Rediscovering Hope (Review: “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years”)

I spend about half of my lunch break at work on Facebook, but I like to read something other than statuses and blogs for the second half. When I took this book to work, I was so embarrassed that I was careful to hide the cover. I work for a secular employer, and most of my coworkers are or have been married, so I was especially eager to avoid explaining my ownership of The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right. The awkwardness of such a conversation was not worth fighting.

Having read it, though, and reflected on it for a few days, I am not so embarrassed that I couldn’t write this review. I identified with Emily Stimpson’s advice, enjoyed it, and learned too much not to!


I’m no stranger to books about being single, Catholic, and female. I reviewed How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul over a year ago. This book takes a very different approach, and although I wasn’t quite expecting what I found, I am very glad I read it.

It seems a little odd to be taking relationship advice from a never-married woman in her thirties. On the other hand, who could better give advice for the “meantime,” the years that I (and many other Catholic women) have spent unmarried and may yet spend unmarried for years and years more? It seems just as hard to take advice from married women: they know what worked for them, but that time had a definite, in-the-past end. For those of us staring down the future, it can be bittersweet to hear “success stories.” As soon as I related to Stimpson’s opening tale of (a friend told to resign herself to lifelong singleness at the ripe old age of twenty-seven), I knew I was in for a good read. Like her, I know the biological clock ticks a little louder with each passing year.

The best aspects of this book, though, were its practicality and its ability to speak the truths I have held onto for so long. Stimpson’s style/fashion guidelines are about the same as mine. Like me, she does not believe unconsecrated singlehood is a vocation. Like me, she knows that men just are as they are, and the best we can do to relate to them is to stop treating them as though they’re women. She understands the delicate balance between a career that is impressive to the world and uses our skills and abilities versus one that is fulfilling and can be compatible with motherhood, when the time comes.

The biggest surprise for me was Stimpson’s chapter on other people’s children. As my friends slowly get married and gradually become parents, it becomes harder (but not impossible) to maintain those friendships. I have learned to make friends with husbands (and with my guy friends’ wives), but I never thought much about their children. It’s a new way to approach this season when I don’t have children of my own. It’s a positive spin to what I saw for so long as a lack.

So, overall, I’m not embarrassed that I read this book. I am a little despondent that it was a hand-me-down. The friend who gave it to me? She is generous, she makes good recommendations, and she’s getting married. In the meantime, I feel rather better about being single, and I have some new strategies for this season.

Pray for me.

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  • Trenton Henrichson

    Could you elaborate on why unconsecrated singleness is not a vocation? I’m not sure if I disagree or not. I mean I believe singleness comes with certain gifts that Gods plan seems to make use of. I accept (sometimes ungratefully) that Gods plan needs some people to stay single longer than others.

    • Lindsay

      I’ve been working on that theory for a while. I agree that God determines the length of our singlehood, and that for some people that is a lifetime, by his design.

      However, the vocations of marriage, priesthood, non-ordained religious life, and consecrated singlehood have one crucial factor: the direct confirmation of another person. You cannot get married without a spouse who will marry you. You can’t become a priest (or a deacon) without a bishop to call you to orders. You can’t become a religious without a community who accepts you. You can’t be a consecrated single unless your bishop consecrates you. You can be a hermit without anyone else, but that’s about it. Every one of those vocations requires God’s speaking to someone besides you about his plan for you, and they all require that person’s complete agreement.

      On the other hand, we are born unconsecrated and single. We can choose all by ourselves to stay that way for life. We can discern that call, that alleged vocation, without anyone else’s input. The risk is much greater that we’ll be wrong, and there’s no communal factor. Even God is a community.

      Emily Stimpson has a fuller discussion of this in her book, and her ideas aren’t quite the same, but that’s my theory.

      • Trenton Henrichson

        I’d never thought about it like that. I guess I agree you haven’t really found a vocation until it has been recognized and connected to the rest of the Community.

  • Trenton Henrichson

    Also “men just are as they are” …hehe…you want to elaborate on that?… no, you probably shouldn’t…

    • Lindsay

      I’m far from an expert on men, but when I apply what I know and have learned in my work and personal life, I find myself getting along much better with men. It works in non-romantic contexts, too. Things like being direct about what I want (help with a heavy object, more polite language, etc.) and not expecting men to talk about feelings: those I have found helpful. YMMV.

      • Trenton Henrichson

        hmm. Yes those differences seem valid. I’ve had trouble being “to direct” with women. But I still think communication style needs to be established by function and relationship often more so than gender. IE If your comforting a someone you need to talk about feelings. If your uncomfortable with that then that may not be your gift. If you take a leadership role then you have to accept direct criticism. If that makes you feel uncomfortable don’t be a leader. I read somewhere that gender differences tend to lesson with age, probably as we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

      • Mark

        Lindsay, I don’t pretend to be an expert on men and feelings, but I have found that as a pastoral counselor in my 30 year experience that men can and want to talk about their feelings. It is not something that they are encouraged to do often as children, and so often they get overwhelmed by them. But it has been an interesting observation that in working with young couples when the man starts talking about his feelings the women will sometimes start to flounder with hers. I know this sounds strange, but it happens a lot. It is more a dynamic than “men are this and women are that” And the more we say “don’t ask men to talk about their feelings”, the more they won’t. And that is sad for everyone. I agree wholeheartedly with Trenton that the difference between men and women shrink as they age. I am 54 and it has a whole lot. And I am proud of that. And the women in my life are as well. Finally, I think waiting until the 30’s to marry can possibly benefit couples at time because as we live longer quite frankly we are maturing slower. I unfortunately see some very young couples who are really mean to one another and don’t even realize it because there expectations about “romance” and love are so incredibly unrealistic. Because a woman can have a child into her 30’s now without as much danger, it can benefit a child to have more emotionally mature parents. We don’t need to get married that young anymore. And all of you are right, there is a time and a place for everything. Everyone is different as God creates us different. Thanks.

        • Lindsay

          Thank you for your perspective, Mark!

  • Mary Stanish

    I own this book and how to find your soulmate and both left me feeling a little worse about being single to be honest. I think it was either the vocation bit or the career bit that upset me. It was slightly better than soulmate. But I don’t know there was just something in the language or how I was interpreting it that made it feel like it was accusing me for being who I am. My favorite Singles book (and blog community) is Seraphic Singles. It’s nice to know there’s a group of ladies out there getting married in their late 30’s and waiting it out.

    • Trenton Henrichson

      Wait are they intentionally waiting until their late 30’s or are they just not frantically looking for a partner in their early (?mid?) 30s. Certainly any good advice doesn’t discourage people from being who they are. God spent far more time/fear and wisdom forming us to be who we are than anyone could ever spend writing a self help/theology book. And if people expect one answer to fit everyone they are truly selling short the creativity of the creator. That being said [flame proof suit] I’ve never fully understood how in about one generation the masses discerned we all needed to delay the process a decade. “college first” I get, is there a generalizable argument for “late 30’s”? Again I’m thinking mass sociological phenomenon I make no claims on what you or any individual should or shouldn’t do.

      • Mary Stanish

        I should clarify, these are not women who wanted to be married at 30 or 40 or later. They were actively pursuing the vocation throughout their 20s and 30s. There’s no generalized argument that I know of for “late 30s marriage.” I blame divorce culture and the economic state of the past 10+ years personally.

        In my case, it’s very easy to slip into grief or self-depreciation about my single status. I feel like I have somehow failed in my vocation because I did not marry when I was 24 like I wanted to be.

        Thanks for your comment on the on advice books. I do tend to take them too seriously at times.

    • Lindsay

      What I liked about her thoughts on career was that she acknowledged the wide range of opinions on the subject while identifying ways it can affect singlehood and married life. I don’t think I’ve read such a broad description anywhere else.

      I can’t say I loved everything about it, but it seems more practical than much of what Auntie Seraphic says. I follow her, too.

      • Mary Stanish

        Hm, I must be misremembering the chapter on career. Which would not surprise me.

        Yay. For me I don’t really think what’s practical works out in my situation all the time. For me it’s more that intellectual and emotional aspects that I need support in.

        Thanks for replying. You always write such thoughtful reviews.

        • Lindsay

          I totally understand. Thank you for the lovely compliment, and thanks for reading!

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