(Heads-up: this is one of those “building up for a while” posts, so it will be long. Hopefully it is not too chaotic or redundant. I’ve read it through three times to avoid that. But this is close to my heart, and I didn’t want to leave anything out.)
Last month, I joined Mom in taking Gram to a seniors’ activity through church. We went to a restaurant about an hour away and shared in a Thanksgiving-style dinner. The tables were arranged in three long rows and, because I was the youngest person present and fairly skinny, I got the far end of one table with my back to the wall. (Cue minor introvert freak-out.)
I was hoping my friend’s mom and grandma would fill the vacancies to my immediate right, as Mom and Gram took the outside seats for Gram’s sake. Instead a different couple became my dinner neighbors. They’re both short and energetic, and both have keen senses of humor, so I thought I was safe. The husband actually has a habit of setting Jo on edge, though I’m still not positive why.
We traded some sarcastic pleasantries and everyone finally learned my name as the food started to get passed. Then the older folk started reminiscing and discovering what a small world it was. I sat back, hoping to somehow avoid their notice while I scribbled notes on my phone and surreptitiously texted a few people.
Things were going well until other avenues of conversation were exhausted and things shifted to grand kids. That’s usually my cue to duck-and-cover. Unfortunately, I have yet to develop my skills in melting into the wall or floor, nor have I cultivated a resting face fierce enough to make it obvious to others how little I want a part in their conversation. Barring telekinesis, my ideal superpower would be that of Bod in The Graveyard Book, where he always magically avoids people’s notice.
All too soon, the husband to my right leaned around his wife to include me in the conversation. He wanted to know if I knew any of his grandchildren, because we live in the same town and they’re near my age. Then he blessed us all with the happy news that one of his granddaughters was getting married.
Oh, by the way. How old are you, Phoebe? 21? She’s 21! Wait, no, not until May, and she’s getting married in March.
By this point my contribution to the conversation had been reduced to noncommittal grunts and the occasional falsely-impressed “Oh!”. I had a brief reprieve as he turned back to share wedding details and expound upon the educational pursuits of other grandchildren.
Then the thrice-accursed question hit me: “So, are you married and starting a family?”
I’ve given up trying very hard to smile at this question’s reception. So long as I avoid eye rolls and sighing/growling, I put it down as a success.
“When are you getting married?” is up there with “What do you want to do with your life?” and “Are you you going to college?” (the last of which is often internally followed with “silly me, of course you are!”).
“No. I’m not,” I said through gritted teeth. (By the way, it wasn’t only the question that got me; it was the fact that I’ve been at this church for the better part of thirteen bloomin’ years and everyone knows my parents but they don’t know if I am married and in possession of offspring. I’m not that much of an introvert. /end rant/)
Thankfully, they didn’t press for details. Seeing I had nothing to add to the conversation, the man returned to his own family.
Then last night I had a melt-down of sorts. It has been building for several weeks, and a prank by Eli was my undoing. Mom demanded, in that mysterious motherly way where anything sounds kind, to know why I was so unhappy. We worked through several things before I mentioned people’s relentless attack on my singlehood. When I begged to know how I was supposed to deflect such insensitive (and frankly intrusive) questions, the only answer I got was, “There’s nothing you can do.”
That started a fresh stream of frustrated tears.
The thing is, I know deep down that Mom is right. Especially because I am a Baptist and my family is very visible in the church (even if people usually can’t remember my name ((much less my marital status)) and often think I am the second or even ((somehow)) the third sister). The moment two young people of opposite genders sit down together or touch in the hall, tongues start wagging and everyone wants to know when they’ll make it official.
It isn’t enough to tell them I am not actively pursuing a husband, even though it is true. My own mother doesn’t want to believe that. Dad is a little more easily persuaded, though even he still looks pale when I (half-)jokingly say I don’t want to have kids. To his mind, I’m just being an example of patience and not wearing myself down with panic over when THE ONE will finally appear. I don’t think either of them fully grasps how hard-won this patience is.
It has taken me years of prayer and heartache to get to where I am. I thought I would be at the least married by this point. I based this on the fact that my mom was married before she turned 19, and because if my parents advocated young marriage it must mean that was God’s plan for my life.
And social media doesn’t help.
First there’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I can’t guarantee I actually read the whole book when it made its rounds through our church upwards of 10 years back. What I did get out of it was that we need to make the most of our season of singleness. We can’t sit around waiting for THE ONE and not do anything in the meantime. We have to make ourselves into a person THE ONE would want to marry. Singlehood is not a transitional period but a stage of life in itself, and requires as much attention as any other, and as much enthusiasm for its unique opportunities.
I didn’t heed that advice for a long time.
But when THE ONE didn’t come and my thumbs got stiff from all of the twiddling, I finally threw up my hands and started living my life, trying to fill every inch of it (including the gap previously reserved for THE ONE) with purpose and growth. I realized that singleness wasn’t about making myself into a pleasing life partner. It was about making myself, period. It was about growing up and into the person I want to be, and a life partner would be someone who was in harmony with that.
And suddenly I’m 21 and more sensitive to things like this:
Wait, wait! One more:
My teeth are getting almighty worn down lately with all of the gritting.
There is even this article that passed through recently. While I agree with it wholeheartedly, it’s still all about breaking free of singleness, and that isn’t my problem right now.
We have been hardwired as Christians, to plan for marriage. It is our “purpose“, and more often than not our value as people is defined by our relationship status.
It’s not enough to say I am not seeking a husband. It’s not enough to say I am satisfied in myself, that I am content with my situation in life. No guy would believe me if I tried to say all I wanted was friendship and fellowship and not a romantic relationship.
Somewhere along the line, we were taught to believe that we would never be fulfilled, never be complete, until marriage. Everyone expects me to be unhappy and dragging my feet, lamenting over THE ONE’s shameful absence in my life. They don’t expect me to be content. (Talk about a scandal.)
It’s not fun knowing several hundred people who “have been there” are watching your every step from friendship to having children and beyond, offering up their unbidden advice and criticism all along the way. That advice and criticism gets more hostile the longer you remain single, until finally they accept that you are too stubborn to make any effort in changing or you become numb to it. (And they will always insist that they are doing all of this in love, out of concern for our well-being.)
Aren’t we supposed to let God fulfill and complete us?
All the advice I have ever received about pursuing a godly marriage is to always put God first, even before a potential spouse, and let Him define the relationships that fill our lives.
Mom has a saying: “I did not marry my best friend.” Go ahead, gasp in horror. I’ll wait.
Mom and Dad both found a life partner with whom they were generally compatible and with whom they believed, and peacefully agreed, they could pursue their purpose in life. They teamed up (and they make an awesome team).
I’ve always been told that we cannot look to find satisfaction in another human being because only God can provide lasting satisfaction. I’ve been told that I can’t hope for my marriage to be all it can be if God is not at the center.
Does that truth not apply to singles?
Yes, God puts emphasis on marriage. I understand it is one of our greatest callings as human beings. But He does not require it. Also, there are certain things a single person can do that married people cannot, because they possess certain limits. (Likewise, there are certain limits to singlehood.)
Paul himself said he would rather unmarried people remain so if possible (1 Corinthians 7:8&9).
I understand that there is no greater calling for a woman than to raise children. I realize that we were created as helpmeets, and that there is no shame in being a stay-at-home wife and a support for a man who needs every ally as he tries to do God’s work.
Frankly, the women who follow that calling are some of my greatest unsung heroes.
But here’s another newsflash: that is not the only thing I am good for. I do not need a man. I only need God. If He provides a different path, I am not going to fling myself off of it into the first set of well-muscled arms I can reach.
Yes, I jokingly say I need a man to carry the groceries; I tease that I need a champion who will give me his jacket when someone jacks the air up in the sanctuary. But most of that is just talk, because little else in my sarcastic repertoire is acceptable (or at least on a comprehensible level with the average person) within church property. Mostly, I joke to keep myself from a violent fit of screaming or crying with frustration.
There is nothing wrong with me because I stopped the childhood game of trying out my name with any attractive male’s last name. There is nothing wrong about absolutely loathing most romance stories. There is nothing wrong with refusing to let a guy lift every chair and open every door out of duty to my being a woman. I wholeheartedly support the practice of chivalry, but I don’t need it to survive, and I will not stomp my feet if it is not provided.
(Side note: I am trying very hard to not come off as feminist. That is the furthest thing from my intentions with this vent-post. Just keep that in mind, please, and we will all get along.)
Again, this is hardwired into us. That’s why I joke about needing a man when in fact I am capable of doing most of the heavy lifting myself. That is why, every time an apparently-single man stops in at church and Mom catches the poor unassuming soul on her radar, she lights up and starts urgently whispering to us if we know anything about him.
This is why I am so hesitant to be polite to the young men already in our church.
(Okay, it’s only one of the reasons, but it’s become the biggest.)
This is why, when a blessed old lady with a wit as sharp as any Morryce heard me out about not getting antsy for marriage and said conspiratorially, “Sex is fun but it’s not everything,” she was a breath of fresh air.
(Oh, yeah. So glad this is written under a pseudonym.)
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: I’m single, I’m trying to be happy as a single, I’m not worried about my biological clock or anything, and everyone thinks I’m delusional and in need of help.
So here’s what I wish I could say:
First of all, to the well-meaning old biddies at church, this comes with love and concern for your well-being:
Leave me alone.
It is none of your business!
I am allowed to make friends without you hovering, waiting for a ring.
You wouldn’t be invited to the wedding anyway.
Yes, I realize that, though I am an adult, I’ve barely earned that title. I realize that I still need help from people with more experience.
But I have also learned how to ask for help. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. So if I want your advice, I’ll ask.
Don’t hold your breath.
And here is the key: You telling me I am wrong or don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve never been in a relationship (by the way, thanks for reminding me like it’s a mark against me) is not helping. It is certainly not encouraging me to pursue a romantic relationship within a 100-mile-radius of your location.
From this moment on, I am going to do my best to ignore you. I’m not even going to take your “advice” with a grain of salt, because up to this point it’s all proven worthless. I’m not going to pretend I find your questions amusing, because they aren’t. I’m done wasting energy on you.
I don’t want your help. I don’t want your support. I don’t need an ear to listen as I lament about my singlehood and cry to God about why He has apparently abandoned me to this empty, shallow existence where I am useless and unable to do anything because my other half never showed up.
I can only hope my newfound confidence comes off as rude and insensitive and you decide to put some distance between us. Watch from afar as I smile in contentment and you realize there is no nice young man anywhere near my pew.
And now to Mom and Dad:
I understand you’re struggling. Whereas the above group was never in control of my life and had no right to claim a say in its course, that isn’t true for you. You’ve told us, in moments of confusion, how you feel like you’ve failed us because you have yet to see any of us safe and secure with someone who completes us.
And we’ve all told you how we admire your relationship, so that makes it even worse.
I know you want the best for us.
I know that’s why Mom goes all freak-out whenever seemingly-unattached, handsome, promising young men appear. As much as I tease that you’re becoming apologetically like Mrs. Bennett, I get it. I try to be understanding, though your frustration is making any attempts at lightening the mood very difficult.
But I have to be honest with both of you. Yes, you were both once in charge of my life. God made you its stewards, and you were faithful in providing everything I could ever need, even at your own expense. I owe you one big. And I appreciate it to the point of tears.
However, there’s this refrain you keep singing to all of us, even Nina: “You’re an adult.”
So let me be one. That is not a conditional statement. If I am enough of an adult to choose my own job, buy my own car, pay my own taxes, and make my own friends, then I am enough of an adult to know what is best for me when it comes to romantic relationships.
I will still undoubtedly come to you for support and advice whenever that day comes, if it does. But support and advice are what I will seek, not permission or another hand to help me move my piece across the board.
Please hear me, listen to me, when I say I’m doing my best to follow God’s leading, just like you taught me. I’m doing my best to be open to everything and everyone He brings my way. I am an adult. That means figuring stuff out own my own. A lot of this is uncharted territory for all of us, because you were never where I am. Come spring, I will be one year shy of Dad’s age when he got married, and before that you had both been dating for at least 2 years.
You are no longer responsible for my life. Aside from the fact that I still live under your roof, I am an independent being. I am making my own way.
It is not your job to find me a husband.
I don’t know that it ever was.
That is my job. And if I ever get married, it will be in God’s timing, not ours. You have to trust Him, and trust me. I can’t surrender myself to Him and be at peace about wherever He leads if you don’t let me.
Don’t get upset if I never get married. Don’t blame yourself if none of the guy friends I get turn out to be THE ONE. Be happy I finally managed to make guy friends at all.
I still look to you for support. You are my sounding board. If you are unhappy with how my life is going, I am going to hesitate and ask myself why. I am going to question my choices, because I still want your approval. You have all the experience I lack, and I am still not confident enough to know beyond all doubt that the steps I take are sound ones.
I need you to be on board with this. In this moment, and in little moments every day, I have perfect peace with my decision to back down from the husband hunt and let God lead. I am finding contentment where I am. I am trying to maintain growth. I am trying to build myself into the person I long to be, and I am not basing that image on any shadowy, unnamed masculine presence next to my future self.
Please, please, accept this.
I love you. I respect you. But you have to let me go. Trust me, I’m in good hands.
I do not need a man to be complete. I only need God.
As long as God gives me peace in my singlehood, I am happy to follow His cue. I won’t ask Him why (very much). I won’t complain. I don’t want to waste any time on that. I’ve waste enough already because I bought into the lie that something was wrong if I had reached 20 and never dated and I needed to fix that posthaste.
I am not worthless or ineffectual without a man.
You know that girl who runs the music program at church and has a beautiful voice and walks with quiet self-confidence through the halls and makes jokes you don’t often understand?
That’s my sister. She’s never dated, either. She looks happy, doesn’t she?
There’s nothing wrong with her, either. She also jokes about needing a man. But she doesn’t rail against God for not providing one yet. She is waiting.
Sure she gets impatient, because her dream remains to be a mother and a wife. But that isn’t stopping her from living. Until her dreams are fulfilled (as I pray they are), she is making the most of life. And from where I’m standing, she’s doing a superb job.
I’m using Jo as an example because she’s an extrovert and people are better at remembering her name. She (poor thing) is a little more visible in the activities of the church. We are two very different people, but we found a special kind of camaraderie outside of being siblings, because we are both over 20 and unmarried and not sweating it.
Where I learned to be content with my singlehood, Jo learned how not to care what you insensitive busybodies were thinking and saying. Between us, we make a pretty good team.
I am not saying I never want to get married.
But I am not holding my breath. I am not going to put my life on hold until THE ONE finally shows his face. If I do that, I have gained nothing but wrinkles and strong lungs.
I have decided to be happy.
Single for the rest of my life, married in a year, married at 40. Never moving away from this ridiculous midwest state or establishing a life in Laos.
Whatever course God sets me on, I want to embrace it without hesitation or fear, without looking back, and with all the hope and courage I can muster. Hopefully one day I can learn to not let what other people think hold me back so much.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with two things:
- If you know someone who is single and searching for a life partner, don’t add to their panic by asking them why they aren’t married. Pray for them. You don’t even have to let them know you’re praying for them, because that may make them feel worse. But keep your nose out of their life and pray for them to have peace and contentment wherever God has placed them.
- And then I’ll leave you with this beauty. Enjoy!