I’m so happy to share my recent conversation with Emily Stimpson, author of the fantastic new book The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right. I hope you enjoy our chat and that you’ll pick up this book for someone special in your life today! LMH
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
Well, once upon a time I worked in politics, but eventually repented of that and left D.C. for Steubenville to study theology at Franciscan University. To earn my way through grad school I started writing for the University. People seemed to like what I wrote well enough, so 10 years later I’m still in Steubenville and still writing. I’m a Contributing Editor for OSV Newsweekly, a blogger for Catholic Vote, and do freelance work for lots of other Catholic publications and institutions. I’m also still single at the ripe old age of 36…which is how I ended up being drafted into writing “The Survival Guide.”
For years the Church has been talking about a vocations crisis to the priesthood or consecrated life. But over the past decade, it’s becoming clear that we’re on the verge of another kind of vocations crisis. Fewer and fewer Catholics are getting married and many of those who are marrying are marrying later in life. That mirrors the situation in the culture. But people in the culture aren’t also trying to find someone willing to date chastely, be open to life, and raise their kids in the Church. Which makes the situation even more difficult for faithful Catholic singles.
So, to answer your question, my book tries to help women navigate the difficulties we’re all encountering during this time in our lives, a time where we’re wanting to be married, hoping to be married, but not married yet. Basically what I do in the book is take a lot of the major questions with which single Catholic women wrestle—vocation, femininity, dating, sex, marriage, the biological clock, careers, suffering, friendships, etc.—offer an outline of what the Church has to say on those questions, then try to apply that teaching in practical ways.
Q: With your background in journalism, what prompted you to write this book at this point in your life?
I suppose you won’t take “a temporary fit of insanity” for an answer? In all seriousness, I guess you could say I decided someone needed to take one for the team. There are so many women out there struggling to make sense of their singleness, wondering what their place in the Church and culture is, and trying to figure out how they’re called to live in this time of waiting, not to mention feeling alone in a lot of those struggles. Someone needed to write this book, if only to help women know they’re not alone. There are lots of us in the same boat. Since I’ve spent most of the past 10 years studying and writing about the questions covered in the book (and trying my best to live out the answers I’ve found), Emmaus Road thought I was the person to do it. Hopefully they were right.
Q: In a nutshell, what are a few of the words of wisdom you offer to women who read your book?
First, we can’t fall into the trap of feeling like our life won’t begin until the husband and babies show up. Today, this moment, is our life. God has something for us to do right now—some lesson to learn, some work to take on, some person to love—and he expects us do it and do it well. Second, we need to always remember that the goal in life isn’t a husband; it’s holiness. I want to be married as much as the next person, but I also know that how I pursue marriage—from the men I date, to the things I do when I’m dating them—shouldn’t interfere with that ultimate goal. Making unhealthy moral compromises that lead me away from God in order to enter into a relationship that’s supposed to bring me closer to God, just doesn’t make sense. Finally, we have to remember that God really does know what he’s doing. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, he’s using this time to bring about what’s ultimately best.
Q: In his review, Fr. Roger Landry recommended that all Catholics buy this book for the single folks in their lives and themselves so they can better understand the struggles of the single women they love. What advice do you have for married Catholics who have single relatives, friends or co-workers?
Don’t make assumptions about what the single life (especially single life past the late twenties/early thirties) is actually like. I know sometimes my married friends look at my orderly house and the 7 hours of sleep I get most nights and start to think I have it so easy. But singleness, while it definitely comes with some perks, comes with a lot of struggles too. In reality, the single years can be crushingly lonely and overwhelmingly busy: God said man was not meant to be alone for a reason, not the least of which is having someone else to make grocery store runs and stay home to meet the plumber. So, try to understand the situation we’re in, remembering every state in life has its blessings and crosses. Also don’t underestimate how difficult the dating scene is for Catholic singles committed to chastity. And, of course, do what you can to include your single friends as much as possible in your own family’s life. We’re really useful people to keep around as we have two hands and no children of our own to occupy them.
Q: How can Catholic families more effectively and lovingly interrelate with their single friends?
The most important thing really is including us. Invite us into the chaos—for dinner, for a family movie, for Baptisms and Birthday parties, really for whatever. Don’t worry if the house is messy or the kids are crazy. We can handle it. Some of us even like it. It reminds us of our own families growing up and helps prepare us for having families of our own. Also, make us spiritual parents by asking us to be godparents. And maybe remember your child’s single godparents on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, just by sending a card or having the child call them on the phone. For a lot of single women, Mother’s Day can be harder than Valentine’s Day, so a little “thank you” for the spiritual motherhood we exercise can mean a lot.
Q: What did you learn in the writing of this book and how has the experience changed you?
I’ve joked with friends that writing the book was like writing a 150 page pep talk for single women. But really, the pep talk was as much for me as for anyone. It helped me see how many blessings God has given me during these single years, and how he’s helped me cope with all the struggles along the way. Plus, it’s great to have the sanest version of yourself enshrined in print. I had a very important relationship implode last summer (after the book was written but not out), and was able to go back through it and read my own advice about coping with depression and ugly breakups. I’m happy to say it helped!
Q: How do you feel about being “fixed up” and what are some great ways that Catholic singles can connect with one another both spiritually and socially?
I think fix-ups are great. At least…they can be. The important thing is for those doing the fixing up to be smart about it. So, just because he’s single and she’s single does not mean they’re a match made in heaven. Also, a low-key approach is sometimes nice. So, if it’s possible, have a dinner party or cookout and invite the people you want to set up. That allows them to meet each other in the midst of a group of friends, rather than during a potentially awkward night out. As for connecting with one another if they don’t have good single friends in their area, many parishes and dioceses have young adults groups, so it’s worth checking them out. If there’s no such group in their area or if they feel like the activities aren’t a good fit for their needs, they should volunteer to start a group or to lead activities that do appeal to them.
Q: What are readers saying about the book?
I know, this can change at any moment, but so far I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback. A lot of women have told me how much it helps to know they’re not alone. Others have said they really appreciate the practical advice and humor, as well as my take on the feminine genius and the fact that the book is about single life, not just men and dating. Most just seem to be grateful that there’s finally a Catholic singles book out there that’s real and relevant, written by a woman who’s working through the same issues they are, and who doesn’t dismiss their desires to be married and have a family because she has those same desires herself. Of course, that’s just what people are saying to my face. I can’t guarantee everyone is saying the same thing behind my back!
Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey