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 or post a comment below.