The gifts of singleness
It’s an odd intersection of dates on the calendar. It’s the day before Chinese New Year, in the Christian calendar it’s Ash Wednesday, and of course, unavoidably, it’s Valentine’s Day.
Having the day off (for Chinese New Year), I did a lot of ‘adulting’ stuff—laundry, spinning class, meeting with friends. I arranged the delivery of a medium-sized appliance to my house because it would be too heavy for me to carry home myself. I considered purchasing a smaller vehicle because, 90% of the time, I’m the only one using it. Oh, and I did most of these things in my second language. I’m a single, 30-something expat. Because of the time difference, I’ll have about 36-hours worth of Valentine’s Day posts on social media to avoid. And so here I sit in Starbucks on Valentine’s night writing one to add to the mix. I occasionally check my peripheral vision for eligible-looking singles, because wouldn’t THAT be a story to tell. I was actually in the coffee shop to write an article about singleness when he came over to my table… Sigh, a girl can dream, can’t she?
But isn’t that the problem? I’ve been dreaming for a long time. I’ve been wondering when my turn would come as I navigated dating, breaking up, and singleness through my 20s and into my 30s. But here’s the thing: I love my life. I’m living in an awesome country, serving God, traveling, eating, praying, loving… well I’d like to be loving a little more. In some ways it seems like romance is the only thing that’s missing from my life. And yet missing that one little thing sometimes causes me to question what I’m missing. Not missing out on, per-se. I’m intentional about living in community, which means there are couples and families I ‘do life with.’ So I have no illusions that marriage is some kind of Mecca of love and completeness. But at the end of the day, sometimes I ask God, or maybe just myself… what am I doing wrong? Are my standards too high? Too low? Am I too quiet? Too assertive? Should I download another online dating app? Am I in the wrong country? I want to be clear: this isn’t a daily struggle that is always in my face. It’s more a low-grade pensiveness that shows up from time to time, like during holidays, and phone conversations with my mother.
I’ve heard all the answers, and I’ve read some of the books. When you stop looking, it’ll find you. When God knows you’re ready, it’ll happen. etc. etc. etc. But I know they’re less than satisfying for those actually living it.
I don’t know about you, but I've absolutely noticed a pattern in my life of God slowly easing me into many things, whether it was Bible College, living overseas or leadership. As my Creator, he knows that I'm more likely to turn tail and run (or more often the case, just shut down) in the face of extreme change and fear. Even with Taiwan, I was originally supposed to come in August, and in his infinite grace, God spared me from coming in the heat of summer, probably because he knew it would be more difficult to keep me here after that! I sometimes joke that if I’d known when I first came that I’d be here for over a decade, I wouldn’t have gotten on the plane!
So, as much as it terrifies me to even put this into writing, every now and then, I wonder if he's easing me into a life of singleness... an idea I meet with a resistance bordering on rebellion. When I was 18, the idea that no one might ever love me caused me to despair and even question God's goodness. I thought he had something (ie someone) good for everyone else but me.
Since then I've been in enough relationships to prove that is not the case. I've been in love, I've been loved, I've been at various stages of commitment. I've been in the friend zone, I've been ghosted, and I've had to be the one to break things off when it just couldn't work.
If I could go back to my 18 year-old self, who was preoccupied with the question: what if I'm single forever, I might answer her now (in the most loving older sister way possible) so what?
Being single doesn't mean you're unloved or unlovable. It doesn't mean that of all of the seven billion people in this world of appropriate age and gender, not a single one would choose you, because maybe some of them would. But that doesn't necessarily mean your life would be better with them.
In Christian circles, I've heard females (as young as 25) joke that if singleness is a gift, they’d like to return it. And there are challenges to being single for sure, but they do come with gifts, if we are willing to change our perspective and allow God to do a little work. Some of those contrasts are:
Loneliness vs. freedom
Freedom to make your own choices, time to really get to know yourself and decide what you actually want, whether in term of dinner, where to live, or how to spend your time. Singleness allowed me to have the time and resources to visit Zambia last month, and maybe again sometime in the future.
No one to help vs. a chance to face your fears
In my case, I’d LOVE a designated cockroach killer who wasn’t me. I’d like to have someone more structured than me to work on a budget together. But I treasure the confidence and independence I’ve learned as I’ve grown. I am my own person more now than I’ve ever been. Sometimes being single is hard. There are things I’d rather avoid. But when I peek back out from under the covers, the thing is still there. And there’s still no one else but me to deal with it. So I get to strengthen that fear-facing muscle some more. It doesn’t make it suck less. But it does make me better.
Lack of a partner to share your life with vs. leaning into community
I enjoy being in a relationship. I love the daily debrief and getting another’s feedback. I like getting to know someone so well, I feel can almost read their mind. I crave having someone to point me toward God when I’m stumbling around or descending into overthinking anxiety. But none of these things are truly exclusive to romantic relationships. Being single is a humbling opportunity to learn how to ask for help and tap into community where you can both give and receive.
At the end of the day, I still don't have any answers for my single sisters (not my actual younger sister who is married with two kids). I don’t want a pet. I’m afraid of being that ‘weird older lady’. I desire a partner, I want to love and be loved, I want to be part of a team where I know both of us are committed to not giving up. I want to be Priscilla and Aquila. But most of all, I want to have a great life now. I want to trust my Creator, not that I necessarily think he's going to drop "the one" onto my lap, but that he will give me the wisdom to know a good thing when I see it. And for all my days, good, bad, lonely, or adventurous, I will choose to be thankful for the life I have. Because it is a choice.