Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The grief of singleness

My church, which thankfully is more sensitive than many toward diverse populations, is holding an adult singles’ focus weekend the week after next. In advance of that, we singles were asked what leadership can do to minister to us properly.

It hit me for the first time on Sunday that, at least in the church, people need to know that singles are often dealing perpetually with grief — that because we’re unpartnered in a family-centric culture we often feel “less than.” Entering and leaving a church service solo when most people have spouses and especially children can be alienating.

It's easy to tell us that we really don't need a spouse and that we should concentrate on "spiritual" matters. While that's true in one sense, we humans are built, by God, to belong to something or someone, and when you don’t you really feel something missing — as we're reminded on a consistent basis. No amount of spiritual discipline or ministry activities can really make up for or address that; if anything, they can only hide the hole in our collective heart.

Of course, all three groups — widowed, divorced and never-married — have different issues. For the widowed, that loss is obvious; from what I understand, the death of a spouse, especially if the marriage was good, really does mean losing a part of yourself. DivorcĂ©es, in addition to the loss of a spouse, likely spend a lot of time second-guessing themselves, addressing either or both "What could I have done better?" or "Why did I choose this partner?"

The never-married — where I fall on the spectrum — can, and usually do, fall into the self-pity trap of "Will anyone want me?" Most of us have been in relationships before and are, like those who have been divorced, crushed when one fails. It's especially difficult when friends around you are tying the knot; in 1987 I played for my then-pen-pal's wedding reception in Wisconsin but with a heavy heart because right around that time I had come to realize that I would not get the woman I wanted. Men have it harder, I believe, because there are fewer of us than women in the church, and even at my age (nearly 54) asking a woman on a date is still nerve-wracking.

Oh, sure, we have things to do, and the majority of single Christian adults that I know do live life on life's terms. Speaking for myself, in my 30s I took the time to finish college and find a job in my field and after that embark on a parallel music career; more recently, I got into social dance. So I'm a very busy guy — but one who's more than willing to make the time for a special lady.

Hear what we're not saying, however: For the most part, we don't believe that merely having a partner will solve all our problems; some will be addressed, of course, but in the process others will be created. We understand this, which is why we're usually deliberate; because we've been burned we want the right person, not just anyone who comes our way. In other words, we're trying not to be desperate because we understand that's a turnoff.

I would say this: Please don't make any glib statements or give us advice, and be very, very careful about setting us up on blind dates (only one ever worked out for me). If anything, we need whatever support you can give us in our journey, although we can't tell you exactly what until we're there. All we ask for is your acknowledgement and presence; that would mean the world to us.

2 comments:

Tamara Miller said...

Wonderful post! Especially appreciate the part about others not giving glib answers or minimizing our loss and pain in this area of singleness. I was just talking with friends about the unhelpful comments I received from people over the last 20 years when expressing desire for companionship or gief related to loss of dreams. It's not that we are despairing bc of desires unfulfilled. We continue to hope while also trying to live life as God calls us to in the moment. Concurrently we live with the loss of dreams for what we had once hoped. Our culture, including friends, family, counselors, church members allow for others to grieve the loss of a home, job, infertility, etc. However, when it comes to singles grieving the loss of a spouse we had hoped for, building a family, home and life together ( while they themselves were or are living these dreams) we are told to 'buck up' , 'not to make marriage an idol', ' stop wishing for what we don't have', ' be thankful that we are not divorced like our friends', 'maybe you were called to be single' etc. Yes, these are all unhelpful statements I've heard and my other single friends have heardbover the years. I live a full life, with wonderful family and friends. I enjoy helping and serving others as well as horsebackriding, nature, theater, etc. I'm very grateful for all Goa full life, tod has given. It is possible to live a full life, to be grateful and to live with grief and loss. Somehow our culture believes the lie that if you are grieving in this area then there is something you are doing wrong. I would ask in addition to the above, that others be careful not to Shame singles for expressing grief related to God given desires.

Tamara Miller said...

Wonderful post! Especially appreciate the part about others not giving glib answers or minimizing our loss and pain in this area of singleness. I was just talking with friends about the unhelpful comments I received from people over the last 20 years when expressing desire for companionship or gief related to loss of dreams. It's not that we are despairing bc of desires unfulfilled. We continue to hope while also trying to live life as God calls us to in the moment. Concurrently we live with the loss of dreams for what we had once hoped. Our culture, including friends, family, counselors, church members allow for others to grieve the loss of a home, job, infertility, etc. However, when it comes to singles grieving the loss of a spouse we had hoped for, building a family, home and life together ( while they themselves were or are living these dreams) we are told to 'buck up' , 'not to make marriage an idol', ' stop wishing for what we don't have', ' be thankful that we are not divorced like our friends', 'maybe you were called to be single' etc. Yes, these are all unhelpful statements I've heard and my other single friends have heardbover the years. I live a full life, with wonderful family and friends. I enjoy helping and serving others as well as horsebackriding, nature, theater, etc. I'm very grateful for all Goa full life, tod has given. It is possible to live a full life, to be grateful and to live with grief and loss. Somehow our culture believes the lie that if you are grieving in this area then there is something you are doing wrong. I would ask in addition to the above, that others be careful not to Shame singles for expressing grief related to God given desires.