Pretend today that it's fall. The air is crisp and every time you step a big leaf crunches beneath your boot. All around you are lattes, pumpkins and, of course, couples. Because fall - sweet fall - is coupley. October is basically Coupletober. It's the peak - the top of mountain - where everyone is in love and then, just like that, they all slide into the holiday season holding hands. Posting selfies of pumpkin carving and chili making and all sorts of things that you could do alone, but in October, when love is building, people do them holding hands.
You're single. And you're feeling lonely. You're telling a friend - a trusted source - that it's hard being single this time of year. Then she says it:
Maybe if you stopped looking so hard, you'd find him.
Or maybe, it wasn't a friend. But a woman at church. Or an aunt. Or a coworker. It doesn't matter who says it, really, because in the moment, it feels like a drive-by shaming.
You start to spiral. Do I reek of desperation, you wonder. Is it that obvious to everyone around me that I want a boyfriend? Do I seem that hopeless and discontent as a single person? Am I scaring all the men off? Should I smile more in public?
Your friend goes on, You know! It always happens when you least expect it.
I have hesitated to write this post for a long time because it feels too big, too important to breeze over. I want to make sure I'm careful with my words, but firm in what I'm saying.
When you are single, people love to tell you that you always meet "the one" when you least expect it and if you'd stop looking, he'd probably find you. I have been told that it is a similar experience when you're struggling to get pregnant. That people like to tell you if you stopped worrying about it, you'd get pregnant.
Let me be clear here: people are trying to be kind when they say this. They are trying to release you from a little bit of pain by giving you the freedom to stop stressing. To the recipient, though, it feels flippant. Don't worry about it so much, silly! Is what it feels like.
I was told this a lot. I remember telling my mom and my sisters all of the time, after these drive-by shamings would happen: How can they say that? How can they say that I should just stop thinking about the deepest matters of my heart? And, find me one single girl whose my age and wants to get married and isn't thinking about it.
Because, the truth is, when singleness is weighing heavily on your heart, and you're yearning for not just a husband, but also a family (and yet, would settle for a boyfriend), it feels incredibly brazen to suggest that you ought not worry about it so much.
For those of you who know my story, you already know that I felt called to take a sabbatical from dating. And, during my break, I got to know Chris. The day after my break was over, which was also my first day back from Uganda, he took me (a very jet-lagged me) to dinner.
Based on our story, you might infer that I believe I met Chris because I stopped looking. Let me be clear: I do not, not believe this.
I believe that the Lord works in our hearts to prepare us for marriage. I believe relationships are hard and, being the highly sensitive person that I am, I wasn't ready for the hard work ahead before our first date. I needed the time of singleness.
Marriage was an idol for me and the Lord needed me to lay it down before Him and listen to what He was calling me to do. I believe I had to put Him above the idol of marriage, otherwise, I would have found myself searching for wholeness in marriage. And wholeness can't come from marriage or any external sources.
I also needed to pursue the things I loved and the person I was designed to be a little bit more before I could get into a serious relationship. I had a bad habit, before Chris, of minimizing my needs, trying to stay quiet and be agreeable in order to keep the peace in a relationship. I needed to learn that my needs were not burdensome and my feelings were not shameful. They were, in fact, part of what made me, me.
This might resonate with you. Or, you might be in a completely different boat. This won't be a one-size-fits-all-equation because life is bigger than that. I think, for some of us, we have to feel the deep loneliness of singleness before we can fully grasp the beauty of a relationship. I think for some of us, we have to sit in the pain longer than we're comfortable - longer than feels reasonable - for it's shaping us and growing us, although it often feels like it's just breaking us. It's not.
I don't know why some people get married young and some have to wait until they're 50. I don't know why some people never marry at all. I don't know why some people lose their spouses early. There is so much I don't know or understand and a lot of it feels unfair from my tiny perspective.
But, what I do know is that, when you feel enveloped in shame, wondering if you seem so desperate that you're scaring everyone away: don't let the shame win. You are OK as you are. You aren't scaring them off, simply because you have deep desires in your heart for a relationship and family. The majority of people long for that very same thing, it just looks very different for each person and we're taught that it should look the same for everyone. It doesn't.