Enter Malta: Stage Left

Flying a quarter of the way around the world was more exhausting than I anticipated. I crashed fairly hard when we got to our vacation rental. I woke up just in time to catch my friend headed for bed and in the midst of enjoying a midnight snack I heard explosions echoing off the old rock and stone buildings of Kalkara, Malta.

It occured to me that I’d been fairly out of touch with the happenings of the world, and having no context and no concept of time or, frankly reality, and remembering that Malta used to be a highly fortified island of strategic value my second thought was “Malta’s being bombed.” (My first thought was “explosions are normal right? I hear them a lot out in the county — wait, Malta’s not out in the county…”)

I googled “Malta explosions” immediately. Because if this was a planned thing they’d have a page for that. And if it wasn’t there’d be a news article, right? Unless they were bombing the news offices first!!

There were a few more explosions — that unfortunately woke up my friend — and I think at about this time I looked out our balcony door and saw fireworks. No one’s yet bombed a country with gorgeous colorful displays on purpose, as far as I know.

Fireworks. On a Tuesday. A regular Tuesday evening. They happened again the following morning and evening and became a pattern over the next several days and nights. Which contributed further to my disorientation. I felt like we were closing out the nights at Disneyland, watching the show before dragging our tired selves back home after a full day of visual delights.

This odd displaced feeling was compounded by our walks around the city, each street felt like a fabricated blast from the past. How could it be that real people lived behind such incredible facades?

On Gozo we stayed in just such a house. It looks exactly like a set from a play and I had a strong desire to write a comedic love story during our stay there.

fantasy home

Geoffrey enters stage left from the living room’s french doors, Bianca, nervous about a chance meeting, quickly ducks down as she’s running up the stairs, Gillian, comes out of the bedroom reading and, not looking where she’s going falls into the pool.

Walter hears the splash from above and appears on the balcony, leaping into the water below and her rescue. Rose, stealing the feed from the satellite dish on the roof pops her head over the ledge to enjoy the proceedings. By the end of the scene she’s swung her legs over the ledge and begun enjoying the life show before her.

Geoffrey races toward the stairs to grab a towel for her, trips over Bianca and the pair tumble down tucked innocently and accidentally into each others arms, primed for a romantic kiss except Rufus, the dog, has come bounding out of the kitchen with Bianca’s half eaten sandwich clamped in his jaws and decides to join the fray.

Milton blithely continues showering in the small bathroom just around the corner from the kitchen, loudly singing Ave Maria, very off-key.

It’s disconcerting to find yourself in a place that appears perfectly fabricated. Particularly if you’re sweating heavily. You feel kind of like the audience at a play, you may enjoy the delights before you, but you don’t fit the time period or the style or the atmosphere. Vacations always tend to feel a bit like expensive shows to me, for the simple fact that they’re always so far outside my normal experiences. Even when I’m experiencing the normal routine of island life — the fireworks that signal the beginning of celebrations for Victory in Malta Day — it’s surreal to me. Fireworks on a Tuesday.

There’s a relief then in coming home and sinking back into your familiar role, an active actor in your life’s production. At least here I understand where the explosions are coming from, somewhere out in a field, stage right.

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Word Games

If you’ve been reading this blog for a length of time or know me personally you’ll have gathered I’m not athletic. Never have been, have no plans to be. I like sedentary pursuits. Reading. Sleeping. Being left alone. Doing crossword puzzles alone.

I used to be under the illusion that I liked board games, but have been cured of this belief over the past decade. I think I hate them. This doesn’t exactly leave a large window of group activities, which I find to be telling but I think my friends would probably term “boring”.

While I’m passable at conversations there’s a mistaken notion that I’m word-gifted. Probably encouraging this inaccuracy is my tendency to use words that even I don’t properly understand. But honestly if you say anything confidently enough it sounds incongruous.

In that spirit a friend of mine introduced me to a word game, clearly under the illusion that words are a game to be played. It’s so not true, if anything taught me that it was my sister chastising me for not knowing what “sputnik” was when I was twelve and we were playing Taboo. Don’t worry, sister, I know what the Russian satellite from 1957 is now. #neverforgetsputnik

At any rate, the way this “game” is played is two people, presumably friends (at least at the start of the game) say one word at the same time and then keep saying new words concurrently until they land on the same word.

Once the game was explained to me I was filled with an entirely unnatural and absolutely paralyzing mental blank.

“Pick a word”, they said.

A word?? One?? How do you pick one word?? Do you even know how many words are out there??

“Is it just nouns?” I asked.

“No, it can be any word.” My friend replied, clearly unaware that nothing could increase my tension more.

ANY WORD?? Just think of adjectives ALONE. We were going to be here ALL NIGHT.

Internally as I was aware that this was herculean task I also realized that a child would have absolutely no trouble at all with this game, happily and readily picking a word and not needing roughly five minutes to prepare themselves to choose a word.

But I knew I was going to pick the wrong word. I knew it. I can’t explain this to you. Especially as the game is a team game with no adversary and let’s be honest, no stakes. Either we both won or we both lost. Which is perhaps where some of the anxiety comes from and why golf is my preferred sport if I must sport. Solo activity. If I’m taking the whole ship down then it’s still just me, no one else gets upset.

So after mentally preparing myself to fail at picking a word, I desperately stared at my bookcase for inspiration and came up with “binder”, which of the paper related words is easily the most boring. Not that it matters. Not that my word needed to be scintillating, but honestly BINDER. Ugh.

My friend said “pineapple” and I thought “we’re doomed.” That’s it. Just pack it in, end friendship, say good night, it was a good friendship while it lasted, but we’re clearly on two totally different planes of existence. It’s just not worth it trying to meet in the middle.

After significant coaching and what I definitely consider cheating, we finally got to the same word. (Apparently there are no wrong words? It feels wrong even typing it.)

Friends, it was exhausting.

I know it’s a crazy thing to stress about, an absurd situation to feel anxiety over, and that secretly if I’m being honest, I found it kind of fun, probably, but it was one of those teaching moments of life.

I’m sure you’ve got a word or two here for this kind of life lesson. I’m sure you’re thinking “connection” or “communication”. Perhaps even “trust” or “listening”. All excellent choices. And well done you for taking such a positive message from my train-wreck of social interaction.

But I don’t have one word to end this with.

I’ve tried.

I’ve been sitting here for a good ten minutes trying to think of one, but I’ve got nothing. One word. I mean honestly who can think of ONLY ONE WORD? What is this, prison??

What kind of game puts limits on your vocabulary? Why are we self-censoring??

Whew. Deep breath.

In. Sputnik.

Out. Diploma.

 

Childhood Fantasy Life

It’s probably just me, but I never played “bride” as a kid. I played “teacher” with my cabbage patch dolls, I dressed up my cabbage patch dolls, I rollerbladed (not with my cabbage patch dolls). I read Encyclopedia Brown, The BFG and The Outsiders. I made my dogs dress up in cabbage patch kid clothes (and one small black t-shirt that just said “the boss”). But I never played pretend wedding.

My earliest adult aspirations involved becoming an actress, or a teacher, or Pocahontas. I don’t remember wanting to get married. (This may also be due to a mistaken notion that marriage required a blood test and I was so afraid of needles that I internally decided if I never got married, I’d never have to give blood and didn’t that just sound like the neatest solution to my phobia.)

I’ll confess to doing all of the above in my tweens and teens. I doodled, I planned, I designed the perfect wedding dress. I’ll give you a hint: it was white. (Also the most diva dress you can imagine, we are talking yards upon yards of fabric, and at one point, probably in the eighth grade, the sleeves resembled actual wings — which is kind of ironic now that I mention it.)

So when does it happen? When do we start doodling our first name with our crush’s last name, and designing the perfect wedding dress and planning out what our dream houses will look like? When do we become marriage obsessed? When does it become aspirational to settle down and not to get out? How did I make the shift from Native American princess boldly roaming the wild outdoors of the church parking lot, to deciding if I was going to wear a veil or a tiara for my Big Day?

Honestly I think it’s related to how terrifically awkward middle school and high school can feel. Because in middle school and in high school, what you want more than anything is to not look how you feel then. Awkward, uncomfortable, uncoordinated, frankly ugly. And brides are never ugly. I wanted to be assured that when I became an adult someone would want me. I wanted the security that I knew a marriage and a husband and a house represented. I wanted the “bride’s day”.

For me this is the real sticking point. I never wanted to be married; I just wanted to be the center of positive attention. A groom barely figured into it at all. Sure, he was there, but in the same way an usher is, or a carpet runner. It’s a wedding prop. Probably ancillary even to the doves and the string quartet. A wedding was the gateway to the security I was craving, and the last hurrah I assumed before life settled into the sameness I associated then with married life. The routine monotonous security of the suburbs. To paraphrase a favorite quote from Sleepless in Seattle: “You don’t want to be [married]. You want to be [married] in a movie.” And when I finally figured that out, that’s when I got over wanting to just get married.

However, to this day I still have not gotten over the fact that I will never be Pocahontas or Sacagawea.

Briefly Wrong

Maybe it’s because I’m a naturally more argumentative person, or because I’m highly opinionated, or divisive, or whatever it is you’d want to call me when I’m being contrary, but I have, on average, at least a dozen arguments a day.

About 50% of those are even out loud.

The rest, I’m sad to say, are all internal repeats of arguments I’ve had in the past. Arguments that are years, or even over a decade old. Not even good arguments, really, just points that were made that I didn’t have a rebuttal for THEN but I definitely do NOW.

I can’t seem to kick this internal compulsion to correct them, or to correct old, wrong ideas when I come across them again. I have to fight the urge to go up to them even though we haven’t spoken in five years or, 15 years, and say, “you were wrong about ____________. I now have the dream response that I’ve spent at least twelve showers finessing until I’m confident every single angle and point of attack has been countered. Ha-HAH!”

If only others could remember their wrongness with the brilliant clarity that I remember their wrongness. SIGH.

Of the qualities we inevitably all tolerate in each other, constant correcting has to be among the most abrasive. (Probably don’t correct me on this, it’ll just validate it)

Trouble is, correctors have this fundamental idea that being right is of extreme importance. And how could anyone possibly go about their day being wrong about something when it’s very easy to set them on the right path? It’s like discovering at 10pm that you’ve got breakfast from 8am stuck in your teeth still. What? No one thought to mention it??

But there is this idea in each one of us I think that the opinions we hold are the right ones. And they continue to be the right beliefs until someone comes along and convinces us otherwise, and now suddenly we yet again have the right beliefs.

You see, the truth is that we all only ever feel that we are wrong briefly, that wrongness is a passing situation, easily corrected by converting your mind again to something that is right, or by ignoring any information that is contrary to your previously held rightness.

You will never encounter someone in this life who says, “Well that’s just my opinion on politics. It’s wrong. But I’ve decided to keep using it as a basis for all my decisions anyway.”

Someone might be glib enough to say, “I might be wrong”, but speaking to you confidentially as someone who’s said this before, it’s usually sarcastic.

So I’ll still go on arguing in my head with all those phantoms of friends gone by, but perhaps, maybe just perhaps, it’s because I’m still not convinced I’m right, I’m just not ready to admit it yet.

Eat the Rice

I’ve never made a secret of my lacking kitchen skills, but this past weekend I really topped my worst efforts.

It happened the way most problems do: I got cocky. I thought I could cook rice and walk away. What a rookie mistake. It started boiling before I knew it and I hastily returned to my neglected post and turned the burner down to low, as is correct. The rice continued to boil for an abnormally long time after I did this, but I didn’t concern myself with the mysterious ways of water in a pot, I was too busy worrying about the fish I was frying in the oven (I know that’s not frying fish, but I couldn’t resist the metaphor). Simultaneous to these two events I’m attempting a stir fry (literally). After all, it’s Friday, the day for stir frys (stir Friday).

Quick story about my stovetop. I have only two burners that can function without smoking up the kitchen. The first burner I ruined was because I let all the water boil out of a whistle-less tea kettle and some of the kettle remains stuck to the burner and now whenever it heats up the smoke detectors go off. The second burner I spilled milk on a few months ago because I got a little excited about the macaroni and cheese I was making.

I decided to chance the tea kettle burner. Sure enough a smoke detector starts going off. It’s so much louder than I anticipate. Always. And I can never hear where it’s coming from. So of course I mistake the carbon monoxide detector for the smoke alarm and I tear that down ineffectually.

Alarm still blaring I drag a chair out out to reach the one over the entry way door and I manage to get that off but still there’s a smoke alarm going. I turn off the defective burner and move to the living room to grab that one, all the while wondering why I have so many smoke detectors in this not large apartment.

I huck the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detector into the deep recesses of the living room and go back to the kitchen, hungry and irate.

This is roughly when the third smoke alarm, which I had forgotten about, starts chiming.

At this point I fully expect my landlord, who lives below me to storm upstairs wondering why I’m so intent on burning down my apartment.

After lobbing this smoke detector also into the living room I go back into the kitchen and decide to check on the rice. Which is when I realize I turned a complete unoccupied burner on low, and never turned the rice burner off high.

I ate the rice the basically inedible, mostly charcoal rice. I was not about to let it go to waste. I’d waited a good 30ish minutes for that rice that I paid for out of a hard earned paycheck.

So in honor of my mother’s birthday, and in gratitude to the original woman who taught me how to eat around culinary mistakes and gave me a life lesson I’d never forget, thanks, Mom, for not being the best cook in all the world, but the most adaptable.

PS, for the record, I cannot remember my mother once having this amount of trouble cooking, but her small oops in the kitchen have been instrumental to me whenever I encounter the big oops of life, in the kitchen or outside of it.

Why Are You Still Single?

I have to revisit this question, “Why are you still single?” because it perpetuates so strongly most of what I believe is wrong with our perception of singleness. It’s counterpart are the teasing phrases “and can you believe, she’s single, folks!” and “It makes sense you’re single.”

In both cases our single person has made clear the lack in character that results in the loneliness of singleness. In other words, in order to “still be single” there must be something deeply wrong with you.

In most cases this lack is attributed to a basic unsociability, or antisocial tendency. This can take the form of rudeness, tactlessness, bitchiness, uncouthness, or any other inappropriate social misfiring. “Doesn’t work and play well with others” is to blame for your inability to catch a spouse.

Of course, there are those of us who are acknowledged  as “still single” because of our appearance. Our inability to dress to socially accepted standards, a lack of socially accepted personal hygiene, a lack of some physical attribute that naturally always ensures a successful romantic pairing. One can’t, for example, have bad eyebrows and expect to get married.

The analysis in the question “why are you still single” hits at a deep fear in society, a lack of control in an area we desperately want to control. We want assurances. We want to know that if we do everything correctly then we will have relational bliss and success.

Humans are fond of taking inexplicable things and forcing anecdotal evidence to function as causative proof. The reality is that plenty of people with major character defects are married. There are many “ugly” married people. Many people are married who have huge glaring flaws physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Being an attractive person with good people skills, healthy self awareness, and an attitude of moderation is no recipe for relational success.

And I do mean success here, because we singles understand that marriage is success in society. The gay rights movement has a critical hinge on marital equality. If you are single you are perceived, and may even perceive yourself, as unsuccessful. Lacking. Choice enters into this not at all, because we know that everyone wants to be married.

“Why are you still single?” is hurtful, rude, and inappropriate because what it so clearly indicates is that your obvious flaw is not visible to me, but I’m pretty sure you have one. I have to know what it is because I can’t account for you, this anomaly, in a world where by all rights you SHOULD be married. Your very existence alarms and unsettles my perception of the world.

What we are really discussing is a much deeper and more profound fear. We’re afraid of loneliness. And we see marriage as the correct avoidance of this condition. When we ask the question “why are you still single?” what we’re really asking is “I need confirmation that loneliness is only to be feared for an avoidable reason.”

But this unsettling fear is one thing you should live with, should wrestle with. It should transform your thinking to recognize that marriage is not a reward. It’s not a guarantee, it’s not a promise. It’s not the end result of being a good person. Marriages don’t stick together because both people promise to be “good people”.

It should unsettle you to recognize that marriage, an institution we run to often to avoid loneliness, is not a haven of companionship. We must think bigger if we take marriage to be a relational safety net that catches the deserving.

And as singles we must endeavor to work hard against our own fears about our singleness, and we must work even harder to confront the terrifying realities of loneliness by seeking out and carving whole communities that resolve not only our own fears of isolation, but those that exist in even the married and familied folk.

There is no remedy against loneliness but seeking out, or creating, healthy community, whether married or single.

“Putting Yourself Out There”

As far as I understand it from context clues, the phrase “putting yourself out there” is a way of reassuring someone after an embarrassing, unsuccessful, or humiliating social encounter of any kind.

“Sure, your date didn’t go the way you planned, but at least you’re putting yourself out there.”

“It’s too bad that you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve, but at least you’re putting yourself out there.”

As if you should be pleased to know that it’s through trying something that you fail, as opposed to those who stay home and can say things like “I bet if I put myself out there it’d go better. Oh well, back to Netflix.”

Whenever I hear someone say “at least you’re putting yourself out there” I don’t see encouragement. “At least you’re available for rejection” that’s what I hear. “At least you were brave enough to have some actually say to you, “no thanks”.”

Also, where is “there”? Most often this phrase is used in conjunction with single people, and used by married people. Married people often talk about the dating pool as if it’s an actual body of water teeming with single folk looking to be in relationships. Just put your suit on, get out there and dive in! But I haven’t actually found this oasis that seems so easily accessible in the phrase “out there”.

I don’t know if it requires a map no one gave me, directions I’ll never be able to follow, or some secret pass code, but there’s no giant single person pool where we can pair up. Mostly there’s a lot of desert punctuated by misleading vistas that proclaim bodies of water but result in puddles.

“There”, in my experience, means “anywhere that’s social”, which covers a lot of ground, and still turns up very few single available humans. The unfortunate reality is that single people look an awful lot like married people because we all tend to look vaguely, I don’t know, human-like. And as it turns out, it’s not just singles going out to socialize, but it’s married people too. So unless you’re prepared to walk yourself to a “meet” market, odds are you’re going to run into a bunch of married people “out there”.

The truth is that while these are all perfectly valid reasons to hate the phrase “put yourself out there”, none of them actually cover the reasons why I personally dislike the axiom. These are the reasons why I find it hurtful for my friends, because when you are trying to find someone it does begin to feel exactly like there’s some cool club out there that’s hidden from you, that’s inaccessible to you, and there’s no way you’ve even got a shot to get in. When even “out there” is frustrating, exclusive, out of reach, it’s certainly no longer a helpful expression.

But the reason I’ve always hated it is that I LIKE the indoors. I mean this both literally and metaphorically. I love being inside. Love it. Always have. Inside has food, blankets, movies, wifi, pillows…I’m happy inside.

But I get the impression this is wrong of me, because so often I’m still told to “put myself out there”. There’s an impression that my life would be better if I just tried to not be single. I’m not a fan of this idea because it strongly implies that my life is inferior by virtue of the fact that it’s singular. It implies that contentment without a romantic relationship is incorrect, doomed to failure, and in need of fixing.

As a society, as a Christian community, we tend to prize marital relationships above the single life, and we could get into the whys and wheres of that, but to be honest, I’m more focused on the fact that as great as marriage is (can be), there will always be single people. And we must believe, we must espouse (pun!) that the single life is valuable in its own right, it isn’t something that needs to be fixed, it isn’t broken (necessarily), and it’s not miserable by default.

So I implore you, friends, don’t throw your single companions out there into the cold. And don’t judge them for staying in the warmth of the indoors. Encourage them to live their life to the fullest, and make sure that “fullest” doesn’t fixate on romantic culmination.

Baggage Handlers

“Have you ever been abused?” was the question my friend got on her third date out with a non-baggage handler.

It was out of the blue, apropos of nothing, and it stopped her in her tracks. He clarified, “A lot of women seem to come with baggage these days.”

The dream date: the baggage free human. It’s an aspirational goal. It just so happens that as you age that dream date starts to look more like a white whale, a unicorn, a yeti — rumored, but unconfirmed by sight.

My own theory is that after 25 there is no one who is baggage free. By the age of 25 it is impossible to avoid having things happen to you. By 25 life has treated you, shall we say, unfairly and you are no longer the pristine blank-slate dream date of someone else’s fantasy. Or even your own fantasy.

You’ve been married and then divorced, you’ve had kids, you had one long-term relationship that ended really, really badly. You made mistakes, you were the victim of mistakes, malicious action, idiocy. Life.

Let’s face it, dating in your 30s looks nothing like dating in your 20s. In your 20s I’m not even sure we’re real people yet, we’re just opportunities and options and ignored advice.

By your 30s you’re stocked up with the baggage of recovering from your 20s.

Odds are that by your 30s someone out there is recovering from you, and you are recovering from someone else. Baggage.

Of course, not all baggage is created equal. It’s all about if you’ve learned in that time how to be a grown-up. Some people come with a lot of seriously huge baggage, and yet they’ve sought help for it, they’ve learned from it, they’ve grown, they’ve adapted, they now have character.

Character, good character, is what you should look for in your 30s.

Because those others? The ones who can’t be bothered to look at their baggage, process it, handle it, get help, get advice, change, well these poor morons are the ones you actually want to avoid like crazy. These are the people we fear when we’re talking about baggage.

So maybe the divorcee is not damaged goods, and maybe the dad with kids is not a trainwreck, maybe maybe someone who’s been sexually assaulted is the grown-up in the room.

Find you someone with character. Good character. After that, everything about them will be fascinating, not draining, amazing and not terrifying.

Drawbacks of a Sugar High

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a little a lately, and how it skews perspective, and narrows focus so completely that even the object of our envy is unrecognizable to any realistic perspective.

I’ll give you an example.

This past Saturday I went into a store and bought two bags of candy and a puzzle. I promptly went home, poured both bags of chewy candy into an empty vase, left my phone in another room, turned on the air conditioning in my bedroom, took off my bra, put on a Netflix movie, and started that puzzle whilst dipping my hand into my candy vase every so often for a treat.

I don’t mean to brag, but my weekend sounds absolutely exceptional, wouldn’t you agree? It has everything I could want in a weekend, or at least everything that ten year old me wanted in a weekend.

Perhaps you even fill in a few details that I left out. You might assume that since I have money to burn on puzzles and candy I have few financial worries. Or you might assume that since my plan was to spend the day eating candy I had carefully adjusted my diet and exercise plans to accommodate this splurge. You probably also assumed I had no other important pressing obligations to attend to. And you might assume that I chose do all of those activities being of sound mind and body, filling up my weekend to the brim of funness.

So much of jealous is in the assuming. I’ll take a walk in the evenings sometimes and see these delightful homey scenes in living room or dining room windows. And I get filled with a certain sort of longing. They look like they’re having such fun. And I mentally fill in all the blanks from the TV shows I’ve seen.

Naturally they all like each other and have explicitly chosen to spend this time together. No one is in ill health, nor do they know of anyone intimately related to them who is suffering. They are free from all worries. They are all of like mind or open minded and they are having good, uplifting conversation.

And this is just from quickly walking by a house and seeing its occupants for perhaps fifteen seconds in total. But a glimpse that we build a fantasy on is never close to the reality of that moment.

My great weekend of eating candy and working on a puzzle? The reality is that I hate summer and it was ninety degrees in my apartment most of the time. There was no escape except to sit locked in my bedroom, because I was definitely not going outside. I was exhausted all weekend. Tired from the heat and tired because my arthritis has been more active this past week.

So I was grumpy, tired, in pain and then I went out to buy self-soothing things like candy, and distractions like puzzles.  Reality always ruins jealousy.

Remember when you were a kid and you thought being an adult would be 100% totally awesome? No bedtime, you get your own place, you have cool sophisticated conversations, you get to buy whatever you want, you can do whatever you want!

And then you grew up. Oh boy. This is not what I was advertised. Suddenly as an adult you realize why you don’t see many adults in the bulk candy aisle without accompanying children.

I had that realization today when the sugar headache kicked in and the dentist told me I had a cavity. First cavity in over ten years, too. Jealousy misses results and consequences. It’s always the short view of a very long game.

The Daily Fraidy-cat

Sometimes for me, being single means facing fear every day. It means looking the cultural expectations of the American Dream life trajectory straight in the eye and saying “you don’t define me.”

It means responding with kindness and presence instead of embarrassment when people make inadvertently rude comments about feeling old-maidenly at age 23, or when married friends say equally insensitive things like “you don’t know what tired/wisdom/anxiety/joy/frustration/love is, until you have kids/a husband.” Recently at a family wedding, I was standing next to my brother-in-law watching my niece play, when the photographer walked up and said “let me get a picture of you two!” Not that I don’t like my brother-in-law, but I could tell the photographer thought we were a couple, so I smiled awkwardly, and when he was done with the photo, I said “do you want to take a picture of him and his WIFE?” “OHhh, sure…” said the photographer, realizing his mistake. It’s hard to know what to do in those moments. It takes constant attention to respond out of grace instead of sadness or fear.

Part of that fear is related to really giving up on family. The obvious interpretation is the giving up of a ‘family of my own.’ But it also means giving up my birth family in some senses, because I cannot be healthy and remain a dependent child forever (at least, so my counselor tells me); and yet in so many ways I still identify and feel needs for family support, advice, and influence, especially when making larger life decisions.

Being single means accepting that those decisions will never truly matter as much to anyone else as they will to me. When it comes to what jobs I do, or where I live, or what financial choices I make, I’m the only stakeholder. And yet, making big life decisions like moving, buying a car, or career decisions in a vacuum just doesn’t seem wise. I crave investment and wisdom, perspective and assistance in a very noticeable way. Self-sufficient as I can appear at times, it’s (a bit of) an illusion. No one is totally self-sufficient, nor should they be. Just because no one is present to witness my breakdowns of helpless fury, grief, or how-can-i-get-it-all-done low points, doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

One thing I’m afraid of is fitting into the stereotype of being self-focused and selfish. The truth is, trying to stand on my own two feet does take a ton of energy. I balance work, housework, finances, househunting, lawnmowing, future-planning, traveling to family events because they’re never at the single person’s house…and so on. And while I say this, I can hear my married and parent friends laughing ruefully and unbelievingly. But I’m not joking. I realize that taking care of kids is a more than full-time job, and that part of the reason my married and parent friends are laughing has a lot to do with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and all they really want is what I have plenty of…a few quiet moments.

But when, for example, my car breaks down, my life becomes singularly devoted to the task of getting to work, the car shop, and home. It takes up all my spare time, all my spare money, and all my spare focus.

So, am I self-focused? YES. I am. Because very few others are focused on my life in a real, practical way. People are around, and happy to have me around occasionally. But when it’s tax time, I’m in the trenches alone. No one is going to sit down (at least, unpaid) and muddle through the tax code voluntarily. When I have to decide whether I’m going to live with a roommate or pay the higher rent to live on my own, no one’s going to make that decision with as much at stake as I am.

Doing these big things alone is scary sometimes. What if I get it wrong? What if I end up bankrupt? What if I lose my job or  get sick, who would help me? What if I die in my apartment on a Friday night? NO ONE WOULD FIND ME FOR AT LEAST 3 DAYS! They might wonder where I was…they might comment that I hadn’t shown up for work. but they probably wouldn’t start raising the alarm for real until Tuesday morning. You see? These are the morbid, real possibilities of singleness.

While being single certainly has its advantages, and it can look luxuriously quiet and self-focused from the outside, especially from the position of a noisy family, it still carries at least its fair share of daily fears.