Recently, one of my younger friends, feeling the sting of singleness rather acutely, sent me an email.
“I don’t know how you do this single thing so well,” she wrote. “I’m frustrated, angry and tired of hoping.”
Then came my favorite line.
“How did you get to be 36 and single without going crazy?”
Once I got my laughter under control, I wrote back, telling her that I don’t always do it so well. I have more than my share of days when I’m lonely, confused and shaking my fist at the picture in my hallway of the Sacred Heart. Most of us do.
I also explained that the only way I’ve gotten to be 36 and single without going crazy is by not spending the past 10 years thinking about being 36 and single.
That’s because all I would have seen would have been those two stark realities: 36 and single. I wouldn’t have seen all the blessings and opportunities that would come my way during that time. Nor could I have seen how Christ would use my struggles with singleness to draw me closer to him.
Which is why our job isn’t to fret too much about whether or not we’ll still be single in another year — or 10. It’s simply about being in the day, giving thanks for the present blessings and focusing on the present tasks.
It’s also our job to cultivate a spirit of hope.
No matter how old we are, if we believe we’re called to the vocation of marriage, we can never stop hoping God will send the right someone along. Maybe we can stop expecting, but we can never stop hoping.
First, because to do that ignores the fact that people over the age of 30 get married every day. The pool of eligible spouses may be small, but God is always making that pool bigger, healing wounded souls and preparing people for marriage. Grace is at work all around us, which means the only expiration date on a vocation to marriage is death.
We also have to hold onto hope because without hope we can’t be the joyful witnesses God calls us to be. Remember, to not hope is to despair. And to despair is a bad thing — a big, bad sin in and of itself and the doorway to any number of other sins.
It’s despair that leads us to date people we shouldn’t and do things we oughtn’t. It’s despair that makes us bitter, hard and cold, the embodiment of everything the culture tells us we’ll be if we’re living a chaste single life. And it’s despair that turns us in on ourselves, preventing us from seeing the needs of others and loving them as they need to be loved.
Despair is not our friend. Hope is our friend. Hope is what gets us through a string of bad dates or a stretch of none at all. Hope is what keeps us going after a breakup or when we feel like the last single person standing. Hope is what allows us to trust that God really does know what he’s doing.
Remaining hopeful may be the single person’s greatest task. We have to hope. And we have to trust that these years of singleness are not unaccounted for, that God is providing for us through them, and that, somehow, this time of waiting will not only make sense some day, but will, in fact, be seen as a thing of perfect beauty.
After all, if it’s part of God’s plan, it can’t be anything less.
Emily Stimpson is the author of The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years:
The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right.