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
6 thoughts on “The Struggle to Marry”
I wrote on one of your articles awhile back, and I’ll do it again. My premise is simple. I really do believe that the Catholic Church, as an institution, no longer cares whether its single members get married or not. That’s not in scripture, and you won’t find a policy document saying so. However, parishes have abandoned the social life that used to encourage singles to meet and date and eventually marry in the Church.
It was relatively simple. You went to social events at your own parish and others. You volunteered to work at parish activities. You became known as an available Catholic single, and you got nudged toward the other available Catholic singles. And in time, nature took its course. My parents, grandparents, and many relatives met exactly that way. But that’s all gone now. The Catholic marriage rate is near zero, everyone knows it, but no one cares.
I “put myself out there” plenty. I have many friends, but none of them are Catholic. (Although many are former Catholics.) I’ve attended the same handful of area parishes for decades and I am still anonymous since there are no activities in any, no parish communities to join. If there were other singles in these parishes, I never met them. And meanwhile, I did not act on many opportunities over the years to date otherwise available women who did not meet my relatively low expectation of simply being a mass-attending Catholic. If that was a mistake, I’ll accept responsibility and hope that it has some benefit in eternal life.
Given that, there was no opportunity for me to think about whether I might like to be married (I simply do not believe that one can think seriously about that unless you have candidate spouses to consider). No one ever suggested I was “called to be single” (another concept I don’t believe in), but that’s because I’m anonymous and no one ever says anything to me at all, beyond the nods that we all exchange during mass and during our trudge to and from the parking lot.
If “God wants people to be married” as you claim, his Church is not doing anything to help with that.
I agree with you on a lot of what you have said. Unfortunately, the Church has abandoned much of what it should be doing. For instance, it has abandoned its duty to teach the fullness of truth that is contained in the Catholic faith. I have not learned many of the tenants of the faith from Church personnel, but much from the laity who have pointed me to Scripture, the Catechism, and Church Writings. It is unfortunate that this is the state of things, but fortunately there are faithful Catholics (and some Church people) out there who use their gifts and respond to God’s calling on their life to help others out.
Also, there is someone else who cares about whether people get married – God cares. It is evident in the Scriptures and the Catechsim of the Catholic Church. Society says that marriage is no longer necessary. However, God says that it is. And we either have to believe that He will help us get married (and with anything else we need) regardless of what is going on around us. I hope this makes sense.
I love your thoughts, your website, your writing. It’s a wonderful thought: that God wants marriage for us and will help us, especially with prayer on our part. However, many stories don’t bear out these hopes. I’ve reached my sixties, have been everywhere and done everything to find a mate and have relatively low standards in mind. At the same time, I offer a great package: fit, attractive, healthy, solvent, employed, faithful, with a lifetime of giving to others, both personally and professionally. And yet, in my 4 decades of mate-search and prayer…nothing…crickets. My young-adult and middle-adult years are gone. In seeking a marriage now, I wonder how long it would be before illness knocks the legs out from me, the spouse, or both. I could hold on if Catholicism would teach that marriage and family are possible to achieve in Heaven…but it won’t. Ever. Catholic families established on earth can potentially bring all that social treasure with them to heaven, while the rest of us will be stuck in the lonely hearts wing. Sometimes God doesn’t answer prayers and for no explicable reason. I realize you’re trying to hell, and maybe you can inspire those a lot younger than I. But the help is not forthcoming, and the dream is starting to shrivel to a less and less desirable size. There is no consolation for some of us.
Hello Sherrill! Thank you so much for your kind words regarding my website and thoughts. I truly do hear your pain and feelings of reaching the point of no return. What if I said that God leaves no one behind? I would very much like to hear more of your story. If you are so inclined, please drop me a line at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂
Thanks so much for writing about this subject! I’m 55 and I’ve always wanted to get married but I’ve never been able to pull it off. I’m so frustrated how Catholics at my parish ignore single people! I never feel like I’m treated like a grown up. Every time I have volunteered for anything, I’ve been ignored and the position was given to a married woman or a couple. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone suggested I should become a nun. LOL. It’s nice to read about someone acknowledging older single women. I’ve read a lot of books but they usually seem targeted towards women who are in their twenties.
I am so glad to hear from you. I understand what you are going through completely. I think that people out there really do not know how to speak to singles and minister to them and help them get to marriage. There is no reason you cannot get married with God’s help 🙂 I hope that you find the rest of the resources on my website encouraging and feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep your hope! Julieanne