I’m single and I love it! Sometimes… Sometimes not so much. Valentine’s day has just been and gone and, while it’s not an occasion that I’ve ever taken very seriously, it does bring one’s singleness to the forefront of one’s mind. I was walking through the shops last Friday (the day before Valentine’s) and saw all the people selling roses and stuff like that. There was a part of me that just wanted to buy one and give it to the next person I saw. There are times like this when I feel like I’m bursting with love and have no appropriate outlet.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about singleness since I started writing this thing and it surprised me just how much I wanted to say. Most of the time I’m hardly even aware of my lack of relationship (I’m a slightly outgoing introvert and a bit of a loner, I spend a lot of time in my own little world). I’ve tried to remove a lot of the rambling, and I’m sorry for the bits that are still left but a lot of this is me sifting through my feelings and trying to find coherent thoughts.
A bit of background, I was in a very serious, long term relationship for a bit over 5 years, from around the age of 20 to 25. I was in love, certain I would marry this girl and then it became clear I wouldn’t. Breaking up with her was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There was just so much history and comfort with her that it was tempting to stay with her and ignore the problems. Without going into details, I can look at my life now, sometimes lonely, sometimes scared for the future but also knowing that the choice was right. Remarkably, our friendship survived, something that still amazes me (a testament to her kindness).
Which brings us to now: I’m 30 and still single, what a terrifying concept! Sometimes I feel like I’m staring down the path of time and looking at a 50 year old bachelor, coming home to an empty house and I feel more than a little despair! Watching my friends’ kids growing up doesn’t help… Then I look at what I’ve given up in the past for what I have now, future me can worry about the rest. I have a relationship with God that was all but forgotten while I gave my attention to a girl. I know Him in a way I couldn’t before and, for that alone, I’d give up much more than a relationship. I may not get to build my own family but I’m part of a family far bigger than any I could build myself.
I’d be lying if I said I was content but I am mostly at peace. It’s taken me quite a while to get the difference between these two things; I still hope for more but it doesn’t keep me from getting on with life. To be honest, it’s not actually something I think about all that often but, when I do, it’s not always with anguish or anxiety, it’s often with a feeling of hope and bit of excitement at what could be in future. I think the next step is to take that picture of the 50 year-old bachelor and see the hope and excitement that could be drawn into that image. I’m not quite there yet, but I am at peace; I’ll be alright. (I’m not always at peace either, there are times when little wars break out but that doesn’t mean I forget the peace, just that it needs to be renegotiated again.)
There are some great things about being single! Not some click here for 27 reasons why being single is the best, number 9 will make your day type of garbage but real reasons to embrace this life while I have it. I’ve had to learn who I am without reference to another person. I was anchored to a huge chunk of shared history. Once that was cut away, I was adrift in some real existential crisis type zone.
I love people (just in small doses). If you want to know me, there can’t be many people around. One on one is best. After that I’ll need to recharge alone. I don’t need to reserve a large chunk of that time for one person, I’m free to share it out as I see fit. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many people. I’ve had views that I never questioned challenged and I’ve had to mature my thinking a whole bunch. And then there’s the more selfish reasons, I’m a gamer and a dancer and I get to devote a rather large amount of attention to these hobbies.
Furthermore, I was not aware of how much I based my self-worth on my relationship status! Being single meant either redefining my worth or feeling pretty miserable for a long time. I am fearfully and wonderfully made! I started out life this way, nothing I do,say, own or make can increase my value in His eyes any more than it was when I started out with nothing, not even the ability to move on my own accord. Easy to say, hard to feel but if your worth is coming from anything else, that source probably needs to be looked at with a critical eye.
Why am I single? I don’t know. I really wish I did but I don’t. There have been some close calls, some lovely dates, the occasional mutual crush even, but even then, God made it rather clear that it was not his plan and so nothing happened. Does He want me celibate? Perhaps so, and I’m okay with that, but I wish He’d just say so and let me stop wondering… Relationships have been a stumbling block for me in the past. I’ve needed time alone to mature and build a real foundation in my life. Now I know I have to be careful in relationships. I know that any relationship I may find needs to start and end with God as a focal point. And so on… I’ve learned these things during my time alone, maybe my list just isn’t complete yet.
I was also asked for advice directed at friends who are married/heading that way. Are there many married folks reading a blog entry on singleness? Anyway, I’d like to preface this with saying it may be terrible advice, people are different and this would probably go awry in a lot of cases. For me, keep being a solid example of loving, caring people. Don’t feel the need to hide any of the joy your relationship/partner brings you, let me celebrate with you. If you have other, suitable, single friends and want to play matchmaker, go ahead but please do it openly. Yes, it’s awkward and weird but if you try be subtle, I’ll miss it. And your sharing the awkwardness makes things many times easier for me.
Cliched lines (“God has someone for you, be patient”, “I’m sure you’ll find someone soon”, etc.) are really not that helpful. I know you mean well but that’s not the way to show it. If you’re the encouraging words type, try things like “What about Susan? She’s lovely…” It’ll either open up a conversation or you’ll get shut down but at least you’ve implied that I am good enough for your friend Susan, that makes me feel good even if I’m not interested in her. (Mum, if you read this, that is not permission to start listing every single girl you know again, I know you already think I’m pretty cool :P)
Lastly, singleness in the context of the Church isn’t something that needs to be addressed in and of itself so much as relationships in general. The Christian concept of marriage is beautiful, I love it! But so often, a sermon on relationships will stick to a rather tired formula: dating and boundaries therein, wait for marriage and so on. I’m oversimplifying, there have been some amazing sermons on the topic but the problem is with the assumed progression of attraction leading to dating leading to marriage. Combine this with the ideal of marriage and there is suddenly huge pressure on dating, getting it right. There’s something of a stigma towards breakups, equating them with divorce. And so there’s this fear of dating and relationships in the church that’s not entirely warranted.
Added to that, there’s the more casual idea of a dinner date that’s completely lacking in modern social situations… I need to form an emotional connection before I can even assess whether I’m attracted to you; I can’t do this in a group. If I ask you on a date, I just want to have dinner with a person and form this emotional connection. It does not mean I am planning our marriage, and you shouldn’t be doing so either. The secular world gets so much wrong in relationships but this they get right (massive generalisation, I know but you get the point) the date is a feeling ground, not always for a relationship but also for a friendship. It’s how we plumb the depths of a bond, be it friendship or romance. You’re not making any commitment by having dinner with me, even after the hundredth time, a commitment to anything more than friendship needs to be agreed upon by both parties, I’m not trying to subtly trick you into marrying me.
I guess I’d like to sum most of this up by saying to all the single people (and those concerned) that we should take things a little less seriously. There are times when it’s hard but the same is true for being in a relationship. Just don’t let it become a central theme to your life. Love easily and keep your heart open.
One of my all time favourite quotes says it best, from C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”