It’s Just Me
I had a conversation with a guy last night and something he said reminded me of a conversation I had with a different guy a few years ago. It also reminded me of something my cousin said to me a few weeks ago: “why do all of that when it’s just you?”
I wonder which is most disconcerting for singles: doing things that they’d rather do with a partner by themselves or delaying and possibly missing opportunities to have certain experiences. For me, the latter is the most distressing. Ironically, it is highlighted through one of my hobbies, baking. Baking gives me pleasure (something that tastes good, near instant gratification, immediate feedback, and praise from others), but amplifies my singleness because it creates tremendous waste (and very limited freezer space) if I can’t find anybody to share my creations with. Evenso, I’d rather waste my food than wait around hoping for an opportunity to make a dish. The idea of waiting to try the newest bread recipe until a companion comes around is terrifying! If he never comes, I never get to make a loaf of bread!
It is finally sinking in that people don’t believe they have value in and of themselves. People define themselves in relation to other people. They follow the beaten paths of life as it relates to signficant connections, becoming parents, or how they engage family. Essentially, they don’t make cognizant choices; they just flow with the expectations placed upon them, that they’ve assumed. Expectations are like the path of a mighty river – deep and rutted out after having chastened all of the rocks in its way.
For many people, external expectations constitute their desire to be coupled. Moreover, they’ve adopted external expectations so much so that they’ve come to own them and certain life choices and behaviors “just seem right” (inertia). By the same token, people who find the marriage ideal both normative and desirable often find individuals who don’t crave the same things a bit alien. They think something is wrong with an intentional or long-term singleton. Singletons are “other-ized” because most people can’t fathom a different paradigm through which to live their lives¹. In this case, singleness scares them because it is unfamiliar.
Just as external expectations guide many decisions, so does the need for external validation. I’m no psychologist, but I am willing to bet a day’s wages that much of one’s ability to feel emotionally safe in the world comes from those early primary relationships…………..and a bunch of people didn’t get what they needed. In turn, they look for it in relationships and marriage. Personally, I think any validation that you didn’t get as a kid has to be gained through personal development work, therapy, prayer, etc. I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate to expect healing from another person; that’s too great a weight for another human being (each person must learn how to carry his or her own load). However, relationships can help you grow (those relationships don’t necessarily have to be “the marital relationship”). Nevertheless, the marital relationship is, in the minds of many, the safest relationship in which to explore themselves. Therefore, they actively work to abandon their singleness while failing to realize that self-help and personal growth are as central to romantic connection as is the desire to be connected (it’s not a far reach to see how this expectation impacts divorce). In this case, singleness highlights their personal internal brokenness.
The coup de grace of singleness is in it’s being equated with selfishness, a disagreeable personality, expecting perfection in another (never mind the fact that some people spend more time researching where they’re going to buy their physical house rather than contemplating what they need in the person with whom they are going to share that house). Many people believe that focusing on oneself is problematic and wrong, i.e., if my life isn’t about my spouse, my kids, or constant community service, I am a bad person living a life without value or meaning. In this case, singleness makes them feel insufficient and bad about themselves.
Finally, singleness disturbs people because it is a reminder that they must ask permission. One of the greatest challenges of intimate relationships (romantic, family, close friendships, etc.) is that people bask in being able to take each other for granted. More specifically, people like assuming/knowing that she’s going to make all the phone calls to get that problem fixed and that he’ll go to the doctor with me to get the test results. Single people have to ask others to be in their lives for such purposes. Here’s the problem: marriage isn’t a guarantee that one will get these things. Further, the pain of disappointment is tremendous, but it happens. OFTEN. Frankly, couplehood simply isn’t a panacea. It can be good. It can lend to a full and nuanced life. But, it still isn’t the panacea that it’s made out to be. You’ll still need to figure out how to set up your emergency contacts, distribute your assets upon your death, and arrange for somebody to pick your meds when you get home from the hospital. In the case of marrieds, you hope you know that person will automatically be. In the case of singletons, we have to be intentional about developing a community of people we can trust to support us which means spreading out the load and burden of our humanity. Nope, we can’t take our community for granted. In this case, singleness reminds people of all that life requires and possibly makes them think that they can’t make it.
So, why do all of that when it’s just me? Because I want to. Because it delights me. Because it assures me that there is space for me, just me, in the world and in God’s eye. And if it just so happens that somebody comes along who is able to hitch his car to my caboose, he’ll be better off, we’ll be better off, for all the things that I’ve done for me.