Arleen Spenceley can’t remember the last time she went on a date. It must’ve been 2014, she says without a trace of panic.
Even though she’s in the thick of wedding season and nearing her 30th birthday, the fact that she’s still single doesn’t seem to bother Arleen. She’s not freaking out. She’s not losing sleep. She’s not pulling back-to-back novenas for a husband. When she prays, she can hardly bring herself to ask God for anything; she feels so richly, wildly blessed.
Arleen Spenceley, the girl with the bouncy hair and bouncy name, the cradle Catholic from Tampa, Florida, with the large Twitter following, has much to be thankful for: a dynamic journalism career, an award-winning book, a bustling speaking schedule, friends who are like family and family who are friends.
“God has given me so many awesome opportunities,” she said.
In the summer of 2009, when Arleen was 23, the spirited brunette made a gutsy decision: She outed herself as a virgin, writing in Florida’s biggest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, about her faith-based reasons for saving herself for marriage.
It was a terrifying move, one that she tried to back out of at the last minute, but her editor pushed for. Ultimately, her convictions compelled her to act. “There came a point where I decided, ‘If I don’t do this, nobody else will.’ Because I know the truth. I know chastity is what equips us to love authentically.”
Half an hour after the column was published, Arleen’s phone began ringing. The calls, emails and tweets continued pouring in for two years.
Arleen realized she had hit a nerve. She had not just written a column; she had inadvertently launched a chastity campaign and rendered herself its poster child.
With grace and humility, she has embraced that mission, letting it carry her on a series of adventures she never anticipated: explaining her mystifying virginity to National Public Radio, coping with cruel comments from readers, blogging voraciously at www.ArleenSpenceley.com , writing her 2014 book “Chastity is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin” and reporting on celibate singles.
A researcher at the National Center for Health Statistics admitted that she hadn’t bothered gathering data on the 2 to 3 percent of Americans ages 25 to 44 who are virgins. “It’s just so rare,” she told Arleen. “I don’t even know what their prognosis would be.”
Making the case for chastity – which, Arleen is quick to clarify, is the church’s call to all Catholics, married and single alike – feels important.
“I consider this a privilege and also a responsibility,” she said. “I know virgins exist who feel alone, and I want them to know they’re not. I know people are saving sex from now on who aren’t sure it’s possible, and I want them to know it is.”
A national speaking campaign would seem like a sure-fire way to change Arleen’s single status, introducing her to like-minded men and aspiring grandmas.
No, she says, that simply isn’t the case.
“The men aren’t lining up.”
Occasionally, Arleen throws herself a pity party or lets herself dabble on wedding-themed Pinterest boards. But even when her heart aches, she’s pretty good about keeping her head on straight.
“When we feel unhappy,” she writes in her book, “is it because we’re single or is it because of what we say to ourselves about being single?”
For now, she’s working on herself – managing her time and her messes, practicing forms of sacrifice, whether it’s forgoing sugar or Facebook for a year. She wants to be her very best at the ultimate vocation – love – which is something she can imagine for tomorrow and live out today.
(Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, and the editor of SisterStory.org, the official website of the National Catholic Sisters Week.)