What’s Wrong With the Singleness Obsession?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of ads implying that singleness, or at least childlessness, is a great thing. The implications range from a women’s subscription box called Single Swag,” to an adults-only cruise line, and, even, on the more extreme end, multiple people who married” themselves. While I don’t see anything wrong with occasional treats like subscription boxes and cruises (though attempting to marry oneself has its own set of problems) this overt obsession with singleness and childlessness reveals some problems of first-world society.
The Glorification of Singleness
In the first place, this glorification of singleness over other states of life shows that society doesn’t understand the good of all the different vocations. However, that by itself is relatively understandable in a secular society—vocations like the religious life are alien to it. Why else, then, is singleness not only glorified but glorified so much that certain persons would now attempt to rebrand it as “marriage?”

To give a rough explanation, singleness is the state of life that does not in and of itself require a commitment to another. (There are, of course, many single parents, but single parenthood is a deviation from the ideal of parenthood that is optimized within marriage.) Singleness is the state where one can be totally independent of obligation to others, which is probably the basic reason why the first world finds it so appealing. Modern Western culture has become all about self-actualization and license. However, putting the single state on a pedestal even above real marriage shows something more.

Our Priorities
Specifically, it reveals that society does not understand the meaning of love. Yes, as a single person I can easily speak to the benefits of personal autonomy. That being said, I can also speak to the converse joys of caring for others. In September, when I started my current job as a school aide, in a matter of weeks I changed from someone with little particular influence on anyone to both an influence and authority figure for many children.

Of course, I am still not a parent, but I certainly understand better than before the joys that come with responsibility for someone else. Furthermore, I’m not even related to any of the kids at my school, so I can only imagine the infinitely greater joy of having a child of one’s own, and the loving and giving to that child that is a particular gift to the parents in and of itself. Young lovers, too, could find plenty of reasons why their relationships are delights rather than burdens. Now, as I understand it, God has called some people to singleness, whether for a period of time or for the duration of their lives, for His own reasons, but just because persons are single does not also mean they should be more selfish than married people, for example.

On the contrary, every one of us is called to serve and give in one capacity or another. Perhaps society’s greatest mistake is less in purely glorifying singleness than in attaching to it such a strong sense of selfishness. Thus, what’s glorified is not merely a lack of commitment, but turning that simple lack into self-absorption: “You don’t have kids or a spouse, so life is all about you.” Then, too, in putting this selfishness on a pedestal, the underlying message is, “There’s no need for you to give and sacrifice. Why would you want to?”

I believe most parents would say they sacrifice a lot for their kids, but that it’s all worthwhile. In fact, I suspect that most parents think having children not only changed their lives but infinitely for the better. Just looking at marriage, of course, we Catholics see it as a form of service to God, but hopefully non-Catholics and even non-religious would say that sharing their lives with another, their soulmate, was not just an improvement but a paramount one.

What is Important?
Marrying and especially having children forces us to take responsibility and sacrifice, and it is that change that helps us to grow into an adult spiritual life. But, one might ask, what about when the initial spark of “young love” or “first child” ends and the relationship is no longer so enthralling? The idea is that the bond between two persons, whether parent and child or man and wife, is strong enough that it should still hold strong when the novelty wears off. However, first-world society does not seem to have realized this. In fact, this glorification of singleness also shows an unhealthy attachment to novelty. The underlying idea of “Why sacrifice?” even deprecates those who have already committed to giving, as in nuns or married people, as well as potentially discouraging others from making the same gift.

Made to
In fact, in its forgetfulness of real love, it’s true to say that society has lost the meaning of life itself. In the Church, we see the meaning of life as loving and serving God. Man was made for God, so man was made to love. The purest form of that love is a total gift of self.  However, when society removes loving and giving from the ideas of singleness and marriage, like anything else without love, those vocations are reduced from what God intended them to be to something merely human. Living a life centered on oneself never leads to good in the end.

Often people can become embroiled in life-endangering activities like drugs or alcohol. Even if they stick to legal behaviors that won’t kill them—like promiscuity or narcissism—such a life is never really fulfilling. Modern people nearly all admit that their lives are missing something, and part of that is the meaning of a total gift of self. For example, there’s the story of this conversion of an atheist who had every worldly good, but his life had no meaning. He decided to end it all, but God intervened and showed him what he was missing.

In the end, is it bad simply to be single, considering the diverse vocations to which God has called everyone? More specifically, does it hurt to do something like order a box of treats because it’s called “Single Swag?” No, as I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with occasional treats, nor being content in one’s current vocation. The problem is when we let ourselves become the entire focus of our lives, as society would have us do. Thus, we should all pray for the love of self in a healthy way, rather than letting ourselves take the place of everything else.

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10 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With the Singleness Obsession?”

  1. Think of how many individuals were hurt by their parents’ divorces or even by verbally abusive exes. I understand younger people for having a fear of commitment because of a fear of future divorce. They probably figure that if they aren’t committed, they can’t be hurt; also, one isn’t being hurt if one is happy. Therefore, they must think singleness is the way to go to avoid hurt.

  2. There are NO “single parents”. Anyone who is a parent must have been coupled at some stage, even if it was only for one night.
    There are many SOLO parents who are either widowed, separated, deserted or divorced. They are not “single”.

    1. Not necessarily. I recall reading in my local paper about a single woman who wanted a physical so she could adopt-the point of the article was to question whether doctors who would object to a child having only one parent could opt out of performing such a physical. More specifically, there’s public figure Laura Ingraham, who’s an adoptive (single) mother to not one but three children, and was neither married nor raped. That being said, even had I been totally unfamiliar with such stories, my use of the term “single parent” was not intended to provoke or offend, only to describe.

    2. You didn’t provoke or offend me. I’m just pointing out that it’s faulty grammar and vocabulary, which leads to faulty thinking and not seeing realities as they are and acting on those false conclusions.
      Yes of course anyone might potentially become a legal guardian of an adopted child and become an adoptive parent. That is not an exception to the fact that one becomes a parent by being coupled.

  3. John, the Church indeed calls on ALL men without exception to consider the single state in life which she celebrates as a valid choice. Indeed she us just about the ONLY institution which does. Everybody else seems to think, erroneously, that if you’re not coupled you are Ipso facto somehow incomplete or unfulfilled.

    1. I presume you intended to say all men and women. And if the choice is, indeed, valid, there is no point to this article. The trend towards more people being single, or not, is a valid exercise of choice. There is no such thing as a greater, or lesser, alternative.

  4. So, let me ask you this. The church is very clear that it does NOT discriminate between gay people and heterosexuals, that both are called to chastity first and foremost, etc, etc. The official church teaching is very clear in calling for gay people to be single (i.e., barred from having romantic relationships or marriages) and, simultaneously, barring them from religious life. It then comes up with all kinds of reasons why a life of being single is so morally correct and right and good for gay people. So, if that’s all fine and good for all gay people, why isn’t it just as good for all heterosexuals, too?

  5. Josephine Harkay

    The article was an eye-opener. Man has two main needs for happiness: to know the truth, and to love/to be loved in return. I never realized that society has embarked on a trip to selfishness by avoiding personal commitment.

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