Sometimes when people first meet me, they ask how many kids I have. The assumption being, of course, that a woman in her 30s must be married and have started a family. I used to respond, “Kids? Me? No, I’m just single.” But “just single” didn’t capture accurately what I felt. So I’ve adopted a new phrase—I’m happily single.
You may wonder why this makes a difference to me. I find that by responding with “happily” instead of “just,” I make clear that I am content in my singleness and not lacking anything by being single. My singleness is simply part of the reality of where I am in life, and it is good. Saying that I am “happily single” is not saying no to being married but rather that I’m not actively seeking marriage. I’m trusting in God’s timing and plan for my life. I’ve noticed that this point of view can lend itself to some critique, as it seems that very few people actually believe one can truly be content as a single person.
Let me be clear. I don’t feel bad for myself, and you don’t need to feel bad for me either. I’m not sad about being single, though you may think I am. If you doubt me, perhaps it would be helpful for you to know what I actually desire from you, my community, as a single woman.
I need supportive friends: male and female, married and single, young and old, Christian and non-Christian. In some circles these relationships are surprisingly hard to nurture, but I believe we grow by being part of a diverse community. If two single people are having a friendly conversation, that doesn’t mean they are in a dating relationship, or are destined for a relationship, or that they want to date each other. If a single woman (or man) is talking to a married man or woman, that doesn’t mean she is jealously wishing he was her husband (or wife). I want to participate in meaningful conversations that span a variety of demographics, but I tire very quickly of assumptions—particularly because my singleness is not the lens through which I view the world.
I need community. I’m OK being the only single person in a group, the one who makes it five instead of four. I’ve noticed that couples like doing things with other couples. But please don’t exclude single friends because you think we’ll feel awkward. Some of us idealize (or idolize) marriage, and being with our friends who are living it out daily is a good thing for us. It also helps us to foster some of those supportive friendships that we need to grow.
I need family. As a single person transplanted into a city where I don’t have family nearby, I’m looking for stand-in parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. I want to be passed peppermints in church and to hold your children. I want to cultivate deep relationships where I know I’m loved and can offer love. I want a home away from home where I can drop by unannounced and know I’ll be welcomed.
I need a place to use my gifts and the encouragement to live into who God created me to be. Being single does not mean I’m immature or inexperienced. I am more than capable of serving the church. Please don’t discount me. My gifts extend beyond being a nursery attendant. I can contribute fully to the life of the church—allow me to!
Along with knowing what I, a single woman, desire from my community, you also should be aware of some realities that I encounter.
Being single does not mean I have more time. As a single person, I spend my time in very different ways than my friends who are married with kids. But being without a husband or child does not mean I have loads of free time. I may not be available to babysit for you. I may not be able to be on a committee. I may actually need to do my laundry. Single people who choose to be intentionally engaged in their community will not necessarily have time to burn. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean they should be “guilted” into a commitment. All of us are called to steward our time; as a single person I am accountable to God for how I’ve used this precious resource.
I will be insulted if you say something like, “People without kids don’t get it.” Actually, I’ll get really angry. A comment like that is unhelpful and dismissive. We all have different life experiences, and at one time or another we are all in situations where we “don’t get it.” As the body of Christ we are invited to sojourn together. I have ears, a heart, a mind. So share with me your experiences. Let me learn from you; help me grow in compassion and empathy as I see life through your eyes. Allow me to share my life with you too, and don’t assume that you “get” singleness. Be aware that I will also be extremely irritated if you suggest that my life is “unblessed” because I don’t have a husband or children, all of whom are “God’s most awesome gifts.” The incarnation is pretty much the most awesome gift we get, and I can point to myriad blessings that God has given me.
I am not consumed by the fact that I am single. I do not wake up or go to sleep crying about being in my bed alone. I actually sleep diagonally, hogging all the blankets for myself! I’m not constantly worried about my relationship status. My singleness is just one aspect of who I am, and it doesn’t define me.
I don’t mind talking about my singleness, but I want that conversation to be balanced with other discussions about things like where I see God moving, how work is going, what’s happening in the news, or what books I’ve read lately.
Being single is not a shameful thing, and as a Christian I do not want to fall into the trap of wishing away this God-given time. Singleness is a gift, and whether I am single for a time or a lifetime, I want to live fully present in the place where God has placed me. The reality is that I will not get married unless I can do more for the kingdom of God with my husband than I can on my own.
The experience of singleness is different for each person. So if you want to love a single person well, take the time to get to know her beyond her relationship status. As for me . . . you’ll find me happily single, striving to live faithfully and intentionally, moment by moment, regardless of my relationship status.
About the Author
Melissa Van Dyk is a member of First Vancouver Christian Reformed Church in British Columbia. She writes for the CRC Network as the Deacon Guide and serves on the boards of Diaconal Ministries of Canada as well as the BC Leadership Development Network.