Stepping past disheartened

“I’ve given up on men.”

It’s becoming a key phrase among my single lady acquaintances. We’re single and we’re tired of being single, but scanning the horizon turns up a pretty bleak picture of…well, a lot more singleness. It’s the same whether you live in a metropolitan area hopping with apparently eligible bachelors (I’ve heard D.C. listed as such a place by wide-eyed out-of-towners. Oh, ladies: give me a call before you start planning your move to this area to find Mr. Right), or in a suburban wasteland. Here and there around us people meet, date, fall in love, get married, and all our elders tell us this is the “normal” state of affairs and ask us when we’re going to settle down. Now I believe this used to be the normal state of affairs. Granted, I’m no history expert, but every woman I know over the age of 45 tells me the same story about life for the 20-something woman back in her day. A twenty-six-year-old living on her own and working, while not unheard of twenty years ago, was certainly not the established norm like she is today. If movies like Crossing Delancey are any indication, they were in fact still something of an anomaly.

Anyway, this post was not meant to be a commentary on cultural norms, but on the disturbing trend toward bitterness I’m seeing resulting from those norms. Of course, I see only the ladies’ side of this discussion, where hapless single females between the ages of 25 and 35 begin to throw up their hands and cry, “It’s hopeless!” But though we haven’t talked much about it, I sense a similar feeling of discontent in my male friends and acquaintances. Of course their frustrations are different from ours, but they’re every bit as real. Whether we’re going on frequent dates, dating online, or hardly dating at all, many of us are becoming increasingly disheartened.

Disheartened. I’ve been mulling this post over for the past couple days, and that word keeps playing around in my mind. Like a good editor, I looked it up, because even though I know basically what it means, sometimes it’s nice to see the exact definition. To dishearten is “to cause someone to lose determination or confidence.” It fits even better than I realized. We are losing our determination to hope, and we are certainly losing our confidence in one another.

Of course, we all have our own ideas of the perfect solution to the problem. The girls say, “If only the men would take some initiative!” (But let’s be fair. Ladies, do we really want every man we know to “take initiative” and ask us out? Or are we thinking of those few men we could potentially be interested in who have never made a move?) The men say, “The girls just have to be more approachable!” (Frankly, I’ve never understood what the heck this means. I may not be Mrs. Potts, but I’m not exactly an icicle…)

At the end of the day, though, there is no perfect solution. The human race has ever been and remains a broken people. I think we pin a whole lot of expectation on our hope for love. We want to be discovered, rejoiced in, cherished, committed to, perhaps healed, and we seek all of those things in a romantic relationship that just never seems to materialize.

Let’s start with the obvious problem: those are things we should be seeking from God first. If we’re blessed to discover them also in a romantic relationship, praise God. But don’t pin all of that responsibility on another human being. (I remember being surprised when a dear friend of mine in a committed long-term dating relationship once told me, “Even when you’re dating, you still have some days where you just feel sad and lonely.” It made sense, but it still took me aback. Subconsciously I guess I’d always imagined I would want for nothing once I ended up with a great guy.)

More to the immediate point, we have to lose the bitterness. Christ and his mother are often referred to as “all sweetness.” If we’re to imitate them, we also must be sweet. “I’ve given up on [the opposite sex]” is the cry of a bitter, very often wounded person. My heart goes out to all my single friends, as I know the real pain behind those words. But spreading the bitterness around only tears everyone down.

I propose what may seem a trite solution, but I firmly believe it’s the only one: prayer. And lots of it. How often do you ladies pray for men–not just your brothers/fathers/friends/future spouses, but Christian men everywhere, and especially the men in your own community? When you’re dating online, how often do you pray for the men whose profiles you click through? Ladies, I challenge you: let’s pray for our men. Pray that they may become holy, grow in virtue, and become the men God wants them to be.

And guys, I offer you the same challenge: please pray for us!

We are all of us broken. We’ve all been hurt in some way, some far more than others. But we can be healed if we want to be. Cynicism and bitterness are selfish responses–people have not given us what we wanted or expected, and we respond by putting up walls. I challenge all of us to try something new, something different. Let’s counteract the bitterness with sweetness. Remember that Christ still heals. Why not ask him to heal us, and to heal those who have hurt us?

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7 thoughts on “Stepping past disheartened

  1. Awesome post, Mary Beth! Disheartened is such a good word for that feeling of bitterness/despair/frustration with the opposite sex. It can be disheartening to continue to put yourself out there when you feel like all your efforts get you nowhere. You are right that the only solution is prayer. I especially turn to the psalms when I feel disheartened: “Why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still, my savior and my God.”

    And my big revelation of the last several months has been that it’s never going to be my efforts that are going to result in my finding my vocation. A vocation is not something owed me, but an unearned gift. So I need to trust the Lord to give me that gift as He wants and when He wants. Of course it takes effort to live a good life in the meanwhile, but I shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that I’m not DOING enough if I haven’t met the right person yet.

  2. Great point, Claire. Thanks for the reminder! God really seems to want me to ponder that this week, because it keeps coming up: A vocation is a GIFT. As is this present moment! Is it a Bible verse that says, “Count it all joy”? I’m thinking St. Paul, but I could be wrong.

  3. I admire your openness in speaking freely on this subject.

    Isn’t this the perennial underlying thread in all our circles? While perhaps more acute amongst good Catholics, I think it is fairly common to our generation–in the secular world it’s simply drowned out in shallow and temporary pleasures/distractions (which of course result in more long-term pain).

    Certainly, it seems to me, we can fairly readily break down the why’s of this problem in our generation, and its negative effects, but doing so does not really seem to provide any solid answers; at least not from a temporal perspective. Technology allows us to see, observe, imagine, and communicate in boundless intangibles. Instead of one’s idea of people coming from, and being mostly limited to, their local community where they grew up, where one is able to come to truly know people in day-to-day experiences, one is always drawn to something that *seems* relatively better, but is but a perception. (Ala the male infidelity problem as addressed surprisingly accurately by the John Cusack movie Hi-Fidelity.) Realizing that reality of the modern world simply does *not* have an evident solution to go with it. We’re here now, and we can’t undo it.

    Once friends become married, it suddenly seemed so easy that they exhort their single friends to just get out and start dating, that it’s as easy as asking–a symptom, if you will, of the happiness that is found amongst those who are excited to suddenly realize God’s plan for them.

    To get there, wherever it is God wants us to be, I submit we should add two things to your ever-important proposal of Prayer, for a total of Three P’s:

    Prayer. Patience. Productivity.

    I find the first two the toughest, but the third the least common.

    When we approach that age and station where we traditionally expect to meet other singles and start dating or fall in love, nowadays we are rarely in our home communities sinking roots. Instead, we’re in a foreign place, usually a dense city, where we hope to attain a lucrative job, further education, and meet like-minded people. At any rate, no matter who you are, I doubt you can deny that you are essentially “in a holding-pattern” and not living up to your potential.

    And this scares me.

    And as it happens, I think is a big part of why so many of us are remaining single.

    What exactly do I mean? Well, it scares me because I remember the parable I heard so often while serving daily Mass as a little boy, about the Master returning to collect the talents. While we are in our little holding patterns, we are largely burying our talents, at least, certainly not expanding them. If any of us in this position die tomorrow, what’s the Master going to say to us? I shudder to imagine it. Sure, many in the city may embrace sports, soup kitchens, graduate degrees. But in these things we are merely enrolling in a program society has laid out for us. It doesn’t mean these things are not goods, but they are often not our specific talents, and do nothing to set us apart.

    I’m not focusing on an individualism, or a need to be special; but God made each one of us unique, endowed with special gifts to reflect His Goodness, and it is in practicing and developing these talents that we truly “define” who we are and unintentionally show that to others, while being productive, and accomplishing good.

    And that is often what leads to deep-rooted attraction, and sets us apart from one another.

    For instance, you go to a young adult’s event for Catholics. A whole posse of people chatters before you. Many are nice. Many seem good. Many seem smart. The list goes on, but that’s the problem, they just sort of meld together as a herd. It’s because they are all in that holding pattern.

    Consider instead–you notice Henry in your town/neighborhood/Towne Center. He works at the drugstore, as the pharmacist’s assistant, and you heard he’s studying to be a doctor on the side. He’s always cheery and well groomed. Very polite. He helps old ladies cross the street. You saw him volunteering at the parish bazaar, campaigning for that pro-life candidate for mayor, driving the children’s hay ride at the county fair, and on the side of the highway that time helping someone with their broken down car. Henry was just being Henry – rooted in a community and observed being productive, doing things Henry did because he chose to do them as a result of his character and beliefs. Henry stands apart. Henry is not lost in a group of similarly-minded people doing similar things, like a school of fish, but is out living life and developing his God-given talents as a junior pillar of his community.

    And with healthy foundations such as these, people are more specifically interested in each other, and more easily enter into meaningful relationships, friend or more, at any rate.

    So break the holding patterns I say, and settle down into a community, and not a mobile community, but your physical community. Pick one and become part of it. We must develop our talents and be productive, be patient, and pray, and God will surprise us with His plan when we are ready, and not a moment too soon or too late, but if we hold back and wait, I don’t see how we can call ourselves ready for God’s plan–we need to use what He has given us so far and work with it. Besides, being productive means being preoccupied, and that makes it easier to be patient.

  4. Mary Beth, I very much appreciate what you’ve written here. Cynicism certainly doesn’t seem to be the right response to the unfulfilled desire for marriage.

    And J.D., I think your diagnosis of what’s wrong makes an awful lot of sense. I live in a city similar to D.C. in a lot of ways–and your description of young adults rings unsettlingly true. And your Henry-story reminds me of Wendell Berry, whose life and work offer a possible antidote to this “holding pattern” state of affairs.

  5. This is an awesome and thought-provoking post.

    I wanted to add to the discussion a quote I read in an excellent (for a secular source) article on marriage, and that I think speaks to what your friend said about how a relationship doesn’t make a person happy. The author of the article says to single women, “I believe every woman who wants to can find a great partner. You’re just going to need to get rid of the idea that marriage will make you happy. It won’t. Once the initial high wears off, you’ll just be you, except with twice as much laundry.” Bam. Exactly.

    Married women and engaged women have days of feeling lonely, depressed and blue just as much as single women, except maybe they explain it for different reasons. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was, “If you’re not happy single, you won’t be happy married.” I tried to remind myself of that often during my single years.

    The idea of praying for the men around you is a wonderful one, keeping the focus positive and healthy (as it should be) instead of bitter and cynical. I loved this post!

  6. This is such a great post and you are such an amazing writer! I love the editor in you that had to define the word and the Beauty & the Beast reference 😉 haha I wish more girls thought like this, instead of making them feel “disheartened.” 😦 – Ali

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