(And no, it's not just because I am one.)
There has always been a fundamental difference between the experience of single men and single women. Single men--"Bachelors." Single women--"old maids."
Which would you rather be called?
But the biggest problem, at least where I sit, is when the church gives us the Smug Marrieds from the Bridget Jones novels and turns it into an area of completing overlooking/forgetting/not attending to the single women in their midst.
This isn't just a parish problem. It's a whole church problem.
If you are a Catholic single woman who is relatively young (I'm 35, am I relatively young?) , I challenge you to find a ministry that cares about your needs. Most of them say "oh, we cater to all women!" No, you don't.
- You don't if at women's conferences, it's all about married women and women with kids (Or it's like, a 90/10 split in favor of the marrieds.)
- You don't if there are groups for moms of preschoolers, married couples, older women, men, and youth--but nothing for women or men who are unmarried and older than 21 in your parish, or that top out in the 30s. Because, of course single people who are in their mid to late 30s just don't exist....
- You don't if the big social events in your parish are dances or things that otherwise require a partner--even if you say they don't. Seriously, who goes to a dance stag once they're out of high school?!
Now, I can understand that married Catholic women need something that's for them. That's fine. I can see the need there. There's a lot of pressure for married Catholic couples in this society. I can see that they need time alone (as in, sans kids) and to re-charge. Totally. That's a legitimate need.
But it's getting old, because there is nothing for single Catholic women that aren't discerning a religious vocation. Seriously. NOTHING. Big. Fat. ZERO. And not only is there nothing specifically for us, but the things that are supposed to be for women in general are almost always totally geared to women who are wives and mothers--and it's not advertised that way.
When I go on retreats, there's almost always a lot of mentions of husbands and kids. Why can't we just focus on being Catholic women? I just sit there and smile and doodle in my notebook.
When I read Catholic women's devotionals, there is such an undertone of being geared to wives and mothers. Why? (And for the record, the Protestant books and devotionals I've read don't seem to do this. Why is that? [And yes, I read them because most of the Catholic ones do not speak to me. At all.] When I read Made to Crave, Uninvited, or 1,000 Gifts, it's not all about the authors being moms. It's about being women. And yes, these women write about being a mom, but it's not the end all and be all of what they write.)
When I go to my diocese's Catholic Women's conference, a lot of the time, all the speakers are married women. As a single woman, I often sit through talks that have absolutely no bearing on my experience. But that never happens the other way around--a talk about single women, with married women in the audience.
You can be a wife and mother, and yet talk about things that are applicable to all women.
Believe me, I'd love to be a wife and mother. It would make me incredibly happy. But I'm not. I can't wish a husband and children into being a la Cinderella's ball gown. A lot of Catholic women's organizations do not realize, or meet, the need that single Catholic women have for fellowship (which is a word I hate, but it works here), understanding, and the desire to live out our vocation as a Catholic woman authentically, no matter what our family situation.
Does this happen to men? At the Catholic men's breakfast or lunch or the men's retreats, is it all about being a husband and a father? I dunno. But I would sort of think not--and hope not, because then they're in the same boat that we single women are.
And no, I don't think that being single is "my vocation."
(And also--what about married couples who have no kids? I sort of get the sense that they're in a weird place, too. Because, no kids. )
I'm just saying, throw us a bone once in awhile. Or at least, don't be a Smug Married. Please, please, please, Catholic parishes and Catholic women's groups, focus on all women. Not just the married ones. Not just the moms. All women.
How do we do this? I think it's pretty simple, myself: Focus on creating groups that help everyone live out their faith, together. Things like parish-wide Bible studies. Faith sharing groups. Even coffee groups that meet once a month in the evening or whatever, for everyone to get together and talk and pray. Have a book club that's open to all adults. Don't have meetings at 10 AM on a week day that are the only meeting of the women's group! That's great for retirees, but not so much for working young people.
And in the social media realm--focus on all women. Ensure that if you say you're for all women, that you really are in your representation.
Now, the obvious response to all this is, "Well, start one! Duh, Emily. Get off your duff!"
I don't mind running things. My personality is actually really good at running things (I'm an ESTJ, for you Myers-Briggs people) . And maybe, eventually, I'll get there. But this isn't a problem just for me. It's a much larger problem, outside the realm of my parish. And I am, actually, talking with friends of mine about getting things going at my own parish.
But that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this to bring attention to the larger issue that a lot of us face.
I love you, married women. A lot of you--you know who you are--are great friends and mentors to me. But.
Lara Casey said something really good at MTH: All stories matter.
And yes, that includes the stories of the singletons.