I’m 22 and Single and There’s Still Nothing Wrong with Me (or with my friends)

I was going back over some old posts and realized I had promised, a couple months ago, to keep you posted on the matchmaking endeavors of my parents and my subconscious in regards to Keith from church. (And I most definitely am regretting that alias.) So here’s an update: I’m still not interested, and he still won’t look at me or shake my hand. No, there hasn’t been much effort on my side, either.

But I’m now under the pressure of a semi-dare to sit next to him next Sunday night.

I should back up.

Earlier this year I went on the annual church Singles’ Retreat (and several of the powers-that-be are constantly trying to change the name to the “College and Career Retreat” because there’s always at least one young married couple present, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue half so well). About a month before the event, a joke started circulating about the success rate of this retreat and the group getting at least one steady couple out of the deal. (This was encouraged when Matt, the youth pastor and singles’ group director, used this as advertising to convince a newcomer to sign up for the retreat. No joke.) It didn’t help that I, as the one in charge of sign-up, was required to ask everyone whether or not they were sharing a bed. If that doesn’t garner some red faces and chuckles, we aren’t Baptist.

The fact that we have so many singles in our group is developing into something of a sore point, especially for Matt’s wife Andrea. She hasn’t said anything to me directly, but we can all sense she’s starting to blame herself for the fact that so few of us have decided to “go steady” with others within our group. I’ll admit it’s a little strange, but then we are a very abnormal group in general.

During the retreat, we had a split session: the girls stayed in one room for discussion time and the guys took the adjoining room. Andrea got right to business. “Ok, ladies. Let’s hear it. What do you want to see more of from the guys?”

At first we were all stunned into silence. Then we were talking over each other trying to articulate our needs in a way that could be relayed to the guys. (To respect us but to stop treating us like we were fragile children; to acknowledge that not all girls like books more than sports and many girls can hold their own in a sports discussion; to understand that we will not take a compliment as a proposal of marriage.) Halfway through, Matt came in and it all went downhill from there.

So since then we’ve all added things to the list. Quietly and with lots of smirks, of course. And we’ve managed to start the wall crumbling between the guys and girls as far as communication goes. I’m excited because I’ve never had an honest-to-goodness guy friend before, and I would like that kind of relationship in my life. (Yes, and that’s all. At least for starters.)

One of the things Matt challenged us to do was to switch up where we sit during Bible studies. We’ve all claimed our spots and the dining room table has developed something of a clique. It really isn’t our fault that most of its members are girls; that guy-to-girl ratio is present in the entire group. But, driven by the promise of more friends without the threat of someone getting the wrong message and expecting relationships, many of us girls rushed to comply.

Naturally, I got seated next to my old boss (two jobs ago) and the group quirk.

Meanwhile, I got settled into this job and discovered that one of the employees is in the singles’ group. Jo has kept up a steady stream of easy teasing about how he and I are destined for each other. The other day when I texted her that he had finally become so used to speaking to me that he stopped introducing himself whenever he called, she said it was fate.

(Just a couple weeks ago, this coworker/peer was bold enough to sit next to a girl he’d been chatting with at Bible study for the past few weeks. Cue energetic whispering. They are now “Facebook official”. So he’s off our lists, if he ever was on them.)

I told Jo that my heart said “No” and I had to listen to it, so she suggested a (short) string of options. Keith was among them, of course.

Naturally, the conversation turned Pride and Prejudice, and we added another thing to the list of things we want the guys to understand: they need to watch that movie. If they read the book, they get bonus points. And then I told Jo that I was tempted to sit down very boldly beside Keith one of these days in church just to see how many tongues I can set wagging.

She challenged me to do it. When I passed along screenshots of the conversation to Calli and Fay, Calli all-but dared me.

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m Baptist. Most of my church’s congregation are traditional Baptists, especially when it comes to how they treat relationships in church. The congregation is pretty balanced age-wise, but we have a significant number of regular elders who never go away for the winter, and they see it as their solemn duty to keep all of us young folk on our toes.

If you’ve read my personal favorite post on this blog, you’ll know how the elderly folk around me are prone to “talk”. The moment two unattached young people choose adjoining seats in the pew, even if there’s room for Jesus and half of his disciples between them, everyone wants to know if they’re “together”. Somehow, by merits of age and social activity alone, my mother assumes I’m supposed to be an authority on all relationship questions. Which is bogus; I don’t know if two people are dating until, like the majority of the church, I see it on Facebook.

I’ve developed a thick skin when it comes to comments about my own relationship status, but the vehemence with which I formerly defended myself has been transferred to the full-time endeavor of defending my friends and peers. Many of them are not as convinced as I am that their prolonged singleness is not a mark against them, and they are still struggling with the insecurity I faced several months ago. I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for them.

Walking back to my seat after greeting time on Wednesday night a couple weeks ago, I saw my mother and a friend (we’ll call her “Diane”) consulting with heads close together. Seeing me, Mom raised an index finger to summon me over.

“Is that Nicole who came in with Alex?” she asked, voice low.

I turned to see who she was pointing at.

“Of course that’s Nicole,” I said suspiciously. “Just look at the boots and jeans.” Nicole has a very distinctive (and tasteful) style that’s hard to miss, including her short, curly hair. How Mom or Diane could have confused her for a guest, I couldn’t figure.

Then they revealed their plot.

“Are they together again?” Diane asked conspiratorially. She leaned in and everything.

My response was immediate – and a tad emphatic. “No! They’re just friends!” I started to back away.

Diane drew back with a sharp look. “Well, how are we supposed to know?”

(When I relayed the story to Jo a few minutes later, her answer was, “Well, I d’know. Ask them?”)

Diane’s reprimand was evident in her sharp tone. In an instant, I had gone from a trusted young adult with an “in” to singles’ gossip to an ignorant, back-mouthing teenager. And I was getting dirty, disapproving looks from both Diane and my mother. Diane started to offer evidence for their conviction of Nicole and Alex’s change in relationship status: they’ve been hanging out a lot lately; last Christmas Nicole leaned in to Alex and started singing, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart”; and just look how closely they were standing together!

Even if they are quietly “together”, I have answers for all of those: that’s Nicole for you. She isn’t afraid to get physically close to people, especially her friends, up to and including body-slamming them in the middle of the night while they’re trying to sleep; she is easy friends with guys and girls alike; and it’s just like her to serenade a former boyfriend (or even her best friend, who’s a girl) with such a tasteful song.

I also knew, from a recent conversation with her, how close she and Alex are. They are confidantes. She trusts him like she trusts few people, despite how easy-going she seems to be. They rely on each other, and just by watching them I can see how they always try to be real with each other. I had no intention of telling any of this to Diane or my mother, but I respected Alex and Nicole enough to not assume anything.

And it’s the same respect, which I’m trying to apply to all of my peers, which makes me hesitate in the face of Calli and Jo’s dare. That and the fact that I’m a coward. While a part of me really wants to see what would happen, I would not only be subjecting myself to gossip, but Keith as well. Though I have a hard time respecting him because he never makes an effort to be a gentleman around me, I still don’t want to subject an unwitting person to that kind of treatment. And I certainly can’t waltz up in the middle of offering, motion to the seat next to him, and say, “Can I sit there? It’s for an experiment.”

But then, who knows? Maybe that would be our Lizzie and Mr. Darcy moment.

I’m still not banking on it.

But in any case, you’d best watch out, old Baptist ladies. You aren’t getting any relationship “scoops” from me! And I’m an adult now, so I won’t be taking too kindly to reprimands, either.

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