When I get lonely these days, I think: So be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. -- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
It is not good that the man should be alone ... -- God, Genesis 2:18
Last week I had the irrepressible urge to watch the film, “Bridget Jones’ Diary”. While hardly a model for moral behavior with her heavy smoking, excessive drinking, and illicit sex, I believe the vulnerable and fumbling Bridget is an excellent partner in commiseration for any single gal.
Even if you possess only a superficial knowledge of the film, the reason behind my inclination will hardly be a mystery. I have quickly been reintroduced to the reasons being a “singleton” can be so frustrating and why, like Bridget, I feel some days like all I can do is stumble awkwardly through my days, flying solo in a world where sometimes, it seems like everyone else has paired off.
Like Bridget, I struggle between the desire to make my way through life confidently and independently, and on the other hand, to be part of a couple. All around me, I seem to be surrounded by smiling couples, all oozing contentedness and telling me things like “someone”, “someday”, and “out there”; these words are intended to be comforting and hopeful, but are too nebulous to be of any use to my heart.
Please don’t think me so naïve as to think that my married friends are swimming in unmitigated bliss all the time; single or married, we all have days where our lives are less than pleasant, and life can be hard work no matter what our marital status might be. Among my advantages I count as a single woman, I love that I can rent the videos I want without discussion, manage my finances as I see fit, or plan trips on a whim without ever having to consult another human being. Singleness does have its benefits beyond spur-of-the-moment travel and hassle-free video rentals, though (it boggles the mind, I know)!
Despite the obvious (and not-so-obvious) benefits when it comes to my relationship status, I have a struggle – one that may not be immediately evident. I have a good life and I desperately want to be content with it. I do not believe I should live in such a way that I am always waiting for something (or someone) else to enjoy it fully. I want to embrace my life and live in the now. I cannot be relying upon the maybes, the not yets, or might not happens. This does not mean I do not challenge myself to reach new goals, or that I don’t find happiness in or have a measure of reliance upon my relationships with family and friends.
I cannot silence the part of me that longs to partner with someone – with one particular someone – in life. The desire doesn’t abate, and it seems to compete fiercely with the contentment I seek. Perhaps it’s because God made us this way – to be in relationship, to be in community. He made us in such a way that there is a portion of our hearts that only human relationships can fill. It sounds so at-odds with what I’ve grown up believing.
Consider Adam and God in Eden prior to the creation of Eve: God gave Adam the task of naming all the animals he had created; Eve was not around for this, and Adam felt a lack of something he probably could not quite identify. I’ll allow Donald Miller to elaborate:
Moses said God knew Adam was lonely or incomplete or however you want to say it, but God did not create Eve directly after He stated Adam was lonely. This struck me as funny because a lot of times when I think about life before the Fall, I don’t think of people going around lonely. But that thought also comforted me because I realized loneliness in my own life doesn’t mean I am a complete screwup, rather that God made me this way.
I looked up how many animals there are in the world, and it turns out there are between ten million and one hundred million species. So even if you believe in evolution, that means there were between one million and fifty million species around in the time of the Garden, and Adam, apparently, had to name all of them. And the entire time he was lonely.
I never thought of Adam the same again. … this was a man who, despite feeling a certain need for a companion, performed what must have been nearly one hundred years of work. … So here was this guy who was intensely relational, needing other people, and in order to cause him to appreciate the gift of companionship, God had him hang out with chimps for a hundred years. It’s quite beautiful, really.
Searching for God Knows What, pp 63, 64-65
And so I don’t think of loneliness the same anymore. There Adam was in the Garden, with perfect and unfettered access to God, and he still experienced a longing his relationship with God could not fill. Adam needed another like himself to partner and live with in community. I don’t have this unrequited longing because I don’t rely enough on God or, in Donald Miller’s words, because I am a “complete screwup”. This is the way God created it to be; needing other people is a part of the beautiful and heartbreaking journey.
I was speaking to a married friend the other day about the pithy clichés couples spout to their single friends in an attempt to squelch their disappointment with being unattached, and how thoroughly grating it can be to be on the receiving end. She replied that it was hard to know what to say. Even though I know it comes from a place of love, care, and of wanting to be a help, the last thing I want to hear is something like “there is someone out there for you”, “it will happen when you least expect it”, or “you’re just too intimidating”. Some others I’ve heard are, “God just isn’t done with the two of you yet”, “you just need to get yourself out there”, or “you just need to wait for God’s timing”.
The truth, friends, is this: however true the words may be, there really is nothing that can be said to relieve the deep soul-ache that is being single when you are longing for that unique and singular attachment with one other human being: someone who complements you and somehow causes you to know yourself better. You are not incomplete without him, but somehow being a partner in this relationship causes you to become more of yourself.
I cannot speak for others, but as far as this single-girl variety of loneliness goes, I am not looking for a fix (it is not broken) or a cure (it is not an illness). I don’t need advice on where to meet the good men that are “out there” or to be fixed up on a blind date. I’ve heard good things about some internet dating sites, too. I just want someone to listen when I find the need to unburden my heart; I want someone to connect with me in that moment in order to remind me that I am not as alone as I feel at times.
I truly believe singleness is as much of a gift as couple-ness is, and rather than seeing it as a layover on the way to an eventual destination, I see it as an opportunity to be about the work of my Father and to delve deeper into the exploration of who He has created me to be. I imagine God has work set aside for me, whether or not my future includes a partner. I imagine there will be periods of vast contentedness, and also days where I want to scream and tear my hair out in frustration, asking God, how many more animals could there possibly be?!
So you know what? I’m just going to be lonely sometimes. I will sit with it, I will make a map of it. I will cry and I will laugh with my friends. I will worship with the Body and I will extend love to my neighbors. I will read voraciously and learn more of what it means for me to be a writer. I will pray, I will praise, and let God plumb the depths of my soul. I will keep my eyes, my hands, and my heart open.
And we will see what happens.