Today is known as Valentine’s Day. Others will call it Singles Awareness Day. People will therefore either think of chocolates, flowers, and extravagant plans or sitting at home alone watching Netflix and drinking and shoveling ice cream into your mouth.
I think I’ll just go with celebrating the Feast Day of St. Valentine even though he isn’t technically in the Roman Calendar anymore. I saw a relic of his in Dublin and that’s good enough for me. It’s also the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, but that’s quite a mouthful to wish to someone: Happy Cyril and Methodius Day just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way.
I love any opportunity to write sappy cards because words of affirmation is my primary love language. So unlike most single people, I actually really delight in Valentine’s Day.
Of course, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about Valentine’s Day unless there was another underlying reality going on.
So here are some real things about my life:
I live with one engaged girl and the other has been in a serious relationship for almost two years. Two of the women I’m closest with got married within two weeks of graduating. This summer, I will be in a wedding for the fourth time since I started college. My joke is that by the end of my life I will become Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses. I already have four bridesmaid dresses to prove I’m on my way. The university I attend has a depressing ratio of men to women, and as a senior I’m least likely to have something develop in the months before graduation. Since my freshman year, I’ve been on exactly two dates that went exactly nowhere. I will be 22 in two months and I haven’t had my first kiss (for this though, I’m pretty grateful from the horror stories I’ve heard about traumatic first kisses).
Here are a few questions I regularly get asked:
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Why aren’t you dating? You’re so beautiful, who wouldn’t want to pursue you?”
Or my favorite, asked by a priest, no less, “Are you sure you’re putting yourself in social situations where you’re going to meet young men?”
Or the statements really, really well meaning people say:
“I’m so excited to see where you’re going!”
“Wow, it’s going to take quite the man to keep up with you.”
“Well, you have to know that you’re kind of intimidating.”
“Cherish this time of singlehood! You can do what ever you want! You aren’t responsible to anyone! You’re free!”
Cue the eye rolling because I’ve heard it all again and again and again ad nauseum. Cue the ensuing envy looking at the good men my dear friends have been blessed with. Cue the bitterness that rises up that my vocation hasn’t been revealed to me. Cue the doubt that I’m really not worth pursuing since so few have bothered to try and maybe my friends only say I’m worth it because they want to make me feel better. Cue the fear that this desire in my heart for a husband and children will go unfulfilled. Cue the existential crisis about my purpose on this earth. Cue the lie that no one could possibly love someone so broken a sinner as me until death do us part.
I’ve heard all the supportive words and then I’ve just as quickly believed all the lies that the Evil One has planted in my mind. So I’m not here to reiterate all the things that other very well meaning friends have told you to make you feel better or that have spontaneously erupted out of the goodness of their hearts.
Fun fact: when I was four, my favorite song to sing on our karaoke machine was Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. I wish I could explain why to you, but I honestly couldn’t. I thought it was the best song in the world. It’s been on my mind recently as my heart has been aching.
I want to affirm that ache in your heart because I too need the ache in my heart affirmed.
It’s that ache that arises when you watch your best friend get married. You’re pierced by the Sacramental grace, the radiance of a couple imitating Christ’s love for the Church, the reality of our heavenly call, the joy of their love, and the transcendent beauty of a bride and groom on their wedding day. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to commit to getting another person to heaven.
It’s that ache that arises when you listen to your guy friend discuss how he wants to lay down his life for the woman that he loves. You’re pierced by the marvel of a man conforming himself to Christ, the mystery of a love that stretches out to protect and defend, the delirious joy of his love for her, and the honest pride of watching your friend mature into his masculinity. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to be loved by a man like that.
It’s that ache that arises when you see your best friend with their first child. You’re pierced by the mystery of creation, the wonder of the female body to bear a child, the joy of this brand new human being, and the beauty of your friend in the radiance of her motherhood. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to participate in creation in such a way.
It’s that ache that crushes you when you hear the reading from Genesis as the man cries, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! At last!” Because you, too, want to hear that exultant cry from the lips of another.
This abiding longing, an abiding ache has kept me awake at night and has prevented me from fully enjoying the exciting and beautiful events in the lives of those around me. It has pierced my heart as an arrow penetrating to the depths of my being. It has left me on the floor of the chapel with weepy eyes and wobbly knees. It hasn’t diminished the farther in I’ve gotten into my knowledge of what marriage is in the eyes of the Church. If anything, it’s only increased a hundredfold. It certainly hasn’t diminished watching some of my dearest friends enter into marriage and witnessing the the joys and the sorrows of married life. The ache has only deepened and broadened and grown more poignant in intensity. The more I read St. John Paul II, Fulton Sheen, and Pope Benedict XVI on the beauty of marriage and the family all the more difficult the ache is to bear.
It is the longing to be loved, to be desired, to be protected. It is the longing to love another as well. The weight of all the love I long to give rests heavy in my heart. There is so much I am capable of giving, and yet some days I feel sterile, unable to be fruitful and wasting the good that’s in my heart.
Of course I love my family, and of course I love my friends. And I pour myself with love into my studies, my work, the ministries I’m involved in, and the volunteering that I do. And I receive love back from all of those things. And how immensely blessed I am to receive and to give. It is so much more than so many will ever know.
Yet. Oh yet I am still hungry and thirsty for more. More, more, more. I long for more. I am unsatisfied. I return to the chapel again and again begging the Lord to take away the heaviness, to be satisfied with the shower of love I receive all the time. I find myself on my knees once more asking, “Why not me? Why not yet?” I am unsatisfied.
We have been made biologically, psychologically, and spiritually for one another. We have been made for communion and community. We need other people to survive and to thrive. These desires, these aches, are a part of being human. They are not bad, but actually really, really good because they point us to the transcendent reality of what love truly is: a gift of self. We cannot love in isolation. It requires an “other” to love. Love draws us outside of ourselves. It is transcendent. But we haven’t been made only for a human love that will draw us outside of ourselves. Because the truth is, my married friends are not satisfied. They still experience loss and loneliness and that painful ache. They experience beautiful purpose and joy and rest in the other, but they too still long for more. Human relationships will never be able to satisfy the ache.
We have been made to love and to be loved, in the image of He who is Love itself. He has made us for Himself. He has made us for an infinite love, for He is that infinite Love. That painful first separation came when our first parents sinned because they had everything and still were not satisfied. They broke the bonds of love between each other and between themselves and God. We then had to be reconciled to the Lord. And sent His only Son, the Word made flesh, Love Incarnate, to draw us back into communion. He became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh at last at the Incarnation and the world and man has never been the same since. Now we are not only reconciled to God, but we have been given the gift to be caught up and transfigured in glory.
But we cannot as yet receive that infinity of love on this side of eternity. We are bound to be searching, seeking, starving, unsatisfied until we are united to Him in truest communion. We ache, we long, we desire to be caught up in Love Himself for all of eternity. But we aren’t there yet. We’re here, on this side of heaven, wrestling with the longing. We are here, unsatisfied even after receiving the holy Eucharist and choosing virtue over sin.
So what’s a girl to do with this ache that makes her quiver down to her core? Lean into it. Lean into the mystery of this longing, the longing we have felt since the expulsion of Eden, the ache we still feel even after the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dwell within the ache and bring it always to the foot of His cross. Bring it to the lap of the Blessed Mother. Bring it to our brothers and sisters the saints who experienced and wrote about that ache and have now been drawn up into Love Himself. Learn to love the mystery and to love the ache because it will lead us home to Him. Let the ache propel you forward to love those around you unreservedly. No sacrifice done in the name of Love is too small.
This is no easy task. You will fail. I will fail. We’ll get caught up again in the lies and the sorrow and begin to doubt. That’s okay. Pick your heart up off the ground and begin again. Kick the devil in the face and begin again. Run to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and begin again.
I’m praying for you, and I beg that you do the same for me. We are all so in need of each others love and support.
Here is a beautiful prayer by St. Anthony of Padua to help with the ache and this time in between heaven and earth:
To be loved thoroughly and exclusively.
With having an intensely personal and unique relationship with Me alone.
I want you to have the best. Please allow Me to bring it to you.
And this is perfect love.