The struggle of the single adult (especially mid-twenties to mid-thirties) seems to be nearly universally the same and dramatically overlooked. In the past week alone, I’ve had at least five conversations with both men and women who are truly grieving, facing severe disappointment, sadness, disillusionment, and fear at the potential for a future without a spouse and/or children. Singles, heterosexual and LGBT alike, are longing for connection. Longing for touch. Longing for intimacy. I wish the Church talked about this more frequently and faithfully.
Worse, we’re all ashamed of our loneliness. “I’m afraid of being alone” is a sentence that few of us are able to mutter to one another, and when we do, we can barely look into each other’s eyes. We’re embarrassed by our need for intimacy, connection, and someone to continue us. The shame keeps us suffering silently, propelling us instead into destructive relationships, porn habits, alcohol abuse, casual hook-ups, isolation, and depression. I can plead guilty to at least three of those at one point or another in my life. I’d be willing to bet you could too.
Singles aren’t often given the option of being shamelessly lonely. I often worry that if I tell people how lonely I am, what they will hear is, “I’m desperate.” But being desperate, and being desperately lonely are two different things. So I think it’s time I said, “Shame, be damned.” and owned up to the truth of my own loneliness. Some people might think that between the packed schedule I hold, the many rewarding friendships I have, and the incredibly supportive and loving church family I am a part of that I wouldn’t have any loneliness left to be quenched. But I still go to sleep in an empty bed every night. And I still sometimes wish I had someone to hug me when I’ve had a really rotten day.
For my single friends, distraught with longing:
- You should know that you’re not alone when a friend puts an arm around you and you realize you haven’t been touched in days, weeks, or months, and you’re so affected that you have to duck away to compose yourself.
- You should know it’s okay to grieve the fact that you may never have a life partner with whom to have children, all the while forming a plan to adopt as a single person, in case ‘the one’ doesn’t arrive.
- You should know that setting new goals, and hopes, and dreams that are totally different than the ones you always envisioned filling your life is equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking, and it’s important to let yourself feel both things.
The world tells us that we will reach happiness when don’t need anyone except ourselves, and that this attitude will make us strong, empowered, impervious, and positively unaffected by loneliness. Women especially are fed this line, told that we are somehow less-empowered if we desire a relationship, evidenced by sassy assertions from our girlfriends telling us, “You don’t need a man!” Churches and Christians often tell us just the opposite. We just need to wait for ‘the one’, or search harder, or pray more. We’re not supposed to give up hope because certainly someone as attractive, as wonderful, as spiritual, or as good of a catch as we are will be snatched off the market any day now.
But what if we don’t meet ‘the one’? And what if our self-sufficiency only makes us hard towards the very love we long for? Who is helping singles to come to terms with the potential of singleness being lasting? Who is saying, “This loneliness and grief is normal. Lean into it. Mourn properly.” Sometimes it feels like everyone is trying to convince us that we are either 1) really fine on our own and don’t need anyone, or 2) just needing to wait a little longer until ‘the one’ shows up and solves our loneliness. Being previously married, and now single, I’m certain that both approaches are false, with real potential for lasting damage to our ability to properly connect. Our longing for intimacy will not go away because we are strong and independent, and it will not be solved when we marry.
Perhaps there is a different way. Maybe loneliness is not to be ignored or squelched, but embraced as an opportunity to rediscover ourselves in light of a God who calls us into the truest community and deepest solution to our loneliness – relationship with him. This relationship is not the kind that removes our ache for connection, but the kind that comforts us when the longing remains. Maybe we don’t have to be so afraid or ashamed of our loneliness that we either try to squelch it or ignore it. There are a few good, smart, single Christian people like Henri Nouwen who understood this and talked about it faithfully, and I’m thankful for that. I leave you with his words.
“If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we’re going to expect someone in the community to make us feel special and worthy. Ultimately, they cannot. If we start with trying to create community, we’ll expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love. But true community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: “I’m so lonely, and you’re so lonely; why don’t we get together.” Many relationships begin out of a fear of being alone, but they can’t ultimately satisfy a need that only solitude with God can fulfill. Community is solitude greeting solitude: “I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home or place of welcome together.” Sometimes you feel close, and that’s wonderful. Sometimes you don’t feel much love, and that’s hard. But we can be faithful to one another in community. We can build a home together and create space for God and for others in the household of God.” – Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith
What do you think?
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