Not Alone

I know, I know. You’re already looking for holy, sanctimonious, snobbish “it’ll be worth the wait when your prince (or princess) comes and makes it all worthwhile.” Not so, I say. And it’s not easy for me to say that at all. I’ve been married seven and a half years, was single for 27 before that, and I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be single.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not looking to be free of my husband … not at all. Seven and half years later, I think we’re finally getting to the good stuff. We know each other way less than we thought we did on our wedding day, and much better than we did that next morning when we woke up as Mr. and Mrs. We’ve been through some really tough stuff together: We’ve both had surgeries, mine minor, his less so. We’ve struggled to pay bills—really scary ones, like the one from the IRS. We make an odd couple—both tremendously damaged by our childhoods, and healed in some painful and wondrous way by one another. But I digress…
Singleness. I never valued it when I had it. My goal was always not to be alone, and since I make friends with male people more easily than with female people, that meant I was “not alone” with male people quite a bit. Emotional intimacy was easily had, and I mistook that more than once for love, and that led to sex and the giving away of bits and pieces of myself.

And the older I get, the more I wish I hadn’t given so much of myself away. I wish I’d learned to like myself better as a single person, valued myself more, given more of my heart to God and less of my body to men who didn’t love it like I should have. The older I get, the more I realize how deep God’s love is, and how like a father I have broken God’s heart in the past—not irrevocably and not with rejection, but with sadness for how little I thought of myself, how much of myself I gave that I can’t get back, how little I trusted myself when I was so determined not to be single.

By the time Ben and I married, I had grown up a little. I’d sort of given up on not being single, and was working on learning to love my single self. We actually had a very deep conversation about how we were not dating at this point in our lives, over a dinner that started as a convenient grab-a-bite-after-class and was, by the end of the evening, looking more and more like a date. I liked myself, and so I didn’t just jump at the chance to date someone, to be “not alone.” I found that because I valued myself and had a sense of who God was calling me to be, I felt freer to hold back, to be “wooed,” to wait for a sense that this time it would be the time to give my heart definitively and not try to buy love with the rest of me.

What I think about singleness is this: It’s a time to come to know who you are, to be at peace with yourself and with God. It’s hard to feel all that comfortable when you know you’ve left bits and pieces of your self and your soul behind, and failed to value them the way God does. But they can grow back.

Singleness for me was mostly years of failing to understand that true love doesn’t ask for my soul, but receives it, shares it and grows it. It was years of failing to realize that I had “true love” in my platonic friendships and in my relationship with Christ and in my family, and that it was time to stop looking elsewhere for love. And singleness was the incubator in which I grew up, from a childish seeking for comfort anywhere I could get it, to finally feeling that in Ben I’d found a love and acceptance only God had felt for me before. It was years of learning to face myself in a mirror and see contentment reflected back.

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So yeah, I’ve been thinking about singleness. Part of me misses it, but only to the extent that I failed to value it when it was mine. There’s freedom there, to travel and to think out loud, to take the crazy job or paint my toenails purple (he hates it when I do that). You can eat what you want and watch the ball game without worrying about what anyone else wants to do. Singleness was right for me for a time. It’s been right for my best friend all along—she’s my age, and, I think, secure enough in God and in herself to enjoy it while it lasts, while staying open to the possibilities of being not-single. It’s right for another friend, who find it to be her calling in life, to be satisfied with who she is and comfortable in her own skin.

Singleness is about adventure, self-esteem and growing up. And it’s about you owning your soul, until it’s time to give it away to the one who gives it back to you, with theirs. Here’s my word of wisdom from the other side of singleness: It’s who you are when you’re single that sets the course for who you’ll be all your life. Be whole, and yes, holy—don’t give yourself away. You’ll miss the pieces you let go.

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