Profile No. 22: Bill Gonch

Profiles in the Gap

Bill Gonch

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Bill Gonch lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area

Did you expect this time of singleness?  

I expected to be single, but I expected a different singleness.

The whole time I was growing up I was an atheist. I had some vaguely defined plans for what I’d do in my twenties, but they all involved my career, interests, hobbies, fun. I figured I’d get married someday, but I didn’t think too much about the timeline. More to the point, I didn’t think of using my twenties for anything other than whatever I happened to want.

Then, when I was almost 22, I learned that God exists.  I remember one night shortly after that: I was looking around at things in my room, realizing that each one of them was held in existence by a direct, constant act of God’s will. If He stopped perpetuating granting existence to my desk…pop! No more desk!

I grabbed my desk. I don’t want to tell you how long I held it.

You see, when I first believed in God, everything changed. I mean literally everything: every single thing that I could see or touch or smell was a different thing than it had been before I knew that God exists. Before, things were just things—they were brute physical reality, and I thought about them or didn’t depending on whether I needed them for whatever I wanted to do.

But now, every thing that was depended on God’s action for its existence. Every thing is a gift from God: rain and sunrises and scotch tape and earthworms and my sourpuss great-aunt. It was like I’d moved to Mars. (Oh, right, Mars is a gift, too.) I spent my twenties in an entirely different world than I’d lived in as a kid. By the time I’d started exploring the new world—which is the real world—any expectations that I’d had up until that time were gone.

If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 

It’s been wild. I haven’t gotten married, but here are a few things I’ve done.

I’ve met incredible friends—people who are so good that they make me want to be better. Some people I know are so good that it frightens me, the way Aslan frightens the Pevensie children in Narnia.

I’ve sat with homeless men in a park late at night, giving out sandwiches and talking about our families.

I’ve learned—maybe it’s shameful that I needed to learn this, but I’ve learned—that homeless men have families, that they see them and care about them.

I’ve helped a man get off the street and into a homeless shelter.

I’ve learned that the devils who keep men on the street are beyond my power to defeat, and often beyond those men’s power, but not beyond God’s power.

I’ve organized church groups.

I’ve learned that I’m really bad at organizing church groups.

I’ve learned to pray the Hail Mary.

I’ve learned that one of Mary’s titles is “Exterminatrix of Heresies,” and that there’s a painting of her beating down a demon with a giant club.

I’ve been one of the crazy people who prays the rosary outside of abortion clinics, and I’ve learned that the stereotypes of those people are very far from the truth.

I’ve seen a woman approach an abortion clinic and then change her mind, deciding to bring her child into the world, because of things that my friend said to her.

For three years I lived with the Blessed Sacrament in my house. In my house!

I’ve counted among my friends men who wear brown dresses, giant rosaries, and no shoes. I’ve learned that they’re called “friars,” not “monks.”

I’ve become the godfather of little boy whose soul is immortal.

It’s been wild.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 

I’d have found a lot more if I’d listened to what God was telling me.

There’s a passage in A Man for All Seasons that has been playing in my mind for the past several months. Richard Rich has been seeking a position in the government from Sir Thomas More, but Thomas refuses, believing (rightly) that Rich does not have the moral fiber for an intrigue-ridden court. Instead, he offers to appoint Rich to a teaching position. He says, “You’d make a good teacher, Richard. Perhaps a great one.”

Rich: “But who would know?”

Thomas: “You, your students, perhaps your colleagues, God. Not a bad public, that.”

I came to DC to work in policy two-and-a-half years ago. I thought it was the right move…and at first it was. My employer has an important mission and I work with wonderful, talented people; I’ve learned an awful lot from being there. But it’s been clear for a while that policy is not what I should be doing. For a couple of years now, I’ve felt a pull to return to school, get a Ph.D. and, well, be a teacher. At the end of this past summer the Lord hit me with a series of hammer-blows: it was time (past time, maybe), to apply. Lord willing, I’ll start classes in the fall. It doesn’t feel too good to be in the same spot as the villain in one of your favorite movies. But now, for the first time, I have a strong sense of vocation. I’m finally doing what God intends me to do. That does feel pretty darn good.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 

Goodness! You might as well ask, how does oxygen play a role in your life?

I mean that pretty close to literally. Faith gives me joy in good times and strength in hard ones. Faith constitutes the world: by it I know that each person I meet deserves my love and compassion and respect because each person is made in the image and likeness of God. I’m not sure I’d agree that it plays a role in my outlook: it’s more that faith is the very grounds by which other things can play a role. It’s not one of the things out there in the world, but the means through which I understand anything else that’s in the world. Faith is the pair of eyeglasses that lets me see the world clearly, and my soul comes with the same fine-print notice as my driver’s license: “Restriction: corrective lenses.”

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

I’d talk to more people. I’m very shy, and I have a hard time knowing what to say to people whom I don’t already know well. It’s an INFJ thing, I guess. But when I do meet new people, I’m always glad to have done it, so I’m trying to be more outgoing.

I’d write and publish more. Ray Bradbury once encouraged young writers to write a story every week for a year, because “No one can possibly write 52 bad stories in a row.” I’ve decided 2014 will be the year I get my fiction published, so I’ll be writing a lot and submitting things I’ve never submitted before. I’m just hoping I don’t prove Ray Bradbury wrong.

Finally, I’d listen to God more. It’s weird—I listen a lot when I’m talking with other people, but when I pray suddenly I’m doing all the talking. Talking in prayer is easier than listening…after all, if you’re just sitting there listening, pretty soon you find yourself thinking that you need to pick up some chicken cutlets on your way home, and how are you ever going to finish that report by Thursday, and—darnit—you left the dishes in the sink again, and hey, that girl by the Mary altar’s pretty cute. And then your mind’s entirely distracted from God and it’s time to start over on your page of Francis de Sales and see if you can salvage a bit of this Holy Hour for some actual prayer.

But I guess distraction isn’t the real reason I’m afraid to stop talking in prayer. The real reason is that sometimes, when you stop talking, God starts.

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Profile No. 21: Dustin Siggins

 Profiles in the Gap

Dustin Siggins

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 Dustin Siggins is a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Did I expect to be single at the age of 28-and-a-quater? Simply put…no.

I had my first crush in September of 7th grade, and at 15 started looking for the right woman to marry. I figured it would take some time to find the right young lady for me, and by the time I got out of college we’d be ready for marriage.

Over the next several years, I was met with disappointment after disappointment. Starting in February of 7th grade – 1999, which was when the aforementioned crush and her boyfriend of several months broke up – a string of failures found me at every turn. At one point I was 0-17. For you non-sports fans, that’s zero “yes” answers and 17 “no” responses to my asking girls on dates.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I analyze. A lot. More on that later.

Finally, for a period of approximately eight months, good luck was mine. I dated a young lady for a month – she was vacationing for the summer in my hometown – and then dated my then-best friend for several months. The end of this latter relationship left me quite depressed for months, a state of mind that was finally broken by the stress and distraction of Basic Training after high school graduation.

I entered college quite optimistic about dating. My string of bad luck was over, if the prior year was any indication! Alas, by the time I graduated college I had dated one young lady for a month, and that was about it. Turns out, being an abstinent, pro-life, weekly attending Catholic made me a radical even among my fellow Catholics.

Thus it was that by the time I was a junior in college my regular commentary on dating was that I had accepted that I was going to be the 80-year old virgin. I told people I would make a movie out of it, and make lots of money – the PG version of “The Forty-Year Old Virgin.”

When I came to D.C. my optimism had rebounded, especially as I learned how culturally and geographically unaware I had been. Here I was not a radical, extreme Catholic – who knew the Northeast was more liberal than the rest of the country? Not me, at the time – and I hoped I had matured enough to change my dating luck around.

Again, luck was not mine. Turns out women don’t like it when a guy shakes hands on a first date (something I have remedied since). The Southern women found me a bit…blunt…and too intense. And despite my preference to become friends with a young lady before formally pursuing a relationship, my personality was putting me so far in the dreaded Friend Zone it was like being in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by sharks. With chains.

In other words, women liked being my friend. But not my girlfriend. (Though this has its own advantages – the benefits of friendship, the benefits of hanging out with very attractive women, and none of the emotional stress of trying to date said friends.)

In 2011 I utilized online dating for seven months, and finally started “playing the field.” Effective though these tactics were, they never felt comfortable, though online dating did lead to a short-lived long-distance relationship. And then, finally, luck was with me as I dated a woman for almost five months and almost fell in love with another later in 2012, despite the brevity of the second relationship (two months). In early 2013, one of my closest friends and I discussed dating, but because of our religious differences we decided to simply maintain a very close friendship.

So where does this leave me, as 2014 nears? It’s been a tough year, I’ll admit. My younger siblings are both getting married next year. The average age of marriage for men is 28, which puts me behind the eight-ball, and for most of my life I’ve thought that guys who are unmarried in their late twenties are losers or have gigantic personal flaws. And the constant discussions of discernment in the Catholic community mean the subject is dating is always on my mind.

However, tough times allow for growth, and this year has also been one for large personal growth in certain areas. They include:

  1. A priest told me in July that our goal in life is to be a saint. Everything else helps us on that path. It was a good reminder about priorities.
  2. Despite rumors to the contrary, I talk far less than I want to. The filter between my brain and mouth is gigantic – which should scare those of you who know how much I talk. I find this filter necessary to strategize how best to talk to people in life, especially since my default setting is to be extremely choleric, and this can alienate people. However, a friend recently told me I should not worry about filtering because of what other people might think. While we all have our flaws, by being so tactical, I am not being who God designed and intended for me to be. To a degree, I’m letting the flaws of others dictate my behavior, which is not productive for anyone.
  3. Clearly, I am someone who analyzes and thinks a lot. While this is naturally part of who I am, and thus does not paralyze me as it might others, it can also create an inefficient style of behavior. As my friend Isaiah once put it: “Dustin, I love you, but you have got to learn to take yourself less seriously.” To put it another way, by thinking and analyzing so much, I’m essentially trying to control my life to a fault, instead of putting it in God’s hands.

In short, I need to learn to relax and go with the flow instead of always trying to create the flow. For example, my one romantic idealistic trait – wanting to be one of those old couples that’s been married for 70 or more years – may need to take second-fiddle to the rest of my life. And rather than get frustrated when people who don’t follow key Church teachings get engaged and married, while I follow them and remain single, I need to remember being a saint is the first and foremost goal.

Marriage is not a competition I have to win. We’re trying to be saints. Comparing myself to my siblings, or the average age of marriage, is to miss the forest for the trees.

So where am I as we enter 2014? Frustrated, absolutely. Recognizing that even at the age of 28 – a full-fledged adult – I have a lot of growing up to do? Grudgingly, yes. I’m trying to not miss the forest for the trees, and remember that people mean well when they say contradictory things like “Be yourself, but be low-key,” or the falsely uplifting “The right girl is out there for you!”

So what should I expect out of life right now? I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions,” as self-improvement should be a continuous process, but I think I’m going to prioritize a few things this year:

  1. A friend gave me a piece of advice recently that I’m going to take into consideration: Rather than focus on multiple aspects of life at the same time, try to focus on one aspect to make it as successful as possible. She suggested one’s career path, and indicated this would be a good idea in order to be happier, and happiness is attracting to the opposite sex. I think I’ll take her advice, with a twist – prioritize everything but dating, and let the dating happen as it will.
  2. I’m going to work on being more aware of why I act as I do. I always apply my friend Ben’s advice – “Don’t care what people think, but don’t give them reason to think badly of you” – but I’m going to try to keep the latter mindset balanced with greater emotional awareness.
  3. A retired priest advised me to just be Dustin. Let’s see what that looks like, rather than being “Dustin who’s constantly being hard on himself.”

In the end, the goal of every human being should be to walk on the path God has for us, and be happy regardless of what life throws at us. We should be whole people as much as we possibly can – and, in my case, if a cute girl walks across my path, life’s a little more attractive right now. And if she becomes my wife, my ability to walk on the path of God’s Will will be more complete than it was before our paths crossed.

Profile No. 18: Claire

Profiles in the Gap
Claire
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Claire is an anonymous Catholic blogger in the UK. She blogs at Everything Is Grace. Follow her on Twitter, @CCGraceBlog.
Did you expect this time of singleness?
When I was a kid I had a lot of plans and expectations as to what would be happening in my life at the age of 25. I had envisaged a big beautiful house, a lovely husband and at least one bouncing baby on my knee… The actual picture of my life is vastly different from this. If you must know, I recently moved back in with my parents, I don’t drive, I don’t have any prospective boyfriends, and I work two part-time jobs in a city that takes me three hours traveling to and from everyday. This was all very unexpected. I may have had a little crisis moment before my 25th birthday where I thought, “Where have I gone wrong?” But I realise that I am probably the happiest I have ever been in my life. Nothing is perfect, nothing is the way I want it to be. But this is what God has made it, and it is the best thing ever.
What did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 
I did not expect this time of singleness. I completely assumed that my life was going to go along the same path as everyone else I knew and looked up to. I am not going to lie and say that I am over the moon that I have not fulfilled my goals, but as a priest friend reminded me of this week, it’s not about my goals. My plan is not the plan, His plan. Jeremiah 29:11 is something I try to learn from on a daily basis. God does have a plan, and it could be similar or completely different to the plan teenage Claire had, but whatever it is, He will be executing it in His own time. Meanwhile, what’s happening right now is keeping me with a smile on my face. I am safe, warm, well-fed, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, surrounded by people I love, and growing into such a beautiful relationship with Christ.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
Ahhh the career question. I work for two different charities – a non denominational pro-life charity and a Catholic charity. All things aside I love what I do. I love the people I work with and for. I love the potential of the places I work in, and what they could do in the future. I love being part of the journey. But I can honestly say this is just a moment in time for me. I dream of bigger and better things. I want to work with people. I want to own my own business. I want to make people happy. I want to bring people closer to Christ. Again, these are a lot of things I want! But it all depends on what He wants.
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
My faith essentially forms everything about me. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe that this optimism stems from a knowledge of the life God has built for me, and the promise of life with Him forever. I know that anything that goes wrong is not really the end of the world, and I know He looks after me. Having faith means I look at everything very differently — from what I eat, to what I do, who I hang out with, the situations I can get myself into…. down to random things like the charities I can support and the people I vote for. People look at faith as something restrictive, but I see it as something incredibly freeing. Having a life of faith has opened so many doors for me, created so many opportunities and made me who I am today. It definitely reassures me as a single woman. I look at my peers who don’t have faith, but who are single — they throw themselves at every man/woman with a pulse, they crave attention, they crave love, and they look for these things in all the wrong places. I know that Christ loves me more than any man ever could, and I learn each day that this love is enough for me, and anyone that comes along will have to slot in with that love.
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Faith is a challenge and a half; anyone who says it’s easy is talking crazy talk! Picking up the crosses of my life and dealing with them is a challenge. Praying — having a daily conversation with Christ — is a challenge. Blogging is a bit of a challenge for me… and trying to find time to blog is a challenge in itself these days.

If I didn’t worry about being a failure… I would start my own business. I don’t know what it would be though, so some thought would have to be put in that…. I would also put videos on Youtube because I really admire Youtubers (Shaycarl, CTFxC, Datev Gallagher, HeyKayli) and how they inspire many people. But a realistic thing would be to put a photograph on my blog and show it to people I actually know “in real life.” That is a huge challenge to me. But until I get the courage for that…. it’s anonymous blogging all the way.

Profile No. 14: Ashton Mallon

Profiles in the Gap
Ashton Mallon
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Ashton Mallon is a campus minister living and working in Northern Virginia. You can read some of her other great writing here.
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
I think I have known in my heart from a young age that the Lord would give me as much time as I needed to prepare me for whatever Vocation He has in store for me. At the same time, I also know that at times I can get impatient with every passing year. I have always understood, in my heart, that I am not perfect yet, so I expected to have years of being single that can prepare me for my vocation and spouse. I grew up not dating often, and only dating intentionally, so it comes naturally in a sense for me to embrace singleness.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
I am very appreciative because very rarely do I get frustrated with being single; it must be some extra grace! Rather, I have always seen it as a time to grow into the person that God desires me to be, the one whom He desires me to be to my future spouse. I honestly am not one to make too many expectations, because the Lord always seems to surprise us in life.
If I were to look back, though, and then look to now, I do think that being single is what I thought it would be. It consists mostly of dating when I feel called to, continuing to discern my vocation, and most importantly staying plugged into prayer and the community, particularly through friendships. This is what I mostly imagined it to be, though to be honest, I wish that I was able to have more time to meet new people. I work in ministry, which I absolutely love, but it does mean odd hours in my schedule and often means that other (most!) things come after my students. In an ideal world, I would appreciate more time to spend meeting other women, dating, and or visiting religious orders to discern better. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way–the Lord is working beautifully!
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
I work in college ministry and I absolutely love my career! To be honest, I sometimes forget that it is a “career” because I go to work every day to, what feels like, just hang out with friends. Much of my job is spent personally growing so that I can continue to be an example to my students of what it means to seek after Christ and allow Him to fulfill you…. it’s intimidating! My only goal is to inspire them to desire and pursue Christ, hopefully first by my own example. The conversations I have about their questions inspire my own faith; the Bible studies I have led enrich my own relationship with Christ; the situations I help them work through remind me of what I need to be doing in my own life, how much more I need to depend on Christ, and how much more I have to grow. It’s beautiful!
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Faith plays a monumental role in my actions and outlook! I honestly could not name much else that does. All that I do, all that I think, and all that I am is because of and influenced by my relationship with Christ. When I am struggling with loneliness as a single young adult, I turn to Christ. When I am trying to discern a relationship more seriously, I pray even more. Particularly as a single young adult, I feel that I have even more need to depend on my faith because it is a difficult time of decisions; jobs, housing, relationships, morals–it all has to flow from my prayer life, community, and beliefs.
For me in particularly, working in ministry allows me to see my faith as a crucial aspect to my single life, because I am able to be almost radically available to share my faith with my students, something that I know I will be unable to do when I am in my vocation. Faith motivates my choices, since sometimes there is no one else there to help you (I am not married or part of a community, so it’s often me and God). Faith and my relationship with Christ motivate my discernment of my career, my charity towards and relationships with my housemates, fulfills my loneliness, and strengthens my pursuit for a spouse, amidst so much else.
 
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Some challenges that I give myself during the time of being single are not allowing myself to get too discouraged. It can sometimes take more prayer than I would like, but when I really think about how much God loves me (as corny as it sounds!) I am reminded that this loneliness is only a reason for me to draw even closer to Him; to perfect myself through His love and grace, and to let HIM lead the way.
Another challenge I give (though I need to be better about following through…) is to make time to hang out with people. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Particularly as a single woman, I think I need to be better about going out and meeting people, cultivating those friendships, and possibly even meeting people of the opposite sex … what a concept!
If I didn’t have to worry about failure, I would also go to more young adult things to meet new friends… I just get so shy! I would also like to speak in public more often. I love speaking about femininity and chastity, two great passions of mine. I come alive when I give talks on retreats, and I feel so encouraged in my own faith journey when I do. I also think that when I share about my prayer, my relationship with Christ, or about things that I have come to believe and love, I just see myself so strengthened in those areas and I love trying to inspire that in others. Ultimately, I would just put myself out there more–ask more people to hang out, etc!

Paying it forward

As I wrote last time, one little sister taught me how to forgive years and years ago. Another little sister — the littlest in our family — taught me how to be forgiven.

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Every time I visited home during my breaks from college, I reverted to my old bossy, cantankerous, self-righteous self within about two seconds of walking through the front door. It always hit me like a ton of bricks, how little I had really changed, when I went home for visits. No, college and young adulthood had not made me more patient, more selfless, or more saintly; they had simply removed all the old irritants that tested my weak patience, selfishness, and very weak sanctity. A few hours with my siblings was more than enough to cure me of any delusions I might have entertained about my own goodness. In one particularly bad fit of temper during a break, I remember going off on my youngest sister over absolutely nothing.

I mean it. She didn’t do a single thing. We were driving together to somewhere (I don’t remember where), and I hadn’t written down directions and I got lost. When it became apparent we were pretty hopelessly lost, and that we were going to be embarrassingly late to wherever we were going, and that we had been driving around in circles for the past half hour, I flipped out. If you’ve ever seen me flip out, no more need be said; if you haven’t, I pray God to spare you the sight and I’ll spare you the description.

My poor baby sister — she was about twelve at the time — just sat quiet as a mouse in the passenger seat of the car and took my ranting like a saint. I know I snapped at her more than once, and she quietly took that too. It was an hour I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for, and I would never have blamed her for holding it against me. Yet when I sought her out, my tail between my legs, later that afternoon and just said, “I’m so sorry,” she stared right at me and asked in all sincerity, “For what?”

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That wasn’t the first or the last time that sister had to forgive me for being a jerk, and every time I’m humbled by her willingness to say, “It’s all good,” and end the matter with a hug.

A few years ago I encountered that same kind of forgiveness in someone outside my family. I went through a less-than-peaceful transition out of a housing situation that had become pretty unhappy for me. There were tears and misunderstandings and hurt feelings all around, and I moved into my new apartment fearing my old roommate and I would never patch things up. To my surprise (and joy), though it took a little while, she forgave me. We remained friends, and still are, and I attribute it all to her mercy toward me, even though I didn’t deserve it.

The hardest — and best — thing about being forgiven is that it’s not something you can ever deserve. In fact, the whole point of forgiveness is letting go of what you do deserve for a wrong done. And it can’t be manipulated or controlled; it has to be freely given. Maybe that’s why I’m a little bit in awe of every person who has ever forgiven me, and a little bit terrified every time I screw up again, wondering if this time I’ve really hit the limit.

Yet it’s knowing that I have been forgiven in very concrete circumstances that gives me the patience and the willingness to forgive when I’m wronged. Even in those cases where I still struggle to let things go, I want to forgive, because I’ve had good people in my life who willingly forgave me when I screwed up. To all of you: thank you. I’m going to keep on doing my best to pay it forward.

-Mabel

Some homesick ponderings

To my faithful readers: Sorry for the long patches of silence these days. Whenever I start down the dangerous road of soul-searching via internet post, I have to step back and reassess. I can air my grievances and my personal insecurities to close friends and family. This blog is supposed to be about something bigger than yours truly, even if seen only through her rather limited lens. Thus I took a couple weeks’ hiatus to gain some new perspective, regroup, and dive back in. Thank goodness for a holiday in there, too. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving–I definitely did!

I had to remind myself of that fact all morning, whenever I found myself inclined to gripe about Monday and coming back to the brutal reality of full inboxes, deadlines, disgruntled writers, and misplaced modifiers. As Bing Crosby crooned in “Holiday Inn”: I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.

Still, with the holiday season there always comes a twinge of homesickness. I don’t just miss my family, I miss that old, taken-for-granted, cozy sense of belonging to a place and to the people there. After four years of college and four more years of moving from one house and set of roommates to the next, I’m used to belonging nowhere, regardless of where I hang my clothes and arrange my books. I just don’t think about it much. Thanksgiving and Christmas remind me that I belong nowhere–not always the most comfortable thing to be reminded of.

My dad once told me that the concept of “home” changed for him once he met my mother. I’ve noted the same change in my friends who have gotten married. They are settled, as the popular phraseology goes. I would go so far as to say, they are at rest. For us singles, though, “home” carries different connotations. It can mean the place where my parents live, the place I grew up, the house or condo I own now, my current rental, or some odd mixture of all of the above, depending on context. But I know many of us feel a real sense of homelessness. We are not settled.

In a way we like it. Maybe I’m speaking only for myself, but it’s nice not to feel tied down to one place. It’s nice to hold onto three or four or five dreams of “my future” at once without having to commit to any of them (yet) or admit the disappointment of losing any of them. It’s nice to know when the plumbing goes or the door hinges creak that it’s someone else’s problem. It’s nice to have only myself to worry about. I marvel at those singles who own their homes or adopt pets. Isn’t that an awful lot of responsibility?

Still, the Advent season does set the old heart to aching for some kind of permanence. Maybe it’s the ritual of the season, from the familiar Advent candles at church to the tacky decorations in stores, the same old dusty carols, the cards, the cookies, the smells and sounds, the way we pull out the same decorations year after year and run through the same motions of preparation, but the excitement never dies away. There’s a lasting quality to this season that provides some peace in the midst of the restlessness that seems to define the single life. And nestled in with that peace is a longing that’s tinged with the sweetness of hope–a longing for home.

This is where I love the starkness of being single. We’re less hampered or distracted by more immediate realities, and it’s so good to get a clear view of our ultimate end. No matter who we might meet and settle down with eventually, ultimately we should always have this longing. After all, our home is not here.

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.

True confessions of an awkward wedding attendee

“You go to a lot of weddings,” a friend of mine commented on Friday night, after I announced that my Saturday would be taken up with attending a wedding about an hour and a half away.

I was glad to hear someone else say it–I feel like I go to a lot of weddings, but I have always assumed it was in my head. Isn’t it normal to go to at least five weddings in a summer? At least at this age? It really depends on the year, of course, but as I head into the latter part of my twenties, I do find the weddings have begun to pick up. And it’s a beautiful thing. I love seeing my friends settle into their vocations, love seeing the look of restful joy that comes over them when they finally take that step, love hearing the brides’ voices waver as they say their vows. I particularly love wedding ceremonies. There’s nothing quite like a nuptial Mass to make you ponder the goodness of God and the mystery of human love.

But I’m going to admit out loud that aside from the Mass, weddings aren’t my favorite things.

I’m really, really bad at them.

First of all, I never have a gift. I am the worst gift-giver in the world, because I really want the gifts I give to mean something, and until I find the “perfect” thing, I just won’t give anything at all. More than anything, I hate compulsory gift-buying and I loathe wedding registries. What this means is I show up to every wedding empty handed, and about a year and a half later I send along something that doubles as a wedding gift and a “congratulations on your first kid turning 6 months old” gift. I don’t see myself pulling out of this bad habit any time soon, but I still feel awkward about it. I’m always convinced in my deepest soul that even if the bride doesn’t notice, her mother will…

I also always struggle with what to wear. “Wedding attire” has become such a fluid concept these days. Long dress? Church dress? Slightly nicer-than-Sunday-Mass church dress? Shoes? Don’t wear white, you detract from the bride, but don’t wear black, it’s bad luck…make sure you don’t match the bridesmaids…Whatever I put on, it’s a gamble. Men, you probably don’t get this, but ladies, back me up: figuring out what the heck to wear to a wedding is some stressful business!

And after yesterday’s wedding, I discovered another reason why I always feel a bit off-kilter at weddings (especially wedding receptions). You see, I’ve never been much of a “group” person, and especially in college, I tended to befriend random individuals from all sorts of groups and backgrounds. This makes for some amazing and very diverse friendships, but it also means I end up getting invited to weddings alone, and I spend the whole time basically alone, because the only person I’m close to is…the bride. The bride, the focal point of the day, who has to be available for pictures and conversations with distant relatives and old family friends, and beyond all that is incredibly distracted by the fact that she’s just gotten married. I always struggle with figuring out the best way to show her I love her by being present, without being that awkward person who sits alone in the corner for hours and hours. My modus operandi for the past several years has been this: show up at the reception site, find my seat, make stilted conversation with the people on either side of me, as soon as toasts are finished make a beeline for the bride, give her a big hug, then grab my purse, sign the guest book, and leave. I’m usually out before the cake.

But yesterday I didn’t even do that. I attended the Mass and then…I ran away.

Is that bad? In my defense, the reception site moved and apparently the time got pushed back, and by the time I got out of church the bridal party had entirely disappeared (I guess they picked an off-site location for pictures). So I decided I’d just head home and send along a loving letter of congratulations later. But I admit I’m still worried by a nagging doubt, that perhaps I was rude, that I might have hurt the bride’s feelings, that it was, quite simply, poor form.

I don’t know, my fellow single wedding-going friends. How do you handle weddings, especially when you have to go alone? What’s proper protocol when you’re really not close to a single person there, when you feel out of your depth? I only have one more wedding this year, and fortunately I’ll be going with several good friends. But other weddings like yesterday’s are bound to come up in the future, and I want to be ready for them.

 

 

Are you happy?

“Are you happy?” one of my sisters asked me yesterday morning.

The question surprised me. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. My first impulse was to reply, “Of course I am—can’t you tell? Do I seem unhappy?” But some reaction stronger than that initial impulse kept me in check, and I paused to think about the question, and about my answer.

Am I happy? I was sitting at my desk at work, responding to the first round of morning emails and trying to organize the day’s tasks, and my sister and I had been texting one another intermittently throughout the morning, catching up on this and that. I started applying the question to the various pieces of my life like a puzzle piece or the key to some riddle. Work: yes, I’m happy at work; home: yes, I’m happy at home; family: yes; friends: yes; health: thank God, yes; day-to-day needs: yes. And most of all, spiritual life: by the grace of God, yes. I started laughing. Oh, the goofy human heart—to be so full of happiness and so (basically) unaware.

Wow. I have a damn good life, and I’m happy.

Praise God.

A few months ago I watched Happythankyoumoreplease , an artsy, indie, angst-ridden film about young 20-somethings living in NYC and trying to figure things out. At one point the main guy character* asks one of the main girls (his best friend), “Are you happy?” And she answers with a surprised laugh, “Of course I’m not happy.”

As if being unhappy goes without saying once a person hits adulthood. The question then becomes, not “How do I find happiness?” but “How do I deal with the mess that is my life now that I’ve grown out of childish delusions and accepted that I can’t ever be happy?” We young adults are supposed to take for granted that we’re not happy. That we’re not going to be happy, at least not in the long run. Maybe it’s an outlook based on the realization that feelings are fleeting things. I won’t always feel happy, but is that really the point?

Anyway, it hit me today, as I reflected on these different outlooks, that the key lies in that “of course” response. “Of course” eradicates thought. And once you eradicate thought, you lose depth. The response becomes a shallow one. “Of course I’m not happy” and “Of course I’m happy” are equally shallow, thoughtless responses to the question “Are you happy?”

“Of course” means “This isn’t even worth thinking about.” It implies that you’ve got all the pieces and all the answers. So if you’re “of course” not happy, it’s because there simply isn’t anything to be happy about. Why discuss it? And if you’re “of course” happy, then you’re taking everything you have for granted (or you’re lying). And in either case, you completely obliterate the key element that assures lasting happiness: gratitude.

Gratitude that looks at life as it is and says, “True, x, y, and z aren’t going so great, or these circumstances suck, but I’m alive. My basic needs are met.” Or that takes a step back from heady, giddy cheerfulness and says, “Thanks for this.” Either case requires the realization that something (or Someone) else is involved in everything that goes right in my life.

So I stumbled on the realization with some surprise–and a lot of thankfulness. I’m happy.

Quite frankly, I probably don’t deserve to be.

And there’s no “of course” about it.

The question remains: Are you happy?

 

*Actually, I admit–I’m pretty sure the main guy asks the question, but it may be someone else. Either way, the point is: the question gets asked.