Real Talk: Being Single

As I’ve been hanging out in New York City for the last few weeks, I recently decided to make a reservation for one at a popular and busy dessert restaurant. After spending countless hours holed up in my friends’ apartment clocking my work hours and hustling over a new project (that I can’t wait to share with y’all soon!), I decided it was high time to take myself out for a sweet treat. So I made the 1.5 mile walk across Central Park toward the restaurant, ready to devour all things chocolate, only to end up slightly salty about a comment that was made to me by a waiter. As I was sitting down, he motioned to the empty seat and asked, “Where is your second person?” to which I kindly replied, “oh nope, it’s just me!” He half-smiled and said, “Oh, okay . . . well, enjoy.” That was one thing in itself, but then as I was leaving, he made sure to say to me over his shoulder, “hopefully next time there will be someone with you!”

While I don’t think there was any ill-intent in that this particular situation, I know that his comment could have been taken one of two ways: maybe it was said in kindness because it seemed like there should have been someone with me (like I’m cute and should have had a guy with me, or at least a friend), or that he was annoyed that — at the peak of their busy time of the day — they would only be serving one person/one meal instead of a “full party.” Sine I truly believe it was the former, you should know that I wasn’t personally offended. I have done so many things on my own at this point that a meal is pretty basic, and the truth is that I am totally comfortable taking myself out as I have learned over the last few years to truly enjoy my own company. What did take offense, however, was my not-so-slight justice complex, because all I could think was, “man, if I wasn’t as okay with being by myself, that could have really stung.” Which got me thinking even more that there are too many misconceptions around singleness, and — having been single for quite some time myself — there are a few things that I think need to be said about it from a single person’s perspective. And while I’ve confessed some things about singleness in the past, I’ve been searching for more: more truth, more guidance, and more encouragement for all of us as we, together, navigate the rapidly growing population of singles. But unfortunately, apart from this spot on message* (which I will reference many times in this post and encourage all of you to listen to ASAP), I haven’t come across much that suffices, thus I find myself here once again, sharing my heart on something that can be uncomfortable to talk about bluntly: singleness.

IMG_2094 2.jpg

Lies About Being Single

I understand that we all have some kind of experience with being single because, yes, we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. But over the years, there have been a few comments that I’ve heard again and again around singleness that just aren’t totally true. So allow me — from my personal experience and perspective as a single person — to dispel a few common misconceptions around being single:

if someOne is single, they must be lonely.

Sometimes this one is true because, yes, it would be nice to have another human to consistently share one’s life and adventures with, and when that isn’t our reality, it can be hard. But most of the time, it’s not true. In fact, I have found that doing life by myself has given me the chance to grow in tremendous ways, ways that I would argue I probably wouldn’t have grown if I was with another person at the time. And one of the things I’ve learned — and that is affirmed in the message I referenced earlier — is that there are two very different sides to being alone: loneliness and solitude. Loneliness can be defined as “the pain of being alone,” whereas solitude can be defined as “the glory of being alone.” In solitude — in being alone with oneself — an individual can truly get to know themselves; they can figure out who they are, what they love, what they want, and what they were made to do . . . and they can then get after those things with a singular-focus. So while it can sometimes be hard to be alone, singleness does not (always) equal loneliness.

If someone is single, they must want to be single.

Again, sometimes true, but not usually. Most of the single people I know and who I’ve talked with — either in person or through social media — do want to be married someday, including myself. The problem with a statement like this is that it dismisses some very real and prominent issues in the current dating scene, things like failure to launch, fears of and/or refusal to commit, distrust in the institution of marriage (hello, fellow kids of divorce), individuals not knowing their worth, a cultural obsession with sex and pleasure, and so on. Yes, some people are just fine being single, but I think the majority truly desire to do life with another person.

if someone is single, they must not put themselves out there.

This one can be slightly offensive, because the truth is that many of us are trying. We’re joining all of the dating apps, we’re trying to go out, we’re hinting at our friends to set us up, and we’re attempting to have those relationship defining conversations with people we’re interested in. But it’s not easy, and it’s oftentimes quite overwhelming. As someone who was in four weddings the summer after graduating from university, let me put it this way: if we didn’t meet our partner in that season of life, it becomes significantly and statistically more challenging to meet that person in the “real world.” We’re no longer constantly surrounded by our friends, sitting in classes and participating in extracurriculars with others of similar age and/or ideas. We’re navigating adulthood in a whole new way, working 40+ hours a week, paying rent, attempting to stay connected with our families/friends, working on paying off our student loans, traveling and/or moving, etc. There are so many avenues for trying to meet people, all while we’re also trying to just get by. It’s not always easy to put ourselves out there, but believe me, most of us are really trying.

If someone is still single, their standards must be too high.

Y’all, stop this one right now. Unless the single person in question has pages or a literal laundry-list of “must haves” for a significant other, their standards are probably just fine. For example, there are just a few things that I am looking for in a guy: one, someone who is funny, because I’d like someone who can pull me up from my introspection and depth and make me laugh; two, someone who is kind and understanding, who isn’t arrogant, and who has passions and dreams they’re pursuing; three, someone who isn’t intimidated by my independence and who will challenge me to interdependence; four, someone I am attracted to physically; and most importantly, five, someone who loves Jesus way more than he could ever love me. That’s literally only five things; things that — I argue — are not impossible to find, and thus I refuse to settle for less. To paraphrase myself, something inside of me believes that the idea of settling is tied to not knowing one's worth or what they deserve, and I just think it's so important to wait or fight for that best thing. So, fellow singles: refuse to settle — refuse to “lower” your standards — because we all deserve a person who makes us better, challenges us to love more deeply, and encourages us to do the things we were made for.

If someone is single, they are not whole, complete, or enough.

This one is a straight up lie, both biblically and culturally, and we need to stop perpetuating the idea that we are incomplete or of less value by being a single person. Firstly, remember that we all have inherent dignity as individual people, which — biblically — is a concept introduced under the new covenant, “as dignity is no longer tied to family or the ability to have children” (John Tyson). And second, the following paragraph from this post bears repeating: “you are not less than without a partner and you have not been left behind.  I, too, battle with these feelings from time to time, but trust me on this one: we are not less significant as human beings nor are we unable to do incredible things — especially for the Kingdom — because of our relationship status.  You have to recognize that notion is totally absurd. I mean, the most important guy that walked the earth was single (Jesus) and did a ton of stuff for the glory of God, so what makes us think or believe that we cannot do similar things, single or otherwise?” Having another person in one’s life will not complete them, and if we’re honest, placing that kind of expectation and/or pressure on another flawed human being is a recipe for disaster, because we’re all a mess. The truth is that we’re all going to fail one another at some point because we’re not perfect, but in remembering that we are whole and complete people on our own, we be stronger and more prepared to take on the things that will inevitably come our way, together.

Unhelpful Things Non-Singles Do

Hear me out, married, engaged, and dating friends: I know your heart is good and that you really care about the single people in your lives. I know that you want us to feel happy and fulfilled and loved, and that you really do mean well. But sometimes the things you say, no matter how much you mean or hope to encourage us, aren’t fun to hear. Sometimes, they even hurt. Not because you mean for them to, of course, but because we so often hear the same things over and over again. And, with time, they can start to feel like empty words, or worse, like salt pouring into a wound. So please, next time you have the urge to encourage the single people in your life, take the following into consideration:

please stop saying, “it will happen when you least expect it.”

Listen . . . I haven’t been expecting it for seven years, and “it” still hasn’t happened — so what do you have to say to that, Rhonda? Okay, personal saltiness aside, I do think that those who say something along the lines of this phrase really do mean well, but it’s not helpful to singles for a few reasons. First, it can underhandedly say that, if someone is single, they must be desperately looking for a relationship, which isn’t always true. It also has the ability to undermine those of us who haven’t been actively looking and yet have been single for years — do you see the flaws there? And, if I’m totally honest, it’s a played out form of encouragement that many of us are tired of hearing. Not to mention, some of us are totally okay being single, so telling us that it will happen when we’re not looking isn’t really encouraging; it’s can actually be demeaning.

please Refrain From Trying to give us a ton of dating advice, especially if you’re older and/or not single.

This one is more for the people who are 10+ years older than the single person in question. We understand that you have your own experience and perspective from your single years and want to impart that to encourage us, and we want to hear as much of it as can be applicable, but the truth is that you can’t fully understand what it’s like trying to date or meet someone in the digital age. First, there’s a plethora of dating apps and websites, which can be quite overwhelming for some of us. Second, the further we are out of our college years, the more we may find that many of us don’t have as much time to meet people, let alone date. We’re working, we’re paying off debt, we’re trying to figure out who we are and what we really want to do, and we are — understandably — exhausted. And third — which I mentioned earlier — there are some very real issues in the current dating scene that may not have been as rampant when you were single/dating as they are now, like failure to launch, fears of commitment, lack of trust in the thought of marriage (especially for kids of divorce), people not knowing their worth, an obsession with sex (especially over commitment), and so on. We appreciate you wanting to help and encourage us, but please try to screen your words through the lens of dating in today’s world.

please don’t tell us the only way we’ll meet someone is online.

Yes, many people nowadays meet online, and we all know someone or have close friends who’ve met their significant other in that fashion, and that’s amazing! But that kind of blanket statement isn’t helpful, mostly because it just isn’t true. People can and do meet online; I don’t argue that. But people also meet — you know — in-person. They meet in a coffee shop, in their workplaces, through mutual friends, or while traveling the world. And while some people are comfortable doing the online dating thing, others aren’t. It may feel really awkward, impersonal, and/or superficial, especially for those of us who prefer more intimacy in our relationships than the current online climate can always provide (dating or otherwise). This is a particularly difficult one for me that — I’ve come to learn — has a lot to do with being an enneagram four, not to mention having watched people close to me meet some real losers online. There’s something about the idea of someone going through a buffet line of beautiful, amazing people in an app that just makes me feel — for lack of a better word — gross. I know that this isn’t everyone’s feeling about online dating, but I also know from personal conversations that more people feel this way than we may realize. It can be a sensitive topic, so tread cautiously.

Again, non-single friends: we know that you say because you love us and want the best for us. We get it, we do. But sometimes all that we need is someone to listen to us, to pray for us, and better yet, to include us . . . and maybe even introduce us to their other single friends, you feel me? No shame in my game here.

gennean single singleness women dating
gennean single singleness dating women

The Church and Singles

Simply put, the way singleness is talked about, handled, and met within the church is kind of a mess. It’s complicated for many reasons, but I think that one of the biggest is that the majority of current church culture has an obsession (some many even go so far as to say idolization) of marriage, and — if we’re honest — the modern church is structured around the biological family. As a single adult/professional it can feel like they don’t really know what to do with us, because we don’t fit into an easy-to-figure-out box. Most of us probably work full-time (or more), live with roommates, don’t have kids, and are trying to figure out what we want to do, and if we even want to get married, have kids, etc. Sure, we may seem a little complicated, but that’s not a bad thing. We’re just trying to figure it out as much as you’re trying to figure us out.

Both our culture and the church also seem to be enamored with the idea of finding one’s “soul mate” — but is this as biblical as we may want it to be/act like it is? Or is it something that has been fed to us over and over again in our culture, namely through what comes out of Hollywood? To quote John Tyson, “marriage, at its best, is a temporary institution used to leverage the ability to build the Kingdom of God. But when you die, that's it.  We don’t believe in an eternal view of marriage.” It’s important to remember that nowhere in Scripture does God promise any of us a husband or wife.  What He does promise is comfort, peace, and sustenance through our relationship with Him.  For those of us who deeply desire to be married and have a family, this can be a hard truth to stomach.  But this is a broken world that we live in, one in which we are not guaranteed all of the things that we want, whether or not that’s a partner in this life.  And in the light of that truth, can we trust that He is good and that He loves us, even if we don't get the things we want?  Can we cling to Him when what we desire is not our reality? And how can the church encourage its people to do so?

And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the massive elephant in the room: we live in a culture that is totally obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere, from television to music to the ads we see every single day, and it promises something that — if we’re honest — is fleeting and frail: the pursuit of pleasure. Plus, the older we get, the more our biology is telling us that we should be doing the things that our bodies want . . . and the statistical truth is that many of us are listening to that voice. It’s all really sensitive and important, and yet hardly anyone is talking about it. But it needs to be talked about, because it’s a very real and challenging arena that singles are attempting to navigate with little to no guidance. Bottom line: yes, it’s complicated, but the church could probably be doing a better job with the single people in their midst.

Live Your Best Life . . . No Matter Your Relationship Status

This message is so, so close to my heart, simply because it’s the biggest thing I’ve learned and embraced in my twenties. I used to think two things: first, that my life wasn’t going to really start until another person was in it, and, once I realized how stupid that was, I still thought that I couldn’t really do some of the things I wanted to do on my own. I laugh at those thoughts now, because I’ve gone on to do some of the most incredible things as a single person: I moved across the country, I paid off all of my debt, I quit my job to travel, and I continue to travel now while working remotely and hustling on some passion projects. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts; I’ve totaled a car and bought a new one with cash; I’ve visited 13 countries and over 35 European cities . . . all as a single woman. I’m truly living my best life right now, and I have a deep sense that it will only continue whether or not I have a partner to do it with, because I have Jesus, and that relationship is the most fulfilling and purpose-giving thing I could ask for. I make all of my decisions — big and small — through the lens of that relationship, and have done some seriously cool things because of it. Would it have been nice to have someone to do those things with? Of course! But would I have grown in the ways I did? Probably not. And, had I not chosen to give it a shot, I would really hate to — ten, twenty, fifty years from now — wish I would have tried to do them. So now I carry the following mentality with me: will this make my 5 year old self, as well as my 75 year old self, proud? Truthfully, I believe she would tell me to do all of the things, whether or not I am doing them on my own. So, I do them.

I want the same thing for all of my other single friends out there. You have access to the fullest life right here and right now, regardless of your relationship status. I want you to stop making excuses, stop waiting for the right person to come along, and start living your best life now. I want you to figure out who you are, what you love, what you want, and the gifts you’ve been created with. I want you to get after your dreams and pursue the things your passionate about, I want you to do the hard and scary things because it would make your 5 and 75 year-old-self proud. I want you to live fully: fully present and fully entwined with the heartbeat of Jesus. Remember: your worth and your value are not tied to your relationship status, and you are not “less than” in your singleness. Remember that you are whole and complete in your own right, and that you are capable of great things.

*Seriously, if you haven’t already, listen this message from Church of the City NYC. It’s the best resource I’ve come across on singleness, ever.