Dear devout Catholic,
I’m the thirty-something single woman in the pew all alone at Mass. You may have also seen me at adoration or church events, usually by myself or talking to friends. Maybe you’ve even overheard me or seen my posts online venting some of my frustrations with being single. Or maybe you’ve asked me in conversation whether I have a boyfriend, and when I answer that I don’t, you have asked me why, or even “how is that possible?!” And when I shrug, bewildered at the notion that anyone thinks that I of all people should know the answer to why I’m single, maybe you’ve gone a step further and asked if I’ve considered religious life and speculated that maybe God wants me “all to Himself” as a nun or sister.
When you ask me this in real life, I probably look away and shrug again and try to figure out how to escape the conversation in the quickest way possible while still remaining polite. I might even laugh nervously and mutter a “nah…”
I know you mean well. I really do. And I respect your intentions. So I’m going to beg you as gently as I can: please don’t talk to me about my vocation.
Unless you are trying to find out if I’m single because you have someone in mind you’d like to set me up with, these conversations are never very productive. Why is that? Because when you ask why I’m single, you are asking me a question that God Himself has not answered for me. And when you ask if I’ve considered religious life, the answer is OF COURSE.
Since I’m now in my thirties, you must understand that I’ve wanted to get married and have kids for at least ten years. That is ten years of repeatedly getting my heart broken, going on bad or mediocre dates with guys I’m not interested in so that I give them a fair chance and no one can accuse me of not “putting myself out there”, being stood up, taken advantage of, let down by broken promises, and confused by mixed signals. I’ve been ghosted and I’ve been the one to ghost. I’ve fallen for men who aren’t interested in me. I’ve been harassed and insulted for telling men I’m not interested in them romantically or that I was not going to sleep with them. I’ve spent hours wondering why the handsome Catholic guys won’t ask me out, why I seem to be a sucker for instability, and why the non-Catholics with completely incompatible values are the ones that pursue me the most.
I’ve been to countless bridal and baby showers, been a bridesmaid, and celebrated the weddings and birthdays of my friends’ kids. I’ve held my friends’ babies in my arms and looked down at their precious little faces and desperately wanted one of my own. Almost every job I’ve had since college has been working with kids, just so that I could have some outlet for my love of them and sate, however incompletely, my maternal instincts.
I’ve gotten angry at God, I’ve said and done things I regret. I’ve wondered what was wrong with me. I’ve tried to ignore the evil voice in the back of my mind telling me that I am single because I’m unworthy of love, unlovable, and permanently defective, or because my friends have some sort of magic that I will never have.
I’m not writing this for the sake of complaining. Everything I’ve experienced has taught me valuable lessons and formed me in important ways. I only mention those things to point out that if I had felt called to do something that could have avoided all of that heartache, trust me, I would have eagerly signed up. Professing religious vows would be relatively straightforward and answer one of the biggest open questions of my life. But I’ve asked God many times if He’s actually calling me to religious life. On lonely nights, I’ve even contemplated going ahead and taking steps in that direction, just because it would mean that I would never again have to deal with any of the stuff I described above. I am envious of the women that don’t feel the ache of the unfulfilled desire for marriage. And yet, I’ve never received so much as an inkling that that’s what He wanted of me. Not even when I put on an actual habit and played a sister in a short film, which would have been the perfect opportunity for God to reveal some great, hidden-until-that-moment plan. In fact, the desires for marriage and family have only gotten stronger, despite my pleas with God to take them away and make my life easier. All this has taught me that manufacturing a calling out of frustration, or because there’s no obvious alternative currently presenting itself, is NOT doing God’s will. If you are suggesting that I might have a religious vocation simply because I’m not married, you might as well be asking me if I’ve considered changing careers and becoming an accountant because I’m not yet able to make a living doing creative work. Accountants are good, necessary, and they make decent money, and maybe I COULD be one, but I know I would be unhappy on the most fundamental of levels, since I intensely dislike working with numbers and sitting in front of a computer all day. Nothing about being an accountant appeals to me or makes my heart sing, and no one who really knows me has ever told me that I should be an accountant. In fact, being one would probably cause me to feel trapped and depressed, not at all the joyful, hopeful, fulfilled person one assumes I would be if I were following God’s plan for my life.
I don’t mean to take my loneliness or hardships, or the fact that I’m not 100% content with my singlehood, out on you. All I ask is that, before you bring it up, you take into consideration the reality that I look for meaning and purpose in my singlehood every day. I am constantly striving to give thanks for every moment, grow in virtue, resolve my issues, heal my wounds, serve God, accept His will, love my neighbors, and become a person that someone would want to marry. I’m trying hard to make the most of my situation and live life to the fullest, and when you ask me these things, it only reinforces the feeling that most Catholics do not view singlehood as something that can be good and valuable in itself, which thus highlights the underlying implication that most Catholics don’t consider the lives and activities of singles to be as valuable as married or religious. It makes the struggle to accept God’s will for me that much harder, because it focuses only on what I don’t have, rather than all the gifts and blessings God sends down daily.
My singlehood IS a mystery, but not one of the greatest mysteries on Earth. Being single has forced me to draw closer to God and allowed me to do many things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I did have the family I long for. Looking back on my life, I can see with total clarity the bullets God helped me dodge, even though at the time all I could see were the things He was witholding from me for the sake of something greater.
So instead of talking about my lackluster love life (or lack thereof) and/or nun potential (or lack thereof), I’d much rather talk to you about the trips I’ve taken, the lessons God is currently teaching me, my quirky hobbies, the latest book I’m reading or the series I’m binge-watching, or the projects I’m doing that I’m really excited about. THOSE are the things that lift me up, enliven me, and give me hope, and every step forward that I take in them is one step closer toward God and discovering the person He created me to be. Any encouragement in that regard will help me to feel supported as a whole person rather than something defective, a problem to be solved. In turn, I will give myself, my talents, and the free time I have back to the Church or in service to others.
Your perpetually single fellow parishioner