Franciscan Spirit Blog

Unmarried and Unashamed

As I write these words, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room. My dad is undergoing his second knee surgery in three months. My mom is doing her best to stay focused on her crossword puzzle as CNN drones on in the distance. It’ll be a 12-hour day of wait and worry. I’ll drive them home when this is over and help my dad get as comfortable as possible in his inexplicably uncomfortable recliner. I’ll probably be back the next day to work from their house in case they need any kind of heavy lifting or errands.

This is no great hardship on me. I’m more than happy to do it. Through various health challenges and surgeries, being geographically close to them makes me feel that I’m contributing something—and it puts my mind at ease. As I sit in the hospital waiting for the surgery to be over, a thought occurs to me: If I were married with children, I don’t know that I’d be this available to help them.

As a young twenty-something, I did my research. A college friend of mine had three children in as many years. As a full-time student and new mother of three girls with a husband who traveled constantly, she needed support, so a few of us took turns with childcare.

I loved those kids—they were smart and funny and curious. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to take an evening shift, while a friend and fellow helper would cover other parts of the morning and afternoon. It was a crazy, fun, fulfilling era of baths, bedtime stories, and bottle feeding. And I wanted absolutely no part of it for my own life.

I’m far from alone. According to the US Census Report, in 1970, there were 38 million unmarried American adults (28 percent). In 2021, the number swelled to 122 million (48.2 percent). Almost half of the population! While marriage and family are worthwhile vocations for many—and you won’t find a disparaging word on the institution in this piece—that calling falls on deaf ears for many of us. And I, for one, am not ashamed.

Our culture and our Church make it difficult to justify my disinterest in marriage. I think unmarried people, in the eyes of many, look incomplete: half instead of whole. Certainly, many singles long for the joys, comforts, and challenges of married life, but it’s simply not a call for everyone. You’ll find my name on that list.

While Pope Francis hasn’t spent considerable time trying to shift the Church’s view of singlehood vs. marriage and family (especially for divorced Catholics, many of whom feel unsupported in parish circles), he’s certainly cautious about cliques continuing. “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven,” he has said.

I love the inclusivity of that line. I don’t feel on the outside looking in. I love that he wants our Church to be a place where all are welcomed and safe under its roof—regardless of marital status.

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