The Beauty and Misery of Singledom

I remember someone trying to encourage me when I was single in my early 30's.  They told me of a friend who was 45 and had finally met her husband-to-be and they had recently gotten married.  "See, dreams do come true!"  Needless to say, I was not encouraged.  I was, in fact, mortified.  The prospect of endless waiting seemed particularly unbearable - like a death sentence.

You see, I had always thought I would be married.  It just made sense to me that one day I would have a family and kids.  That is why in my early 20's I mostly focussed on my career.  I was never afraid of being alone or doing things by myself.  But I do remember always wanting to be the beautiful girl who utterly inspired a man and who, once he met me, would not be able to live without me.  Honestly, though I would never have admitted it, I wanted to be a princess and have my prince come rescue me from the lonely morass of singledom, cherish me and take me on wild adventures, all the while encouraging me to be all I could be.  And, of course, redeem me from all those pitying looks from my beautiful, smart girlfriends with their handsome husbands and well-behaved children.

 Truthfully, I was a pretty independent woman who did achieve many of her lifetime goals, and enjoyed a fair amount of success in a number of career paths while being single.  I had the opportunity to go on mission trips, live overseas, teach, direct plays, write shows, and administrate for incredibly talented businessmen and women.  Still, much of the time there was a mild ache of something missing.  As I got older, and my friends were marrying and starting families, I yearned more and more for a partner to share my life with.    I wanted that one special person who knew me inside and out and didn't run away screaming in horror.

At times, I sincerely thought there must be something wrong with me.  Like I had an invisible mark on my forehead that warned guys that they were walking into a minefield if they got too close to me.  I used to question God - "Is there something I am doing wrong?  Did you give me this desire to be married?  If so, what is taking so long?  Do you want me to be single forever?  Ugh!  Prison door slamming shut.  God, do you really want me to be an old maid who everyone feels sorry for?  My nightmare thought was that God wanted to give me someone wonderful, but I kept screwing things up.

In my late 20's, partly in the hopes of attracting healthier men, I submerged myself into intense therapy, picking up all the proverbial rocks in my past and cleaning all the rubbish underneath them.  I let go of addictions.  I learned how to be interdependent, to ask for what I needed and I saw incredible, loving demonstrations of authentic relationships.  I never felt comfortable hanging out in singles' places, only because they made me feel desperate.  So I hung out with married friends, where I got amazing insights into what godly loving relationships looked like, but with little opportunity to put these insights into practical application.

I kept trusting God and trying to focus on helping others.  But I was still lonely.  I lived alone.  I lived with roommates.  I made lists of what I wanted in a husband, then lists of what I would settle for in a husband, then finally promising God I would try to make do with whatever he brought my way.  I joined clubs, church groups and volunteered like crazy.  I sometimes felt that I was putting in my time to earn good favor that would somehow redeem me from this life void of that special someone putting their arm around me during a church service, or children giving me sloppy kisses and wanting to be held.  I longed for the problems my married, mothering friends had.  I secretly promised God that I would never complain or be weary.  I would be so thankful just to have the regular problems my friends had.  I no longer wanted perfection, just the opportunity to have a problem.

I met several guys along the way, two of which I had thought were God's perfect match for me.  Both I loved with abandon.  Neither, in the end, found me to be worth pursuing.  I ended up feeling rejected and the message that "Something must be wrong with me," was reinforced.  I was heartbroken and found it extremely difficult to move on.  To be fair, these men were wonderful people and, though both inspired me and truly blessed me, I am ultimately very happy that things did not work out with them.

Over the years, I was subjected to endless pieces of advice and encouragement, most of which was by friends who sincerely meant well. They just wanted to make sense of my singleness too.  The worst was "You need to work on yourself.  Once you’ve worked out all your issues, your perfect mate will show up."  While there may be some truth to this, I remember thinking, "What a load of crap!  There are millions of married people out there with issues galore and they get to work out their issues WHILE being married.”  In my imagination, I would wearily hand them my  15-page resume of “Issues Resolved,” or at least “worked on,” over the last 25 years.  I don't think it is a requirement to be perfectly whole in order to get married.  However, I suppose I too would advise people to make the most of the time they are single by addressing any issues that would not be helpful in a marriage.  Another piece of advice that would cause me to roll my eyes (if only on the inside), was “If you stop looking, he will show up.”  I wanted to shout, “Really???!!  Do you honestly think that all I do is spend my time actively searching for husbands?  I am a pretty smart girl.  I have had other seasons in my life when the thought doesn’t even surface for weeks or months.”  But it’s too much to explain, (and I suppose there is a kernel of truth here too) so I keep my eye-rolls to myself.

The truth is, I still don’t understand why I was single for so long.  Decades.  Except perhaps for who I ultimately ended up with.  For it to be this man - this man made perfectly for me - I had to wait.  If God had personally asked me, I am sure I would have readily agreed.  It’s just hard to trust in the midst of an indefinite waiting period.  And yes, even I said in the end, on my wedding day, that I would do it all again - happily wait - for this one.  Those years of working out all my issues, of experiencing life and relationships and maturing in God - all paid off.

People sometimes ask me, “How has it been, adjusting to married life after being single for so long?”  My answer - hand in glove.  Perfect fit.  Of course this dream was from God.  This is what I was created for - being a wife, a best friend, a cohort, a companion, lover, entertainer, hostess, assistant, helper, business partner, encourager, fan.  All these things and more.  I am especially thankful for the opportunity to be these things.  And I am very aware that it is a privilege and a blessing.

Right before Rick came into my life, I had gotten my mojo back after a 3 year depression which included a break up with one of the men I had thought God had brought into my life to marry.  I couldn’t seem to let go and I certainly couldn’t imagine anyone better for me coming into my life.  I was so defeated and I kept saying to God, “I don’t get it.”  I knew God was good and I knew He loved me, but I was bereft.  I simply couldn’t understand why my dream had not come to pass... yet again.  I sunk into a serious depression, shamed because I had been rejected and shamed more because Christians weren’t supposed to be depressed.  I fought it for awhile, memorizing scriptures that would address depression (as well as a zillion other depression remedies I had gathered over the years).  But nothing seemed to work.  I was alone after being gloriously able to share my life with someone I admired, respected and cherished.  Now, back into the hell hole of singleness.  I remembered this place.  It was like going back into black and white after having lived in vivid color.  Door slammed shut.  Solitary Confinement.  If that hadn’t worked, certainly nothing would.

It was in this place, only really appreciated in hindsight, that the Lord sat with me.  I would barely make it to work in the mornings, sometimes not even showering.  I would come home, put my pajamas on, sit with a quart of ice cream and watch “Little House on the Prairie” and go to bed by 7:30pm.  I know - frighteningly pathetic.  But something that I had thought couldn’t happen began to happen.  I began to realize that God loved me.  More than what I had considered before.  He didn’t love me for all the work I did for Him, or for how much success I produced in my life.  He didn’t love me because I had conquered anything or because some guy chose me.  He loved me just for me.  I still longed to be married, but it shifted to the background.  I listened to podcasts and messages about the grace of God.  I considered that perhaps I was deeply loved despite my circumstances.

In Hebrews 4, the writer encourages us to diligently enter into rest.  I never quite understood this verse as it seemed contradictory - how do you work hard at resting?  But this is exactly what I was doing.  I was being diligent to REST in his love.  I was not trying to distract myself from feeling lonely by endless activity.  I was not trying to earn my worth or favor for a future reward.  I was receiving every day, a little at a time, the truth that the creative and powerful God of the universe sincerely loved me and delighted in me.  The unconditional love (love without condition) that I found in that rest is what I believe ultimately healed the depression.

As I got my mojo back, I began to take some “risks” - trying new things.  I decided to buy a house.  No more waiting for a husband.  No more fear that I couldn’t do it.  For the first time in ten years, I auditioned for a play.  I applied to mentor a foster child.  I did a video work-out program that made me proud of myself.  I enjoyed my friends.  And I started loving life again.  Loving being loved by the Lord.  Of course, as they always say, when you really know deep inside that you are beautiful and loved, that is when you are the most attractive to others.

I met Rick online.  I was immediately attracted to his sense of humor, his writing skills, his enjoyment of his work and the people in his life.  He had recently experienced a deep loss in his life, and yet his heart was so clear and healthy and strong.  He had a relationship with God that inspired me.  He was someone who challenged me but who listened and learned from me too.  He would compliment me and I would think, “This is exactly what the Lord would say to me.”  It was love.  Beautiful, lyrical, precious, long-awaited love.  Unexpectedly deep and pure.  So worth the wait.  So worth any pain and hardship that I had endured.  Instead of feeling unloved by God, I felt like the Lord had lovingly protected me for His very best.  For this very moment, when I could appreciate it the most.

Today, if anyone were to ask me for my best advice in surviving singleness, here are the top ten things that come to mind:

  1. If it’s hard, don’t pretend it isn’t.  Most of us were created with that desire to share life with someone uniquely special for us.  
  2. Enjoy it as much as you can.  Do as many dreams and bucket list activities as you can.  You can always repeat them later with your spouse.  Also, you are most attractive when enjoying life.
  3. Grow in a friendship/marriage with the Lord.  Go everywhere with Him - to the store, to the movies, to work.  Talk to Him about everything.  He promises to be your comfort.  You may not recognize it at the time, but it will be a blessing to see it in hindsight.
  4. Help others as you feel led to by the Holy Spirit, not as you feel guilted into doing (either by yourself or others).  Endless activity and productivity is not a cure for loneliness.  
  5. Rest.  Read and listen to podcasts, books, and music that speak about God’s UNCONDITIONAL love.
  6. If you sense condemnation, (like the reason for your singleness is that you committed this or that sin in your life) toss it out immediately.  It’s poison and will only produce intense suffering.  You are not the worst sinner in the world, nor are you the least.  And Jesus’ blood forgave all of it - past, present and future.
  7. Accept that there is no magic formula.  What worked for your best friend may not be a part of your story.  Be okay with things being messy.  Stay true to yourself.
  8. Surround yourself with loving friends and people who are healthy and pour good things into your life and heart.  Isolation is a breeding ground for misery.
  9. Consider, if a mate NEVER comes into your life, what you would like your life to look like in order to be happy.  Then do that.
  10. Ponder Matthew 6:33.  Keep going back to it, particularly in the Message Translation: “What I’m trying to do is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.  People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works.  Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday concerns will be met.      

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t 45 when I finally met my husband, Rick.  I was 47.  LOL!!

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