So I got lost in the woods today. Really, really lost, accidentally. Ended up running 15 miles, which I didn’t intend to do. But I had a lot of thinking to do and so the extra miles and scenery served me well.
And so did this sign: Single Lane Traffic Ahead. And cue “Single Ladies.”
I thought about how I’m coming up on the 10th anniversary of being single. You see, a lot of people celebrate wedding and dating anniversaries, but I’ll choose to be the anomaly. Some people are bitter and depressed over the fact that they’re single or they try everything in their power to not remain single for long. But ten years ago I actually chose to be single intentionally. Well, sort of.
It started with an internship at my college that required we be single, among other things, like not drinking and smoking. Not smoking to me was like sin, so I begrudgingly obliged and walked within the confines of that time. I took that six months and embraced it. I had been in and out of numerous relationships, if you could even call some of them that, years prior. I was only 18 and done with dating at that point, broken and disillusioned, disappointed, and honestly angered by men entirely.
If you read some of the previous blog posts entitled “Me Too” “People Ask Questions” or “Fitness Part 2: Find Your Fire” you might get insight into why that was. With a history of sexual abuse and the brokenness that went with it, it pervaded every relationship I entered into; strands of unhealthy relationships were simply a fruit of it. Each time I walked or at times clawed away from a relationship it seemed to compound the insecurities, the wrestling’s with my identity, and left me realizing the dissatisfaction and pain of it all.
As I ran tonight I began to think about love, which I often times do. I laughed also calling to mind the time that I cheated on a test in New Testament Survey, a mandatory class at my liberal arts Christian college, in which we had to memorize 1 Corinthians 13, the token passage about love from the Bible. I had been out partying too late so many nights before to actually study and memorize the passage, so the day of my test I wore a skirt and wrote the entire passage on my thigh. “No Bible teacher would dare ask me to lift my skirt,” I thought beforehand in my plan to pass. To this day I still consider getting it tattooed on my thigh, kind of tongue and cheek, but also because this reality of love has consumed me since. So the jokes on me, folks, and getting it tattooed would make it literally…on me.
I had equated love to sex for so long. I was so wrong. If we equate love to sex and take that to the extreme, the person being raped tonight in some town or nation would somehow be within the definition of an act of love. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sex is not synonymous to love. If that also were true, how would we love people we don’t have sex with? Love is not exclusive. Sex should be.
But back to the internship. So it started with six months. This meant no one-on-ones with the opposite gender, or even doubles, anything that smelled like dating. This internship was no joke. I tend to be black and white, to the extremes, all in or all out with anything I do, so I said yes to this. No one forced me. I knew what I was getting into when I did the internship, and at that point I was desperate and would take whatever boundaries the internship set. I also had lived a straight up boundary-less life for so long, that it was surprisingly settling and comforting to have these newfound lines to walk within. In my heart at that time I felt as if I could do ten years of no dating. I had even mentioned it to close friends, the idea of doing ten. Little did I know.
Over the years I’ve read Towns and Cloudsend’s Boundaries, roughly seven times over. I recommend it often to people. I actually have extra copies lying around my house to hand out whenever I feel like someone needs to read it. I highly suggest reading this book. Boundaries create and sustain healthy relationships. Safe People is another great read, if you’re interested in learning more about the topic of boundaries and healthy relationships.
After the internship concluded I jumped back full force into being a full-time student and working 2-3 part time jobs. I really considered this singledom thing during the six months prior to the point of resolving within myself to remain single for the next two years. I would continue the exact boundaries from my internship of my own volition. No drinking, no smoking, no dating. I mean my next two years were already filled to the brim with classes and work. There would be little time for investing and developing a meaningful relationship beyond friendship.
But before you get a tilted picture, remaining single was all but easy, but I was, and am still, up to the challenge. Within the past 10 years I’ve been asked to be married–three times–have been asked out countless others, have wanted to say yes, have screamed (literally) “No,” and have battle wounds to show. This is not boasting, bragging, or complaining, but just giving insight into and coloring the reality of the years.
There were moments when I felt the sacrifice and times I felt the freedom and joy of it. This was and has been costly to me, and at times costly to others. It’s lost me friendships. Some of them walked away, discontent to remain friends, which I think I’m better off for because there was an agenda to be had with it in terms of their self-gratification. On my end, sometimes I wanted to go out, sometimes I wanted to get married, sometimes I wanted to have sex. (Did I say that?) It made me wrestle again and again and question why I was doing what I was doing. I generally would cry about it at the time, but come back to the same place inside, to the question of love. Was I doing it because of love? Did I have the intention and desire to date or marry because of me or because of love? (Side note: those aren’t synonymous.)
The two years ended. I considered again where I was, and I was completely content, and couldn’t be happier to decide that another 5 years was looking good. I didn’t want the distraction of attraction. I had a mission and a vision. I questioned and sifted through my decision countless times. Was it one of self-protection because of the past abuse and bad relationships? Perhaps it was intermingled in there somewhere, but not the major driving factor. I also at that time had nothing to invest in anyone. I was bankrupt internally, and one can’t give from a place of bankruptcy. Until some of those things we’re hammered out and healed, there was not much I would or could give as a person.
Do I regret a moment of it? No. Despite how costly, lonely, or difficult that decision to remain single was, I would do it a hundred times over if need be. I would continue it until eternity. I’m honestly considering at this time how to embark into this next season of life, 2018.
The cool thing is that I’m not looking for a man to fulfill or heal me anymore. There is no such reality of any man with the ability to do so anyway, which I love to say, because it’s completely liberating. Some of you women are reading this and convinced that some man is going to satisfy the depths of who you are. If you adhere to that belief, get ready for disillusionment come reality when you’re married and he’s unsatisfactory. Love will be more than a great body and self-satisfying come seventy and when your hair is grey with old age. When he can give you nothing, that’s when real love will show it’s face.
The same is true today. Love isn’t based on what someone can give you. It’s, again, rooted in pouring out without expectation of repayment.
Over the past ten years of intentional singleness there have been many things I’ve concluded, so here’s a short list and I’ll think I’ll end this. I think the fifteen miles of running are hitting me. So here are just some things I thought of tonight:
I’d rather be alone than mask loneliness with a relationship. I think that says it with no additional words needed. Except, perhaps, that the void inside both you and me can’t be filled with simply humanity.
Love is not the fruit of loneliness and self-gratification. If I initiate a relationship (any, friendship, romantic) from the place of loneliness, it’s already bankrupt. Love is self-less, a giving up of oneself, laying down one’s life or simply one’s preferences. It’s about giving, not receiving.
Love isn’t sentiment. Love is not based on feelings. Love is a choice.
Love is tangible. It’s realized and recognized in a reality that’s more than words. It’s one thing to talk about love as ideas or keep it ethereal, but when push comes to shove, it has to be real. Let’s talk about words. Someone can flippantly say “I love you, man,” and what they’re really equating it to is “I think you’re cool.” Okay, great. People just throw “love” around like it’s easily found. I feel this not only degrades the definition of love in our society, but it confuses the definition of love. Love is not easy. It’s not simply “found.” It’s developed, like a muscle. You make daily decisions in which you choose to love or not love something or someone, be it yourself or someone else.
Love isn’t exclusive to a dating relationship. I love my friends. I love my family. It’s a daily reality outside of marriage and dating that we can engage in. You can love today fully. And the reverse is true; you can be fully loved today, outside of dating and marriage.
So single or married, I cheer you on to love where you’re at right now. You are capable of love right now whatever your relationship status or stage of life may be. You’re called to love and be loved. After all, we can only give someone what we have, and if we’re not loved first then we don’t stand a chance at giving something we’ve never had. But I think that’s a blog for another night.