I recently came across a heartbreaking article at National Catholic Register that underlines why all of the books aimed at young Christian women telling them to focus on having fabulous lives in their “season of singleness”, they are a prize to be won, etc. are so cruel. The article is by Emily Stimpson Chapman, and is The Cross of Infertility: Finding Companionship With the Saints:
For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of having a large family. Five, six, seven, eight children — it didn’t matter; I was prepared to take as many children as God sent me. There was just one problem: My 20s came and went without God sending me a husband.
Another decade passed, and with my single status unchanged, reality set in. There would be no eight babies. Nor would there be five babies.
By the time I finally did meet a wonderful man and get engaged at age 40, I hoped for just two. The doctors assured me that was realistic. I was healthy, my hormones all checked out at optimum levels, and there was no reason I shouldn’t conceive. I believed them. After all, my friends my age or older were having babies. Why wouldn’t I?
Eighteen months later, I’m still asking that question, and the NaProTECHNOLGY doctor I’ve worked with has no answer. Even at age 42, he thinks I should be able to conceive.
When I read articles like this, I think “Why didn’t someone warn her?” From her bio at emilystimpson.com it is clear that despite her claim to have always wanted marriage and many children, she focused her youth on career and education:
Emily holds a BA from Miami University of Ohio (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude), where she studied political science, history, and English literature. She also did graduate work in political science at John Hopkins University and theology at Franciscan University. Before moving to Steubenville, Emily worked in Washington, DC, first as a Legislative Assistant to then Congressman Jim Talent (R-MO), then later at the Heritage Foundation, where she served as Special Assistant to former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
This is of course the feminist life script, and is not coincidentally the path men traditionally follow to attract a wife. It also has become the standard UMC life script, as Novaseeker describes. Most UMC women are able to pull this off, because as the clock is ticking down they get intensely pragmatic in their search for a man. Sheryl Sandberg’s famous quote on the subject captures part of this pragmatism. There is also a ramped up sense of urgency for nearly all UMC women around age 30. Lori Gottlieb’s famous Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough article and book are reminders to UMC women not to wait around for Mr. Perfect.
But while large numbers of modern Christian women have adopted the UMC life script, they aren’t getting the warnings not to overdo it that their secular sisters are receiving. This is why you see Christian women like Emily Stimpson Chapman thinking that getting engaged at age 40 meant she could expect to have two children, and why she is shocked that at 42 she can’t conceive. Her secular sisters got the message, but she did not. Marriage delaying Christian women are being reassured that everything is fine. They consume social media posts and read books written by other marriage delaying Christian women, and they are urged not to act with urgency like their secular sisters are doing. I’ve written a fair amount about this army of aging never married Christian women writing on the season of singleness, including Wendy Griffith and Mandy Hale. Griffith finally married in her mid 50s. Hale is still unmarried, and blogged back in November of 2018 about her creeping doubts about the “You are enough!” message she has been selling to unmarried Christian women:
I’ve dressed it up in pretty pink girl power with a silver lining instead of gotten really, really REAL with you and with myself about my fears about being single and 39. And in doing that, my friends, I feel I have done you a disservice. I have done myself a disservice. It’s recently been called to my attention that I use positivity as a defense mechanism. Oh, I was angry when I heard that. Fearful. Indignant. Convinced the person telling me that HAD to be mistaken. I’m just a positive person! I argued. If I don’t look for the silver lining…what is the purpose to the bad things that happen?! If I choose to let in the darkness and the sadness and the REALNESS…won’t I sink in it? Won’t it drown me? Won’t it make me a…SHUDDER…negative person?!??!
The truth is…I don’t know exactly why I’m still single. I think I’m starting to come to a better understanding of why…but for the moment, it’s still just shadowed and blurry truth that I’m struggling to make sense of. But the reasons I often convince myself that I’m still single aren’t pretty.
I never meet guys. Like…literally NEVER. A few years ago I felt like I could simply walk into a room and command the attention of the men in the room. I had no trouble meeting men. I got hit on regularly. But something changed along the way and that’s not my experience anymore. I suspect it was more an internal change than an external one, as I honestly think I physically look better now than I did ten years ago.
The tragic thing is that when Hale should have been learning how to recover from her already failing plan, she was busy writing books encouraging other Christian women in the same situation. In 2012 she wrote The Single Woman’s Sassy Survival Guide: Letting Go and Moving On, and she wrote several others in the meantime. Now she writes articles on how to be a fabulous single retired woman for the AARP.
Coincidentally Emily Stimpson Chapman also wrote a book in 2012 with a similar title: The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right. I haven’t flipped through her book, but my sense is that Stimpson-Chapman’s book isn’t as bad as Wendy Griffith’s and Mandy Hale’s books are. Still, she clearly didn’t have even a tenuous grasp of the biological reality involved with “waiting for Mr. Right” while focusing on education and career. If she did, she wouldn’t have been shocked to find out at age 42 that she had waited too long to conceive.
Again, the difference between secular women and modern Christian women in this regard is astounding. Griffith, Hale, and Stimpson-Chapman all wrote their books after The Atlantic loudly warned marriage delaying women of the risk of waiting too long. Gottlieb’s Marry Him! article made a huge splash in 2008. Kate Bolick’s All the Single Ladies reinforced the warning in 2011:
We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30. That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not?
But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.
But Griffith, Hale, and Stimpson-Chapman were too busy teaching younger women to learn from the warnings of older women. Even worse, aside from Hale’s glancing admission quoted above, none of them have come out to warn younger women that they were wrong, and not to make the same mistakes they made.
And so the cycle continues, with Anna Hitchings as the face of a new generation of never married 30 something Christian women attempting to teach what they should instead be seeking to learn. Hitchings’ career as a writer finally took off earlier this year when Catholic Weekly published her piece For want of a lot of good men. Hitchings capitalized on her new found celebrity by starting a blog teaching other Christian women (and men) who likewise have failed to marry. Recently she wrote a post titled Making the most of your single years where she acknowledges the debt she owes to the never married writers who proceeded her:
While the tried and true guide to helping Catholic women ‘survive’ the single years has been written by American author Emily Stimpson, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my own advice on getting the best out of your singlehood.
Just for the record, I don’t think being single is something that should be ‘survived’; I think we should be able to thrive in whatever state of life we are in, because that’s what God has willed for us now.