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5 reasons why it’s hard to be single

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thanks for sharing!

40 thoughts on “5 reasons why it’s hard to be single

  1. Thank you for clearly describing this. I can definitely relate to #2 and 5. I really dislike having to make all the decisions myself, yet I’ve never connected it with exhaustion…but it totally makes sense! Thank you!! I’ve been talking about singleness in the church with some church leadership lately, so I’m really looking forward to reading the next post!

  2. THANK YOU! You just gave voice to everything I’ve ever thought but been unable to articulate! Yes, yes, and yes. And if only I’d kept a list with notes of every first date I’ve ever had because I’m about to write a book about them. I think we both went out with Toilet Paper Dude, or else there’s way too many of them out there than we care to admit. Thank you for this post!

  3. I know it’s a great post on singleness when I go “you too?! I thought I was the only one!” thanks for sharing your story. I so relate on being the ‘head of household’. Tax season sends me into anxiety, and if I have to go to a meeting at the bank, I have been known to take my sister with me. I’m responsible for trash AND laundry. If I make something nice for dinner, I do the dishes. I have fixed a dryer belt, a leaky sink, and a sulky furnace. I go to the office every day, and still come home and feel bad because I haven’t had time to make that decorative project for christmas.

    It’s a strange, strange land, and there are not many trustworthy guides!

    1. Haha — yes! I had to look on youtube to find out how to fix a leaky toilet :) Hope we can continue this conversation as the blog series continues.

  4. thanks for your article. For me, being single is toughest around the holidays. Not that I don’t love the celebration of Christmas and Thanksgiving, but as a single person, I have no traditions. Do I go be with my parents? my brother’s family? my friends? celebrate alone? That being said – I do get quite a few invitations, especially for Thanksgiving, which I am grateful — but I miss having my own family to make our own plans and doing decorations and the like.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sue. Not having traditions is an interesting observation that I hadn’t thought of before. Good luck as you navigate these issues. Hope you find peace and joy no matter how (or with whom) you celebrate the holidays.

  5. I’m amazed how many men think I don’t WANT to be married. They conclude this b/c I appear to really like my work. I don’t have a single girlfriend who doesn’t want to be a mom. That wud be like me concluding that a man who is 25 or 30 and still single does not want to have sex. I don’t have a ssinglemale friend, straight, gay and everything in between who does not want to have sex.

  6. I am not single. I hear you, and I need to keep some of these things in my mind as I interact with and prayer for single friends.

    But, while I am married, I married (unknowingly) a man with ADHD. Some of those things you mentioned I could relate to or easily alter to fit my situation. Like #2: Being unhappily married implies you’ve made a mistake. If you complain about how rough it is (anonymously, on the Internet), people will say, “Well, why did you marry him?” (that relates to #3 — people may not say that to your face, but they will say it). I married him because I didn’t know what the future would hold. I saw that he was a little forgetful, which I thought was cute and funny. I saw his good qualities — his intelligence, his sense of humor, his playfulness, his friendliness. Those are still there. We had no idea he had ADHD; I had no idea how difficult that would make our marriage. In fact, until our child was born about seven years into our marriage, I would have told you we had a good marriage with occasional rough patches. Once I REALLY needed him, when our parenting years started, that’s when things took a serious turn for the worse. Which brings me to point #5. My particular ADHD husband is nowhere near as bad as they come, so actually does do some things (like shoveling snow or fixing a sudden, serious leak) that I don’t have the skill or strength to do. I do know that I benefit from that. And he does work most of the time and contribute to the bills. But because his life is dominated by whatever is shiny at the moment, and because he can’t (or won’t) deal with many of the tedious things of daily life, that exhausting life you described is not so very different than mine. Our child is struggling with something right now, but because he never established a relationship with her and because things tend to fall to me by default, I’m pretty much walking this road alone. He will occasionally ask me for an update on the situation or weigh in with advice (which I confess I resent a little, because it is more or less “drive by” advice — he’s not walking through the situation by my side, he just sort of pops into it, delivers his advice, and then leaves me alone to carry out what he thinks is right). I come home from work and do the vast majority of the housework, errands and parenting. I cannot even count on him to do the things he promises he’ll do. Maybe he’ll make dinner when he said he would, but maybe not (there are so many times when I wish someone would call, and I, too, would say “Bring me some soup.”). Maybe he’ll do the dishes… if he feels like it. He leaves many projects in a “workable but not completely finished” situation. So, I’m married, but I’m very much alone for much of our marriage. And, yes, I do tables for one sometimes, too. I know the world is made for couples, and my heart aches, too, because so often I feel very lonely in this marriage.

    The things is, while I’ve painted a negative picture, I think I’ve focused too much on the negative. He’s not THAT bad. He doesn’t cheat; he’s not angry or abusive. Sometimes he takes me out on dates. I usually get a hug, a kiss, maybe a back rub during the day. Sometimes he texts me “I love you.” That’s more than many women get. But what I yearn for is a true partner, not someone who is more absent than he is present. I don’t feel truly loved. I think he enjoys having me around when he is at home. That’s not real love.

    I don’t mean to discount your singleness. I know it brings a lot of pain. But for some of us, the pain resurfaces during the married years, and feel almost as if we were single, too. Not quite, but almost.

    God bless you.

  7. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. I’m tired of filling out forms that require my marital status and seeing divorced as an option. Why do I have to define myself by an event that happened 20 years ago? I’ve stopped checking divorced because I’m simply single. I love the value of story and sharing life experiences with others. But I no longer feel it necessary to share my story with forms, who aren’t really listening anyway.

  8. Amen. I love your honesty and your heart. As a 42-year old, single woman in full-time ministry that involves a lot of travel, I can relate to every point. I suggest an interesting movie called “Washington Square.” It breaks the typical romcom formula and is quite thought provoking.

  9. Hi Sarah! I love your blog and your thoughts on singleness. So true and so well spoken. I didn’t get married until I was 39 and I struggled so much with being single. I wish I had been more patient, took a deep breath, and ENJOYED more of my single life. I do love being married and my husband is a blessing! But looking back on my single years – I had the BEST girlfriends in the world and life was good, despite my unfulfilled desire. A lot of time I felt ashamed because no man had “chosen” me. That was such a lie. I was “chosen” from the moment I was conceived. Anyway – thank you for sharing your perspective. God Bless!!!

  10. For me, the hardest part of being single is the uncertainty of what my future will look like. (And yes, I know… no one knows with 100% certainty what their future holds. I get that.) But, I’m 29 and definitely have a strong desire to be married and have children, but obviously I don’t know if that will happen or not. And so I live in this tension where I long for that future but also try to keep the longing in check because I don’t know if it will ever be fulfilled. The thing is, I know that if I don’t get married and/or don’t become a mom, I will be ok, and my life will still be full and rich and blessed. But it would be so much easier if, right now, I just knew whether marriage was going to happen or not. If I knew for a fact it wasn’t going to happen, then I could just mourn that, get used to it and then get on with my life, pursuing all the other ways that I’d have a meaningful life without my own family. But instead I feel like I’m pursuing 2 potential futures simultaneously: I’m actively praying for, preparing for and looking for a husband, but in the back of my mind I’m also preparing contingency plans for lifelong singleness.

  11. It doesn’t make it any more acceptable that singles are asked rude questions, but I think women in general are asked questions that men wouldn’t be asked. When I was young and expecting a child with other small children in tow, I was repeatedly asked, “Don’t you know what causes that?” Older men( always it seemed with large pot bellies) frequently, laughingly asked, “When are those twins coming?” in reference to the size of my pregnant belly. I was at my class reunion recently where the women with young children were pitied yet the man with a toddler was congratulated with guffaws as if to say, “Way to go, buddy! You’ve still got it!” This isn’t meant to be a feminist rant; it’s a let’s be thoughtful and decent rant. Doesn’t matter if a person is single, married, male, female, old, young: tact, courtesy, and love rule.

  12. Laura, that is the perfect description! – simultaneously preparing for two potential futures. Emotional exhaustion is a huge problem and that just adds to the emotional stress. Whether I am consciously thinking about it or not, I am always carrying around with me the possibility of two very different futures and that can be very weighty at times. I am a medical professional and have been going through job changes recently and it would be amazing to have somebody to bounce ideas and work through things with- to plan together. Should I buy this practice or look somewhere else? If I had kids one day x,y,z would be really great, but should I be making my decisions based on that future? As a permanently single person, the decision tree would be vastly different. Instead the entire weight of everything is on me to manage everything and keep myself together. If something goes wrong at work I have to figure out how to work through it emotionally on my own. At least knowing that singleness was a permanent state would give focus.

  13. Hi Sarah-these points really resonated with me. I have to add that as a single I don’t feel I have more disposable income than the married couples I know-far less, actually. I don’t know when I’ll ever own my own home; living in someone else’s basement suite has become tiresome. I don’t come close to being able to buy a home, and a reason I hope to be married is to have someone else to share this ‘burden’ with me.

  14. Well many women out there are very much to Blame why there are so many of us Good single men today that would’ve been settled down by now had we been Blessed from the very beginning since many of us are Not single by choice.

    1. Hi, Carl. I’ll ask you the same questions I asked Paul. I’m wondering….what are you hoping to accomplish by blaming women? How does that help you? How does that get you closer to obtaining the relationship you desire?

      Sarah

  15. Well the real reason why i BLAME the women for my singleness today is that with many women that now have their CAREERS today are so very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, and so very money hungry which really speaks for itself. Many women today that make a very high SALARY will never go with a man that makes much LESS money than they do, and GOD forbid if they really did which would be a miracle unless they really Love the man for who he really is. Most women today prefer to go with a man that makes a lot of money like they do since as you can see that i am RIGHT with my comment which i am sure many other men will certainly agree with me as well now that the times over the years have really CHANGED since the GOOD old days when BOTH men and women really had to STRUGGLE to make ends meat since BOTH men and women hardly had any Money at all which many of them were living with their parents at that time. MOST women now i would say do want the BEST and they will NEVER settle for LESS which is very sad how women today are so much DIFFERENT than they were back then. Our family members were very EXTREMELY FORTUNATE back then finding LOVE since it really came very EASY for them at that time. Now with so many of us GOOD SINGLE MEN out there really looking for LOVE you can really see how very DIFFICULT it is for us which many of us are certainly NOT SINGLE by choice which even many of us by now could’ve been all SETTLED down by now had we been born many years EARLIER.

    1. My encouragement to you would be to focus on yourself for now. None of us is perfect. So…what can you work on, what can you do, what can you try, to be the best version of yourself? And trust that when it’s time, God will lead you to a woman who’s done a similar process and is on the way to becoming the best version of herself, too. Bitterness and blame won’t get you far.

    2. Bitter much? Women work because (a) they want to or (b) they have to. So I am to live with my parents and have them to continue to provide for me, even though I’m in my late 30’s?

      1. Hi, Melissa. Thanks for writing. I’m not sure how to respond to your comment. What does “bitter much” mean?

        Sarah

  16. Amen to number 5. Many married people do not realize how stressful it is to be a sole bread winner, and to be left with all the big decisions and budgeting out “adult” expenses.

  17. I am 69 and twice widowed, an active member of my church but I have been treated differently as a single. I sit alone in worship. I hate going to a church fellowship because I never know where I can sit and visit. The couples all collect to together. And yes my dear married friends seem to protect their husbands like I am after another man. Face it churches promote marriage and family not widowed singles. They do not help me feel good about being single. I see nothing better about my life. While I do not wish to date or remarry…I wish churchs could help us feel like there is something positive about singleness aside from nursery duty and casseroles for funerals. Being a single and Christian is not held in high regard by Christians.

  18. I’ve decided to make my decisions as a single person. If that changes I can make new decisions but I’m not going to put my life on hold for a future that may never happen. I want marriage and children but I’ve decided either way I want to take in foster kids. I’m at uni studying for a career I might not work in for long if I end up a stay at home mum but I’m still studying it anyway because I’m not waiting on a future that’s not certain.

    1. Katharine — I think your plan is so wise. I have made the same choice to live my life as it is now, without waiting for some possible marital status change in the future. Blessings to you!
      Sarah

  19. Is not easy been single so many question to answer some don’t even see reasons why u are still single especially if u we’re ones married. but I have really learnt a lot from your lecture I love it and will start focused.

  20. Very good piece!

    I would add at least ONE mundane thing: being single at the grocery store and having to use a restroom–no one to “watch the cart,” so to speak. Perhaps any number of such activities where something is much easier/non-complicated for having someone else along with you, where as a single person doing whatever it is alone, there’s a certain awkwardness.

    1. Yes, that’s very true. I run into that all the time at the airport….there’s no one to watch my bag for me so I end up schlepping it all with me into the bathroom.

  21. Great article.
    It’s tough. God gives me a heart for true relationships but being single makes it near impossible to have any within the church. If a woman is married, then I’m a second choice (to her husband) for time spent, if she has children, then I’m third of the list in which case I may as well forget it. And I have after a few reach-out attempts. So it leaves me feeling like a third rate citizen in the church. Church couples go out and do things with church couples. Rarely if ever do I get invited out with a Christian couple. Do they not think a single would enjoy being disciples by a married couple? Apparently I have to join the “club” first.
    Bring single in the church attaches warning labels to the single female Christian. Your pastor won’t meet with you alone for fear of appearances so getting counseling with him will be based on a third party…however long that takes. And don’t get to friendly or dare even warmly hug a married Christian man or you may get labeled a Jezebel.
    And the church makes it a obvious point and even seeks out to help out the widows and orphans (and glorify it) but what about the single who has to do everything in life alone. We have to ask or plead for help as an exception.
    I’ve mostly given up on the thought of community with the church and focus my energies of my one-on-one relationship with Jesus and my own bible studies.
    It doesn’t mean I don’t love these people, but I feel more like a leper than I do a member of the flock.

  22. Well today is a totally different time that we live in since finding Real Love for many of us Good men is very impossible now more than ever which years ago it was so much Easier than today. Since most of my friends were very Blessed to have found the Love of their life which they certainly have so much to be Thankful for since many of us other Single men sure Don’t.

  23. Thank you. This was really good. Although my church has a singles ministry….its like it doesn’t even exisit except once a year….its still not a ‘singles’ ministry because it has divorced women. Single mothers. Or a combo of the two. And there are only three truly single women and in the end we are always overlooked and expected to serve in the ministry yet are overlooked for the married women. Thank you for these articles.

    1. Thanks, Dawn. I would consider divorced women, single mothers, etc. as “singles in the church,” people who are uncoupled who often attend alone, for whom there are less resources than for people who are married with kids. Blessings to you! I hope you find a place that’s welcoming and healing.
      Sarah

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