Being Single.

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This weekend is my parish picnic, and I’m having a hard time deciding if I should attend.  I’m part of the parish family, so I have a place, and I should be there.  But I’m also a never-been-married Catholic adult, and in the past, at previous picnics, I’ve felt left out.  As I’ve stood around looking for a way to introduce myself, I’ve seen married couples chatting with other married couples;  families who know each other from school, sports, and Religious Ed; kids running around like crazy; older parishioners sharing jokes; and then…me.

I am one of the 13 million never-been-married Catholic adults in the United States, and I don’t always feel like I fit in.  We are an odd bunch.  Though we can be grouped as “never-been-married,” that is where most of our similarities end.  We have a variety of needs, a variety of faith formation experiences and knowledge, and a large age gap.  There are never-been-married Catholics who are twenty-four (hello!) and never-been-married Catholics who are sixty.  For some, “never-been-married” is a transitional state; for others, it’s permanent, but the catch is we don’t really know which state is ours.  Overall, it’s hard to pin us down.

According to “Being single in the Universal Church,” a recent article in Our Sunday Visitor, the statistics are worrisome:

  • Less than 20 percent of adult singles attend Church regularly.
  • Two-thirds of Catholic singles feel the Church has nothing to offer them.

If two-thirds of our people think the Church has nothing to offer them and are skipping the source and summit of our Christian faith, something is seriously wrong!

And what about the singles who are attending Mass regularly?  The article continues:

Image: Simon Howden /

“There also are plenty of Catholic singles managing to live happy and virtuous lives…These singles are going to church, going to confession and not going home from bars with strangers. They’re actually not going home with anyone. They’re both professing and living the Church’s teachings on human sexuality…Unfortunately, those singles are the minority, even within the Catholic Church. And as happy and virtuous as that minority might be, most still have their fair share of struggles with their singleness.”  The largest struggle comes from desiring marriage and knowing marriage to be one’s vocation, but not being married.  That frustration is augmented by the relatively low numbers of Catholics who attend Sunday Mass, participate in faith formation events, and agree with the Church’s teachings on sexuality.  Basically, it’s hard to find someone to date, let alone marry.  And then, on top of that, it’s hard to find a place to belong in the Church.

Now, you may rightfully be thinking, “Singles, if you feel like you don’t belong, maybe that’s a sign you’re not active in your parish.”  That may be true.  I myself am very involved with Young Adult Ministry, which in my area takes place at a Diocesan level, rather than a parish level, so this past week I signed up for lector training.  It’s time I become a more familiar face in my parish.  But I still have those lingering feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty about belonging – I’ve been to my parish picnics, retreats, and prayer groups before with not-so-wonderful results.

What can be done?

Never-been-married adult Catholics must continue to get involved in the Church.  If you’re not sure of where you belong, pray for guidance, explore different ministries, and join the one you feel called to.   Christ said, “Do not be afraid,” countless times.  Keep that close to your heart as you get more involved in His Church and spreading His Gospel.  This is the first time in the Church’s history that so many people have delayed marriage or never married, so be patient as She figures out how to minister to us.

Parishes and Dioceses, continue to grow faith formation events, Young Adult Ministries, and Singles Ministries.  Outreaching to married couples and families is so important, but so too is the pastoral care of everyone else who doesn’t fall into that category.  Never-been-married Catholics have different pastoral problems than need to be addressed and tended to, and I think they would feel more comfortable sharing and growing in faith in a ministry that is tailored to them.  They need a community because they don’t have the built-in one that married couples have, and they may live in different areas from their parents, siblings, and extended family.  It may take time and persistent effort to attract men and women back to the Church and back to Christ, but that’s the task God has given you!

Married couples and families, you have a unique role, too.  Please try to attend faith formation events that aren’t just geared to marriage and family life.  Share the struggles you had in relationships before getting married.  Often it seems like every married couple had a fairy tale romance (and I’m happy about that!), but I think it would be really useful and enlightening to for singles to learn how you discerned your relationship and how you handled different situations.  Outreach to Singles in your parish by building friendships.   I can’t tell you how happy I was when one of the young, Catholic families I’m friends with invited to me their son’s birthday party.   It was so touching to be included.

On Saturday, I’ll attend the parish picnic.  It is my parish after all.  I can’t miss a good opportunity to meet the new pastor, scout for the lone never-been-married Catholic adult, and introduce myself to those nice looking young families!  Plus, there’s free food!

Trista Garttner

Trista Garttner

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25 thoughts on “Being Single.”

  1. Avatar

    Amen to that. It’s kinda hard to meet girls at church (who are God-fearing virtuous and regularly practicing) when they’re either way too young, way too old, or wearing a ring. And then outside of church, all the single girls in that range who are “Catholic” are too busy promoting “marriage equality” and “women’s choice” to have an honest conversation about faith.

    I actually did what you did last year, and ended up becoming an odd anomaly at the parish (it may have been the parish, or maybe it’s just me). Of course, being a lector and getting involved in the parish life has other benefits and blessings!

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    I second that Amen and I raise you an Amen!! This is our vocation for now: we are single. We’re not just unmarried, we’re US, just as God has called us to be on September X, 2011. You lay out a great point with great advice!! It’s not about trudging on, it’s about thriving!!

  3. Avatar

    Yes, wonderful post! I’ve just entered the same demographic (post-college, not living with my family, not married) and have had the same trouble at my parish: most things revolve around families and it’s hard to just introduce yourself to them. Singles and young adults groups aren’t the only solution (as you rightly point out) because those are such widely varying groups. But I’m determined to fit into my church so I’m going to help with the youth group and join the choir, if they’ll have me. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

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    Great post! It’s very important to be active in your church even if you’re single or even especially if you’re single. As my parish is a youth church (I know, it sounds horrible, but it really isn’t!), I don’t have this problem. However, I did notice it isn’t easy to get good contacts with families. Now that I’m a leader at a local, Catholic, scouting group, I get to know wonderful families. And I’ve also started a children’s program at our parish, once again a great opportunity to not only get to know the children, but also their parents. If you like children, this really is a great way to get to know strong Catholic families.

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    I am not just single, I THINK I AM MORE PROPERLY “SINGULAR!” 🙂 Enough of that. . . The real issue here is to pray for discernment, for me it’s definitely no longer the priesthood – no more Jesuit 🙁 so I gotta find a means to attract the right PRINCESS CHARMING and not just SLEEPING BEAUTY 🙂

    God bless!

  6. Avatar

    My best advice is a little counter-intuitive…get to know a family or two! They have other single friends, they will introduce you, you can all get together as friends, and (best of all) with a married couple in your way all the time, no one gets stuck feeling like it’s a date. 🙂 The younger their children, the better off you are, too. Families with toddlers and infants don’t necessarily like the “family” events offered by a parish or community, because all of the fun is geared toward older children. Those families are really looking for another kind of faith outlet, with people their own age to chat with–single people who don’t mind babies, married people who don’t have babies yet, married people with babies. Not an all-out, bouncy-house, free-for-all, parish-wide funfest.

    I think, after spending so long in turmoil and doing a poor job of reaching out to anyone at all, the Catholic Church (in America, at least) is finally getting its liturgical head on straight and is able to focus on the people in the pews more effectively–and quite rightly their first priority is families. It’s a common mistake, though, to focus exclusively on families. After all, where are you going to get new families? From single people who meet and marry! I think young families have an obligation to create the kinds of opportunities I mentioned above, having three or four people over to the house, or making the effort to attend “young adult” events that will be populated mostly by singles.

  7. Avatar

    Single people as well as married couples are called to keep Christ as the center of their lives and should be dedicated to serving one another. I think a challenge that can face married couples more than single people is that you have to serve your spouse and family and then you are also called to serve your community. Being single God has given you a beautiful time in your life where you are fully open to serving the community!!! What a special and grace filled time in your life no matter how long that is. We are all called to service and in marriage and religious vocations maybe it is more clear that it is to serve the community but I think you are making WONDERFUL choices to serve your parish community and who knows where God will lead you from there : )

  8. Avatar

    I fall into the same category, except that I am active in my parish, teaching religious ed, etc… and STILL not one person spoke to me at the parish picnic. Thankfully I was attending with someone who struck up a conversation with the woman next to us, but other than that, everyone already knew each other. This is one area where I think evangelical Protestants are doing a MUCH better job – go to one of their events, and in the first five minutes, someone will have greeted you and introduced you to several more people. It’s sad, b/c I think that’s how we lose a lot of “cradle Catholics” who are seeking community.

    I couldn’t agree more that it would be great if the parish would simply have more general outreach and fewer dividing lines between married/ non-married people.

  9. Avatar

    That is a good point – I think Catholics in general need to be reminded about the importance of community! Good things to bring to prayer!

  10. Avatar

    Trista Thank you so much for writing this!!! I so feel your struggle every day! It is hard to know where we belong after college. I have struggled so much just to feel at home and welcome in my parish. Even though I am involved and volunteer in the school teaching art for k-6 no one knows me!!! I have little kids come up and hug me but their parents rarely talk to me. It is good to know someone else struggles like I do. I have 1 couple that are good friends but they are new to the area so have no other single friends. It seems that all the good catholic virtuous men have been snatched up already!!

  11. Avatar

    Wow! I was just meditating on my singleness last night and actually wrote a post about it on my blog. I have a friend who’s now married with a one year old and as I discussed my frustrations about my single life with her, she told me this: “Life comes in stages. There is a time for everything. Enjoy the stage you’re in now because once you’re married and have a family, everything changes. Maybe the Lord is asking you to serve Him in some particular way.” My advice to you: Ask the Lord what service He wants of you during this time. I’m sure He has something special in mind!

    Stay blessed! 🙂

  12. Avatar

    Thinking that the Church has nothing to offer is but a part of a bigger identity crisis shared by many other Catholics. The underlying problems are beyond the scope of this article. While marriage of course is a wonderful sacrament, it isn’t the be all end all to the woes of single Catholics. In regards to singles, there is this modern fascination with “discerning who God wants you to marry.” Historically speaking, The discernment process has always been whether or not to get married, not to whom one gets married.

    In the past 40 years, marriage has been stressed more and more as a “vocation,” or a calling. The emphasis was different before. In the past, there was those called to virginity, and then there was everybody else. It was a “state in life”, not necessarily some heavenly calling. In the modern Church, because of the decline in consecrated virginity, people are over-anxious to apply the terms “vocation,” “discernment” and “calling” to other endeavors, to make it seem like everybody is still seeking God’s will even though there are a drastic reduction in vocations. God has not stopped calling people, but people have stopped listening.

    Marriage is a sacrament as much as Orders. It requires special graces to be a husband or wife, and to be an apostle to one’s children. However, There is a danger in equating the two vocations, as though they were equal in dignity. Our Lord said of voluntary celibacy “He who CAN accept this, let him accept it”. Paul teaches the same thing. “It is good for them [unmarried and widows] to remain as I am [celibate] but for those who lack continence, let them marry”
    Aquinas argues on the subject of the superiority of virginity over marriage in the Summa. There is also the CCC 922 and 2337-2359. Canon 604. Sacra Virginitas promulgated by Pope Pius XII and Vita Consecrata §7 by Pope John Paul II.

  13. Avatar

    Never-been-married Catholics have different pastoral problems than need to be addressed and tended to, and I think they would feel more comfortable sharing and growing in faith in a ministry that is tailored to them.

    Strangely enough I have just come from leading a Christian 20’s & 30’s group which was intended to take people out of college / university and those in the first decade or two of working life and address the issues they faced that were unique to them (work, mortgages, new families, being young and single etc). The whole idea being to take this group in isolation from the much younger teenagers and the more experienced people in the area and actually offer them a chance to work through some stuff with their peers in a group where everyone could at least understand the pressures that everyone else was going through. It worked really well (although in the end we made it a 20’s and a 30’s group seperately). As a guy in his early 30’s both myself and the other leader (who is 28) had the credibility and the experience to run it.

    That was technically an inter-denominational group but the good news is that my parish priest is thinking of setting up something similar starting on Saturday.


  14. Avatar

    I’m with you Trista! I have mustered up enough courage to attend a parish picnic yet though… but I don’t really have a parish yet! Being in such a transitional state right now means I attend many different parishes depending on the Mass schedules, so it can be hard to get out and meet people in like situations! Hopefully things will start to settle a bit soon so I can actually register at a parish and start to get more involved!

  15. Avatar

    I think sometimes parishes don’t serve married couples without kids very well either. We are having kids early in our marriage, but up until now, we’ve had trouble meeting other couples. For couples that for some reason or another wait a while to have children, or never have children, they are still are the outside looking in on all the Catholic family activities.

    Personally, at this point, I feel like I relate much better to other young women my age, single or married, than I do with married women/mothers, who tend to be much older than me since 24 is still considered a young age to be married and expecting. I would love to meet a young woman like you at a picnic or parish event and wouldn’t think twice about the fact that you’re married and I’m not!

  16. Avatar

    When I lived in Denver Colorado and has a job I belonged to serval singles clubs in the Denver metro area and had friends and activites to go to. Now I live in another city smaller than Denver because of cheaper housing costs and jobless. There are no single clubs and a I don’t know how to join the local Knights of Columbus.

  17. Avatar

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Mandi, yes, I agree with what you’ve written! I actually thought about adding that in but didn’t have enough time.

    One of my friends on Facebook added this comment: “I understand you even though I am married because I haven’t really simply found community just by being married either. I am still seeing how God is leading Ryan and I to service but community is SO IMPORTANT – such a great point of your post and what came to me was Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

    I guess that is why the family is the domestic church. We still all need support from one another in all vocations!!”

  18. Avatar

    Hmm. My advice (at least what works for me):

    Ask God for more trust, faith, and love everyday, and watch the anxiety dissipate.

    Get over, and out of, yourself buy serving God and others, in increasingly new, bold, and creative ways.

    Unite your loneliness (if it’s there) with Christ’s in the garden and on the cross, and Mary’s presumably the rest of her post-Jesus (you know what I mean) life.

    Use your “free” time to frequent the Sacraments more, and go deeper in your relationship with God than you ever even imagined yourself going.

    Finally, actually petition God (hard) to send more singles your way. Why not? When children want something (so long as it’s not harmful) they know that with the right amount, and the right style, of begging, their Daddy will give it to them right? Try it.

  19. Avatar

    Just offering up an awesome blog (Seraphic Singles) that ministers to single Catholics (and others of good will) on more than just the “Stay chaste” imperative that seems to be the most that can be mustered up for the impermanent single life, or maybe even “how to meet someone” advice. It’s helpful to have other aspects of single life discussed in a positive life! This blog has helped me begin to find joy and satisfaction in what God has for me NOW rather than just pining for married life.

  20. Avatar

    Early this summer, I had an experience that reminded me of my single state.

    Recently, I was in a position where I got an extremely late summer internship offer to work in another state. Problem was I had no car and I had one week before it started! I searched online frantically for a used car and found a few in the area. All were duds to some degree or had various problems. Some dealers were wanting over $1000 for the value of the problematic car and were unwilling to bend. I begin to give up and question God as this job opportunity had looked to be so God-given. Then on the second to last morning before I was supposed to leave, it appeared. On a community board that I had checked the day before, was an ad. It was perfect! The price! Amazing condition! If I had looked for a year, I doubt I could find another car like it!

    I take this experience as God-given. And I use it to remind me that God INDEED is looking out for me. And she will come at the proper time. All I need is to patiently trust in God! For God works at all times…including the last hour when human hope begins to fade.

  21. Avatar

    Trista, thanks for writing this great post on such an IMPORTANT topic! I can’t say it enough – young (20’s-30’s) single Catholics need community! I agree with everything you’ve said. Thank you for stressing the importance of finding opportunities for service. That is something I need to work on, and I find it difficult with my school/work obligations and the trouble of getting over my own stuff before I can get involved in a parish. Thanks for the reminder! Also, I can second the Seraphic Singles recommendation, as well as all of Trista’s blogging! 🙂

  22. Avatar

    Wonderful article! A few years back a priest friend of mind told me to remember that, “The mission of a single young Catholic is to serve the Church, and so to do that to the best of your ability.” It is nice to know there are other young adults out there experiencing all the same things! 🙂

  23. Avatar

    Great Post, Trista! I think being single in the Church is a big issue. Most of us have been there one time or another. Although I’m unmarried, being in a relationship with someone in my Church is huge. It makes everything easier, and I can be a pretty outgoing person.

    When I first moved to the area from out of town and joined my church, I really struggled to find my place. It was awful sitting alone, hearing people talk to each other beforehand, etc. The only way I was able to get through it was by involving myself in several ministries offered by the church (Eucharistic Minister, Mass Coordinators, etc.) That led to meeting tons of people in the church. It made a huge difference. Now I feel like I know everyone, at least, those who attend my usual Mass. Being in a relationship helps even more, but, it was really by getting involved that I got through the tough times.

    But, it was a dark time there for me for awhile. I nearly fell away from the Church completely. I feel for anyone struggling with this. We all need to do a better job reaching out to those who attend Mass alone. It’s a huge burden.

  24. Avatar

    Hello? Ministering to singles means helping them get married! I don’t want to be appreciated, understood, welcomed, or made to feel special. I want to get married. I never imagined I would be single at my current age. The social networks and parish-based Catholic life that existed long ago doesn’t seem to exist now. Forget the singles bars. It seems the hardest place on the planet for a single practicing Catholic to find a spouse is in a Catholic Church. It doesn’t matter how active in the parish you are. There is basically nobody there between 20 and 40. It’s like a whole generation of the Church has walked out and gone. Those of us who remain are too few and far between to find partners. And no one ever talks to us or introduces us anyway. We’re socially locked out and isolated. I think there might actually be more single people in the prime marriage age group if it were possible to get married in a parish again.

  25. Avatar

    And to Mary Jane: You are totally right. Evangelicals do a much better job of promoting marriage. There are two churches in my neighborhood, one Pentecostal and one some kind of new denomination. But all their advertising is about happy couples holding hands. Basically, join our church and get married! There are evangelical churches from small church to megachurch size whose whole organizational mission is helping their members get married and stay married. I even know an Episcopal guy whose parish is all about promoting marriage, helping singles get married, supporting married couples, etc. There is nothing like this in the Catholic Church.

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