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.

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It’s a party

I love parties. I especially love parties full of people I know, at least a little bit. And I love them most of all when they’re in my house or in my good friends’ houses. What’s better than hanging out with friends for an evening, eating, drinking, listening to music, and talking about anything from the weather to complicated questions of theology to where we’re going to go on our next roadtrip?* Still…I pulled up outside my house on Sunday night after yet another party with many good friends, and this uneasy thought flickered through my head: What will happen to the parties once all my friends–and possibly even I–get married?

Pre-marriage, everyone says they’ll still be around. “You’ll see us…it’s not like we’re dying or anything,” they say with a laugh when you start to sniffle at their impending jump from singleness into matrimony. But post-marriage? It’s only a matter of time…sometimes a few months, sometimes a year…before they start turning down most invitations. Family commitments, they say. Lots of work. Need a quiet night in. Then pregnancy. Then babies. If they live close enough by you might bump into them now and then at baptisms and babies’ first birthday parties, but in general marriage seems to be the end of parties. At least for the young adults. I suspect they start back up again when you’re married 10 years with kids–potluck dinners and backyard barbecues certainly happened a lot in my family, and I intend to keep that tradition going until I’m too senile to remember who my own kids are. (And even then, really, what’s to stop me?)

This isn’t meant in any way as a slam on marriage or the married folks I know. Really, it’s just a bit of scrutiny of my own values. Maybe parties of the good old “hanging out and chatting” variety lose their appeal after marriage because, quite simply, you’re not “looking” anymore. Not that I go to parties specifically with that intention, mind you, but if the potential isn’t lingering around in your subconscious…why not just organize the occasional girls’ night in and save yourself the headache? I hadn’t really thought of that before. Maybe along with the settling of the old restless heart comes a certain level of satisfaction with fewer–but deeper–relationships.

In any event. Until that blessed day arrives–or until all my single friends get married and stop coming–I’m going to keep right on enjoying my weekend parties. There’s really no better way to get ready for Monday.

*Which leads to the all-important question, guys: where are we going to go on our next roadtrip?