How to Be Miserable as a Single Person

 

Disclaimer: I wrote this post based on my own experience as a single woman from the ages of 18-32. I wrote it for those of you who struggle, on occasion or on the regular, with being single and are hoping to one day be married. I do not expect that it will resonate with every person who reads it, nor do I think that all single people are necessarily miserable. I myself enjoyed much of my single life, but I think it could’ve been a much more peaceful and fruitful time had I not done these things.

How to Be Miserable as a Single Person
 

1. Go to every party/event/wedding expecting to meet “the one.”

I went home from so many parties in a state close to despair because of this. I was constantly on the lookout and when the man of my dreams didn’t materialize, or the guy I spent 20 minutes chatting with turned out to be a weirdo who thinks that women shouldn’t be doctors or lawyers because then men won’t want to be doctors or lawyers (yep. That happened.), I would walk/drive home in tears of frustration, wondering if I would EVER meet my future husband. The problem with this attitude is two-fold: first of all, if you approach every man/woman as a potential future spouse, you are not recognizing that they are first and foremost a human person and a brother/sister in Christ. In a way, you’re objectifying and reducing others to what they could potentially mean to your future and not simply embracing their inherent dignity and worth. Secondly, you’re not free to enjoy the gift God wants to give you at that party/event/wedding because you have an agenda. I wonder how many parties I would have actually enjoyed had I gone in freedom, open to whatever the Lord wanted to give me--whether it was a new girlfriend, or a fascinating conversation with someone I’d never met before, or an opportunity to share my faith with another guest. I missed out on a lot simply because of my own one-track thinking.

2. Have regular ranting sessions about the opposite sex with your friends.

I don’t know if guys do this, but it’s definitely a big temptation for the ladies. The thing is, ranting does NOT help anyone. At the end of those conversations with my girlfriends (which often included gossip, detraction, and other sins of speech), I would feel even more bitter and discouraged than before. It might feel good in the moment to talk about how horrible the state of men in the world is, or how terrible x, y, or z guy you went on a date with was, but it’s not doing you--or the men in your life--any favors. In my experience, it actually leads to more cynicism about the opposite sex and can actually change the way you think of/treat the opposite sex in real life. Just say no.

3. Compare yourself to your married friends/acquaintances.

It can be really, really tough to watch all of your friends get married and have babies before you. Trust me, I know. Two of my younger siblings and all of my closest college friends were married before me, and I’ve been a bridesmaid six times. But comparing yourself to them (what do they have that I don't??) will get you nowhere. There’s no magical formula for getting married; and if you think about it enough, you know that you wouldn’t REALLY want the exact same relationship that your friends/family have, because it’s particular to them. Also, people get married all the time--even people who haven’t gone to therapy or done their own personal work or prayed as much as you have for their future spouse. Does that mean that there’s something wrong with you? Nope. For me, it meant that it was simply not time yet, and thank God it wasn’t! When I think about the men I could’ve married before I met Kristian, I thank God that he protected me from doing so.

4. Get in/Stay in relationships just because you’re afraid of not getting married.

This is how I ended up in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship that scarred me deeply. It’s also how I ended up dating and breaking up with and getting back together with a really good man who, deep down in places I wasn’t ready to acknowledge yet, simply wasn’t right for me. It’s why I went on second dates with guys I had ZERO interest in dating, and put up with manipulative Willoughby types who just wanted me around but didn’t really want me. Dating for the sake of not being lonely or because you’re afraid of not getting married will lead you into some really unpleasant relationship situations--and can lead you to hurt someone who might genuinely like you.

5. Make marriage an idol.

For so many years, I imagined that the reason I was unhappy, anxious, lonely, depressed, etc was because I wasn’t married. That wasn’t true, but at the time it really felt true. As I grew in wisdom and understanding throughout my 20s (mostly through observing my married friends and family), the idol I had made of marriage was mercifully destroyed. Before I ever met Kristian, I understood the following: Marriage will not make you happy (although a good marriage can definitely contribute to your happiness). Marriage will not fix your problems (although your spouse can help you face your problems and love you through them). Marriage is not a guarantee against loneliness (although it does help mitigate some loneliness). Marriage is not God. Marriage is a vocation, a path to heaven, and as such is meant to draw you closer to the only One who can truly satisfy you. Until you can embrace this truth, marriage will remain a replacement for God instead of what it is: a path to deeper union with Him.

6. Watch lots of romantic comedies.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good rom com. But when you’re single and not happy about it, those probably aren’t the best movies to watch. They can end up making you more upset, and can also provide unhealthy models for relationships that affect you subconsciously. I definitely think my idolatry of marriage was exacerbated by some of the movies I watched--especially considering the fact that most rom coms END in an engagement or marriage, so you never see the reality of how much work it is to love someone, day in and day out, for the rest of your life. Exercise caution and discretion in your movie-watching, and you’ll be a much happier single person.

7. Act like you aren’t angry/confused/hurt/sad/anxious about your vocation, especially in prayer.

The Lord knows if you’re having a hard time with your singleness. He’s not surprised by it. In fact, he wants you to tell him exactly how you’re feeling. Tell him you’re angry. Tell him you feel forgotten. Tell him you feel like a vocational orphan. Tell him you’re terrified of dying alone. Tell him how much you desire marriage and children. Tell him how discouraged you are by your dating experiences (or lack thereof). Tell him. I spent so many years trying to be Perfect Catholic Girl in my prayer and say things like, “Lord, you know I want to be married, but I trust you” when I really didn’t. I wouldn’t let myself be angry or cry out to him or tell him how anxious I was. I didn’t really believe that he wanted to know. I thought my anxiety meant that I was a bad Christian for not trusting fully in God. Now, I recognize that this was the work of the devil and my own imbalanced brain chemistry and not at all of God. Once I started getting real with the Lord in my prayer, I was able to let go of more and more and began to actually trust him. Not only that, but I began to feel like I had an actual relationship with God, because I was talking to him like I would to one of my friends--instead of like I would to a distant, far off king who I didn’t know and didn’t trust.

8. Put off doing fun things because you’re not married yet.

One of my dearest dreams, as a theology teacher and pilgrimage-lover, was to travel to the Holy Land--but when I was in my early 20s I insisted that I didn’t want to do it until I got married. I just couldn’t imagine doing something so incredible without my husband in tow. Thankfully, when I was 27, I got over that and went anyway, and I’m so glad I did. My pilgrimage to the Holy Land--which was mostly solo, although my friend Meg and I did the Galilee portion together--remains one of the most beautiful memories of my life. If Kristian and I ever get to go to Israel together, great! But I don’t regret going without him.

9. Blame all of your relationship failures/the fact that you’re single on someone else.

For a long time, I blamed my failed relationships on the men that I had dated. After lots of therapy and soul searching, I was finally able to see that it takes two to tango. I was the common denominator in all of the relationships I’d been in. Yes, my exes bore part of the blame for the relationships going awry, but in the end, I was also responsible and needed to recognize that. Once I started looking inward at my own issues related to attachment, intimacy, and anxiety, I realized that these unhealthy relationship patterns would only continue if I didn’t do some tough self-work.

10. Put off therapy, spiritual direction, working on your physical health, etc.

Speaking of which, I think what I most regret about my early-to-mid 20s is that I put off getting the help I needed--especially following the abusive relationship I was in. When I think about the years I spent suffering in silence, when I could have been a much happier and healthier person had I only sought help, it makes me sad. Granted, the Lord still used those years and that suffering, but that doesn’t mean I don’t regret my own stubbornness and refusal to recognize my need for help. I’m of the opinion that pretty much everyone who grows up in the world we live in today could use some therapy, and if you’re single and hoping to get married, now is the best time to do it. I did a whole series on therapy and why I think it’s so important, which you can read here.

I hope this list is helpful and that those of you who are single will learn from my mistakes. This period of life doesn’t have to be miserable, but it so often is because of the things we do to ourselves. I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, so if you have anything to add to the list, please mention it in the comments. And I’ll be writing a follow-up post on how to make the most of your single years soon!

 

Dear Single Reader: God is NOT Going to Force You into the Convent (or Seminary)

 

True story: I was voted Most Likely to Become A Nun in both 8th grade AND my senior year of high school. Hilarious, I know. Only I didn’t think so at the time. No, no, no. I was terrified that my punk classmates were right and that I was destined for the nunnery.

Don’t get me wrong: I knew that being called to religious life was a good and beautiful thing, but I also knew that to my classmates, being a nun was only for losery super-Catholic girls who couldn’t get boyfriends. So, my pre-teen/teenaged/early 20s mind latched onto the losery-can’t-get-a-boyfriend thing (because I didn’t have my first real boyfriend till I was 25) and I developed a deep-seated fear and anxiety about being forced into the convent.

The thing is, I knew (intellectually) that God’s will for me would be whatever would be best for me in some mysterious way. I knew that he couldn’t actually force me to become a nun against my will. But I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to say no to him if he really wanted me to be his bride.

Another part of me “knew” that I was ugly and undesirable and the boy in high school who told me that he voted me for “most likely never to get married, because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to marry you” (yep, he really said that) was probably right. I “knew” that no man would ever really want me or pursue me or treat me the way I hoped to be treated. I “knew” that I was a freak, and no one marries freaks. [NB: I obviously don't believe these things anymore, thanks to a lot of healing through prayer and therapy.]

It didn’t help that I had zero faithful Catholic friends in high school, so when I looked around and saw that I was the only person (besides my sister--thanks, E!) who went to daily Mass when it was offered or who cared about theology class or who defended the Church in class debates, I started to wonder if maybe all of this meant that I just had to become a nun.

Top it all off with the fact that I got two degrees in theology, worked at a church, and then as a high school theology teacher, and to the outside world, you basically are a nun already. Why not join a convent and make it official?

Here’s the thing: I never, not even once in my life, felt like the Lord was calling me to religious life. You’d think that would be enough for me to trust that I was called to something else, but no. Satan and my own anxiety had me convinced that God didn’t really want me to be happy, and the fact that I had some of the objective qualities that would make for a good religious sister meant that I had to be one.

The anxiety was so intense that I would avoid vowed religious women whenever I saw them--whether it was the sweet Dominicans in my graduate school courses or the Holy Cross sisters who lived and worked at Notre Dame or the flock of sisters I saw walking by in St. Peter’s Square. I would get what amounted to a panic attack anytime religious life was mentioned--especially when friends of mine entered the convent.

The anxiety was so intense that when my youngest sister got engaged at the age of 21, I pursued a guy who turned out to be abusive and stayed in a relationship with him for three months too long just so I could hurry along this whole getting-married process before someone else suggested I think about religious life for the 50th time.

Honestly, I didn’t stop freaking out about the whole being-forced-into-the-convent thing until I was 30. That was only three years ago. I spent almost two decades of my life plagued by this fear about religious life. The devil is crafty, I’m tellin’ ya. Only Satan could take something as beautiful as consecrated religious life and turn it into a devout Catholic woman’s greatest fear.

So, what changed? How did I get past this fear and learn to see religious life for what it is: a vocation, not a prison sentence? How did I figure out that I was called to marriage? A few things:

  1. Spiritual direction: No spiritual director I’ve ever had thought I had a vocation to religious life. Spiritual directors have been wrong before, of course, but it’s a good idea to listen to them if they’re wise and holy and trustworthy.

  2. Therapy. My therapist(s) helped me realize that my fear had very little to do with religious life and very much to do with the fear of rejection, which is something I’ve struggled with for nearly my entire life.

  3. Grace. I prayed for freedom from this fear until it went away, thanks to God’s gifts mentioned above.

  4. A new understanding of discernment. I came to realize that all discernment has an objective and subjective dimension, and that God’s will isn’t some sort of riddle I have to figure out. The fact that you have objective qualities that might make you a good priest or religious sister, does not necessarily mean that you are called to priesthood or religious life. God speaks to us most often in the concrete circumstances of our lives--and that includes our deepest subjective desires. The happiest priests and religious I know had a sincere desire for their vocation, even if they were afraid and resistant to the Lord at times. The happiest married couples I know were afraid of certain aspects of marriage and family life before they got married. That kind of fear is completely normal, and the only way it can be overcome is if your desire for the vocation is greater than your fear.

  5. I met my now-husband, Kristian. It’s true that as long as you’re single, a celibate vocation is always a possibility. Some people may desire to get married and may never meet the right person (I was definitely aware of this and open to the possibility when I was still single). Some people may resist a vocation to priesthood or religious life into their 30s or 40s until they finally stop running and say “yes.” But if your desire is married life, you have no impediments to getting married, and then you meet someone who also desires married life and has no impediments to getting married, and then you both fall in love and want to marry each other, then you’re called to marriage. It’s not as complicated as we make it.

Photo by Leah Muse.

Photo by Leah Muse.

For those of you who are still waiting for your future spouse to come along: I know how hard it can be, and I am praying for you (I really am). For those of you who are sick and tired of people assuming that because you pray and go to Mass, you must become a priest or nun: I feel your annoyance and pain. For those of you who are still unsure about your vocation: trust that the Lord will show you what he desires of you in his own time. And send me an email if you need further encouragement. I’m always happy to provide it!

To My Former Students Who are Tempted to Give Up on Chastity

 

Note: I wrote this letter after a series of conversations with several of my former students who expressed to me their loneliness in trying to practice chastity in high school and college. I taught over 1,000 students in the nine years I spent as a high school theology teacher. Some of my former students are only sophomores in high school, and some of them are married with kids now. Even though this is for them, it might also be for you. 

I want all of you to be this happy on your wedding day. Photo by Leah Muse.

I want all of you to be this happy on your wedding day. Photo by Leah Muse.

My dear former students,

You know, I hope, that I love you. I love you, even if it’s been ten years since I taught you in freshman theology. I love you, even if you hated my guts while you were in my class, or you were/are an atheist, or you were/are vehemently anti-Catholic, or you’ve left the Church since high school.

I love you, and for the time you were in my class, you were entrusted to me, by both your parents and your Creator, and my mission was to show you a tiny glimpse of the Father’s love. I hope I did so and that you saw that glimpse for what it was--even though I was such an imperfect vessel at times. Please forgive me for the times when I did not communicate that love to you clearly through the way that I treated you in and out of the classroom.

Because you know that I love you, I hope you’ll read this letter with an open heart and mind. Maybe you’ve already given up on chastity (remember: that’s the virtue by which we--with God’s help--control our sexual desires so that we love others instead of using them); maybe you’re addicted to pornography and don’t know how to stop (or if you really want to); maybe you’re sleeping with your boyfriend/girlfriend or have had a series of hook-ups that haven’t gone anywhere; maybe you’ve contracted an STD or have had an abortion; maybe you’ve gotten drunk and done things you always swore you wouldn’t.

Maybe you feel like damaged goods.

Maybe you’re getting further away from the man or woman you really want to be.

Maybe you’re wondering why you’re still upset about something that happened in a past sexual relationship, even though you swore you’d never let yourself get hurt.

Maybe you listened to all of the things I said in class about sex and marriage and chastity and waiting and expecting more than what the world offers and thought, “Yeah, that sounds really nice, Miss Dehan. But it’s not possible for me.”

Maybe you’ve already given up. If that’s the case, I have a message for you at the end of this letter, so stay tuned. 

Maybe you've been sexually assaulted, abused, or raped. If that's the case, then I want you to know the following: you are NOT damaged goods, it was NOT your fault, and you have NOT sinned against chastity--the person who attacked or abused you did. There is healing to be found in prayer, the Sacraments, and therapy--and no matter what has been done to you, you CAN have a beautiful marriage someday. Nothing is impossible for God.  

For now, I’m going to address those of you who haven’t given up (or at least haven’t given it all up), but are feeling like freaks and like you can’t possibly keep this up through the rest of high school/college/till you get married.

You know that voice in the back of your mind that keeps telling you that you’re weird? That it’s “not natural” to wait to have sex until you’re married? That if you’re in a relationship and you aren’t at least having oral sex, you’re “repressing” yourselves and don’t really love each other? That you’re a freak if you haven’t kissed/hooked up/had sex by the time you’re a freshman in college? That voice ultimately comes from Satan.

Jesus called Satan the “Father of Lies”, and that is exactly what those are: lies. The world will try to sell you this pack of lies so that later, when you’ve fallen for the lies and been burned, you can give the world--Planned Parenthood, the porn industry, the pharmaceutical companies that peddle birth control like it’s candy, etc--your money.

The world (and by “the world” I mean much of the entertainment industry, the women’s ‘healthcare’ industry, the porn industry, etc) will try to convince you that you can have “no-strings-attached” sex--just make sure you buy these condoms or pump your body full of hormones you don’t need by taking this pill, or have an abortion provider nearby in case something goes wrong.

The world will try to convince you that if you’re feeling depressed after a sexual relationship ends, there’s something wrong with you--and oh, by the way, here are some antidepressants you can buy to help deal with the pain while you keep having sex with someone you’re not married to, who isn’t committed to you.

The world will try to convince you that those people who wait till marriage to have sex are either crazy, sexually repressed, unattractive, or non-existent--because there’s absolutely no money in virginity these days.

I’m here to tell you, with the new conviction of a recently-married woman, the same thing I told you when I was your teacher: the world is wrong.

You see, when I was your teacher, I was still single and, while I definitely sinned against chastity in various ways during my relationships as a single woman, by the grace of God I was able to remain a virgin until marriage. I trusted Christ and the Church’s wisdom that marriage is the only appropriate and truly safe place for sex. I only dated men who also trusted the Church. We struggled, but we trusted.

But I didn’t fully understand how wrong the world is, and just how wise the Church is until I got married and finally experienced the “one flesh union” that the Church talks about.


I don’t want to creep you out, so I’m obviously not going to go into details here, but let’s just say that now that I’ve experienced making love with my husband, it blows my little pea-sized brain that so many of my students have already had sex. Because, and this is particularly for you ladies, it really can’t be that great if you don’t truly love the person (and even if you do, high school/college age boys generally do NOT know what they’re doing/don’t really care about making it enjoyable for the girl). All of those movies that make teenage/college sex sound so awesome are lying to you, or they’re written purely from a male perspective, or both.

And even if you really, truly love the person (or think you do), there is no replacement for the security of the sacrament of marriage. That is why chastity for single people means saving sexual activity for marriage: because the Church wants her children to experience the free, total, faithful, and fruitful love Kristian and I have experienced since we were married.

Now, I know a big part of why many of you haven't embraced chastity is because you've never seen a "secure", happy marriage, or you don't know anyone who has. Maybe your parents are divorced or unhappily married, and it's impossible for you to imagine two people truly loving each other till death do us part. 

I know that even if that's the case, when you're really honest with yourself, you want what marriage is supposed to be: a secure relationship where you can be 100% yourself and still be 100% loved. I promise you that even if you've never seen it, marriages like that do exist. They are possible. And if you need someone to convince you of that, give me a call (you probably still have my number anyway). 

But marriages like that become increasingly more difficult for people who spend their high school and college years sleeping around, hopping from relationship to relationship, watching porn on the regular, etc. 

I’m NOT saying that if you have already given up on chastity--or made mistakes you can’t take back--that it’s too late for you. The Lord can forgive and heal you and give you a beautiful marriage, even if your spouse isn’t your “first”.

However, any decent therapist will tell you that the more sexual/emotional wounds you have from previous relationships, the harder it will be to feel truly safe and loved and united to your husband or wife. It’s not impossible, just harder, and I for one don’t want your life to be any harder than it needs to be.

So, here’s my plea to those of you who are still on the fence--who are not quite sure if this whole chastity thing is worth it--don’t give in. Don’t give up. Don’t be fooled by Satan and all of his empty promises. Pray. Fast. Look for good friends who will support you (not make fun of you) in your desire to have truly healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Refuse to date people who don’t share your convictions (and ladies, trust me: you can’t change his mind about this). Seek Christ’s presence in prayer, the Eucharist, and confession. Do not be afraid to live a radically beautiful life--and don’t be afraid to reach out to me if you need to be reminded of any of this. Chastity is one thousand percent WORTH IT! 

And to those of my dear students who feel like they’re “too far gone,” like “damaged goods,” like God could never forgive your sexual sins: don’t give in to the temptation to despair. Satan loves to convince us that our sins are no big deal before we commit them, and to convince us afterward that they’re too horrible to ever bring to the light. Bring it all to the light of Christ’s love in confession. The priest will not judge you. All he will do is pour out God’s mercy upon you so that you can begin again. It’s not too late. It’s never too late until you’re dead. And yes, you will die someday. Why not live your life--starting today--in a way that is truly satisfying?

That’s all I have to say for now, but I’ll close with one of my favorite quotations by one of my favorite people in the world (you know who I’m talking about):

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness” --Benedict XVI--

Love,

Miss Dehan (now Mrs. Jaloway...but you can call me Miss Dehan for the rest of your life if you want to :))


Resources to help you stay committed to truly loving yourself and others: 

Email me! 

Prayers for Chastity (super helpful!)

Integrity Restored Podcast

The Porn Effect

The Chastity Project

Chastity is for Lovers

 

5 Ways to Encourage Your Single Friends

The dear friends without whom I couldn't have lived my single years joyfully. Love you ladies! 

The dear friends without whom I couldn't have lived my single years joyfully. Love you ladies! 

A friend recently posted “What NOT to say to your single friends” on Facebook, and one of the commenters said, ”This is all fair and I can remember being on the receiving end of many of them. But I am looking forward to what the author would say IS an acceptable thing to say.”

I’ve been pondering this follow-up post for awhile, and I think I’ve come up with a short list of things that *most* marriage-minded single Christian women will appreciate. They were certainly helpful to me!

Jaclyn and Cheryl, two more of my dear married friends (I was in both of their weddings and have watched them both raise five little ones!).

Jaclyn and Cheryl, two more of my dear married friends (I was in both of their weddings and have watched them both raise five little ones!).

1. Pray for them.

Instead of spouting platitudes (“Once you stop looking for him, he’ll show up!” “He’ll come when you least expect it!” “Don’t worry about it!”), tell your single friends (especially when they’re feeling discouraged) that you’re praying for them. I can’t tell you how encouraged I was when my married friends told me that they were praying for my vocation. My friend Anamaria even added a petition for her single friends to her prayers of the faithful at her wedding Mass! I appreciated it so much that I did the same at my wedding Mass. Prayer really is the least--and the most--that we can do for one another.

 

2. Invite them to spend time with your family.

My South Bend family. 

My South Bend family. 

Some of the most beautiful, joyful experiences of my single life were spent with my married friends and siblings and their adorable kiddos. Although I’ve babysat many a time (and loved it), I’ve also lived life with these families: playing, praying, and reading with the kids, making dinner with my mom friends, observing healthy and happy marriages at work, and having some of my hyper-romanticized views of marriage and family tempered a bit by reality. I feel like I’m coming into married life with a huge advantage, because I’ve actually seen it lived by friends and family around my own age, who grew up in the same culture and understand the particular challenges families face today. Making space for your single friends in your family is one of the greatest gifts you can give--and I promise they won’t judge you if your house is messy!

3. Set them up (if they’re open to it)!

My dear friend Keri, who also got married in her 30s, and also married a set-up. 

My dear friend Keri, who also got married in her 30s, and also married a set-up. 

Maybe I’m atypical, but I never turned down a setup while I was single--and thank God, because I married a setup. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been set up in the past decade, but I do know that it was worth the risk even when the guy turned out to be a dud. So, go ahead--set your single friends up with the eligible bachelors you know (note: this does NOT include men who need “a good Catholic girl to straighten them out”), and who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be giving a toast at their wedding. Stranger things have happened.

4. Value their input and perspective.

Some married women think of single women as outsiders--not part of the club--and therefore without anything meaningful to offer their friends who are wives and mothers. I myself haven’t experienced this state-of-life snobbery, but I have several friends who have, and it’s not only hurtful, but self-defeating. Female friendships thrive when we are open to learning from, instead of competing with, one another. I was blessed to have several married friends who always made me feel like I was part of the conversation, even when the conversation had to do with marriage and family. Thank you, ladies. 

5. Respect the unique crosses of (unintentional) singleness.

Although your single friends don’t know what it’s like to be up all night with a sick toddler or to be on the outs with their husband, they do suffer--just in different ways. The suffering of waiting for the fulfillment of your vocation can be pretty intense, and while it is good to be reminded that grocery shopping alone or to daily Mass alone is a luxury to be cherished during your single years, it’s helpful when married friends recognize that the in-betweenness of single life can be a cross as heavy as any born by married women.

I have to give a big shoutout to Lianna, my youngest sister. She's been married since 2009 and has three of the most adorable little girls in the entire world. She is my role model, my inspiration, my closest model of young motherhood--and although she's suffered quite a bit (as all moms of littles do), she's never belittled my suffering as a single woman. She's prayed for me, encouraged me, and loved me so well this past decade; I couldn't have done it without her. Love you, Li

I have to give a big shoutout to Lianna, my youngest sister. She's been married since 2009 and has three of the most adorable little girls in the entire world. She is my role model, my inspiration, my closest model of young motherhood--and although she's suffered quite a bit (as all moms of littles do), she's never belittled my suffering as a single woman. She's prayed for me, encouraged me, and loved me so well this past decade; I couldn't have done it without her. Love you, Li

Alright, ladies, it's your turn: what would you add to the list? Please share in the comments! 
 

 

 

 

#jalowaytothealtar Top 10 iPhone photos

Hi friends! Kristian and I are back from our honeymoon (!!!) and I'm trying to catch up on all of the blog posts I've promised people. I'll start off with an easy one: my favorite iPhone photos from the wedding. They're not the same as the high-quality  professional photos I should be getting back in a week or so (and yes, there will be a separate post for those), but I love that my dear friends and family took them. You definitely get a sense for how beautiful, joy-filled, and graced 12/29/16 was. Kristian and I both agree that the entire day was a sacramental sign of God's overwhelming love for us. 

Photos in order:

1. With my bridesmaids at my parents' house, about to leave for the church. 2. Details (shot with an iPhone that has a special attached lens). 3. Genuflecting before my King when I arrived to the chapel. 4. Pure joy. 5. Embracing/weeping with my dear friend Keri (who also got married in her 30s) after the nuptial Mass. 6. Kristian and me with my bridesmaids/dryads in our amazing floral crowns by Petals, ink. 7. Getting ready to enter the ballroom with my husband in a totally Anne-of-Green-Gables-approved ensemble. 8. We had a LOT of kiddos at our wedding, but there was plenty of green space and lots of sticks to play with. 9. I loved having a sweetheart table; Kristian and I actually got to eat! 10. The perfect end to the most magical day of my life (so far). Deo Gratias. 

My Engagement Isn't a Fairytale

Shortly after this photo was taken, I threw up out the window of our Uber driver's car, and Kristian cleaned it up for me. #engagement

Shortly after this photo was taken, I threw up out the window of our Uber driver's car, and Kristian cleaned it up for me. #engagement

Y’all: I’m getting married in less than three weeks. I cannot believe this is my life. As 12/29 gets closer, things are only going to get crazier, so I figured I should get this post out of the way ASAP. Here goes.

Engagement is beautiful and difficult and crazy and wonderful and everything in between...and I do mean everything. For some reason, probably because being engaged always seemed like something that happens to other women, I had an idealized vision of what it would be like to prepare for marriage. I had visions of non-stop romantic dates and bridal showers and holy hours together...and not much else.


Let’s just say that I was more than a little bit surprised when my adolescent Catholic rom-com visions of engagement didn’t turn out to be entirely accurate.

The biggest surprise was that, as overjoyed as I was at getting married to the man I love, the weeks following our engagement were emotionally difficult. All of a sudden, things got very real very quickly. Not only were Kristian and I talking dates, reception venues, guest lists, and who would preside over our wedding Mass, we had to start looking for a place to live post-marriage, have really uncomfortable (for me) discussions about money, and we had to deal with all of the issues that arise when you try to plan a huge celebration for two large extended families. The emotional intensity was kicked up a notch by the fact that Kristian and I have had a short engagement--less than six months--and had to prepare accordingly.

Oh, and if anyone is curious about what my least favorite part of wedding planning is, it’s the seating chart. SO STRESSFUL. But I digress.

What saved me from despair during the first few weeks post-engagement (aside from consolation from Kristian, therapy, and the adoration chapel) was the fact that several of my married girlfriends opened up to me about how difficult their engagements had been, especially in the first few weeks of stress-inducing wedding-related decisions.

I was comforted by this, but also perplexed; why hadn’t anyone told me before that engagement isn’t all staring deeply into each other’s eyes and getting showered with love and attention from the entire world???

My theory is that many women assume that there must be something wrong with them if engagement isn’t always easy, so they don’t talk about it, which only perpetuates the engagement-is-all-fun myth. Plus, there’s the Instagram feeds and Facebook updates and wedding websites filled with pretty pictures taken at the exact right time with the right lighting (or at least the right filter). I’m sure if that was the only information others had about my engagement, they’d assume it was 100% smiles all the time (which is why I’m writing this post).

Truth is, I was afraid to talk about my engagement stresses with anyone (other than my therapist) for fear that I would find out that there was something wrong with me, or that I was not meant to marry Kristian, or something equally terrible.

To save you from those same fears, gentle readers who are engaged or may someday be engaged, I’ll let you in on a little secret: engagement is a lot like the rest of life. If you're naturally prone to anxiety and (like me) a bit more high-strung than the average bear, that's not going to change because you're engaged. And even if you're naturally pretty chill, emotional rollercoaster rides are par for the course during engagement. To top it all off, your emotions will probably ebb and flow a lot more than your fiance’s. And that is normal.

For Kristian and me, being engaged has brought us to deeper levels of intimacy and love than we knew in our dating relationship. The bridal showers have been a blast, and even wedding planning has its bright spots. We love telling our proposal story to anyone who will listen (I once got a free bouquet from Trader Joe’s from the lady behind me in the checkout line for telling it) and we do a lot of gazing into each other’s eyes and daydreaming about our future together. All of that stuff is lovely.

BUT. Engagement is also a time of intense preparation for marriage, which is the biggest, most life-changing event in a couple’s life up to that point. Kristian and I have not shied away from talking about everything with each other, from how we’ll handle our finances to what Christmas traditions we want to be a part of our family culture. In our pre-marital counseling sessions (and conversations afterward), we’ve shared our ongoing emotional, psychological, and spiritual struggles with each other, which has required a level of vulnerability that is anything but comfortable. Wedding-planning stress has reared its ugly head on more than one occasion, leading to tear-filled (on my side) dinner dates. And of course, we both have our moments of OH MY GOSH WE ARE GETTING MARRIED AND EVERYTHING IN OUR LIVES IS GOING TO CHANGE FOREVER AHHHHHH!

The one thing I did get advanced warning about from friends was that, during engagement, Satan kicks the spiritual attacks up a notch. I’m so thankful my therapist recommended that I read Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher during this time, because it helped me to recognize when the fear and anxiety I was experiencing was the result of the Evil One trying to discourage me from pursuing the Lord’s will wholeheartedly. I highly recommend the book, regardless of your state in life, but especially if you’re recently engaged.

Throughout the past five months, regardless of the highs and lows, the one thing that has never failed is the certainty that it was the Lord who brought Kristian and me together and it is the Lord who will give us the grace we need to have a beautiful marriage. Never have I experienced God’s love so powerfully as I have through Kristian, and that is the rock to which I cling when my emotions are going haywire. I’m thankful that our engagement hasn’t been a fairytale, because I know our marriage won’t be either. It will be supremely real, and with God’s grace, we will be able to face whatever the future holds in our marriage: good, bad, and in between.

Any married ladies out there who want to share the joys and struggles you experienced during engagement? Please share in the comments! 

How We Met

Our first (of many) hikes together. Phoenix, AZ. 

Our first (of many) hikes together. Phoenix, AZ. 

I've been meaning for awhile now to write about how my fiance Kristian and I met, but since we got engaged a few weeks ago, it's been a whirlwind of family reunions, celebrations, wedding planning, and marriage prep. I simply haven't had the time to sit down and give our ongoing love story the proper telling it deserves. Today, I finally do! Here goes nothin'. 

You know how people always say that God's timing is perfect? When I was going through the doldrums of singleness, well-meaning friends and family would say stuff like, "God will bring your husband at the perfect time" or "It must not be time yet." That's all well and good and true, but it doesn't help much when you feel like God's been making you wait for years for your vocation to be made clear while you watch all of your college friends and cousins and siblings and even former students get married before you. In any case, I'm now going to be that annoying person who says to all of you single ladies (and gentlemen) reading this: God's timing really IS perfect. Yes, you may end up waiting until you're 32 (like me) or 39 or 45 or what have you until the right person comes into your life. But let me tell you: trying to rush the process or make it happen on your own will only make things worse, as I know very well from experience. 

The day before I met my future husband (still getting used to saying that!), a relationship that I had desperately been trying to make work finally ended. It was difficult to let go of, even though God made it crystal clear that my ex wasn't the one for me, and I remember crying out to the Lord the night before I met Kristian, saying something like this: Lord, I'm so tired. So tired of trying to make relationships work. Tired of passive men who don't know what they want. I'm just...tired. So, if you want me to get married, then you're going to have to make it REALLY clear when the right man comes along. I need him to pursue me with conviction and without holding back. Otherwise, I'd rather be single for the rest of my life. Amen. 

Some of the wording may have been slightly different, but that was the basic gist of the prayer. I was trying to take a page out of St. Therese's book and show some "holy boldness" in my relationship with the Lord. And boy did he listen. 

The next day, I get a phone call from my mom. I was in San Diego with a dear friend and we were wandering around the gift shop at the Hotel del Coronado when my mom called. "Christina," she said breathlessly, "I met the perfect guy for you after Mass today!!" I started laughing incredulously (my mom has tried to set me up before with no success) and asked her to describe him. She told me that a mutual friend of ours had introduced this guy, Kristian, to her after Mass that morning, and that he was really cute and really Catholic and seemed actually normal and sociable. Okay, I thought, this guy already sounds too good to be true.

Mom went on to tell me that she talked to him for about two minutes before she asked if he was single. He was. Then, she told him that she had a daughter who was 32 and single (that's me) and that she thought he would really like her. He smiled at her and laughed a bit, because he was no stranger to being set up by eager Catholic moms. Then she said something that, according to Kristian, convinced him to at least look me up on Facebook: She's not desperate. She told me the other day that she's only going to date someone if it's really clear that it's God's will. 

I'm going to interrupt this story at this point to say y'all: my mom. She's amazing. Totally the Mrs. Bennett of our time. Thank God for her boldness and candor and insight, without which I would not be engaged to my beloved. Back to the story. 

At this point, I was really cracking up trying to imagine what this guy was thinking as my mom was going on and on about her wonderful, amazing daughter who is TOTALLY NOT DESPERATE. My mom continued her story in spite of my laughter, saying that she really thought Kristian would contact me (Suuuure he will, I thought to myself) and to let her know if he did. I told her I would, but that she shouldn't get her hopes up; he was probably just humoring her. Shows how much I know. 

This photo was taken while I was having that fateful phone conversation with my mom. 

This photo was taken while I was having that fateful phone conversation with my mom. 

After driving back to Phoenix from San Diego, I opened up my laptop to see that I had a friend request from Kristian.  I accepted his friendship and promptly checked out his photos. I immediately noticed that he was indeed cute. Like, really cute. Five minutes later, he sent me a message introducing himself. In an attempt to play it cool, I didn't respond right away. Apparently this made him nervous, and a few minutes later he messaged me again apologizing if he had creeped me out. I took pity on him and messaged back and we had a pleasant "conversation" for about ten minutes before he asked me for my number. Wow, I thought, that's unusual. Still skeptical, I gave him my number and figured maybe he'd call in a week or so. 

Kristian called the next day. We chatted for about 45 minutes and I found myself wishing we could've talked longer. He vaguely mentioned that he might call later in the week, so my skepticism persisted. Two days later (Wednesday), he suggested that we Skype, so we did. It was clear on Skype that we were both attracted to/interested in each other, but Kristian impressed me even more by suggesting that he come visit me in Phoenix that Saturday. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. We solidified our plans, I found a place for him to stay, and I picked him up from the Phoenix airport for our first in-person meeting on the morning of February 6, 2016.  

For those of you keeping track, here's how the timeline went: 
Mom calls: Morning of 1/31/16

Kristian contacts me on FB: Evening of 1/31/16

Kristian calls for the first time: 2/1/16

First Skype session: 2/3/16

First meeting and date: 2/6/16

Remember that prayer I prayed the night before I first heard about Kristian? The one about sending me a proactive man who would pursue me with conviction? Never have I received such a clear (and quick) answer to prayer in my life. 

On our second hike together, after we'd officially started dating. We have a lot of photos like this one. :) 

On our second hike together, after we'd officially started dating. We have a lot of photos like this one. :) 

To make a long story short: our first date was lovely. I immediately felt at home with him (and was super attracted too, which is always nice). We went hiking, to lunch at a favorite cafe of mine, to Mass, to dinner, talked for hours about faith/philosophy/theology/traveling/relationships/healing, and it took every ounce of self-control for both of us not to kiss each other (I'm glad we didn't, for the record). Before the weekend was over, he asked if he could fly out the next weekend to take me out for Valentine's Day. I said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

I could say SO much more about the godly man that the Lord sent to me a mere six months ago. I could tell you all about our Valentine's Day date that he planned perfectly (even though he'd only known me for a week) and how a month later, he cut his trip to Israel short so he could come to my family's celebration of Easter in DC. I could tell you about our magical first kiss and our difficult first conflict and how much my students loved him when he came to visit my classes at the end of February (it was during one of my classes as he was patiently answering my students' questions that I realized he was the man I was called to marry). I could tell you about how natural the progression of our relationship felt, every step of the way, even though we got engaged a few weeks shy of our six month anniversary.

I could tell you a lot of things. But the most important thing is this: God wrote our love story. He is writing our love story. That much has been clear to us from day one. Neither of us could have ever predicted, created, or forced this. It was 100% gift from heaven and we still marvel at how generous God is. The timing, as annoying as this might sound, was perfect. 

My students used to ask me how I would know when I met my future husband. I always gave them the same simple formula: I'll know when I meet a man whom I want to marry who also wants to marry me. I never thought my mom would introduce us. Or that we would do long distance for the first several months. Or that I would move back to Texas without a job just to be closer to him. Or that we would be getting married less than a year into our relationship. But God's ways are not our ways, and for that, I am grateful. 

Celebrating six months together at one of the mission churches in San Antonio, TX. 

Celebrating six months together at one of the mission churches in San Antonio, TX. 

PS After we started talking seriously about marriage, Kristian told me that as soon as he saw my photo on Facebook, he had a strong intuition that I was "the one." That conviction only deepened when we met in person. Thus, the Lord answered another one of my prayers without me even asking: I'd been praying for years that when I met the right man, he would know first. 

PPS There's NO WAY Kristian and I would be engaged if it were not for the prayers of so many dear friends and family (you know who you are and we are eternally grateful). Also, therapy. Therapy REALLY HELPS y'all. 

Stop "Guarding Your Heart" and Start Paying Attention to Reality

DSCN0751.jpg

 

If there's one phrase I'd like to banish from all talk about (specifically Christian) male-female relationships, it's the perennial favorite of chastity speakers and I-Kissed-Dating-Goodbye advocates everywhere: "Guard your heart." I've grown to dislike this phrase, mostly because in my experience it leads to confusion (Am I guarding my heart? How do I know if I am? What I'm not guarding it enough? Will the Right Guy love me if I've already my heart to the Wrong Guy?), fear of getting crushes/falling in love, and often distracts us from what we ought to be doing: opening our hearts to Christ, in the knowledge that living in the Reality of his love is the one thing necessary. 

But--you may protest--the Bible says we should guard our hearts! How could you want to banish it, Christina? I thought you liked the Bible! 

Well, you're right about two things: 1) the phrase "guard your heart" does appear in the Bible and 2) I do love the Bible.  What I don't love is Bible verses that are taken out of context, especially when they then become emptied of meaning through over-use and lack of real explanation. Before I go on my rant about what women should actually be concerned about in their relationships with men (and in life in general), head on over to Proverbs 4:23, and take a look at the context. 

Note that this passage has NOTHING to do with women keeping their proverbial (ha) guard up in relationships with men. It has everything to do with guarding the deepest core of your being from sin and evil. While it is true that Scripture, being the Word of God, has infinite layers of meaning and we can always draw more wisdom from studying it and praying with it, I think we should avoid turning Bible verses into "catch phrases", especially when those catch phrases are confusing in and of themselves. 

In addition to the above, I see three major problems with "guarding your heart" as it is typically understood

1) It implies that you have complete control over who you have a crush on and/or who you fall in love with. The simple truth is that crushes and such are involuntary, which is part of what makes them so wonderful (at first) and/or so excruciating (if unrequited). Obviously, you can nurse a crush that you ought not nurse and you can hang on to a man who is bad for you , but the solution to those problems is to pay attention to reality (more on that later) and stop living in a fantasy.

2) Related to #1, the phrase also implies that by keeping your guard up, you'll somehow be able to avoid heartache. This is ridiculous, because we all know that no one can avoid heartache, even if it's just the pain of an unrequited crush. I'm sure many of you have read this reflection on love by CS Lewis before, but it bears repeating: 

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” (from The Four Loves)

3. Lastly, and probably worst of all, is the implication that if you are in a serious relationship with someone other than your husband, you will somehow be less prepared for marriage. I think we can all agree that it would be wonderful if our first love was also our last love (at least, that's what I always dreamed of as a girl), but that's rarely the case. Most of us will have at least one serious relationship before we meet the right man, and that's okay. As I learned with Paul, and even with my ex-boyfriend who treated me horribly, God can take those experiences and transform them with his grace. On the other hand, it seems obvious to me that our hearts were not made for serial monogamy (not to mention serial hook-ups, but I think we're probably all in agreement about that one), so it's not like we should go out of our way to have tons of serious relationships before we get married. But even if you have had several failed relationships (broken engagements included), that does NOT mean you're doomed to a loveless life because you didn't "guard your heart" enough. Christ has the power to heal all wounds and to turn all mourning into dancing, or He's not God. I hope those of you reading who feel like "damaged goods" or as if there's little of your heart left to give will take comfort, as I have, in The Lord's words to Hezekiah: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you” (2 Kings 20:5).

I propose that we stop "guarding our hearts" and start paying attention to Reality.  

Think about it. 99% of problems in life could be avoided and/or solved if we only followed this simple maxim. It is what all of Scripture and the Church's "rules" are based in. God is the author of Reality, so it follows that if we live according to what is real, what is true, instead of the ideas and plans and fantasies and illusions we have in our heads, we will be much happier. And this is especially true in the realm of dating and relationships with members of the opposite sex. Observe (note: the scenarios below are all based on personal experience):

-Boy gets your number at a party, but then adds you on FB. He "likes" a few of your status updates and photos, but never calls. 

Reality: He's just not that into you. 

-Boy wants to hang out all the time and talk about his feelings, but never actually asks you on a date or expresses any desire to commit to you.

Reality: He's just not that into you. Set up some good emotional boundaries, keep your conversations with him light, and don't hang out with him one-on-one. 

-Boy flirts with you, asks you out, takes you out, and then you don't hear from him for two weeks.

Reality: He's just not that into you.  Allow yourself to be disappointed, but don't fuel the fire by stalking him on FB or strategically showing up at his favorite coffee shop.

-Boy wants to hang out with you, calls you, texts you, etc even though he has a girlfriend.

Reality: He's not that into you AND he's not being faithful to his girlfriend. Not a good sign. 

I think you get the point. 

If you attempt, with God's grace, to stay rooted in reality in any of the above circumstances (which I know are all-too-common), you will be much happier and healthier. You won't end up telling a man who you shouldn't trust with your dry cleaning all of your deepest, darkest secrets. You won't end up obsessing over a guy (at least not for very long) who's just enjoyed flirting with you but is still in his cowboy phase and isn't relationship material at all. You won't end up chasing after a boy who is interested in another girl. At the very least, you won't do these things for long, because Reality will be too obvious for you to ignore.

Trust me: I lived in the Land of Denial when it came to boys (and lots of other aspects of my life) for the majority of my twenties. I practically invented I-Can-Change-Him and If-Things-Were-Different-He'd-Date-Me and Maybe-He's-Just-Shy and His-Relationship-With-Her-Is-Clearly-Going-Downhill-And-As-Soon-As-They-Break-Up-He'll-Want-To-Be-With-Me and He's-Probably-Just-Been-Really-Busy. Those are all lies that I told myself because I was convinced that I had to chase men if I wanted them to like me. The reality is (like my mom says) if a guy really likes you, wild horses will not be able to keep him away.

I've also wasted SO MUCH TIME obsessing about boys, dating, whether or not I was going to get married, and when it was going to happen, and why wasn't it happening, and oh my gosh I'm going to be alone FOREVER that I missed out on so much of the joy of living the beautiful life God has given me. And you know what? All those years, Jesus had just been waiting for me to enter into the only relationship that would make any friendship, dating relationship, or marriage beautiful: my relationship with Him. When I finally let go of my desire for control and trusted Him with everything, it became clear that falling in love with Jesus makes Reality so much easier to see, embrace, and live. Loving Jesus also helped me to see men as brothers in Christ, as opposed to looking at them purely as a means to an end (marriage). That was HUGE.

All of that being said, I propose that we Christian women adopt a new mantra when it comes to life in general, and relationships with men in particular: pay attention to reality. God, and his plan for us, is not in the clouds, not in the fantasies and illusions we like to dream up, he is in the Reality of our day-to-day lives. It is through concrete experience that He most often speaks to us, and it is when we are faithful to what is true about Reality that we are most free and most fully ourselves.

So, don't worry about guarding your heart. As long as you stay close to Jesus, living the life He has given you to live, He'll take care of your heart. He'll also take care of your vocation--so you don't need to worry about that either. All you have to do is beg for the grace to stay rooted in Reality, because that is where Christ shows us His face. He will give you that grace. And when you do inevitably fall for the wrong guy, He will give you the grace to heal and work through it. 

With that in mind, dear readers, go forth to live your life in the knowledge that Christ is waiting to heal, strengthen, lead, guide, and love you, as soon as you say the word. Live with your heart open to the myriad of ways he wishes to make himself known today, and pray for the grace to trust that He has your future in His very capable hands. I'll be praying for you, too.