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.

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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.

Single and Selfish

Single living is a double edged sword (the same could be said of married living, but I’m speaking from experience on a blog for single people, so we’ll set that aside for now). On the one hand, you are entirely and completely responsible for you. Your health, your funds, your activities, your habits. It’s hard work not being accountable to someone else for your own survival, let alone thriving in an environment with no other guidance than your own decision making habits.

At the same time, due to an intense, natural focus on yourself, it’s easy to become too self-involved, too self-focused, too selfish. It’s hard to keep it from happening, because again, it’s just you deciding these things. Am I tool selfish? Do I put myself before others too often? What’s too often? What’s “putting myself before others”?

This past week I got what I assumed was a very nice letter from a young friend (how did I become old enough to have young friends??). I love getting letters. Letters mean someone took time out of their day to think of me. It’s the ultimate sign of affection and friendship. Alas, it was not a letter. It was a mission’s trip request for financial assistance.

It did however have a nice handwritten (legible) note at the bottom which is almost worth more than a typed personalized letter (I have very strong opinions on letters).

But this request put me in one of the ultimate single person conundrums: How much time and money should you/do you spend on taking care of yourself, vs how much on others? I’ve got a tight enough budget as it is, can I afford this surprise mission trip? How much can I support it? SHOULD I support it?

There’s a popular conception that single people have oodles of time and money on their hands. This is of course, wrong. But try arguing that to a married new parent. Money and energy drip out of their lives quicker than a sieve.

That being said, it doesn’t leave single people, or older retirees, holding the energy and money bag for everyone else. Honestly I don’t want to spend a lot of time here comparing singles and married and their financial or energy levels. I’ve talked a little about that already. Here. and Here.

No, I’m here to address what happens if you don’t have a partner to bounce your perspective off of on a regular basis. Someone who checks your impulses and your ideas. Someone who says “get outside your comfort zone” or “babe, that’s not in the budget.” Or even my favorite, “we’re watching Netflix that night, we can’t go to that thing.”

In my case I needed someone to give me some perspective on financially assisting in a trip. It’s a small enough thing, but it mattered to the friend going and it mattered to me. But I worried that like Michael from the office I’d end up contributing $20/mile instead of twenty dollars total. It’s great to have friends that act as safety nets.

Sure, you can make a budget, you can be aware of your time, but how do you know the limits you’re setting are good limits? After all, you’re deciding them for you. And you, though knowing all about you, are kind…how shall I say this? Of limited and singular perspective.

I find myself gut-checking frequently with my friends. They know me well, but they also see my flaws in a clearer light then I can. So on the days when I’ve got strong opinions (shocker) on something, they’re the ones I go to for a “did I overreact” evaluation.

Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes their response is more along the lines of “put yourself out there”. Or sometimes it’s a “no, you made the right decision. They’re asking too much of you.” Just yesterday I had a small meltdown and my friend informed me that I was being just a touch “self-involved?” was how she delicately phrased it, as if it was a question and not a very obvious fact. Thank God for people who have guts to say things that sting.

But if I didn’t have these friends?

I know just enough to know I should probably get a second perspective. So go out there and get a second perspective, or a third. Just make sure the voice in your head isn’t just your own, and that every once in awhile, every once in a great blue moon, you make yourself a little bit uncomfortable.

Well anyway, that’s just one perspective.

Giving Up and Getting Over, Part 2

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.