Does Single Life Breed Selfishness?


You may be familiar with the legend about St. Peter fleeing Rome where he met the Risen Lord on the road. When Peter asked, “Quo vadis?” (“Where are you going?”), Christ answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”

In great shame, Peter, the all-too-human apostle, promptly returned to plant the seed of the Gospel in Rome, where he paid the ultimate price with his life. I was reminded of this touching story while on a visit to Rome during Lent. Although a business trip, it actually turned out to be an unexpected spiritual pilgrimage.

During the third week of Lent, I had to take part in a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council on the Family. The meeting brought together sociologists and church-people (like me) from different countries. Our topic was “strengthening marriage” – just in case you don’t know, in most developed nations, couples are choosing to cohabit rather than to marry. This is a strange phenomenon since there is ample evidence on the benefits of marriage and the destructive nature of cohabitation (for a summary of some research, click here).

In any case, during the long intense meeting on a topic such as marriage which has both social and private implications, it’s only natural to compare one’s life with the data – which is exactly what I found myself doing.

As we waded through the data proving the many benefits of marriage to a person’s physical, mental, educational and economic well being, I, of course, couldn’t help but wonder as a single woman: How was the single life affecting me? Was my health compromised in any way? Was I more prone to depression or anxiety? Certainly my economic well-being was not so great, but that is complicated by the fact that I choose to work for the Church!


Missing lessons?

Above all (and this is what I did not expect) I found myself wondering about how greatly I love. After all, marriage is the ultimate “school of love” where, as one of my married friends likes to say, the “non-relenting demand to be selfless” is ever present. Since I’m not only single but live about 200 miles away from my large extended family, I am concerned that living alone could foster selfishness, or worse – cause me to be caught in a kind of limbo when it comes to loving well.

This is where “Quo vadis?” comes in.

In the legend of “Quo vadis?” Jesus was not trying to put a guilt trip on Peter. He was not saying that you have to suffer if you want to follow me. But in His reference to the crucifixion – “I go to Rome to be crucified again” – Jesus indicates the depth of the love Peter should have chosen.

Think about it. This legend points to the fact that Jesus loved the people of Rome so much that He was willing to return to teach, to heal and, if necessary, to be rejected and crucified all over again. This is the kind of love that cracks open the human heart. It’s the kind of love that Peter immediately understood and by understanding, had to go back to the hard-hearted Romans to preach the Gospel no matter the cost. Peter was a great lover!

We may have a desire to want to follow Christ. We may even want to be saints. We may want to be reliable neighbors, faithful friends, loving sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, granddaughters and grandsons. We may long for marriage. All of this can look oh so good on paper but, the question is, “Quo vadis?” Where are you going?

All of these relationships require love. They require that we walk the way of love as Christ taught. As Christ is and calls us to be.


Taking inventory

It is not enough to want to love. It’s not good enough to keep it on paper. Love requires action. Love should be spent generously – no holding back on this one!

Sometimes love is easy – as when your adorable godchild smiles up at your face trying to grab your nose or when Uncle Jerry brags to his friends that you are the best nephew.

Many times love is not easy – like when your grumpy neighbor, who always has a home-fix-it request, grabs you at a most inconvenient time to ask yet another favor or when Aunt Josie, who never gives you the complete grocery list, asks for another run to the supermarket!

Now I’m not saying that we who are single have to be everybody’s valet, we need to strive for balance in our lives. I am saying, however, that the many faces of love often look best on paper, where we don’t have to spend a lot of energy, become vulnerable, or give selflessly.

If you are like me, there is also comfort in life’s routine. There is a type of safety in keeping to ourselves. That’s OK to a degree, but (and there is always a but), it would be important to periodically ask ourselves a few questions: How does our personal style of living influence our choices in life? How do personal preferences affect our ability to love? What do our everyday choices say about our discipleship in Christ?

While in that intense Roman meeting about marriage, what occurred to me was that I need to frequently ask myself, “How well do I love?” Regardless of the fact that I’m not married, I don’t need to put my ability to love on a shelf. I can love abundantly exactly where I’m at every moment of my life.

As Christians, all our life’s choices should be colored by loving like Christ. If I play it safe and keep to my routine, the risk is that my heart will stay the same – or worse, it will dry up and die. The funny thing about the human heart is that it gets healthier, bigger, fleshier, more vibrant with love’s color when it is cracked open to love like Christ. And that’s the amazing reality of love: Love given to us in Christ is a never ending source of life. It is the road that takes us to eternal life. Eternal life in Him who has loved us so much that He gave His life for us.

And so I ask you, “Quo vadis?” 



  1. Esteban-728759 May 10, 2012 Reply

    I will think that being single what does is to create a comfort zone of laziness and fear toward getting involved with another human being but I will think , that not necessarily will lead to selfishness. I will think other reasons may lead to selfishness , such upbringing and environment in some cases but not being single. Many singles take care of elderly parents or family members that cant take care of themselves no more.

  2. Trevor L. May 10, 2012 Reply

    Life is created with options of spreading it. Some do some don’t.
    Marriage is for reproduction, and multiplying love armies into the world.
    Being single helps weed out and guide those with wrong love, and wrong law in heart.
    Conducting yourself with Christ ia also conduction with yourself and others around you.
    Single or not. We all need to know what love is first of all before shooting up like a star and shining our examples through actions and promises, for they might not be love, but unknowing hate, and ignorance.

  3. John H. May 10, 2012 Reply

    Life is created by God to enable loving relationships to grow. Life is a sexual continuum with three parts, Love, which is God, a man and a woman. Single life isn’t wrong and may be necessary but isn’t fully in harmony with God’s intent. Man was deceived and sex became the object of shame. The deception is Satan’s wedge, severing the connections between man and woman, making it near impossible for couples to bond the way God intended.

  4. Marty W. April 27, 2012 Reply

    I think that it has to do with how people are raised. People can be selfish either way, married or unmarried. It’s better off to be single and have a wonderful life than be married and have a miserable one. Some people might be single now but find the **right one** a few years down the road and have enough of a brain to not get hitched to some old mare off the farm right after high school.

  5. Janice-431145 April 26, 2012 Reply

    I, being a single person do find points in the article to hold some truth…but, I find married couples in today’s society to be more selfish. They may give of themselves within their own immediate families but to extend that generousity and care to others outside their families isn’t visiable to me. It’s very exclusive in nature. I know this first hand, for i am on the recieving end of it…or should I say, lack the receiving end of it for it never touches my life directly.

  6. Dee-803787 April 18, 2012 Reply

    I’m not sure you answered the question that is the heading to your article. Just in case you weren’t clear on it this is what God has to say: So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

  7. Patti-651487 April 18, 2012 Reply

    My gosh! For a minute there, I thought I read the wrong article. All this talk about feminism, emasculated men and bullish brutes and other silliness prompted me to look at the article again. I don’t think I misinterpreted anything and I have no idea how some of the negaive comments were evoked by what the author had to say. I believe she was questioning whether logically, we as singles, may spend more time thinking about ourselves than others. I think Dennis 839214 summed it up well by saying that being single can lead to being self-centered. Like he, I have questioned myself regarding this situation. I have no doubt that the longer I choose to remain single, the more self-centered and selfish I am becoming. I like the fact that I can go where I want, when I want, with whom I want without having to consider anyone else’s wants, needs or feelings. That, in a nutshell, is selfish! I really don’t choose to be selfish, but I do believe that being single for an extended time will contribute to that “condition” because I
    didn’ tused to be that way. Fortunately, I prefer to be part of a “team” and believe that God intended us to be in pairs; hence the solution to my increasing selfishness is simple. I need to find someone to love! How’s that for a cliche, or is it simply a song title?

    • Mick-784790 April 19, 2012 Reply

      Well done Patti- 651487 you have summed it up wonderfully!

    • Craig S. May 2, 2012 Reply

      Patti. I agree that you have spoken well. But the Bible gives no clear statement on whether someone ought to be married or single. Paul says that one who remains singel does well. One who marries does well. The New Testament talks of the gift of singleness. But it seems to imply that it is rarely given. I personally know of 2 people(only) who have been used by the Lord for great works. You do say well that “I like the fact that I can go where I want, when I want, with whom I want without having to consider anyone else’s wants, needs or feelings.” This highlights the freedom of the single lifestyle. But it can be that one does not want to be held responsible for one’s actions by any other person(Could be selfishness).

  8. Evonne-838540 April 17, 2012 Reply

    Being single has nothing to do with selfishness. You are either selfish or your not! Being married will not automatically change you into an unselfish openhearted person. Many couples who choose to cohabitate rather then marry do so because they are not willing to give of themselves. The failure rate for couples that marry after cohabitating is very high. This because they are still not willing or able to be unselfish.

    • Dee-803787 April 18, 2012 Reply

      I 100% agree. I do not believe the two go together at all. In fact, the bible teaches that it is better to be single and I know that it is not God’s design that we be selfish so how can something positive from God have this negative connotation the author is assuming?

      • Peter-793888 April 26, 2012 Reply

        Dee, respectfully the Bible does not teach that it is better to be single. What about St. Paul quoting from Genesis when he says the One Flesh Union is a Great Mystery in reference to Christ and the Church? What about Jesus performing his first miracle during a wedding ceremony? Why would Jesus turn water into the best wine if it were better that the couple be single? St. Paul talks of his preference to remain single because he believed that the end of the world would happen in his lifetime! It’s a matter of vocation, and one can not say that either vocation is better then the other. Every vocation is MEANT to be an expression of love, and it’s just a different way of loving.

  9. Mick-784790 April 17, 2012 Reply

    I like the article, Quo vadis! indeed!
    I think you have hit the nail right on the head!
    Its all too easy for others to read or hear statements, comments and homilies that are general or subjective nature, that are also personally challenging and to reject the message so as to protect our own personal situation and the many little and not so little justifications that we all make both consciously and subconsciously to ourselves to hide the true nature of how selfish single’s can often be.

    Quo vadis


  10. Matthew-699603 April 17, 2012 Reply

    To many people as De Mello says are… “born in their sleep, grow up asleep, get married in their sleep, have children in their sleep and die in their sleep”… Id rather be single,awake and being able to love ! The fact I do that as a single man is because I have a choice. So marriage maybe for those who haven’t fulfilled an independent spirituality first for themselves and in the words of Augustine ” This is what befalls any man/woman when they put their faith only in each other ” : when another persons partner dies they find it hard to accept and cope with the tragedy we must truly have faith in God above everything else first . Also How many people begin to truly wake up when the kids have flow the nest, were they ever awake before they married ? It is better to be single and awake, then if you want to marry and find somebody that you will be truly happy with, you can enjoy life together, only this time you are awake and know what your getting yourselves into to !Unfortunately many people find this out tragically after getting married . We have to change this concept of falling blindly into marriage, it is too precious a gift to take lightly its not for everybody and so many should remain single maybe the single life should be the norm ? As the Dali lama also says detachment from all things is the way home ! Remember Christ Himself was single Agape 🙂

  11. Ramona-738757 April 17, 2012 Reply

    No one social status is prone to anything. If you don’t know that love is sacrifice…does it really matter what your social status is in regards to breeding selfishness?

  12. Margaret-93390 April 17, 2012 Reply

    > retirement missions?
    One day at a time

  13. Dennis-839214 April 17, 2012 Reply

    I think that when one is single he is prone or has the tendency to be self centered. I had occasionally seen this to be true in my case.Then one has to correct himself by focusing on others . It is more gratifying in the end in many ways when one is doing something right for others than his own self. This reminds me of the episode in holy Thursday when Jesus himself washes the feet of his apostles to teach the apostles the lesson that it is better to serve than be served. This is the consequence of being called a Christian or IPSe christus

  14. Martha-812066 April 17, 2012 Reply

    well i agree that been single people is more selfish. the routine becomes just a rutine. while marriage couples are less selfisf because they are willing to dshare everything they have first with family and then with friends, i think that marriage makes poeple less selfish and more happy. that the bible says is better to give than to receive.

    • Craig S. May 2, 2012 Reply

      Martha, I agree. I have been single all my life, but lately I have come to see that was partly because I was quite selfish.

  15. Jane-554043 April 17, 2012 Reply

    this is a cheap shot at singles i often hear.
    i agree that as a single, if anything, i give more to others.
    what i see a lot of is the smug marrieds who enjoy their cozy nest while selfishly excluding you.
    and feeling superior to poor single you in the process.

  16. Mary-553959 April 16, 2012 Reply

    If I’d been born in an earlier decade I would have married one of the boys I dated in high school or college. There is only one of them I now think would have made me into a good wife and I would have made him into a good husband. However, during our courtship I was sexually assaulted by an uncle and without realizing it, I crept into an emotional shell. The next thirty years were a mess of mistakes. I thought God had cruelly decided to destroy my hopes for a regular life. But now I have decided to trust that the road I have been on is the road He intended for me. That this mature, knowing me is the one my future husband has been waiting for. Only God can bring good out of tragedy.

    • Craig S. May 2, 2012 Reply

      The Bible is quite honest about things such as what happened to you. I would, if I were you, spend all of my waking hours reading and meditationg upon scripture. Especially the New Testament. I have experience many assaults upon my soul, but never anything like this. So am sorry, I cannot give more specific adivce than this. My heart bleeds for you.

  17. Douglas-820258 April 16, 2012 Reply

    Hello, Theresa
    What came too mind reading this article was, Men and Women don’t know how too Truly Love One Another. I believe the #1 Reason for this is Education. They were never taught the basic’s, which I believe are: Mental, Spiritual, Physical, and Emotional Attractions needed in the beginning of a Relationship. Example: A Women and Man get married, the Women marries the man for, mental, spiritual, physical, and educational attactiveness, while the Man marries for spiritual, physical, mental, and sexual attractiveness, etc…
    They both married for the wrong reason’s, plus, the #1 thing you need before you marry is Emotional Attraction for each other. These Are My Opinions, Not Facts.

  18. Joseph-397011 April 16, 2012 Reply

    I think about being selfish everyday and pray on it, and then I am able to reverse it’s attitude. Thinking about and understanding it’s isolation is the first step to enjoying the beauty of sharing and caring.

  19. Marty-244468 April 16, 2012 Reply

    i think single life could breed selfishness.if you are by yourself most of the do what you like to do or want to do.then when you have a chance to be around someone else you may wind up talking about yourself and things you want to do,because it is natural for you because you are alone most of the time.and this may turn off the other person your with

    • Peter-793888 April 26, 2012 Reply

      I disagree, and think it depends on the person not the situation the person is in. I live alone (well unless you count the dog as a fur-baby). When I was married I gave everything of myself to my beloved (RIP). Now that I’m single (only the fur-baby) I could stay at home and drink, and get into trouble and be completely selfish – but I don’t. I am out a lot, and jump at almost any opportunity to give back to the community in some way. In fact I joined the K of C since my wife’s passing, and I have NEVER met a more selfless self giving group of men in all my life!!

  20. John-124976 April 16, 2012 Reply

    Singleness without love could, it seems to me, degenerate into self defensive hiding and protecting the heart from brokeness and thereby become prisoneers to our self created isolation. Loving seems to open one to possibilities and give opportunities for Corporal Works of Mercy.

  21. Kathleen-372212 April 16, 2012 Reply

    I think single life offers us more time to serve others without conflict, if any thing singleness causes us to reach out to others.

  22. Jennifer-66896 April 16, 2012 Reply

    Singlehood does not breed selfishness; it’s the social lie of liberalism, especially feminism which has emasculated men and turned women into bullish brutes. There are plenty of men and women in Catholic history who were never married and served a life for God. There is a virtue in the vocation of being single. Yet, we are forced to believe we are deficient or defective if we are. Therefore, there are people who fail to be prudent in their choices of their soulmate and ultimately wind up being miserable and divorced. If a person is selfish as a single person, they will be selfish as a married one. The divorce rate is grossly evident of this.

    • Janet-578840 April 16, 2012 Reply

      I know no emasculated men or single women who are brutish bullies. The most selfish women I know are married women who think that because we are single we have no life and therefore should work for them every weekend and holiday. The best thing about feminism is that I did not have to get married to support myself–I have the luxury of waiting for God to send me my match in his own time. I am not my father’s property or my husband’s; I can belong to myself and the Lord.

      • Jack-131359 April 16, 2012 Reply

        Well then you must not get out much or…wait a minute.
        You talk about “being your husband’s or your father’s property”?
        I just let you answer my question.
        Just FYI; Feminism is like the Jewish holocaust. There is NO good thing about pure evil.

        As far as your issues with married women that punish others for being single…I hear ya’!
        There are narcissistic, selfish people everywhere. The fact that they are married has zero bearing that. I would imagine you are not one of those being punished? With your assertiveness I can’t imagine you suffering with that for long! 🙂

        It’s all good, Janet.

        • Lisa-572677 April 30, 2012 Reply

          Your comments are an affront to the Jewish people and I find them offensive as well. Please do not compare genocide to things you personally find distasteful.

          • Sonny-566024 May 6, 2012 Reply


            Your response has probably helped build more animosity towards the Jewish people by anyone who erroneously believes that you speak for all Jewish people.

            You must also carry a badge that says you belong to the thought police that enforces what ideas people can and can’t share with others.

          • John H. May 10, 2012 Reply

            The comparison of feminism with death camps is absurd except when feminism is used to justify killing embryos, fetuses and babies. In that case the Holocaust is an understatement. What is being done to the next generation by the present is the greatest evil the world has ever seen and the cause is the same as what’s driving men and women to divorce.

      • Sonny-566024 May 6, 2012 Reply

        I was adversely affected by feminism growing up. It took me years to undo the psychological damage caused by the ridiculous philosophies of feminism. I am glad to have progressed to my current state of happiness. However as the saying goes, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

    • Theresa-662877 April 17, 2012 Reply

      Amen Jenn

    • Paul-391375 April 17, 2012 Reply

      Spot-on, Jennifer.
      I believe that to be saintly, one needs to not only live a life for God, but equally importantly, show others that God makes a significant difference in lives lived. This is how the body of Christ grows into its fulfillment.
      As the famous St. Francis once said: Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.

    • Jenny-653399 April 18, 2012 Reply

      You are right on Jennifer. My thoughts exactly. God bless you 🙂


    • Thomas L. May 2, 2012 Reply

      If one remains single because that’s his or her intent, I think that person is risking punishment by The Almighty. I say because God wants as many souls to be born as possible. This is His primary plan viz, to have as many souls as possible to share in the happiness and glory that await that person in Heaven. So to remain single for no good reason kinda thwarts His plans and He may punish him or her later on.

  23. Stephen-725391 April 9, 2012 Reply

    Very timely and excellent article. Thought provoking as one traverses the obstacles of life. But (there are always ‘buts’), one must establish boundaries or one flounders.

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