What I Learned as a Single Adult
The hardest question faced by singles who desire marriage is often, "How long will I be single?" In our culture, the celebration of Valentine's Day can bring up relationship issues for some who would rather be celebrating Valentine's Day with a partner. Maybe that happened to you or someone you love this last week. Because God does not promise to give people spouses, a single who desires marriage doesn't know if he will ever find a spouse--he only knows she isn't here right now. It can be difficult to wonder if it's just a matter of time before you find your partner or if you never will. Uncertainty can become a preoccupation. We know many singles do not desire marriage, but these questions are for those who do.
Wondering whether or not singleness is temporary or permanent is often the hardest question singles who desire marriage face.
One research participant puts it like this: "...if I knew for sure I would never meet a man, I could get on with my life. Without that, it becomes my life" (Lewis and Moon, 1997). The human drive to understand, predict, and control can make it easy for a single to become fixated on the uncertainty of his marriage prospects.
Indefinite Singleness Can Be Difficult
In my own journey of singleness, I resonate with this woman's preoccupation with the lack of clarity surrounding finding a spouse. As I tried to fall asleep, the question of whether or not I would eventually get married plagued me. This unanswered question felt like a ball that kept falling and falling without ever striking the bottom. The neverending fall felt unnatural and out of control. There was never going to be a moment when I would hear from God with certainty that He did not have a spouse for me--the possibility of finding a husband would always remain. My mind would attempt to find the bottom--to know for sure if I would ever find a husband. Some nights the reality that I still wasn't married at age X would evoke a sense of powerlessness. I remember wishing I could just know with certainty that I was not going to get married so that I could grieve that clear reality and learn to embrace my singleness.
The "how long will I be single" question may be even more complex for singles who are single again through divorce or death, especially those single-parenting children. Their concern about whether or not they will be married again may be equally centered on their personal experience and they may wish their children could have another adult in the home again. The lack of clarity surrounding how the children are adversely impacted by the absence of a parent can be painful for the single parent who wishes for another partner.
Now that I'm married and the uncertainty of singleness is resolved, I can see more clearly how not knowing whether or not I would get married was a preoccupation that sapped my energy and inhibited my focus on other parts of life. I wish I had understood that at a deeper level. No longer focusing on marriage, I experience myself having a greater focus for work and more space to be interested in social and political issues. It's as though the experience of singleness is over, and I am now freed up to explore and be interested in other parts of life. Even as singles recognize how difficult the uncertainty of singleness can be, it's possible that some may not be able to fully recognize the toll that living with such ambiguity takes. In order to effectively minister to singles, it is essential for church leaders to understand the diversity of this population and the challenges they may face. Putting words to the ambiguity can be helpful and bring hope to the person giving them new energy to focus on other positive relationships in their life, and also learn how to successfully live with the ambiguity.
For helpful suggestions about living with ambiguity and research on singleness, download our free RelateStrong | Leadership Series eBook.