By Karen Mannino Monday, Feb 17th, 2014
Valentine’s day weekend has just ended, though it is extended by president’s day. It seems unfair not to nod at the holiday, despite the contrast between the commercial reality, and the identity of St. Valentine. I am enough of a sappy romantic to think that there is nothing wrong with setting aside a day to celebrate romantic love. So I would like to offer reasons I love couples, as a single girl.
I have to admit that I usually have a hard time liking dating couples. I have been a third wheel often enough to be annoyed by their tendency to disregard every other living being on the planet. But they are not all bad. There was one couple that I knew in my cynical teen age years that gave me hope for dating humanity. They were both more fun when the other one was around. The girl became softer, less of a perfectionist and driven. The boy was more talkative and witty. They were at rest in each other’s company. And that restfulness made them open to seeking and appreciating other people. I have often found this true of friends. CS Lewis lamented that since Charles Williams died, he had also lost the part of JRR Tolkien that only came out when Williams was around.
In fairness I have also been a third wheel and enjoyed it immensely. The trick is knowing when to quietly find something else to do. I like having dinner with a dating couple, and then disappearing to wash the dishes. I get the pleasure of watching the two of them bring out the best in each other. Then, as I slowly fade out of their consciousness, I find some way to thank them, giving them a little alone time where they don’t have to pay me any attention. I know they wouldn’t purposely ignore me, but it is perfectly fair to give them a little alone time.
Recently I had the unparalleled pleasure of attending mass with a group of dear friends. This doesn’t happen for me very often, as most of my catholic friends live far away. When we all joined hands for the Lords Prayer, I found my fingers pressed against my friend’s wedding ring. For some reason, that little reminder of his vocation and commitment to his wife (who is also a dear friend) filled me with contented joy.
I must admit that my delight in my friends’ marriages is completely selfish. If Paul wasn’t married, there is no way I would feel comfortable sleeping on his couch while I’m in town. But since he is married to Kristina, I can crash in his living room for several days. This allows the three of us the otherwise impractical luxury of talking until the small hours of the morning, which is the whole point of me coming to visit in the first place.
As a twenty-something, single, introvert, I am at a strange cross roads where I enjoy some of the spontaneity and “yolo” attitude of a young adult, but I also love the simple joys of a stable home and family. I have never been much of a partier. Marriage has very conveniently settled and regulated the social habits of some of my friends. This is very convenient because it means that they don’t feel like we have to go do something crazy in order to have fun. I suppose this quieting of my social life owes something to babies.
I generally feel about babies as I do about handsome male celebrities: They are very nice to look at, but I wouldn’t want to spend more than a few minutes actually interacting with them. It would just get awkward. But a very strange thing happened when I found out that my friends were expecting. I was suddenly irrevocably connected to this unknown child. I don’t know how that really worked, but I’m sure I will feel that way about all the children of people I’m close to, whether they are related to me by blood or not. I will never have children of my own, but I feel like I can somehow share in that highly amusing adventure which is family life with children. I am grateful for the generosity of my parenting friends for allowing me to love their children. As the child is an overflowing of their love for each other, my love for their children is an overflowing of my love for them. It is quite unexpected in me, but then, God’s grace usually is.
I used to think it mattered if I knew both parties in a marriage well. I got to meet my childhood best friends’ fiance (bff) only briefly before they were married. The last time they were in town, I saw him watching her with love in his eye. He was admiring the beauty and charm that I have known since we were small children. He comfortably slid in to help her where we both knew she would need a little help, and he knew how to do it far better then I ever have. He and I may never be great friends, but I know that we have love of her in common, and that will at least make us allies.
Reading over these little anecdotes again, I realize that many of these same stories might easily be poisoned by bitterness or jealousy. Being free of such feelings is a highly valuable grace, especially for a single person. I don’t know if there is anything I can say to dispel that feeling for someone who isn’t happy to be single. God is in charge of handing out that grace. There are a lot of dumb pity parties happening all over the web for single people who feel it is their right to hate people who are dating or married. That is a symptom of a sickness our society has where we think that the only kind of love worth having is romantic. The fact is, the act of love, not the state of being loved by another human being, is what makes life worth living. Love is not jealous, and rejoices in goodness. Love your friends. You need it. I find that it is easiest to avoid being jealous of my friends when I leave myself out of it. When my focus is Jesus, and the gift he has given me in married people, and the beautiful work he is doing in my friends’ lives, I can have nothing but wonder and gratitude.
Karen Mannino is being called away to eat yummy ice cream and watch Cool Runnings while cuddling with her seven year old brother, so you will forgive her for not telling you anything interesting in her mini bio.