Note: I’ve been wanting to write about my experience of being a single person living overseas for some time. But it is often hard to write about something so close to my heart. I’ve been working on this piece on and off for a few months and am linking it up to Velvet Ashes “Serving Single” week (my impetus to finally finish it off).
Everything I have ever read about being single identifies freedom as an advantage. And in so many ways, it is. As a single woman, I don’t need to balance where God is calling me with where God is calling my spouse. Since I don’t have children, I don’t need to consider their wellbeing as I make decisions. I only need to care for my own family, not my husband’s family, too.
But freedom has a dark side, too. It is easy to be so free you lack stability. You are always waiting and wondering could he be “the one.” You don’t invest in things for your home because someday you’ll have a wedding registry and get nice stuff. You are always leaving or being left and there is no guarantee of someone to share the transition with you.
When you are single, it is easy to live as if you are waiting for real-life, grown-up life to start. It seems that the American church holds the same attitude (even if it is never voiced aloud). You’re really an adult once you get married. The I’m-not-married-yet limbo poses its own set of questions. If I move to a new city or a new country, will my marriage prospects be better or worse? Should I try online dating here if I might move in a few months? It’s easy to get caught in the questions, and let all the possibilities overwhelm you. In the end, it can be hard to make any decision at all.
If you’re just waiting for grown-up life to start, why not keep living a college student lifestyle? Why care about your home? Why make grown-up decisions about saving for retirement and caring for parents? A few years ago, when I finished graduate school and was heading for my first full-time job in the United State, I set up a household registry for myself. As graduation gifts I received matching dishes and coordinating bathroom towels. I didn’t have much money to buy furniture and decorations, but I scoured Craigslist, bought a slipcover for an ugly love seat, sewed my own curtains and throw pillows, and ended up with a lovely and comfortable grown-up apartment. Those matching white dishes and silverware helped me feel settled into that place and time. Even if I wasn’t married, I wasn’t a student anymore. I was a grown-up, taking my place in the world.
Even if you’ve managed to consider yourself a grown-up, transitions come and they are hard. Transition is hard for all of us. For many people who are single, some of the difficulty is facing the transition alone. For years now, my friends have been getting married and often moving away to start their new phase of life. And every time, our relationships have had to change. I can’t help but feeling that I got the raw end of the deal. They got husbands to do life with. My community shrank a little bit. Do I try to make more friends? If they’re single, how long would it be until they got married, too? There’s freedom to have lots of relationships as a single person, but that freedom comes at the cost of relationships not being grounded in the promises of marriage, and therefore they can come and go and change shape quickly.
But I’ve left, too. When I made the decision to go overseas, the weight of that decision fell on me. My community helped me discern, but ultimately the decision was mine. I got on the plane alone, headed for a whole new place. When I have a bad culture-shock day, I don’t get to come home and share it. I can write about it, I can save the story up to tell someone a few days from now, or I can chat with a friend in the U.S. Teammates come and go. Other expat friends come and go. No one has promised to come and go with me until death parts us, so there are no guarantees about what community looks like for me. There’s no one to discern with and adventure with.
No matter your position in life, there are challenges. It is easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But if you are longing for my freedom as a person who is single, please remember that I am longing for your stability as a person who is married.