[NOTE: I’ve written on the topic of singleness several times before, addressing the differences among us (here), recognizing that singles are still sexual beings (here), and encouraging us to consider five basic practices that might foster flourishing and wholeness (here).]
I am a single woman. It’s not an affliction and it certainly isn’t a curse. It’s a relational status, one that seems to cause a bit of discomfort among married peers who wonder whether condolences or congratulations are in order.
I spend a lot of time talking with young women about the lives they dream of for themselves and the conversations invariably turn to marriage and motherhood, aspirations that seem built into the identity of a majority of growing girls. Some would tell you it’s society that imposes those yearnings.
I believe they’re hardwired into our souls by the Creator who designed us for relationship and initiated the first marriage by creating Adam and Eve of and for each other.
The challenge is that humanity has evolved in the millennia since Eden. Eve didn’t have to read self-help books, hone her small-talk skills or photoshop her eHarmony profile pics. When she breathed her first breath, she found one man before her—one good and God-fashioned man. He wanted no one but her and she wanted no one but him. How simple.
Things are more complex today. Society has embraced a fast-food concept of relationship that rejects long-term fidelity. And demographics, especially in the Christian world, make it mathematically impossible for every Jesus-following woman to be in a relationship with a Jesus-following man. The disparity in numbers is incompatible with universal partnership. (Try explaining that to a wide-eyed teenager!)
So how do single women respond to being unmarried? When the relational outlook dims and options dwindle, what do they do with their innate yearning for twoness?
Some thrive, some thrive-and-yearn,
some just yearn, and some despair.
It would be a mistake to generalize all singles as feeling incomplete, unhappy or bitter. Nor would it be fair to expect that their attitudes today will be the same one year, two years or ten years from now. Though I am, at this point in my life, joyful, engaged in work I love and taking full advantage of the freedoms and bonuses of living unattached, I haven’t always been.
There were years when Valentine’s Day felt like a death-knell I needed to endure again…when attending weddings heaped the stamped the burden of words like “too old” and “never” on the single-girl baggage I dragged along behind me, despairing and morose.
I tried to quell the longings for a while. To smother them under layers of perfectly constructed reasons and rationales. I tried to convince myself that I had been assigned that frequently-misinterpreted “gift of singleness” and that my life, with all its beauty and purpose, had to be enough—that I was being petulant or ungrateful by acknowledging the yearning for something more. For a bonded commitment. For the kind of love that manifests in more-or-less spontaneous roses and candlelight.
There is a marrow-deep longing in a majority of us for a relationship that transcends anything that is possible in the realm of singleness.
It is not wrong or weak or silly to desire a til-death-do-us-part, emotional, devoted form of love. It is a longing placed in us by the Creator who designed us for relational intimacy with him.
In my twenties and thirties, I thought there were only two ways to deal with my singleness. The first was to allow the “nevers” and “too olds” to drag me into a lifelong ditch of self-pity. The second was to measure the benefits of oneness and firmly place a lid over my human hope for twoness.
Both would have been a monumental mistake. A self-inflicted loss.
Stifling the longing in that deeply feminine part of my being would have deadened the other attributes that reside in that same place of tender womanness: nurture, intimacy, compassion, intuition, empathy…
Eliminating longing—even just ignoring it until it shrivels out of sight—would be amputating my spirit of the impulses that drive it to minister to the needy, to comfort the ailing, to see the fertile soil in lives outside my own and pour my love and energy into cultivating meaning.
Womanhood, with the strengths, desires and passions that most viscerally define it, is not something to fear. It is something to honor, to nurture, to enjoy and, yes, to manage. The pain is real and lasting. Our response to it can be redemptive.
Those unrequited yearnings are not the enemy if we can redirect
their flow to animate benevolent and healing impulses.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I acknowledge the beauty of longing and the reality of “why not me?” I focus on the meaning of this delicate life I’ve been given, and I choose to pour the overflow of single-hearted love into the caring, building, creating, connecting, teaching, pursuing, and endowing for which God has especially designed me.
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