Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Last Week: 2. Living Single

I was wont to think of Singles only as unmarried people of marriageable age, but as marriageable age changes from era to era, community to community and, indeed, person to person, I have adjusted my thinking and now date the beginning of Single life from Christian Confirmation (or, if your are Jewish, your Bat or Bar Mitzvah). In short, your responsibilities as a Single begin when you are about fourteen. It is at fourteen, not first year university, when you should pray and search your heart for clues as to the direction in which your adult life should follow. By your high school graduation you should have a good idea as to what profession or trade you wish to follow (and be trained for at college or university) and if you want to co-head a family, live in a religious community, become a priest or dedicate your life as a Single person to some institution or cause. It is neither clever nor funny to say "I don't really know what I want to do with my life" in your third year of post-secondary education. It is sad.

A profession or trade is a given, although you can certainly wrack up huge debts and stay in post-secondary education until you can't stand it anymore. If you choose to go this route, I recommend that, as you study, you keep one foot firmly planted in the work world, even if that is just writing op. ed. for your local Catholic newspaper. And if you do enroll in a PhD program, not to quit unless you land a terrific job in a related profession. (B.A. quit after he landed a terrific job; I quit because of illness.) Work, paid or unpaid, is the lot of adult life. No work, no honour, no self-respect.

As a teenager, your job is not to have fun but to study and/or learn a trade. It is not to go to parties or to date even though the industrial-entertainment complex will tell you that is what teenage life is all about. It isn't. Unfortunately, so-called "progress" in civilization has not resulted in "progress" when it comes to sexuality. Once upon a time, when lifespans were much shorter and life was much simpler, girls married shortly after their periods started and thus became sexually active around the time they actually wanted to be sexually active. But despite the fact that Westerners are treated as children until they graduate from high school (or even university), our sexuality has not delayed. It's a problem.

But I don't want to talk about chastity today, in part because sex and lack thereof is too much and too often a focus of discussions of Single Life. I'll talk about it later in the week. (In your place, sex!) What I'd prefer to talk about today is how to be comfortable as a Single person.

First, your life as a Christian adult begins at Confirmation. Your life is not on hold until you get married. Your life began at conception and it will pause at death's door and then go through
to something else. You have to live every day. Try not to waste them in wishful thinking.

Second, you have to act like an adult, even if you live in your parents' house after high school, and this will mean adjustments for you and them. As an adult child in their house, you must pay them rent or do a significant number of chores. This will maintain not only their respect, but your self-respect. If you want your parents to treat you like an adult (which may be psychologically difficult for them, since they remember changing your diapers), you will have to act like an adult. Consult them about renovating your bedroom, and pay for it.

Third, living Single does not have to mean living alone. Although sometimes you really do need to move out of your parents' house as an adult, it is not a given. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with living in your parents' basement if you pay them a decent rent for it and shovel the walk so your old man won't have to. People from many cultures are horrified at the assumption that unmarried adults should live separate from their parents or away from their families. If you feel most comfortable living with your family, and they like having you around, why not stay? But if this is impossible, there is no shame in living with a pal who shares your core values or just such basics as "no overnight male guests". Living in a shared house or apartment with good female friends is one of the great delights of Single life. And it is a great joy to me that my Single littlest sister lives with my Single litter brother in a shared apartment.

Fourth, the two great temptations of Single Life are doing too much for others and its opposite, becoming isolated. That is one reason why I think it so much better for Singles to live with others. If you live with others, you feel less like you have to say "YES" to every request in order to keep up good relationships. And if you live with others, you won't be allowed to become totally self-absorbed. However, if you do live alone, do remember that you are ALLOWED free time and to follow your own hobbies and interests, and do remember to get out and spend time with people. A great way to do this is to enroll in a night school class. If you have a night school class, you can tell your boss so that she knows that even though you don't have a husband-and-kids, you aren't available to work overtime ALL the time. And you'll also meet people and learn something, too.

Fifth, you have to have lovely surroundings. It is all too easy to start treating yourself like a barn yard animal: waking, working, eating, playing, staring at stuff, eating, sleeping. But you are not your own pack animal, you are a human being, and thus you owe yourself a pleasing and comfortable living space. Single people are all too prone for feeling sorry for themselves; if you come home to a gorgeous jewelbox of a home, carefully cleaned and decorated by your own hands, you will not feel sorry for yourself. Indeed, you will love yourself. "Thank you, self," you will say, "For this moment of happiness I feel seeing this lovely space." (I felt that the other day when suddenly contemplating a perfectly tidy and vacuumed sitting room.)

Pay particular attention to your bedroom. As you will discover when you are older, there is nothing like waking up from a good night's sleep. If prone to sexual temptation or loneliness, pick a single bed--stuff for single beds is cheaper, which is great--so you do not feel the absence of another person. If not, pick whatever size you feel most comfortable or can afford. As a Single woman I much preferred monastic single beds; as a Married woman, I prefer a double even when I am travelling on my own.

Change the sheets at least once a week, invest in a mattress cover, make that bed the most comfy ever! And store your dirty laundry in a hamper, preferably somewhere else. And if you do your laundry every week, there's magically way less to do as the weeks go on.

Sixth, the best way to deal with sexual temptation and longing is not to think about it. Age old advice, but it works. Don't watch sexy movies or read sexy romance novels or make up sexy fantasies in your head or go to chastity lectures or read chastity books that dwell upon past sins. Don't talk about past sins. Tell people you are not comfortable discussing such personal matters, especially not at work. And don't let people bully you. If someone tries to shock you by showing you pornography, tell them you don't appreciate that and leave. If this happens at work, report it to your manager. Sexual harrassment is not just when your boss pinches your bottom. It's when anyone at work makes you feel uncomfortable with sex-related stuff after you've told them once you don't like it. N.B. YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM.

Seventh, you deserve respect and unfortunately you will sometimes have to fight for that respect. It might not be merely because you are Single but because you are young. Or old. Do not allow people to call you names like "old maid" or "fag hag" (should your only male friends be gay). You are not lesser than a married woman. Indeed, tradition dictates that virgins are ontologically higher up in the ranks, although (said St Augustine), a married woman who is martyred goes to the top of the class. Your value rests in the fact that you were made in the image and likeness of God and your honour is in self-denying service to people weaker than you. That does not include Mr Sneery Married Guy, who should be put in his place. At once.

Eighth, girls, if the number one man in your life is a priest or homosexual, you have a problem. Neither is going to relate to you in the way men-in-general should relate to you. Although priests and homosexuals (especially the ones who share your core values) do make good friends, they should not be your only male friends, or your bestest friend forever. To feel like an attractive woman, a woman that a man would be delighted to marry and protect, you must spend time with ordinary, marriage-track men. Otherwise you may start feeling sexless and unattractive without the foggiest clue why. Even if you are not interested in marrying your ordinary, marriage-track male friends, or they in marrying you, there is still a happy, often flirty or brotherly-sisterly dynamic that brings joy to your life and a sparkle to your eyes.

And I am sure I will think of other things, but I must go out with B.A. now.

Update: Seraphic Singles is soon to disappear from circulation, so if you haven't got a copy but want one, off you go to get one while you still can. Alternatively you could buy the American version called The Closet's All Mine, which may be around awhile. But as my deal was with the Canadian Novalis, I am more interested in promoting Novalis.


Catherine said...

Maybe it's because I've been reading your blog daily for years now, but I had many long conversations this past week at the National Catholic Singles Conference about all of these things (and sounded just like your writing). I particularly like to remind my girlfriends that we aren't second-class citizens because we don't have husbands and that we can say no to plans whenever we want to. Do I love playing with my niece and nephews? Of course. I don't need to babysit them every day.

As a 31-year-old living with her parents, it's nice to hear that it's okay to do so :) I can't help but worry that once I move out, I might actually spend my entire weekend laying in bed with chocolate and reruns of Dawsons Creek.

I have noticed a worrying trend that my closest male friends are getting married at an amazing rate - but hopefully their wives will be fine with me hanging around once in a while.

P.S. I'm so sorry that you are no longer blogging after this week - hopefully someone will pick up the flag!

Seraphic said...

I'll be blogging--just not about Single Life!

Truthfinder said...

For anyone who hasn't bought themselves Seraphic Singles, I highly recommend it. It was a quick read - actually it's only fault was that it was too quick.

Seraphic said...

Well, they made me cut a lot out.

Julia said...

Thank you for not bashing on those of us who live at home with our families. It's becoming more and more common for adults to live at home, but some people still feel it's the easy way out. It isn't. Very often I feel like living alone would be far easier. One thing to note about living with family as an adult is that it really keeps you rooted in reality as to what marriage and family life are really like. No romanticising for me!

Eliza W. said...

Seraphic, before you go, do you have any advice on dealing with priests who say demeaning or insensitive things about singles and the single life?

Julia said...

Eliza W., I have never heard a priest say anything demeaning about singleness, but if I did, I'd wonder if he's forgotten that, like, he's single too.

Tom Nichols said...

Comic blog post about National Catholic Singles Conference