In March, my second cousin, Sue, passed away unexpectedly. I knew her as a spunky, funny, adventurous woman, but I was unprepared for the number of people who attended her memorial service. Though there were well over 200 guests, my parents and I were the only actual family members present. Having never married, Sue, at 69, had no descendants and was the last of her immediate line in England. But she clearly had plenty of other family. Friends from her school days, former coworkers, piano students and their families, church members, friends from choirs she’d sung in, and fellow musicians whom she had gathered together and played with all came to show their respects and mourn this beloved woman who had certainly not wasted her years waiting for some chap to rescue her!
At 36, I don’t feel like I’ve squandered away my single years waiting for a man either. But Sue’s funeral and the new snapshots I heard from her friends of her adventurous spirit and generous heart helped me see my singleness differently — with a bit more inspiration and gratitude and a bit less fear. Because even though I’ve made decisions for myself about my life as it is —not assuming or taking for granted the fact that I will, someday, get married —a big What If? (with accompanying questions) has lurked in the background, sometimes more concealed, other times more in the open:
What if I don’t get married?
What will people think of me?
What will I miss out on?
How will I feel about my life when I look back on it?
Yet Sue’s service — a picture of a life lived well, surrounded by community — gave me the reminder I needed. If I never get married, I will be just fine. That means I can keep enjoying the things I actually, truly appreciate about my single life — things I would genuinely miss if I were to marry. Here are just a few of those things that have made my single life both meaningful and rich.
Friendships with other single female friends.
There is nothing quite like the bonding that takes place on a Friday night between single female friends sitting in someone’s home having real conversation, laughing, and dreaming together. It is a bond formed through a kind of suffering that comes from asking God over and over for something good — something he created us for — and not having him answer in the way we want. It is a bond formed through broken hearts shared, first dates debriefed, healthy dating relationships celebrated, and the ache we feel — full of joy and sadness and longing — when another one of our own moves from single to engaged and then married. It is a bond formed when we celebrate together whatever impressive feat one of us just accomplished — fixing a dishwasher, changing a tire, getting all the groceries and the gym bag and the cool free chair we stopped and picked up on the side of the road into the house in one trip. And it is a bond formed through a seldom spoken of but often felt insecurity that maybe there’s something wrong with us, which is why we haven’t been “chosen” — an insecurity that is largely absent when we are together. If I ever marry, I will truly miss being part of the community of courageous, beautiful, gifted, talented, intelligent, godly single women I am privileged to call sisters and friends in the same way I am now.
Time and space to pursue unique callings.
I know this one isn’t only true for single people — I’ve watched my parents and many married friends pursue shared and separate callings together and thrive. But it is less complicated to listen to the Lord about one person’s calling than two. Being single has meant I am free at any moment to explore callings I sense from the Lord. And this freedom has led me to consider graduate school, move cities to take a new job that was a better fit, and, most recently, move in with a family in a more diverse neighborhood to invest in racial justice work in my city. I have watched other single friends go back to graduate school in completely different fields than they’ve been working in, step away from their jobs for a sabbatical year, and join God’s work in places where Christians are persecuted. These decisions are a bit easier logistically — though also require more courage, without the “safety net” of a spouse’s support and extra income — when you’re single.
Truly restful vacations.
Bad work boundaries aside (which is my own problem), my vacations are usually actually restful. And this is particularly helpful for my all-or-nothing personality, which, despite my best efforts, can lead me to say yes to too many things and then leave me exhausted. Most of my vacation time now is spent with family or good friends, doing things I love to do — things that are life-giving and restorative, like being by water, reading good books, having deep conversations, drinking leisurely mugs of tea and coffee, and taking long walks. And while I know vacations with a spouse can be restful (particularly if you don’t have children), I know of few people — even people who really, really like their in-laws — who would rather spend time with their spouse’s family than their own, if they’re perfectly honest. I don’t have to pick. And I’m grateful for the extra time with family and friends that my single life affords me.
Money to spend (or save) as I want.
Yes, there are definitely days when I wish I had a spouse to help me make financial decisions (and a second salary to add to the income!), but much of the time, I like being able to do what I want with my money without having to spend energy “negotiating” (sometimes called fighting). However exhausting budgeting and investing and saving and purchasing might feel now on my own, I have to believe it’s all even more exhausting when there are two of you, each raised in different families with different habits and philosophies about money. There’s a reason so much marital conflict happens around money. But as a single person, I have no one to blame, or thank, but myself. There is a certain kind of freedom in that.
Even though I love these parts of my life, I do not mean to say that my single life is easy and perfect. And it’s not to say I don’t want to be married. There are days and moments when the longing for companionship — for a life partner to walk alongside and know and be known by — almost takes my breath away. There are days when singleness feels lonely; when I can sense people’s confusion (or judgment?) about why, at 36, I’m living with a family and not on my own; when I feel looked down on or less than or immature or naïve because I’ve never been married.
But there is gratitude that comes even in those moments. It is gratitude for the ways I am growing in a long-obedience kind of patience and trust. My life right now is full of both longing and contentment, joy and pain. I suspect, if I marry, the same will be true. The challenge — and the gift, if we can receive it — is to choose to believe anew that the life he has called us to live right now — single or married — is the best one for us and others, and one that can bring him greater glory. A life of that kind of faith in our good God is truly the most vibrant life of all.