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Single Living

            My
parish is trying to launch (or, rather, "re-launch") a singles group.  We had a group for a while, then it died, and
now new organizers have stepped up to the plate and are struggling to resurrect
it.

            It
all has me thinking about how difficult parish singles' groups can be.

            They're
difficult to start, for starters. 
Singles tend to sit in the back of the church.  We're the last to arrive and the first to
leave.  We often "church-hop", and rarely
register in a parish.  How, then, is a
parish supposed to reach out to us? 
Bulletin announcements rarely get our attention.  And even if we do read the bulletin, how
inclined are we to actually show up at a parish singles' event?  "I'm not going to know anybody."  "What if it's lame?"

            It
can be tough for single people to showing up a random meetings and events by
themselves.  Meetings aren't terribly
difficult.  They're held in a defined
place, and once you arrive you get to sit down and listen to the
proceedings.   But social events are a
different story.  I can't tell you how
many singles' happy hours I have attended, only to walk around the bar a couple
of times and then turn around and head home because I couldn't for the life of
me figure out which group of people I was supposed to be meeting.

            Getting
the single Catholics of a parish together can be a little bit like herding
cats.

            What,
then, happens once they're together? 
What does a parish singles' group look like?  The stereotype is that it looks like the
church basement equivalent of a singles' bar.  People are there to meet attractive members of
the opposite sex.  They're looking to
pair off so they can go join the families upstairs in the Big Church.  Or something like that. 

            That
doesn't lead to a particularly cohesive group.  
Couples pair off and leave.  Other
spouse-seekers show up once, scan the crowd, and never return again because
they didn't see any potential candidates. 
Then, the next week, different spouse-seekers show up to give the group
the once over and then disappear.  I've
always said that if you could corral all of the people who attended a singles'
group one time, and put them all in a room together, you'd get a very different
group.

            But,
the way the system works now, what's left is often a small group of people who
don't find each other particularly attractive.

            And
what do these people do?  Frequently,
they socialize.  They go to bars.  They host Super Bowl parties.  Which is fine, really.  Single Catholics are often hungry for the
companionship of other single Catholics, and parish singles' groups offer
that.  But I have found that the more
that these groups rely on social activities, the less cohesive they are and the
sooner they implode.  The problem is that
social groups are only attractive as long as they're fun.  And it's tough to sustain "fun" with so much
amusing competition in the world. 
Members are likely to wander off as soon as more entertaining options
cross their paths.

            Here's
the problem as I see it.  Catholic
singles are craving more than fun. 
They're craving substance. 
They're craving spirituality. 
They're craving Christ.  And they
don't know where to turn.

            I've
seen successful parish singles' groups all over the country.  And every one I've seen shares one common
trait  — they all offer singles
something more substantial than just a social life.  They're based in spirituality.  They pray together.  They reach out into the community to share
the love of Christ.

            They're
social, to be sure.  That happens
naturally.  After an evening of prayer or
a day of building houses for the homeless, it's natural to get together for
dinner or a drink.  Friendships develop -
friendships based on shared values and mutual prayer.  And yes, people even fall in love and get
married.  But I suspect their friendships
with others in the group tend to last even when they're no longer single,
because those friendships were built on something more substantial than sharing
a martini at happy hour.

            Singles
tend to be isolated in parishes.  And, as
I've said before, I don't think the answer to that isolation is to be found solely in singles' groups.  Single Catholics need to be incorporated into
the life of the parish.  That being said,
I do believe there is in important place in parish life for singles'
groups.   I think there is a spirituality
that is unique to singles, and there is great benefit to bringing them together
to pray and to explore that spirituality. 

            That will help hold a singles' group
together.        

       

(This post has been read 1,566 times)

10 Comments

  1. James-141787 January 5, 2009

    Not once, EVER, in in a lifetime of attending of mass have I heard a homily about the the plight of Catholic singles who have been searching for years, even decades, to find a spouse. It's like we don't exist.
    I am stunned at the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals. My Evangelical friends invite me to dinners, invite me to their churches, constantly offer to introduce me to eligible Evangelical ladies. Until I moved not long ago, I used to get a letter from Evangelical church in the neighborhood every year that said, "Dear Mr. X, our church is full of Christian women who want husbands." I have friends who belong to a conservative Anglican parish whose entire mission is to help single Christians get married and to help married parish members stay married and improve their marriages. Down the street there is a Pentecostal Church with a schoolbus that has the slogan "building meaningful relationships" painted on the side. There is a non-denominational church in the neighborhood that puts up yard signs and sends out postcards with pictures of the congregation, all in couples, every ethnic group and occasionally interracial, standing side by side. If the message isn't come to our church and you can get married, I don't know what it is. Other Catholics never help this way, even when I ask. What's going on here?
    Obviously, as Catholics, we have a sacramental life in which our Protestant brethren don't necessarily participate as fully. But that doesn't explain why the Catholic church institutionally has to be as hostile and unhelpful to single people. I didn't date in college because I thought I could start dating Catholic women in my parish as soon as I got out of school. What a mistake! The woman you saw on the other side of the church before mass is gone by the time you can scramble over there after mass. Singles like myself do parish-hop and attend mass at several parishes based on convenience. We are sadly transactional in our mass attendance. But focussing on parish doesn't help much either. I didn't join the parish council to get dates, but I was on the parish council for a year and participated in many other activities over a period of many years–and still do–and still can't meet any single Catholic women my age. There is something terribly wrong here.
    Theology on Tap is a wonderfully positive development and would have been great for me 15 years ago. Parishes must get Catholic singles groups out out of the Church basement before they turn into the leper colonies that so many become before they die. But "singles groups" don't replace Catholic social and spiritual life, or replace Catholic social networks that existed for my grandparents generation, were already breaking done for my parents' generation, and are totally gone today.
    The Church institutionally needs to recognize that there is a lost generation of orthodox, well-catechized, practicing Catholics in their 30s and 40s who may never have families or start families late because they can't find spouses in the typical suburban parish setting. Paying attention to us does not mean having single people carry the gifts up once in a while. It means having a whole parish community that helps with introductions and connections like at least some Evangelicals do, and apparently also some other faith communities like Orthodox Jews.
    The problem we single Catholics have is that we are not going to meet or recognize other single Catholics in secular society who respect and honor Church teachings on marriage and the family. But we are not going to meet them in Catholic parishes either. So we are stuck.
    Demographic studies show the church has suffered its biggest exodus in members among those in their 30s and 40s. It seems that you marry or you are out. Catholic churches do collectively crank out thousands of weddings every weekend, but anecdotally it seems that the vast majority of these weddings are for people who flout Church teachings on cohabitation before marriage or contraception in marriage. Let's address this issue in charity. Scant regard for Catholic teaching doesn't make them people of ill will. But it does explain why they may be totally insensitive to the predicament of single Catholics who are actually trying to follow the rules, if you will–certainly remain true to the tenets of the faith.
    The prevailing ethos among clergy and married Catholics seems to be that "you gotta do what you gotta do" to get married and maybe you come back to the Church after that. This is a recipe for very serious problems over the long run. Where's the next generation of cradle Catholics going to come from, if this generation can't get married and start families?

  2. James-141787 January 11, 2009

    Here are some more thoughts on where singles groups get it wrong.
    1. Age Appropriate Material. I once sat through a presentation on "Christian Dating" by a priest who has written a book and holds himself out to be an authority on the subject. It was the most depressing day in my life. The talk would have been age-appropriate for 17-year-olds going off to college, or maybe the senior prom. It was definitely not appropriate for the 30-something crowd of lawyers and professionals meeting in a major metropolitan parish in the commercial district of a big East Coast city. Most of the men had come from work and were wearing suits and ties. Father X seemed to think that everyone's biggest problem was how to behave on those hot dates every Saturday night. This is not the reality that most Catholic singles have to deal with.
    2. Quit telling us that single life is marvelous. I am very put off by the relentlessly chirpy, upbeat tone of most singles literature. Truly there are many positive aspects of single life. Perhaps single life is mostly positive. But that is not why singles need help. There is loneliness, frustration, disappointment, despair, smoking and drinking too much, and other bad habits. There is a colossal sense of wasted time, no matter how much we try to fill the time with worthy pursuit. There is anxiety and grieving–grief for the young married life we will never have, grief for the children we will never have, and grief for the families we may never have. We have to think about old age alone. Some Catholic singles are divorced and abandoned. While it is alway best to accentuate the positive, singles ministries need to address singles' problems, even if only by praying for us. Single life is not an endless round of parties, fancy restaurants, trips to Vail, and guilt-free shopping expeditions that might be improved a bit by occasional service opportunities. It's more like coming home to a dark, empty house every night. Michele Fleming puts it best when she says "Singleness is the distinctive cross of this generation." The Church teaches that suffering has redemptive power. There is good and bad in singleness, but it does involve suffering. The Church needs to recognize this and help singles deal with suffering while also recognizing the special graces that come with their condition.
    3. Guys don't ask; women aren't askable. I believe there is a bunker mentality that affects both sexes. In secular society, single Catholic men who want to marry Catholic women gradually discover that the many wonderful women they meet at events are generally either not Catholic or not practicing. Three or four dates can be fun–sometimes lots of fun–but then sets in the realization that the relationship is going nowhere. So men quit asking. They get into the habit of not asking. Similarly, Catholic women learn to put up the deflector screens, perhaps even without realizing it. such habits become hard to break. Thus we have the classic Church basement Catholic singles gathering, where the men mill around on one side of the room without even talking to each other and the women stay hunched together ins small groups on the other side. Guys don't approach women. Women don't make eye contact and do all the little flirty things women would normally do at social events to welcome attention. The result is a dating disaster and the firm determination by all parties to never attend such a horrible evening again. Singles groups need the active involvement of a few happy, successful–and yes, attractive–couples both married and engaged to help break the ice. Otherwise, most serious Catholics who come to an event and behave like they would at a secular gathering not surprisingly failing to make any significant connections at all. Most don't come back, and the ones that do tend to be desperate cases–people who have some kind of problem dating who might not stand out in a well-balanced gather but whose sheer numbers and concentration at a Catholic singles event tend to drive out the more "normal" people.
    4. Creepy and strange. In general, the singles ministry is underserved–in the sense that not enough serious ministry is offered. Singles are just another random group that meet in the proverbial Church basement, out of sight and out of mind for everyone else. That means a huge problem can result from the admittedly small but definitely non-zero number of would-be "singles ministers"–both lay and clergy–whose personality type draws them to precisely the ministry they should NOT be serving. It only takes one or two of these to destroy a singles community. The point is that singles ministry is too important to be left to the singles ministers. It is something for the whole community and demands top-level attention in the parish. A healthy, non-repulsive environment for singles requires support from a broader community of happy, well-adjusted people, including married couples and families with children.
    5. Recognize the reality: we traditional, practicing Catholics are like the Amish and Orthodox Jews–two perfectly splendid peoples–in the sense that our values and behavior are radically out of alignment with secular mores. But unlike them, we don't wear distinctive clothing or live in close-knit communities. This makes it very hard for us to find marriage partners. In the context of secular society, we are a tiny and effectively invisible religious minority with none of the social networks that our foreparents relied on to meet one another. Thus while marriage is ultimately contracted between a man and woman, the bleak outlook for many Catholic singles requires attention from both the institutional Church and the Church conceived as the Body of Christ. While I offer kudos to Catholic Match, online dating is a poor substitute for meeting people in real life. We singles want fellowship, community, and finally marriage. Short of divine intervention–for which we must continuously pray–it is not going to happen while the rest of the Church thinks of us as those silly, materialistic teenagers in the basement.

  3. HectorJulio-180820 January 11, 2009

    Thanks Mary to adress the matter. Thank you James for your comment. I agree with you James on almost everything you said. It is a difficult time for us catholic singles. It is important to know I´m not alone in this reality. I´ll let you know when I find a solution.
    God Bless You

  4. Jennifer-276507 January 16, 2009

    I appreciate the author bringing up this subject. Yes, I agree that Catholic Singles groups are either nonexistent or mostly not providing the opportunity for real community.
    It is hard to meet other single Catholics who are actively practicing and committed to their faith. Sometimes a single person can feel like others in the Parish are uncomfortable around or view single Catholics as oddities and not really members of the Parish community.
    I have gotten involved in my Parish but I had to make the extra effort to find opportunities and introduce myself to people. Honestly probably most of the time if we take responsibility for taking the initiative and getting involved, we will be able to connect with the Parish as it takes personal interaction on a more intimate level to allow married and older members to get to know us.
    Just to shed light on the nature of the problem, the main reason I don't attend Singles groups generally is that quite frankly they feel more like meat markets than going to a bar.
    As soon as I enter the room honestly most of the men look me up and down several times quite openly and sometimes stare, assessing my sexual attractiveness. I have also seen them doing this to other women who enter and also stare and assess from across the room.
    It is obvious to me that the men are there to do quick and dirty sexual potential assessments and not interested in being part of a community or committing to developing a social network of Catholic fellowship, including, of course, women who might be potential matches for marriage.
    I have also seen men grouping together and whispering about a woman and staring as a group. It is sad that this is often a woman perhaps 20-21 while the men may be mostly over 40. I have seen a group of 10 or more men 35 and older surrounding a 20 year old girl.
    This type of environment makes any kind of development of Catholic fellowship of any substance impossible. Any spiritual "activity" involved I think is just endured by many of the people at these groups as the price to pay for getting access to some single women.
    Even making conversation is very difficult as the men scan you and others constantly on a physical level. Some are so preoccupied with looking at you this way and also looking around the room in case a "looker" comes in that they can't even manage small talk.
    It is obvious that hardly anyone is interested in friendship, fellowship, or in committing to a process of building a community or exploring getting to know people on any sort of substantive basis which may lead to appropriate relationships/dating/courting down the road.
    Then any kind of spiritual activity or structured socialization effort results in very empty, insincere, and even farcical interaction.
    Since obviously I am interacting mostly with men I don't know if women are equally superficial and crude in their approach.
    Ideally one would think that face to face socialization would be superior to online dating, but I have found that online dating at least allows for some one on one communication in which people can get to know a bit about the other person without the open staring and such that occurs at Singles groups.
    Before I meet someone in person I have met online, I make sure I have come to know someone's background and have a good idea about potential compatibility in values, lifestyles, personalities and such. When I do meet a person I have been introduced to online there is already some familiarity and mutual interest in getting to know eachother further rather than an extended experience of being body scanned.
    So online encounters and dating can indeed be less superficial and more meaningful than the tasteless and base encounters at so-called "singles groups."
    I like the ideas others have presented but would not be willing to expose myself at this point to the potential meat market interactions in order to work on developing a community for Singles fellowship.
    I have had an excellent experience with CM and have found it very helpful in meeting and building relationships with single Catholic men who are committed to the faith and to building relationships with women which may form the foundation for a marriage with a true spiritual (Catholic) foundation.

  5. Kevin-46838 January 18, 2009

    James' expression of frustration is something I am dealing with. I had the benefit of being involved with a very active ministry in Arizona for singles between 21-40. The problem was when I hit 41 – I felt left out almost immediately after that date happened. I was very involved in Music Ministry and supported the singles ministry through the gift the God gave me in music, but eventually I found myself at odds with those who led the singles ministry. To make matters worse, I was in the middle of a personal career crisis that eventually drove me out of Arizona to find work here on the East Coast. Now I find myself feeling horribly alone in a prayer desert where finding friends is almost impossible, much less finding dating relationships. I watched as an effort to form a diocesian singles ministry in upstate NY went into a direction that really bothered me, while my recent move to DC made me feel completely out of place. I volunteer as a music minister at two different parishes – one in Leesburg VA, the other in Ashburn – but the communties there are totally focused on 20-something and 30-something families. I don't know where to turn.
    Joseph makes the right call about praying, but I truly hope Jesus can point me towards an oasis from my prayer desert. I am thankful that I am still working in this difficult economic time, but this loneliness is making my prayer life very difficult.

  6. Clement-357954 January 29, 2009

    Hi Mary Beth,
    I'd propose that you organize a church function where more youth will be in charge. Here the youth will take charge of something that will draw them together, often times forgetting that they barely know each other. An example is a parish walk.
    Your parish can organize a walk event and all parishoners can maybe have a 5-10 kilometer walk for fun, fitness, to raise funds etc etc. The parish youth leader in conjuction with other leaders will get people involved in organizing such an event. Here, the youth can be involved in many, many ways, example would be to have the youth to do the registration(all parishoners interested will have to register) and divide them into groups, some to design the banner, some to do the registration, some to organize for the food and drinks, some to act as first aiders, some to distribute the walk literature…..
    This is just an example of an event where all the parishoners will be involved, specialized events can be tailored for the youth, like we have the every 1st friday of the month as culture day for an hour or so, but usually stays longer, we also have other numerous activities like cleaning day, car wash day, bake sale day, Bible Trivia, youth mass, parish youth mass, fun day, sports day, parents day, retreats, trips…..
    The idea is to have the youth in not only organizing but actively participate in these activities.

  7. Michael L. August 8, 2012

    I’m 56, and I live in Houston, TX. I tried to find a good Catholic singles group here for over 20 yrs. What made me give up was one Catholic church who had an age limit of 40 for
    singles. If you were beyond that, you were not welcome to be there. My generation did not the benefit of online dating like teens, people in their 20s and 30s do today. Online dating works best for folks under 40. Again dating in America has an age limit it seems, and you can’t fight it. I haven’t asked anyone out in 11 yrs. All the dates I had here were forgettable and a waste of time. None of the women I asked out were Catholics. My mistake was dating too late in life. I never recovered from that. In the South, most decent prospects are gone before 30, and after 35 you will be stuck in dating gridlock. I had to give up since most women will of any faith or no faith will NOT men over 45 let alone 50 plus. Here is one stat all singles need to know from the Census Bureau–women over 40 have a 1% chance of EVER being married, and men have only 5% chance of ever being married after 40. Late life marriages do happen, but I’ve seen very few of them. You simply don’t find too many suitable prospects from that point on. Read the book Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb if you doubt me. Any middle-aged woman out there will tell you it’s rough to meet a quality guy. I handled over 500 divorces in my career as a librarian/paralegal. Marriage is tough to do. It takes a skill set most folks don’t have when they start out. I’ve lost count of all the nice women I’ve met who would be great spouses but they are divorced and have children. Some have kids and never married. If you take that group out of the dating pool, you have almost nothing left for 40 plus single men. I wish I could start over, but it’s too late. A priest told me long ago–marriage is NOT in God’s plans for all of us. None of us is owed a spouse or a happy marriage. Sorry folks–if you’re still single in mid-life, you might be where you’re supposed to be. Accept it and don’t feel sorry about it. As for meeting other singles anywhere, I found it to be discouraging and exhausting. I had to quit trying, and I just have to learn to live with my
    singleness. Is it lonely, frustrating, and loveless? Yes, but it’s where I am.

  8. Michael L. August 8, 2012

    My younger brother married in his late 40s. He was in the Navy, and he married a girl from Thailand. They have two kids, and the marriage seems to be going fine. He once told me
    “You will miss some things by not being married, but you might not miss as much as you think you will. Marriage is not for everybody.” He was right. In my entire life I never had more than a smile or hello from 99% of the women I’ve met in life. Very often many of the worst women I’ve ever met in my life were Catholic. I guess being Catholic only means going to church once a week. Outside church it doesn’t apply. The absolute worst group of Catholic females I’ve met came from Catholic schools. They were really an awful bunch. Arrogant, rude, vicious, and mean beyond belief were some of the unique traits. They often came from
    affluent families who spoiled them. Sad to say Catholics of both sexes can be truly awful people. Seeing them in church almost made quit my religion.

  9. Annette-969665 July 9, 2013

    These are the very best comments on Catholic Single life I have ever seen. Sometimes I think I want to start something in our town which caters mostly to seasonal retirees and “shuts down” Bible studies, events etc. until the showbirds return in season. I need to print all of these amazing comments and really pray about it. Maybe a singles apostolate needs to be formed?

  10. Clara-907156 October 7, 2013

    I moved to a new state/parish a year and a half ago, and have yet to attend a ‘singles’ meeting. This sounds counter-intuitive coming from someone who is a member of CatholicMatch, doesn’t it. I am willing to put myself and my life out for perusal by strangers from all over the world, and yet, the thought of attending a singles meeting from my own parish feels too brazen and unsafe. I am comfortable meeting new people and know from personal experience that most of the time you just have to smile and reach out to those around you rather than relying on others to reach out to you. And yet, I identify strongly with Jennifer’s comments above about fearing a ‘meat-market’ mentality from organizations such as the Catholic Singles group, and I likewise appreciate the safety of online vetting. If the Catholic Singles group in my parish was a ministry mainly for spiritual growth, such as a Bible study, without an advertised focus on social outings, I can virtually guarantee my attendance. I would welcome the chance to meet and fellowship with others like myself (men and women) who deal with the struggles and joys of being single within an environment where we are seeking to build each other up rather than simply evaluate each other as potential matches. Perhaps I have the wrong impression about this group, but I think it more likely, as others have mentioned, that Catholic singles could learn from our Protestant friends in this particular ministry.

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