Archive for November 2018

The Loneliness of Not Being A Priority

As the holiday season bursts into life around us, making plans becomes more and more difficult. Thanksgiving is barely over, and I’m scrambling to text, call, and email everyone to get solid dates and times for our usual December activities. Some of my frustration with this may be more about my personality than my singleness. I am, after all, a Planner with a capital P. I’ve found that not planning doesn’t work for me. I have friends in different cities to visit, ministries I’ve committed to, family where one of us always seems to be sick at any given time, and miles to drive in traffic to see everyone.

Being single, however, means that I am constantly battling all the other commitments and priorities in my loved ones’ lives. I know married people have this battle too, but they should appear toward the top of the list for their spouses, children, maybe even grandparents and in-laws. As a single person, I’m not really the top of anyone’s list. Well, maybe my mom’s, which is nice. But I’m rarely, if ever, the person other people are going to plan around. I’m the one who has to plan around them. Which is fine. Until I get tired.

The exhaustion of trying to hold all my relationships together, trying to maintain them over time and distance and through busyness, hit me like a ton of bricks today. And then my head spiraled into the melodramatic exaggerated cry of “Why doesn’t anyone prioritize me? Why don’t they commit to time with me? Why do I have to ALWAYS be the one to text, call, message, plan, and drive? Why am I the one who has to figure this all out? 

Like I said, exaggerated. Because I know I’m not the only one. Heck, my friends and family just threw me the biggest most beautiful surprise Harry Potter birthday party this summer for which I did zero planning. So, obviously, my brain is spiraling into not-quite-reality. Which happens when I’m tired and sad.

There is, however, a trend in my life of being the planner. Like I said, more of a personality thing. But my singleness seems to exacerbate this, especially during the holidays. I’m usually (not always) the person who has to text first to keep up with friends. I’m the one who has to call and say I’ll be coming to town on these dates, so can you meet up? I end up booking 4 dates a day for a 3 day period – breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner – in order to see as many people as I can. But the thing is, I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself in doing this if others would reach out to me as well. Perhaps actually invite me over for dinner one night. I’d drive down to LA for dinner on a weeknight if anyone actually invited me. No one ever has. Not once since I moved, not without me initiating it. People in the city in which I live don’t even do this very often. Most people just don’t invite others over. Ever. 

So, it’s back to me having to squish everyone I possibly can into a hectic 2-3 day period. And then of course I can’t fit everyone. Which makes me sad. So I end up seeing the people who have responded a bit more to my reaching out and have to leave off the ones I haven’t heard from in awhile.

And it’s exhausting. I am pretty sure that if I stopped texting people first that 90% of my friendships and even some family relationships would devolve quickly into nothing but the occasional “like” or comment on social media. And not because they don’t love me, but just because I’m not a priority. Which is natural and necessary. They have spouses and children, roommates and parents, work commitments and church friends, cousins and grandparents. I actually can’t be a priority. They don’t have enough mental and emotional space for that.

I get it. It makes sense. I’m not bitter or angry. But I am tired. Tired of hearing nothing from the vast majority of those I love until I make first contact. Tired of having to invite myself over because others rarely invite me. Tired of only ever having super last minute invitations that I can’t say yes to because I made other plans, and to which I’m obviously just an afterthought. 

I try pretty hard in this blog to be the best version of myself, but today you just get a rather selfish ramble, a glimpse into the reality of the mind of this single lady. Again, I know how busy life gets. And my friends should, indeed, put their husbands and wives and children in front of me, even their jobs (we’ve all gotta pay our bills, right?); I get it. I think most single people get it. We understand. So we try to accommodate your schedules and your commitments, as well as ours. And we try to be patient. And we try to reach out so others don’t have to. We try to take things off your plates to make it easier for you to spend time with us. We try to squeeze into your lives where we can. We try to be unobtrusive and helpful.

But today, I’m tired of squeezing into others’ lives. Today, I’d just like to say no, I won’t reach out. I won’t drive hours. I won’t bend my schedule. I won’t keep texting. Today, I’d like to become a hermit, like the kind you have to climb a mountain to reach. Like if you value me, you have to come find me because I can’t come to you. I’m tired of putting in the effort.

But that’s what relationships are: effort. So I’ll keep doing it. And every few months it’ll hit me again and I’ll be sick and tired of it. But I won’t give up. It’s not in me to give up on friends. Still, I can’t deny that it would be nice to be someone else’s priority for once. To be, if not #1, at least in the top 5. Or maybe even 10. To be the person other plans get set around, instead of the person expected to bend and change for everyone else.

Just a little reminder to those of you who are married and someone else’s priority: during this holiday season, reach out to someone who doesn’t have that. Text first. Call first. Invite them over. Go to coffee. Don’t schedule them around all of your other plans, but commit to them first and plan other things around that. Please don’t forget there are many of us who could really use being made a priority, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

The Freedom of Not Even Trying to Date

I think my dating life peaked in middle school. In those magically awkward years from 6th to 8th grade, I had 4 boyfriends (consecutively, not simultaneously). The magic of middle school boyfriends, at least at a Christian school in the 80’s, was that very little was required. You’d tell your friends you liked a boy, then would send an envoy to his group of friends to find out if it was mutual. Short notes would be exchanged, either passed from friend to friend or shoved in their locker, often with boxes to check, folded in elaborate ways, and possibly with hearts over any i’s. Once you had assurance that you were liked back, you’d be “going out” or “boyfriend and girlfriend” or whatever phrase was in that week.

For me, a good little girl, this pretty much just meant eating a few lunches together (not all of them, we still wanted to spend most of our time with our own friends), exchanging cheesy gifts on Valentine’s Day, having our parents drop us off at the movies (also with groups of friends) and holding hands. The Couple’s Skate at the roller rink was the pinnacle of relationship status, and I think I only got there once, which was stressful as I wasn’t a very good skater so holding hands made me much more clumsy. There was one Disneyland trip filled with fabulous moments (hugging in line!) and incredibly awkward ones (when you’re bigger than your boyfriend but he still wants to sit behind you on the roller coasters, so you spend the entire time holding yourself up for fear of crushing him). Other than this, very little effort was expended. These “relationships” tended to be short-lived, and ended rather amicably due to them moving away, school ending for summer, or just disinterest on both sides. And that, it turns out, is the most successful I’d ever be at relationships in my life.

High school was a barren landscape in the world of dating for a geeky girl like me, banished to the status of “Friend Fawn.” I had 3 boyfriends between my 18th-25th years, one of whom broke my heart – not romantically, but because we had been close friends and dated on and off for years as I grew closer to the Lord and he grew further away. I even had one marriage proposal. These relationships were more complicated and stressful than I would have liked. With the good, and there was indeed good, came a painful amount of bad.

After that, I got to the point in my life where I felt I was probably ready to date seriously with the future possible goal of marriage, and this was confirmed by many mature Christian mentors in my life. I know men and women who struggle in their singleness because they are constantly being asked on dates, are constantly pursued. Just a head’s up – I am so not that person. For me, there was nothing. From 25-38 I was open to dating, and some of those periods pretty actively tried to date (ah, the brutal world of internet and app dating!), yet in that entire time I was only asked out by 2 men. One from an online dating site, another a few years later from a dating app. Both of those turned into one-date-only (by my choice) kind of situations, for very good reasons I won’t go into here.

I was not “being too picky,” I was literally only asked out by 2 men in 12 years. Yup. God was not a fan of me getting married. During those 12 years, I spend some time on and off struggling with doubts about myself. Was I too fat? Too opinionated? Too independent? Did I wear the wrong clothes, have the wrong hair, need to learn how to put on makeup for more than just special occasions? Was there some horrible character flaw that was off-putting to the universal race of men of which I was horribly unaware?

I felt like I was supposed to expend time and thought on what photos I posted on the apps, which men I reached out to, which social events I attended – all with the goal of marketing myself in the best way to get a man to see me as more than a potential friend. After all, I had heard repeatedly that if I wanted a husband, I couldn’t just sit around and wait for them to show up. Yes, I had to trust God, but I also had to make sure I was “putting myself out there,” whatever the heck that means. It’s not like I’m a hermit, never hanging out with guys. I actually had a lot of male friends and my church at that time had a pretty active group of friends filled with singles my age. I even had a friend tell me I was still single because I wasn’t sending out positive vibes, I wasn’t “naming and claiming” God’s plan to bring me my soulmate. She was right, by the way. I don’t really have positive vibes; I’m a cynic and struggle not to see the world as going to hell in a hand-basket. And I can’t bring myself to “name and claim” anything that is not an explicit promise of God. Guess what, a soulmate is not promised to anyone.

But the main thing is, as much as I yearned for a partner in life, as much as I crushed on many a man, I never actually wanted to spend the emotional or mental effort on making myself attractive for some possible dream man. There were so many other things on which to spend my limited human effort! I wanted to help people, to learn more about the Bible and God and how I could use what I knew to counsel those in pain. I wanted to see the world, meet and make friends wherever I went, and try to leave places a little better off than when I arrived. I had students to care for, lesson plans to write, incredible books to read, wonderful friends to pour into (both men and women), ministries to help flourish, a family to love, new places to visit . . . an endless list of things I’d rather spend my time on than trying another diet, switching out profile pics yet again, swiping right, or waiting for some guy to maybe, possibly, for once stop just texting and actually ask to meet me IRL.

I also didn’t like who I became during those seasons in which I was more intent on trying to date. It was depressing, and I am prone to depression as it is. I spent too much time thinking about myself and what was wrong with me. How come friend after friend kept finding boyfriends, getting engaged, marrying, having kids, and I was still just single Fawn, scraping by alone? What was wrong with me?

Realizing that what is wrong with me happens to be the exact same thing that’s wrong with every person – I am a sinner in need of a Savior – was incredibly freeing, because I happen to have a Savior, so that’s taken care of. I recognized that I could look at all the women in relationships around me and compare myself to them to try to figure out why I didn’t get chosen and they did, or I could look and notice how many of them were just normal women, actually a lot like me. If you look closely, you’ll see that men marry skinny women and overweight ones, quiet ones and loud-mouthed ones, younger ones and older ones, selfish ones and generous ones, needy ones and independent ones, optimistic ones and pessimistic ones. All kinds. And when I looked at others who were still single, like me, I realized how many of those men and women were pretty kick ass. It’s not like those of us who are still single are all pathetic, ugly, socially inept people. We’re all pretty darn normal, oddly similar to married peeps.

So, at 38, I decided to scrap the whole trying to date thing entirely. Yeah, in the depths of my heart I’d still love to get married – but God really is going to have to bring the man to my doorstep because I’m done expending any time or energy on that at all. Who knows if I’ll always feel this way, but after 2 solid years of this attitude, I feel more content and free than I ever did when I was yearning to date and get married.

Instead of worrying about posting a certain picture because it might be unflattering, I can just post whatever reminds me of a joyful moment in time. Instead of wondering why only creepy men or old guys who want me to marry them for a Green Card click on my profile on some app, I can spend my phone time messaging my writer’s group, listening to podcasts, and clicking “like” on my friends’ adorable pics of kids and pets and all things geeky. It’s rather stress-free.

Even better, I’m not going through the emotional roller coaster of the will he/won’t he see me as more than just a friend. I don’t have the first date fears (Will he see me and just leave? Will he be a douche-bag? Will he be a true Christian? Will he be terribly boring with no chemistry? Will he try to molest me?). When I meet men, I can truly enjoy getting to know them as friends with zero pressure for anything more on either of us. And let me tell you, friendship is not a secondary status of relationship, but is beautiful and valuable.

And, when I think about myself, I don’t have all those doubts about what’s wrong with me. I can look to Scripture to find out how God sees me, to know in which areas I should grow, where I need to repent, where I need to seek advice or accountability. I can do this while knowing I am unconditionally loved. There is no need to even try attaining some imagined standard of womanhood, to try to be Perfect Christian Wife Material. Instead of feeling like I’m missing something, I know I am whole. I am exactly where God wants me to be in my life and I no longer need to second guess that, to feel like I’m missing something.

I realize this isn’t the message many single men and women want to hear – I probably didn’t want to hear it when I was younger and still trying to date. But when you get to the point in your life when you might be ready to embrace your singleness on a more permanent basis, let me encourage you that there is deep freedom to be found there. Freedom to spend your emotional and mental energy on loving God and loving others in a profound way. Freedom to be loved and served by God and your sisters and brothers in Christ as you realize how much you need them. Freedom, by the grace of God who has special care for the lonely, to be single, confident, and happy.

The Melancholy Necessity of Autumn

Today I’m feeling a bit off. It’s November, which seems odd, and my body thinks it’s one hour later than my phone says it is due to the ridiculousness that is Daylight Saving. That means this week I’ll be hungry when I shouldn’t be and tired when I ought not be. Well, okay, to be fair I’m pretty much always tired (that’s the lot of an insomniac) so I can’t blame DST. Perhaps it’s more  a general sense of ennui after the busy pace of Halloween week. Too much work on the computer. Not enough reading. Or maybe it’s my cynical self doubting my district will flip, which will dishearten me yet again.

There is something a bit melancholy about this time of year that speaks to my soul. Perhaps that’s why Autumn is my favorite season, why Halloween speaks to me, why I feel most myself this time of year. Spring is beautiful, full of life and promise and hope in a way that is bound to disappoint. Then summer bleaches everything, and I melt in the too-bright sun. Winter where I live is all cold and no snow, little rain, just more cold, windy, sunny days. But Autumn – Autumn is crisp and cinnamon tea-scented, the time to dig fire logs out of the garage and boots out of the closet. It is a reminder that things can become the most beautiful in their last days, that the value of things can increase when we know they are short-lived.

Working with GriefShare this past year, and remembering the many losses of my life, has death on my mind these days. Not in a bad way, but in a “it’s going to happen to us all, to everyone we know and love” way. I am from a culture that does not handle death well. We don’t handle it at all, mostly, which does not work. For us, death is always a surprise, like we expect a different conclusion. We take care of our elderly until we can’t, then place them in homes where someone else handles death as it approaches. We have funerals as soon as possible, then expect the grieving to suck it up and move on quickly and quietly. We have little to no context for lament. We do not know the meaning of the word “keen” and we feel forever awkward with wailing.

Some cultures have assigned periods of time where the family wears all black, ceases work, where mourners weep over the open casket. Others have long parades alternating from joyous celebration of the lost one’s life to loud, communal sobbing. Some allow families to remember the lost ones once a year, every year, with photos, favorite mementos, food, and music. In some places, the entire town will show up at the local pub for the wake, telling stories for hours and hours, crying and laughing and drinking together.

But my culture is very orderly and clinical. People, if it can be helped at all, die in hospitals and care facilities. We have memorial services in churches with no casket present. We go back to work as soon as we are able because we can’t bear the free time, can’t be with our thoughts. There are no arm bands to mark the family so everyone knows. Black clothes are no longer required.

I think this is why I’ve always loved Halloween and have been fascinated by Dia de los Muertos since Ray Bradbury introduced it to me as a child. The thought that death is so close to life was somehow freeing, the idea that there can be days when we look death and darkness in the eyes and come out the other side alive and smiling.

I had a professor at university who taught about the human fascination with monsters that transcends cultures, and the psychology behind it. We must face death and darkness, evil and uncertainty, in stories so we can process these very real, very scary things behind the fictional ones from the safety of a book’s pages, which we can close, or a screen, which we can shut off.

G.K. Chesterton said “fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

In “Coraline,” Neil Gaiman puts it this way, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

For me, Autumn provides a kind of sacred space for this processing. Halloween pushes us up closer to death and darkness than the rest of the year. The beautiful, yet ephemeral, turning of the leaves from green to yellow and red before they fall, leaving branches bare and skeletal inevitably leads the mind to think on the passing of time and the temporary nature of all living things.

Autumn is a thoughtful season, well-suited for pondering over large cups of tea and quiet conversations by the fire. It is subtle, and if purposefully ignored, easy to pass through untouched. But, if we stop and take it all in, if we allow ourselves to dwell in the melancholy just for a short while, we will come out all the better for it.

Jane Austen highlighted the sensibilities that only this season of Autumn can bring, as she writes about Anne Elliot, our heroine of “Persuasion.” Anne, the single old maid (thought not at all old), has no beau to walk with. Austen tells us, “her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, some lines of feeling.”

So these are my lines of feeling, meant to draw attention to that influence Autumn has “on the mind of taste and tenderness.” These are my lines to encourage you to lean into the melancholy, just a little bit, just enough to be reminded that true beauty is worthy of appreciation, death will come to all, and that Christ is our St. George – he has slain the dragon for us, so we no longer need to fear death.