The most important thing to do while you’re single

A stack of save-the-dates and wedding invitations covers a corner of my desk at home. Within the next eight months, five more of my friends and their significant others will have wed, while I—now nearly 29—will have not. That I might witness all their vows without a date doesn’t bother me at all as I write this. That doesn’t mean that how single I am has never bothered me.

“My wedding” sounds to me like the start of something so difficult but so good. In the sacrament of matrimony, we are given to each other by God, and we are given to each other by each other. It’s a miracle, because two people turn into a unit designed to result in the destruction of self-absorption. A marriage is supposed to be a space where we can work together to become holier, and guts are safe to spill, and virtue can blossom, in which love is absolute and unfailing, just like God’s love is for us.

I want that. When I am reminded that I want it, I sometimes start to ache.

The ache is a dull longing, and when present, a constant distraction. It starts in your heart, or in your soul, or in your gut, and is rooted in the belief that something or someone is missing. It can make a person whimper a little, or binge eat pepper jack cheese sticks. It has arrived when I’ve been a third wheel a lot or when all I’ve seen between my world and a good man’s is an iMessage he isn’t sending. It arrives when I think too much about five weddings and no dates.

When I have ached, I’ve sighed a lot, and have felt mildly unfulfilled, and noticeably alone, and irreparably restless. Each time, I’ve made myself agree to wait longer for whatever’s missing to show up. I’ve resolved to accept that for now, I’m alone.

Until the last time I ached.

The last time I ached, I learned the most important thing to do while you’re single. I sighed that day like I usually do. I was restless. But I thought a thought that probably didn’t come from me:

“You don’t ache because you’re alone. You ache because you’re looking in the wrong direction.”

The whole time, every time I ached, I ached because I was waiting to receive from significant others what significant others are not even designed to give us. I ached because I wasn’t paying attention to the source of my peace. As I ached, I associated how I felt with what I thought was missing: a guy to date, and to bring to other people’s weddings.

But nothing was missing. I only felt unfulfilled, alone, and restless because I had turned my head. I wasn’t looking anymore at what all of us actually long for, whether single, married, or religious. Because the most important thing to do while you’re single, as it turns out, is the same as the most important thing to do while you’re not:

Focus on Jesus.

There is no date that can do for me what Christ does, no iMessage that grants peace like the peace that comes from eyes on Him. There is no wedding that’s better because a guy’s beside me than a wedding I attend with Christ before me, and no way I can be a wife someday if I’m not looking at Him.


arleen fall 2013Arleen Spenceley is author of forthcoming book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, to be released by Ave Maria Press in Fall 2014. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at and tweets @ArleenSpenceley. Click here to like her on Facebook.




  1. spot on. You have captured the essence of being both Catholic and single at the same time. God bless you sister. I pray that you are constantly encouraged.

    By Josephine | 7 years ago Reply
  2. I lost much of my Catholic faith the day I lost my brother, and even though my faith had been extremely weak before that happened, after it happened I felt as though I could not rely on God at all. When I had moments like this (I’m older than you and still single) I haven’t had that relationship that you seem to have w/God or Jesus to lean on. Because Jesus suffered I could relate to Him more and I have held on to that aspect, but I definitely didn’t feel I could let go and trust. If I could do that, maybe it would help me.

    He was my only brother and that makes the fact that I’m in my mid 30s with no husband or child even more poignant and painful. I’d love to feel I had Jesus to depend on again to get through the loneliness. Especially since humans can never be fully counted on.

    By square | 7 years ago Reply
    • Oh man. This is hard. I will pray for you. In the meantime, I hope you can heal from your brother’s death and, even if you don’t get married right away, find people to love and be loved by.

      By HR | 7 years ago Reply
    • I lost my brother too. I encourage you to go to Mass and receive communion; it is a taste of heaven, where my brother is. I feel his presence when I take communion. Hugs.

      By Fischer | 7 years ago Reply
    • I was going to start by saying I lost my brother but I have faith he is in Heaven where he belongs (Where we all belong). Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, John 11:25
      My brother is younger than me and as an older sibling one expects to leave this Earth before their younger sibling.
      My faith was weak before the tradegy happened I came to a point in my life where I didn’t believe in God. When the tragedy occurred and I was told the news I screamed at God for not saving my brother. Time passed and I remembered how I had yelled at God & I didn’t understand because according to me I didn’t believe in Him. Time has passed and I have became close to God he helps me and gives me hope that one day I will hear and see my brother again. I still don’t feel God’s presence or know the plans he has for me but my faith is not weak like it us to be.
      I am single as well but I know God will always be there at the end.
      It is hard to put your trust in God after certain situations I understand it was hard for me. But I realized I will never understand why certain things happen only He knows. God will not always do what you ask just like a father won’t do everything his child tells him to do. But I gave God a chance and he has answered some of my prayers. You will be in my prayers. Have a great day and always look up when loneliness comes. Just praying to him makes a huge difference in my life.

      By Anna | 7 years ago Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing. You’re so right. Without focusing on Him now, I don’t think I’ll be able to later when the needs of others are before me in such a physical way. I need to learn to serve Him first now so that I can serve Him through serving my family later.

    By Susan | 7 years ago Reply
  4. Very beautiful and so, so true. I’m in a new season of single-ness myself after being married for 12 years. It’s been challenging, to say the least, and you pegged it when you said you sometimes feel restless. I feel the same way.
    It looks like I need to change my focus! Thank you for bringing that peaceful concept to light.

    By Lindsay | 7 years ago Reply
  5. Amen! I truly needed to hear this right now, at this very moment. Thank you for posting. You have made my day.

    By Anita Usher | 7 years ago Reply
  6. Everything I feel summed up in one blog post. Thank you. It is a cathartic, reflective piece that is very beautifully written.

    By H | 7 years ago Reply
  7. I don’t speak english very well, but I liked a lot of artigo, in the day today, We sometimes think that we doesn’t have someone and We are alone and We forget that God always keeps us the best in your due time , and so We doesn’t think in the that the others We say of us when us doesn’t does what the world want of us. Hugs

    By Edmar | 7 years ago Reply
  8. Thank you so much for this – the ache has been sitting on my heart a lot the past couple of weeks and this was a great reminder. God bless you and your work.

    By Chloe M. | 7 years ago Reply
  9. Excellent Arleen. The more single you are, the more ready you are for marriage.

    By John H. Morgan III | 7 years ago Reply
  10. I so disagree with stuff like this. Your desire to be married (any of us) is pure, good and wonderful. There is a new revolution in Christianity and the Church to “accept singleness” and “just be happy” which is nothing but “pie-in-the-sky” depressing nonsense. People should be aware that they are made for love, not to repress or ignore this knowledge. Not all of us are called to religious life (not everyone finds Jesus this way), and singleness is NOT a vocation. It’s not proven in any encyclicals, the CCC, etc, that singleness is a vocation. (Look it up if you don’t believe me). God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” He never said, “Gee Adam. I don’t understand why you need someone like yourself. I should be enough for you.” We are human beings, not angels or robots. Give me a break.

    By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
    • thanks Ana.

      By Noé | 7 years ago Reply
      • Your welcome!! : )

        By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
    • I add it is not just focus on Jesus but prayer to Him and to our Blessed Mother and the Saints. Without prayer, namely, the raising of heart and mind to God, we cannot save our souls whether married, religious, priest or a loner. It is natural though to be lonely at times when we are in solitude. But we must cultivate the love of solitude for the voice of God can only be heard in silence.

      By Jonathan | 7 years ago Reply
      • @ Jonathan Absolutely. : )

        By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
    • I agree that singleness is not a vocation. However, I don’t think Arleen is suggesting it is. What she is suggesting is turning to the author of Love Himself. Although humans are made for communion and love, the reality is that some of us will be victims of our culture. Some of us who are made for marriage may not get married because of rampant sin. What if you never got married? Would you turn your back on Jesus? No, and the point of Arleen’s article is to re-channel that ache even now as a single to Jesus. He is ultimately the only one who can fulfill the ache. Even marriage won’t fill the longing. Let us all strive to be like Mary and say “Fiat mihi…” Accept where you are today.

      By Anon | 7 years ago Reply
      • @ Anon. Although many are victims of the culture of sin, it is because they have made poor choices and have sought love in the wrong places. No one can force me to accept where I am today. I am chaste and will remain chaste. I highly encourage people to ask God to grant the desires of their hearts. I know He will give me a spouse because as St. Therese said, ” God never places desires in our hearts that cannot be fulfilled”.

        By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
        • I also want to add Anon that through this mentality, you are allowing the culture, Satan, and sin to WIN. This is NOT the answer!! This sort of thinking gives no meaning to the passion, cross, and RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ. Since Christ won the victory, we have won with Him! Read St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans! As St. Augustine and John Paul II said, “We are the EASTER people and alleluia is our song!!” You cannot allow the Evil One to prevent you from discovering and LIVING your true vocation (whether it is marriage or not). We are only victims of the culture if we allow it to poison us. If we are aware of our God-given dignity as other Christs, Satan will lose. And you certainly will not tell me that I do not have a vocation because I do!! I refuse to be poisoned by this grotesque, pagan culture. I encourage all of you, like St. Paul said, to “imitate me” although you have no idea who I am. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, but I’ll pray for all of you. The church is in desperate need of Godly marriages as well as the priesthood and consecrated life. We need people to shine with the light of Christ and not be afraid and teach the culture WHAT IS NOT LOVE. YOU ARE ALL EASTER PEOPLE!! ALLELUIA!!

          By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
          • And you cannot force God to send you a spouse. Name it/claim it will only leave you disillusioned. Read Abandonment to Divine Providence. Yes, God desires godly marriages but until it happens for you, you cannot be 100% sure that is your vocation.

            By anon | 7 years ago
        • I said nothing about eschewing chastity. It’s the chaste ones who have the bigger burden to bear! Many of us are victims because others have chosen impurity, pornography, homosexuality, etc. So YES some of the good ones may not have a marriage vocation fulfilled. The point is live in the now. Pray, hope and don’t worry. Only God knows the end of the story anyway.

          By anon | 7 years ago Reply
          • Whatever…….stop telling me what to do. This is between me and the Lord.

            By Ana | 7 years ago
          • I disagree with you. What about many of the saints who knew God was calling them to be a priest or nun? Since when do you not know for certain what your vocation is until it happens? For some that may be the case, but that’s not at all what I’ve learned in general from religious or other holy people. I feel that you are judging my relationship with God. Everyone is different. In that case, I leave you in His hands. This world is in desperate need of healing. I have my spirituality and you have yours. Let’s leave it at that, brother. *peace*

            By Ana | 7 years ago
        • When considering issues of a fallen world and where people have looked for love, there’s also the very real issue that the economic shifts over the last generation have completely scattered the Catholic population of this country – and we keep up and moving for school and work, rather than living around family and ethnic communities like has been the American Catholic norm until the collapse of traditional industry and the push for universal college.

          This is not to discount anything you’re saying about prayer, but there’s also the key fact that we singles are trying to find community in our parishes when modern parishes are effectively drive-in Mass locations for suburban nuclear families who barely know one another. That we who remain chaste and devout as adults become increasingly a counter culture is made all the more difficult by our lack of distinguishing signs out in the world, coupled with no cultural community to help us meet other singles who know people we know in the more conventional manner.

          It’s, pardon the language, sort of a cr@pshoot for our generation (I say as a 35-year old). The children growing up in the Church now should have an easer time, but we’re in that liminal space. And, honestly, prayer is about saving our souls rather than bringing us spouses; there’s a far larger role played by our correligious compeers walking away (as well as changes in economics and demography) than so many of us suddenly being tasked to wait decades as reparation for a culture of sin (sacrifices of reparation are given of free will, after all…).

          By Episteme | 7 years ago Reply
  11. Also, I want to add that I wish Catholics would stop lumping people into one category. Just because someone wants to be married does not mean they want to for the wrong reasons. It is totally possible to deeply experience the love of God first BEFORE wanting to share that love with someone else, which is EXACTLY my experience, so don’t judge me.

    By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
    • I honestly don’t believe anyone was trying to judge you. They were simply trying to explain what they thought the article was saying. No one pointed and said, “You are not accepting singleness. This is why you need to.” Also, the article was specifically reaching out to people with this problem and not saying, “All single people have this problem.” You are doing the lumping all by yourself.

      By Shi | 7 years ago Reply
      • You did not clearly read all the comments. There were two people who disagreed with me, which is fine. However, I’m entitled to my opinion and I’m just reminding people not to judge because in my experience, so many have and will give the same advice to anyone assuming they have the same problem so they give the same solution. You can’t always do that. That’s all I’m saying.

        By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
  12. Great article! I can relate. I got married at 25 before most of my friends did. While they were focusing on building careers, I was focusing on wedding plans. Then I got divorced (and annulled) by the time I was 30. I will be turning 35 this year and now most of my friends who once were writing resumes are now writing wedding vows. It’s hard but I keep going and I keep praying for whatever God has in store for me.

    By Andrew Lind | 7 years ago Reply
  13. Thanks for the article. I’ve been married for five years now and I can honestly say my partner and I love each other much, much less than we used to. That’s normal. Togetherness doesn’t grow like a tree, it fluctuates like the tide. The purpose of a marriage is to make breaking up so difficult that, when your old life alone is sounding pretty fantastic, you stay together for the sake of your family. That’s why it’s called ‘tying the knot’.

    By Lisa | 7 years ago Reply
  14. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. You helped me today

    By Konner Kloster | 7 years ago Reply
  15. This is great, but I would really like to know if people who are NOW married (and many of whom WILL remain happily so), can honestly look back and say they thought *like this* about their loneliness – that they thought of such an epiphany as the most important thing to learn from being single, as if they were really confusing the idea of a spouse with the reality of God…that they now wish they’d spent more time thinking so abstractly about it all and being content and less time dating, socializing in mixed company or using dating sites such and risking meeting their spouse. I really cant help but think it’s a tad overzealous to say loneliness for a spouse is *simply* confused lack of willingness to find comfort in God. Thats – a whole other nature of contentment and relationship.

    By Noé | 7 years ago Reply
    • I never did any of those things, but I do remember feeling the need to ‘save myself’ for my future spouse. That was a mistake. I should have enjoyed my single life more. I was ready and able to have physical relationships years before I got married, and now I wish I had.

      By Lisa | 7 years ago Reply
      • Oh I wouldn’t at all suggest the goodness of using time single like THAT – nothing in the zone of sin. Being comfortable in ones own skin is one thing, enjoying the time incidentally spent single is fine – but physical relationships? – Sin is sin, married life or not.

        By Noé | 7 years ago Reply
        • We all draw the line somewhere. I wish I’d been a bit looser with my moral pencil while I had the chance.

          By Lisa | 7 years ago Reply
    • I really should have said about “such an epiphany as the most important thing to learn *from being single*” – forget single people!; that’s actually a pretty central epiphany in ANY human circumstance. Even people in the religious life have described feelings like this, and NOT just about the absence of a spouse obviously (Mother Teresa, for example), a pining like this – amidst a life devoted thoroughly to “focus on Jesus”. It’s simply – human. So…why not answer everyone else’s sense of the modern condition and isolation with that same answer, regardless of how their question is phrased? Marriage is a *Sacrament* – it is very heavy when placing it next to being *single* – a state not itself a sacrament. It’s one thing when it’s done as it is here and not suggesting marriage follows from living out this advice, because some younger readers ARE likely to ultimately discern the religious life – but I see similar pieces and similar trains of advice on Catholic dating sites, where people have already discerned marriage is their calling.

      By Noé | 7 years ago Reply
    • I agree with you wholeheartedly!! It is so refreshing to see someone who is on the same page!! Great minds think alike!! ; ) May God grant you the desires of your heart, Noe’!

      By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
    • I actually meant to post the comment I made below under this particular comment you made! Sorry! Great minds think alike as I said. : )

      By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
  16. This is a great article. However, some are missing the point. Can you accept the possibility that God may not intend for you to marry at all? I am 50, I have never married. I knew at a very young age (about 14) that I would never likely be a wife or mother. I have found fulfillent in God, with God and in union with God. After seeking aimlessly and making mistake my happiness was found as a consecrated single person. I am not a religious. There is merit in the single life. It is a good. It is not less than a marital vocation. We cannot bring to a marriage or relationship what we seek. The “IT” that we are looking for must be found first. Please read this blog post. It is not written by a Catholic but it speaks well, to what we all desire.

    By Elaine Wurm | 7 years ago Reply
    • Elaine, it is wonderful that you discerned your vocation at such a young age. You must have a very special relationship with the Lord! : ) However, many people (especially young people) are not always sure what their vocation is and need the guidance of a priest, youth minister, or spiritual director. I am not saying that the single life is less than the marital vocation; it seems to me that you are missing my point. I was referring to single life in of itself, not “consecrated” single life, which is totally different. Some may be called to consecrated single life, but the Church is not clear and has not been clear about the single STATE as a primary vocation. I think your comment about God not intending some not to marry does not give those who feel strongly called to marriage much encouragement. If they have a special relationship with God, He will make it known to them. Each person’s vocation story is different because we are all different people. Some find God one way, some in another. You can’t lump everyone into one category. God Bless.

      By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
      • @ Ana My full vocation to the Consecrated Single Life was not discerned fully at 14. I knew well though (intuition) that I would not be a wife/mother. I utilized all the things you listed, a good priest, the sacraments, Holy Hour and spiritual direction.. The process took many, many years. I struggled. Young people need to know that they are valued BOTH within and without marriage. Scripture states that there is no marriage in heaven. If marriage were happening according to God’s plan on earth, fully realized, the divorce rate among Catholics (younge and old) would not be running at the pace of secular society. I don’t think I lumped anyone together. The single state can be full and happy. Our society/culture implies that alot of “things” will make you happy. Money, power, success and so on. The pressure for young people to marry can be overwhelming in our culture. I simply wanted to assure the young people that might be reading these comments to find fulfillment in God FIRST and then discern the call to marriage.

        By Elaine Wurm | 7 years ago Reply
  17. Right when I thought my boyfriend would become my fiance he walked out on me. Everyone is saying that now is the time I should become a better Catholic because I need Jesus to get me through, but I find myself becoming a worse Catholic. I guess I just feel myself giving up on everything.
    I know that I shouldn’t just be looking for a feel-good Jesus relationship until I find another man to make me feel good, because that’s not what God or men are for. I guess I just really don’t know how to perceive myself as someone who is lovable, both by God, man, and myself. It’s a work in progress though, don’t get me wrong. But I’m really hurt and it’s hard.

    By Kay | 7 years ago Reply
    • I hear you, Kay. It’s tough to shift our focus from wanting to feel good, or even just okay. Even when we are focusing totally on God, we can’t expect to feel good. Our faith helps us to believe that it’s worth it both now and for later.
      Hugs! I know you know what you need and it sounds like you know where you are, too. Just give it all to the Lord, “Who is close to the broken-hearted.” We need Him no matter what the situation is, happy or sad. I’m learning this in a meaningful way right now. Maybe I can say it like this, let God shape your perceptions of yourself. Pray to see yourself with His eyes – in perfect clarity. Know that He loves you beyond anything you can imagine. I’m only saying this because it’s what I’m trying to do, too, after being in a similar situation as yourself. All the time is a good time to pray. Keep persevering! I’ll pray for you, too.

      By Tina | 7 years ago Reply
    • @ Kay I am so sorry to hear about your broken relationship. Although I don’t know you, my heart goes out to you because I’m no stranger to heartache myself. I’ve felt (and still feel) like God has let me down in many ways. All I can say is that God meets you where you are and He accepts you where and as you are. Your heart is grieving and it’s a process, like you said. You may hurt for a long time, but it’s ok cause we all grieve differently. Read John 16: 20 for encouragement. Your heart was made to love and be loved and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re called to marriage (and it sounds like you are), things will be made new again. Be patient with yourself. Also listen to Mercy me’s song, “Beautiful.” The lyrics will life your spirits! I’m praying for you! : )

      By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
      • Correction: * lift * your spirits. : )

        By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
  18. I think the ache we feel is most likely simply God pointing us in the direction of our vocation. Of course, we can’t depend on a guy to come and solve the problems in our lives, but the people we love, including and especially someone we’re dating or married to, can bring a fullness to our lives. I don’t think longing for something automatically means we aren’t focused enough on God. It just means that he’s designed each of us with specific desires in our hearts. Without these desires, discernment would be even harder than it already is!

    Of course, our desire for being married can get a little out of hand, but I don’t think having the desire itself is bad. I would mostly focus on using your energy on making yourself a better person for the vocation that you desire–allow it to be motivation on a pursuit towards holiness!

    By Catherine | 7 years ago Reply
    • Exactly! Right on, girlfriend!

      By Ana | 7 years ago Reply
  19. Beautiful! God has granted me great peace as more of my friends have gone steady, engaged, and married. I think attending daily Mass, praying, and journaling more was vital to helping me have so much joy! God calls us to something daily! Whatever it is, it will glorify Him and bring both us and others closer to Him.
    I highly encourage anyone and everyone to begin devoting a solid hour to our Lord (if possible, in front of the Blessed Sacrament). I personally was not sure how this summer would be good for me after moving (I had such a perfect set-up at my last place–easy to get around town, spend time with friends, and walk to the chapel!). However, I began making a daily holy hour, which began transforming me incredibly and quite quickly!

    Here’s some wonderful info on making a holy hour (credit to Blessed Fulton Sheen)

    By Sarah | 7 years ago Reply
  20. You’re absolutely correct. I’m only 19 going on 20, but I see the same thing; friends posting pictures of weddings and pictures of celebrations of being with their significant other for so many months. And I envy them because I haven’t felt the comfort of holding someone close for almost a year. But all that aside, it’s all because I haven’t focused as much as I should on what is really important; which is Jesus. You gave such great advice with only a few words. God bless you, and I hope you do find who He is waiting for you to meet.

    By bass_runner14 | 7 years ago Reply
  21. I gave my testimony for Totus Tuus tonight for the high schoolers and I literally said the exact words you said! It’s when I drop my gaze of Christ that I begin to be sad and lonely and ache. It’s no accident that I ran across this post tonight. Thank you so much for sharing!

    By Laura | 7 years ago Reply
  22. I once heard someone give the advice “Don’t run after a man. Run after God, and then turn and see who is running beside you.” This reminds me of that piece of advice. When you seek God, God will lead your soulmate to you.

    By Amy | 7 years ago Reply
  23. Absolutely beautiful and described EXACTLY what I oftentimes feel. Thank you so much for the reminder.:)

    By Camille | 7 years ago Reply
  24. Reading this beautiful post was like reading about myself (down to every detail). This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.
    I’m printing this out to read it every time I feel that lonely ache.

    By Kate | 7 years ago Reply
  25. Thank you Arleen and God bless you.
    Keep you all in Prayers and God bless you all : )

    By Emmanuel | 7 years ago Reply
  26. This is so beautiful and brings me comfort. thank you 🙂

    By Toni | 7 years ago Reply
  27. Thank you for these words. They could not have come at a better time. I have been looking at the wrong direction indeed. Thanks, and I will be looking for your book.

    By Joanna | 7 years ago Reply

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