The Dark Side of Freedom

posted in: Relationships | 5

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.

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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.

5 Responses

  1. Amy Young

    Ruth, thanks for sharing these profound thoughts and linking up with Velvet Ashes. Freedom, true freedom isn’t free, is it? It come balanced with responsibility and, as you graciously point out, can have a very dark side.

    Here’s to promoting adulthood and maturity for all 🙂

  2. Paul Yu

    Hi Ruth,
    Excellent essay that you shared with me and many others. I feel I am blessed because I have the best of both worlds: freedom for 4 months and stability for 8 months a year.^^ As I got married when I was 28 years old(3 years older than I aimed for my marriage, which isn’t too bad, but back then 3 years was a long time for me), and also being separated from my wife for 1 year due to immigration visa application process, however, I know a little bit what it is like to be lonely. As I spend 4 months a year visiting the fields, I am often alone, which is true right now as I am in Korea. For me it is not a problem to be alone. But I feel for you, for your longing… “Longing” has to do with “Lonely.” When people long for something, they are often lonely as their desire is not shared often by many. Catholic priests, thus, spends a lot of time in the community with others, sharing their lives, even though they are celibate. I hope and pray that you would foster such community in your place and be a blessings to them as you will/are blessed by them as well. Take care, Paul

  3. Emily Smith

    Thank you. I’ve lived in three different countries on three continents. I’ve also never lived in the same country for more than three years at a time during any part of my adult life. The only way that I could have made these choices was due to being single. This was a huge advantage. It was also at times more than I thought I could handle alone. This post so accurately and beautifully described a lot of that tension. Freedom is wonderful but there is a cost. Thank you for your courage in sharing this. I have written about falling apart, changing jobs, and some pretty raw emotional posts. I could not bring myself to write about what it means to be single overseas. Your vulnerability and your heart are precious.

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