Why not marrying may seem selfish

"It is inconceivable, unfathomable, that it would be Our Lord's will that a young adult, who is dedicated to getting closer to Him and is perfectly able to accept the marriage/family vocation, rejects this vocation and chooses to remain 'single.' "

I did not invent this statement. It is a statement someone actually wrote. I do not agree with this position. Please note: I do not agree with this position. However, I think it is always important to do one's best to understand everyone, including those people with whom we disagree. Hence, I would like to make some remarks on why it might seem selfish for someone not to marry, and yet without becoming a priest or religious. Before getting upset and posting a comment along the lines of: "How can you dare say that single persons are selfish?", please take the time and to care to actually read what I say in this post, and to pay attention to what the actual purpose of this post is.

One person may marry because they think they will be happier in marriage. Another may refrain from marriage because they think they will be happier without marriage. What's the difference between the two cases?

Though in a sense the motivation is the same, there is a difference between these two. What if we described the two situations in this way: some resolve to love because they think it will make them happier; others resolve not to love because they think in this way they will be happier, that love would not make them happy.

I'm not saying that this is the reality of the motivation of all those who remain single by choice. But I would say that as long as it is purely negative, that is, as long as they are single simply because they don't want to marry, and don't intend to use the freedom offered by the single life to love God and/or their neighbor, they are not embracing the single life as a vocation, and are being selfish.

And yes, those who marry without intending to love their spouse through their marriage are also being selfish, and even more so than those who don't marry at all.

When someone doesn't marry, and becomes a priest or religious, then people see that there is some other mode of love that they are devoting themselves to; if they don't see this in another person who remains single, they may see him as selfish. Of course we cannot judge the heart, but if is true than the person remaining single isn't giving themselves in love to any one, he or she is in fact selfish, and that appearance is correct.

Much more could be said about the question of happiness. Everyone seeks to be happy, and no one seeks to be unhappy. St. Augustine and many others have pointed this out many times. The difference is precisely in how we seek to attain that happiness: do we seek to attain it in God, through giving ourselves in love, or do we seek to attain it in a good lifestyle, through piling up things, time, etc., for ourselves? The first way is good, the second way is not.

See also the post "Single vocation?" on whether there is a single vocation.

More articles on the single vocation

12 thoughts on “Why not marrying may seem selfish”

  1. This article strikes me as being somewhat unfair to those who are single not by choice by by default. Many of us who cannot marry for a variety of reasons desperately desire the opportunity to give ourselves to another in love – but God has permitted that not all of us are called to do so. Please do not say that being single is selfish. Although I cannot know for sure, I would err on the side of assuming that those who are single do not choose such a state as their vocation.

    1. Look again at the title of the post, "Why not marrying may seem selfish".

      Nowhere in the post do I say that "being single is selfish"; I say, in effect, that (1) being single because one is looking out only for oneself and not desiring a life that fundamentally involves self-giving to others, is selfish, and that (2) some persons have for this reason judged that deliberately being single is selfish.

      1. However, Chad does make a good point of the perceived unfairness. I don't think you did a good enough job delineating the selfishness from any given vocational choice. The way you title the post bolsters this perceived dichotomy from your writing. Starting out with the point rather than a slightly jarring quote might have done us, the reader, a lot of good to getting to your argument in its correct interpretation. The thesis, five paragraphs in does your point little justice.

        One might be better saying, of all of this: "love is the answer to vocation, whether it is in marriage, single life, or priestly/religious life."

        Thank you for posting this wonderful blog.

  2. "Love is the answer to vocation, whether it is in marriage, single life, or priestly/religious life."

    That might do fine as an answer to the questions, "What does a vocation really come down to? What does it mean to follow one's vocation?" It wouldn't, however, answer the quite different question that this post is about, namely "Why do some persons think that remaining single necessarily means being selfish, and to what extent are they right?" The point of this post was not to give a general account of vocation, but to see what justification there might be for a very particular few regarding vocation. The post is titled the way it is because that is what the post is about; it is not really about my own explanation of vocation.

    In general, it is very important to be able to consider in what way persons with whom one disagrees are right, and this post is intended as an illustration of how one might do that in regard to the question of the single vocation.

    1. However, that there is the problem with the post. People might understand what you ultimately mean, but buried in there, it might get lost. Your thoughts would be better served if re-framed rather than simply explained on the smaller points. The kernel of knowledge gets lost.

      And the title doesn't do justice to your full exposition. It turns readers away.

      1. I found the third sentence after the quotation perfectly clear, myself. Had I missed it, however, the fourth would have done just fine.

  3. Why in the world should it even be thought in any sense that being single is selfish? Being single isn't a crime you know.

    1. That is exactly the question this post attempts to answer. It is an empirical fact that some people think that voluntarily remaining single is selfish. You're perfectly welcome to propose another account for why they might think so.

  4. Better to selfishly remain single than to be a judgmental busybody who is worried about whether I'm single or not.

  5. Thanks for this article Joseph. I think it is good. Your article provides ample space for saying that those who do not marry because they are unable to are not selfish. And I agree with you that those who don't marry out of comfort, or fear of commitment, are selfish. In a world hedonism (seeking all pleasures), there will be people who disagree with this, but hopefully they can reason well. Thank you, keep up the good work.

    1. Its better to be alone and actually correct to do those things that others see as selfish, than to be with someone and do those things that others see single people do and think is selfish…which can actually not be correct.

      I think fear of commitment is just that…fear.fear that they may not be the right person for you. But ones inability to make a decision or know what they want. If you call that selfish, so be it. But why force a person like this to marry or be with someone when they will only create unhappiness for everyone involved. I think it would be selfish to want something different for them than what they really want.

  6. The reason I looked up the thought of one being selfish who never married is because I heard this somewhere. As a single woman who made the choice to never marry (age 7) I am put off by the entire article. While I was raised Catholic, do believe in God and Jesus Christ, my reason for not marrying and remaining single was a very simple one. I couldn't see spending my whole life with the same person. And I was not really sure I wanted kids. I was 7 and already knew this after watching my mom raise all of us and both my parents being at home doing the same thing over and over. I know that I never consulted God or my parents about my choice either and hoped that my parents would be ok with it. I knew God would be. After all he gave me free will to choose what I wanted to with my life. Finally, who says one has to marry to find, or be in a loving and committed union…poppy cock i say!!!

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