In the last post I wrote about single people thriving rather than just surviving. That begs the question, What makes it hard to survive and/or thrive?
So I want to spend the next two posts talking about what makes it hard to be single. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend the whole blog series whining about it. I just think it’s good to articulate the problems before we discuss some potential solutions.
In this post we’ll unpack why it’s hard to be single in general, and in the next post I’ll talk about about 5 reasons why it’s hard to be single in the context of the church.
Let me start by acknowledging that marriage is hard, too. I’m not saying that singleness is harder than marriage. I’m not trying to persuade people that single people deserve more sympathy than anyone else. Not at all. I just think that being single is hard for different reasons, and I think it’s worth delving into what those reasons are.
1)Singleness is challenging because singles are called “unmarried.”
When we refer to single people as “unmarried,” all of a sudden, single people are defined by an event that hasn’t happened to them yet. (Or, in the case of divorced individuals, a previous event that isn’t true of them now.)
When we call singles “unmarried,” it implies an absence of marriage, which makes being single seem inferior to being married.
If you’re still on the fence about whether this is true, think about calling women “unmen” or Asian people “unwhite” or living people “unburied” or students “unalumni.”
2)Being single implies that you’ve made a mistake.
This is evidenced by the number of people who ask me, “Why aren’t you married?”
What am I supposed to say? Are you asking me to tell you a deep hidden flaw that drives men away when they get to know me well enough? Are you asking me to retrace my steps in past relationships and find the mistake I made that thwarted a walk down the aisle?
Why am I single? I don’t know. Because I am.
3)Singleness is challenging because it makes you more vulnerable to personal questions.
It seems that we treat marriages with a privacy that is not extended to single peoples’ personal lives. (For instance, everyone asking single people “Why aren’t you married yet?”)
If we walked around challenging married people’s choices, asking “Why did you marry that guy?” or “Why did you get married so young?”, it would be unhelpful, rude and intrusive.
Just like you can’t make all married people accountable to you for their romantic choices, please don’t make single people accountable to you for their past romantic choices either.
4)Singleness is challenging because society is a “bicycle built for two.”
Look around at restaurants, hotel rooms, perfume commercials, sports cars, formal invitations and, well, lots of other things, and you’ll see that most things are designed for couples because we idolize romance.
In the history of romantic comedies, I don’t know of one that ends up with the hero (or heroine) winning the day because they got out of a relationship and went their own way. And even though RomComs are convincing, if you look at the personal lives of the script writers and actors, you’ll see that reality doesn’t match up with our romantic fantasies.
And yet, these romantic ideals persist.
I’ve checked into hotel rooms, eaten in restaurants and attended weddings by myself and, yes, sometimes it feels a little lonely. Not just because I wish I had someone to share the experience with, but also because I feel that the people around me are embarrassed for me or think less of me because I’m not a card-carrying member of coupledom.
When the hostess gives me a confused look when I ask for a table for one, or when the server makes a beeline to my table and gives me a look of pity as he removes the second place setting, I fight the urge to say, “Hey! At least I got to pick the restaurant, and I don’t have to make conversation with a dinner partner for two hours — and no one forgot my anniversary or bought me a disappointing Valentine’s Day gift last year.”
I could quote the statistic that 51% of adults in the U.S. are single, but somehow statistics aren’t as satisfying as bragging rights.
5)Being single is (sometimes) exhausting.
I know — I don’t have small children waking me up in the middle of the night, and I probably take more vacations than most couples because I have more free time and disposable income. So I’m the very last person on the planet who should be bringing up exhaustion, right?
But when I say “exhaustion,” I’m not just talking about sleep deprivation (although people who sleep alone do have higher rates of insomnia than people who sleep with a partner.) I’m mostly talking about the emotional cost of singleness.
For instance, I have to make big decisions by myself — I don’t have a partner to walk through the decision-making process with me, and I don’t have anyone to share the responsibility/blame of that decision with. I purchased a house by myself. I own it. The mortgage rests squarely on my shoulders. If something goes wrong, I have to figure it out (and pay for it.) I have to decide how long to keep it, and when to sell it, etc.
And I have to do everything myself — “divide and conquer” doesn’t apply to me. If there’s a list of chores or errands, I don’t have a partner to delegate to.
Also, first dates. (If you’re reading this and you’re single, you just groaned, right?)
Because you can only go on so many first dates and make small talk about the same topics until you’re ready to tap out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered questions like, “What was your longest relationship? If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring with you? What celebrity would you pick to play you in a movie?”
One guy even asked me if I liked toilet paper to go over the top of the roll or under it. You have GOT to be kidding me.
On a deeper note, singleness is exhausting because I don’t have anyone to serve me when I need it most. To be sure, singleness is a huge blessing. I am free to travel and write and speak and engage with people in a way I couldn’t if I was married or had kids. But to every upside there’s a downside. (Just like with parents — having children is a precious blessing, but that blessing comes with big sacrifices.)
A few months ago, I got back from a whirlwind of speaking engagements. After schlepping through hotels, rental car agencies, airports and three different time zones, I got back to my apartment and climbed into bed with my clothes on. When I woke up the next day, I was so tired I couldn’t even think about getting out of bed.
I hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours. Jesus, I’m going to starve to death, I whispered.
My pastor called me and asked if I needed anything.
I started crying. “Soup,” I told her. “I just need someone to bring me soup.”
These are, in my opinion, 5 of the top reasons it’s hard to be single. But I’m curious! If you’re single, what challenges have you faced in the past? If you’re not single, what questions or comments do you have?
And stay tuned for the next post….singleness in the church.