When I fled my troubled home, passionately immersing myself in college, career, and family, I thought I had escaped the dark shadows, the pain. Mid-life, forced to stop pretending, to stop running so hard, I sought professional help. “You must,” said the therapist, “walk over to that closet where all the shadows are hiding. You must throw open the door and look them all in the face, or they will haunt you forever.” In the dark recesses, I found a grieving child, one I had abandoned to those shadows.
The Inner Child
At the top of the stairs
from the dry, dark concrete
basement of my soul,
I slammed the door
Trying to shut out her pain
Which seeped, like poisonous air
Up those wooden stairs.
I abandoned her there,
This part of my self,
part of my soul.
With busyness, duty, and do-gooding,
I distracted myself from
her leaden sadness,
her crying in the night.
But on and on she wept
in climbing up
the wooden stairs,
For love…from me.
I am 42.
I am single.
I have never been married, never been in any serious romantic relationship. A few dates, tried some online dating sites, but nothing has ever really happened. It’s not easy. As I get older and most of my other friends have gotten married and started families, I have felt like more and more of an outlier.
There are fewer and fewer people who are in a situation like mine and that comes with challenges. There have been moments when I felt left behind, like everyone else’s life has moved forward and mine is kind of stuck. People tend to socialize with people who are like them, have things in common to talk about. This can mean that married people most often socialize with other married people and people with kids most often socialize with people who have kids, especially if their kids are similar ages. This can often lead the single person to feel like a third wheel. It’s hard to contribute to the conversation if you can’t relate or can only relate in theory.
I have spent plenty of time feeling sorry for myself, beating myself up, blaming myself for being single and fearing that maybe I will never get married. I have asked myself the question “What’s wrong with me?” and wondered if other people are asking the same question. I have come up with various answers and it always amounted to some version of “I’m not good enough and that’s why no one wants to marry me”. It’s been a dream of mine to be married and society tells me that marriage and family are normal, and it is how life is supposed to turn out. In certain churches, it’s God’s reward for obedience and purity. The messaging is out there and it can leave single people feeling lost and confused and wondering where they went wrong or why
God isn’t answering their prayers.
Another challenge is that other people aren’t always sure what to say or do around single people. They feel uncomfortable or unsure. When people ask me if I am married and/or if I have kids and I answer no, I get various responses. I will say that some people don’t even miss a beat; they smile and say something kind and I truly feel that if doesn’t bother them at all. Many times however, people look visibly uncomfortable or surprised. They seem to struggle to know what to say.
Sometimes a cliché is the choice, something along the lines of “Well, it will happen eventually. You’re so beautiful, smart, etc.”. Or maybe “ Trust God’s timing. He has a plan for you.” Sometimes people imply that maybe you’re not trying hard enough, putting yourself out there, following the right rules, or maybe you have the “gift of singleness” and you must work to accept this. It is painful and awkward and confusing. So where do I go from here?
Well, the first step is one that I must take myself. I must choose to be kind to myself, accept my life as it is even while holding onto hope that I might get married someday. I can choose to live my life as it is now. I wish that I could say this is easy, but it is not. My life is still an unusual one in society. I am different. I don’t fit the mold. Moment by moment, I get to choose what to think and believe and how I speak to myself.
What about other people? What do you say to someone whose life is different in some kind of way? Maybe someone to whom it is hard to relate? Well, I have been thinking about that and I have come up with a few ideas. It is far from an exhaustive list, but maybe it’s a start.
- It’s okay if you’re not married. This one is simple and straightforward, but effective.
- I like you just the way you are. It can mean so much to hear this simple phrase from someone.
- You are just as valuable as anyone else. You are not less then because you are single. It is very common to feel less than as a single person. You’re not really celebrated for being single. Wedding showers, baby showers; the things that women are celebrated for tend to involve being a wife and mother. What if you’re not those things? Who celebrates you?
- I imagine that must be hard sometimes. I am here if you want to talk about it. Everyone needs someone to listen. Maybe it’s not so much advice that’s needed, but someone to listen and maybe a shoulder to cry on.
- What’s that experience like for you? Everyone has a story to tell and those stories can be very different. We all want someone to listen to our stories. If everyone’s story could be heard and celebrated, think of all the good that could do.
- You have a place. I think this is a huge fear for single people. Most churches for example have ministries for kids, youth, maybe college and career, and then it goes to married people. It might be divided into young marrieds and then families with young kids and then married people who are older, perhaps retired. What about single people? Where do they fit? Where is their place? Where is my place in the community? If I have a place, if I feel that I belong, it will make all the difference.
It’s hard to feel like a misfit. Everyone has a deep need to belong. Everyone wants to feel accepted for who they are. When I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, it can cause me to question my place, my purpose, what I have to offer, if I am valued.
I imagine there are a lot of people out there who feel like misfits for all kinds of reasons. It’s a struggle many are familiar with in their own way. Recently, I heard someone talking about how they were trying to pay attention to how what other people believe about them affects what they believe about themselves. Like it or not, we look to other people as mirrors. How they see us, the things they say or don’t say, how they make us feel all have a profound impact on us.
If more people can feel seen and heard and valued and feel connected to their community, think of all the healing that could bring.
What is your “end game” in life? For many people it is simply to love and be loved in safe, significant relationships. Others want to accomplish their dreams, travel, or create. This powerful poem will help you to find the key you need to access what you most desire in your life.
What the Decades Taught
If I want to find some deep sense of worth…
To feel fully alive, gladly human,
To connect at a heartfelt level, perhaps,
With the Unitive Force,
It will not be enough to work hard,
Even to sweaty exhaustion.
It won’t suffice to love others,
Even those determined to harm me.
The neatest little house on the block,
The best kept flower gardens,
Organic salads every day,
Well-mannered pets…too little.
Sacrifice won’t do.
Not even years of self-deprivation,
Not being nice to everyone, all the time.
Giving will leave me feeling empty still.
Movies and books by the hundreds,
Even somber scholarship,
Won’t fill the void—
The pain-flooded well of longing.
No princes charming could be enough.
Not children or a dozen sweet grandchildren.
Not lifelong friends.
No one can do it for me!
Along the winding, rutted road,
The best of guides can only point the way;
For some baffling spiritual reason…
…I must begin, at last, to love myself.