She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth—
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I, 17
About two years ago, Rilke's words became my guide. I am grateful for my life, so grateful, but I am ever aware of the ill-matched threads and trying to make sense of how they fit.
Relative after relative used to tell me I'd be beating the boys away with a stick once I got to college. I hoped they were right because I hungered for a boyfriend like nothing else. Really, I hungered for validation and I was convinced a boyfriend would finally convince me of my worth.
College: marriage mecca. Surely some wonderful guy would deem me equally wonderful. Mom was 20 and Dad 23 when they married. I had no reason to believe it would work out differently.
Alas, while boys certainly were interested in me at my small liberal arts school, they were more interested in one-night stands than rings by spring. I settled for random make-out sessions and the occasional date.
I left with a degree and without a serious boyfriend. Not how I envisioned it. I'd planned to meet my true love at college. We'd marry after graduation and enjoy a couple of years of newlywed bliss before starting our family. My whole life I believed it would be so.
Instead, I watched friends and cousins marry. Even if I was prettier, smarter, or less dysfunctional, I remained alone. Even though loved ones told me differently, I concluded my flaws were greater than my strengths. There had to be some reason I remained single. I felt I had failed myself, my family, and even my church.
No one ever told me it was bad to be single. But no one said it was a valid option either.
My parents never pressured me to date or to settle, nor have my dearest friends. We are all befuddled by this turn of events. There have been very few guides on how to navigate singleness well, even fewer on Christian singleness.
As the years passed and Mr. Right continued to take his time, I developed my own theology of singleness. I read books, I talked with friends and family, and I prayed. I gained a better sense of self, along with healthier expectations of romantic relationships. I dated and navigated the complexities of male-female friendship.
Most importantly, I began to view singleness through another lens. It's not a punishment or an unwanted spiritual gift. I haven't failed. I wouldn't trade the past decade's opportunities for anything. I can honestly say I love my life.
And yet days come where I struggle to believe I'm enough, that this messy, beautiful single life is enough. There's still a part of me that believes a husband will prove I'm beautiful and worthy and grown-up. I've been teasing apart this faulty theology for at least a decade now- it pops up at the most interesting times and places- and I suppose this is why I keep writing about singleness. We may never marry but that doesn't mean we are "less than."
This next year boasts many personal changes. For all my independence, I'm tired of being the sole decision-maker. More like exhausted. As great as friends and family are as sounding boards, they can't make the decision for me, nor are their lives much affected by what I decide. I want someone else to have a vested interest in the outcome.
To paraphrase Rilke's words further in the poem, I'm stretching beyond what limits me. It is a risk to make these decisions, just as it's a risk to write publicly about being single. It's possible to want to marry, while also valuing my singleness.
I have to fight my impulse to overexplain and caveat each line because I'm well familiar with the assumptions about singleness and what people think I should do to "fix" it. Write about loneliness and people say I'm depressed. Write about a bad date and people ask if I've tried on-line dating. Write enough about singleness and someone will wonder if I have the spiritual gift of celibacy (which, hey, technically isn't a spiritual gift) or mention their experience of getting married at age 22. God has given me a passion for driving the loudmouths out of this particular hall.
I don't write for those people. I write for myself and for the other singles out there trying to weave the ill-matched threads of their lives. We all have our stories and different opinions on this stage of life, whether unmarried, divorced, widowed, or pseudo-single (my own term for those who are married or partnered but fucntion as single for various reasons). But my God, we are worthy in and of ourselves.
I am worthy.
No matter how much singles are marginalized, we still have a seat at the table. I've claimed mine. I'll save you a seat.
Linking up with the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
(Head here for my brief review of Carry On, Warrior and a picture of me with Glennon.)
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