Friday, 11 March 2016

Three Distinct States of Unconsecrated Life

Home in Edinburgh, your blogger struggles against an overwhelming need to use the nominative first person singular. It comes in terribly handy in travel writing. However, it is good for the mind to find alternative solutions. It may not be fabulous for ye olde writing style, of course, but never mind that for now.

Life in Edinburgh is much more isolated than life in Toronto and the Eastern Townships, for the Historical House lacks family and children. When one resident or the other wakes up, there is only one other person there, and there is no mystery about what he or she is up to: he or she is either asleep, or in the bathroom, or in the kitchen with the BBC turned up really loudly, or tapping away on the computer. Apart from the BBC, all is calm and quiet.

However, in the House of Books, populated by a multi-generational family, all kinds of things are going on from about 6 AM. Doors open and shut. The shower turns on. Someone--who?--pads down the stairs. These dawn noises eventually give way to voices: morning greetings, inter-generational squabbling about being ready for school, "Slow German" broadcast from the basement, the cuckoo clock announcing the time, various residents announcing their plans and departures. When the phone rings, it is usually the library computer informing whomever that the books my mother has reserved are now available.

The House of Music in the Eastern Townships, though usually only populated by a nuclear family, has a similar rhythm. Doors, the shower, padding, followed by voices, inter-generational squabbles about school (etc.). There are also computer game noises and piano music and the sounds of children playing and fighting together. The telephone rings a lot, as my brother works from home and Ma Belle Soeur is a doctor.

Back in Toronto, there is also the House of Children, headed by one of my best friends and her husband. So far they have three children under seven. These children are not permitted electronic devices and are only allowed to watch TV/videos at their grandparents' houses. This is truly heroic, for it means my pal, a stay-at-home mother, is on duty 60/24/6.  (7 features a visit to a grandparental house.) Her idea of time off seems to be sending the middle child to a play-school for three hours while the eldest child is at proper school and bundling the baby into the stroller for a walk. Occasionally, however, another child is put in her care, for the adults of her Catholic set rely on each other to take this child or that child for the afternoon, while they do something or other. The day-long wheedling chorus of "MA-ma, Ma-ma, mo-om, Ma-ma, mo-om" is thus supplemented for a few hours by "Mrs. [Such-AND-Such]."

Being a stay-at-home-mother with only children to talk to can be very lonely, as my own mother made quite plain. There wasn't much her children, being children, could do to alleviate that but at least now we can do something for our stay-at-home-mother friends. Thus your blogger, who woke up at 6 AM anyway, sometimes ventured forth from the House of Books to the House of Children before rush hour to sit around drinking tea and keeping an eye on things so that her stay-at-home-mother pal could go to the bathroom unaccompanied, etc. It was intensely enjoyable and quite like visiting a somewhat familiar but also quite alien culture.

There were also visits with Single friends and relations, of course. These visits were not so home-based. Indeed, out of all my Single friends and relations, only one owns her own home. The others rent, but there was only one visit to a rented flat (my youngest brother's). Most of my visits with Single friends took place in cafés, bars and restaurants, and it was in cafés and bars that old acquaintances were encountered by accident. (The 1990s Toronto Spoken Word scene seemed to flash before my eyes.)

Meanwhile, an email from a long-time Single reader thanking me for keeping "Seraphic Singles" online appeared in my in-box the Monday after Mothering Sunday. She had had a wretched Sunday--for one thing a crush object had appeared at Mass with a woman more attractive than herself--and reading old "Seraphic Singles" posts had brought her some measure of relief. (This is why, by the way, "Seraphic Singles" is still up.)

All these experiences led me to reflect that there really are three distinct forms of non-consecrated life, and there are real and serious reasons why married people very often don't hang out with Single friends. The distinct forms are Adult Single Life, Married Life without Children and Married Life with Children.

Single Life, lived away from the birth family, with all of its economic uncertainties, would be simply miserable without friends, hobbies and goals. My Single friends fit their lives around work schedules, but for most of them, work is what keeps them housed, their hobbies going and their goals attainable. Apart from the 8 - 10 hours of work a day, 5-6 days a week, they have a lot of time. Without friends, hobbies, goals, art galleries, cafés to read in, clubs to dance in, time would hang very heavy on their hands. The one real block to total freedom to do whatever they like (in terms of hobbies, goals, travel) is lack of money. Oh, and responsibilities to aging parents, if applicable.

Married Life without Children has a lot more economic stability, to say nothing of the cheerful thought that if you do end up living in a sink estate (public housing gone bad), at least you two will be together and no children will suffer. On the other hand, married people without children are sometimes conscious that their lives would be much more meaningful with children in them. This is most acute when people tell you that in their country (e.g. Poland), childlessness in married people is seen as divine punishment. However, married people without children do, of course, have a lot of freedom, bounded only by work schedules, money, responsibilities to aging parents (if applicable), and each other's permission. No matter if you have children or not, a married person has to ask his or her spouse's permission to do things all the time, or at least beg their indulgence, agreement or forgiveness.

Married Life with Children also has economic stability, compared to Single Life, but is fraught with worry because the local school has a drug problem so maybe you should move, and because you aren't sure what level of internet security is practiced by your son's new friend's parents, and because your teacher has suggested your daughter visit a specialist. The number of things contemporary parents worry about is infinite. They seem to think about work and children 90% of the time, and when they think about hobbies or travel, it is usually wistfully or like a general planning a campaign.

Married people with children are most likely to socialize with other married people with children, when they socialize outside the family at all. Their lives are almost completely incompatible with the social needs of Singles because Singles need undivided attention when they express their joys and woes, and Marrieds are usually completely distracted by small children saying "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, Dad" or breaking things or hitting other children. Speaking as a long-time former Single, it is highly annoying when you are telling a married mother about your broken heart and she interrupts you to tell her adorable proof of love to get Daddy to fix it, whatever 'it' may be. When married people with children do get together (not just hand over children at the door) their children play together and the parents all get distracted together. It is very noisy, and even married people without children can take only so much of it. It must be positively hellish for Singles.

Married people with children have less freedom of mobility than anyone outside of a cloistered convent. In order to spend time with married friends, the best thing you can do is go where they are, whenever they are there. This is usually their home, and unless you are super-close, they don't want you to see their home because it has been denuded of dangerous furniture and covered with toys, if not random bread crusts.

Married people and Singles worry about different things, and the worries of opposite groups can seem quite laughable. The Single talk about their latest romance and the Married mother, on a bad day, tries not to roll her eyes. The Married Mother discusses her worries about her child's music lessons, and the Single is struck by how wonderful it would be to have children and a husband to help pay for their music lessons. (Depending on her level of acceptance of her lot, the Married Woman without Children may have similar thoughts.) Therefore, when time available for socializing is at a premium, the Married Mother is most likely to want to talk to someone who can and will understand and sympathize with her problems.

The upshot of all this is that Single Life and Married Life with Children are almost directly opposed. The Single person needs and deserves emotional support, but the Married person with children already gives so much support to the unmarried--his or her children--that they usually have no more to give. They are both tied and tired. They are no longer who they were when they were Single, which can be difficult for their Single friends to accept.

Meanwhile, Singles think their Married Friends with Children have everything they want, whereas Married Friends with Children, without wanting to change their lot, see their Single Friends as having boundless freedom and also rather petty problems compared to the dangers that lurk in every corner, threatening the Married Friends' children.

Therefore, the best thing a Single can do when she find all her friends getting married is to make more Single friends. These friends are going to start being younger than her, but so what? Some of my best formerly-Single friends are at least ten years younger than me, and some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years younger than that. Some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years older than me. (My best Married without Children friend just turned 70.) To survive as a Single you have to be flexible where friendship is concerned. (This will serve you very well, incidentally, should you immigrate to another country in middle life.)

This is especially true if you wish to maintain friendship ties with Married Friends, especially Married Friends with Children. First, you have to accept that your Best Friends Forever may not be who you think they are. Your Best Friends Forever are actually the women who are happy and grateful --not angry and humiliated--when you turn up at their houses at 8:30 AM and start picking up the toys. Nobody knows who their Best Friends Forever are going to be when you are twenty; you just think you know. History, not you, decides.

Second, you have to accept that your Married Mother Friends are basically under house arrest, and you have to meet them where they are, if they'll let you see what their captivity looks like. A kind thing to say is, "Ah, what the heck. You can clean when the kids are all in school."

Third, you can learn a lot about marriage and children from your Married Friends with Children. Marriage and parenthood do not look at all like they look on TV or in magazines, and although we hear it, we don't KNOW it until we're IN it, or at least have a ring-side seat. Speaking as someone who enjoys socializing with children, especially her nephews and niece and courtesy nephews and nieces, parenthood seems to involve Stockholm Syndrome. Children can't help taking their parents' hearts hostage, but they do, and the parents--good and sane parents--just fall in love with them and hug their chains.

Well, that's enough from me. What a long post.

Update: Although it has the fewest responsibilities, Single Life seems to be the hardest row to hoe, followed by Married Life without Children, with Married Life with Children--which has the least freedom and the most work--the easiest. Yes, it's a paradox.


  1. I wonder if part of the difficulty with Single Life is having to make so many choices about what you will do and when to do it. Married with Children decides a lot of that for you; dinner needs to be on the table at a certain time, and the parents usually don't have much free time to wonder what they should do with. Not that parents don't have decisions to make, but they don't have to think about what to do simply to have something to do. They have their work cut out for them.

  2. I imagine so. There's can be so much formlessness, especially if you live alone.

  3. I think this is your best post ever re: friendships between singles and marrieds. Growing up, I heard from my mom (who married at 19 and had me at 20) about all her frustrations with her not-yet-married friends, and I've tried very hard to use the flexibility of my life to help my married friends, esp. those with children - e.g., go to their homes (or offer mine if they want to escape for a couple of hours), babysit, ignore the mess or offer to help clean (if I don't think the offer will offend), etc. Consequently, and happily, I have a lot of married friends with children.

    Two things do frustrate me. Most of my married friends don't give me a lot of emotional support. Often they will say, "How are you?" and then keep right on talking, telling me all about their day/woes/etc. Recently I had three big pieces of bad news in my family (cancer diagnosis, miscarriage and job loss), and I didn't feel like I could turn to these married friends. It wasn't my petty romance, but real life problems. I was supporting my family members, and it would have been nice to have someone support me. But when I shared the news with my married friends, I got, "Oh, I'm so sorry" and then they went on talking about their lives. That really kind of exacerbates that feeling of Single loneliness. You've reminded me that I'm the first adult they've been able to talk to in quite some time and they don't realize they are doing this. Thanks for reminding me that it stems from their life circumstances and not from callousness on their part.

    The second frustration is that sometimes I feel like my married friends don't think that my responsibilities are as important as theirs. I work a demanding job and am in school for an advanced degree. I really don't have a lot of free time; sometimes Saturday night is the only chance I have to socialize and I'm pretty exhausted at that point. Some of my married friends seem to expect me to drop whatever I'm doing when they have a whim to go for ice cream. I do realize that they never know when they can catch a break from their kids, and I'm glad they want to be with me when they do get a minute. But it's not easy for me to put my work/studies aside on the spur of the moment like that...I understand they can't always get away from their responsibilities, why can't they understand that I can't always get away from mine? Fortunately, I'm working the logistics out with most of my friends, but when I get the sense that my married friends think that my responsibilities aren't all that important, I do get steamed.

  4. I can well imagine you get steamed! This is another reason why it is so important to have Single friends as well.

    I suppose some married people are callous (and would be callous whatever their state in life), but my guess is that the majority of the good ones have their empathy batteries drained by their kids.

  5. You are so right about having to just keep getting more Single friends.

    I'm in the wedding party for a friend of mine. I'm very happy about that, and the wedding is very soon. The other week, though, I had my first moment of oh-no-I'm-being-left-behind panic.

    The other bridesmaid and I were at the bride's house. Other Bridesmaid lives with her de facto, who she's been dating for over five years and living with for about two. The bride doesn't live with her fiancé, but she's obviously about to start once she gets married.

    Anyway, the conversation seemed to be all about Other Bridesmaid's dog, buying tellies, going on honeymoons/holidays, credit cards and Being Grown Up. There are many things I can talk about, but I find it hard to contribute to conversations that are all about whitegoods.

    We were talking about the wedding guests. Out of eighty or so people at the reception, I will be one of eight Singles. Everybody else is either married, or engaged, or living with someone, or at least dating. I'm not envious (although I realise that sounds hard to believe.) I'm just aware that I'm 25, and my friends and peers are outgrowing me.

    It was similar at the hens party. Out of ten people, I was one of two Singles.

    I'm not panicked about being single. I'm panicked about my friends drifting away and thinking that I'm a loser.

    I have a few married-couple friends. One set (newlywed, no babies) doesn't bother seeing anyone much anymore. Another pair (married two years, one baby) became friends with me after they got married and they still like to see everyone. Another couple (married two years, no babies) still sees everyone because they dislike married couples that disappear off the face of the earth.

    Most of my friends are Single, and I realise with sadness that 'a friend married is a friend buried' is probably mostly true.

    A silver lining is that actually, I'm not sure that I believe your assertion that marriage necessarily equals financial stability. Marriage usually equals babies, and babies = goodbye to money. I've mentioned it before, but the cost of living and housing in my part of the world is breathtakingly high. As a Single, and like many of my Single friends, I get to live at home with my parents while working and saving. Married couples don't usually get that luxury.

    Okay, I should stop but I won't. It annoys me that young marrieds get this sort of implicit praise for being 'independent' and 'growing up'. Come on. Their parents bankroll the weddings, and sometimes even the houses too. I'm costing my parents less money by being Single and living at home than most of my peers cost their parents by getting married.

    1. Julia, I'm older than you are, but I know well the feeling of being in the vast minority as a single person. I can't say much about financial difficulties and societal attitudes. But I do want to respond to your fear that your friends will "think you're a loser."

      Throughout my growing up years, my parents explicitly said, "Single people are weird; single people are selfish; people without children don't have real problems; being a stay-at-home mom is the most important job in the world." As I marched through my 20s and 30s single, my parents reinforced this as they (unwittingly) showed favoritism to my married-with-children siblings. As you can imagine, this was quite painful. I definitely felt like a "loser" in their eyes, and by extension, the eyes of the world.

      Fortunately, I found an excellent counselor, who showed me that my parents' view was well-intentioned (they married and started a family at the height of the Sexual Revolution, saw that it was destroying families and society, and resolved to "do their bit" by instilling family values in their children) but short-sighted and limited (those messages don't apply to me and you and others who are casualties of the Sexual Revolution). It helped me to release that message that I was a "loser" or "second class citizen" because I'm unmarried/no kids. When I started feeling that way, or started hearing that message from others, I'd say to myself "Their story is not my story; God is writing a special story for my life," and "The most important job in the world is to do God's will," and so forth. I found that to be tremendously helpful.

      Just wanted to offer a helping hand to counteract that message of being a "loser." I believe we should always be examining ourselves to see where we need to be healed by God's grace, but I think messages like "loser" are counterproductive and untrue. I hope this helps silence that voice, however it's making its way to you.

    2. Thank you. And I'm sorry that your parents said those hurtful things.

  6. I liked your post, but I found that it somewhat exaggerated the security of married life, with or without children.

    Speaking strictly for me, I let go of many friends after I married, both single and married ones, because I discovered that they had no understanding of concepts like 'unemployment' and 'financial struggles'. I suppose I am saying that there are problems that may - temporarily - define one's life that have absolutely nothing to do with one's marital status, and it's as well to remember this.


    1. Oh, by financial security in married life, I mostly meant that there are usually two people who can earn a pay-cheque and that spouses pool their resources.

  7. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I think young marrieds DO deserve praise for getting married and then having children instead of just shacking up and adopting dogs and justifying their self-centeredness and lack of total self-gift by saying "babies are so expensive!" Now, an honest single woman working and living at home with her mum and dad and saving for the future is ALSO to be praised, but for other reasons.

    I REALLY dislike the "babies are money-suckers" point of view, especially as a man once told me of all the wonderful things I could supposedly have had if I hadn't had so many brothers and sisters. (Reader, I divorced him.) And I also dislike the "brides cost their parents soooo much money" pov as this is why, literally why, so many South Asian girls are murdered before they are born.

    Members of a family spend their money on each other, and unless they get into stupid amounts of debt, they don't count the cost. That is the joy of being family.

    I totally get the feeling-left-behind feeling, but whoa there cowgirl.

  8. To be honest, I sort of thought you'd get what I'm trying to say.

    Young marrieds with children getting praise is alright, but it's not just them, it's also the 'de facto with dog' types. Or the 'Ha ha ha! Kids? Not for another seven years!' types. I'm not refering exclusively to Catholic couples and Catholic circles here.

    I am not in any way anti-child or anti-family. Of course I don't think that babies are 'money-suckers'. But babies do need shelter and the rest of it, and that does cost money. That's all I was talking about -- the basics, or even the modest extras that our parents and grandparents expected (like retirement.) There are married couples in this city -- not the low-income ones either -- who are being priced out of the market. This generation is the first in about a century that'll be worse of than their parents. These days, the basics are unaffordable, so it wouldn't surprise me if the birthrate goes down because people don't think they can absorb the financial pressure of family life. I worry about that myself. "Move to the regions!" is the rallying cry. Yeah. Okay. Are there jobs out there? Because I thought that's why people stayed AWAY from the regions.

    I'm not in any way a supporter of gender-selective @bort!on or any @bort!ons for that matter. The fact that I criticise the cult of $35 000 (or often more) weddings does not mean that I think it's justified for certain groups to slaughter their baby girls. I don't have a problem with parents helping their children to pay for weddings, or even paying for the entire thing, if they can, that is. But I am against the 'keeping up with the Joneses' trend that such spending perpetuates. Weddings still seem pretty elaborate, and that's usually not because the couples can afford it, it's because mum and dad have written the cheques or the bank has written the cheques. What this means is that people who decide to do things simply and cheaply are judged just a little bit for not having a 'real' wedding.

    Whew. I think we might have some cross-cultural misunderstandings here, which I didn't really expect!

    1. I'm really tired, and it was quite late when I checked for new comments, so I'll just say that there is no war between Catholic virginity and Catholic marriage, and that there is no war between elaborate weddings and simple weddings, and that the primary purpose of marriage is having children, so it is very sad when people get married despite not being financially prepared to welcome children. (In "Little Women" John Brooke couldn't afford to marry Meg, so he went off and made money as a cowboy in the Wild West or something. In Scotland I guess a thrifty chap would get a job on a North Sea oil tanker.) The WORLD, however, IS waging a war against both Catholic marriage AND Catholic virginity. It also encourages Catholic children to resent their Catholic parents, dissuades Catholic parents from being generous to their children. It tempts married Catholics to be ungenerous to God, and it teaches single Catholics to envy the married.

      All that stuff about South Asian girls was just a reaction to where the "babies are expensive" and "single children are less selfish/expensive than married children" can lead. As the catechism itself teaches, marriage and virginity give glory to each other. The early Church fought a lot a battles over whether or not marriage was sinful and whether married people aren't just kind of icky, so there's a danger of heading in that direction, even though naturally these days everyone thinks that the best thing you can be, a "transgender" ex-Olympian 65 year old celebrity model, apparently.

  9. I read this at the beginning of the weekend and have been thinking about it ever since. I really think it is a fantastic piece and really made me think about how I relate to other and also remember how it was when I was the single one with married friends.
    One thing I would like to add to the reasons why married with children women seem to socialise with each other is this - when I am with another mother I feel far less embarrassed by my children's (normal) behaviour, by my own appearance (I've put on a lot of weight since having two kids plus I don't wear makeup these days) and the state of my house. I give myself a very hard time about all of these things anyway and the thought of somebody else looking down on me is too much. If I am with another mother of small children, even if she has it more together than I do, I feel she understands somehow.

    Aussie girl in NZ

    1. Tell you what. The messiest houses I've seen have been lived in by adults only. I bet your home is fine. Mess is normal.

  10. I don't think too much time is the problem for singles per se. I for one have never had difficulty finding ways to occupy my spare hours. I think the main two problesm are as follows:
    1) chastity. Let's get that one out of the way from the tope.
    2) discerning whether or not what you are doing is building the Kingdom of God, or done just for pure pleasure. Some fun is ok - but is it too much? Am I being selfish? A I spending too much money on this passion? Is this the career path God wants me on or just the one I like that makes me the most money? SHOULD I GIVE UP EVERYTHING AND VOLUNTEER IN A SOUP KITCHEN??
    Presumably marrieds with no children can also suffer this kind of existential angst. But no parent is going to worry that they are parenting because they are selfishly pursuing their own gratification.

    1. Heavens! I have always taken the fact that a Christian enjoys their (non-sinful) career as a sign of God's approval and call for his/him to be there.

  11. Haha - so many good comments. I totally agree with what Stellamaris said, and have massive sympathy for what Domestic Diva, Julia & Aussie Girl are going through.

    Mrs Mac - I think you may have a genuine cultural misunderstanding with what Julia said - this part of the world is breath-takingly expensive now (I live in the 4th most expensive city on earth, relative to incomes and Julia's city is not far behind) and that makes raising a family *in a Catholic way* (ie live apart, marry, have kids if lucky) quite daunting. The impecunious just breed and rely on the welfare system to bail them out with housing & child payments, but for Christians...

    That does mean it is praiseworthy for young couples to marry and be open to life, just that its verrry hard for that to happen for many following the traditional path. And the societal pressure for bling weddings...

    On the cheerful side, Easter is almost here! Crucifixions! ;)