Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/awkward9/public_html/wp-content/themes/Builder-Cohen/lib/builder-core/lib/layout-engine/modules/class-layout-module.php on line 505

Archive for loneliness

Singleness In the Church Isn’t One Size Fits All

It’s disturbing to me, a very single 40 year old woman, to hear the much younger, married, male singles group pastor express his frustration with a young widow because she hasn’t started dating again and still has photos of her dead husband up all over her house which might discourage a new guy from being part of her life. When I asked him if she was even interested in dating at this point, or even remarrying ever, he looked confused and had no answers for me. When I stated that her husband was the father of her children, so she will have photos of him up in her house probably forever, he looked surprised. When I went on to say that perhaps she doesn’t want to remarry, he was stunned. He couldn’t imagine a world in which a single woman would want to remain single. Even in the midst of deep grief over the loss of her husband.

The GriefShare group I help facilitate is giving me a new perspective on singleness as many of its participants are widows and widowers of varying ages, some with children, some without. Since my widowed mother is and has been one of my best friends, this second singleness has always been a concern for me. One thing that comes up over and over again is how many people in churches think grief ends when a new relationship begins. That “moving on” is the goal of grief recovery (it’s not, moving forward is, there is no “moving on”) and this will be recognized as complete when there’s a second marriage.

One of my beloved widowers was telling our group that he hadn’t gone to church since his wife died. He said “I just can’t do it. It’s full of couples and families and I just don’t fit anymore.” This is where I stepped in and told him that this isn’t a true thought. The church is actually full of single people as well as couples and families. I reminded him that my mum and I, both single in different ways, go to first service each Sunday and he’s welcome to sit with us. I encouraged him to go, and look around more closely the next time and he’ll see quite a few singles either alone or with friends or families. The church is full of perpetual singles like me, widows and widowers like him, divorced men and women, single moms and dads, young singles who may or may not marry, even men and women who were married more than once and have lost more than one spouse. The body of Christ is made up of all types, not just the typical family. We just need to look more closely.

I understand why he feels this way though, I struggle with that feeling as well. I think it’s because the ideal held up of Christian life is husband, wife, and kids. From the pulpit (since every pastor I’ve ever had has been married with children) most examples of Christian living involves being married. Church leadership tends to be completely made up of married men, with perhaps one or two exceptions. We don’t often see an ever-single man or woman on stage, or a widow or widower, or a divorced and not remarried man or woman (even if it was a biblically allowed divorce). And, since we don’t see ourselves in leadership, nor hear our lot mentioned in most sermons, but see the opposite held up as the perfect Christian life, it’s easy to think we’re alone. And, since we’re often not involved in the leadership of the church as much, our voices aren’t represented so our concerns may not even be noticed or recognized.

This is such an odd state of things, considering the early church was founded by single people and the church, historically, held singles in high esteem. The entire catholic leadership model formed around single believers. The Protestant church has, sadly, not really found a place for celibate single Christians in our average churches. Again, there are exceptions, but it certainly is not the rule.

Singleness isn’t a one size fits all type of thing, so our churches shouldn’t treat it as such. The joke of most “singles ministries” is that most of the single people in a church won’t be included. Once you pass the age of 30, or you’ve been divorced, or your spouse dies, or you’re not actively looking for a spouse, you don’t fit into the singles ministry. Rather, all ministries should embrace singles – in women’s and men’s groups, in Bible studies, in Sunday School, in counseling ministries, in college groups and elderly groups. Sunday morning sermons should include examples that can apply to many different demographics, different types of singles included. Messages that end with applications should work for unmarried parishioners as well as married ones. And articles about singleness shouldn’t focus on the usual “don’t waste this season in your life” and “pray and wait for God to bring your meant-to-be-spouse to you.” There’s more to singleness, and more types of singleness. Let’s make sure we’re asking questions and listening to the singles in our churches so we can understand their specific circumstances, and learn to love and serve them better as one of the unique and varied children of God.

Singleness and the “Mike Pence Rule”

This summer, I’ll be visiting an old friend of mine who now lives, with her husband I have yet to meet, out of state. We booked the flight together so the timing would be just right, but then her work required her to be somewhere else the first day and half I’ll be there. Changing my flight at this point would cost us hundreds of dollars. I’m a pretty chill solo traveler, so don’t mind exploring her town on my own for a day or two so the question in my mind became: would her husband feel comfortable picking me up from the airport and letting me stay in their home without his wife there for a couple days, and would she be okay with that as well? Her fear was that I’d feel uncomfortable. After we talked, we realized none of us felt uncomfortable, we’re all pretty chill, all trust each other (a trust earned over years of faithful friendship), and we’re all fine just saving the money and not changing the flight.

The evening after this conversation had taken place, I was talking about my plans with my mum and found myself getting a little emotional. “Why?” I asked myself. And I told my mum how nice it was to be trusted, and to be treated, well, like a person. Because I am a person. And sometimes we singles are treated like “single people” which can have an air of distrust about it, an air of suspicion or danger. But this friend and I have been through an awful lot together over the past decade, and I have earned her trust as she has earned mine. And her husband has also been through a lot (as most humans have) and has earned her trust, as she has earned his. So instead of me being seen as some threat, a potential seductress, or a temptation one or both of us might not be able to withstand, I was seen as a person. A trusted person. Which is really nice.

In an era where the “Mike Pence Rule” (formerly known as the “Billy Graham Rule”) is touted by many church-going people as the way to live a pure life, and when the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements remind us how often vulnerable people are preyed upon, being reminded that we can still be treated like people instead of sexual objects or temptations, still earn each other’s trust, still respect and care for others, is beautiful.

Now, I have known a couple of single people who I wouldn’t trust around married friends of the opposite sex because they were grotesquely flirtatious when inappropriate, or worse. But, to be fair, I’ve also known married men and women who were as bad, or worse. So just labeling singles as the dangerous ones, and only hanging out with other couples, isn’t going to stop someone who wants to be unfaithful to their spouse from giving in to that temptation. Married people cheat on their spouses with other marrieds too, not just with singles.  

Yes, men and women should be wise in how they interact with others of the opposite sex, but this wisdom should apply to everyone – married and single alike. If we boil down the relationship between the sexes into men and women who are married, men with male friends and women with female friends, we are severely limiting the body of Christ. Jesus himself spent time alone with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and had women as some of his closest friends like Mary, Martha (Luke 10), Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others (Luke 8).

If married couples only go out with other married couples, married women only go out with women, married men only go out with men, then single men and women are going to be significantly cut out of the fellowship of the church. And we are. This happens in most churches. We aren’t invited to lunch or dinner as often as other couples are. And we aren’t given as many opportunities to get the perspective of members of the opposite sex, to be influenced by their wisdom and insight, because we aren’t trusted to be alone with them. We are often only allowed public, cursory, shallow relationships with them which hinders our ability to participate in the very community that is meant to be our family.

I’m not suggesting people put themselves into dangerous situations – there are people we should never be alone with, people who are untrustworthy, situations in which it would be foolish to be alone with a particular member of the opposite sex. But if this becomes the rule instead of the exception, our communities will suffer. We will start to see the unmarried of the opposite sex as dangerous objects of temptation and view them with fear, threats to our chastity, as if every single is just dying to have sex with your husband or wife.

Rather, we should see them as valuable members of our churches with insight and wisdom that could help everyone. And, since the majority of church leadership is made of up married men, the concerns of single people, particularly single women, will never reach their ears and therefore will not be given a voice in the decision making of the church. Since we don’t have husbands to share our concerns, it pushes an already vulnerable population in the church into even more obscurity.

So instead of cutting off personal relationships from every person of the opposite sex except your wife or husband once you get married, let’s work to create god-glorifying ones that defy what the world might think – single people are not threats to your marriage. We’re just people. Some of us are trustworthy. Some of us aren’t. But hey, some married people aren’t trustworthy either. Welcome to humanity. Let’s judge wisely who we spend time with not based on gender or marital status, but on who we actually have proven to be.

I realize that, in many churches, what I’m saying is controversial. I’m here for the debate, so please feel free to comment or message your concerns or questions. But let me assure you that it is possible to live a life free from anything shady (“above reproach”) and have friends of the opposite sex who are single and friends who are married. And, as a single woman, I value my friendships with my male friends tremendously – my single guys and my married ones – as they are often the main thing that holds me back from becoming sexist and anti-male in this era of toxic masculinity so pervasive in our country and in the church.

When I start to despair of all men, I think of my guys and how good they are, how kind, how wise, how godly, how fun, how loving, and it reminds me to be more balanced and careful. If you took them away from me, if I wasn’t allowed to have these friendships, if lunches and dinners and e-mails and counseling sessions weren’t allowed, I’d lose that perspective. And they wouldn’t know that many women are struggling in this current climate because they’d have no one to tell them. I need that perspective. They need that perspective. We all do.

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 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.