Mid-January, my roommate and I were watching the horribly dramatic “The Bachelor” when a commercial blasted the newest “romantic comedy.”(Intermittently watching the show, it appears “The Bachelor” and this movie are dating one another…) It’s a storyline we’ve all heard before in one way or another: Semi-naive, career-driven woman is taken under the wing of a cool, suave lady friend, and they navigate the NYC dating scene.
The name? How To Be Single.
The irony? I’d bet good money they both end up dating someone.
The further irony? It’s based on a novel of the same name by Liz Tuccillo, who wrote for the TV series Sex In The City and co-authored the book He’s Just Not that Into You (which was also turned into a romantic comedy).
Why is it that any popular book or movie on the market about being single only addresses how to stop being single? It’s not a disease! It’s a great, normal, healthy time of life. I don’t think How To Be Single has many if any quality answers.I don’t want to waste my life wishing it could be different and missing out on the present. If I am single, I am single. If I am single, I want to be the best single person I can be. So, how I am to really to be single?
1 – “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” – Matthew 7:12
The thing I hate most about modern dating is not the dating apps (swiping can be fun), not the bajillion means of communication (I like being appreciated on different venues), and not even (numerous) disappointments. No, the thing I hate most about modern dating is this ingrained idea that we can treat another person as expendable.
I am not an expendable human being. I am human being, and I deserve to be treated with love and respect. Yet, I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I date, I just feel used. I don’t feel appreciated. I don’t feel loved. I don’t feel known. I just feel like I’m filling a gap for someone. I absolutely despise being treated as expendable by men I date, and I try my hardest not to treat the men I date as expendable in return.
Yet, how many of us when dating treat our partners poorly out of the wounds when we have been treated poorly? How many of us leave others on the hook because we too are being left on the hook? How many of us pray, “Lord, send me a spouse!” when we should be praying, “Lord, make me a worthy spouse.”?
Do we really treat romantic partners how we want to be treated? Err, probs not.
How To Be Single sure isn’t advertising treating romantic partners well. Rebel Wilson appears to basically re-invent her Fat Amy schtick of the Pitch Perfect series but as a New Yorker named Robin in How To Be Single. Her advice seems like a way to use others instead of actually getting to know them. Her advice includes:
- “If Tom texts you, wait four hours to respond.”
- “You never pay for drinks. Boys pay for drinks.”
Would you wait 4 hours on purpose to respond to your friend? Your sister? Your brother? Your dad? Your mom? No! Then why on earth would you want to treat someone who could be your future partner in crime, best friend, other half, etc. etc. that way?
Do you always make your friend pay for drinks? Your sister? Your brother? Your dad? Your mom? No! Then why on earth would you want to treat someone who could be your future partner in crime, best friend, other half, etc. etc. that way?
Dating culture desperately needs a healthy dose of respect. That person you’re ignoring? That person you’re only flirting with yo get a drink? That person you’re dating just “to kill time?” That person you’re making out with just because you don’t want to feel alone? Yeah, they’re a person, and we need to start treating each other as such.
Here’s the Golden Rule of Dating: Would you want to be treated how you’re treating the person you’re dating?
It was a hard day when I took a look at my motivations for dating and discovered I would not want someone to date me for the same reasons. I had to take a break from dating for a while because I was not treating the guys I was dating how I wanted to be treated myself. I may have disappointed some romantic interests during that time, but it was for their good and mine. Now, when I meet a good man, I’ll be more free to treat him well because I took some time off and know how to treat someone in a dating relationship how I want to be treated myself.
2 – “…and the two of them become one body.” – Genesis 2:24
Once, I got drinks with a guy who literally talked about himself for 2 hours straight…including how he still lived in his parent’s basement at 25. He didn’t know a thing about me! I considered it one of the worst dates I had ever been on. Yet after the date, he texted me and told me how “I really see this going someplace.” I quickly informed him who I was, and he backed off.
A lot of us out there in the dating world are just running around, trying to find fulfillment in another person that we can’t find in ourselves or in our daily lives. We fantasize our partners. We come across an attractive, seemingly kind individual, and we put them on this crazy ideal to fill all the cracks in our being where we don’t feel appreciated, don’t feel loved, don’t feel cared for, don’t feel respected, etc.
How many of us dating are looking for some sort of fulfillment in a romantic relationship?
I know I am! I just don’t want to give and give and give and get nothing in return! That’s fair need (because one-sided relationships are unhealthy), but to seek fulfillment in another person where fulfillment can only be found in God is a dangerous path.
But I get it! I totally understand the temptation to date to fill that hole in my heart with someone else. Every time a romantic interest implodes in my face or I realize someone isn’t exactly who I fantasized them to be, I’m reminded that no one and nothing can fill that God-shaped hole in my heart. And every time, it’s a painful, bitter-tasting piece of humble pie that I reluctantly swallow.
For a long time I dated trying to fill that void. Sure, I liked my ex-boyfriends enough to date them. Yet, I was also dating because I was scared of being alone, scared I was unworthy of love, and scared that my life could not be happy unless I was attached romantically to someone else.
But God has taught from the beginning that marriage is not about us finding fulfillment in one another. It’s about two whole persons making a mature decision to become one, to love one another for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, and to love unconditionally, just as He loves us.
Um, I like the “my partner is going to fulfill me” model better.
Too bad it doesn’t exist!
Nothing and no one can completely fulfill us, take away our pains, take away our loneliness, and make everything perfect. That’s the God-shaped piece in our heart that only He can fill. To expect and hope for such fulfillment in a romantic partner is unrealistic and unhealthy.
As the brilliant Henri Nouwen wrote:
“When we…try to overcome the separation and incompleteness we feel, too soon, we easily relate to our human world with devastating expectations. We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge – that no love or friendship, in intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition…Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. And many celibates live with the naive dream that in the intimacy of marriage their loneliness will be taken away.”
– Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer
Nothing and no one can completely fill that God-shaped hole in our heart, not even our spouse. Learning to be satisfied alone is essential for a healthy, happy relationship.
A great benefit of being single is learning how to be a whole person on your own. (I explore this topic of finding wholeness in the single life more in depth with this passage from Genesis in A Season Of Singleness.)
Dating expert after marriage counselor after psychologist will tell you: healthy people make healthy relationships. Unhealthy people make unhealthy relationships. Becoming a healthy individual with healthy expectations of a romantic partner while single will greatly help your future relationship while probably healing and benefitting some of your current ones.
Of course, none of us are perfect. Even healthy people can set themselves up for unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of a relationship. Even having this great understanding of myself, I still fall into a trap of thinking my new romantic interest will fulfill in a way no one, not even God, can! (Then He serves me that sweet, awful piece of humble pie. Thanks for that one, Jesus…)
In a time of being single, it is a great opportunity to do the whole proverbial and cliche thing of “finding yourself.” Better than finding yourself, I would advocate for becoming whole.
Figure out your dating patterns and why you keep going after the emotionally unavailable guy, or the player, or the dramatic girl, or the horribly mean girl, or whomever. Often, who we date is who we feel needs to fulfill some part of us. And, as Nouwen wrote, trying to find someone or something to fill that hole sets us up for devastating expectations.
3 – “…each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” – 1 Corinthians 7:7
Ladies, let’s be real. How many of us have had a crush on that super cute Catholic guy who decides to go to seminary? How many of us are scared that the next guy we fall in love with will dump us to become a priest? How many of us are scared absolutely poopless that we ourselves will be called to become a nun? Or worse! Single.
Many of us desire marriage by default. Yes, for the many of us called to marriage who are currently, we have a desire to be in union with another and have children. That’s a great, beautiful desire!
But have you ever stopped to examine why you want to be married? Do you really want to clean up after another person for the rest of your life? Clean up diapers? Become a taxi for a million activities? Be unappreciated by your children and spouse?
Those things happen in a marriage sometimes, and they don’t sound all that great. Marriage is hard. It’s work, hard work. Sometimes I honestly want to run away and become a nun because the work of it all scares me to pieces.
But I used to want to be married because I thought it was the only way to be happy. Romantic comedies, love songs, various media from our youth have told us you’ll only be happy in a relationship. But let’s pump on those brakes, stop, and think a minute.
How many people do you know are unhappy and in a relationship? How many co-workers complain about their partner? How many people do you know that have experienced the pain of divorce? How many people are still unhappy and with someone else?
But, have you ever seen someone right after they’re called to the priesthood or to become a sister? I have. It’s beautiful. For the women, they’re in love. They radiant joy as they sacrifice their very lives to explore this call. For the men, they’re committed, sacrificing everything and willing to put themselves on the line. It’s like seeing men and women who’ve maturely decided to commit themselves in marriage!
Whatever vocation we choose (marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life), the Lord wants our choice to be a free decision. Is a decision made out of fear, lust, jealousy, etc. truly a free choice?
Pope St. John Paul II explores vocation over a series of of 133 Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984. The collection of speeches is collectively known as his masterful Men and Women He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. I had only heard about Theology of the Body in the context of marriage. I had no idea how incredibly validating it is of all vocations until I read it.
About halfway through the series, Pope St. John Paul II explores the idea of “continence for the kingdom of heaven” or vocations of priesthood, religious life, and consecrated single life. In this section, he writes of how uniting oneself to Christ alone in vocation is a visible sign of the resurrection of the body and a sign of living hope in Christ in the world.
In particular, JP II explores a passage in Matthew 19:1-12 where the Pharisees test Jesus about the Mosaic Law allowing for divorce. Jesus appeals to “the beginning” (Genesis) where divorce was never the intention of marriage but how it has been allowed “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Mt 19:8). The Pharisees are left frustrated per usual. The disciples comment, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10). Jesus answers: “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted…Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Mt 19:11-12).
Jesus basically says in the context of the conversation “it is not in the best interest of everyone to get married. Whoever is called to marriage ought to accept it while whoever is called to the priesthood, religious life, single life, etc. ought to accept it.”
Jesus never said we need to be married to be happy. No! He Himself was single His whole life! And He taught what an incredibly high standard we ought to hold our marriages and relationships up to! He also never said we had to be a priest, nun, single person, etc. to be happy. He taught that vocation is a way, a journey, a means to becoming our best self.
Our vocation is for our good. If we’re getting married because we’re afraid of being alone or because we’re lusting after our partner or just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do,” that’s not a good, mature reason to get married! On the flip side, me running away to the convent because I’m afraid of all the responsibilities of marriage is not a good reason to become a sister either! In fact, choosing a vocation our of insecurity, fear, lust, etc. might inhibit our growth than help it.
As JP II explains,
“It is not because “it is not advantageous to marry,” nor because of a supposedly negative value of marriage that continence is observed by those who make such a choice “for the kingdom of heaven” in their lives, but in view of of the particular value which is connected with this choice and which one must discover and welcome as one’s own vocation.”
– Pope St. John Paul II, Men and Women He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 73:3
We must discover and welcome our vocation.Finding our vocation is meant to be a joyous occasion, not one marked by fear! If our hearts and minds are completely closed off to being a priest, being a sister, being single, are our hearts really open to what Jesus created marriage to be?
When we rely on a particular vocation to fulfill us, we are putting unrealistic expectations on that life and will find ourselves disappointed. Finding our vocation sometimes means exploring what it is not. Until I really opened myself up to the possibility of religious life and single life, I never appreciated all the beauty marriage offered.
If I end up as a religious sister or a consecrated single person, I know I will be happy. But I think my greatest chance for happiness in this life and the next lies in marriage. It is in marriage not because I need to be married to be happy but because it will provide the greatest opportunities for me to grow in love via self-sacrifice.
In authentic vocational discernment, we are called to open our hearts and minds to all available vocations, discern which is best for our personal growth, and come to accept that call in a free, mature decision.
Relax! Most of us will be called to marriage. Yet, I can tell you from personal experience, my friends who were truly open to all vocations and authentically discerned their vocation to marriage have the happiest and healthiest marriages.
4 – “…love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
For my sister’s bridal shower, a long-time friend of hers who was recently married herself bought her a basket of wine. One of a wine for their first year anniversary. Another was a non-alcoholic wine for when they find out they’re pregnant. Another was a first fight wine. My sister saw that bottle and laughed. Little could she know when they’re were going to need it.
My family is a Packers family. My dad once put my sister and I in the garage because we were cheering for another team and wouldn’t let us out “until you’re cheering for the right team.” My sister’s husband is a Vikings fan. In 2009, long-time Packers quarterback Brett Favre played for our rivals, the Vikings. We were none too happy. The Vikings were thrilled because they actually had a chance to be good that year. 😉
When the Packers and Vikings played each other that season, in true Favre fashion, Vikings’ Favre threw an interception. My sister fell off the couch laughing. My brother-in-law was not pleased. The rest of the details are confidential to them and them only, but as my sister puts it, “We pulled out the first fight wine that night.”
As exciting as a romantic interest can be, it is essential to realize that someday your partner in crime, best friend, other half, etc. etc. is going to be the person you hate the most. It’s likely going to be a temporary flash of anger, but at some point, you’re likely going to have hateful feelings towards your spouse.
Falling in love is easy. Psychologist Arthur Aron has a series of 36 questions that can make that happen in mere hours! Staying in love is hard.
Learning to love someone for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health takes a life-time work. How hard is it to love someone when you hate them? Downright impossible! So why wait until you’re married to start learning?
I know someday I will hate my spouse. Maybe it’ll be football like my sister. Maybe it’ll be a TV like my parents. Maybe it’ll be the toilet seat. Maybe it’ll be a pile of dirty dishes. Maybe it’ll be an argument about money. I have no idea what it will be, but someday I will hate my spouse or at the very least want to punch him in the face.
In that moment of anger, frustration, and hate, I have will have a choice: will I love my enemy and pray for him who persecutes my sanity?
Yes! I know I will because I’ve started the work and the habit of loving my enemies already.
If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it again: Patients can be the worst!
On a given week of work, I have at least one patient where I think, “Man, I’d love to punch you in the face right now.” Sometimes it’s their attitude. Sometimes it’s their incompetency of taking any of my suggestions. Sometimes it’s their incessant whining. Sometimes it’s their manipulation to try to get a certain narcotic medications (“that one that starts with a D…”). Sometimes it’s just their face.
But I’ve learned from my patients that I don’t just get to ignore them and never deal with them again. I have to go back into that room because that patient is my responsibility (just until my shift is done!). In my time outside the room, I re-group, vent, and often just before I enter pray a Hail Mary for the nursing equivalent of a football Hail Mary pass that is going to be our conversation. Sometimes, I call for back-up and have security guards with me, but I’ve learned I have to go back into that room.
In the same way, I’ve learned that in my future marriage, I will have to go back into that room. I might run away to a corner of the house to cry, throw things, swear, vent, and pray, but I will have to face my enemy aka my spouse again.
So, every time I want to punch a patient in the face but don’t act out in anger, I’m learning how to love my future spouse when he drives me crazy. Learning to treat others, romantic interests and non, with love and respect now will set you up to treat your significant other with love and respect in the future, even if he or she doesn’t deserve it.
As Dr. John Van Epp states in his brilliant book How To Avoid Falling In Love With a Jerk (which should have a subtitle of And Learning Not To Be One Yourself):
“If your partner tells you about getting angry at a coworker and biting that person’s head off, then you ought to wonder when that same attitude will be aimed at you.”
– John Van Epp, How To Avoid Falling In Love With A Jerk
As humans, we’re really not that creative. Eventually, all our romantic relationships will lose their new gleam. Then they’ll fall into our usual relationship scripts, for better or for worse. Van Epp theorizes in his book that our other relationships whether with family or with strangers greatly affects our future relationships, even offering an insight into how we can expect to be treated years down the road!
He writes that when we feel distant from our partner, we’ll likely treat them how we treat strangers. When we’re comfortable with our partner, we’ll likely treat them how we treat our family and friends. When we feel superior to our partner, we’ll likely treat them how we treat out “subordinates” like our co-workers, cashiers, service people, etc. Van Epp then suggests finding someone how treats waiters, co-workers, and family well because that’s how you can expect to be treated in the future!
Being single for over a year since reading Van Epp, I’ve worked really hard on treating everyone with kindness and respect, even the people I hate. Yes, I lose my temper still, and oh yes, I want to punch some of my patients in the face, but I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve learned how to have a constructive argument. I’ve learned how to keep calm (or more calm than I feel) when I’m at my boiling point. I’ve learned to let go. I’ve learned to be patience when someone figures out what I’m telling them on their own terms. But most of all, I’ve learned to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me by treating them with love and respect, even when they don’t deserve it.
5 – “…then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
You know that scene in Wedding Crashers where the two wedding crashing friends (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) bet on which reading comes up next? Wilson’s character bets on First Corinthians. Vaughn’s bets on Colossians 3:12. The reading is 1st Corinthians 13.
It’s so stereotypical, but I just love 1st Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind…” Ugh, St. Paul, it’s brilliant!
Hidden in this well-known reading is some wisdom:
“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
St. Paul is talking about how we mature in our love, we put aside our childish behaviors to mature. But he also talks about how as we come to love another person and love that other person more fully, we also become more fully known.
You know the frightening thing about coming to learn about yourself? You learn you’re not all that great.
Our loved ones become our mirrors. Have you ever had a time where you’ve treated your mom or dad like crap, and they loved you anyways? Your sibling? Your friend? Don’t you just look at yourself and think, man, I’m the worst human being on the frickin’ planet.
Now just imagine all those loving relationships rolled up into one: your spouse. Marriage is like the biggest mirror possible on your life.
When our spouse loves us anyway, treats us well even when we don’t deserve it, does the laundry even though it’s our turn, buys us that one thing we really want, or otherwise loves us well, we’re going to see all our flaws, failings, weaknesses, shames, wounds, and every little bit of ourselves we do not necessarily like.
Don’t like it when your mom is disappointed you don’t make the bed? (Guilty.) Don’t like it when your dad is frustrated at you and your inability to be organized for tax season? (Guilty.) Don’t like it when your sister has to find other child care because you’re selfishly doing something else? (Guilty.) Don’t like it when you yell at your brother when you’re frustrated at other things? (Guilty.) Don’t like it when you shut out your friends because you’re jealous? (Guilty.)
I don’t like it when I’m selfish, when I hurt the people I love, when I leave a mess and force someone else to clean up after me, when I take out my frustrations on others, when I spend money poorly, when I leave a stack of dishes, etc. I could wait until I’m married to really work on those things, but I’ve started working on my poor habits now.
Marriage is going to be a lot of change. For one, I’m going to live with a boy again. Ugh. I have a little brother. I know the tortures that is living with a man. It’s going to be a new last name, new priorities, new mindset, new a lot.
I can’t predict and prepare for all the change required of me in marriage, but I can change some of my poor spending habits, messy bed habits, dirty dishes habits, etc.
No lie, I had an existential crisis in college over the dishes. I hate doing the dishes. I hate it. Once, while grumbling to myself about the dishes, I realized, “I’m going to have to do dishes for the rest of my life. The rest of my liiiiiife!” Was I going to constantly grumble? Or was I going to self-sacrifice and get used to it?
I started getting into the habit of self-sacrificing by washing dishes my senior year of college. I could not stand one of my roommates, but I tried to do her dishes anyways. I still dislike those stupid dishes, but I tolerate it for the people I love. My current roommate in particular has a thing about dishes, so how I show her affection is trying to keep a clean kitchen for her because I know it makes her happy.
As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power of Habit, “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”
I’m trying to work on the small habits now that I know drive the people I love crazy so to reduce how much I drive my spouse crazy in the future. There’s no way I won’t drive him crazy, but I can try to reduce the amount. 🙂
6 – “…forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us” – Luke 11:4
OK, so our spouse is going to drive us crazy, be our enemy, and and also see the worst in us? Marriage sounds greaaaaaat. See why I want to run away to the convent? I’ve got pride issues, and marriage is going to require a lot of humility.
I think the most humbling of all is forgiveness. Unlike other relationships in our lives, if we are really committed to marriage as it is intended, our spouse is not a person we get to leave behind. In marriage, we’re going to have fight through resentment, anger, bitterness, hurt, pride, and a whole lot of other things. We’re going to have to both ask for, receive, and give forgiveness.
Resentment, bitterness, hatred, and other sources of disconnection are hurtful, but as broken people in a broken world, it’s impossible to have a life without any sort of pain. In marriage, that source of pain might be our spouse. It might be that he doesn’t understand us, or she nitpicks at the one flaw we hate about ourselves, or that we replay the same argument repeatedly. Hatred exists in marriage and can tear two people who once loved each other apart. That’s why divorce is so rampant.
As Catholic psychologist of the University of Wisconsin Robert Enright has said: “Hatred has a long shelf life. Once it enters into the human heart, it’s hard to get it out. It breeds destruction, discouragement, and hopelessness.”
What’s the cure? Forgiveness.
Enright has pioneered the psychological study of forgiveness and helped found the International Forgiveness Institute. He has written many academic papers and four books on the matter: Forgiveness is a Choice, Helping Clients Forgive, The Forgiving Life, and for children, Rising Above the Storm Clouds. A primer of his work can be found here.
Forgiveness is difficult, but it is a choice. Enright’s model of forgiveness has been infinitely helpful to me to repair old hurts in relationships that have caused me resentment and anger. Forgiving your past now when you’re single is much easier than forgiving it when you’re married. Letting go of hurt now will only help your future relationship and yourself.
If there’s one thing How To Be Single gets right about the single years, it’s this: “The thing about being single is, you should cherish it” says Dakota Johnson’s Alice in the trailer.
I literally thank the Lord He’s kept me single all this time even though sometimes I yell at Him for it too. I would have been a horrible life partner any earlier!…not saying I’m all that better now. 🙂
Being single has taught me so much. I’ve come to know and love myself. I’ve come to know I can be fully independent, so giving my life to someone will be that much greater of a gift. I’ve had brokenness healed within me and within my relationships. I’ve grown, I’ve traveled, I’ve found my vocational career as a nurse, and so much more.
Sure, I’ll admit, being single at 26 on Valentine’s Day is not exactly where I’d like to be in life. I may be “single as a pringle” as my friend says this Valentine’s Day, but I know I’m not in that canister alone! I’ve got lots of friends, family, and loved ones surrounding me until I find that special pringle I can call my own.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you and yours! 🙂