This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2:18). In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body discourses he speaks about something he calls “original solitude,” which is Adam’s state before the creation of Eve. Adam sees himself as unique, and therefore alone, among all the animals, plants, and minerals. They do not think, and dream, and hope as he does. To answer Adam’s search for someone to share his life with, God gives him Eve to be his wife. This loneliness called Adam out of himself to look for another and, in God’s goodness, brought him into loving union with Eve.
Today loneliness still calls me out of myself, which means it calls me away from selfishness. Unmarried men have the potential to be extremely selfish.
There is no one depending on them, no child to take care of in the middle of the night, no wife to force compromise on a TV show. Single guys make their own schedule, and even when they do acts of charity or apostolic work, they make it fit into what they want to do.
Married men and fathers whom I know sometimes complain that they can’t “hang with the guys” like they used to, remembering their single days with some relish. As a bachelor, I can speak about the lie that is a bachelor’s “freedom” and the truth of solitude. While there certainly are a lot of
“It is important that when a man is maturing he is first a son, then a brother, then a husband, and lastly a father.”
limitations in marriage, there are also many opportunities for grace and holiness that are unavailable in the single life. Getting married and having children can look like giving up freedom; in truth it gives you the possibility to love freely within the specific vocation God has called you to. If you want the freedom to choose to marry any woman out there, great, but you can’t hold on to that forever. If you never choose one, then in the end you choose none. Human nature calls us to choose and define ourselves and our vocation by those decisions. That makes us more free, not less. Failing to choose to love is dangerous, because, as God said, it is not good for man to be alone.
There is a distinct danger in today’s culture of waiting for marriage and a family.
Often men want to build their career, enjoy their best years, get their life in order. This likely leads to more selfishness, not more self-giving. The more we set up our castle of selfishness the harder it will be later to break down those walls by living for the needs of a spouse or children. Intentional bachelorhood, living single on purpose, is a lot like raising a bear cub. One may think he’s growing a life of freedom and power, but that cute young life can easily grow into an untamable beast that, one day, turns on him and destroys him.
On a similar note, when spouses marry young they grow and mature together, which is not only beautiful, but also a chance to conform more and more to each other. Marrying young stops the castle of selfishness from being built. When men marry older they have normally already formed a level of maturity, sorted their preferences into piles, and are independent. Someone who is in that position may find it harder to bend unexpectedly to the needs and desires of another. Another danger is that of skipping a step. It is important that when a man is maturing he is first a son, then a brother, then a husband, and lastly a father. By putting off the natural stage of being a husband there is a danger of desiring to be a father without being a husband, which throws off the natural order and balance that comes from a healthy family.
When a man does not marry, or give himself as a spouse to the Church in a priestly or religious vocation, the impulse to love and go out of himself has the danger of collapsing into selfishness. Loneliness no longer pushes him into contact and relationships with others but serves as fuel for selfishness, pity or depression. When there is no one to give his life for he can end up sacrificing it for himself, like the snake that eats its own tail.
Men are prone to selfishness. But men are called to lay down their lives for others. This leads the devil to try to make us as selfish as possible since, by de-equipping us for the self-gift of a husband, that means we will not live the fullness of our call as men. But when we do lay our lives down for others, whether on a battlefield, in a parish, or for our family, then we become men as God intended us to be, following in the footsteps of His Son, the greatest man who walked the earth, who laid down his life for all of us on the cross.