Single in the Time of Coronavirus

My life has changed entirely in the past few months, as life has changed for many. Not all, apparently – I’m still amazed to look at my social media feeds and see so many people going on vacation, visiting friends and family, eating in restaurants, traveling, dating, hanging out in other people’s houses, and acting like there isn’t a raging global virus going on all around us. Sigh. 

But for me, life is nothing like it was before mid-March. I have no job. I cannot leave town. I can’t touch anyone other than the person with whom I live – my mum. Some days, I don’t leave the house. Other days, I only get out to take my dog for a walk or go for a quick local drive, or to get take-out. I watch sermons on my laptop on Sunday mornings. About once every couple of weeks, my brother and sister and their families come over for a very socially distant paddling pool party for their kids in the backyard. Separated by picnic benches, two pools, two inflatable unicorn floaties, two sets of folding chairs, and mum and I off to yet another side on our porch swing. No hugs, yelled chatter, and a deep appreciation to even be able to see them in this limited way.

I might be taking extra precautions because I live with my mum, who is more at risk due to her age, or perhaps it’s just part of my conscientious personality, or my current lack of health insurance (why on earth does the US have our health insurance attached to our jobs??????). No matter what the reason is, I spend every day thinking through the options I have and which ones might kill me, my mum, or anyone who we come in contact with. And I spend every day wrestling with anger toward those around us who don’t seem to care at all about how they could affect us, our community, and how more and more people just keep dying.

For those of us who are taking this coronavirus seriously –  what an odd time it is to be single, to not have that life partner to make these decisions with, to not have that physical contact with a spouse and kids. My single parent friends are struggling more than anyone right now as they try to balance one income with kids doing school from home – an impossible task.

My single friends who live alone are struggling with loneliness and the extra stress of being entirely alone other than Zoom or Google meetings. My elderly single friends who live in senior living communities are even more cut off than normal, not being allowed visitors and having to totally quarantine for 14 days any time they leave the campus for doctor’s appointments or supplies. My single friends with roommates are having to evaluate how much exposure each of them has with jobs and family obligations and make incredibly tough calls about how to live together safely. My single friends who, like me, lost their jobs are dealing with the fall out of not having another income to rely on, not having a spouse to float us on their insurance, not having extra support. My single friends who still have to go into work (thank you, essential workers!!!) go home after stressful days to empty apartments. 

I don’t have a solution to these struggles – they are part of the reality in which we will most likely live for many months more. I just want to let you know that I see you, I see the extra layer of loneliness and sadness, the extra layer of stress, the extra layer of grief many singles wear at this time. Yes, married couples struggle too, and there are many others who have it even harder right now – the chronically ill, black men and women, those sick with Covid-19, those who have lost loved ones recently, poor and vulnerable populations. I do not pretend this is an easy time for anyone and, in fact, have two separate friends who are in the very beginning stages of divorce in the midst of this craziness, so I know marriage doesn’t solve hardship and can actually cause more of it.

But today, I wanted to recognize my single brothers and sisters out there who are doing what they need to do to survive each day in the face of a constant looming threat. You are making all the decisions for your household yourself. You are creating quarantine bubbles so you can still reach out and love others. You are crying in your rooms alone. You are overcoming shyness and exhaustion and other difficulties to get on yet another Facetime to try not to become a total hermit. You are checking your finances and trying to be wise, all on your own. You are grieving the loss of dream jobs, family members, friends, travel plans, and other things the coronavirus has stripped away from you. You are “attending” church online and texting your greetings. You are going to work in person or online or looking for work. You are battling anxiety and depression and grief and fear each night, alone. And, on top of all this, you are still dealing with everything you already struggled with in “normal” life. 

I see you. But, more importantly, God sees you. And He loves you. And He is with you – you are not alone. Our Christ was a single man with the weight of the world on His shoulders, separated from His Father, often alone and misunderstood. He understands your fears, your worries, your concerns. You do not have to be strong on your own. 

Romans 8:35-39 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is here with you. I know this knowledge doesn’t make the hardships go away, but I encourage you to turn to Him in prayer with your concerns, loneliness, and fears. 

Know that there are many of us out there in similar positions – the world of singles is vast. You are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to your friends. And I’m here for you too. Comment, e-mail, reply. And if you’d like to hire me for a Biblical Counseling session or a few, just fill out the bottom form on the Speaking and Counseling page.

It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m Single. Now What?

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I know a lot of singles have a rough time today. I’m here for you. But let’s be honest, we can have tough times on average, nothing days, so it’s not that unusual. Oddly, Valentine’s Day has never been a trigger for me. Perhaps it’s my realistic (some call it cynical) nature that doesn’t think it’s that great for most couples either, or the fact that I love decorating for holidays, or the relief I feel in having absolutely no pressure to make someone else’s V-Day super special. Maybe it’s the fact that, other than one awkward day in junior high, I have always been single on Valentine’s Day, so I’m pretty used to it. I also got See’s Candies from my mum, flowers from a friend, and adorable little cardboard valentines from some students, so there’s that. 

I happen to have today off because of a 4 day President’s Day weekend, so I find myself with much more time to fill than usual on Valentine’s Day. So for my friends out there who are feeling a little more alone than usual, here’s how I’m dealing with it:

Step 1: Get some exercise. Shocking, I know, for a couch potato like me to suggest this, but it’s how I started my day. My exercise consisted of my last physical therapy session for my crappy back which was pretty much lots and lots of stretching. Lots. And lots. Of stretching. Anyway, instead of sleeping in and starting off slow like my insomniac body loves, it was a mood lifter to start with movement.

Step 2: Eat yummy food. On my way home from PT, I drove through the local Tom’s and treated myself to one of the yummiest breakfast burritos around. Tonight, mum and I will be grabbing our favorite kebab plates for take out, and I will finish off the bottle of wine I opened a couple nights ago, because I’m classy like that. And yes, there will be chocolate.

Step 3: Rest. I brought that burrito home and ate it on the couch while watching the cheer-leading thing on Netflix. This helped me rest and recover from PT before moving on to some chores, while reminding me how insane I think people that do athletics at that level are. So it was a win-win.

Step 4: Help someone else. After the burrito brunch, I did some house cleaning for my mum because she’s nicer than I am and is having lots of (mostly older, widowed, or divorced) people over tomorrow for a post-Valentine’s Day lunch. The windows haven’t looked this good in a long while. (Except for the ones that seem to be dirty between the double panes and impossible to reach? Those are beyond my skill level.)

Step 5: Do something creative. I have a short story deadline tomorrow for a project with which I’ve been helping, so I got that done today and sent off to the editor. Something about gospel care, suffering, and lament. After a couple months off from writing (sorry!) it was nice to get back to it.

Step 6: Spend some time with God. The story I was working on required some biblical research and prayer, so I was able to spend some time talking with God and reading his word. I was also able to spend a lot of the window washing time in prayer for my friends and family because my wireless speaker stopped working so I couldn’t listen to podcasts, so that worked out well.

Step 7: Avoid the interwebs. For some, it might be best to stay off social media so you don’t have to witness every couple on the planet shove their adorableness in your face via three different types of media. For others, like me, you might just need a break from the insanity that is Donald Trump and his ilk.

Step 8: If possible, spend at least some time with another person. I know this isn’t always possible. I lived alone for many years, so I get it. But if you can, spend at least some of this weekend around other people. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my mum tonight and watching “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” together. If you are alone and can’t find someone to hang out with, feel free to send me a note here and we’ll hang out in spirit.

Step 9: Hug a good doggo. Again, if you can. You might need to borrow a friend or neighbor’s pet for this. Or, if you’re not allergic like I sadly am, find an obliging kitty. Anyway, I’m getting lots of oxytocin hits by snuggling my old little puppy. He’s a gift.

Step 10: Don’t take it all so seriously. This goes for singles and couples alike. It’s just another day. And yes, it’s cool to have a day to express love for the people in our lives, but it’s not the only day we can do that so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t take all the happy couple photos too seriously either, it’s just one nice moment amongst the very hard work it takes every one of those people to make their relationships work. Props to them. Be silly. Wear pink or don’t. I currently have on a black t-shirt stating boldly “Books Not Bullets: march for our lives av”. (That made for a could-have-been awkward moment in PT this morning when the Air Force veteran was on the table next to mine. But we’re good. I thanked him for his service, he cracked some jokes about the stretches, and we were best buds by the time I had to go away to the leg press.) I do have hedgehogs with hearts socks on.

Step 11: Tell people you love them. But not just today. Tell them all the time. Tell your family and your friends. Tell God. Tell your pets. Tell anyone you love that you love them. Let them know. 

How do you get through Valentine’s Day (or any other time where singleness is a bit more obvious than others)? What are your plans? Oh, and dear readers, I love you.

The Danger of Treating Singleness Like It’s a Practice Round

Today I listened to a brief podcast about singleness and read a couple articles targeting singles. They were all biblically accurate, all well-meaning, and all left me with the same concern: there was a subtle but pervasive insinuation that the point of singleness is to help us practice for a godly married life.

I don’t think that was the goal of either message, in fact, I think the people involved in creating these pieces would firmly say that is not the point of singleness. And yet, there it is, woven into phrases like “when a single woman learns to submit to and honor authorities God has placed in her life, earthly marriage will simply be an easier transition that had she not.” It takes the good message of singleness not being a “holding station for marriage” and turns it into just that by using words like “this season” or phrases like viewing “these unique single years as “super years” to serve God.”

To many, these words and phrases may seem helpful or at least neutral, but they reveal the deep down belief that singleness is a temporary phase of life before marriage. And, in fact, all of the women who wrote the articles I read and spoke on the podcast I listened to are now married. They may commiserate with singles because they were single until the ripe old age of 29, but for them, singleness truly was just a season. 

Since many Christian men and women who struggle with their singleness will end up married, what’s the big deal about teaching like this? For many, it is a season that passes, it is a unique stage of life that can be seen as a special, separate moment. My concern is that all of these lessons are particularly targeting singles, especially ones who would like to be married someday. And unless you truly believe that God has promised a spouse for each and every reader and listener (he hasn’t) then we need to be a bit more careful in our use of language when discussing singleness. 

This might seem overly critical or nit-picky, but as a kid who grew up in the purity movement of evangelical churches, words like these, subtle, pervasive words, are what stay in our heads as we grow older. Words reveal what we really believe. It’s easy for a now-married man or woman to look back on singleness and remember their own struggles with it. But looking back on it from the lens of a currently married person might make you forget one thing: some of us will never marry. Even some of us who passionately wish to. It’s easy to look back and say hang in there, use your time well, serve hard in this special season, etc. But what about when that season is your entire life? What about when it is no longer “unique” but it is everything?

Be careful about the words you use to describe singleness because if you give off the feeling that it’s merely a practice round for real life, that will affect both how the singles around you view their lives and how you see them. Do you look at your own single life like it’s just a phase to get through before things get better? Do you look at your single friends like they aren’t quite there yet? Like they’re still not totally grown up? 

I appreciate when married pastors and speakers include singles in their sermons, podcasts, and blogs. It’s nice to be seen, included, and appreciated because we so often are overlooked. I don’t want to seem ungrateful about these messages, which do hold good truths, because of a word here and a phrase there. But these words and phrases reveal a bigger issue in the church, that we still view singleness as something to be got through and moved on from. And for many of us, this is just rubbing salt into an open wound.

For me, singleness is not a season; there is nothing unique about this part of my life. It just IS my life. It might not be what I would have chosen, but it is the life God has chosen for me, and many others like me. It is the life God chose for many of his disciples and for himself on earth. It is a good life, a full one, and not just practice for marriage. Stop seeing singles at the caterpillar, and start to see the butterfly already there.