I sometimes wonder what the real St. Valentine, probably a third-century Roman martyr but no one knows for certain, would think of what’s become of his feast day. Not only is the tradition of celebrating romantic love tenuously connected to what is told about this saint, but the day’s name is often stripped of its sanctity. We never refer to March 17 as “Patrick’s Day,” but somehow February 14 became known to our post-Christian world as Valentine’s Day.
The modern secular Valentine’s Day is both loved and loathed, depending on the beholder’s current romantic status. Young single women and married women of all ages usually adore the holiday. If the men in their lives have been well-trained, these women will enjoy a day showered with roses, candy, a gushy card, and perhaps a fancy dinner. Men usually hate the day for that very reason. But there is another demographic that doesn’t have much use for Valentine’s Day, a demographic into which I fall: older single women.
After years of doing my best to ignore the day, I decided to use this Valentine’s Day to reflect on the single life.
I was asked not long ago by a young woman if God has someone special for each of us, by which she meant a romantic interest who could become a spouse. She had just turned 30 and had recently been “set free” by the young man she hoped would propose marriage but who had decided he had no romantic feelings for her. At the time she asked the question, I was just shy of 40. In all honesty, I couldn’t say “yes,” but I didn’t want to deprive her of hope. So I said:
I would be less than honest if I didn’t caution you against allowing your hopes to become unreasonably high. Certainly, I encourage you to hope, to pray, and to be open to meeting someone new—a mature man who will treasure you for who you are and will not dump you merely because he doesn’t get a pleasant buzz of romantic feeling after raising your hopes for marriage for more than a year. You deserve someone better than the one you had, and I truly hope you find him.
But, no, God doesn’t necessarily “have a special person for each of us.” Many people are called to marriage. But some men are called to the priesthood, some people (men and women) are called to the religious life, and a few may be called to the single life. While we may hope for one vocation, we should be open to any of them.
I don’t have any easy answers about how to deal with the disappointment of not having your dreams realized, but I can say that God’s plan for you will be infinitely more rewarding than anything you could have hoped for or anticipated. In my own life, I’ve come to realize that singleness can be its own blessing. It allows opportunities for service to others that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It allows time and resources for activities that might otherwise have to be deferred or set aside (e.g., discerning a vocation to a third order, weekend retreats, advanced adult religious education, etc.). It can even prepare you for another vocation at a later time. (St. Jane de Chantal longed to be a sister for many years but was thwarted by her family responsibilities. Eventually her family experiences heavily influenced her life as a religious sister and the order she founded with St. Francis de Sales.)
Bottom line, what I can assure you of is this: If you are faithful to God in the present moment, you can trust him to be faithful to you in the long run.
In thinking more about the answer I gave then, I’ve also come to realize that while not everyone is married, no one is truly “single.” Even religious hermits have a community to which they belong, and to which they return on a regular basis for Mass, the sacraments, and spiritual direction. The rest of us have our own communities: extended family, friends, co-workers, church congregations, volunteer groups. We may not have a warm body to snuggle close to at night, but there is always a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and even a foot to give us an occasional kick in the pants when needed.
If, like me, you need to count your blessings to get through another Valentine’s Day, start with those who love you. Even if you are not married, I’ll bet you have a few around, just waiting for your love to be offered in return to them.