Ritualistically I use the first moments of my morning to scroll through my daily news feed. Cute kittens. Hilarious memes. Serious life updates. Photo shoots. The inevitable advertisement with some happily married woman's guide to “Surviving the Single Years” and her attempts to convince me to buy “‘The perfect handbook to being content whilst being single”. There is something about relationships that sells. The momentary rush of liking my friend’s latest profile picture with her dream boat boyfriend or the girl-next-door’s engagement photo shoot always seems twinged with jealousy. I don’t believe I’m the only single person who feels this way. Lets face it: alone, man is incomplete. The restlessness to be in a relationship propels us towards our final end. Singlehood and its inadequacy to fulfill that restlessness is a universally valid human experience. French poet Paul Valery gives the perspective, “God created man and finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a female companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly” (2).
Our own aloneness is made more recognizable experiencing an absence. Human nature in its completeness is found in man and woman. Together they are the image of God. This is not to say that I am in some way inhuman or inferior because I do not have a spouse. I am no less human on my own. I am simply alone. My desire to remedy this aloneness puts the single life on the level of a natural imperfection. There would be no purpose in being female if a male did not exist. Sex is understandable in light of the other. Man and woman are, according to Alice von Hildebrand “two beings of equal dignity, but complementary; therefore, they are mutually necessary for enriching one another” (3).
It is the element of mutual necessity and the word choice of “enrichment” that I find most fascinating and so countercultural. When a majority of our culture talks about relationships or single years, the focus is not so much on the other but on the self. We want to figure out how we can be fulfilled and why we aren’t being given what we think we deserve. It’s about my pleasure. My needs. My relationship status. It is this self-centered thinking fails to fill man’s aloneness and inevitably leaves us with heartbreak and disappointment.
In our experience of human aloneness we grasp to fill what we recognize is lacking. Grasping, we forget that man was made for gift: to receive gift, but also, and more importantly, to give himself or herself as a gift. The ways which we give ourselves can be understood as vocation. A vocation is what we dedicate and pour our lives into. Currently, my vocation is to be a student. To be a student is not a permanent vocation, but while I am here my responsibility is to give of myself to my studies. In that gift of my time and energy, I am making myself into a vessel to receive from knowledge from the great thinkers I encounter in class, books, and friendships. In this way, I not only give myself as a gift, but I also receive gift from another fulfilling my human vocation at this state in my life.
No matter how much of myself I pour myself into my studies, I still find myself with an ache that knowledge will not quench. Knowledge, as dignifying as it is of man’s rational capacity, does not fill the aloneness of man nor actualize all of his or her capacity for gift. Man was made for relationship. If you only look at the music we listen to, the TV we watch, and the literature we read it is not hard to see that relationships captivate us.
The unrest of the single life, where I only give of myself to transitory vocations, reveals that i was made to give myself in a way that I have not yet. This fundamental desire of the human person has two ends: one that is natural and another that is supernatural. Setting aside the supernatural for the present, let’s attempt to understand the natural. Uncommitted single life cannot be a primary natural vocation in itself; however, it sands away imperfections and prepares us to give ourselves to a human person. In my relationships with friends and family, I practice giving myself as gift. The full gift of my person will only be possible between males and females in a married relationship. Men and women were created with the intention of receiving the other. Together, they are able in a more radiant way to reflect the triune God who created them in his image.
This natural vocation prepares man for his supernatural vocation, which Dietrich von Hildebrand capitalizes: “The final, supernatural vocation of every man is...transformation into Christ” (5). Both male and female share the final end of union with God. Some individuals have the unique vocation to begin participation in this supernatural vocation here on earth in a more distinct way as a consecrated single, religious, or priest. These vocations bypass the natural vocation to marriage. Each of us, however, as human persons have as our supernatural and final end participation in the love of the Trinity. By allowing ourselves to be refined through gift of our person to another in this life, we are more capable of fulfilling this final end. Understood correctly, every natural vocation is intermittent to the ultimate vocation of man, and each should have as its aim growth in union with the Divine.
To be single then is no curse, restless though it may be. I’m a woman who has been given a share in human nature, but still contains the radical potential to participate in that more fully. The single life is a transitory moment of gift, in preparation for the commitment of gift to another, which is the next step on the gradation of vocation. Eagerly, I await the opportunity to uncover greater depths within my person through new levels of gift. It’s a struggle being single. I don’t like it. Yet that reveals to me so much of who I am. Despite the unquiet of my heart, I find rest that like any other moment this is an opportunity to grow in union with Christ, which is my supernatural vocation.