Why Are We Still Single (Or Single Again)? Part One

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Had you told me 20 years ago that I would be part of what sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo, calls the “greatest social change of the last 60 years that we haven’t already named and identified” I would have been horrified—namely because the social change he is referring to is the decline in marriage and the rise of the single population.

While, admittedly, there are worse things in life than being single, for someone who loved being raised in a large family and looked forward to having her own—this is no small bit of bad news.

According to Pew Research Data from 2012, one in five adults 25 and older have never married, whereas in 1960 it was fewer than one in ten (9%). Census data from 2014 shows that 45% of US residents 18 and older are unmarried, but in many parts of the country we are now at the point where the majority of households are headed by single people.

According to Klinenberg, this is a new phenomenon, something which we’re seeing for the first time in history. While he enumerates the supposed benefits of being single, making it sound like it’s a good thing, my personal desires and experience beg to differ.

It all seemed so simple when my parents got married

About ten years ago I started wondering why I was still single when my plan had been to be married and start a family by my mid-twenties. It all seemed so simple when my parents got married—why should it now be so complicated for me and my friends?

While everyone has his or her own personal story, a look at the cultural influences of our time is very revealing. I call these influences the “Seven C’s of Self-Centered Singleness.”

I’m not saying we singles are all selfish folk —but we do live in an unprecedentedly self-centered culture which constantly bombards us with messages about putting “me” first.

The unprecedentedly self-centered culture that we live in makes getting married that much harder.Click To Tweet

Being raised in a culture where this is normal is akin to fish swimming in a polluted pond. We are affected by it whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not. This “self-centeredness” is the water in which the fish of the seven C’s of singleness thrive.

By examining the “Seven C’s” we can better understand what influences may (or may not) be affecting our own lives and the lives of those around us. Only when we understand a situation are we able to do anything about it. So let’s go…

The first five are the following: Choices, Careers, Comfort, Cows, Culture. (You’ll have to wait for Part II for the last two…insert cliffhanger music here…).

Choices and Careers

My generation grew up with many more choices, and different choices than previous generations. We also grew up with different expectations. Now, instead of growing up and expecting to get married and have a family, girls expect to go to college, establish a successful career and then (perhaps) get married. It’s laudable that women are able to do that, but not so much when they are expected to prioritize a career over a vocation to marriage and are considered backwards and unambitious if their primary desire is to be married and raise a family. It’s no longer really a “choice.”

Men, on the other hand, have always had to be concerned with their jobs so they could raise a family and contribute to society. A boy was brought up to think about his future job in connection with his vocation as a husband (or a priest).

Now there is simply not that societal expectation. Instead, the emphasis is on having a successful career in order to have more toys, more fun and more prestige.

Lastly, we live in the day not only of multiple choices but seemingly endless choices. If one thing doesn’t work out, (or if it gets boring or difficult to manage) then we can just log on and get an upgrade!

Jillian Strauss, author of Unhooked Generationrecounts the story of the man she met who said that he could have married four of the five women with whom he had been in a serious relationship—but he didn’t because he always was worried there might be something better around the corner.

Has the illusion of infinite choices led to a widespread hesitancy to commit to another person for life?Click To Tweet

Today we are able to meet many more potential spouses through travel, college, online etc., yet fewer of us are married. What irony! Perhaps an illusion of infinite choices has led to a widespread hesitancy to commit. We want to keep our options open. We don’t want to stop until we meet the “perfect” one—so we continue along with mental checklists which defy fulfillment by any human being except the Blessed Mother.

Cows, Comfort and Culture

“Cows” is self-explanatory. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Good question. There is plenty of “free milk” going around these days. But what if one is not getting free milk? What is the incentive to remain single then? Perhaps comfort?

All of the “free milk” has led to a generation deeply wounded because we have experienced love, marriage and sex in all of the wrong ways. One broken heart after another leaves us hesitant to risk getting hurt again, so we slowly build walls with bricks of scar tissue around our hearts, making it increasingly difficult for us to love and to receive love.

C.S. Lewis puts it well when he says that, since love necessitates vulnerability, if you want to keep your heart free from pain “you must give your heart to no one” and, after wrapping it up in little hobbies and luxuries, you must “lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.” But beware, because in that casket, though it will remain in one piece, “it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

If you want to keep your heart free from pain, avoid other people and stay selfish. #WhyWeAreStillSingle #CSLewis Click To Tweet

In addition, as my mother always said, “The older you get, the more set in your ways you become and the harder it is to change.” If we get used to living by ourselves the way we want to, doing what we want, when we want, it becomes more and more difficult to transition to a life where we have to make room for another. Fear of hurt and of change can make it more comfortable not to risk again.

Achievement, autonomy, and loneliness

Our culture is not only self-centered, but it is also individualistic. Granted, it’s hard to be American and not be individualistic. We value work, achievement and autonomy. But our individualism has led to loneliness. As St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “I have reached the point of becoming more and more aware of the fact that the worst suffering a human being can experience is to be unwanted.”

The worst suffering a human being can experience is to be unwanted. -Mother TeresaClick To Tweet

Loneliness is so painful precisely because we were made for love, in the image of God, who is love. Having worked many years with the poor, Catherine Doherty declared, “Loneliness holds the men of our age and times in a grip that seems unbreakable. Yet, it can be broken! It can be broken by love…”

Will we choose love? Perhaps the path to love is more difficult than the Disney fairytale, but it is not impossible!

As St. John Paul II said, “Love is a constant challenge thrown to us by God … Are you really afraid of love?”

We cannot be afraid of the challenge that is love.

“Do not be afraid of the risks!” St. John Paul II also reminds us, “God’s strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties!”

Anastasia Northrop dedicates her time to promoting John Paul II’s understanding of the human person and studying issues common to single Catholics as the founder and director of the National Catholic Singles Conference (happening this year in Pittsburgh in May, and in Phoenix in September). 

 



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24 Comments

  1. Dee-1178265 March 21, 2017 Reply

    Great article! very intriguing indeed. In my generation women had to choose marriage/family or college, we couldn’t have both choices especially as a woman of color with Latin roots. My choice to pursue a college degree was to break the cycle of poverty and I was the first one in my family to achieve a Bachelor’s degree. My 87 year old mom has been the beneficiary of my choice as I have supported her in her times of need over the years of my nursing career.

  2. Lesley-1237708 March 19, 2017 Reply

    Back then more women were home-makers. These days, however, the cost of living is higher, and it’s hard to raise a family if only one parent has a career.

    • Joel-1274699 March 25, 2017 Reply

      Very true Lesley. My mother also was a professional lady (doctor). But she helped raise two dashing young men. It wouldn’t have been possible without her contribution. But she was dedicated to family too besides her career. Do you believe in that model? Would love to get to know you if you do 🙂

  3. Bernadette B. February 22, 2017 Reply

    Excellent article, Anastasia! It hits our generational issue right on the head.

  4. Mary-285153 February 20, 2017 Reply

    Loved this article, looking forward to the finale in Part II (I want to speculate and see if I’m right about what the last 2 “C’s” are!)

  5. Karen-406791 February 20, 2017 Reply

    Good article and it hits in most areas of ‘why we are still single’ though ‘values’ plays a great part in this… ‘values’ us as Catholic have and many others do not share! I value my body, reason casual sex and dressing provocatively are out of the question, caveat to that, tons of girls offering ‘free milk,’ outhere, so who has the better chance? [remember is all about the numbers as well] I don’t go for the scum that is out doing such but let’s face it sex sells; though good morals and values are not cherish much any longer.

    • Mary-285153 February 20, 2017 Reply

      Yes, very true. Sometimes we are single because we value ourselves and whilst the rest of the culture is following the path of the author’s 7 C’s, we’re trying not to do that and sometimes that means being left with limited options because we’re trying to find someone else who has also tried to resist the crowd.

      • Joel-1274699 March 25, 2017 Reply

        Very true Mary. I have tried to resist the crowd too…would you like to get to know each other?..seriously!

  6. Darin-1415639 February 19, 2017 Reply

    The real reasons are the ones that pretty much no one considers:
    1. Women respect men far less nowadays than in the past. (Some will not even make much of an effort to let us into their circles, others will let us in but won’t like our devoutness to our Faith: lots of different ways in which they act but it boils down to not respecting us.)
    2. Adults are wasting their lives away with too much online activity.
    3. Ethics are even more lacking than in the past. (Lots of mistreatment of each other results from this.)
    4. Adults are suffering nowadays from poor health, on account of things like more pollution than ever before. (This affects our decisions, like in whether to stay home playing online games –or get out to socialize.)

  7. Gerie-1047525 February 19, 2017 Reply

    Ariadne, So sad that you feel you are “spilling the beans” on an education of which you should be proud. I don’t have as much education as you, only two masters, and yet I’ve been told to dumb down my profile. If a man isn’t proud and happy to have an educated wife, what do you think you would have in common with him?

  8. Joel-1364361 February 19, 2017 Reply

    C.S. Lewis puts it well when he says that, since love necessitates vulnerability, if you want to keep your heart free from pain “you must give your heart to no one”, Certainly see a lot of this going around!

  9. Samantha-1418511 February 19, 2017 Reply

    I wanted to follow in my grandparents Footsteps, married by 21 and family by 23. I’m almost 27 and haven’t met anyone I’d even want to consider as a life partner and father for kids, ESPECIALLY when it comes someone around my age. I’ve found that guy in their 20s are just not interested in settling down at all.

    • Joel-1274699 March 25, 2017 Reply

      I understand Samantha. Well I am on this site too if you want to get to know each other 😉

  10. Berna-1420109 February 19, 2017 Reply

    Growing up I had my life planned out finish college, get hired, work,help my family get married and raise my own family at 28 (an ideal age for me). But it just didn’t turn out that way. Now at 44 I’m still unattached and still trying to discern God’s plan for me, am I to remain single or not, only He knows. I just continue praying that when His answer comes I would wholeheartedly accept it.

    • Nat S. February 20, 2017 Reply

      hi Berna,
      have you tried miraculous novena to saint Therese of lisieux? she will send you a sign (a rose) during the novena you could ask if you will get married if it is God’ s will

  11. Jerome-922898 February 19, 2017 Reply

    Compatibility, Age, Appearance, Education, Physical attraction, Spark, ( the flame has to start someplace ) Yes I am attracted to a woman’s brain but her outside is what we see first. Yeah Yeah, I know, Lots of men sit at the dinner table too long. We also look at each others medical history ( when we were young we did not mind if our partners ate crackers in bed, shall get another jar of peanut butter Honey? The longer we stay single the more faults we will find in the compatibility of a person that would be a good choice. After 51years of marriage, single now for four +. I want to be married again. The other day while speaking to Jesus, these thoughts came to me, ” God, if being single is what you have in store for me for the rest of my life I will not like it but I will accept it. Two heads doing Gods work fulfills more than one. The only smile in the morning is the one in the mirror . No, I will keep looking, Mom is going on 98 so my search will continue. God understands.

  12. Susan-1398395 February 19, 2017 Reply

    I am single because my husband passed away. We were married 37 years and have 2 daughters, and 4 grandchildren. I have a master’s degree in education. I would say I did my part…sounds like a happily ever after life. But now I am living alone. I reached out to this site because I felt I had choices. I don’t have to remain alone, but it’s still not easy.

  13. John-202956 February 18, 2017 Reply

    “Pet Industry soon to be in demand more than teachers due to declining birthrates.”

    I knew this was the end of the teaching/coaching field. It also means euthanasia of old people since there are not enough young people to pay for the medical costs…just like in Europe. This is what happens when a society continues to educate women beyond Jr. High/High School, by teaching them to go have a “career” during their healthiest procreative years (ages 16-24).

    http://www.denverpost.com/217/02/17/dog-walkers-demand-aging-us/

  14. Dan-1405968 February 18, 2017 Reply

    Choose Love! Choose to be vulnerable! Choose to open yourself up to rejection! Choose to let someone love you! Choose to forgive! Choose to move on! Choose to embrace life! Choose to embrace change!

    Lots of choices to make to live a life of faith, trusting that God is with us no matter if we make a misstep.

    Danny

  15. Ariadne-1413373 February 18, 2017 Reply

    I completely understand this blog. I do see my relationship with God and a life of prayer centered on the Eucharist something of foremost value in my life. I am an International Law Librarian (7 University Degrees: 2 Bachelors, 3 masters, and 2 Doctorates) who at best had opportunities to teach languages and work in a Federal Government position which uses none of these skills. I am well-dressed, highly cultured, with a wide range of interests and abilities. I have easily approached half-a- dozen very good men with varied degrees of life experiences, who agree fully with all of the Tenets of the Church, who I reached out to, but none of them really had the courage to approach me for a good long conversation with which we can really get to know each other. Keep in mind, this is the first time I have spilled the beans on my education, other than say I have a Doctorate.

    • Joel-1274699 March 25, 2017 Reply

      Well if the men didn’t approach; why didn’t you throw away the inhibitions and approach them? Must it always be a one-sided affair to break the ice or get to know someone?

  16. Chris-1355160 February 18, 2017 Reply

    Excellent article, a big reason is careerism. Push, push and by 30s, realize your alone. Everyone around you is married or same self absorbed. I sacrifice opportunities for wife and marriage, and glad I did. Married shortly after graduation. Almost 21 years of a team.

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