I’ve reached the point where hearing the first few beats of Beyoncé’s infamous Single Ladies introducing the bouquet toss at a wedding reception makes me cringe. Sure, it was fun back at the beginning of the wedding craze when I was 22 and fresh out of college, but after five years of the same scenario playing out seemingly on repeat (I have yet to catch the bouquet), it seems only to serve the ever-growing awareness of my singlehood.
Yes, I said it, I’m single! Having made that disclaimer, I’m going to challenge the rest of the single population to hear me out rather than discount my advice on account of my relationship status. I get it, “She’s single! What does she know? Clearly she hasn’t figured it out either!” While that may be true, even if I had figured it out and was sitting here with a rock on my finger, the complaint would just take on new form: “Easy for her to say… she’s married!” A girl can’t win here! But I’m going to bite the bullet on the topic of what it means to be single and how, just maybe, we can actually live it well.
Singleness and anxiety seem to walk hand in hand…
Both of the above mindsets resonate a common tone, and that’s bitterness. Again, I get it. We all grow up imaging our lives going a certain way, and the longer it takes for that idea to materialize, the greater the temptation is to panic, succumb to frustration, and simply question “why?” Ultimately, anyone who has been single for an extended period of time can attest to the fact that, if we don’t keep it in check, singleness and anxiety seem to walk hand in hand. We can get caught up in a myriad of downward spiraling questions:
Why is it taking so long? Did I do something wrong? Should I have broken up with him?
Oftentimes our non-single friends attempt to calm us down with the gentle reminder that “God has a plan” and to “pray for his will to be done.” Unfortunately shifting the focus to “God’s will” can backfire by playing into our scrupulous and over-analyzing tendencies. It’s exhausting to live in this perpetual state of anxiety. Eventually we get tired. That tiredness leads to a sense of apathy and a hardened heart, and that makes for Bitter, party of one (your table’s ready!).
Where does this anxiety come from?
So how do we combat this prevalent sense of anxiety? I think the first step is to see where it comes from. I would argue that it comes from an unconscious and fundamentally flawed way of thinking. One of my favorite (though poorly witnessed to) quotes is from St. Ignatius:
“Work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God.”
I love it because I think it speaks to the proper understanding and expectation of ourselves in our role and God in his. Fundamentally we have to trust that God is God. He is in control, he holds the reigns, and that is why he perpetually reminds us to trust and be not afraid. If we were completely happy with the way God was leading us there would be no need to trust, we’d already understand and be 100% on board.
With this foundational trust in the Lord, our role flows forth very naturally. We don’t remain passive expecting good things to just happen to us, rather we take action and full responsibility for that action (or lack thereof). We follow where God’s leading, we invest in the opportunities he has provided us with, we take risks, fight our fears, all the while knowing that if we cooperate his plan (not ours) will reign sovereign.
Searching for Peace
Unfortunately, most of us live our lives just the opposite, which is exactly why we’re anxious. We sit in frustration, shifting our responsibility onto God and complaining that we don’t know what it is he’s asking of us, and faulting in trust decide to take matters into our own hands. Perhaps if I made a little more money, lost some weight, or went tanning I might improve my chances. While I’m all about self-improvement and will be your biggest advocate if you decide to go for that promotion at work or lose 10 pounds, we need to be aware of the fine-line that this mindset easily crosses over. If we see our financial status, weight, or skin tone as the reason for our singleness, it causes us to lose security in ourselves. We begin to see ourselves as the problem, singlehood as a disease to be remedied, and happiness as unattainable until we’re paired up. And that’s just not true! With continual growth in mind, you are not the problem, singleness is not a disease, and happiness is something you’re called to and can live right now!
We can embrace it, or we can waste it….
I was recently at a bridal shower where the bride-to-be told stories of her self-consuming anxiety and misery during her single years, admitting that she was “a terrible single person.” Her comment struck me deeply, made me sad for her, and led to an internal realization and conviction that when it comes to our singlehood, we can embrace it or we can waste it, and when the day comes for me to look back upon my single years, I want to say with confidence that I lived them well, that I was a good single person! I realized that in order to do that, I had to fundamentally understand what the purpose of being single is, rather than counting down the days until it’s over. Yes, being able to travel the world (I’ve definitely taken full advantage of my credit card miles), pursue my career, and even make a career change has been great, but those can’t be the primary reasons why God has deemed it necessary for me to be single. Though great, the benefits of travel and career don’t objectively outweigh those of a husband and kids.
Waiting for Mr. Right…
A comforting thought to default to is that perhaps this prolonged waiting and buildup just means that God is continually shifting out Mr. Right for someone better and better; like waiting an extra five years will equate to an exponentially better-looking husband or something. While every day spent as a single person doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll get a cuter husband (though you never know!), it does mean a greater personal refinement. If we cooperate, God can use every life experience to chisel at our edges and mold us more and more into His image. That break-up with the person we were sure was “the one” can give us a crash course on the virtue of detachment. More time spent discovering and pursuing new passions can bring about a fundamental change of what we value in ourselves, others, and in a relationship.
I’m thoroughly convinced that God has in mind the specific point you will be at in your life, and therefore the specific person you’ll be, when you meet the right person. So though God may not be continually shifting out the lead role for Mr. Right, Mr. Right himself will be changing, which means meeting him four years ago would look drastically different than it would today, or even two years from now. And, if we cooperate, we’ll look different too (and I don’t just mean being wiser and better-looking). How? By recognizing that our primary role in life, whether single or married, is to love God for his own sake, not in what he can provide for us. This love is what we were created for, and will continue with us into eternity. It is from our love for God that all else will spring forth, and the longer we are single, the greater the opportunity and lesson we have in embracing our fundamental calling and making it as solid as the house built upon stone. I liken it to a marriage (perhaps that’s insensitive?). The time a husband and wife have together as a couple before children come is precious, their love for one another is their chief focus and solidifies their relationship. The eventual addition of children then serves to know each other in a new way and enhances their love, but that original season was so necessary and will forever serve their relationship and family.
Break Up the Cloud of Anxiety
In the wise words of C.S. Lewis, “I’m sure God keeps no one waiting unless he sees it is good for him to wait.” So chill out. Enjoy your time with God. Allow it to change you. It is a season, eventually it will end, and you will never get it back. Let yourself fall in love and rest in the trust of God that naturally ensues from that love. The cloud of anxiety will lessen, God’s plan for your love life will be brought to fruition, and you can look back on this single season with the confidence and peace that you lived it well. And you can listen to Beyoncé at a wedding reception without feeling anxious.