Catholic social guilt

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So I’m looking at my weekend calendar and seeing back to back to back events and I’m getting this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I’ve once again given away every free minute I had and I don’t know when I’ll get any time to myself to get things done and just recuperate before another Monday. What, that sounds like your weekend, too? Funny. How’d you get into this mess?

Wait, don’t tell me: you felt bad.

You felt bad for always telling friends you’ll get together and then not doing it. You felt bad for the family you never get to see and probably even thought, “I’m such a bad daughter/son/sister/brother/niece/nephew/grandchild….” You felt bad the way you always feel bad because there’s a world full of people out there you’re supposed to love somehow, but no matter how much time you give away, there’s never enough of it — or you — to go around.

In short, you’ve piled your social plate far too full for yet another weekend because you feel … guilty. Of course, you also did it because you genuinely want to see everyone you love. You genuinely want to do everything you’ve agreed to do, and you only wish you could be in three, four, five places at once to accomplish even MORE. But the one thing that keeps you from bowing out at the last minute as your stomach sinks when you look at the clock and realize you’re already late, and you’d really rather just curl up on the couch and order takeout and watch old movies, is that awful feeling of guilt. It’s something I like to call Catholic social guilt.

My friends, you deserve better than this. I for one don’t want all my friends to feel guilted into seeing me or coming to my parties. Granted, I’ll shamelessly guilt friends into reading this blog or volunteering with my parish group at the local soup kitchen (October 27, 8:00 a.m., St. Rita’s. Be there.), but your free time ought to be a gift freely given. You don’t owe it to me. Some weekends you just need to wear fuzzy socks and sweats and have solo Downton Abbey marathons. Sure, we’re single and have no spousal/parental obligations making demands on our time, but we work, we volunteer, we take classes, we’re busy and we’re tired and it’s perfectly all right to scream, “Uncle!!!” and run inside and pull down the shades once in a while.

If you do this every weekend? Okay, it’s probably time to feel a little guilty. But otherwise, cut yourself some slack. In all seriousness, human beings simply can’t have that many close personal relationships. We’re not built that way. (It’s not just me: it’s science.) So focus your energy on the people you’re actually closest to, the people with the strongest claims on your time and attention, the people who maybe have a right to guilt you out of some of your free time sometimes. (Think: Grandma.) Everyone else? Rejoice in their company when you can and don’t sweat it when you can’t, or when your weekend planner is so full you’ve started writing in tiny letters in the margins to get it all in.

For myself, I’m going to have to do some schedule purging this weekend. That means reneging on some things I agreed to. I feel guilty about it, and I will continue to feel guilty about it, but there’s no other way around it. Social life imposes some obligations, it’s true, but sometimes we have to look at the hierarchy of obligations. God, family, church, friends…and self is in there, too. Take some leisure time. Call a time out. Breathe. And don’t apologize for it.

Here’s my pledge to myself and to you: Starting today, I’m renouncing Catholic social guilt. I will no longer start every email with, “Sorry this took so long,” will send no more apologetic text messages to friends I keep glimpsing at Mass but can’t ever manage to say hello to, will not leave penitent notes on people’s Facebook walls because I haven’t gotten together with them in a month and don’t see any free blocks in my schedule any time soon. No, friends, starting today I’m just going to do what I can, love where I am, and leave you all in God’s hands. Because try as I might and much as I want, I just can’t love everybody all the time exactly the way they need to be loved. And no one else  can love me that way, either. We’re not built that way, and that’s okay.

Please do know that in my heart, I’m hanging out with each of you, all the time.

If that sounds creepy, I’m sorry.


7 thoughts on “Catholic social guilt

  1. I’m sorry, but I can’t disagree more. Stick to the things you say will you are going to do. One of my housemates, an introvert, was a great example to me in how and why NOT to flake out of things. No matter how tired she felt of being around people, or how little pleasure she expected to get out of a social outing, she would go, simply because, “I said I would be there.” The sacrifice involved there was beautiful for us who knew her intimately to see, because really, she *would* much rather have stayed in, not driven anywhere, not gone out of herself–but she gave that social obligation as an offering pleasing to God. I always remember that whenever I, an admitted extrovert, consider not showing up to something I had RSVP’ed to, for no other reason than “I feel like staying home” or “I just don’t feel like being around people,” and I think twice. We are adults here; we all have calendars. If it looks like I’m scheduling myself into a hole, it’s at THAT point I need to stop, not when I’ve already committed to an event or, even more so, to a person. And from the other side of it, there’s nothing that feels worse than when someone I was really looking forward to seeing/spending time with cancels on me last minute. Why would I want to do that to someone I care about?

    • I did say, don’t do this all the time. Of course people need to stick to their word. But it’s also important to be true to yourself. Social functions (like house parties or happy hours) are good events, fun events, but they are not moral obligations. I won’t renege on a coffee date or actual quality time with friends unless there’s an emergency. But a party? While I’m terribly sorry to disappoint people who wanted to see my face, I don’t consider that as big a deal. Agreed, you shouldn’t RSVP yes if your schedule is getting too full. But if you have and it gets to be the weekend and you haven’t actually rested yet, it’s ok to back out. Of course don’t pull a straight up no show. I’d say a phone call is certainly in order–and yes, an apology. And I’d also say, this shouldn’t be the norm for anyone. Having friends and being invited to many parties and other events is a huge blessing, and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. But I will also say, at least now and then, we need to “come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.” Especially in the busy social/volunteer/what have you scene in DC. It’s important to take the time to learn how to be alone.

      I honestly think it is unfair to turn parties and other such events into moral imperatives. While it is important to get over yourself sometimes and drag yourself out to see people, especially if your druthers are always to stay in, it’s also crucial to have some time to yourself.

      I’m just saying.

      P.S. Excuse all the typos here lately. This is what happens when one tries to multi-task…and to write comments back from her iPhone. See previous post on said gadget.

      • I agree it is important to take the time to be alone, and granted maybe there is a level of guilt attached to saying (to yourself or others), “I just need this time to be alone.” My only point is that it is simply not charitable to cancel on a party (big or small) to which you have RSVPed without a serious reason to do it. There’s no moral obligation to go, but it’s rude to cancel last minute: there’s no way around the fact. I have hosted enough parties not to lament every guest who RSVPed yes and then called/texted last-minute to say they weren’t coming (or just flat out didn’t show), but again, it doesn’t feel great. And yeah, I GUESS the fact that you are strung out and unrested and about to start another week with not enough sleep/relaxation could be construed as a serious reason, but if it’s your fault that you got to that point in the first place, it’s not a good excuse. Presumably you know you’re going to feel melancholic/introverted/tired/cranky and can plan accordingly.

        And I wish I had as good of an excuse for my typos!! 😉

  2. Hmmm, interesting debate. So, is the obligation to attend an event that you’ve RSVP’d for inversely proportional to the number of people invited to/attending the event? You mention that you wouldn’t renege on a coffee date or quality time, but a party is a different story. Perhaps the moral of the story is that we are all spending too much of our time attending too many large gatherings instead of focusing on the smaller, more intimate gatherings? Or is there a way where large gatherings can be “quality time” too? I don’t doubt that both are important, but attaining the right balance in a city as large as D.C. can be a struggle…at least that has been my experience coming from a smaller city, where the small, intimate gatherings were plentiful, and the large gatherings weren’t as overwhelmingly large.

    • If there is a hierarchy, I’d say it’s based on how personal the invitation was to begin with–so a friend calling to invite you to coffee, a written card inviting you to a shower, an email to a small group of friends, etc. are more personal than a huge FB event, a flier handed to you and a hundred other people, a verbal announcement to a room full of people, etc. Still, an RSVP is an RSVP: it signals to the host/planner of the event how much refreshment to provide and other ways to accommodate the expected guests and is considered a matter of courtesy.

  3. But is your presence there out of guilt about RSVP-ing “yes” truly a worthier cause than an extra plate of snacks and a host’s momentary notice and regret that you couldn’t attend? Personally, when planning larger parties, I invite with the expectation that people may not be able to come, last-minute, for reasons that are their own (family, work, illness, fatigue: they don’t owe me excuses for their life, be their reasons “legitimate” or not, in my book of “Rules of Etiquette”). If I truly wanted to see and spend time with that individual, I’d do something truly person-al with them, like a coffee date. Sure, I may notice they couldn’t make it to my larger party, but there’s also a level of mercy involved on my part as hostess that my guests should be able to rely upon.

  4. Can you find a time each weekend to consistently block out for yourself? We realized that we wanted Sunday to truly be a day of rest and have that blocked off as our day to relax. If we can fit a social activity into that, then great! And, if for some reason we can’t relax on Sunday the way we need to, if we have an obligation that we truly need to attend, then we schedule another day to chill that week. It truly has been a lifesaver. It has kept us from weekends full of work, weddings, errands, parties, etc. that extend into Sunday and leave us exhausted until who knows when. I know it is hard to keep a consistent time for yourself but we figure God wanted Sunday to be a day of rest because he knew we couldn’t handle life without it. And it is a much easier way to say “no.” 😀

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