“It’s your turn next!” my friend told me, less than a week after her wedding. I was amazed at the speed with which one can go from Singleton to Smug Married. (Sorry if much of my vocabulary in this arena is informed by the Bridget Jones books and movies. Okay, I’m not really sorry; I love them.) I wanted to remind her of how much we hated it when other people said such things to us back when we were both single, but I bit my tongue. “Have you tried that website?” she asked, and proceeded to tell me about a Christian dating site. You know the one. You’ve seen their commercials, in which ridiculously photogenic couples hold hands and frolic chastely and talk about how God meant for them to find one another, all to the sound of a song which is actually about falling in love with Jesus, not finding your schmoopie. No, I told her. I haven’t and will not try that one. Based on the commercials and what I’ve heard from friends who have tried it, I don’t think their particular brand of Christianity fits me at all. I deplore the idea of “finding God’s match for me,” as if there’s one guy out there God designed to fit me, and my ultimate purpose in life is to find him. I don’t buy that.
I didn’t really date until my thirties. A lot of things held me back in high school and college — especially a lack of self-confidence, and a fear of anything remotely sexual (which I learned very well in the evangelical circles in which I moved). By the time I returned from a two-year term as a missionary, during which I was forbidden to date, I was in my mid-twenties. A lot of my friends were already engaged or married. There were almost no single men at the divinity school where I was working on my Master’s. It felt like too many opportunities had passed me by, and I did wonder at times whether I had missed out on God’s will, taken a wrong turn somewhere. Then I went and got myself ordained, which makes meeting someone even more complicated. Still, friends and fellow church members assured me, “It will happen. God has someone wonderful out there for you.”
After moving to the Charleston area, where I had a steady job and was beginning to put down roots, I felt ready to take on the dating world. I have been on more dates (and things I thought were dates but actually weren’t) in the past five years than in the previous thirty-one years of my life combined. Some of them have been terrible. Some of them were a tolerable way to spend an evening (and eat a free dinner, since southern men almost always insist on paying). Others were just plain fun, and a few even gave me hope that this guy might be worth keeping around for a while. Those last ones are the trickiest, because when those guys decide that they don’t want to stay around — or that they do, but as nothing more than platonic friends — it is flat out awful. I end up feeling heartbroken, foolish, deceived, disillusioned. And every time, I get more afraid that they will all be like this, that I will be alone forever and surely that couldn’t be God’s will.
After a particularly painful breakup, one of my friends told me, “Someday your husband is going to be so thankful for all these men who have treated you badly.” Um, really? My husband sounds like kind of a jerk. And let’s be honest here — we may be talking about an imaginary person. As writer and kindred spirit Leigh Kramer expressed so beautifully in her recent post, finding a romantic partner is a matter of “If, Not When.” I know people mean well when they reassure us Singletons that love is right around the corner, when they tell us we just have to keep trying, or that we should stop trying because it will happen when we least expect it. But they are making promises God never made. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise a fairy tale ending for every individual, complete with handsome prince or beautiful princess. That is not easy for me to accept, particularly when it seems that most everyone around me has found their partner. As I told a friend, I spend too much time feeling like a spare sock in the existential dryer.
My return to sanity comes in remembering a few things: God did not create us in pairs like socks. I may “match” any number of potential partners, or possibly none at all, and I would still be okay. And while God did not give any assurances that I’d find one true love like in fairy tales, what God has given is hope. As Anne Lamott said in her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, “My pastor talks about how we live in the hope — not the hope that we will get or that this will work out or we’ll find this. We live in the hope that love is true, and that God is true, and goodness is true, and that the light shines in the darkness. And the light has never been extinguished.” God’s will is vast, and leaves ample room for our free will. As frustrating as it is sometimes — as much as I would love for there to be one right path, one perfect match for me — I can choose to follow any one of many paths, alone or with a partner, and still live in hope, with God journeying alongside me.
Bridget Jones concluded that she had two choices — to give up and accept permanent spinsterhood (I hate that word), eventually being found alone in her apartment half-eaten by dogs, or not. I feel that I’m faced with a similar choice. I can choose to resign myself to a life of hopelessness, of feeling less-than because I’m still single and always waiting for my life to really start when my husband shows up. On my worst days, I’ll admit that I wallow in that rut. But I don’t want to choose that. Instead I choose — well, not vodka and Chaka Khan as Bridget did (though sometimes I do choose chardonnay and Sara Bareilles). No, I choose hope. I choose to find purpose and meaning in the struggle of now, not the possible happiness of some better future.
It’s true that if I really had my choice, it would be all sippy cups and Sesame Street singalongs with the hubby and kids by now. But my choices are not the only ones that affect me, and some things are decidedly not within my control. I can’t choose to be a wife and mother right now, unless and until other people’s choices help make those things possible. What I can do is choose love, and that love is no less real just because it doesn’t come with a diamond ring on my finger or chubby little baby arms wrapped around my neck. If the canonical gospels are to be believed, Jesus didn’t spend his time scouring the streets of Galilee to find the lucky lady who was God’s match for him. He was too busy loving God in every way he could, and loving his neighbor as himself, even loving his enemies. Whether single or married, that is my mission. And that’s more than enough work for a lifetime.