A friend of mine just put me onto this fantastic article by Maria Walley on the Grotto Network: What the world needs to understand about single people.
Maria hits the nail on the head about a number of issues, including common myths surrounding dating and marriage, how married couples should (and shouldn’t) speak to singles about their love lives, and how unmarried men and women should approach life.
“So…how’s the love life?” I ask an old college friend on the phone — words flowing out as fast as I regret them.
“Oh, um, fine,” she awkwardly pauses. “Had a couple of mediocre Tinder dates… you know how those go.”
“Yeah… I guess I do,” I lie. I can imagine what bad Tinder dates are like, but honestly, I don’t actually know. I met the man who became my husband without the benefit (or burden?) of dating apps, that modern-day crutch for romance.
So without thinking, I reaffirmed the tired narrative that romance is the most important thing in our lives, and if you don’t have it, you’re just not living. I had put my friend in a corner, instead of allowing dating to come up naturally — on her terms. After all, when there’s no romantic drama to speak of, single folk can quickly feel like something is wrong with them. In today’s society, to be single is to date, correct?
You know how it goes: to be single must mean that we’re searching for that proverbial someone — that person whom we’ve been wishing for, praying for, yearning for. That person who makes us finally come alive, whose very presence starts our life. After all, aren’t we all ultimately fated for a mate — happily ever after, etc.?
Here’s the short answer: No.
And we should stop talking to single people like their romantic status is intrinsically connected to their happiness.
This is one of the biggest myths circulating in society at large – not just in church circles: if you’re not in a relationship, your life is incomplete. This myth has been perpetuated in film, television, novels, popular music, ads, billboards – you name it. And people like me buy into it without even realising it.
Fighting against this myth has been one of the most constant battles of my life. It’s marvellously pervasive, and I find myself thinking and behaving on this assumption all the time. But apart from being untrue, it’s antithetical to Christianity. Neither God in the Old Testament nor Christ in the New said marriage and relationships are the most important things in our lives. In fact, not much is said on the topic at all (outside of a few rules outlining morality in marriage and sex).
Despite the romantic soulmate narrative that has infiltrated our songs, literature, and cultural expectations the past few centuries, single people can lead joyful, meaningful lives completely on their own. Not one, single person in this entire world can complete anyone. In fact, believing that it’s your partners’ duty to complete you — and your duty to complete your partner — is a sure way to set you up for disappointment and failure. Why? Because it’s absolutely impossible.
I touched on this in my article; I would never expect my spouse to fulfil all my yearnings and expectations in life. Like Maria says, not only is it unrealistic and unfair, it’s not possible. Your spouse is, after all, just another flawed human being like you.
I also appreciate how Maria gives some practical tips about how to speak to singles in a helpful way:
So if your single friend confides in you about their loneliness, be careful of pushing the idea that one single relationship would solve it. Ultimately, that notion is only a distraction that masks a bigger problem. Instead of scheming how they can improve their Tinder profile, talk about how they can use their time to get involved in things that matter to them — or point to where their skills could be better leveraged in their community. Maybe there’s a basketball team that needs to be coached, or a garden that needs to be grown.
The idea here is both practical and compassionate. Singles usually can’t help the fact that they’re single, so talking about why they’re single or trying to help them find ways to not be single any more are often unhelpful and even painful. Chances are, your single friend has already been through every suggestion you come up with and it either hasn’t worked or hasn’t panned out.
So rather than reminding your unwillingly unmarried friend of his or her marital status (as if they could forget), talk to them about something else. An interest, a project, a practical suggestion that can help your friend grow and thrive. Of course, if your friend wants to talk about being single, listen to them, talk to them and sympathise, when appropriate. Sometimes it does help to get these things off our chests – especially as women.
Maria then touches on the topic of one of my recent blog posts: don’t idealise marriage:
Of course, happy relationships are great, and strong marriages should be totally celebrated! But let’s be clear — the married or in-relationship state shouldn’t be idealized. Single people need to be told that they’re loved and admired just as they are, wholly unattached.
Coupling up might be awesome, but finding that someone shouldn’t be anyone’s main focus if they’re trying to live a joyful life. Rather, we need to remind single people that their lives can be filled with just as much purpose, joy, and — yes, even selfless sacrifice — as their in-relationship counterparts.
Sure, we can talk to them about dating, but we needn’t push it on them. Perhaps they’re looking for a partner, but maybe they’re not. Either way, their singleness isn’t a waiting room for leveling-up to sharing life with someone else. They are living life, itself, right now — and probably doing just fine with that. Remind them that, as a friend, you’re in it with them.
I just want to respond to every paragraph of Maria’s article with the word, this!
I know precisely what it’s like to feel as though my days are being spent “in the waiting room” of life. Often, we single women feel this way. I can’t speak for single men, but this is a very pervasive attitude amongst women, in my experience.
It’s extremely difficult not to feel this way, when getting married and living happily ever after are so glorified in our world, and by popular media in particular. Finally, Maria gives some wonderful insights into the rare gift single people have:
Like all married people, I was once single. And to be entirely transparent, I had no idea what a gift — yes, a gift — the entire single experience could have been because I totally squandered it. I was always on the lookout for that someone and hyper-aware of my interactions with certain members of the opposite sex. I poured all too much time, energy, and thought into making relationships work that didn’t have a chance. Somehow, unconsciously, I had gotten it into my head that my life wouldn’t start until I met that someone. Using this limited lens, I missed out on a lot of potential joy.
And now that I’m married to that someone (who is amazing, I grant), I see how I could have spent so much more of my single years living life instead of stressing out if marriage would ever happen. And in doing this, I could have been a better, fuller person for my spouse.
I can completely relate to this. I’ve spent so much time on the lookout for my future spouse – hyperconscious during conversations with potential someones – that I forget to just be me, sometimes. I’m extremely grateful that I hardly ever do this these days. I’ve learned to practise mindfulness, to be present to what’s happening in real life, not in my head.
But singleness is also a gift!
On the days when I’m struggling most with being unmarried, I like to think of the wonderful freedoms I enjoy by virtue of my state in life. I love my nieces and nephews to death and cannot get enough of their cuddles, but I have the advantage of being able to give them back at the end of the day.
I can leave the house whenever I want and drive anywhere I like with my music pumping and nobody says boo (except, perhaps, other drivers).
I can change plans at a moment’s notice to go to this party or that gathering without inconveniencing anybody or affecting someone else’s schedule.
Of course, there are practical advantages to being in a relationship, too. I would love to have someone available and willing to go hiking with me on a weekend. It would be lovely to go to the movies to watch an anticipated film with a boyfriend or husband, especially when all my friends have plans. And yes, it would make me very happy to have a husband I could snuggle up to at night.
Like any situation, there are advantages and disadvantages. These days, I choose to focus on the advantages of my current state in life. Because there are many, many of them.
So maybe your single friends will meet someone — and statistically, that is very likely. But maybe they won’t. And if they don’t, we need to realize that it’s not some sort of tragedy we need to fix with their dating app of choice, but an opportunity to live in a way that inspires joy in all people — no matter their relationship status.