Getting a Little Messy

It’s springtime, which means things get a little messy. Mum and I have done some backyard gardening, with Dandelion as our “helper.” And with all this new life, my allergies go crazy, so my head is frequently a stuffed mess. Being a permanently single 40-something Christian dealing with other Christians’ strongly held views of singleness? Also messy.

A couple months ago, I was able to have 1½ hour long conversation with my friend, pastor and writer Scott Mehl, about “The Mess of Singleness” for his podcast, “The Messy Podcast.” The episode aired at the end of March, but I didn’t think to mention it here at the time. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It holds truths, challenges, and encouragements for both singles and marrieds. 

You can find it on Apple or Spotify:

Just when I think I’ve said everything there is to say on this topic, someone like Scott comes along with great questions, and I realize there is so much more that needs to be expressed about living the life of a single adult in today’s Christian church environments. 

One of the main things I wanted to express is that singleness is vast and varied. From the young 20-something who has just started dating, to the 75 year old man who recently lost his wife of 50 years, from the divorced single parent, to the never-married person in middle age, singleness is not one-size-fits-all. 

If the Christian community wants to serve its single people well, it needs to expand its perspective and be ready to truly get to know each individual and what their specific needs are rather than treating singles ministry like a monolithic entity, usually geared toward young adults with the goal of marrying off as many of us as possible.

I’d love to hear what you think of the topics touched on in this interview, so feel free to comment or message me back once you’ve listened! What would you like me to discuss next time? What needs to be repeated, delved into more deeply here on my blog, or what have I missed thus far?

On Old Insecurities

It was a Friday night, and I found myself feeling a little panicked. I NEEDED to dye my hair. Now for those of you who know me, you know well that I’ve been dying my hair various shades of burgundy/red/purple/etc. since the 1990’s, so this is nothing new. But I get lazy and also like my hair to be healthy, so I usually let it go a couple months between home box dye jobs and the used-to-be-dark-brown-but-are-now-pretty-grey roots rarely bother me. That Friday, however, I felt compelled to get my hair back to its fresh, bright, new burgundy.

Why that specific day, you ask? I had an outdoor event to attend on Saturday. With like 15 people. In LA. Gasp!!!

Looking at the RSVP list online, I knew the vast majority of the attendees would be friends – people who have seen me in various states of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They are all supportive, encouraging, lovely people who accept me as I am and seem to genuinely enjoy my presence. People I lived life with for 10 years before moving out of LA. But after 2 years of living the life of a trying-to-keep-my-mum-and-littles-alive-during-a-global-pandemic hermit, my brain was off and running.  Insecurities from over a decade ago loomed large and negative views of myself I had overcome popped back up, unbidden. Just – POOF! There they were!

I found myself scrolling through that RSVP list to see who all would be there, and started categorizing the differences between them and myself.

  • They were all thin and/or fit (significantly more so than my plus size self)
  • They were all stylish (ah, fashionable LA)
  • They all had great teeth (well, better than mine, which is not difficult)
  • They were almost all married (all but 1 or 2)

After this quick assessment, my brain informed me that I would be the one and onely chubby single friend, who had never had braces, in the tent-like maxi-dress.

So that Friday night, I texted my sister and bestie that I was dying my hair because I felt super frumpy. Which my autocorrect changed to grumpy. Appropriate.

Once I realized what my brain was thinking (that doesn’t always happen right away, you know?), I found it fascinating. I spent years in my late 20’s/early 30’s coming to terms with my weight and had decided that, for me, it was healthiest to accept being plus sized and move on with my life rather than keep trying to lose weight and have it constantly on my mind, feeding into my already-prone-to-depression self. It was and is freeing. The concern about fashion was an odd one for me, as I’ve always kind of done my own thing. The thing about being one of the only single people there is something I’ve dealt with for 2 decades now, and doesn’t usually bother me. And the teeth thing? Where did that come from? I don’t think that even bothered me when I lived in LA! So weird!

I sat back and pondered these intrusive thoughts and where they’d come from. Since I have barely socialized these past 2 years, and rarely in a large group, it seems to have brought back some very unexpected insecurities. It was more fascinating to me than concerning to have my mind wander to these places it hadn’t for so long. I could look at these thoughts and go “that’s interesting” but not let them get to me. I think the not socializing for 2 years may have some unknown side effects in my life, which I find intriguing. 

As these thoughts were all ones I had processed and come to terms with ages ago, I was able to hold them out away from me and look at them with curiosity, then tuck them safely away with a younger, less healthy version of my past self. 

Yes, I did dye my hair that night – but I did so like I always do, because I enjoy having reddish hair. It makes me feel confident and a little punkrock, most like myself. It looks healthier and is easier to take care of. And I enjoyed it because I no longer felt the NEED to look better. 

The party was enjoyable, everyone (as I suspected) was kind, happy to see me, positive, and non-judgmental. I was a bit of a wallflower for some moments of it, but that is normal for my awkward self and something I don’t mind. And yes, for curious minds, I was indeed the only plus sized person there, and only one of a couple singles. I didn’t actually notice anyone’s teeth, so can’t make a call on that, and they were all pretty freakin’ stylish, but I somehow fit in just fine.

What’s the moral of the story, you ask? It’s not that kind of a story. This is merely a descriptive personal tale of one moment of my life, not a universally prescriptive parable. The only universal truth in this is that socializing is hard for many of us, and can dredge up some past insecurities we thought were gone forever. When that happens, we’ll all just deal with them the best we can in that specific moment, with the capacity and resources we have available at that specific time. Godspeed to you all as you head out to (safely) socialize once again.

Grieving Is Difficult in a Society That Worships Happiness

Welcome back to the blog series on Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, during which I will explore 5 different aspects often included in grief for the single and childless by comparing our grief with that of someone who grieves the death of a loved one. For the fifth and final theme, I will explain how our society’s obsession with happiness makes grieving even more difficult, especially for those who don’t get the “happily ever after” our culture presents as the goal.

Our culture – modern America, the media, and the white evangelical church – allows for grief up to a point, then expects us to move on. When we lose a loved one, we are hugged and cared for for a period of time. We are expected to be sad, to cry, and to withdraw a bit. For awhile. But there comes a time when every grieving person will hear “didn’t they die awhile ago?” “Why aren’t you moving on?” “Shouldn’t you be better by now?” We are expected to process death in a healthy way, go through whatever the steps are in popular psychology or biblical counseling at that time, lament, grieve, and move forward.

America, the media, and even our churches worship happiness. We are allowed to be sad for a time, but if we don’t get back to happy at a certain point, we must be doing something wrong. When those of us who have lost loved ones realize you don’t “move on” from grief, you just learn to live with it and grown around it, it can be a shock to those around us.

Imagine this expectation to process grief, then get over it and get back to happy, when lots of people don’t even realize we’re grieving? When we ourselves might not even know that’s what is happening? Imagine the expectation for us to be just fine while we are actually in the middle of trying to understand the greatest loss of our lives. Imagine people being sympathetic, but to an even lesser point, because it’s not like anyone died or anything.

Imagine trying to deal with the sadness, heartbreak, regret, anger, and fear that come with true grief, all while trying to convince ourselves and others we’re ok because we don’t realize we’re allowed to take the time to lament and grieve. Because others certainly don’t understand this – not pastors, not friends, not family, not even some counselors. Because there is not GriefShare for those of us who have lost all hope for our future, but no one actually died. Because there are very few books that address this. Because we are still expected to be happy for everyone else around us while we have a gaping wound inside our hearts that is still untouched by any healing.

When we accept that happiness is not always the goal, and that much of life will include a complex mix of joy and sadness as well as the entire range of emotion and experience, we will be in a better position to help those who are grieving, including ourselves. We need people to weep with us and sit quiet as we lament, recognizing our loss for what it is – a deep heartbreak, not some shallow papercut. We need people who will walk alongside us when the grief hits hard, and remind us that our lives are still valuable, that God still loves us, that our pain is real, that we are seen.

Thank you for joining me for these past few blog posts on grieving singleness and childlessness. These 5 points I’ve presented over the past few blog posts are by no means the only aspects of this type of grief, I just wanted to give you a window into what this experience can be like for many of us.

If you are heartbroken over the loss of your dreamt-of-future with a spouse and/or children, please know you are not alone and the grief you feel is real. It is valid. And you do not have to suffer in shame and silence. 

If you are the friend or family of someone going through this grief, I hope these past few posts help you better understand some of what they may be going through so you can walk alongside them, just as I hope you would if they were grieving the death of a loved one.