One evening, as an introductory question to our Bible study session, our happily married leader asked the singles in our group to share why we were still single. The answers thrown out were along the lines of, “I haven’t met the right guy” and “I’m waiting for God’s perfect timing.”
When my turn came, I said that it was because there were so many things I was doing—and still wanted to do—as a single: I wanted to experience living by myself in another country. I wanted to travel the world and be spontaneous without having to consider someone else’s schedule.
Marriage was simply not a priority for me.
I suppose in comparison to my friends’ answers, which indicated that they were ‘in the market’, my take was more unusual. From what I’ve observed, if there’s one lesson many women learn early in life, it is that we shouldn’t—can’t—be alone.
It is a message I get everywhere, from my family and the culture I grew up in, to the books I read and the shows I watch. Sure, a woman can be a strong and independent figure. But almost always at the core of her story is, as the movie Enchanted puts it, her “dreaming of a true love’s kiss”, whether from a dashing saviour or a dutiful supporter. Romance, in whatever form it takes, is what will complete the woman and make her whole.
When our leader closed the session by praying that all of the singles—me included—would soon meet Mr. Right, it reinforced my impression that even within the church, many see singlehood as something for a woman to wait out, to cope with, to endure.
This year, I turn 33 as a card-carrying member of the Single Since Birth Club. I’ve had two major crushes—both unrequited—and been on exactly one date. For the first 25 years of my life, I bought into the idea that singlehood was an option only for those who weren’t able to attract someone, those who were too much of one thing, or not enough of another for a guy. I agreed with the thought that dining, watching a movie, and seeing the world alone was just sad.
As a girl who just never seemed to appeal to anyone romantically, living under this belief left me insecure and unsure of who I was. I didn’t want to settle for just anyone because I didn’t want a partner I couldn’t respect or be honest with. But I also felt pressured to be more like the kind of girl a guy would get interested in, even if it meant minimising my own personality and interests, just to shed the “single” status.
One of the Christian books about romance that I have read the most since I was a teenager is Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, which introduced a concept that has stuck with me all the way into adulthood. In the book, the Ludys contrast two ways of dealing with longing and desire. One is to try to fight it under your own power even as you cry and beg for the desire to be met. The other is to hear “the sweeter song”—to discover something even more beautiful and desirable than the original object of your desire.
For a long time, I didn’t understand it, not until the Lord began playing strains of that sweeter song to me. I had been raised a sappy romantic who was taught to resent my aloneness, but that aloneness would be exactly what I needed.
To learn how to be alone, I had to be alone.
A gift, not a curse
The way the world—and even the church today—views singlehood is a striking contrast to Paul’s take on it as laid out in 1 Corinthians 7. In speaking of marriage and singlehood, the notably single apostle said that “each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (v.7, ESV). Both statuses were gifts from the Lord, instead of marriage being a blessing and singlehood a curse or burden.
God first challenged my desire for marriage during a 16-hour plane ride at the end of a trip to London with my dad. It was the city of my dreams, a place I had always “reserved” as my future honeymoon destination. But after having had a wonderful time being there as a single, the Lord moved me to reflect on why I had initially wanted to reserve that trip for after marriage. What did marriage really represent to me? Was I wanting marriage for the wrong reasons?
One big sign flashed when I wished for the nth time that I could get married so I could finally have my own place (in my family culture, marriage is pretty much the only acceptable reason for a young woman to leave her parents’ house). To my surprise, the Lord responded to my complaints by essentially asking me, “So, after you get the place, what do you do with the husband?”
His question kickstarted my realisation that what I really wanted was independence. I had been viewing marriage as a means to an end, a way to get out and start living my “real” adult life. Deep down, I wanted Mr. Right to be who he was for my convenience, not because I was prepared (or willing) to put up with the challenges of actually living with him (1 Corinthians 7:28). Once that became clear to me, marriage began to lose its appeal, knowing how an uninformed pursuit of it would bring suffering not only to myself, but also to others.
Instead, I allowed the Lord to start filling my heart with new dreams and desires beyond marriage. He led me to a career I love (but am not married to), and opened my eyes to other things going on in my life that were already bringing me the joy and fulfilment I had expected from marriage.
“My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.” – Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
In 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (ESV), Paul points out that singles are “anxious about the things of the Lord,” with their “undivided devotion to the Lord” secured. Over the past eight years, I’ve come to learn just what he meant by that.
One of my hobbies since college has been frequenting online forums on my favourite fandoms. This hobby has since become an unexpected ministry as I began talking about God with the friends I made, and even mentoring and mothering younger women I met on Tumblr and Discord.
Earlier this year, I celebrated the high school graduation of an Australian teenager to whom I had been “Ma” for four years and from whom I received my first Mother’s Day greeting.
On my first solo trip overseas, I met IRL for the first time two people with whom I had been chat buddies for five years, and we were able to spend a week cementing our online connection into a lasting friendship.
Since I hadn’t promised my exclusive time and attention to another person, I was able to offer these things to those the Lord had given to me, even across different time zones. As I flew solo, the Lord was bringing others on the ride with me, showing me that even though I was alone, I didn’t have to be lonely.
One of the best things I’ve learned from being single is how to practice God’s presence wherever I am, to turn to Him when I feel alone. Once, I got lost wandering around Manhattan’s Central Park as it got dark. The fear was nearly overwhelming, as the park is known as a hangout for drug addicts and pickpockets at night. What got me through until I found the right exit was keeping up a constant stream of prayer. It really did feel like someone was with me, not only protecting me but also showing me the beauty of my surroundings, which He made.
It has been eight years since I accepted the gift of singlehood. I’ve often lingered at a table for one in a restaurant, sharing my meal with a good book. During Avengers: Endgame’s opening weekend, I cried over the “Love you 3000” scene in the theatre without knowing the people sitting on either side of me. I took walks in the parks of Singapore, Buenos Aires, and Manhattan accompanied only by myself.
In the eyes of many, I am “single” and “alone”. There are days when I think about “maybe”s, and in those moments, I ask trusted sisters in Christ to commit me to prayer in that area. Ultimately, though, I always come back to the fact that my lifelong journey is to discover God as my companion and partner in life. Whether I remain single for life or marry someday, it will be my pursuit of God that makes me whole.