Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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January 25th, 2009

Am I Incomplete?

Is the single life a vocation or just a test of patience...



Erin recently broke up with her boyfriend of two years. They were serious and considering marriage, but he didn’t want children and Erin, 27, very much wants a family. She knows she made the right choice but she’s still heartbroken, she told me recently in an email.

Erin, a longtime reader of this column, feels called to the vocation of Catholic married life — and is frustrated that she hasn’t yet met the partner with whom she can live out that call.

Here’s what she wrote to me:

“How does one live a single life with this vocation? It’s very confusing — not to mention painful and rather unhealthy — when I find myself sizing up all the men in my life as potentials, even friends that I know I shouldn’t. Some might call it desperation.

I want to be comfortable being single, but the fact is I’m just not. I want to be married, I want to share a life with someone, I want to raise a family, argue over the mortgage, and struggle over to whose family will we go for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. I want that life, my prayer has been that God also wants that life for me, and I’m sure we will both be greatly rejoicing when it happens.

What I’m struggling with at this moment is what to do in the meantime?”

Less impatience, more enjoyment

Erin’s questions are ones that many of you are struggling with — or remember struggling with before you got married. Her email really touched me, because I felt the same way during my 20s: I wanted to get married; I wanted to meet the right person; and while I trusted in God, I was impatient.

Life was going to be complete when I met the right guy and got married, I told myself. Sure, there would be tough times, but I would be part of a team and I’d feel like I had arrived into the “married person” club.

Being married is wonderful (and that team spirit is perhaps the best part.) But looking back a few years, I wish I had spent less time worrying about whether or not I was going to get married, and more time enjoying my single life: Going out with friends; meeting new people; feeling free to take a job assignment across the country for a few weeks; being excited over those first few dates.

Some concrete advice

I hated it when the “smug marrieds” in my life would tell me, “Don’t worry about it — you’ll meet someone and then you’ll wish you’d had more fun before you settled down.” It sounded so patronizing and empty. (Erin, I bet you feel the same way, too.) So, before I start sounding like those smug marrieds myself, here are a few bits of more concrete advice:

  1. Busy girls don’t cry. Being single means that you have more time to devote to others — whether it’s going out with your single friends or babysitting the young children of your married friends or volunteering at your local church organization. Get out there and do things. Be out and about at least four evenings during the week. You’re more likely to meet people when you’re involved in your community — and you are living out your Catholic vocation in a meaningful way.
  2. Make time for yourself. Invest in yourself and take pleasure in your little personal rituals. Maybe it’s writing in your journal before you go to bed; or perhaps it’s a long, hot bath with a trashy magazine. During my 20s, I made time once a week to do my nails and give myself a facial — something I haven’t done much recently. It sounds silly, but the pace of life picks up dramatically when you’re taking care of someone else, so enjoy those moments.
  3. Take comfort in the statistics. The odds are that you are going to meet a great guy — and get married. Visit the website for my new book Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love to calculate your odds of being married over the next few years. (Sneak preview: If you’re a college-educated woman, you’ve got great odds!)
  4. Join (or start) a singles group in your church. The Catholic Church is getting better about recognizing that many of its parishioners are single — but it could do a lot more to help them meet. If there’s no singles organization in your parish, start one. By taking a leadership position, you get to meet everyone — and have an excuse to introduce yourself to the cute guy in the corner.
  5. Don’t rush to the altar. In previous generations, a woman who wasn’t married by a certain age might settle for a “he’ll do” kind of guy — someone she didn’t really love, but who was willing to marry her and came along at the right time. But today, the goal isn’t getting married, it’s having a happy marriage — and being able to commit before God and family that this is the right person with whom to live out your vocation. It only has to work once, but don’t “settle” for the wrong reasons.

Have some more advice or experiences on living single while praying for marriage in your future? Send me an email at puresex@bustedhalo.com or post a comment below.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • confused

    I found the title of this article misleading. I thought it was actually going to address how one KNOWS that the Single Life is his/her VOCATION. I’m 35, devoted to my faith and enjoy my single life. Single life is very peaceful. It annoys me that that everyone asks me about marriage as the expectation because I have no particular desire to have a family. However, I am very attracted to men and do struggle with staying out of a relationship because my biological clock does tick and my hormones do make my sigle life very difficult at times. Does that mean I’m called to a single life and need to bare with my biology, or does that mean that I’m just enjoying my single state way too much and need to make myself open to the idea of a long-term relationship with all that that entails?

  • Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

    Oh, my goodness! What to say? My heart really breaks for single people who feel like life has nothing to offer them without a spouse! That’s just not so!

    So many people think of being single as some kind of transitional state, something you will “grow out of.” The reality is that many people, especially churchgoing women, will never get married. There just aren’t enough churchgoing single men to go around. A lot of us need to come to terms with that and consider building our lives around other things and other people. If you don’t know what else to build your life around, now is the time to start figuring that out!

    Honestly, society (and the church, in particular) glorify the marital relationship to the exclusion of all others. While I’m glad Christine Whelan is happy in her marriage, many, many people are not. A husband or wife will not guarantee you lifelong happiness, as some discover when it’s already too late. Single or married, we need to build close, strong relationships with OTHER PEOPLE, too–friends, extended family members, church members if you’re part of a church family. These kinds of relationships can be just as valuable as the marital relationship if you let them be!

    While I appreciate Christine’s suggestions to fill our time with volunteer work and little acts of self-love, singles also need to find personal meaning for themselves. So many of us pin all our dreams on finding a spouse and having kids that we never ask ourselves what WE want, what WE are called to do. If you’re a single who feels like you have nothing to live for except a future spouse and children, maybe you aren’t making full use of your talents. Are you in the right job? If not, take steps toward a career that will actually inspire you. Are you giving full reign to your creative impulses or your travel bug or whatever else floats your boat? If not, maybe you need to explore the hobbies and pastimes that really motivate you.

    In short, if you’re not happy, you need to seek out and/or cultivate pursuits that will give your life joy and meaning. If you’re spiritual, pray that God will help you in this respect. It’s not a bad thing to want a husband or a wife, but as happy as marriage can be, it can also be downright, inescapably miserable. It’s definitely not a quick fix to whatever is wrong with your life. I think lots of singles assume that it will be and are shocked to find out otherwise after they walk down the aisle. So figure out what YOU need to be happy and then go get that, not because a spouse will magically come along once you feel fulfilled but because…you’ll feel fulfilled. :)

  • christian c

    This is the best article i have seen on the web this week and i am glad i come over here.
    I am 29yr old single man and my status is about to destroy myself. The only reason i have studied and worked so hard to build a nice career was the dream of a happy family. Now that it isn’t happened, i often find myself on online dating site or at the bar (thing i really don’t like). Even at work, i am getting less and less concentrated and sincerely, i waste at least 3-4 hr a day meditating on my future or trying to make contacts…. I am afraid of running into the wrong girl and the idea of “singleness as Lord’s plan for my live” is totally unacceptable for me. THE ONLY GOAL OF MY LIFE IS TO BUILD A HAPPY FAMILY WITH GOD AT THE CENTER.
    Even in the heaven i won’t be happy if single.(and our lord know experienced the fact through Adam..).
    Worst, being a shy stranger in the USA isn’t helping at all………
    What is the difference between me and those computers i have in my office if i can’t find love and build a family? we both do a great job what else?

  • Sarah

    The title of this article is something I ask myself quite often especially as more and more of my friends, both from high school and college, get married and have families. Only in the last few years have I changed my prayer to God from “send me the man of my dreams” to “help me to accept who I am right now and recognize that I am complete already because of the love of my family, friends, and most especially God.” While I try to remember to keep this “new” prayer in the forefront, that “old” prayer of when am I gonna meet the man of my dreams comes back. When this happens God usually reminds me in some way, through a person or event, of how much I am loved already. Until I can realize that I am complete already as I am, I think that God’s plan for me is to stay single.

  • Kinetik3

    It’s great to see that this article encourages us to be more patient with God and with waiting. There is a lot to learn for being so. As a member of a (Catholic) singles ministry here in the San Francisco Bay Area I am mostly reminded of applying this patience and putting God first and nourishing myself spiritually first before getting impatient with not meeting our G.G. “God’s Gift” – that’s what we call a lifetime spiritual partner here at our ministry ;). While waiting we encourage one another to be “complete” by listening and being obedient to God to what He wants us to do first and foremost and by doing so I have witnessed a few of our own singles marry their G.G. from within the ministry – this is wonderful because you know that your partner share the same values and faith as you do. So to all of you singles out there heed God’s commands first and He will bring you your heart’s desires :).

  • sally

    Thank you for trying not to sound like a smug married person. I appreciate the effort. However, two of your items smugly assume married people have less “time” than singles. I’m sorry, but as a single person, I am so tired of my time being worthless to marrieds. Did you know I have to clean my house, pay my taxes, cook my food, go to work, change the oil in my car, shop, arrange to see friends, etc… all by myself? Even if I’m sick or have a deadline at work, there is no default partner available to me who would help with these things, except to call on my friends in a true emergency. Plus, feeling lonely and incredibly unfulfilled, I end up spending all this time looking for fulfillment in on-line articles at places like busted halo… when I used to be part of a family, I never had the need to search fruitlessly for fulfillment, because it was there in the loving envelope of my home. Now that I’m single, I definitely have LESS time than married people.

  • Shellie

    I am all for any article that encourages a healthy perspective on single living. I think I would have put #2 under the “advice” section as #1. I love how the Word says that we should love our neighbors AS OURSELVES…one of the greatest joys in being single should be that we learn, through the Lord’s instruction, how to love ourselves. Who can we really love appropriately if we don’t have that down?

    For those of you who, like me, enjoy this gift of singleness, but wouldn’t mind “swapping” out for marriage someday, I started a marriage blog for singles…and the info has been *quite* insightful:


  • James

    Something my spiritual director mentioned to me… “God is patient with us, so we too must learn to be patient with God”.
    : )

  • Kristan

    As a 29-year old single, I can totally relate. I already find myself grimacing at the pink & red displays at the grocery stores. A great book that helped me out is called “Lady in Waiting”. It encourages women to not view their single years as though their life is on hold, but to use it for God’s glory. That book inspired me to start volunteering with my church’s high school formation. I still remember talking to one of my former teens who broke up with her boyfriend and was doubting it (even though it was clear to everyone else that he had been manipulating her). She said “But I’m 20! I’m supposed to graduate from college with the man I’m meant to marry.” I looked at her and said “I’m 27 and still single – do you think I’m a loser?” It was a sobering wake up call for her. (luckily, she didn’t call me a loser)

    It’s moments like those where I am able to embrace the fact that God has a plan for my time before he calls me to marriage.

  • Shea

    I didn’t get married until I was 41, so I have quite a lot of experience with this! Oddly enough, when I finally decided that I had better start being happy with my life the way it was, and realized how very blessed I was, and just gave up on the idea of getting married, I met my husband! He had just “given up” too. Maybe a bit less stressing about what you don’t have, and enjoying what you do have will help.

  • Lynn

    I think that we need to trust in the Lord and his plan for our lives. If that is singleness, then we need to recognize that our wants aren’t what He knows we need or should be doing. Pray that God will lead you and give you peace in whatever place you find yourself in your life. Jeremiah 29:11

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