"You've been a bridesmaid SEVEN times," my neighbor Gary exclaims. "What does this mean?"
"I have pastel pumps in every color of the rainbow," I tell him.
(I should have added that I was also flat broke. When you're always the bridesmaid and never the bride, your bank balance takes a beating.)
Eventually, of course, I was the bride. Marrying at 32 meant that I was single for what seemed a
l-o-n-g time. Those were years of adventure and of challenge. Any time our life takes an unexpected turn, we struggle. I can't speak for the widow who thought she'd be married into old age or for the ex-wife who thought her marriage would be until death did they part, but I can speak to the opportunities and to the pot holes that came from being single well beyond the age I thought I'd marry.
Emily Stimpson has written a book that might have made those single years a little less challenging and a little more joyful. It's called The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide for the Single Years. I haven't read the book, but I liked what I read in Emily's interview with Lisa Hendey of Catholicmom.com. Click here to follow their discussion.
Now married fifteen years, I look back on my single years with colorful memories of teaching and world travel, with gratitude for the people in my life who encouraged me to seize the day, and with just the smallest bit of regret for the energy I wasted on worry and self-pity.
I have a few suggestions for my young (and not so young) friends who are now where I once was. I wouldn't call these pearls of wisdom, but rather a few thoughts from someone who found Mister Right in her early thirties and knew very well what it was to be single when she really, really had hoped to be married.
So here they are:
1. Embrace your single years.
Marriage brings wonderful and radical changes. Children are an unbelievable blessing who turn your world on its head. While single, you have freedom and time and choices that won't always be options.
2. Dote on the little people in your life.
When you're single and an aunt or a Godmother, you have more time and possibly more money to shower on the babies in your life than you will when you have a few of your own calling you Mama. I will be forever grateful to Megan, Nick, Lissi and Hannah -- my oldest nieces and nephew -- who, without a doubt, gave me far more than I ever gave them.
3. Plan things to look forward to.
Great advice given to me from my good friend Dian. Travel, redoing a room, joining a book club -- these can give you a lift, lead to lifelong friendships, help you find joy in simple blessings.
4. Don't put off everything until you get married.
If you've always wanted to go to Brazil, go to Brazil. If you've always wanted your own home, buy one. If you've thought about that master's degree, pursue it. Pray first, of course, but know that being single does not mean put your life on hold.
5. Seek wholeness.
Seek prayer, ministry, therapy if you need it. Heal the hurts life showers on us all. Whether you eventually marry or remain single, you will be more wholly the person God wants you to be. I attended a retreat during which a wise speaker commented that marriage won't cure what ails you. If you're reclusive or angry or depressed, cheerful or optimistic or prayerful -- well, you'll be those things as a married woman as well. Deal with as much baggage as you can.
6. Recognize that your marital status is just one part of your larger vocation.
The patients you treat, the students you teach, the players you coach, the aging parents you care for -- this is your apostolate, one that is every bit as valuable as marriage and family.
7. Recognize that you are carrying a cross.
No, being single is not cancer or poverty or war, but when your heart's desire is to marry and have children and that is simply not in the picture, you suffer. Sometimes all we need to pick up our cross is to have someone say, "You know, that's really hard."
8. Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Married or single, we are all one step closer to eternity where our only vocation will be to worship God.
If I get my hands on this book, I'll post a review. If you read it, let me know your thoughts. I'll close with a few of Emily's words:
First, we can’t fall into the trap of feeling like our life won’t begin until the husband and babies show up. Today, this moment, is our life. God has something for us to do right now—some lesson to learn, some work to take on, some person to love—and he expects us do it and do it well. Second, we need to always remember that the goal in life isn’t a husband; it’s holiness.