I thought the Facebook status about my solitary July 4th celebration was innocuous—a pictorial tribute to a close-to-perfect day: my favorite food, a fluff movie (Transformers: loved it!), a long walk by a scenic lake and enough patriotism to color it all with subtle shades of red, white and blue.
A caring friend sent me a personal message shortly after I posted the status update. “I’m so sorry that you had to spend the holiday by yourself! If I’d known, I would have invited you to my family barbecue… No one should have to be alone on the 4th!”
Here’s the truth: though there have been holidays when I wanted to be with people, I was quite content this year—actually, thrilled—to get to spend this one day just doing what I wanted to do. No social obligations. No work deadlines. No need for makeup and event-appropriate attire.
My friend had sent her “condolences” under the assumption that I’d spent the day wishing for something different. It’s always sad for singles to be alone…right?
There is no “standard” single woman, yet most people carry assumptions that motivate their words and responses when speaking with singles. We are all different. Though we live on the same color palette, our hues are blended by personal circumstances, attitudes, beliefs and vulnerabilities. So your “boot-straps” talk will be empowering to some and demeaning to others. Your sympathy will be comforting to some and insulting to others.
Ask questions first. Don’t assume.
Below is a simple example of how very differently singles can feel about common topics…and it doesn’t begin to cover all the “hues” of our responses. Would you take a moment to consider these points of view? I wish I had the technical savvy to create an online test that would allow single women to post their personal stance on each of these, but until then, you’ll just have to ask them for yourselves.
Marriage: (Don’t assume we’re all grieving)
- Some single women deeply yearn for marriage. They truly feel slighted and incomplete without it.
- Some haven’t adopted the “two is better than one” perspective and can’t fathom giving up their singleness for the sake of marriage.
- Some do feel an instinctive draw to the different fulfillment of twoness, but it is balanced with a clear understanding of what they’d be giving up if they were to marry.
- Still others secretly long, but find it a debilitating thing. So they mask their inner desires with a bristling outward distaste of matrimony.
Hope: (Don’t assume we’re all despairing)
- Of those who desire marriage, some hold fast to the hope that their mate is still out there.
- Others live in the deflated reality of an impossible dream.
- Still others insulate themselves from the emptiness by filling it with busyness and denials. They silently grieve the death of a dream while endorsing statements that dismiss its importance.
Fulfillment: (Don’t assume we all feel incomplete)
- Some singles genuinely lead a fulfilling life. They have found a sense of accomplishment, value and completion in non-spousal relationships and purposes.
- Others know that their sense of self would expand and deepen in the context of loving matrimony.
- Still others might project confidence and joy, but be stifling a despair and self-blame they dare not show the world.
Children: (Don’t assume we all desire them)
- Some singles long for children and the experience of motherhood.
- Others acknowledge the simplicity and autonomy of a life without children.
- Others do not have any desire to be a parent.
- Still others refuse to admit they suffer that longing and keep a distance from the children of others in an attempt to keep it suppressed.
Independence: (Don’t assume we’d all relinquish it for a man)
- Some singles thrive as the only breadwinners, decision-makers and planners of the household.
- Others wish they didn’t have to bear the financial burden alone, make big decisions without shared responsibility and be the sole organizer/investor/chore-doer in the “family of one” that is their life. (Retirement planning, buying a home, changing careers and other huge decisions can be difficult to make alone. Envisioning aging and ailing without spousal involvement can also be daunting.)
- Still others tell themselves and the world that they’d change nothing about their circumstances, but secretly long to share the burdens.
Trade-offs: (Don’t assume we’d rather avoid them)
- Some singles would be willing to give up their autonomy for marriage.
- Others understand the sacrifices marriage would require and know it would take someone “extraordinary” to make those relinquishments worthwhile.
- Still others will refuse to sacrifice life-as-they-know-it even for that extraordinary guy, but will dabble in the adrenaline of new relationships for the “fix,” until they become serious enough to require a next step.
God: (Don’t assume a strong faith can “scratch the itch” some singles feel)
- Some singles find true completion in God. He is genuinely their all in all.
- Others have an authentic, meaningful relationship with him, but still yearn for a human twoness that can’t be found in an intangible, spiritual dependence.
- Others blame God for the singleness that haunts them.
- Still others pretend (in word and action) to find total fulfillment in their faith, but live with the guilt that God doesn’t feel like enough.
Singleness is a complex topic. Each woman will respond to it in her personal, unique way, and her response may not reflect the assumptions of society.
So ask questions. Show compassion, invite singles into your lives, find ways in which you can be supportive to them. But ask questions first, so you know what their specific needs are. Because, whether in marriage or in friendship, questions form the foundation of meaningful relationships.
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