28 years and counting. Or, “you’re still single?!”

This morning, as I awoke and rolled over in my single bed all alone, it occurred to me that I will turn 29 in just under 5 months. And for the first time in my life, I kinda freaked out a bit about a birthday.

Single

Let’s backtrack a bit, shall we?

I had my life planned out. I was going to be married by 20, maybe 21. In fact, it was a standing joke among my friends that I would be the first one to be married. By 25, I would have two kids and be dreaming of a third. I’d be one half of a pair of young, cool parents.

Isn’t that what every young woman who came of age in the early 2000’s post-millenium Church, listening to the likes of Rebecca St. James (and others who will remain un-named) dreamt about?

In my early twenties (and I say that with a somewhat detached feeling of “how am I even referring to that in the past tense”), I could laugh it all off and, as I approached 25, it quickly got pushed back to a list of things I would do by the time I was 30. “Oh well, so life didn’t go quite as I had planned when I was 15. 25 is still young! I’m not even 30 yet!”

Slowly though, it began to eat away. One wedding invitation at a time.

Each one a reminder that another wedding season had come and I wasn’t the one mailing invites.

I like to say I’ve reached the “where did everyone go?” stage of single life. Trust me, it’s a thing.  It’s what happens after everyone else has returned from Niagara Falls, hung up the white dress in the back corner of the closet, ordered the best prints to enclose in the handmade thank you notes, and settled into a life of Mr. and Mrs. coffee mugs on lazy Sunday mornings.

The single friend just wakes up the next morning with smeared mascara, a slight headache, sore feet from dancing the night away, and the distinct feeling that there really is a biological clock and the ticking just got louder (but that could just be the headache from last night).

And life continues on as it always does.

It’s also at this stage that the unsolicited advice and comments from others starts to get more frequent and pointed. I don’t need to know that by my age, you had bought a house and you had 3 children. What am I to do with that information, add it to my list of failures? As if I’m not already aware of what I haven’t accomplished? And thanks, but telling me I may need to lower my standards if I ever want a relationship isn’t helpful advice. And who is anyone else to tell me my standards are too high? It would seem that in this day and age, the very fact that I have standards means they’re too high. If I’m not willing to swipe right, there must be something wrong with me. The fact that I’m attracted to a certain type of man (the type who is comfortable shopping at Harry Rosen…oy, those tailored suits…), and very un-attracted to other types makes me choosy. The fact that I crave long-term romance and so much more than the 3-date sex rule makes me prudish, not desperate enough, and means I may be single forever.

Well if not wanting to jump into bed means I’ll be single forever, then pass the Chardonnay and for God’s sake, get me a cat, because hell no, this girl is definitely not desperate enough.

But it’s not that I think about it all the time, either. You reach a point where you go through stages of loving the freedom that comes with single-ness, and stages where you want to murder every happy couple you see with a pillowcase full of bricks. One day happy to make spontaneous plans for the weekend without having to think of anyone else, the next longing for someone to cuddle with to share body heat when it feels like Antarctica outside your back door. Simultaneously embracing the abundance of alone time, while secretly longing for the Mr. and Mrs. coffee mugs on Sunday morning. Living life in the meantime, while having no idea what the future holds.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Having no freaking clue what the future holds. It’s terrifying.

What I do know is that in just a few short months, I will be 29. And that scares the shit out of me.

“I think we are going to have to love ourselves. F**k.”
-Liz Tuccillo

“I’d love to, but I have to introvert.”

I was talking to someone just now, and I nonchalantly made a joke about being an introvert, to which they replied “you’re an introvert? You never seem like one to me”. Now, I’m sure this person meant to be complimentary, and that’s exactly how I took it. But my immediate, reactionary response was to say “thank you” and feel somehow accomplished in my ability to mask my introverted-ness. As if there was something wrong with it. As if there was something wrong with me. Wait, what?

introvert-3

Let’s face it; our world is an extroverted one. Open concept offices, group projects, grades based on participation in discussion, constant background noise in almost every business, salespeople bombarding you the moment you walk into a store,  work performance scores based on one’s ability to think on the spot…the list could go on forever. Yes, one could argue that if it wasn’t an extroverted world, we would all stay home by ourselves, reading books, watching Netflix, and ordering everything we need off of Amazon. As glorious as that sounds to me, it wouldn’t exactly be for the best either, but I do think that there needs to be more understanding that not everyone is wired the same way.

People who don’t understand my introverted mind often say things like “you just need to get out of your comfort zone” or “you just need to learn to deal with people” or “everyone works 8-10 hours a day, I don’t see why you’re so exhausted by it”. But what those people don’t understand is that just walking out the door and being in public is already completely out of my comfort zone. Dealing with people all day drains my energy. Sitting down on a coffee break and having someone expecting me to talk to them drains me (I need that time to recharge). Small talk, frankly, makes me want to vomit. The constant background noise of the radio drains me. Just the act of talking all. Damn. Day. EXHAUSTS me. I’ve gotten very good at dealing with it when I’m in public, but when I get into my car at the end of the day, I quite literally breathe a sigh of relief and revel in the complete silence for a moment before I even start my car. Then, when I get home, I need to just not talk, not have any noise for a period of time so that I can recharge my batteries. Most days, I can feel myself recharging within minutes. Solitude is the air I breathe.

Yet, somehow, I’m made to feel like that isn’t okay. And I’m writing this today to declare here and now that who I am is okay. I’m not anti-social. I’m not depressed. When I’m quiet, I’m probably just thinking. There is no need to call me out and ask if I’m okay, or why I’m so quiet (would you want me to ask why you’re so loud?). I want you to invite me to social events, because sometimes I do have the energy and, even if I don’t, I like to feel included. I probably won’t answer my phone, but I do listen to voice mail. I don’t like crowds. People watching is fun. Silence is rarely awkward for me. I appreciate silence in a world that never stops talking. If I spend my precious time with you, it’s because you’re a safe person. Please don’t ever throw me a surprise anything. I’m not a freakin’ turtle, so don’t tell me to “come out of my shell” (never mind that turtles die if you remove their shells). And by the way, I spend a lot of my life envying you and wishing I could be as extroverted as you, because it seems so much less complicated.

But this is who I am:

penguin

And that’s okay.

Nice Day For a White Wedding…Inside.

I can’t get married outside.

white wedding

If you were to get a wedding invitation in the mail today from a Catholic couple wanting to get married “in the Church” as it were, the chances of the venue for the ceremony being anything other than a Catholic Church are, well, basically none. Why is this?

In my experience of weddings and general life as a Catholic, I have seen that much of the emphasis of the Wedding Mass is not just on the part where the couple exchanges vows and rings, but on the Mass itself. There is even a guideline that states that there should be a normal procession at the beginning, just like every other Mass, in which the priest and altar servers walk to the altar, and the couple to be married is to join them in that procession, rather than have a procession all of their own (even though this has become the norm), because the emphasis is to be on God, the Mass, etc, and not just on the couple. The fact that it is a Mass, means that there are guidelines in place that rule out (or are supposed to rule out) things like walking in or out to songs like “Wonderwall” or “Chapel of Love”, again, because those songs place emphasis on the couple alone, and not on God.

From this knowledge and experience, I can only assume that what we are trying to accomplish here, is to have a proper Mass that includes a portion where two people exchange vows to love and honour each other until death do they part. To clarify, I am in no way trying to downplay that vow, as it is certainly not something to be taken lightly. But then, neither is Mass, right?

Which brings me to my main point. Most Catholics, and even some non-Catholics, could tell you that a Catholic wedding cannot be held outside. Or in a barn. Or in your parents’ living room. Why? Because a Catholic wedding has to be held in a Catholic Church. But…WHY?

Here is what I don’t understand:

-You can plan a wedding anniversary celebration Mass at your farm with all of your family and friends around, and your horses in the pasture next to you, and that’s ok.

-You can have an Archdiocesan anniversary celebration Mass in Rexall Place, where the Oilers play hockey every other day of the week, and arguably blasphemous musicians (forgive my loose use of the word) hold concerts on Friday nights, amidst the lingering scent of sweat and french fries, and that’s ok.

-The Masses at the first of what later proved to be a very successful annual Catholic family conference (which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year), were held in a tent in a parking lot right next to a church that would have probably been big enough to hold everyone, but Mass was in the tent anyway, and that was ok.

-You can get together as a big, happy Parish community at a campground and have a picnic by a lake, and invite your priest to come and say Mass on a picnic table next to the outhouses, and that’s ok. We even celebrate it as a way of bringing people together as a Parish family.

-We plan youth rallies in school gyms and, in the interest of making it a proper Catholic event (because what Catholic event would be complete without Mass?), we invite the local priest/bishop to come to the gym to say a special Mass for the youth, on an altar consisting of folding tables set up in the free-throw lane under a basketball hoop, and that’s ok.

-You can have Mass in the middle of airport security for a group of people traveling with a priest on a pilgrimage, among boarding announcements and other travellers, with a bar and grill across the hall, and that’s ok.

-Priests on vacation with their families, under obligation to say Mass everyday, can say Mass in a tent, a camper, on a picnic table, or in their parents’ kitchen. And that’s ok, because they have an obligation to do so.

-You can have a barbecue celebration as a send-off for a group of youth going to World Youth Day, and the Parish priest can just decide to come and say Mass on the deck for everyone as a sort of feel-good intimate celebration. And that’s ok.

-You can plan a destination wedding in the Dominican/Mexico/Fiji and actually plan ahead of time to have your marriage blessed when you come back, to make it all ok in the eyes of the Church.

…but I can’t get married outside.

Now, I realize that, living in northern Alberta, where the weather changes every five minutes, an outdoor wedding is a little risky, and would most likely cause me way more stress than it would be worth. And I’m not even saying that I want one. But when exceptions are made to have Mass outside or in other venues for so many other reasons, both necessary and arbitrary, the fact that an outdoor wedding isn’t even an option just doesn’t seem fair, and it doesn’t make sense.

Thoughts?

10 Kids? You Must Be Catholic!

Disclaimer: As you begin to react to this post, please take note that this is not a generalization; I do realize that this doesn’t apply to everyone. This is based on my personal experiences, and if you have never encountered this, you probably won’t understand why this topic would prompt me to write about it here, but it isn’t uncommon.

“How many are there in your family?”

“Just my brother and me.”

*blank stare*

I can feel them judging me. I stare back, awaiting the questions, wondering how we got to this point.

Yes, I have only one sibling. This makes me a bit of an enigma in certain Catholic circles. Namely, among children and teenagers of some large Catholic families. Catholic We’ve all been taught about NFP, and being open to life. We’ve all heard the Duggars (although not Catholic themselves) praised as such an example of accepting whatever number of children God decides to give you. We’ve been in the audience when the keynote speaker announces that he or she has 6+ children, and the proverbial crowd goes wild. But in passing on these teachings to the next generation, every once in awhile, someone seems to forget the parts about making personal responsible parenting choices and not judging others.

The fact that my Dad doesn’t drive a white bus, and my Mom isn’t nursing a baby while preparing for my wedding, doesn’t mean that we are not a “proper” Catholic family. This is not meant as a criticism or judgement on my part of any family who is in the above described situation; just a clarification that this is not the gauge by which anyone should judge me or my family. I respect the choices of those who aim for and achieve the number of children that the large white van accommodates, however I’ve also received the glances of their children who are confused and questioning me in disbelief, when I tell them I “only” have one sibling.

There seems to be an attitude among some Catholic circles, that if a family does not have 6+ children, they are either
A) not done yet, or
B) not open enough to life
And while I might agree that those who protested Humane Vitae so many years ago were overly dramatic in suggesting that the Church should “stay out of their bedrooms”, I could also now say that some staunch believers that the only “proper” Catholic family is a huge one, should stay out of the bedrooms of their fellow Catholics who appear to have different ideas. At what point is a family large enough to meet the criteria of scrutinizing children and teenagers who have been somehow trained to believe that anything other than their family size is less of an example within the Church or outside of it?

At what point does someone’s family size assure you that they were “open to life”? Four children? Seven? Twelve? And what of those suffering because they can’t have children, or those suffering because all God gave them was one? They shouldn’t have to suffer more when they visit a Catholic event because they or their children feel it necessary to explain themselves. And perhaps there are some parents who have done things that they now regret, but they can’t change the past. Has no one taught these children who are questioning others to welcome repentant sinners?

I once attended an 18-35 coffeehouse at a Catholic conference where, at the very beginning, the question given to us to discuss was “What do you think of large families”?  After I finished sighing (and, I’m sure, rolling my eyes), the questions that started circulating in my mind were:
“What is a large family? What can I say? Do they actually want my opinion? Is this open to discussion? Are they just looking for us to agree with what they are going to say next? Who here is going to say anything but ‘oh, they’re great!’?”
I remember looking around at my table, with kids from families with anywhere from one child to eight, and we were are all thinking the same thing. Where did they want us to go with this discussion? Was this going to be about child rearing? Or was it going to be yet another talk about sex, chastity, and birth control (my thoughts on that here). If they really wanted to get a discussion going, a more appropriate question may have been, “What do you think of small families?” and once the answers started coming, it could have been used as a teaching moment, to learn about not judging those families when you don’t have all the information. Instead, we sat through responses such as, “Well, I love all my siblings, so I wouldn’t change anything” and “The Church does tell us to be open to life, so that means a lot of kids”. While these responses are perfectly valid, they just led to yet another discussion of the aforementioned equation: Open to life = lots of children. Conveniently skipping over the point that not everyone is called to have 10 children, and that’s okay.

Please, please remember when you’re teaching your children about families and NFP, and being open to life, etc, that no individual has the knowledge or the right to decide what “grave reason” is for another family, or to assume that more children would not have been welcomed with open arms. The bottom line is – one child or twelve – the reasons and their gravity, or lack thereof, are none of anyone else’s business, which is what I intend to convey to my own children, however many of them I may have.

Let’s (not) talk about sex

Apparently 80% of single Christian young adults in America are having sex outside of marriage. Another study states that apparently only 11% of Christians are waiting until they’re married. Now, I’m not good at math, but even I’m not sure what happened to the other 9%. But we’re just going to go ahead and assume that these numbers are somewhat accurate. Because they’re not at all surprising.

lets not talk about sex

Let’s be honest here. Looking outside of Christian circles, pretty much everyone really is doing it. It’s everywhere. It’s glorified in movies like 50 Shades of Grey. Even networks with names such as “ABC Family” (which, once upon a time, would have been synonymous with “no sex”), air tv shows that explicitly talk about the characters having casual sex with each other as if it’s no big deal at all, and it makes them happy, cool, and normal. Their parents give them condoms, make sure they know better than to end up pregnant, and then turn a blind eye while their 15 year-old kids have sexual relationships, sometimes in their own homes.

Whether one agrees with sex outside of marriage or not, the immersion of sex in our culture is an objective truth.

Because of that, there has been an increasingly loud voice from the opposite end of the spectrum, known as the purity culture. Born of the need to push back against the effects of the sexual revolution, and fostered in books like 1997’s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, and songs like “Wait For Me”, its cry usually sounds something like “true love waits”.

Its objective is good: teach youth and young adults that they don’t have to give in to the peer pressure of the mainstream media, or of their friends. Teach them that the ramifications are not worth it. Teach them that God made sex, and that He made sex good, but He made it for the confines of marriage.

Yeah, that sounds good so far.

Give them purity rings, have them sign pledges to stay virgins until their wedding nights, have purity balls, bring in speakers to teach them about courtship, and that saving your first kiss until marriage is even better. Holier, even.

Wait, what?

No. Just no.

This is where it self-destructs. Virginity and purity are put on such high pedestals, they come dangerously close to resembling the likes of that golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai. And such unattainable ideals as not kissing until your wedding day only rob teenage girls of the normal elation that they should feel when they experience their first kiss, and instead make them feel like failures because they didn’t wait until they said “I do”. And what exactly do we mean by “true love waits”? If you give in to temptation, because you’re a normal human being, it can’t possibly be true love? If you didn’t wait, you’ll never find true love?

Then there are the rules. The rules are endless, and depend on which talk you went to in which year, at which youth rally or conference: Don’t be alone with guys; date in groups; don’t pray with him because he will just take advantage of the emotional intimacy to lure you in (because men are weak, oh but they should still lead the relationship); don’t let him hold your hand or sit too close on the couch; don’t spend too much time alone in the car; don’t dance too close, maybe don’t dance at all; don’t kiss, and if you do, for God’s sake, keep it under 2 seconds, and don’t use your tongue…the list goes on, and it’s next to impossible to decipher, let alone live up to. (Unless you are a member of a certain reality show family with more children than a basketball team, and your parents go on dates with you and read all of your text messages. But even then, the rules are being followed for them, not by their own free choice.)

It’s too much. It’s too confusing. It’s too unrealistic. And it’s all we ever talk about.

I think 80% have just said to hell with it all, and thrown in the towel.

Honestly, as a 26 year old young adult in Catholic circles, I can tell you that this stat doesn’t surprise me. While the exact number may not be completely accurate, I don’t think it’s too far off. Perhaps these rules work to keep some teenagers from having sex way too young. But eventually you hit your twenties, and you become an adult in the real world, and so do all of your friends. And you watch people give in to these things, and they’re people who you never thought would. Even people on whom you may have counted to be some sort of moral compass for you. And yet they aren’t struck by lightning. In fact, they go on and live happy, fulfilled lives, with what certainly seems like (GASP) true love, despite having given in. And that makes you question everything.

And it doesn’t help that nobody ever talks about that 80%. Too often, during these purity talks, it seems like it is just assumed that everyone present is all on the same level of sexual experience and, by that, I mean none. Those who have experience, whether they regret it or not, are left to squirm in their seats, smiling and nodding, and trying desperately to fit into the mould, feeling like the only one in the room who doesn’t. Just once, I would like to walk into a young adults talk, and have the speaker start off by asking for a show of hands of people who are sexually active, and when half or more of the attendees raise their hands, then let’s see what the aura is in the room. And then let’s maybe talk about something different for once.

Because here’s a newsflash: young adults in the church are sick of hearing about sex, and what they should and shouldn’t do. Maybe not all of them, but I know I can’t be alone in this. Part of the problem is that some of the people organizing these conferences and things, while young adults themselves, have been married since they were 19 or 20. And while I’m sincerely happy for them that they have found their spouse and their happily ever after, in my opinion, they don’t necessarily relate to the post-college-age single crowd. There is more to Christian life than sex, so please stop forcing us to think about it. If you want to keep us interested in a conference, give us something else to work with. There are so many topics that have nothing to do with sex and marriage, and actually apply to most of us. Like, for instance, ethics in the workplace, or some good old apologetics. But you don’t need a token purity talk, or a theology of the body teaching in order to have a successful young adults event. Just leave us alone already. Or better yet, make it real. Tell us how to live Christian lives even though most of us won’t be virgins on our wedding nights. Acknowledge that fact. But if you’re just going to tell us how hugs are possible occasion for sin, and how we need to be shining examples of purity for all the world to see, find another topic.

Because clearly, we’re caving under the pressure.

These are the words I would say

Dear 17 year-old me,

Me at 17

Me at 17

First things first: graduation is coming up, and you’re sitting there feeling ripped off because you won’t be part of a ceremony with a cap and gown. Well don’t stress too much because seriously, the politics involved are so not worth it. In fact, a few years from now, you’ll hear stories about grad committees and planning, and you’ll just be grateful that you didn’t have to put up with it. Also, right now you’re slacking off and not doing your English. Well, here’s news for you: taking it in summer school will be no fun. This is the one subject you know you can rock the hell out of, so just do it and get the amazing mark you know you’re capable of.

Embrace this stage.
You’re in for one fun summer. It’s going to be full of changes, but it will also be one of the most fun of your life so far. There are going to be graduations to go to, camp-outs, bachelorette parties, and a wedding. (I’ll keep that one a secret so the phone call will surprise you.) Rather than bemoan the fact that other people are starting their lives, embrace the fun! Seriously, you’re 17. There is going to be plenty of time to worry about your own relationships. On that topic, life isn’t going to fall right into the perfect picture you have…and that’s okay. There will be marriages, divorces, children, and even second marriages all around you, and you will still be sitting there, waiting to meet someone who may be worthy. And that’s okay. You will learn indispensable lessons by observation. Trust me on this one.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Don’t be so afraid to do every little thing. Fear is ok, but letting it control you is not. Go have fun! There’s a quote somewhere on your wall right now that says “the things that scare you are usually the most worthwhile” and I now know that to be true. Go. Do. See. Be. Just take a freaking leap of faith and LIVE. Maybe it won’t be fun. Maybe you’ll change your mind once you do it. But I promise that the only leaps you will regret are the ones you didn’t take.
You know all those people telling you to go study something you love? Listen to them. Just take the leap. Pick something. Anything! I know you’re scared out of your mind, but that won’t get any better the longer you wait. I promise you won’t regret going to school and getting certified in something.

Just go.
You want to see the world, so find a way to pay for it and do it now. Go before you have regular bills to pay. Go before you have a sense of obligation to something or someone, or even just to the universe to settle down and be an adult. Car payments are not conducive to picking up and just going. Again, trust me.

Find yourself, and be that.
Stop trying to live up to all the expectations that people around you have of who they think you are/should be. Somewhere deep down, and behind the scenes, there is a girl who is so much more than everyone thinks, and she’s just waiting to be seen. Don’t wait another minute to let her out. She’s confident, opinionated, stubborn, and funny, all in her own way. And nobody else’s. Surround yourself with people who get that and appreciate you for who you really are, not the image of who they think you should be. And definitely not the people who try to tell you that you have to change to be more like them. And don’t be so afraid to speak up for yourself. You have valid opinions and ideas, even if everyone else is louder and seems more confident than you are. Speak up. If they don’t take the time to shut up and listen to you, you don’t need them in your life.

Stop trying to prove yourself.
You don’t have to take charge of something to prove yourself to anyone. You will become an adult in your own time, and before any of them realize it. The fact that they don’t see that in you is their loss. Stop trying to prove yourself to them, because if you don’t, you will go through another eight years of frustration and pain before you realize it’s not you; it’s them. People will think what they think, and you can’t change that. Just take pride in knowing that you are responsible and move on from those people. Certain people will never realize that you’ve grown up, even when you’re 26. Hell, you won’t even realize it somedays.

Finally, and most importantly…

You are an introvert. AND THAT’S OKAY.
There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be cured. You don’t need to be more like other people. Your introversion is one of your greatest strengths. You are a thinker, an observer, and you are intuitive. You will rarely feel lonely or bored, and your foresight will prove invaluable in the future.
So do whatever you want with your free time without feeling like you should be doing more. Stay home on Friday nights. Ignore the phone when you don’t want to talk. Cross the street to avoid small talk. Don’t go to crowded events if you don’t have the energy. Stop trying to find excuses; just say no. And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. You refill your power supply with quiet and solitude, but crowds drain you. And that’s okay.
If one more person tells you to come out of your freaking shell, I, your 26 year-old self, give you permission to reach out and slap someone. Remember that some animals naturally carry shelter with them, and some humans are exactly the same. A turtle actually dies if you force it out of its shell. You are good enough just the way you are, shell and all.

Life is going to throw you some major-ass curveballs in the next few years. I can’t prepare you for those. Just hug Dad and Grampa really tight every chance you get.

Love,

-Your 26 year-old self