It’s a couple’s world, or at least it sure seems that way when you’re single. Go to a wedding, and everyone has someone to dance with –- except you. A Friday night out with friends and everyone has someone to hold hands with around the dinner table -– except you. At the end of a day’s work, everyone has a husband to go home to –- except you.
You rent and watch movies alone, you get takeout alone, and at night you crawl into an empty bed. There have been countless weddings to attend over the years, but you have yet to participate in your own. Girlfriends complain about their husbands leaving clothes all over the floor and you empathize aloud, but inside your gritting your teeth and thinking, I’d give anything to have a husband leave clothes on the floor!
I lived as a single until I was three months shy of my 30th birthday. Although I had enjoyable periods of my life, like my solo trip to the Outer Banks and my Friday night ritual of chick flick movies over Chinese takeout, my single years were some of the loneliest of my life. When I meet for coffee with some of my girlfriends that are still single and we talk about where they still are, my heart aches for them. I know the lifestyle well — living as a single in a couple’s world.
Recently I asked two of my girlfriends, Katy and Jocelyn, some more in-depth questions about living as a single. They were eager to talk.
There are many reasons women can be single: Mr. Right hasn’t come along yet. A woman has gotten divorced. Maybe the career has gotten in the way, or there is an unconscious fear of commitment. With both Katy and Jocelyn, the reason is that Mr. Right hasn’t made his appearance yet. As Jocelyn put it, “Apparently Mr. Right got lost, so I’m still waiting.”
Married people often look at singles and tell them things like, “Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” or “You’re lucky, because you can do whatever you want. You don’t have a husband to tie you down!” Both women agree that there are advantages to being single: “I get to spend my time focusing on my relationship with God,” Katy stated. Because Katy is a Christian who is passionate about God, this is a huge benefit for her; having a husband makes her feel as if she would not be able to focus as much on God.
Jocelyn added, “Because I’m not married I can do whatever I want!” She said this half jokingly, but went on to say, “Seriously though, I make decisions that are best for me. Another person isn’t swaying me or making decisions for me.”
Don’t think for one second however, that the benefits of being single outweigh the pain of the single life! “The loneliness becomes overwhelming at times,” Jocelyn shared. “Some days I just cry out for someone to love me. Someone to listen to my heart. Someone to get me.” Katy agrees that loneliness is a huge factor. “I watch everyone else get a boyfriend and I wonder why in the world it’s not me. Is there something wrong with me that no guy wants to be with me?”
That perhaps is one of the greatest heartaches of the single life. I have heard it repeatedly from the hearts of singles, and I cried it out myself in my single years: Is there something wrong with me? What is it about me that a guy isn’t interested?
The irony of this thought is that a single woman will tell you in the next breath that Mr. Right hasn’t come along yet. There is a war of ambivalence in the heart of a single that tugs the train of thought in two directions simultaneously:What is wrong with me that I’m single? fighting against A man who is good enough for me just hasn’t come along yet. A single woman can jump these tracks a million times in a day.
Of course it doesn’t help when co-workers, family, and friends all say, “I just can’t understand why someone like you isn’t married. It seems like you’d be a great wife to some guy.” Somehow, in the single-person way of thought, the interpretation of this comes out as, “You seem like a great person, but maybe I’m missing something here and that’s why you’re still single.” Comments like this, no matter how harmless, always seem to carry with them the hint of, “I could be wrong though. Maybe something is horribly wrong with you and I just don’t see it.” Rarely do observers see a single woman and think, That woman must be so incredible, no man that’s good enough for her has come along yet. Instead, people see the ringless hand and begin wondering,Hmm… I wonder why she’s not taken yet.
There are other comments that get thrown at the single at an almost ridiculous rate. Katy, with frustration apparent said, “It really bothers me when I share my heart with someone and for the millionth time I hear, ‘Just give it to God.’ I know they mean well, but sometimes I just want to say, ‘I do give my singleness to God — like a million times a day!’”
Jocelyn echoed Katie’s frustration: “I hear so often, ‘You just need to be completely satisfied with dating God before you find Mr. Right,’ or, ‘If you just find contentment in Christ, everything will fall into place.’”
Not only do these religious clichés resound with emptiness, they miss a key point. In the Bible Christians read that God is the one who said that it wasn’t good for a man to be alone, and who created two human beings to live together. If God didn’t tell the first man he should be content with “God alone” why do people think a single women should be?
Jocelyn said that another thing really bothers her, and that is when people try to assure her that she “will” get married. “No one knows that for sure!” she said. “No one knows the path that is meant for me! People need to not assume what will or will not happen, much less assure me of it. Don’t assure me of something you can’t really know!”
As if all of that isn’t already enough, there is a fear surrounding singleness too. For Jocelyn, as a wounded single (her words) she fears that perhaps she is single because she has unknowingly pushed people away. “Maybe I already pushed away the person I was meant to be with, without even realizing it,” she confided. “That scares me to death.”
Katie also said she struggles with a deep-seated fear regarding her single status. What if I
never get married and have a family? is a thought that plagues her regularly.
I remember that fear well, as I’ve shared with both girls. For me, the fear wasn’t that I was single that particular day but that I would be single forever. If I could only know marriage would happen in my future, then I could handle being single in that moment. Not knowing was a part of the torment. Will it always be like this? Will I never get a chance at a wedding day? Being a mom? Sharing my life with someone? The fear of my potential forever overwhelmed me to the point of depression some days. The only thing that ever helped was getting my eyes off of the “ifs” and “maybes” and focusing on the present moment. I knew I couldn’t bear the thought of forever as a single, but I could bear that day as a single -– and that’s what I tried to focus on.
In addition to fear, both girls agreed that envy was the other biggest emotion surrounding singleness. Looking at friends who have boyfriends or are planning their wedding (or are married for that matter) could arouse feelings of envy so strong, it borders on anger. “You look at people who are so utterly selfish it doesn’t seem like they deserve love, and I just have to cry sometimes,” one of the girls shared. “But usually, after I cry, I get over it, and I move on –- once again.”
Both girls stated that they deal with all of these negative emotions by going to God with them. “Coping mechanisms can range from everything, from total emotional meltdowns in which I bawl my eyes out to accepting that God has me in this place for a purpose,” Jocelyn shared. “It’s rarely easy, usually hard. Usually I’m questioning God as to ‘why’ instead of accepting He has a purpose in it all.”
Katie said that if it wasn’t for a strong support network found in family and friends, she wouldn’t be able to cope. “I have to stay focused on God,” she states simply. “When I don’t, that’s when the negativity takes over. Thankfully, I have friends and family who help me get my focus back in the right place when I lose it.”
Jocelyn has learned to do little things for herself as a single instead of just waiting for the day when her Mr. Right can do them for her. For her, one of the little things that is a special treat for her is Starbucks coffee on a regular basis. “I probably wouldn’t have the budget for this if I was married,” she says, “But right now, it’s my splurge.”
Jocelyn also had an additional thought on the whole topic of living as a singles in a couple’s world. “I wish I could explain to my married friends (especially the ones that complain all the time) that it’s as hard if not harder to be single than married. Even though it can get hard to live with someone, it’s harder to live without someone.“
When asked what advice they would give to other singles, Jocelyn wanted to encourage other women to stay true to themselves. “Don’t change yourself for some guy,” she advises. “Because the ones that matter won’t mind what you’re like, and the ones that do mind, well, they don’t matter!”
No matter what advice a single is given, what assurance someone tries to offer, and even what splurge a single gal may allow herself, being single isn’t easy. Far from it. And precious little makes it easy. The only thing that a single can really do is take one day at a time -– and realize they aren’t alone. There are others walking the same path. Hopefully Mr. Right is on the same one!