There was a time in my life when I felt utterly alone.
I was in my first year of graduate school and was living off campus in my own apartment. I was no longer surrounded by the hustle and bustle of college life. Though I had three roommates, we were each wrapped up in doing our own things, and our lives crossed paths only every now and then.
Many mornings, I would wake up to an empty house, hearing only the quiet tick-tocking of my clock hanging on the wall and the chirping of the birds outside my window.
Who knew I was awake? Who even cared? There was no one to reflect with, no one to connect to. No one to witness my life and remind me that it mattered.
And in that loneliness, sometimes I felt as though maybe my life didn’t matter.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to be alone. I would venture to say that the loneliness is the absolute hardest part of being single.
When it comes to longing for marriage, there are so many things it wasn’t about for me. It wasn’t about the sex. I had held off on that for years—what was just a few more?
It wasn’t about having someone to take care of me. In fact, I was working and in graduate school, paying my bills and managing my money—I would say I was doing a pretty good job of taking care of myself. It wasn’t about wanting a family. I was surrounded by children who called me their “mom” while immersed in my inner city ministry.
It was about feeling alone.
There is an underlying, unspoken idea in our Western culture that somehow, being alone makes you less of a person. That somehow, it takes away your value. Try going to a movie by yourself or getting a bite to eat alone. Deep down, there is this fear of what people will think. Deep down, being alone makes us feel less.
No, my desire for marriage had nothing to do with sex, money or family, but everything to do with not wanting to be alone. I longed for that person to connect with in the early moments of my morning when I opened my eyes (those seemed to be the hardest for me). I wanted someone to share with about my day, my struggles, my plans. I was longing for connection, for companionship, for camaraderie.
Looking back, that time period was one of the hardest seasons in my life. But through the struggles, I also learned two major things:
1. We struggle to be alone because we were not made to be alone
I remember feeling so disappointed in myself for struggling with loneliness. I wanted to be a woman who was independent and strong. I wanted to resist the urge to “need a man” and have the ability to stand alone.
Looking back, I judged myself needlessly and harshly. The truth is we struggle when we are alone because we were never meant to be alone. God made us with a strong desire for relationship and a need to connect with others. We were made in His image, after all—the image of a God who longs for relationship, connection and intimacy.
One benefit of that difficult season is I learned how to rely on God in the most relational way I’ve ever experienced. He went from being “theoretically” part of my life to legitimately and practically part of my life. I learned to talk to Him, hang out with Him and connect with Him like never before. I needed to connect, and some days, He was the only one I had to connect with.
I learned that He was always up for hanging out, and He always proved to be good company.
I also learned I needed community far more than I ever realized. We need people in our lives! I wasn’t lonely because I “needed a man,” I was lonely because I needed people!
By the end of that year, I was challenged to realize community doesn’t just come to you, you have to seek it out. I got so much better at connecting with the people around me, being deliberate to make plans and reaching out to get together.
2. Our search for validation has to start with us
Why did I feel so uncomfortable being alone? I think part of it came down to the fact that I wasn’t really comfortable in my own skin. It’s as though I needed someone to tell me I was fun, smart, beautiful and worthy.
But there is so much danger in basing your self-worth on the people in your life, because it can never be maintained in a healthy way. There will always be someone who thinks less of you than you think they should. But even more common, many times, there will be no one there to tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it.
True value, worth, identity and affirmation must come from within. There is a God who witnesses our lives when no one else does. There is a God who is intensely aware of our every move because He is so darn in love with us that He just wants to know. He is keenly aware of us, because we matter. Because we are valuable. Because we are worthy in His eyes.
I had to dig deep to recognize my value had nothing to do with my relationship status and everything to do with the value I had been given by a God who was head-over-heels in love with me.
That was a valuable lesson, and one I am so glad I learned as a single woman. It prevented me from so many mishaps and relationship catastrophes, because I stopped seeking a man to add value to my life and instead began to see the value my life had to add to the world around me.
It was transformational and still is to this day. My value was not rooted in my relationships from that point on. And though there were (and are) days I still fight off the urge to validate my life by my relationships, I see even more clearly now that I am married how unfulfilling and unrealistic that actually is.
Relationships can’t make you valuable, because they were never intended to; they don’t have the power to.
Ultimately, relationships are “the act of connecting with another flawed human being.” It doesn’t sound so amazing when you put it that way, but that’s the ultimate truth. They will always, at some point, let you down. And those who find their value in relationships will find that their identity and worth come crashing down.
Being alone is difficult and trying. But it is an opportunity for so much healing, identity-shaping and self-awareness. Because sometimes the only time we are forced to look inward is when there is nothing distracting us outwardly.
Seek to master the art of being alone. It may very well change your life.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.