Monday, October 24, 2011

Transitioning out of Singleness (part 3b)

Hi Friends! Today we have a follow up to my previous post "How did I do it?" A friend of mine, who was also single into her adulthood (I can't remember at what age she met and fell in love with her now husband of four? five? years, but she was not 21), had a comment that turned into a post. 

We worked together in the University Ministries Office, when we were both studying for our graduate degrees at Baylor and one thing I admire about her is her candid way of communicating, and her sense of humor. Her response to the last blog post is below. I've copied it here in its entirety because I thought it was just so good! Enjoy.

Hey Tiffani-

I really enjoyed your blog post today and I was writing a comment and well the comment just got away from me and became more of an essay (yikes). I'm posting in via email and will leave it up to you on how to share it.

I love this post, because it is SO honest.  Kudos to Sally for asking and wrestling with really good questions.

As a woman who was single for a while, dated A LOT (not in a good way), and struggled often with these same kinds of questions I think I can offer some encouragement and advice.

Just last night, I spent the evening with a group of married women in a bible study and the subject of our discussion was about the hurt, loneliness and rejection women experience and carry around mainly because of abandonment (usually by a father figure).

I sat and cried alongside these friends and shared a bit of my own story of sexual abuse by a family acquaintance right about the same time I was emotionally abandoned by my father.  I know that these kinds of feelings are not isolated to being single. I was also reminded of a truth that I learned while being single that helped in those moments when I felt “like shit for being single” and even now when I feel like “shit” for some other insecurity or fear.

Truth #1 “It is not hard to love me.”  The worst part of dating and having your hopes dashed, regardless of how high your expectations or hopes are, is the nagging feeling of rejection.  Even if the reason things don’t work out has little to do with you, there is still an underlying sense of “is something wrong with me?”

It doesn’t help that there is a prevalent idea in Christian culture that lauds marriage as an accomplishment reached only by those who have “gotten it all together” or somehow fixed all their broken parts.

 The challenge is not to believe the lies the Enemy tries to tell you in these vulnerable moments.  The lie says that you are broken and unlovable.

The TRUTH is we are all broken, but we are all redeemed!  I am healed and made whole by a savior who loves me.  It is not hard to love me.   Christ loves me.  I can remind myself that this is true because of the host of people in my life that show love to me on a daily basis.  This is a struggle I dealt with as a single person and one I still deal with as a married

Getting counseling is a wise move.  It will help.  It was for me as I was able to see clearly and deal with the underlying hurt and rejection that contributed to the “shitty” feelings of being single.  I was able to see them as just shitty feelings, less about my relationship status and more about hurtful things that happened to me or that I did to myself.

The longing didn’t go away, but understanding made it a lot easier.  Knowing why a feeling is happening helps give perspective.  When you have a good understanding of your “issues” (for lack of a better word) Relationships, dating or otherwise, are *easier* (note I didn’t say easy).  Realistic expectations for dates are more manageable when you have good perspective on yourself and how (& why) you deal with various challenges and situations.

Truth #2 “Give the Time value.” I refuse to spout any of the cliché’s I heard while single about waiting.  My only encouragement is to use the time. Don’t look at this single part of your life as a time of waiting or getting ready for something next.  Rather than view this as a “time of singleness” or the future as a “time of being married” or a “time of whatever,” just look at your life as *time*.

When I was in college I could do things that I can’t do now because of work and family obligations.  There are things I can do now, working rather than studying, because I have more financial resources than I did in college.  There are things I can do now as a younger person I won’t be able to do when I am older.  I will be able to do things when I am older that I can’t do now.

Time doesn’t have good or bad value.  It is just valuable.

I would encourage anyone younger than 30, married or not, to use the time to create some really good habits (Tiffani's note - I would encourage this at any age! you are never too old to develop good habits).  Develop the kind of habits that become so ingrained in who you are that you must do them in order to function properly.  Bible Study, prayer and contemplation, exercise and self-care are the habits that will see you through whatever life brings your way.   If these kinds of things are challenging to make into habits, then again,
counseling is a great place to figure out why.

Romans chapter 12 is, for me, a guiding treatise on how to live life in every time.  The final verses of the chapter seem appropriate here:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: 
   “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 
-Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Transitioning Out of Singleness (part 3): How did you do it?

Recently a friend of mine sent me an email about her current single-ness, and asking me a couple of questions. I decided to include it here, as part of the series, along with my advice to her, because a number of my friends are single and hoping to be married someday and
1) She thought the advice I offered her was helpful, so maybe others will, too.
2) I thought that some of you out there might a) have advice that is in addition to mine, and b) have questions that we can all answer together.
I certainly do not think that I know anything about courtship, really, or that my experience is indicative of the experience of others. But I do hope that what I have to say below will bless you like my conversation with - lets call her Sally - blessed me.

(all communication posted with permission)

From Sally:
 I just ... I have to know how you did it. Each time I go on a date that seems promising, and then realize I've been duped once again I feel like my heart breaks a thousand times over. I just can't do it anymore.
And I refuse to believe that wanting something or not wanting something is what affects the outcome. Any tips you have on not feeling like shit for being single are welcome! Because at this point there's not enough glue in the world to glue the pieces of my heart back together.
 - Sally 

My reply:
Hey Sally,
My friend, may the Lord be with you! I feel for you so much. I wish I could tell you that I had a solution to the pain that comes with being single and wishing to be otherwise. But most of my answers will seem trite or pat, and I don't want to offer you such things.

I totally agree - "wanting" and "not wanting" are not the difference - that is "The Secret" kind of stuff, and it's BS. (Even though you'll hear Christians say things that sound eerily similar to that philosophy). Plenty of people in scripture wanted things and Lord withheld for a time. This was most often true of men and women who wanted children, but I think that wanting to have a loving relationship is a similar "want".

I don't know that I have advice that will be super helpful, but what questions and advice I do have, I will offer you:
advice #1 - be extra choosy. One thing I like about you, and that we have in common, is a predisposition to believe that the next thing is the best thing. Because of that, you have to raise your standards higher, so that not every cute guy who seems funny and smart gets through door. It will mean fewer dates, but the dates will be more likely to meet your expectations.

advice #2 - take a break from dating for a while, if you need, so that you can let your heart heal a bit. during that time, really think about why you want to be dating/married - what is it about being single that you think you might want to leave behind? what is it about being married/long-term-partnered that you would want? think about what expectations you have for dating and for a relationship, and then think about which of those expectations are ones that could be fulfilled before a relationship really gets going.

advice #3 - give it time. I know this advice stinks, but as someone who didn't meet the love of her life until she was in her mid-30s, I'm here to tell you that even though the intervening years were hard, both Curby and I would say that it was worth it to find each other. You might meet the perfect guy tomorrow, and you both know it! (that is what happened to Curby and I) or you might meet him in 5 years and know it right away. Or you might meet him tomorrow and not be sure for 2 more years. Or you might meet him in 5 years and not be sure for 2 more years. There is unfortunately just no way of saying. My best advice is to just keep doing what you're doing - go out to places where people are, meet people, be friendly, get involved in regular things and hopefully, when the time is right, you'll run into mr. right.

advice #4 - go to counseling. Seriously, I've done it a couple times - and many sessions were me sitting there crying saying, "why all my friends and not me!?" - but its nice to have a place where someone will listen to you say that weekly and offer helpful suggestions for any work you can do to make yourself more ready for dating/marriage when it comes.

Finally, take your pain and hurt and desires to God. Cry out to him in your pain and loneliness and bring your complaints to him. For me, the psalmist who said, "but as for me, my foot had almost slipped" best represented where I was when I met Curby. I had almost lost hope that marriage was for me - I had even started looking into single adoption, but I just kept bringing my request to the Lord and keeping my eyes open just in case. Even when you feel like your heart is broken into so many pieces its a puzzle that can't be repaired, the Lord is there and he loves you. Small consolation, sometimes, but still true. I love that Nichole Nordemon song "Small Enough" because that is what I felt so often.

Grace to you, friend. I hope this is even somewhat helpful. We can continue to dialogue - I'd love it. Blessings, Tiff

What do you think, friends? Do you have any additional advice/suggestions? do you have any other questions/thoughts?