If you look at reviews of Emily Stimpson’s 2012-release guidebook for Catholic single women, you’ll see that people love this book and the advice it contains — all kinds of people, not just single Catholic females.
Since it’s St. Valentine’s Day, ZENIT decided to talk to Stimpson about “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right.”
ZENIT: It’s Valentine’s Day — a day many single girls find miserable. What’s your advice?
Stimpson: I can definitely sympathize with those made miserable by National Happy Couple Day. No matter how content you are with your present singleness, come February 14, it’s easy to feel left out and alone. Over the years, however, I’ve grown mostly immune to all the jewelry commercials and chocolate displays. To a great extent, that’s because as my friends have married, they’ve stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day as a couple and started making the day all about their kids. I suppose I’ve come to think of it in the same light. To me, it’s mostly a holiday for kids, and I treat it as such. Baking my godchildren cookies or taking my nieces out for a special ice cream date is a huge treat for them and brings me joy as well, so it’s a win-win thing for me (or anyone else) to do on Valentine’s Day. Other things that have helped in the years when Valentine’s Day stung have included throwing a party for my single friends or planning something special for a friend who was going through a break up. I think the more we focus on the love we do have in our life and the more we strive to show others how much we love them, the easier the pain of being reluctantly single is to bear. And that’s true on every day of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.
ZENIT: You say (with qualifications for the ill, etc.) that there is no such thing as a single vocation, while admitting the issue is under debate in some Catholic circles. What’s your reasoning?
Stimpson: Well, the qualification is “It depends on what you mean by vocation.” If you mean unconsecrated singlehood is a cross God calls some of us to undertake for at least a time, a state in life that comes with both struggles and opportunities that can help us and others as we journey to God, then yes, it’s a vocation. But if you mean unconsecrated singlehood is a vocation akin to marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life, then no. It’s not that kind of vocation. It can’t be.
All of those vocations are what the Church refers to as a primary or spousal vocation — a call to give yourself, in body and soul, to another, in a lasting, committed way. So, the husband gives himself to his wife. The priest gives himself to the Church. And the consecrated person gives herself to Christ. She (or he) starts living now the relationship to which we’re all called in eternity. Regardless of to whom the gift of self is made, however, in all three cases, the gift is total and enduring. To get out of it, you either have to die or get the permission of a tribunal. That’s not the case for unconsecrated singlehood. It’s a different thing entirely. You’re not giving yourself in a committed way, body and soul, to anyone, nor do you need a tribunal’s permission to cease being single.
For those reason, neither the Catechism nor the popes ever speak of a single vocation. They speak of single people, but when it comes to primary vocations the breakdown is always the same: holy orders, marriage, consecrated life. Now, as for why we have so many people not entering into a primary vocation of any sort these days, well, that’s another question.
ZENIT: I found your synthesis of the feminine genius applicable to all women every where, regardless of state of life, and even deeply insightful for those in the married vocation. Can you summarize it for us?
Stimpson: In essence, the Church teaches that all women are called to be mothers –sometimes in body, always in spirit. The feminine genius isn’t about being sexy or smart or silly. It’s about seeing the beauty of each individual soul and — with wisdom, tenderness, and compassion — helping people to experience God’s love for them through us. It’s about loving faithfully, praying tenaciously, and correcting gently. It’s about being an advocate for all who need one and helping people become the men and women God made them to be. It’s about nourishing and nurturing life. Again, it’s about being mothers.
ZENIT: In the bibliography, you admit that your dating advice is just one perspective among others. What is particular about your counsels?
Stimpson: Well, some people advocate a return to the traditional courtship model of days gone by, where the family is heavily involved. Others advocate doing dating the way the culture does dating. I think courtship can be great, but it’s not always realistic, especially for Catholics who are all grown up and living far from our families. And dating the way the culture tells us to date—sleeping with the person early on, practicing serial monogamy, and cohabitating as a trial marriage—is simply not an option for people seeking holiness and strong Catholic marriages. So, what I advocate is more of a middle ground: Keeping it chaste, spending lots of time with your friends and his, and only dating someone seriously if you’re both strongly discerning marrying each other.
ZENIT: You strike me as something of a mystic, and appear to draw from a rich prayer life in your own writing. Is “be holy” the necessary prerequisite for applying the advice in this book? Or to put it another way, you tell your readers to ask themselves what they want more, God or a husband. What if the answer is “husband”?
Stimpson: Do you hear a loud noise right now? That would be God and all his angels and saints laughing hysterically at me being called a mystic. I’m not a mystic, and I’m not holy. I hope to be someday, but God’s got lots of work to do in me before we get anywhere close. So, no, “be holy” is not a necessary prerequisite. I’m just an ordinary Catholic woman trying to love God and others as best as I can, and not make too much of a mess of the life I’ve been given. Anyone who’s willing to do the same can follow the advice laid out in the book. It’s not brain surgery or levitation. It’s just practical, common sense stuff to help women navigate the challenges of being Catholic and single in this culture. The important thing for all of us to remember is that the purpose of marriage is to help us become holy. As a spouse, your primary job is to get your spouse to heaven. That is where we’re supposed to end up. When we forget that and put the horse before the cart — seeking marriage (or any earthly good) before God or at the expense of God — trouble starts. And in this life, who needs more trouble?
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On the Net:
Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide: www.amazon.com/Catholic-Girls-Survival-Guide-Single/dp/193715534X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top&tag=zenit0a-20