I am like many women you may know. I am in my forties and the mother of three wonderful children. I fancy gardening and estate sales and am partial to dark chocolate. I live in a rural community and have recently embarked on the adventure of running a small bed-and-breakfast from my home. I exercise regularly and scour magazines for nutritional recipes. I budget carefully and hunt for bargains to make ends meet. Yet in the last several years I have discovered something about myself that is decidedly different from many other women.
I’ve discovered that I am sincerely content to be single.
I'm not talking here about a recent breakup. I have been single for more than 15 years, and in that time I have had one—yes, one—date. To quote a line from a ’90s movie, it was “a distant second to a good book and a warm bath.” This is usually the point in the conversation where I receive skeptical expressions, raised eyebrows, and sometimes remarks of abject sympathy. People have a hard time believing I am not lonely or that I stay busy socially.
Not so long ago I was having dinner with a group of women who were also single parents. Though I was acquainted with most of the women, there were a few I had only just met. As if on cue, the conversation turned to inquiries about recent dates. When it became obvious that I was the last one to speak, I honestly responded, “You know, I haven't dated in a number of years—I'm just really content on my own.”
My answer was met by an awkward silence followed by murmurs of What? and other disbelieving exclamations usually reserved for heated debates regarding religion or politics. As we left the restaurant, I heard one of the women I had recently met exclaim to another of our group, “That is just pathetic! I do not want to live my life alone!”
I laughed about that dinner conversation later with one of my closest friends, who, like most of my friends, happens to be happily married. Though not the most sensitive of comments, it wasn't the first time I’d heard that kind of remark and probably won't be the last. I am surprised how often other women want to “fix” my desire to remain single.
It seems that in our society it is acceptable to be single as long as you’re in the process of trying to remedy it. I realize my lifestyle is not the norm. It is natural to desire companionship—and to this end, I do spend a lot of time with friends. I have come to accept that only those closest to me can appreciate that I am not just putting on a brave front but am truly happy. After all, I was still in my thirties when I started this journey.
I am not a martyr, nor am I a member of some wacky cult. I did not wake up one morning and randomly decide to spend my days as a single woman in a world of couples. I have been married twice and unfortunately experienced infidelity, abandonment, and abuse in those relationships. I have some regrets, but rather than being bitter about my experiences I have chosen to forgive and move on. I won't pretend it has always been easy. I have struggled, and my second marriage was the result of not allowing myself enough time to grieve and heal from the first. However, my struggles have made me a stronger person. I raised my kids on my own, and while being a single parent has had its challenges, we survived, and I treasure the close relationships I share with my children.
I facilitate a support group for single parents in my community. Like my former dinner companions, many of the women I have encountered have been married multiple times, and most are actively seeking a mate—with an emphasis on actively. For some of them, as was true in my own experience, truly learning to know themselves and allowing adequate time to recover from the ravages of divorce are not given priority. More often than not, this only results in a vicious cycle of broken relationships.
After my second divorce, I decided I would focus on raising my kids. I wanted to offer them as much stability as I could provide. When they were younger, it was a rare occasion for me to have time alone. My family lives in another city, and although we spend holidays and special occasions together, calling them up to babysit for an afternoon was simply not an option. There is little time for mourning your lack of social life between carpooling to ballet lessons, choir activities, and Scouting events. I daily prayed for strength. Some days I felt those prayers were answered; on other days it seemed as though my prayers were hitting the ceiling. By God's grace, I persevered.
As my children and their social lives grew, I began to carve out some “me” time. My friendships were no longer limited to the parents of my kids' friends. I took an aerobics class, went to movies with friends, and took time to enjoy myself. I began to care less what others thought of me and realized I actually enjoyed my own company. Though it surely was a process, it gradually dawned on me how content I was—and still am.
Is my life perfect or without problems? No. Am I thankful for each day, for good friends, and for navigating the oncoming empty nest season? Absolutely!
True contentment, I’ve discovered, is not the absence of problems but instead is the peace that’s available in spite of them. It’s the sense of fulfillment that comes when you discover your life is very different from what you may have once imagined but is even better because of the detours.
These days I cherish long phone conversations with my young-adult daughters and marvel at the connection we share. My best friend and I laugh until teary whether we’re escaping to the latest movie or reflecting on more serious matters of the heart. I revel in the fact that at age 16, my son still unabashedly hugs everyone he knows.
When the house is empty and it is early morning, I go outside, breathe in the scent of flowers, and embrace the solitude—just me and the birds. I contemplate the beauty of the garden, remembering when the only thing that was visible was a vast expanse of dirt and rocks. I recollect the various projects and landscaping tasks the kids helped me with over the years, symbolic of so many other milestones we’ve tackled together. And as I meditate, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and awe. I reflect on these things and thank God that I am content.