One of the growing pastoral concerns for the Church in the United States is the number of young Catholic women who believe that God has given them the vocation to marriage but who are unable to find decent husbands.
We’re talking about objectively attractive women here — vivacious characters who are not looking for Mr. Perfect but just for Mr. Good. They go on dates. They humbly allow friends and family members to set them up. They sign up for Catholic online dating services. And the vast majority of them watch the years go by with no marriage prospects in sight.
The situation weighs not just on the women, but on their parents, siblings and friends. It also weighs on the Church, including pastors, who, as spiritual fathers, want not only to encourage but facilitate their vocations.
In many cases, however, good unmarried men are hard to find.
For women in this situation of longing, there’s a great new book by Emily Stimpson, The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years. Stimpson writes not only out of her years of experience as a journalist surveying the larger issues of dating, marriage and Church moral teachings, but out of her personal experience still being single in her mid-30s, yearning with ever-greater urgency for marriage and a family.
Although is not intended for audiences other than single Catholic women who believe they are called to marriage but have no present prospects, it is a tremendous resource for all those parents, pastors and friends who want to understand in greater depth the pain and practical issues of women in this emotional and spiritual desert, so that they may know better how to encourage them and to avoid hurting them by well-intentioned but incisive daggers.
Stimpson begins with a discussion of whether the unconsecrated single life can be considered a vocation. After clearly and concisely summarizing the Church’s theology on the distinction between our universal calling to be saints, primary vocation to a particular state in life and secondary vocation to a specific type of service, she notes that every primary vocation is meant to be an exclusive and enduring gift of oneself to God and others. For that reason, she concludes, “It’s hard to see how the answer” to the question of whether the unconsecrated single life is an authentic vocation “can be anything other than No.”
That brings her to tackle head-on the difficult question of whether those women who have not married but who do not feel called to be chaste religious, consecrated virgins or lay celibates have missed their vocations. She shows how some people — often for reasons outside of their control — do not enter into the vocation to which it seems God called them.
She cites the generation of European soldiers slain in World War I and the corresponding generation of women unable to find husbands. Many faithfully Catholic young women today may have been left tragically in a similar situation, she suggests, by the “sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, abortion, contraception, pornography, cohabitation, even serial dating,” which have “spiritually wounded men and women in our world as seriously as mustard gas physically wounded England’s soldiers in 1917.”
In a beautiful chapter on who woman is and is called to be, she discusses what John Paul II called the “feminine genius” — to receive, nourish and nurture life — and suggests 10 practical ways for women to learn how to cultivate that authentically feminine expertise: by receiving others and their help, love, knowledge, advice and compliments; by listening to God and others; by looking to those in need and serving them; by submitting to God, the truth and what is right and good; by enduring difficulties patiently and tenaciously; by becoming gentle; by dressing and acting modestly; by appreciating and cultivating beauty, discovering what real beauty is and intentionally trying to look lovely.
Stimpson also tackles the dos and don’ts of dating, sex, chastity and the biological clock, how to choose marriage-friendly yet rewarding careers, to relate to married couples and their children, and to respond to the suffering of being without a husband and children.
Some readers might find her first of several suggestions to deal with suffering — “retail therapy” aka shopping — a little materialistic, and Stimpson jocularly acknowledges that such an idea might cause her Catholic credibility to plummet; she saves her reputation, however, by noting that if women can, within their budget, purchase something that makes them feel prettier, it may actually make them prettier, happier and better “bait” to attract the fewer marriageable “fish in the sea.”
Throughout it all, she acknowledges the struggles, but she refuses to wallow — or allow other single women to wallow — in self-pity. She gives practical advice about how not only to cope or “survive,” but to make the most of the positives of their condition, while approaching the future with hope.
The book’s subtitle is “The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right.” Stimpson’s sanity and happiness radiate throughout the work, while she admits and courageously confronts her unfulfilled longings. While this book cannot substitute for a good Catholic husband and family in the short term, it is a great means in the interim to help single Catholic women survive and thrive with mind and heart intact.
Father Landry is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Mass.,
and executive editor of The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River.
THE CATHOLIC GIRL’S SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE SINGLE YEARS
The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right
By Emily Stimpson
Emmaus Road, 2012
142 pages, $12.95
To order: emmausroad.org