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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 – Celebrate with Friends and Family

So it happened; a few days ago I turned the Big 4-0. And I’ve got to be honest, it’s been pretty awesome. I’ve never been someone who shies away from my age or dreads birthdays, so it’s not a huge surprise to me that I enjoyed turning 40 immensely. But now, a couple weeks later, I still feel a sense of peace and joy wash over me whenever I remember I’m 40 now. I wasn’t expecting that.

So how did I, the perpetually single, childless, celibate, poor, awkward spinster, get to this place of incredible contentment while entering into middle age? I’m taking this week to write a series on 5 tips for singles to grow older with joy and hope, with 1 tip per day.

Tip 1: Celebrate with Friends and Family

Many men and women don’t enjoy their birthdays. For some, the thought of growing older each year is terrifying, others don’t want to make a big deal out of it or have attention on themselves, while others feel they don’t have close friends or family with whom to celebrate. We can choose to look at birthdays as reminders of our mortality, or like me, see them more like merit badges. Each year, I’m like “stick that new year onto my age, I earned that sucker!”

Part of rejoicing in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) is learning how to rejoice in what he’s done in our lives. Each new year of life gives us another opportunity to rejoice in him. Even if it’s been a tough year, the fact that he got us through it is enough to celebrate. So, find a way to rejoice that works for you, but I encourage you to include others. Some years, my birthday is marked by a small immediate family dinner at home with a cake made by my mum. Every once in awhile I’m out of the state or country on my birthday, so celebrate with one or two other people who happen to be near. Other years, the whole month is filled with lunches, dinners, coffees, and mini-celebrations here and there as I touch base with friends as we come and go in the middle of summer. And other years, like this one, I get to have a huge birthday bash.

No matter what, I try my best to celebrate with friends and family. To thank God for being with me through yet another year, and for giving me the gift of a new one written for me, though yet unseen. Because I am prone to depression and cynicism, these moments of planned rejoicing are even more important – they force me to stop and give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:18).

ProTip:

If you’re a perpetually single man or woman who is about to get a little older than you’d like, my suggestion to you is to celebrate the heck out of it. Give thanks God got you through another year. Add that year on and wear it with honor.

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

Below I’ll share the rest of this series of posts as they’re published.
Tip 2: Reassess Your Priorities
Tip 3: Recognize Celibacy as Worship
Tip 4: Embrace Having Nothing to Prove
Tip 5: Trust God with your Future

A Very Potter Birthday

What is the best way to turn 40? With a surprise Harry Potter party thrown by your best friends and family, of course! And yes, I really was surprised.

Some backstory: several years ago, after it became apparent that there was a likelihood my singleness may be a permanent state rather than a “season of life,” I developed a plan. If I didn’t get married and do the whole wedding/reception with all the friends and family thing, I’d throw a huge 40th birthday party. But not just any party, I planned to rent out the Great Hall of the world’s best Harry Potter store, Whimsic Alley on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, and have an adults only Potterfest worthy of J.K. Rowling herself. A Pinterest board was created. Research into costs and options was done. Friends and family were told.

And then, shortly after my 39th birthday, Whimsic Alley closed its doors for good. My sister and I pondered other venues, but nothing remotely affordable was even close. I decided that I’d rather just have a small family thing at home, and go out for coffee or lunch with friends throughout my birth month.

Fast-forward to July, 2018, and I was happily getting together with old friends for lunches here and there, and going to Las Vegas for a weekend with two of my best friends. Very content with my 40th birth month so far, I was supposed to go out the Saturday before my birthday for a sister night; she had something planned but wouldn’t tell me.

The day before, she called and told me the time to be ready, and that I should wear my Harry Potter swag and bring one of my wands. Now, for a lot of people this might seem like an odd request, but in our family it’s actually not that weird at all. We are one geeky brood. Check out my sister’s blog, my oldest brother’s blog, and my youngest brother’s art for further evidence. I figured she was taking me to a rooftop movie screening of HP, an HP themed puzzle room, or maybe even Wizarding World for the night.

So that afternoon, I put on my Hot Topic Harry Potter Great Hall Dress, “Books Turn Muggles into Wizards” necklace, golden snitch bracelet, and Hedwig earrings, chose one of my three wands, and hopped in my sister’s car. We headed to one of our favorite spots to eat, Little Osaka (Sawtelle Japantown). She then said we were going to meet two of my friends at my LA home church parking lot because they were coming with us. This seemed logical to me, as meeting in that parking lot was something we’d done many times when I still lived in West LA. Once at the church, the sis said she needed to use the bathroom, so we headed through the only door that appeared to be unlocked and up the stairs to encounter a “brick wall” over the door way.

I was stunned. It finally clicked that we weren’t here to pick up friends or use the bathroom, but that behind this curtain would be some sort of surprise party for me. But I honestly hadn’t seen it coming! I’d come to terms with the fact that my dream party wouldn’t happen, had accepted it, and moved on. Then I walked through the brick wall reminiscent of the entrance to Diagon Alley, and there was the entire Great Hall of Hogwarts laid out before me, and almost 40 of my friends screaming “Surprise!”

It was overwhelming, still is actually. The amount of work and creativity they put into transforming a room in a church to a banquet hall, the months of planning without me catching even a hint, the love and care put into this one night still blows my mind.

The Platform 9 ¾ photo booth. The butterbeer, firewhiskey, and smoking punch. The house themed tables, banners, and house gemstones (with Ravenclaw in the lead, of course!). The portraits of witches and wizards on the walls. The props and decorations and food. It was all perfect.

On a table to the side sat the most beautiful birthday cake I’ve ever gotten, made by one of my best friends, a brilliant pastry chef. It was also freakin’ delicious.

Moaning Myrtle even made an appearance in the ladies’ bathroom.

And, just like I’d dreamt, friends from many different aspects of my life joined together to hang out for one night – from my current town, from my old West LA life, family, roommates, dear friends from ministries past, my writer’s group, grad school, and childhood. Some who had never read the HP books or seen the movies still came and posed in the photo booth with beards and wands and a fabulous Hedwig balloon. Many came in full costume (my mom was seriously the cutest Molly Weasley ever) or Potterbounded.

It was my dream party even after I thought that dream was put aside. It was the best way to enter my forties – with love, joy, and whimsy.

The Traditions of Single Friendship

Last weekend, two of my best friends swept me off to Las Vegas for an early birthday weekend. They do this every couple of years, braving the immense heat of July to drink mojitos poolside, play penny slots and quarter roulette, eat incredible food at nice restaurants, see shows, and get beef jerky at Alien Jerky in Baker on the way there or back. This time we even stopped by a geeky haven called Rogue Toys on our way out so that I could pick up some 1980’s swag.

I do not deserve friends like these. I’m not just saying that – I seriously don’t deserve them. But that’s the incredible thing about true friendship, it doesn’t matter. You see, the three of us have gone through over a decade of being continually single adults together. We’ve done grad school together, and post grad life. We’ve helped each other move, well, mostly they’ve helped me move repeatedly. We’ve tried online dating together and given up on it all. We’ve supported each other through career changes and church searches, through family crises and joys. For better or worse, they are stuck with me.

And, over the years, our friendship has created its own traditions. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, we binge watch shows like “Stranger Things” and “MST3K,” we try new restaurants, and we text silly memes and cartoons. I used to do my taxes at their condo until we switched systems. We even travelled Japan together. We constantly pray for each other and ask for prayer. And all of this with us only living in the same area for 1 year of our friendship.

Single friendships, just like married ones, need traditions. Traditions help us mark time, celebrate, lament, and experience stability. Since we singletons often move frequently and experience upheaval as jobs, cities, and churches change having some traditions on which we can rely helps us feel settled. We don’t go home to the same person each night. We don’t have spouses and children which remain constants when everything else is new. But we can have loyal friendships to anchor us.

I’m not saying friendships like this one won’t change. There is every possibility that these two amazing men will each fall in love and marry their respective dream girls. Or not. Who knows but God, really. They may move out of the state or country. Or I might. The outside things in our lives might change so much that our traditions will have to stop. Because I am well aware of this, and have experienced it with other friendships, I value these moments even more. They are precious. They help me feel known and seen and valued.

I pray that every single person has friendships in their lives which help them grow into the best versions of themselves. Friends who will call them out when they need it, walk alongside them when things are bad, laugh and smile with them when things are great, and pray for them always. Married people probably need this too.

So thank you to the friends in my life, for I have been blessed by a few loyal, wise, hilarious, gifted, challenging, and kind ones. Thank you for developing traditions with me – for book clubs, and writing groups, for going out to the good Korean BBQ and the cheap sushi, for texting me when you can’t sleep and praying for me when I’m down, for bringing me wonton soup when I’m sick and letting me crash in your guest rooms or on your couches. Thank you for letting me become part of your families, for encouraging my friendship with your spouses and children, for making me honorary auntie or godparent. Thank you for holding me accountable in ministry and writing, and for encouraging my faith to grow. Thank you for geeking out with me at late night rooftop movies and trips to Wonder Con. As the Golden Girls said it best, “thank you for being a friend / traveled down a road and back again / your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.”

A Spinster Forgets How To Small Talk

I’ve forgotten how to small talk. The realization of this hit me on Saturday night, as I sat on the deck of a sailboat smooshed together with LA friends, people I had met a couple times years ago, and people I never met and was not introduced to. While social situations in which I don’t know people have always stressed me out, I used to be quite good at them. At least I think I was. But there I was, sitting there wracking my brain for things to say to the guy next to me and coming up with nothing. No statements. No questions. Nothing.

In that moment, I realized that I don’t really hang out with people other than my family any more. I have lost the ability to do the small talking and the meeting and the socializing. And most people around me seem to do the same. Is it my age? Is it the more suburban desert life instead of a city one? Is it because I was working 4 jobs for a couple months so was just wiped out when I got home? Have I become antisocial? Like most things, it’s probably a combination of all the above.

Age is definitely a factor. I lived my late 20s-30s in Los Angeles, and in the city those are peak single years so it’s not difficult to eventually end up surrounded by other singles close to that age. And we lived life together. Our families were all in other cities, so we relied upon each other. My church was young and fostered this connection as if its life depended upon it, which I suppose it did. So, awkwardly and with a lot of effort, we created a little community of weird singles which grew as some of us dated, married, and/or had babies.

But the step after that is a hard one, as many of us moved away at that point. Even this weekend’s event was a going away party for one such couple. I stayed at another dear friend’s apartment, like always, only this time there were boxes and boxes against the walls as they too are starting to pack for their upcoming move. The city life is often a transient one. That age has passed.

Starting over again at almost 40 has been a bit more difficult socially. I’m still single. But I’m not 28. And in this suburbanish desert town, most Christians marry young, or at least younger than in LA. And the couples my age or older have teenage kids, and are incredibly busy. Everyone is so busy with activities – but not “hang out” activities. No one invites me over for dinner, or to grocery shop together, or to watch Netflix, or grab lunch after church. It’s a rather insulated city – people with houses and yards instead of tiny apartments where shared space is required for sanity.

Photo by Don Lee

In LA, very few of us had yards, so we’d all congregate in that one friend’s backyard for every birthday, holiday, or event. We’d squish 20 people into tiny apartments without a thought. We’d share space, air conditioning, Netflix, parking, storage, everything. Here, everyone is with their families, in their own homes, with their own garages and air conditioning and built in friends of husbands and kids. I am almost always with my family here as well, which is beautiful and special. So yes, age and the suburban lifestyle have definitely affected my ability to make new friends.

The general busy pace of life has also been isolating. Which is odd, because I’m actually working much less than I ever did in the higher pressure jobs I held before. We were incredibly busy, but somehow we figured out how to be busy together. Every Wednesday, I’d meet the girls for happy hour after work. We’d go to each other’s apartments to grade together. We walked to lunch after church together. We had Bible study in the same apartment for years, and ended up there so often it became a second home. Sometimes we even went grocery shopping together. Somehow the fact that we were all ridiculously busy never stopped us from hanging out – we just rolled each other into our day to day activities so much that it became our natural way of living.

Here, I go to work, come home and have dinner and watch TV with my mom, which has been quite lovely to be honest. But that’s pretty much every single week day. To be fair, I’ve been pretty exhausted at the end of the day lately because of the multiple jobs and also I was ill, but in my previous life that wouldn’t have stopped community. Friends would have just come over anyway. If I was sick, they’d stop by to bring me soup. If I was busy, they’d come be busy with me. If I was tired, they’d set me up on their couch in front of Gilmore Girls reruns, and put food and drink in my hand.

But here, I can be autonomous – I can let my family take care of me and not need anyone else. And since not one single person from my new church has ever invited me to go to lunch after service, or over for dinner, I haven’t bothered to reach out either. I don’t need them as much with my family right here. And I guess they don’t need me. So that makes it harder to bother.

That leaves the question, have I become antisocial? And I guess I have, at least a little bit. Starting the making friends thing all over again when I’m turning 40 in a month is unpleasant. Apparently I’m too young for the 50 year old couples in my Sunday School class to bother with me outside of Sunday morning. And I’m too old for the singles groups (thank God! I never did like singles groups). Because I know I either need to keep trying group after group after group to see if one may fit better or I just have to throw myself into the one I’m in now and do all the work of brazenly inviting myself into their lives, I’ve opted for just not having many friends here. Just sticking with my family and my one old friend.

Because of this, I haven’t gone to an actual party in ages. I haven’t showed up at a friend’s place to see a ton of faces I don’t recognize. There have been no happy hours or kick-backs or store runs or World Cup watching get togethers. And I think I’ve become happily comfortable in my anti-social life. It’s less tiring. Less work. And involves very little small talk.

But on the boat Saturday night, looking around at everyone else chatting away as I sat there silent for the moment, the thought struck me that maybe I’ve grown too self-focused through this isolation. I’ve got a lot to think about. But I think it might be time for me to try out the 30-somethings group at church even though I’ll be the oldest person there. It might be time for me to put in a bit more effort to becoming part of the community outside of my family. It might be time for me to brush up on my small talk.