I’m single, but I’m still a whole person
When some people write about singleness, it sounds like they’re codependent on an imaginary person. I read stories of longing and waiting and tears and I just don’t relate. I hear tales of emptiness though hope holds steady, or resolution despite hope-on-the-rocks, and I raise my eyebrows. I don’t doubt that these words matter and are true, true, true for people.
But I don’t get it. Maybe I am a sociopath, but I just don’t get it.
I don’t feel like half a person because I’m single. I only feel like that when my society, my Church, or groups of people who cannot see beyond their own coupled lives, push that half-hearted position on me. I only experience that when I read another Christian book about marriage that talks it up in glorious grandeur for two hundred pages, then adds “but being single is better because, as the Apostle Paul says, you can do more ministry as a single person!” I only feel like a footnote when people make my life a theological footnote.
When I wake up in the morning, stretch luxuriously, rummage through the open and still unpacked suitcase on my floor from my trip last week, and put on the clothes I find there, I’m not doing anything differently than I would if I were married. I wouldn’t stop doing those things if I were partnered up. I wouldn’t be anyone different. I’d be Emily, through and through. I would still spend hours planning outfits for a trip and when I came home, I would leave my suitcase out, open, as a monument to my adventures. Okay, and my laziness.
More than people asking me why I’m not married, I am tired of the assumption that I am not a whole person. I’m tired of people saying, “Oh, it will happen to you someday, and you will meet your other half and you’ll understand.” I don’t believe in magical solutions to anything or from anyone. Not even from God. Not even Jesus shows up to fix everything about my life; He sent me the odd, mysterious, whispering Spirit. I have to do the so-much-work of listening to Spirit. I have to practice at it. That Spirit invites me into my life, this wild mysterious wonder, where things grow out of other things breaking down into dirt.
I would love to meet a match. That sounds like fun, in the same way that having deep, ridiculous inside jokes with my best friends are fun. It sounds good and hard in the right ways, like a run that exhausts but stretches your muscles so you can run a little longer next time. I like the idea of being partnered. But my best dating has happened at times when I am most sure that a spouse would not fix my life. And not because when I got it together, finally, my life happened, so don’t even start down that train. It’s like that because relating to myself and other people in healthier ways leads me to relate to myself and other people in healthier ways. I didn’t meet a magical man once I did X or Y. I enjoyed all people more when I started being more fully me.
I’m not counting on a marriage to fix all the aches I already have. Those are mine. I’m not betting on any one person to be all the balm I need after my reckless tearing around this world. That’s why we have the whole Church to rise up together and proclaim that God is King and we live out this shocking new Kingdom.
So, when I read stories of men and women who are living in a state of pining, I have a hard time relating. I believe them and I think it’s perfectly fine that other people are different than me. But like, let’s be real. Having a boyfriend has never made my life that drastically different or better. I still have to get up and put on pants (ugh) and go to work and learn how to be a decent human and write out my healing. I still have doubts and victories, frustrations and blessings. I am still a whole human, even when I am in love. I am still a whole human, even though I am currently single. I would still be a whole human if I were married.
Besides, I am twenty-seven now, and I’m too old for illusions about marriage.
I’ve seen my closest friends be married for 1, 2, 5, 8, 13 years. I’ve watched them walk through miscarriages, losing parents, changing careers, taking in family members, church splits, buying houses, confronting abuse, losing jobs, and parenting tiny humans who are growing up much too quickly. I’ve seen some of my friends’ marriages’ end. I’ve seen some of my friends’ marriages be very very good and very very difficult, sometimes at the same time. I’ve seen the kind of joy and peace and partnership that is good because it is joy and peace and partnership, not because it’s some sort of super magic called marriage.
The details of my partnered friends’ lives may be slightly different, but their lives are very much parallel to mine. They still deal with self-doubt, choices, and seeing the glory in their eyes in the mirror. They have good seasons and bad, close times and detached days, intense stretches of turbulence and placid waters. The inside stuff of our lives is the same, whether we’re married or dating or single.
I think I can say all that with the hope of not belittling anyone’s relationship experience. I think I can say this most of all to me:
This is your life. Stop waiting to live it until things are all under your control. Want, but do not stop wanting for ten thousand other good things besides a good marriage. Dig your strong fingers down deeply into the dirt until they are buried and then twist your wrists gently and lift up your wide handfuls of rich earth. This is your whole life.