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How To Be Single: 6 new ways to think about it

Blog

How To Be Single: 6 new ways to think about it

Christa Hesselink

Okay, yes. I know this is perfectly timed with Valentines week. And did you know there's a movie coming out this weekend called, "How To Be Single"?

Chances are you’ve seen dozens of articles about relationships in your news feed already.  If you’re single you’re drawn to posts about singleness. If you’re dating then you’re reading about great ideas to celebrate this weekend, and if you're married ... well, some of this washes right over you - this weekend might feel a whole lot like last weekend. 

I'd like to think this post is for us all.

Truth is, I’m a bit hesitant to add my voice to the mix – for these three reasons:

  • I’m not signing up to be the “poster-girl” for singleness. Trust me on this one. 
  • A lot of good stuff has already been written and out there – why clutter things?
  • I know a single post could never do justice for everything that could be said. I hate feeling misunderstood and I don't want to run the risk of being unhelpful.

But, that being said, I get asked to talk about this subject - a lot. Just last month I gave a couple of talks called, “The Rich Single Life: More than Hoping & Coping”.  It’s ironic really, because it’s a talk I would never go to myself. Weird, right?  I’m always a bit resistant to share, but over and over again, I’m told these thoughts are helpful.  I hope you agree.

Let me start by saying, I’m writing from MY perspective (I wrote about it here last week). I'm a single, never married, no children, 41 year old, straight woman (wow… that sounded like my dating profile). If I had been married before, my perspective would change. If I was younger or was a man, if I was gay or had children, my thoughts on this subject would likely be different. So, let's just acknowledge where we're coming from so we can better understand why we feel the way we do.

My 30 year old self would have crumbled in shock and shame if she knew that she had entered her 40's unmarried. But, oh how I wish I could have told my younger self about the perspective I hold now.

Crossing the Chasm

So, what am I learning about how to live a full, abundant life as a single person? The fact that we even question whether this is possible points to the chasm we need to cross on this whole subject.

Here are six ideas and questions that all of us (single and married alike) could be asking ourselves.

 

 Culture

We all want to fit in and to feel "normal" but normal is over-rated.

The dreamer and eccentric part of us would want to deny this, but let’s not fool ourselves.   In our culture, if something is out of the ordinary, we usually think there is something wrong with it – like it has a defect or something. Isn’t this why we have stigmas and marginalized groups of all kinds? When something doesn’t fit the mould, it’s not quite right.

Most people have never imagined themselves single for a reason.  When we were growing up, the conversation was never, “if you get married” but rather, “when you get married”. And it makes sense… marriage can be incredibly beautiful. In our culture (and Christian sub culture), being normal means being married.  Think about it for a minute.

The power of “normal” is very strong.

But the quest to “being normal” often comes at the expense of courage, creativity and calling. (wanna tweet this?) What if God’s best adventure for me is actually found in being single? I’m not saying it is, but wouldn’t I want this very best, even if it’s out of the ordinary? 

Question: What would it take for each of us (married and single alike) to see singleness as a gift just like marriage is?

Identity

We are more than our relational status. So. Much. More.

Sadly, I’ve spent far too many years seeing everything through the lens of being single. Bored on a Friday night? (It’s because I’m single). Working too many hours at work? (It’s because I’m single). Had to shovel my driveway? (It’s because I’m single).

Truth is, married people hate shoveling snow, get bored, and work too hard as well.  But when I start to see my life (and more importantly my limitations) through the lens of my relational status, I get myself into dangerous territory.

I’m not saying we deny the realities that come with being single - sometimes it's hard - but let’s not hijack happiness and fulfillment and damn ourselves into a pit when it’s not necessary.  The married folks among us have the same work to do on this front as well.

Question: How can we see ourselves for who we really are, rather than through the lens of our relational status?

Sex

Contrary to popular belief, we will not die if we don’t have sex.

I know. It’s a radical and subversive thought. There is not an ounce of evidence in our media that would support this claim and we've bought into the lie. 

But talk to a wounded or injured person who is unable to have intercourse, or the widow who’s single again after 40 beautiful years of marriage, or a religious person you respect who’s taken a vow of celibacy. They’ll tell you that their life still matters, and that they are thriving even though they are not having sex.

So here’s the thing - we can live without sex, but we can’t live without intimacy. There’s no doubt that sex can be a tremendously beautiful way to connect, and one could argue it is the most adequate way to bond and build intimacy with another person. But, it would be a lie if we said we couldn’t find rich connection with another person if we weren’t having sex with them.

 Check out one of my favourite quotes by Joyce Rupp:

“Kinship is a rich bondedness that calls forth to the deepest parts of ourselves. It is a mutuality of understanding, a sense of belonging, a union of spirits, a loving appreciation, and a deep communion which comes from having known experiences similar to the person with whom we are bonded.” 

Yes, sex is good and important, but it's not the litmus test for a full life. Do I personally want to experience the benefits of being in a beautiful, rich, steamy, healthy, sexual relationship with my partner – YES (for the record, I’m not a cold fish!). But, I’m reminded to put sex and intimacy in their proper place.

 Question: What is something I can do to build and form a rich bond of intimacy with someone else?

Loss & Longing

Your longing as a single person is significant, but not any more significant then the longings of the married folks around you.

The truth is, we do a pretty shitty job at dealing with loss and longing. We have very little cues in our culture that help us mourn well.  And that’s what we must do – we must mourn well if we want to live well.

Everyone of us should get in touch with the grief we feel over what we’ve lost; loss of a dream, loss of what you thought life would be like, loss of what will never be. This is the human experience, not an exclusive one reserved for those who are single. Ask any married person the acute feelings of loss associated with their "ideal dream" of marriage. 

 Getting close to these feelings is scary because it feels like a wave that will pummel you – it feels like your lungs will fill up with longing and drown you.

 I get it. I’ve had big loss in my life. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I need to walk into the darkness if I want to get to the light.  As I surrender to this loss and longing, I’ll begin to realize that I will be okay, in fact, I’ll be more in touch with what’s most important in life.

So get in touch with your longing - don't be afraid of it. Take some time and place these deep things in you within the deep heart of God. It's ironic really, because radical dependence on God feels like beautiful freedom.

Question:  The list of longings for every person is unique. Get to know someone and find out what they’ve “lost”. What is on their list and how does God want to use you in their life?

*I’ve written about loss, grief and longing before. I'd encourage you to check it out.

 Marriage

Being married won’t heal you. Being single won’t kill you. (…and all the married people said, “Amen!”)

I sometimes joke that when people want me to speak on the topic of singleness, they should get an unhappy married couple to talk rather than me.

I’m not speaking here as someone who has been married but one doesn’t have to look very hard to see that marriage isn’t the same type of fairy-tale that Disney would want us to believe. It can be a beautiful tale of partnership and growth, of trust and love (and those things have healing properties!), but marriage isn’t the zenith, the pinnacle establishment for our personal transformation and healing. That only comes from the intimate and organic relationship with God.

Let’s do these two things:

Question: How is my view of marriage helping or hurting myself and others?

Family

Let’s have an imagination and creativity for what family could look like.

 In the 21st century, the family unit is changing. Stats tells us that the "family" is not as it once was. 

In the Christian context, we often talk about spiritual family – the “Body of Christ” made up of men, women, married and single of all race and status. It's a beautiful inclusive community of brothers and sisters.

As a single women, with no children, and no siblings (my only brother Todd was killed in a car accident), “family” is a pretty hot topic for me.  My parents are such an important part of my life, but they can’t and shouldn’t carry the weight of what the role of family should play in my life. 

So who are my sisters and brothers? And how do we function together so that this true intimacy and companionship that we crave has the best chance to bloom and grow? This is a question I ask of myself and my friends a lot. And while I'm still searching for answers, I do hope that our imagination and creativity can lead to a beautiful new way of doing family – as married and single people together.

Imagine this (I almost can’t!):

  • Roommates not splitting up when one is getting married. Let the spouse move in!
  • Two adults (whether same-gender or not) committing to covenant together for life that is not a traditional marriage nor includes sexual intimacy.
  • Holiday traditions that blend the lines between blood relatives and bonded friends
  • Families and single people choosing to live more intentionally together. We call it “living in community”, but I’m just wondering if it can be called family.

These aren’t solutions for everyone, but perhaps a way of thinking that breaks the mold and helps us envision the possibilities of how spiritual family could be a beautiful landing place for us all.

 Question: Is there anything I can do to act more “familial” with people who are not currently in my immediate family unit? 

Final Thoughts

I know that there are going to be lots of people celebrating and lots of people struggling this weekend in both the single and married camps. I'd like to think that the abundantly satisfying life that Jesus talks about is actually for people who have walked down the aisle and those who haven't. If I'm married 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now or never at all, I'm betting the farm that my life is an adventure that is meant to be lived close to God all of those days - it's Life's Great Dare! I think yours is too.

This weekend is supposed to be about love. If the Hallmark train of pink and red drive you further away from loving yourself, loving God and loving others, then by all means, shut it out.  And if all the chocolates, roses and hearts pull you closer to love, then embrace it because: We all were made for love.