Over the past decade or so of life as a "young adult" (an increasingly oxymoronic label), I have regularly engaged in conversations with friends and colleagues about the needs of young Catholic unmarried types and how the Church could or should address them. Leaving the universal prescriptions for wiser souls, I find I serve better in the capacity of an oft-single Catholic guy addressing his own kind.
Gentlemen, I offer you the Virgil to my Dante: Walker Percy. Take in his introduction of the protagonist of The Last Gentleman:
"Like many young men in the South, he became overly subtle and had trouble ruling out the possible. ... What happens to a man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course. Except war. If a man lives in the sphere of the possible and waits for something to happen, what he is waiting for is war — or the end of the world. That is why Southerners like to fight and make good soldiers. In war the possible becomes the actual through no doing of one’s own."
I first read these words on the cusp of 30. I was floored. Percy, born two generations before I, spoke the truth of my very modern way of being, incisively depicting the malaise of a life ruled by various and competing abstractions, distractions and attractions — one I’m sure I share with my contemporaries.
In circles of devout and young-ish Catholic folks, one often hears, "How can one live the single life/brave the agony of dating/find someone to marry?" The older I get, the more odd this question seems, as the single person exists largely in the state of life he found himself in when he emerged from the womb: a member of a community, to be sure, but not (yet) bound by permanent vow. In my life, that question has become: "How can one (I) live?"
The particular slings and arrows of single life, when allowed as provocations, raise the question of questions: Quod anima satis? ("What satisfies the soul?")
For me, the discovery of a romantic relationship did not happen as the fruit of a strategy or plan. This is not to say that one cannot strategize one’s way into a dating relationship — it happens all the time, I’m sure — but, rather, that contriving a way to achieve non-singledom doesn’t per se answer the real question. It seems evident a man can find a spouse and still ignore the vocation of being.
I’ve also found that the surprise of being in relationship with a particular woman comes with all sorts of particular consternations and unexpected points of conversion. So, the key to recovery from the abstracted postmodern confusion emerges: incarnation and encounter. We’re told, "The single life is an opportunity." True enough, though life itself is an opportunity — life experienced as relationship with One whose presence gives meaning to even the most mundane circumstances (e.g., a lonely late-night trip foraging for necessities under obnoxious fluorescent lights at the local grocery megastore).
This is what I’ve discovered: Christ — who comes to me again and again through so many witnesses and in spite of my stupidity and weakness — makes each experience the possibility of finding my heart’s satisfaction.
My advice? Follow what interests your heart (i.e., anything that reasonably carries the promise of satisfying your need for communion, truth, beauty, etc.), interrogate it, offer it as prayer and see if you don’t find yourself thrust into relationships with all manner of folks. Cultivate an attitude of ironic detachment. Throw yourself into the adventures which present themselves, keeping well in mind what quoth Robert Burns about our best-laid plans (The best-laid schemes o’ Mice and Men/Gang aft agley [often go awry]).
A la Mr. Percy, a good single-barrel bourbon doesn't hurt either.
David Hazen is the associate director of communications
and new media for the Archdiocese of Denver.