More and more young Catholics (and Americans in general) are delaying marriage than ever before. Some 43 percent of Americans are unmarried, and 61 percent of those have never walked down the aisle.
That has spawned a host of challenges for parish ministries, but also for singles themselves — there’s not much wisdom to turn to for guidance.
That may be changing, with books like “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right” (Emmaus Road, $12.95), by OSV Contributing Editor Emily Stimpson.
Stimpson is one of the 6.1 million Catholic American women over the age of 18 who are single, and says women now face challenges their mothers and grandmothers never faced.
Our Sunday Visitor: What should people thinking about buying this book know about you? Who made you “the expert”?
Emily Stimpson: Well, if you asked my editors at Emmaus Road, they would tell you they asked me to do the book because they believe I’m a relatively sane, reasonably happy, and unusually healthy 36-year-old single woman who also happens to know a bit about the Church’s teachings on vocations, marriage, femininity and sexuality. For the most part, they’re right. Really though, I’m in the same boat as the women I’m writing for. I get what they’re going through because I’ve wrestled, and am still wrestling, with many of the same issues. I’ve just been blessed to have the help of a great many wise women and men as I’ve done that wrestling, and this book allows me to hand on what I’ve learned from them.
OSV: So what’s the guarantee for women who read this book? A husband in a year?
Stimpson: I wish. It’s not that kind of book though. It’s not about how to get a man. Nor is it about why they haven’t got a man yet. It’s not some sort of lament over mine or anyone else’s singleness. In fact, it’s just the opposite. “The Survival Guide” is about how to live a healthy, full, joyful life at this moment. It’s also about how to make plans for the future, when you’re not sure when or even if marriage will be a part of that future. And it’s about how to make choices now that will set women up for either a happy, holy marriage or a fruitful single life. The truth is, most women who read this book will eventually get married. But the way we’re living our lives right now is not a separate thing from that future.
There is so much confusion in our culture about femininity, sexuality, relationships and success. If we buy into that confusion, we run the risk of wounding ourselves in ways that will make entering the vocation of marriage hard and sustaining a good marriage even harder.
OSV: What are the dangers?
Stimpson: Well, dating the wrong kinds of guys in the wrong kinds of ways, for starters. The temptations to unchastity for singles are greater now than at any other point in history. Many girls can feel like the only way to get a husband is to give up on chastity. But that’s wrong in so many ways. Doing that can leave deep and lasting wounds on both people and set them up for marriages that aren’t happy and don’t last.
Plus, that kind of approach is confused from the start. Marriage is supposed to be a help in our journey to God. Holiness is the purpose of our life, not finding a husband, and confusing the two is dangerous.
Equally dangerous is confusing our work with the purpose of our life or thinking we shouldn’t be pursuing God’s will when it comes to our careers because it might get in the way of getting married.
Both attitudes are misguided. To focus on our careers at the expense of our life makes for a great deal of unhappiness now and can get in the way of us ever meeting the man we’re supposed to marry. At the same time, hanging around in a dead end job that won’t support us for the long haul is a waste of the talents God has entrusted to us. Single women have to somehow find the balance between those two extremes and doing so isn’t easy.
OSV: How would you sum this book up?
Stimpson: “Trust, hope, and buy yourself some pretty flowers.” I know it doesn’t always make sense why there’s no husband or babies on the immediate horizon. And I know it hurts to not be living right now the vocation to which you believe you’re called. But, believe it or not, God does know what he’s doing. His plan is perfect and whether you’re single for another week, another year, or another decade, he will use your singleness as a way to bring you closer to him and to bring others into his perfect love. You just have to be open to that. You have to keep loving him and striving to make a gift of yourself every day. If you do that, the grace to bear the sorrows will always be there.
OSV: What do you think publishing this book will do for your own marriage prospects? Are you worried about that?
Stimpson: Well, my theory is that if we’re doing what God wants in one area, that can’t get in the way of His will in another area. So, if writing this book was what God wanted for me, which I believe it was, then that’s not going to get in the way of any would-be marriage. So, on one level, no, I’m not worried. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that writing the book and talking about the topic wasn’t difficult. Whenever a woman steps forward to encourage other women to live chastely and embrace the Church’s teachings on women, people who don’t want women to live that way can be downright cruel in their efforts to stop that message from being heard. Likewise, a lot of women don’t want women admitting that our singleness is a cross. Our culture holds that a husband and babies should be entirely extraneous to a woman’s happiness, and women who say otherwise undermine that message. In both cases, it’s so much easier to attack the woman than deal with what she has to say. I knew that going into the book, and am just trusting that God knows what he’s doing here. He usually does, so I should be okay.
John Norton is OSV editor.