I first began hearing that there was a vocation to the single life over 15 years ago, when I, myself, was still single. In my late thirties, I was discouraged, and seriously seeking God for a spouse. Various individuals would routinely comment to me that perhaps I was called to be single. I believe this comment was offered by well-meaning folks who lacked a theological foundation on how to offer hope and encouragement to someone who desired marriage but was unable to get there.
Now that I have been married for over ten years, I genuinely believe that God wanted marriage for me more than I wanted it for myself. I maintain that the same is true for the multitude of single Catholics who are in a similar situation that I was in. Why then, is it so hard to meet a suitable spouse?
I think there are several reasons for this.
First, we live in a society that has grown to increasingly devalue marriage. Some might even say our culture has deemed it no longer necessary. For example, premarital sex and contraception are the norm, not the exception. People no longer consider two parents, let alone wedlock, a necessity for the birth and raising of children. Also, people continually delay marriage for the pursuit of education, financial stability, and career pursuits rather than building a foundation together. Marriage is just not on the radar for many.
Next, there are people who have been wounded in their past. This can include a spectrum of matters, inclusive of, but not limited to the following: a traumatic background, various childhood issues, and painful past relationships. These problems can make it difficult for one to sustain a relationship all the way to the alter.
Finally, as more and more single people are unable to find a suitable spouse due to the above reasons, they enter a state known as prolonged singleness. This is when a person does not forgo marriage for the kingdom of heaven, but rather enters a cycle of protracted and chronic singleness, never entering a relationship that is sustained through to marriage.
Prolonged singleness often gets confused with being “called to the single life.” Unfortunately, rather than helping the person overcome the obstacles in their way, it adds an undue weight to their already heavy shoulders.
In Matthew 19, Jesus spoke clearly on the issue of singleness. Jesus explained that Moses only allowed divorce due to the hardness of hearts, but that from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:4-9) In response, Jesus’ disciples got upset at what they perceived as an unattainable standard regarding marriage and divorce:
“His disciples said to him, ‘If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ He answered, ‘Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19:10-12 NABRE)
When I stumbled upon this section of scripture, I was in my late thirties. It confirmed to me that marriage truly was what God wanted for people, since he created us in a primordial state of marriage (Genesis 1:26a-27; 2:18) and planted a desire for marriage within our hearts (see CCC §1603). I realized I fell into the second category outlined by Christ, those who were not capable of marriage because of others. I finally had an explanation for my prolonged singleness.
As I pondered this scripture and my current situation, there was a combination of reasons I suffered from prolonged singleness. These included a mother wound from my childhood that left me feeling unworthy of love, struggles with my weight wherein I was fiercely afraid of rejection, and living in a society that continued to devalue marriage. These, along with other factors, merged to keep me single longer than I ever wanted to be.
However, this realization was a cause for great hope! I recognized that I was not called to singleness. I was called to marriage but was not able to get there due to these issues. If Jesus could heal people of other ailments, I believed he could aid me with my impediments to meeting a suitable spouse.
I sought his help to overcome the things that were contributing to my prolonged singleness. This included my self-limiting behaviors and beliefs that kept me in the same situations wherein I was meeting similar types of people; a deep-seated rejection issue I had carried with me from my childhood; and the courage to “put myself out there” to meet new people. These things were not easy to do, however, with consistent prayer and God’s grace, I did make progress.
I met and married my husband, Seth, at the age of 42. At times, I never thought I would get married. Yet, deep in my heart I knew that I was called to marry. However, it took much prayer and cooperation on my part with God to see its fulfillment. And I believe the same is true for you. (CCC §1603) If you desire marriage, open your heart to God letting him do this work for you and in you as well.
Julieanne M. Bartlett All Rights Reserved Copyright 2021