In last week’s post, I shared, frustratingly, half of a story. Now you get the rest.
So here I was, on the brink of a potential–something. A relationship? A friendship?
We exchanged notes a few times a week. Long letters.
The notes got briefer as we both ran short of time. Soon I was sending paragraphs; he was sending sentences. I felt a slight prickle of worry. But it was a busy season.
And then the responses stopped.
I waited for two months. Two months that included my birthday. For the past years, even though we had never met, he had always wished me a happy birthday. But there was nothing this year.
Thanksgiving passed. Nothing.
I spent much less time composing my next letter. I sent him a note giving him a graceful out.
He responded quickly; “I’m sorry, I’m bad at keeping in touch long-distance.”
That was it. What, after all, did I have to lose? Hope, that’s what.
Year 36. Having asked out the only person I had truly liked for a span of unspecified years, I felt curiously hollow. In Hannah Hurnard’s allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid asks the Shepherd to remove the ‘plant of human love’ growing in her heart. She knows it will be painful, as its roots grow deep, and it is. The deep roots are torn out, leaving a jagged wound.
Perhaps it’s good that I didn’t get a flat rejection. I don’t know that I could have handled it. Rather than having the deep-rooted plant yanked up violently from the earth that had fostered it for so long, it was more like a bird leaving the nest. I’d coddled this little bird of hope, and kept it safe and warm, and fed it on little scraps of conversations, reading between the lines of comments and ‘likes’. I faced my fears when it started flying, little hops and trips from the nest, and was glad when it came home to rest. But that was only temporary; and one day, the little hope-bird didn’t come back home. A gentle leaving, but still, the unworded pain of losing something precious that I never owned anyway. The pain of watching the horizon for signs. The pain of resignation to the unwanted truth.
I still sometimes wonder how and why it happened, like everyone who’s been disappointed by the outcome of a failed relationship. What happened along the parallel journey from Very Interested to Not Interested Enough? How did we start out from the same point and arrive at such different destinations?
So, here I was, hollowed out, empty of my long-term hope at the end of a short-term blind date of sorts, and pondering the new/old problem of what long-term singleness really means to me, this time at age 37.
I’m now in my late thirties, having been somewhat unwillingly single most of the time. A friend recently told me that at age 27, having heard the whispers that she was being maybe too picky, maybe waiting too long, she decided that she would go out on every date she was asked on, unless it was clearly an insincere or negative situation. She made herself give each guy two dates, at which point she was free to say no, if she chose to. And following this protocol, she fairly soon met her husband. I thought that was great. Laudable. Smart. Kind. Important to make that choice. Bit difficult to make that determination if you’re never asked out. It’s kind of like giving up cigarettes for Lent when you don’t smoke anyway.
I have, in fact, said yes to probably a similar percentage of dates, in far smaller proportion, to my cute-as-a-button, outgoing, bubbly friend. So ‘never’ is slightly hyperbolic–but only slightly.
I lived in the Bay Area after college for three and a half years. Young, single, employed, urbanish–the ideal single years, right? I was never asked on one date. I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, volunteer activities. I wouldn’t trade those years. But not one “could I take you out for dinner sometime?,” nor yet a “wanna catch a movie?” in my post-college days. (speaking of college–I don’t mention it because at my smallish university, the ratio of females to males generally ran at about 3 >1, a common situation for small religious institutions.)
Upon returning to the Northwest in my late twenties, again, I went out on a few dates. Some, I certainly turned down. Again, I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, small groups. In Seattle, I went out on several dates over a period of 6 months with “The Deacon,” a kind, smart, thoughtful friend of a friend. We had many good conversations, and talks. I just couldn’t connect with the relationship, and I drifted away from it–much like my online friend drifted away. Ghosting, it’s called. Perhaps it’s Karma.
It’s difficult to understand how I can want marriage, and family, and love, and yet not be able to make them happen. Perhaps some will say I could and maybe should fight harder. I wish I could say, ‘this is what I want, here are my options, I choose door a, b, c,’ and figure it out from there.
I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m not where I am in life because it’s an accident. I wasn’t overlooked by God, somehow. I did choose, somehow, to be where I am. I said no and yes to opportunities and made decisions that got me here, to 37, to a life without some of the relationships I thought or assumed it would include. It’s also a life with relationships that are good, and surprising, and wonderful in ways I never could have predicted.
So perhaps I can remind myself by writing this, that there is a reason to write still about singleness, even if it’s as simple as because I am single today. And what it means to be single, and how it changes and shapes how I think and learn and love and interact with the world should be honored, and expressed, and questioned, and corrected, and understood, and even–maybe–loved.