March 4, 2013 by lucieromarin
So, about half an hour after publishing the last post, I suddenly wondered: the habit of telling single Catholics that they should not live alone – is this unique to Australia? Some excesses of both neo-conservative and traditionalist Catholicism seem fairly universal, though they differ in degree and expression; this time, though, as I sifted through my memories, I couldn’t recall any instance of this idea reaching me through British or American writers or speakers. Everyone who has ever given me this advice has been Australian. (The best one was from the same guy who told me that there was hope for me yet because his wife was having babies after the age of forty. He emailed me an article entitled ‘Single Lifestyle Threatens Species.’ Why? Why Why? Did he think I didn’t respect his marriage enough? Did he think it would help me to marry someone? And if so, who? Pffft.)
So, I don’t know if I’ve just missed the international counterparts or if we really have created our own brand of weirdness down here; however, just in case someone else is experiencing third-party-induced guilt because she happened to express a wish for her own place, I’d like to add a couple of thoughts to yesterday’s post.
1) I’ve thought of a couple of other reasons why flatting with other people doesn’t really approximate the community life of marriage or religious life. One reason is that both vocations come with an inbuilt hierarchy; both domestic and religious households come with an inherited and theologically studiable (yes, that is a word) order of leadership. Flatting with friends or strangers does not. At best, it is more like the pretended unity which T.E Lawrence tries to impose upon the Arab tribes at the end of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ in which volatile persons with nothing in common except that they need to share the same space try to share that space without killing each other. This plays out at a practical level, too. Religious communities inherit rules about silence, about ownership and use of goods, about who decides what and about what happens when. Flatting communities do not; they have to make it up as they go along.
2) Membership of a religious or domestic community represents an achievement; a vocation found, and a choice made, and a love accepted. Now, while there are plenty of women who enjoy renting and sharing places, the reality for many women is that flatting with other people represents a lack of achievement; they’re in this situation because they found no religious order, no one wanted to marry them, and they’re so poor that they can’t even afford to flat by themselves, let alone buy their own property. Moreover, they’re acutely aware of this. Telling them that this situation is a duty rather than a cross is just plain mean.
3) With this in mind, I think it’s kinder to leave single people with one of the few aspirations left to them, rather than crushing that aspiration with thoughts about how they might be permanently spiritually damaged if they have a place to call their own. I mean, give us a break! Other people get to hold their anniversaries and babies and Meaningful Encounters I Have With Strangers Because of My Religious Habit over us; must we be permanently relegated to boarding houses as well as being made to feel barren and unloved and useless by our brothers and sisters in Christ?
4) It’s also important to accept that we’re not all the same. I have a friend who told me that she hopes to sublet in furnished apartments for as long as possible, because she dislikes buying and owning furniture so much. Well, that’s fine – why impose solitude and furniture-shopping upon someone designed for company and shoe-shopping? But the number of times that sociable extroverts have said to me, “What? You’d look for a place alone? Why would you do that?” is really astonishing.
5) It’s also not true that living alone must necessarily lead to eccentricity and selfishness. I have a friend who owns her own apartment, and this has enabled her to apply her natural gift for domestic queenship to a home, instead of just to a bedroom tacked onto the end of mutual territory over which she cannot exercise queenship; it means she’s able to offer more hospitality, rather than less, because she’s free to invite guests at will, to offer the spare bedroom to any number of women in crisis, to pray freely in her house, to cook whenever a member of her church community is ill, and so on. Needless to say, this woman is Protestant, and has not (as far as I’m aware) been told by anyone that she’s destroying her soul or the planet or the Church by owning her own home.
On which note – I’ve noticed that my Protestant friends seem to have a far more peaceful acceptance of their single state than do their Catholic counterparts (including me, I hasten to add!). This may be an unfair observation – maybe I don’t know enough Protestants and the rest of them are miserable, or maybe they’re all told to put on a brave face in front of Catholics, or maybe it’s just that their concept of vocation doesn’t come with urgent Save the Church memos attached. But it seems a phenomenon worth investigating further.