About 10 years ago, the concept of listing out what I wanted in a future spouse was introduced to me and like an obedient girl, I started my list.
A few years later when sifting through my life in therapy, I was told that I didn’t know what I was looking for in a spouse. Au contraire! I had my list! I showed it to my mentor/friend Katharine.
“Laura, you wrote the Proverbs 31 for men! This is completely unrealistic. And it says nothing about real things you want in a husband.”**
Yet, not to leave me hanging, Katharine helped me pare down my page-long list to 3 columns. She guided me through selecting traits (physical, character, spiritual, personality, even how he spends his leisure time) into three categories:
- Really want
One thing that has contributed to “success” is that my list is short; I think I have less than 15 items between all three categories. I’m also guided in my conversation on first dates by having “The List” in the back of my head. For example, I hate doing taxes due to a traumatic experience with them in college. Thus, I want my husband to be financially sound. On dates, I’m not shy to ask questions related to money and saving – while I don’t ask about his debt, savings, or salary, I am able to guide the conversation in order to ascertain his attitude towards retirement savings, budgeting, and financial management which let me know if I even want to keep considering spending time with him.
Depending on how long you’re in dating land, the list might need tweaking as years pass. A small part of me dies when I look at “4 kids” in one column. It’s good to think about the number of kids you want (even if the number is zero), but being 30 with few prospects makes me less optimistic towards that original number as I’ve lost those years of childbearing/child-rearing. Also, “ministry group” had a specific meaning in my Protestant days; not so much in Ortho-world.
Here’s my suggestion, Ladies and Gents: write down what you want in a spouse. Be specific, even painfully and stupidly specific. Hair color. Ethnicity. Quirks. Height. Interests. This is your list. It might be longer than my 12-15 items, but if that’s what you need, do it. Then go through the list and pick out the “Absolutely, 100% MUST HAVE” for column A. Go through and pick the “I would REALLY WANT” items. Everything else is in “BONUS” – column C. You must have at least one criterion in each column, and it’s best to do this when you don’t have a specific object-of-your-affection in mind.
It’s frustrating to be in The Land of Few Prospects or The Land of Not-Right-Now and even The Land of Everyone-Else-Is-Married. The last 6 to 7 years of my dating adventures have been a little easier thanks to my list – if something doesn’t feel right on a date or in a relationship, generally one of the criterion in my first column isn’t present. And knowing what you’re looking for helps you not be distracted with Mr. Not-for-you-but-definitely-single no matter how great his personality.
**It has come to my attention that cradles or non-Protestant converts in the Ortho-world have not heard of the Proverbs 31 standard for choosing a wife. Proverbs 31:10-31 is an Old Testament passage describing a virtuous woman/wife. Some women, especially Protestants, feel it an unattainable standard held over their heads while wife-seeking men can never find their “P-31 woman”. It was only recently that it was brought to my attention that Proverbs 31 is an allegory for the Church and Christ. Yay, Protestant literalism!
One common problem that women, especially the younger, gentler, and less worldly, run into is the problem of being overly responsible for other people feelings. Symptoms of this include being excessively apologetic, saying yes when we mean no, and, worse, being passive-aggressive.
A typical single gal example, and of course I never did this in my younger days (ahem), is continuing to go out with a guy because you feel bad telling him that you don’t like him romantically. You don’t want to “hurt him”. This leads to Stray Puppy Effect* (you keep on going out with him, after all). However, because you’re not being honest with your feelings and with him, you are stuck in a relationship you don’t want to be in with this particular person.
The antidote to this is thinking not about what the other person might feel if we were honest with them, but what would we feel if we were on the receiving end of the treatment. For example, what if you found out someone hung out with you just because he didn’t want to hurt your feelings and for no other reason? You would probably be offended that you weren’t being treated like a person who can handle themselves like a grown-up. It shows respect for another person to be honest with them about your feelings.
It can be hard to know what exactly we are responsible for and what we are not. If you read too many writings of Orthodox monastics and are a highly conscientious person, you can be left with a crushing sense of responsibility for the world’s sins. I like this recent Carolyn Hax article because she brings “commonsense moral reasoning” to explaining what one is responsible for, and what one is not.
Q: You have said a few times something along the lines of “We are not responsible for someone else’s feelings,” and when it comes to the extremes of narcissistic or victim-playing behavior, I get this. But if I do or say something legitimately hurtful, prejudiced, etc., to someone else, whether through malicious forethought or benign error, it’s hard for me not to feel at least a little responsible for the likely distress that person then feels, and I do my best to make amends.
A: Truth is, I think a lot of what I advise and espouse amounts to a system — an emotional word problem, in a way. Therefore, talking about it involves breaking down very emotional things into transactions, which is inherently cold. But that’s just in the mechanics; the result is an emotional exchange, which, if handled with respect and fair concern for all involved, tends to be the opposite of cold. Take the transaction you cite: If you “do or say something legitimately hurtful, prejudiced, etc., to someone else,” you’re still not responsible for the other person’s feelings; it’s his or her place alone to decide what to think about and do with your actions. BUT: You are responsible for you — which means you make a good-faith effort to express your regret and repair or mitigate any damage when you do something you recognize as wrong. Short version: Your actions can cause pain, of course, but you can’t reach in and personally adjust the pain levels. You can only change your actions.It is a cold word problem, but it also shows the path to a happy result where people care about each other while also recognizing the line between what is under your control (the outcome you intend) and isn’t (outcome you get).
We should hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always and by everyone.
– St. Vincent of Lerins
Originally published August 26, 2013.
“I’m not sure there are any benefits to being single.”
“Certainly there are benefits to being single. But the costs are infinitely greater.”
“Being single would not have brought the joy in my life that has brought me my four wonderful children and my loving wife.”
We hear you. We hear you, and we hear the thousands of others saying the same thing. It’s loud and clear, thanks.
When I was interviewed, someone immediately said he doubted whether there were any blessings in the single life. The three of us heard that comment and went, “Again?!” So we decided to take a moment to appreciate how some of the lovely things about the single life.
Marriage, I’m told, can be amazing. And I have every reason to believe that. It’s a sacrament, and I’ve seen the joy it creates in the lives of my happily-married friends. I’ve gotten to share in some of that joy, by attending their weddings and spending time in the homes they’ve created together, and in adoring their children. I hope to eventually have a happy home in which to raise children and share the blessings of that life in the service of friends and strangers.
But that’s not where I am right now. Right now I am single and childless. And that’s not a bad thing. This time is a blessing. But that does not mean my life is worry-free, or easy, or—God forbid—meaningless.
Of course my responsibilities would increase if I had a husband and children, as would my joys. But that doesn’t invalidate the seriousness and beauty of my life now. And when a certain type of married folk barges in and tells me that I will never be whole unless I marry, and that the meaning of life can only be found in one’s children… it can only take it for so long before there’s tears of fury. Words of this kind make the single existence sound pathetic.
We know that marriage is grand. It’s holy. You will never find us dissing marriage here. And for clarity’s sake, this is not a comparison post. This is not an X is superior to Y sort of deal.
But right now, we aren’t married. And God hasn’t abandoned us. It’s easy to get lost in that yearning for the future and forget the blessings in front of us. So that’s what this post is about. We asked readers to chime in about what they enjoy about the single life, or, in the case of our married readers, what they loved or miss.
These are the blessings we appreciate right now.
I don’t have to answer to anyone but God, and I make decisions according to my own conscience.
I feel more empathy for others who struggle with isolation and loneliness.
When I have a day off I can make it up as I go along—go to some festival if I feel like it, or walk around where I please, or putter around the house. Nobody else’s schedule to worry about or whims to deal with.
My single friend was travelling, and saw an absolutely amazing hand-made rug, and fell in love with it. She was able to buy it and ship it home even though it was ridiculously expensive, just because she wanted it. And she didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission or take anyone else’s ideas about how to spend the money into consideration. The rug was perfect for her living room, and it was a source of pleasure (and pleasant memories) from then on. And she said she never would have bought it, or even considered it, if she’d been married.
Nobody complains that I switch the temperature constantly—I’m too hot then too cold then too hot and ahh nice and co—somebody hand me a blanket.
I can decorate my home in my favorite colors and patterns without somebody griping about it.
I get to choose what kinds of entertainment and media enter my home.
Nobody else has to put up with my cooking.
As a single it was relatively easy to pick up and move to a new place.
Learning a new language or a new musical instrument is easier when you aren’t self-conscious about somebody else in the house hearing you practicing.
I love not having to explain what, why, when, where, how I’m doing something or not doing something.
I can go out without having to tell anyone where I’m going or without asking for permission.
If a friend needs me, I can be there (as long as my work schedule and the pet-sitter’s schedule allow for it) without my SO pouting because he feels neglected.
I can take spontaneous road/day trips with, either to a patronal/festal celebration or simply on a monastery pilgrimage.
You can travel for cheaper, and live frugally on vacation via camping or dingy hotel rooms that you otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing. Camping always leads to adventures.
I didn’t have to negotiate with a husband before changing careers, going vegan, rescuing pets, covering my hair, moving to different states, or even just canceling my cable TV subscription.
I have the opportunity to even consider being a monastic.
I can give my time to others in service and in love as I see fit, and to go on mission trips (short or long term).
Being single allowed me, in essence, to become Orthodox, and devote all my spare time and energy into the process of conversion, during my catechumenate.
It’s easier to finish books you want to read, or spend time to learn about things you want to learn.
I can’t make excuses for myself if I’m not living the life I want.
While it was incredibly painful not to have the same support system that a lot of married women do, it meant that I turned to God more often than I might have.
Even the bouts of loneliness and self-pity that I sometimes feel over being unmarried are a blessing in their own way. I usually have to be driven to my knees. I think God is the primary relationship in our lives and the only One Who can heal us. I think I had to be on my own to realize that.
I can nurture my relationships with close girlfriends, and spend plenty of time with my family and girlfriends.
When I was single, I tended to be impulsive, adventurous, and enjoy friendships with many kinds of people, so that is what I miss. I think my husband misses the peace and quiet.
I don’t have to compromise on little things: mundane dish-washing technique (so stupid but these things build up!); turning down the volume when I want to dance; leaving a church that I liked because my husband didn’t feel comfortable there; or dialing back a friendship with someone that my husband doesn’t get along with. Being “yoked” a good thing, but I mean, have you ever tried to do anything cool while your neck is stuck in a thing that someone else’s neck is stuck in too?
I can sleep through the night without being awoken by a husband’s snores or children’s cries.
I don’t have to deal with a partner’s libido (or lack thereof!).
I don’t have to worry about what kind of birth control to use and whether I should use it.
Being able to attend any service you want without having to consider sleep/food schedules of babies.
Being able to actually pray and participate at the services you attend rather than acting as child-herder.
Visiting friends and taking roadtrips on my schedule.
If I had gotten married in my early or mid 20s, I would have chosen a partner that I ultimately wouldn’t have been happy with. It took years for me to figure out who I was and what I wanted, and being single was paramount to that process.
I can flirt with cute men without guilt!
Periods of loneliness and isolation have softened my heart and made me more aware of the importance of hospitality and welcoming others.
In my early 20s, I was entering a time of personal growth and change. I expressed to others how I thought it would be better to have someone with me through that period—and then he would appreciate the hard work I was doing. Rather, I now look back and am thankful that I learned to grow and appreciate my life as a single person. If marriage is in my future, I can offer that relationship a better foundation than when I was looking to hide in someone else.
I have the music I like when I want it, and peace when I don’t.
I can be as extroverted as I please and as introverted as I need to be. If all my social energy is gone for the day, that’s okay, because I can hide in my room with a stack of books and a pot of tea and nobody cares.
I don’t have to constantly explain myself. Getting to know someone is hard work.
There are very few personal demands made on me—I mean, that one roommate always wants back rubs, but really my time is my own.
I don’t have to feel obligated to visit a second set of people for the holidays.
I don’t waste half my time missing someone. I travel all the time, and the emotional work of missing Whatsisface gets exhausting.
No cold feet in my bed.
I never have to watch Family Guy, The Simpsons, or South Park. Or football. I don’t get football.
When I was single I got to do ministry that involved helping young women who were addicted to drugs or sexually abused. I got my bachelors and masters degrees (the latter overseas). I traveled all over the US in a Christian drama company. I was able to have God as my focus. I had a great, exciting, and full life as a single person, and I am so grateful for that time. I’m so happy I didn’t hop from one relationship to another. People didn’t harass me about being single because it was so clear by my stories and my happiness that I was fine. While I am thrilled to be married to my husband, it is difficult. And I gave up things when I got married. I am not free to travel. I cannot just get up and go wherever I feel God is calling me to.
As our Fairy Blogmother put it, in Polish “‘Jestem wolna’ means ‘I am Single’ or ‘I am free’ and it points to the beautiful heart of Singleness which is that it makes you free for marriage, or for religious life, or for life in a L’Arche community, or as a numerary in Opus Dei, or for any commitment to which God calls you, in His own good time, through the medium of history.”
As a single there is a lot more room for “healthy selfishness”. You can focus on your needs and desires, finding out who you truly are and working on those parts of yourself that you don’t like.
You can’t love someone else if you can’t at least tolerate yourself. These challenges you face while you are single teach you things that you can use later on.
I encourage travel, of course (living overseas for a bit is awesome, but just visiting can teach you a lot).
Stop looking at the outside and start seeing people for who they are on the inside.
Whatever gets you outside your comfort zone and teaches you valuable lessons at the same time. Keep on open mind, step out, and just go do something that will grow you in a new and different way.
Give generously to missions. Go on short term missions trips.
Take lessons in a new sport.
Try a risky financial investment.
Take the time to develop and nurture deep friendships because God didn’t create us to be fully satisfied on our own—marriage isn’t the only place to find fulfilling relationships. After marriage, the friendship will necessarily cool a bit as you and your spouse bond, but the foundation of a lifelong friendship will have been laid.
The issues I have being single are the same issues I had being married.
Love your neighbor in radical ways that are unavailable to us old fogeys.
Work two jobs. Get out of debt.
Go fishing in Alaska. Hike the Appalachian Trail.
Don’t listen to advice. Relationships and marriages don’t happen and last because of advice. If things looking great “on paper”, okay, but just because they look great “on paper” doesn’t mean that’s actually going to have anything to do with how two human beings are going to interact. Nobody can tell another person how his works, and if you try following somebody else’s script, you’re never going to fully be yourself in the relationship/marriage. Yes, fine, you might luck out and have a situation where, as an old priest of mine used to say, “Your heart will follow your feet,” and the truth of the matter is that even in a marriage love is a choice constantly needing to be remade, but I think it’s harder to take your heart following your feet as a reliable possibility in 2013. In any event, God will lead you where He wants you; that might be marriage and kids, and it might not be. You’re no less a child of God either way, regardless of what monks or married people might tell you. Both ways have their consolations and their crosses. You may find that “completion” is a word that applies in the context of your marriage; to the extent that a Christian marriage is a component of our being “perfected” (which really just means “completed”) in Christ, why not? But if that word doesn’t make sense to you, don’t force it. (And if it does make sense to you, don’t assume it’s the general case for everybody.)
The point is, don’t let somebody else’s advice define these paths for you. Including mine. Take what’s useful to you, if anything, but leave the rest.
Singlehood can be a treasured time as you can do so much growing and learning while your time and energy aren’t being redirected elsewhere. Grow closer to God and listen for His guidance. Mostly, I’d encourage you to read through the Bible with an eye to finding out what God says He desires His daughters to be and do. Grow in grace and realize that a lot of married people just want you to experience, eventually, the joys that marriage can bring. It’s not that you’re a half-person or sub-human as a single, but know that they want “the best” for you even if they don’t always express it in the way that you find the most encouraging. When you’re living in a happy, fulfilling, Christ-centered marriage it’s easy to want that joy for everyone else (whether single or less-happily married) and to forget that God calls some people to be single for a season or a lifetime. It’s also easy not to see the joys that are a part of a different life. That’s a good thing, actually, because married people who pine for the joys of the single life end up destroying their marriage! So enjoy your season of self-focus and don’t despise people who want you to experience all of the joys that life can bring.
Embrace your independence! Whatever that means for you.
See also: xoJane
When the soul becomes totally radiant and covered with the ineffable beauty of the glory of the light of Christ, it comes to share in the very life of the divine Spirit to such perfection that it is changed into the very chamber and throne of God.
– St. Makarios the Great
So, surviving a wedding is hard enough as a guest, but Seraphic has that covered.
Surviving your own wedding? Let’s just say we now understand why second weddings are generally small, tasteful, and low-fuss. The usual hullabaloo is barely worth putting up with once.
Nevertheless, Laura and Brigid made it through, as have countless other women in our social circle and in generations before us. Here are the tips that helped us.
15. Remember that good taste, etiquette, and must-haves are all culturally determined.
The ceremony hasn’t changed in a few centuries, but expectations for attire and the reception vary greatly from one generation to the next. In your grandma’s day, a normal wedding for the middle and lower classes involved cake & punch in the church hall wearing your best dress (which you’d wear again). Etiquette is often presented as “What Has Always Been And Must Always Be”, but that’s not accurate.
The most important thing is to get married and to thank your guests for sharing the day with you. If you can provide a full meal or dancing, that’s lovely. Light refreshments and a time for sharing are more than appropriate as well. And there’s nothing wrong with following the customs of your family today. Just don’t put pressure on yourself about it—especially if you and your fiancé don’t share the same traditions.
14. Do the best you can, and then let it go.
Once you’ve bought your dress, stop shopping. Once you’ve booked a venue, stop browsing. Once you’ve had your wedding, delete the Pinterest boards. The goal isn’t perfection. The goal is good-enough. Once you’ve made a decision, stop trying to optimize it, and move forward.
13. Find someone to talk to about changes relating to marriage.
By which we mean: shared finances, loss of independence, and also sex. A kind, mild-mannered missionary took one bride aside and said, “I wish someone had said this to me before my wedding. Sex doesn’t have to be amazing at first. And if it’s not, call me.” A little awkward to say out loud, but so comforting to hear before a big change.
Also, no matter how regular your cycle used to be, stress has sucky side effects, so you may want to pick up a pretty pair of these.
12. Share the work.
Wedding planning is a great opportunity to practice sharing a life, because a lot of those things will show up in everyday married life. Too long to-do lists? Check. Competing priorities? Check. Limited budget? Check. Opinionated families? Check. It’s good to learn how to be a team. Also, it’s a lot of work, and it shouldn’t fall on one person’s shoulders. Set your priorities and principles together, then divide the work based on skill and availability.
Chances are, you are not the only person to get married in your social circle. Especially since your social circle can now include strangers on the internet. (Hi.) Laura asked women who had 2 or 3 married daughters what their tricks were.
Things people may tell you:
Mary’s daughter just got married and she has 23 cute vases she’s happy to loan out. ABC church has a $X hall rental fee but they get a discount with these caterers. Costco has cheap, tasty sheet cakes. You can totally rent wedding dresses. This florist will help you DIY stuff at a great price. Mention ___ and you’ll get a referral discount. Etc.
10. Use modern resources.
9. Decide what the priorities are.
For Laura & Gabe: photographer, food (as in, how to have amazing food on a budget), and hospitality for our families who both traveled a long way. For Brigid & Anthony: photography, having everything at the church, and that all the guests felt loved.
This means you also know what the priorities are not. Brigid got a cheap dress and felt pretty anyway. The photographer was stellar, but they only booked her for 4 hours. Laura’s table arrangements were decided the Thursday before and she loved them. Both moms made great desserts and cookies and there was no fancy cake. There was not a display of childhood photos or family memories, and the cake topper was ordered last minute from the florist.
Not everything has to be perfect. Not everything can be.
8. When you get stressed out, focus on one thing you’re excited about.
For Laura, it was the flower girls and the music. Seeing the smiles on four girls ecstatic to be in your wedding is super uplifting. And when your groom does stellar arrangements for an invite-only male choir — yeah, we were brought to tears during the rehearsals. Some days all Brigid liked was her shoes & the groom. Eventually she decided she couldn’t elope because she wanted to hear the choir. Wanting to elope is normal, though you do have to get married in an Orthodox church, and Vegas doesn’t have any Orthodox drive-thrus. (How would you do the Dance of Isaiah in a drive-thru?)
7. It isn’t all about you.
It’s not your day. That is a flat lie spread by people trying to sell you things. It’s a day for your families and communities to send you off into matrimony, so you’re pretty important in this process, but it is not Your Day. One priest said, “The wedding is really for the moms, so they can celebrate instead of cry.”
Your families will probably have some sort of stressful response to your nuptials, whether it’s demands, criticism, freak-outs, or excruciating helpfulness. You love them and they love you, weddings are stressful, and people often respond badly to stress. Which will create more stress. All of that stress will land on you and the groom.
Be gentle with yourselves and generous with your loved ones.
6. This is not the Single Most Important Day. It doesn’t have to be the Most Perfect Day Ever.
It’s not a production or a show. It’s a wedding.
Your wedding matters. Your sanity, your health, your spiritual life, and your relationships matter more. You don’t have to make this one day perfect. Most of us can’t make a random Tuesday perfect, add 200 people and a big price tag on top and—forget it, too much pressure. Perfection is not a goal worth striving for.
There will be other fancy events to host, complete with paper invitations & floral centerpieces if you’d like. There will be other beautiful dresses to wear. The wedding matters, but it’s not your only chance to enjoy these things.
5. Ask for help.
Your community loves you. Your wedding is not a burden or an imposition. It’s okay to ask for help. People may say no, and that’s okay too, but in general it’s safe to ask. Especially feel free to reach out to your bridesmaids & groomsmen, your families, and your spiritual support network. They love you.
4. If it’s appearance-related, it doesn’t matter enough to lose sleep over.
This we can guarantee: if it’s about how the tables look, or how the flowers turn out, or even about how you look walking down the aisle, it is not worth agonizing over. How things look is special, but it’s not important. And it will absolutely look dated in three years, much less thirty. Timelessness is a myth, so let your wedding reflect what’s happening now. You are who you are. You are alive and getting married today. That’s worth capturing.
3. Decide in advance what’s worth feeling disappointed over.
As pre-wedding Brigid put it, “I just want the guests to be comfortable. I want people to be happy. (I almost said “I want people to be happy and to leave me alone,” but that’s stress talking.) I would be very upset if we ran out of food. I would be very upset if people complained all night. The centerpieces…just don’t explode or catch on fire and it’ll be fine. I will be upset if I don’t feel pretty, or if anybody makes insulting comments about my appearance, or if people make suggestive comments about the wedding night. I will not be upset if the flowers aren’t quite the varieties chosen, or quite the right feel. I will be upset if someone doesn’t listen to what we said we wanted, but not if there’s a mistake made. If the cake falls, or a kid steals a chunk too early, or the shepherd’s pie is dry, or someone makes an awkward-but-loving toast…it’s okay. As long as everyone feels loved, it’ll all be okay.”
2. Remember that this is reality.
Things will go wrong. This isn’t a movie, a fairy tale, or a stylized inspiration blog post. But good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, you will be married at the end of it. Remember, as things go awry (the timeline gets delayed, someone faints in the heat, the wrong color dance floor gets left by the previous night’s party, a homeless guy wants to be in the posed photos), that this is real life. And in real life, you are marrying the one you love, the one you trust and cherish enough to work out your salvation together. That’s pretty great.
1. You only have to do it once.
And then you get to keep him forever. Hold on to that thought. Hold on to it tight, and make sure this is the guy that you want to stress out with for the rest of your life. It’ll keep you connected to what’s important, and it will prevent any (okay, most) 2am breakdowns over invitation fonts or how-will-I-pay-for___.
Congratulations & best wishes!
What the Church teaches is not purity (in the way Evangelicals use the word), but chastity. Chastity isn’t something that you start out with and then can lose forever with one mistake. It is a virtue that takes prayer and effort to grow into. All sins can be forgiven through the sacraments. People like St. Augustine, who so famously said “Lord give me chastity, but not yet” can become a saint. The vocation of marriage, like the call to holiness, involves prayer, frequent sacraments, and hard work. Before marriage, we are still called to holiness, meaning we embrace virtue and avoid sin. We embrace the virtue of chastity, which includes abstinence for the unmarried, and avoid sin, here being lust. Within marriage, guess what? We are still called to the virtue of chastity. We aren’t called to permanent abstinence anymore, but we still need to be virtuous. In marriage, both partners need to lead each other to the Lord.
— SMP501, via Reddit