Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Two Truths and a Lie About Singleness After College
When I was in my mid-twenties, my friend Kimi and I entered an essay contest for twentysomething writers that invited us to explore a question that was keeping us up a night. Kimi wrote a thoughtful piece about race issues and ethnic identity. I too had deep questions related to politics, justice, and so on, but when it came down to it, my real burning question was about boyfriends. Or the lack thereof. I titled my piece “Twentysomething and Single” and wrote about a question I was asked almost weekly at the time by anyone from family members to close friends to perfect strangers: “So, are you in a relationship?”
When you’re in your twenties and desire to be in a dating relationship but have no promising prospects, you can start to believe that God doesn’t want to bless you, that he’s holding out on you, or, worse—that he’s punishing you. While I can look back and see that none of these were true, at the time I wrestled to have real faith in a good God—or at least in a God who I believed was good to me.
Here are two truths and one lie I learned about singleness and dating during that time.
THE LIE: Singleness is a punishment; once you get your life right, you’ll be rewarded with the gift of a relationship.
As I watched my friends date and marry through my twenties (I was invited to 12 weddings the summer after I turned 24!), I started to believe that God didn’t want me to meet someone because he was still “working on me.” And while it’s true that God did some of his most significant inner healing in my life in my twenties, he does not keep us single until we’ve “arrived” enough spiritually for him to introduce a mate. God uses singleness to refine us, and God uses marriage to refine us.
My friend Megan is in her thirties and single, and still longs to meet someone. Though there are times when social media, church gatherings, or even close friends make her feel like she’s “less than” because she’s not married, Megan does not believe the lie. Instead of seeing her singleness as punishment or a holding pattern until she reaches that “next thing,” she chooses to live fully now. Reflecting on the rich community God has provided for her, Megan recently said to me, “These [friendships] are not my consolation prize. They are the abundant life I’m living here and now.”
Let me be clear here: singleness is not a punishment and marriage is not the prize. Both are hard and beautiful for different reasons, and both can make us holy. Whether we’re single or married, let’s give thanks for the gift of our life station and allow God to use it to sanctify us.
TRUTH #1: God has good things in store.
One of the biggest challenges in life is to be fully present where we are also holding hope for what could be. On one hand, it can be tempting to long for a relationship and marriage to the point that we’re not living the life God has for us now. On the other hand, if we have an unfulfilled longing, we may be tempted to give up hope and disbelieve God’s goodness.
A few years after college, I shared an apartment with two other single women. I’ll never forget the day one of them came home with a wedding dress she’d just purchased. The dress was gorgeous, but there was a problem: Nicole wasn’t engaged or even dating anyone at the time. (Also, the dress was two sizes too small.) Full of hope for the future (and about losing a few pounds), Nicole bought the dress in anticipation of getting married someday. While I admired her unbridled hope, she sometimes neglected to live with the reality that “what is is, and what isn’t isn’t.”
Perhaps more of a pitfall for women, when we start buying wedding dresses, naming our future children with the person we just started dating, or “playing house” by living together before we’re married, it’s bound to cost us more than the price of a non-returnable garment. Perhaps more applicable to men, it’s important to guard the other person’s heart emotionally, to be upfront with our intentions, and to be responsible. If we’re taking things that only belong within a marriage covenant (sex and living together) or we’re stringing another person along without an intention to marry, we’re bound to hurt each other. Not to mention the “sunk cost” of all that time spend in a relationship that’s not going anywhere.
At the same time, we can also suffer from the opposite mindset: running from relationships or giving up hope that God has good things in store. If I’m really honest, I think I was so afraid that God didn’t have a mate or marriage in store for me that I started to convince myself I didn’t want or need anyone. Without even realizing it, I began to put up walls when relating to the opposite sex, sending the message that I wasn’t interested. To protect myself from hurt, I made decisions out of fear instead of freedom.
I’m so grateful that God brought Nicole and my other housemate into my life when he did. He used us to refine each other. I owe it to those women for pointing out my walls and helping me open myself up to all God had in store—dating relationships and a lot beyond that.
TRUTH #2: Our identity comes from Christ alone.
In the chaos of your twenties, it can be tempting to search for security and significance in a relationship. You might believe the lie that once you find “your person” your life will become stable. The truth is that our stability comes from Christ alone; he is our sure foundation in every shifting time.
Neither Kimi nor I won that essay contest. But both of us wrote about what we needed to at the time; the process of writing our pieces allowed us to work through important issues related to identity. I not only explored the “Are you in a relationship?” question, but I also dug into why I cared so much that people asked so often and why I was not okay with my answer. Here’s what I concluded. I hope it encourages you, no matter where you are on your journey:
On the days I don’t love singleness, it may be okay that I’m not completely satisfied. There’s something about dissatisfaction that leaves us frustrated with the status quo . . . frustration can cause us to hold hope for something different. I don’t think it’s an awful thing that I’d like to date someone someday. It may actually be quite healthy that I’m open to the possibility.
I want to celebrate my given season. I want to give thanks for today and have hope for tomorrow. And instead of believing God is holding out on me, I want to trust in Something infinitively more creative than [media], my parents’ hopes or my personal hang-ups to help me dwell in the thousand and one possibilities for a twentysomething single.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
Erica Young Reitz helps college seniors and recent graduates navigate the complex transition to postcollege life. Drawing on best practices and research on senior preparedness, this practical guide addresses the top issues graduates face: making decisions, finding friends, managing money, discerning your calling and much more.