There Are No Young People Here, generated a great deal of reader response. That article addressed the problem that few or no programs are directed toward single persons over the age of 18 in most Catholic churches. Before dealing with how the Church should accommodate single young Catholics, it is fitting that we first examine ourselves. As our Lord said, we should remove the log from our own eye before attempting to remove the spec from another’s.
One reader was delightfully blunt:
It may be that normal single Catholics are hard to find in the church, because being a single young person who is active in the church is no longer the norm. Moreover, people who become serious about religion do so at the expense of other activities. If you spend time in prayer and serious reading, you will become more internalized and reflective. You may eschew certain social situations in keeping with your moral convictions. You either may not have developed good social skills, or your social skills may have atrophied through disuse.
If you are still single, maybe you “just haven’t met the right person yet”. Does the “the right person.” exist? Probably not. If there were only one person meant for each of us, then marrying the wrong person could have disastrous consequences for the entire world. If you married the wrong person, then he or she couldn’t marry the right person. Soon, the whole world would be mismatched and descend into chaos. But, “God will bring the right person into my life.” How is that supposed to work? Does God use Fed-Ex? No. If there is a right person, that person has free will. You also have free will. God doesn’t interfere with our free will. Like it or not, you have to make the effort. You have to “get out there” and meet people. You have to develop social skills that will enable you to get to know as many strangers as possible on levels intimate enough to provide the opportunity for romantic possibilities.
Social skills are like any other set of skills; the more you use them, the more skilled you become. First, buy a copy of Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie penned this classic book to teach average people how to hone their social skills. It is full of easily adoptable and understandable advice. For instance, Carnegie sites a puppy as an example. The puppy approaches strangers expecting to find a friend; he wags his tail and approaches. You should imitate the puppy; approach each stranger as a potential friend and smile (the human equivalent of tail-wagging). A smile will almost always be returned.
People respond positively to a posture that projects openness and confidence. Stand up straight! Bad posture is off-putting and unhealthy. Good posture tells the world that you are comfortable with yourself, and it is a signal that others will be comfortable around you. Slouching projects shyness, unease, weakness, negativity and social withdrawal. Some Catholic women slouch their shoulders for fear of immodesty. Ladies, contorting your posture out of an over-zealous sense of modesty is an insult to the divine artist.
Other mistakes in social interaction involve conversational style. The average person makes small talk in non-intimate social settings. They discuss the weather, sports, television, etc., without any real depth, and spend only a minute or two on each topic. This small talk is punctuated by short, non-offensive, humorous comments. The average person’s conversation in a group setting may be compared to skimming through a newspaper for the headlines, sports scores and comics. The intellectual’s conversational style may be compared to a book; he wants to discuss a subject in depth. The two conversational styles are incompatible.
Comparable to the intellectual would be the person who tries to work heavy doctrinal or theological or political topics into every conversation. Try that in the waiting area the next time you are having your car worked on, and see how far you get! You will soon be sitting alone, and everyone around you will be uncomfortable.
A communication style found in religious circles is the “greeting-card” evangelizer. Some feel the need to begin every sentence with a religious statement. They feel that this is their means of “witnessing”. This communication style is usually a cultural identifier for people belonging to evangelical groups. If sharing the gospel is your goal, this is not a very effective means. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.”
Another communication style found among single Catholics tends to be more common among women. Ladies, we all love Pope John Paul II, and try to incorporate his teachings into our lives. But asking, “Have you read the Theology of the Body, and do you embrace this teaching?” within the first five minutes of meeting a guy just isn’t appropriate! That is at least a 2nd date conversation.
One of the worst communication styles is “the dominate negative”. You are smart and shy, awkward and a bit insecure. You learned at a young age that it impressed people when you had the right answer. If someone says that it is a nice day, you give them a detailed weather report calling for rain. You make sure everyone knows you are smart. One day, a group of people will agree to do something stupid, and you will be the voice of reason talking them out of it. On that day, everyone will like you. Now, no one can stand being around you, so stop doing it. People react positively to positive people.
Boors are people who talk only about themselves. Some are motivated by a need for intimacy – they share personal details in order to draw people into their lives. Others are so self centered that they drone on about the banal minutia of their lives. Others share every opinion about every subject that enters their minds. If you are boorish, change your communication style completely. At the next opportunity, make a point of saying nothing about yourself, and offering no opinions unless asked. Instead, listen to what other people say and ask impersonal questions. People love talking about themselves; they will love talking to you.
Almost as important as body language and conversational skills, is appearance. Avoid extremes in appearance. When I was in high school, I wore my hair long. My hair garnered a lot of positive attention, and the girls loved it. When I went to college in Georgia, my hair no longer garnered the kind of attention I wanted. Once I cut my hair, I was welcomed into a great group of friends. If the way you dress or wear your hair is a detriment, change it. You don’t have to be stylish; just dress neatly, casually and currently. If you don’t know what this means, flip through a few clothing catalogues directed at your age group and gender – avoid fashion magazines, as they can often be extreme.
A big part of how you are perceived physically and the attitude you project has to do with your physical fitness. If you don’t care enough about yourself to take care of your body, then no one else will think much of you either. Okay, so maybe you aren’t ready to hit the gym every day, but you can at least put that doughnut down, turn off the computer and walk around the block a few times.
If you make a sincere effort to improve the way you interact with others, you will make friends easier, and have a better shot at finding that special someone. If we can convince the church to offer more social activities for single young Catholics, you will be ready to do your part in helping foster such a movement. Meanwhile, I welcome your feedback.