It is February and I am single.
I don’t have much to say about that, but I feel that I should. Many writers I enjoy do. Cara Strickland comes up with insightful things to say pretty much weekly in Single Minded Mondays. Leigh Kramer has written about how her life as a single thirtysomething is not what she expected yet is still fulfilling, and Emily Maynard has written about the bizarre dichotomy evangelicalism puts on people pre-married and married (and yes, “pre-married” is a term some prefer to “single”; maybe I’ll start addressing my wedding cards to “the happily post-single couple”). And others have said countless brave, countercultural, wise, practical things. Women, in all stages of life, are taking the halo off marriage, and I believe we as individuals and as a (Western evangelical) church are better for it. Because marriage can be a very good and sacred and transformative thing, but you are not less or unholy or partial for being unmarried.
Maybe that’s the crux of the matter. I don’t have much to say about being single two weeks before Valentine’s Day because … I don’t really care that I’m single two weeks before Valentine’s Day. Because of the truths women have written and because of the experiences I’ve had dating, I have let go of the omnipresent evangelical and rom-com lie that my value depends on my relationship status. Even as a kid who never imagined her wedding or dreamed of romance, like the women’s advice books say all little girls naturally do, I was so inundated with marriage-as-self-actualization that it seemed like it must be true.
I have known that is a lie, intellectually, for a long time, but this may be the first year I don’t feel defined by my singleness. Most of the time, I don’t feel lonely. Most of the time, I don’t feel unlovable or rejected or forever-alone. I recognize the logistics of my schedule right now — frankly, I don’t meet a lot of people in my age range, men or women. Dating is not practical, and it’s not something for which I’m pining away.
There are moments, of course, when I want the fantasy. A couple weeks ago, I discovered a radiator leak in my car. My mechanic couldn’t get to it for a week, and the cost was intimidating. Initially, I felt very alone, and I just wanted someone to wrap his arms around me and say “it’ll be okay” and relieve my anxiety. I thought, “This would be easier if I was married.”
It’s natural and fine to want companionship, but the fantasy isn’t just that, is it? The fantasy, the one we learn sometimes in movies and church alike, is that a relationship somehow fixes your life. A relationship fixes you. And a relationship, just maybe, fixes your radiator and fills your bank account. This is a dumb fantasy to indulge in, considering all the people I know who are married experience stress and car troubles and occasional feelings-of-aloneness just like me.
The dumbest part of this, though, is that I wasn’t alone. The mechanics gave me helpful advice. A co-worker offered to refill my coolant. Friends offered condolences. My mom googled information and texted advice from my dad. My roommates graciously shuffled vehicles until my car appointment so I could avoid further damaging my engine with my lengthy commute.
Sure, a partner could give additional support; frankly, though, I had a lot of support already. But for those few moments, I felt alone, because society and the church have repeated my whole life that I, a woman, am alone if I am not in a relationship. So I allowed myself to feel more alone than I am. I allowed myself to think being with a man means having an easier, less scary, richer, more secure life. I wanted a knight in oily coveralls, a prince of some comfortable kingdom.
It frustrates me that I even momentarily embraced the fantasy because I finally see it for the beast it is: a chimera of fairytale half-truths and overblown expectations, a Frankenstein’s monster made from parts of romantic songs and courtly love and courtship manuals. And it’s not even a fantasy I need, because I am doing okay at fixing my life as alone, single, pre-married me. The past year, I have experienced growth that would have been more difficult if I had been in a relationship. I have had the great, wide freedom to invest in myself and my work and my community, to wrestle with theology and dreams and habits.
Listen, I have loved before and I hope to love again. I hope to marry, and I hope — I think — to have a couple kids. But do you know what else I hope? To be the best person I can be, less scattered and more whole every day. To chase dreams until I catch them or lose the strength to run. To build a less-broken faith. To travel. To pay off my student loans. To find a church where I feel safe and connected to God. To be published in The New Yorker. To make it to my afternoon friend-date on time. To finish this post by February 1st.
Not all of those hopes are equal in seriousness and scope, of course, but I don’t think the first three — for love then marriage then the baby carriage — are so much heavier and so much bigger that all the others are made less by their absence. I am not made less by their absence.
Sure, on the 14th, as my commute is filled with radio love songs and my co-workers get flowers at the office before scurrying away for a night of romance with their spouses and my roommates go on dates, I will probably think, “That would be nice.” And I might, for a few moments, indulge in ridiculous scenes from some fantasy life with my futurehusband, Mr. CharmingLifeSavior. But those moments will pass, and my life will go on, in its fullness and goodness and forwardness.
Because it is February and I am single, but I don’t have much to say about that.
(Original chimera image from Wikimedia Commons)