My teenage self is cringing at those words, because I have never, ever wanted to be alone. Back in middle school, I would pray every night for a boyfriend. This routine continued through high school, growing more desperate with each passing year. Though I had great friends and actually really enjoyed my life on a daily basis, I was anxious to be affirmed as desirable and fun. In college, my prayers turned into complaints--vocal expressions of my indignant frustration over never being asked out. I was dying for my pain and loneliness to be affirmed by anyone who still had the patience to listen; I wanted an explanation for why I was still single.
I did go on the rare date, or at least the adolescent version of a “date”. I had a cliche summer camp fling one year (at a Christian summer camp, mind you--’twas the epitome of innocence). But it was not nearly enough. I wanted to have what I was told was the ideal, not only by movies and TV shows but also by the church: a doting, attractive, adventurous partner who saw me as the best thing that ever happened to him. Of course, there was nothing particularly holy about my obsession with being coupled, other than the fact that I still considered sex to be a thing meant only for the officially married. Still, I believed that God wanted to give me nice things, and that if I was a good person and asked for them politely, they were more than likely to happen. Well, what I wanted was a boyfriend, and that seemed like a decent enough request. The only reason I could think of that God would have for not bringing me this thing I so desired was that I myself had done something wrong, something to offend Him. I examined my life, but could not figure out what this love-precluding sin was. What I did know was that I was going to be married by the time I was twenty-five (because that’s just when a person got hitched in my world) and this confident expectation kept me believing that a romantic connection had to be just around the next corner, that God was just on the verge of coming through.
Cut to today: I am currently thirty-five years old, and not even engaged. I am also, finally, thankful that this is the case. Don’t get me wrong--I still want to get married, but I can see now what an incredible stroke of good luck it is that it didn’t happen on the timeline I not only forecasted but actually went so far as to demand from my god. Certainly my taste in men as well as my understanding of compatibility have changed since my twenties, and thus any choice made at that time would probably not have been a sustainable one on a basic personality level. More than that, though, I think of how utterly trapped I would be if the dreams of my youth had come true. Any man I would have married on my original life schedule (Can we please get rid of life schedules? They cause so much distress.) would have been a devout Christian, because I was a devout Christian, and that’s how Christianity--at least the variety that I knew--works. Now, I am an ex-Christian, and thus would likely be an ex-wife too.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that divorce is the worst thing that can happen to a person. It can, in fact, be a liberating thing in context, as I’ve seen it be for many friends for a variety of reasons. And, I do not think any relationship--including a marriage--is a failure just because it ends. Life can be long, and things can change, and learning how to appreciate what each experience gifts us is an incredible lesson, as is learning how to take care of oneself in the face of social pressures and expectations. That said, divorce can also be sloppy and painful and I am pretty sure I would prefer to avoid any situation that would compel me to choose it, if I could. Which brings us back to the subject of this post.
I once knew an ideal Evangelical couple. They were in their mid-twenties, well-educated (at a Christian college, of course), camp counselors, good-looking, into pop culture--they were about as cool as it was possible for two proselytizing disciples of Jesus to be. Then the young man had some kind of crisis of faith, and abandoned his wife. We could not understand it then, but I think I understand it, at least a little bit, now. It’s hard to know for sure if I would have ever walked away from the church had my life gone according to the plan that was instilled in me--had I gotten married by twenty-five, that is--but if I had still, at some point, realized that my faith was gone, what would have happened to my godly marriage? How could I stay--and how could I leave? I can hardly imagine having to make that choice. It’s bad enough dealing with the disappointment and pain of friends and family members who worry you’re now going to hell, and disconnecting from the truly precious community of the congregation. Add to that leaving behind the person to whom you’ve committed your entire life, the person whose life you’re going to ruin. There is no nice way to do it; especially in one’s twenties, there’s probably no mature way to do it, either.
It was difficult being single for most of my life; at times, it was downright excruciating. There is a part of me that would go back and change it if I could, because, honestly, that part of me still does see romantic desirability as a high priority in life and a measure of my own worth. I’m working on it. What I would not change is the gift of mental, emotional, and spiritual independence, which for me is expressed in my purposeful renunciation of the faith in which I was raised. I think of what a committed, even matrimonial, relationship would have cost me in terms of pain caused to others or pain caused to myself if I had found it when I thought I needed it, and I have to say, this way seems better. Singleness was a worthwhile price to pay for the freedom to be me, in the end.