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Archive for Dating

How the Awkward Spinster Does Valentine’s Day

One of the benefits of having been perpetually single throughout my life is that my expectations of Valentine’s Day are incredibly low. I’m pretty sure I only ever had one boyfriend on this holiday, way back in Jr. High (and he did great, got me a stuffed bear music box that played Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and little gold plated heart necklace, well done Jr. High boy!), so I don’t really equate this day with big romantic gestures or expensive gifts. It’s actually a day I enjoy, which isn’t the case for all singles, so below I’ll list what I’ve done or am doing this year to celebrate this day of love as a single in the hope that it will inspire you, single or not, to enjoy it too.

In full disclosure, I need to mention that I am writing this while listening to the soundtrack from “Buffy the Musical: Once More with Feeling” as my “romantic” background noise. So yeah, that may effect my subconscious.

To get into the holiday spirit, my mum and I decorated. We have some heart garlands, red glass birds, ribbons, and Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals (from my dad years ago) to scatter about the house. I even brought a garland to hang up in my school library, as well as a sparkly heart. This might seem cheesy or unnecessary, but my family is one that loves to celebrate holidays, and nothing gets you in the mood like a few decorations to mark that this season is a bit different. My students are loving even the couple of little things up in the library because it makes it feel special.

My mum hosted her annual Valentine Tea for the ladies in her Sunday School class. My sister and I used to help host this, but haven’t participated in the last few years as it’s harder and harder to get our friends to come as they marry and have kids and life gets more complicated. But, when we do it, it is surprisingly fun. Finger sandwiches, pots of tea, pastries, and tons of art supplies with which to make homemade valentines will brighten anyone’s February. But, since my mum was having mostly older ladies over who I don’t know well, I took the opportunity to have a few hours on my own – took myself out to lunch, and stopped by See’s Candies for a box of chocolates for mum, and a few truffles for myself. I may have also purchased a nice cabernet sauvignon for myself this week.

(My little niece just came into my “study” to give me a cuddle, then quickly left and said “Ok, now you can continue your work.” Who needs a Valentine when you’ve got this kind of love?)

Another thing I love to do this time of year is rant about the insulting marketing targeting singles. So many companies are trying to include singles in their ad campaigns for Valentine’s Day, as we are a growing economic force, and most are doing it quite poorly. We get the “You don’t need no man, so buy yourself an expensive, unnecessary diamond” ads, and the crate boxes full of stereotypical feminine things single women are supposed to crave like self-help books, skin care items, and chocolate. There are the companies encouraging bitterness toward your exes, ogling scantily clad women, and the ever present call to selfishness as a lifestyle choice since we don’t have anyone else to care for, apparently.

We’re planning on making homemade valentines tonight with our women’s global prayer group, Tea Persisted. And we have Marie Callender’s pie to go along with it. Who do you make valentines for if you’re single, you may ask? Come on guys, love comes in many forms. Just pick anyone you’d like to feel special for a moment – a family member, a godchild, a coworker, or your friendly neighborhood librarian. Stick them in the mail, hide them on a desk, drop them on doorsteps, wherever. Valentines are for everyone.

One of the ladies from my mum’s tea even brought a squeaky, fluffy, heart-shaped dog toy for our westie, so even pets can get valentines!

I’m also going to be contacting my state representatives this week to ask them to fight for government policies that will help the vulnerable. One of the best ways to show love is to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves: the poor, the refugees, the children, the disenfranchised, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the unborn, the abused, the forgotten. We can say we love people until we’re blue in the face, but it means little if we aren’t trying to help our country enact policies of love rather hate, of care and protection rather than hatred and violence.

And then, on Valentine’s Day itself, my plan is to get in my pajamas as soon as I get home from work, make some dinner with mum, and settle in for some Midsomer Murders or another cozy British mystery series. Avoiding couples taking over restaurants is important. Ice cream or pie or chocolate will be involved for both of us, and quite possibly a good single malt scotch for me.

For those of you who are struggling with this season because of grief, loss, and deep loneliness, know you are not alone. There is a whole army of singletons out there just like you. Feel free to message me through my blog or social media, I’d love to send you an encouraging note. Reach out to others in your life who may also be feeling this grief and offer them comfort, especially single men and women who recently lost loved ones. One of my favorite British comedians, Miranda Hart, is creating a community on social media for those of us who might struggle with grief on Valentine’s Day, so check her out under #HartsValentinesDay. She is in England, so there will be a time difference. But I’m in the States, so again you are welcome to message me!

I’m also working at reminding myself WHY we love in the first place. 1 John 4:19 makes it very simple, “We love because he [God] first loved us.” Simple. Easy. God loved us so much he sent his son to die for us. His love is unending and true. And that’s why we love others. Because if the God of the universe can love a broken soul like me, I should offer that love to everyone around me.

So this year, I encourage you to embrace having no expectations for great gestures, and instead embrace the little expressions of love you can make for the loved ones in your life, near or far. Text your other single friends to let them know you love them. Instead of ignoring it, why not enjoy celebrating the kinds of love we singles have in our lives? Coworkers. Fellow church members. Community members. Pets. Friends. Family. Take a moment out of this week to remind yourself that you are, indeed, loved, that there are people on this messed up planet who care about you, and that the God of the universe loved you first. It might not look like the traditional end to a rom-com, but love comes in many forms and it is all worth celebrating.

My Not-So-Perfect Relationship with Romantic Fiction

Though I like to present myself as the type of girl who dwells in science fiction and adventure, I have a confession to make: much of my fictional intake involves romance. Shocking, I know! Not “romance novels” per se, that genre has always grated on me. But give me a good YA (young adult) rom-com, a dystopian boy-meets-girl, a beach or Christmas read, a gothic romance, a black and white musical, or a teen angst drama and I’m there. 

This Christmas season alone had me driving to Hollywood to watch “The Holiday” with my sis and an old flatmate on a rooftop (#dumbledamn), then Pasadena for “Love Actually” with my mum in an odd heritage center with Victorian buildings. I’ve consumed both “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” and plan on watching many other Christmastime classics which all seem to feature romance.

I like to think my tastes run a little more high brow than Hallmark-type movies, but in the past few years, on occasion, I have been known to fire one of these up and thoroughly enjoy it. Usually alone. With wine.

My reading in the past few weeks has also reflected this bent toward romantic threads. I just finished Sophie Kinsella’s “My (Not So) Perfect Life” to cleanse my palate from the disappointing “Twelve Days of Dash & Lily.” Now much of my reading this year has not focused on romance, it may have been a subplot, but wasn’t the main story line. Still, at this time of year, after some more heavy reads, I’m all about the fun, light happily-ever-after.

Two of my absolute favorite viewing experiences this year were “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” which I’ve already watched twice on Netflix, and “Crazy Rich Asians,” which I saw opening weekend.

So how on earth do I, a perpetual spinster, enjoy delving into these fictional realms? Don’t they stir me up into a frenzy of discontentment, lust, and bitterness? Doesn’t my usually cynical brain find them immature and frustratingly unattainable? Wouldn’t it be better for me to avoid them like the plague?

The answer to these questions is “Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.”

There have been times in my life when watching a rom-com or reading a YA romance would increase my dissatisfaction with my single lot in life. I would have to check my heart after a reading or viewing and make sure my view of myself and my life was in line with God’s view of it. And sometimes it was better to avoid such plots completely, thus my passionate love of “Die Hard” as a Christmas go-to. That bromance between John McClane and Sergeant Al Powell is better than most love stories. At this point in my life, where I have come to find true contentment and deep meaning in my singleness, I seem to be able to enjoy the fantasy of it all with no problems. Yes, I’d still someday like to experience a tiny piece of that kind of romance myself, but I trust God’s plan for me. I know if it never happens, that his plan is even better.

My cynical brain may actually help me to enjoy this type of fiction because I realize much of it is fantastical. I’m not sitting there reading these novels or watching these films thinking how perfect it all looks. I’m more likely to be giggling to myself as I realize how preposterous it all is. I can enjoy it like a fantasy novel, a made up realm where things work differently than here on earth. I’m 40. Most of my friends and family are or have been married. I’m a counselor. I’ve walked through enough broken, complicated, or just real relationships with people to know how much work goes into a lasting romance.

Actually, I’ve found that sustained singleness seems to be the most difficult for my optimistic, idealistic friends. I have an acquaintance, a man in his early 40’s, who is still horribly brokenhearted that he has yet to meet and marry his One True Love. And yes, once again, I too would like that to be a reality for me, but I don’t think it is or will be and have come (mostly) to terms with this. Because of our perspectives, romances are difficult for him to enjoy without coming away depressed and despairing. For me, these days, I come away smiling, having enjoyed the story, or laughing because I thought it was rather stupid after all.

So this holiday season, while I plan to indulge in a few more Christmasy romances (a reread of the fabulous gothic romance, “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, is up next for my book club), what will you be reading and/or watching? Write a note in the comments telling me about your relationship to romantic fiction.

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.

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

High school was not a pleasant time for me. A geeky girl with few friends, I could not wait for those years to be over. And then something happened the second semester of my senior year – somehow, I stopped caring what everyone else thought and started doing what I wanted to do. I went on the senior trip even though none of my little group of close friends were going. I went to grad night. I read a poem at graduation even though it terrified me. I started going to the college group at my church because I didn’t fit in the high school group. That last semester was the first time I enjoyed high school even a little bit.

Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove

There is a certain wisdom that can come with age if we let it, a freedom from the fear of man. For me, this includes the fear of my own previous expectations of myself as well as those of others. By I now have 4 decades to look back on God’s faithfulness in my life, which helps me realize I truly can trust in him to love me and guide me; I don’t need to be anything other than what he wants me to be (Proverbs 29:25, Ecclesiastes 4:4).

To be honest, I’m still working on this one. There are still voices in the back of my head that shame me for working fewer hours, or earning so little compared to my education level, or no longer having a position of honor at my church. It’s hard to let go of my pride and allow myself to be free to spend time with my family, enjoy rest and sleep, and follow others’ leadership instead of being the ever-busy leader myself. I’m still learning that Christ came that I “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I took my little sabbatical at English L’Abri for 3 months in the midst of reevaluating my life, my tutor reminded me that there is nothing I can do today that will make God love me any more than he already does. I am his beloved, and nothing will change that.

One of the hardest parts about being single into adulthood is feeling the judgment of others. We experience expressions of pity from the old couple at church who’ve been married 50 years. We dodge scathing critiques from those who think it’s our fault because we’re too fat, too opinionated, too ambitious, too selfish, too something they obviously are not. We suffer through bad advice fed by even worse theology – lines like “just give it time, God has someone for everyone,” “make sure you’re putting yourself out there,” “have enough faith, and God will bring them when you’re ready,” or “perhaps you should just change this huge part of yourself and then you’ll get a date!”

At this point, 40 years in, I’ve heard it all and I honestly can say I just don’t care anymore. I know what the Bible says. I know what God thinks of me. And it gets easier year by year to let these comments slide off my back, or even better, to gently reply to the well-meaning critic with truth instead of these silly platitudes.

ProTip:

Realize the love of God emanates out of himself, and therefore is not contingent on you fulfilling everyone else’s expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the last tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.

How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 – Recognize Celibacy as Worship

When I started reassessing my life, I realized I needed to give up some of my previous dreams in order to make room for new ones. One of those dreams was that of marriage and children. I’m not saying I won’t ever marry if God chooses to introduce a man into my life who loves me and who I love back, but that I no longer see this as a requirement for my joy or God’s glory. Instead, I have come to a new appreciation for the celibate life.

Tip 3: Recognize Celibacy as Worship

Rather than looking at my singleness, lack of sex life, loss of motherhood, and nonexistent partner in life as a hardship to be endured, more and more I am able to see it as a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7). Whereas before, when I was younger, I could accept it more easily as a temporary gift, I am now able to view it as an opportunity to worship God daily through living a celibate life to honor him.

Romans 12:1 and 1 Samuel 15:22 both introduce the idea that living lives of obedience to the Lord, even with our very bodies, is our spiritual worship. I know a 40 year old virgin can be viewed with mockery and disdain – as if I’m somehow less mature or more naive than everyone else, there must be something incredibly wrong with me.

I know many Christians at this point in their extended singleness throw celibacy out the window, seeing it as unrealistic or unfair. I can understand that. The “gift of singleness” in my life doesn’t mean God took away my desire for men, for a partner in life, for sex, or for children. I still have all of those desires. Anyone who tells you those with the “gift of singleness” will have these desires removed by God is the naive one.

But what he has done is make my desire to worship him in all I do, with my very body even, greater than these others. It doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle, but it’s a worthy one when I know that each day I recommit to a celibate life, I am honoring the true love my life, God.

I’m also not buying into the modern western world’s obsession with sexuality being one of the most important markers in our identity, nor the modern Christian church’s obsession with marriage and children as the main goal for a woman’s life.

I am so much more than my sexual identity. God’s plans for me are perfect, so if you look at life without a spouse and kids as lacking, you are not seeing it clearly. We are brainwashed by culture, even or perhaps especially Christian culture, to view marriage as the ultimate relationship, when it is meant to be a beautiful metaphor of Christ’s love for the church. A single Christian’s celibate commitment to loving God body and soul is also sacrificially beautiful and should not be discounted.

ProTip:

If you’re getting older and God still hasn’t brought the love of your life into it, look into the beauty and fulfillment that can be found in worshiping God through celibacy.

Swing by the Awkward Spinster tomorrow for the next tip in the How to be Single, Celibate, and Happily Turn 40 series.