The Agony and the Ecstasy
Finding balance between extremes when you're single
There are two questions lobbed at me on a semi-regular basis concerning my singleness that amaze me in their utter oppositeness.
The first comes from people who meet me and learn that I'm a singles columnist and that I wrote a book about healthy, happy solo life. "Do you even want to get married?" they ask, a bit bewildered. As if a desire to make the most of this life phase equals an aversion to marriage.
The second comes from a few readers of these singles columns, especially the columns that center around coping with some of the lonely moments of singleness or about the desire for a spouse (or even a date!). "Why can't you just be happy in your singleness?" they ask—and sometimes scold. As if desiring to be in another season of life means I'm not enjoying my current one.
These two questions seem to pinpoint one of the main paradoxes of the single life—as well as most people's ignorance of that paradox. My answers to the questions above—"yes" and "I am!" respectively—seem contradictory to many folks. Is it possible to simultaneously love and lament the single life? Can I really revel in this season of life all the while wishing it would end soon? Somehow, I've discovered that the answer is yes. And therein lies one of the strangest ironies of singledom.
As vexing as it can be at times, I'm glad this irony's true. There's freedom in embracing singleness in all its complexities. Besides, life at either end of the continuum would be bleak at best.
A life of loving all things single and eschewing all things matrimonial would be a life of denial for most of us. Now, for the chosen few who feel truly called to the solo life, that's great. But for the majority of us, singleness is more of a surprise reality than a spiritual calling. And for us to feign disinterest in marriage is usually an issue of pride. At least it was for me in the past. I'll admit, time was when it felt pathetic to 'fes up to my longing for a spouse. I feared coming across as a one-dimensional female on a hubby-hunt, or being taken less seriously—specially in professional circles where ambitions are supposed to center around promotions instead of proposals.
But when I realized this line of thinking was more about my pride than anything else, I began to get more honest—with myself and others. Yes, I'd like to get married (there, I said it!). Also, when I keep in mind that soon after God created us humans he realized it wasn't good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and when I remember we're made by our Creator to be in relationship, to love and be loved and to know and be known, then I realize this desire to share my life with someone is natural. And God-given. And who can argue with that reasoning?
Conversely, a life of longing for all things matrimonial and loathing all things single is equally unhealthy. It looks nothing like the abundant life Jesus said he came to earth for us to have (John 10:10), and it doesn't engage the gifts each of us was given with the hopes we would use them to bless others and glorify God. Living with this extreme thinking makes it all too easy to allow marriage to become a holy grail of sorts, the thing that will finally win us satisfaction, joy, direction in life, and a better self-image. But the Bible's pretty clear about where those things are supposed to come from if they're to be lasting and healthy (hint: it doesn't involve walking down an aisle).
So we're left trying to carve out a successful single life somewhere between these two extremes. Using our more flexible schedule to play with all the little cuties in our church's nursery every other week, secretly picking out the kid we wish was ours and yet gratefully going home to our silent apartment at the end of the morning. Enjoying the freedom to have a breadth of friendships with the opposite sex, yet wishing for just one special person to do life with. Packing our bags to take advantage of a last-minute travel deal to visit friends across the country, all the while wishing for a special traveling companion to elbow sometime in the future and say, "Remember when we just took off to visit Joe and Karen in Phoenix at the spur of the moment?"
It's the way on Friday nights when I have no plans, I enact my favorite Me-Night scenario by popping over to my neighborhood Blockbuster, grabbing a subtitled foreign flick, calling Macaroni Grill from the parking lot to place an order for my favorite salad, picking it up from their curbside to-go parking spots (where the attendant practically knows me by name), going home and changing into comfy clothes, then settling in for an evening of cultural entertainment and culinary delight. All the while I have an absolute blast, and yet every now and then I silently wish for someone to share that meal with or to curl up on the couch with during the flick (even if that meant a more violent pick on occasion).
I think living somewhere between the extremes takes courage and creativity. It requires moments of honesty and vulnerability about our unmet desires, and produces other moments of sheer, living-in-the-moment fun. Some days it takes friends who remind us of what's great about this season, and on other days friends who remind us of the good that's yet to come. It blesses us with the knowledge that longing and joy aren't mutually exclusive. And always it involves liberal doses of God's grace and strength.
For those of us who believe in that God, that grace, and a place that awaits us at the end of this life where there's no more pain, fear, confusion, frustration, loneliness, sickness, or war, should already be acquainted with that precarious balance of longing for what's to come while trying to make the most of what is. Because at the end of the day, at the end of this life, we're all longing for a season that's yet to come.
Written by Camerin Courtney
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