the world says is the ultimate love: sexual love. Many women even hold the love of their dependent children as nothing compared to the love of a man, as is quite obvious from the women who consent to live with nasty bruisers who are a danger to their children or grandchildren.

Happily married women do not feel starved of love. But we can feel frustrated love anyway, if we do not have enough people to love. Most happily married women have a baby or more, and that does the trick, although I have come across mommy bloggers who are sad because they even though they have had their eighth baby, they would like another, and Baby Nine hasn't made an appearance.

It's interesting, this hunger to love. I am sure Single women have this, too, for I know Single women who throw themselves into service and are never happier when they are doing something for someone else, expecting nothing more than thanks. And sometimes just having the opportunity to express love is sufficient thanks because not being able to do so is such an intolerable burden.

I felt quit frustrated during my Ph.D. years when I couldn't find a way to serve others that did not conflict with going to my favourite Mass. That's why this blog exists. And I think it is a good solution. Do-gooding is only a problem when it makes others feel oppressed.

And that is the terrible thing about the burden of unexpressed love: it can make others feel oppressed, as you might if a besotted auntie kept knitting you ugly jumpers that she expected you to wear. Poor you, and poor auntie, trying to unburden her heart by way of wool. Germaine Greer writes about this in The Whole Woman, and although I am not a Germaine Greer fan, I was deeply struck by her thoughts in this book.

What is the solution? I have more ideas about fighting the inordinate need to be loved than I do about about fighting the inordinate need to love. I suppose on a spiritual level, the solution to one is the solution to the other: to pray to God for remove the inordinate feeling, every hour on the hour, if necessary. There is volunteer work, if your work is so badly needed that you know you are making a difference. And after that, there are, of course, pets.

Dog people know they are loved by their dogs. Cat people do not know they are loved by their cats. I will go out on a limb and suggest that cat people have a greater need to love than to be loved. Ditto rabbit people, I imagine. The human instinct to have pets suggests that human beings will love any order of creature rather than to have nothing or no one to love at all.

Sadly, my domestic circumstances are such that I cannot have any animal pet. I accept that: it's the price of living in the Historical House, which I dearly love to do. But having grown up in a home that was packed to the rafters with relations (and the occasional cat), I feel extremely frustrated in my maternal instincts.  So I have bought a basil plant.

This is a big step for me because I have always have a brown thumb and terrible luck with plants. But this time I am taking the survival of my basil plant alive as a challenge. I realize that this sounds extremely pathetic, but a basil plant is better than nothing. Also, unlike a cat or dog, a basil plant is very useful in that I can use some of it for seasoning meals and it doesn't mind at all.

Well, sound off in the combox.


Katy said...

Oh Seraphic, how I intensely relate to this. I have wanted to be a mother much longer than I ever wanted to be married... I have 2 cats and 2 dogs and adore them, but I recognize that my true desire is to love humans :) The most fulfilled in this desire I have ever felt (until my first nephew was recently born) was when I was spending a lot of time working with teenaged girls and sacrificing a lot for them. I encourage radical, self-sacrificing service to single women because it really scratches that itch, and it scratches a lot of itches that the people you're serving have too. Gardening also helps me too by the way, so I relate to your basil plant! Good topic!

MaryJane said...

I second the niece/nephew thing. I am blessed to have a lot of wonderful married friends who are always happy to have me over. They love when I come read to Susie or scold Johnnie for hitting his brother, and somehow we snatch a few minutes of adult conversation while their husbands are away at work/mowing the lawn/ at the pub for guy's night.

I know some married women who might make a lot of unnecessary comments about singleness, and some singles who might find it "too devastating" because of their own loneliness, but I find that being friends with moms is wonderful for everyone. I love their kids, and I'm as happy to talk about diaper brands as the latest political topic. (Plus, I have really learned a lot just from watching their example of constant unselfishness!) I'm grateful to be able to "serve" in a way that concretely eases their burden, because motherhood of small children can be extremely exhausting and isolating in modern suburbia.

(And very often it makes me really appreciate the quiet of my own place when I get home after!)

Modesty said...

Thanks for the thoughts, this blog really is quite a great service. Personally, I struggle with wanting to love others and my introversion. I absolutely can't stand volunteering and being around strangers/loud people, but love donating or praying the rosary at funeral wakes. I also strongly desire motherhood, but don't like being around other people's children. (It would be different for nieces and nephews but sadly I don't have any.) And I'd adopt another cat if my apartment didn't charge a "pet rent" for every animal and I felt like owning more than one wouldn't make me a "crazy cat lady".

I hope little Basil thrives. :)

Anon for this said...

I found that my siblings having children killed my need to do the same. So now I'm not sure if I should be looking to get married, since I believe being open to life is part of being sacramentally married.

Seraphic said...

Very few women ever become crazy cat ladies. As long as she keeps her home scrupulously clean, I cannot see why a woman might not have three or four cats. One of the Single women I admire most has three.

Anon, it sounds like there's a story there! Definitely something to discuss with your spiritual director if you have one and wish to!

Anon again said...

Interesting, I never considered bringing this up with my parish priest. Perhaps I shall.

Athanasius lover said...

I definitely struggle more with the desire to be loved than with the need to love. In my case, I think it's due in large part to a deficit of love received growing up, and in some part to a difficulty making friends now. I do own two rescued greyhounds and enjoy showering the love on them that they didn't receive when they were on the track. I admire the women (and men) who are more eager to give love than to receive it, but unfortunately, at least in this stage of my life, I can't honestly say I'm one of them.

MC said...

Perfect timing Seraphic!

I was just going to ask when the the "surviving baby shower season when everyone and their sister is having a baby" post would be coming along...or perhaps the "being the only single at a table of couples when the guys go to get drinks and no one brings you back one" post or the "God seems to have gotten kerfuzzled...I'm asking for one husband and one baby and getting 65 poor children and struggling mothers to feed instead"

This will do perfectly!!!

Thank you for directing your non-basil, maternal instincts our way!

Seraphic said...

@Athanasius Lover: Oh, how wonderful about the greyhounds! Would you consider beginning a greyhound blog or chatting with people on a rescued-greyhound message board? I think greyhounds are a marvelous interest that is shared by many other people.

MC, a baby shower post is a good idea. Thank you! The correct thing to do when the men come back is say "Are all those for me? Thank you!" Take one from the cutest guy and down it. As for the 65 children and mothers, that's how God rolls.

Anonymous said...

Modesty -

I'm an introvert too, and the little volunteering I did do didn't appeal to me very much. I have felt bad about that, but I'm not really a people-person, and sometimes volunteering means being in contact with people who have various problems, and I feel ill-equipped for that. I can't sort of 'take it in my stride' the way some people appear to be able to.

I do donate though.

I think it's really very good that you pray the Rosary for people at their Wakes. I don't see how this is not as valuable as helping people during their lives.

I think there is a bias against introversion in general, even in the focus of some parishes.


MaryJane said...

To all the introverts out there: yes, please pray! I have often thought that if all the pro-life people who are uncomfortable actually sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics would purposefully pray and do spiritual battle for those who are on the front lines, the effects would be truly amazing!

It is a beautiful work of mercy to pray for the dead.

Really the whole world could use a lot more prayer. Mother Teresa had a woman in England who was her life-long "prayer partner", offering her sufferings up for the work of the M.C.s. That could be something really great for introverts (or just people who aren't big volunteer types) to do. It's certianly spiritual motherhood if I ever saw it. If you don't know where to start, maybe you could just ask your parish priest if there are specific intentions that people have brought to him. (Imagine being on the other end, and finding out that there was someone who made a point of specifically praying for you and your intentions. I would love that!)

Jam said...

I don't quite qualify as an introvert but I have some of the same issues around volunteer work. I don't deal well in the moment either. On the other hand, I do like to feel like I'm doing something along with my checks. I've done clerical work in my parish offices, and worked from home doing data entry for pro-life groups. I also had a great gig once working in a book warehouse for a local literacy organization -- the group's main volunteer thrust was providing reading buddies for poor kids, but they sold books online as a source of income. Less apostolic but still community oriented: most museums and archives need volunteers to do paperwork or organizing. In all these cases I found the organizations were grateful to have someone who didn't mind working quietly on a "boring" task; so many people associate volunteering with one-on-one contact or do it to make friends etc. (I suppose you're aware of all this but I put it out there anyway!)

When I learned to knit I was intrigued by the possibility of charity knitting but it's hard to be absolutely sure you're not just adding to a pile of sad knitted crap...

I have a basil plant too! His name is Basil, of course :)

lauren said...

My single life has improved dramatically since I small grey cat came to live with me.

But plants are great too, especially flowers. I don't have much of a garden, but the flowers give me great joy. And nothing's better than fresh herbs in one's cooking!