Disconnection

Today I was inspired by Kate, who posted about deactivating Facebook. I read her post and commented that I didn’t think I’d be deactivating my account any time soon…

…and then I did.

It was partly Kate’s post, and partly the fact that I realised I check Facebook before I even get out of bed. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, and have a quick look at FB on my phone when I get back into bed. Seriously? What on earth could have happened overnight that I need to know about RIGHT NOW? The answer to that is ‘nothing’. Not. A. Darn. Thing.

I’m not anti-Facebook, and I do plan to reactivate it eventually. (Possibly in the middle of the night tonight if I get up to go to the loo…) I love Facebook, really. I love connecting with friends, particularly friends from interstate and overseas, I love seeing what people are up to and checking out their photos, I like wasting time on games. And since I live alone and can be a bit isolated, it does help me feel connected. I am okay with Facebook itself, but I was starting to get a bit obsessive about checking it. Definitely time for a break.

Meanwhile, I recently downloaded a free audiobook app on my phone. It has public-domain books read by… well, anyone. Many of them are beautifully read by people with smooth, calm voices and beautiful diction. They soothe me to sleep wonderfully well. And then there are some… I downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, thinking that would be fun and entertaining. As I’m sure it will be. But the first adventure is read by what sounds like a 16 year old boy with a mouthful of orthodontic work. He pauses in weird places, he emphasises the wrong words and/or syllables, he attempts accents but can’t maintain them for more than half a sentence, and he valiantly mangles many words that I suspect he has seen written but never heard. Like ‘admirable’ (Ad-MIRE-abe-el), ‘chaise lounge’ (CHIZE-lounge) and ‘carte blanche’ (Cart-AY-blanch-AH). It’s 30% distracting and 70% HILARIOUS. It has this train-wreck quality about it that means I can’t stop listening. But I’m not totally heartless – on the rare occasions he flukes the correct pronunciation of a polysyllabic word I give a resounding “WELL DONE!” I’m sure he appreciates it.

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“But… you’re nice!” and other helpful comments

Today, I have been single for 15,442 days. (In an amazing coincidence, I have also been alive for the same number of days.) In that time I’ve heard just about every kind of comment on my singleness. A lot of comments make me angry, which is actually kind of sad. For the most part, people are well meaning and I really don’t think they intend to be hurtful. Yet I have been hurt or offended or baffled or angered, so many times. When I talk with other single people they tell variations of the same story. Why does this happen? Are single people just extra touchy and more likely to take offense? Do we all happen to have insensitive friends? Are people really quite stupid?

Actually, I don’t think it’s any one of those things. There might be elements of some or all of them, but it’s never just one thing. In reality, I think we all want to care for each other, but often we don’t know how. We all know our own lives but we can’t fully understand someone else’s, and so we can inadvertently hurt each other. We’re human; it happens.

I’ve talked to a lot of single people, and I have my own experiences, and I keep hearing the same things that We Wish People Understood. So along those lines, here are my Top Six Ways To Care For Your Single Friend*. And to care for yourself, if you’re single.

(*In this case, I’m assuming your single friend is female and a Christian, because that’s what I know. But I think these points can be applied more broadly.)

1. “You’re so nice! I don’t understand why you’re not married.”
If your friend is single:
Let’s start with this: marriage is not a reward and it can’t be earned. No one deserves it, and being nice or pretty or thin or curvy or smart or funny or cute or whatever is completely irrelevant. By all means, tell your friends they are nice. Tell them they’re smart and funny and completely worthwhile. But don’t link it with marriage. When you do, you’re telling them that marriage and relationships are earned by being worthy enough. That marriage happens to nice people or pretty people or fun people. Which suggests that your nice friend perhaps isn’t quite nice enough. When you express surprise that someone so nice is not married, what your friend hears is “Nice = married. You’re not married. You must not be nice enough. Therefore, you have not earned marriage.” Oh, I know you don’t mean to say that. But trust me, that’s what she hears.

If you are single:
It’s worth repeating: marriage is not a reward and it can’t be earned. No one deserves it, and being nice or pretty or thin or curvy or smart or funny or cute or whatever is completely irrelevant. You are already worthwhile. If you marry, it won’t be because you earned it. If you don’t marry, it’s not because you weren’t good enough or because you did the wrong things. You are valuable, just as you are, and your marital status can never change that.

2. “You just need to trust God.”
If your friend is single:
There’s another way of saying “you just need to trust God”. It’s this: “you don’t trust God enough, and that’s why you’re not married”. And another way of saying THAT is “it’s your fault you’re not married”. You know what? Your friend already trusts God. She trusts God with her whole life, not just her marital status. If she didn’t trust God, chances are she wouldn’t be faithfully holding out for a relationship with someone who loves Jesus. Being single in a world that tells you to jump into a relationship as soon as possible involves a HUGE amount of trust, and it’s incredibly hurtful to hear our trust in God questioned, or to hear the suggestion that our singleness is because we don’t trust God enough. I know that’s not what you mean. So perhaps there’s another way of phrasing it. Perhaps you could say, “I’m impressed with the way you keep trusting God even when you don’t quite know where he’s leading you. I know that’s not easy, and sometimes it must feel like God isn’t listening to you. I’d really like to be praying for you in those times.”

If you are single:
When you hear this, I know that you start to question whether you’ve somehow not trusted God enough. Perhaps you question whether God is punishing you for your lack of trust. But again, marriage is not a reward, and it doesn’t happen when your faith is good enough. You already trust God, and I promise you he’s not holding out on you. He loves you, and he loves that you trust him. Don’t believe the lie that you haven’t yet earned marriage.

3. “You don’t know what it’s like to have children.”
If your friend is single:
Um, no. We don’t. That’s kind of the point here. Really, I do understand that this type of comment is meant to be helpful, and to express that marriage and parenthood can be a tough road. But you know, most single people know that. Those who have been single for many adult years have seen their friends marry and have children, and they have listened and prayed with their friends during many different tough times. Maybe we don’t know from experience, but we do know. It’s tough. And you know what? So is being single; it’s just tough in a different way. No one – married or single – needs to prove that their lot in life is harder. We all struggle in different ways, and nobody wants to swap their pain for someone else’s. When your friend says, “I’d really like to have children and it hurts that I don’t”, please don’t minimise their pain by telling them they don’t know what it’s like. Listen to them and be supportive.

If you are single:
This is a tough one, isn’t it? The temptation, at least for me, is to start playing “Whose Life is Tougher?” Sadly, I can assure you that this does not help friendships and doesn’t make you feel better. I’m not sure I really know the best thing to say, but I know this: life is not a competition. You will have good times and hard times and wonderful times and horribly painful times… and so will your friend. Be there for each other.

4. “I would love to have your life – you have so much spare time and no responsibilities.”
If your friend is single:
This may well have been true when we were all 17 and living at home. It may have even been true when your friend was 21 and single. Then again, it may not have been. Responsibilities and being an adult doesn’t automatically come with marriage and children. It comes when you decide to take on responsibilities and be an adult. Couples and parents do have some responsibilities and time restraints that single people don’t share, but many responsibilities simply come with growing up. Single people still need to cook and clean and shop and get the car serviced and buy petrol and go to the bank and mow the lawn and have medical checkups and pay bills… and we can’t share these responsibilities with anyone. If we’re halfway through dinner and realise we need more milk, we can’t send anyone else out to get it for us. If we want to go and have a coffee with a friend, no one is going to mow the lawn while we’re out. Perhaps instead of making assumptions about what your friend’s life looks like, you could ask them how life is going.

If you are single:
Same deal, really. Don’t make assumptions about your friend’s life. And don’t make assumptions about your own. When someone tells you that you must have loads of spare time and therefore should take on additional ministries, don’t say yes or no right away. Go home and think about YOUR life, not the life of the Single Stereotype. Do you really have time? Is this a ministry that uses your gifts? Do you want to do it? Are you saying yes because you think you should do it?

5. “I didn’t invite you over, because I thought it would be too painful for you to be around my children.”
If your friend is single:
Sometimes, it will be too painful to be around children. Not all the time, but undeniably there are hard days. There are days when it’s incredibly painful to be surrounded by the thing you desperately want but can’t have. Other times, though, the really painful thing is to be excluded from family life. We often don’t get many opportunities to be around families, and to be deliberately excluded can be isolating and make us feel unloved. Just invite your friend over, the same as you would invite anyone else, and trust them to know whether it’s a good idea for them. Sometimes they’ll get it wrong (for themselves) but that’s okay. That’s up to them, not you.

If you are single:
Trust yourself and your instincts, and know that it’s okay to say no sometimes. You don’t have to take on every babysitting request, but nor do you have to refuse them all. Treat all invitations and requests individually. Some days you will want to be around families and children and some days you won’t. And that’s okay. You need to care for yourself and stay emotionally safe.

6. “Cheer up! Your life is great!”
If your friend is single:
Being single and childless can be a choice. But for many single and childless people, it’s not. It’s not what we wanted and not what we expected. That doesn’t mean our lives are bad, or that we don’t enjoy life. It just means that our lives are not what we thought they would be, and with that comes grief. Not self-pity; actual grief. It’s real, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Please don’t invalidate or deny your friend’s feelings. There will be days when she is suddenly, unexpectedly swamped by grief. She doesn’t need to be told that her life is great. I’m sure she already knows it. She needs to be allowed to feel, and allowed to grieve. Grief comes and goes, and it won’t last forever. Just be there for her, the same as you would for any other friend who is going through the grieving process.

If you are single:
Acknowledge what you feel, and don’t beat yourself up for feeling it. Your grief is real. Pushing it aside and tell yourself you’re wrong for feeling it won’t help you. The grief will still be there. It’s okay to acknowledge it – it really, really is. If you need some help to work through it, that’s okay too. Do what you need to do.

Bonus: “God loves you”
If your friend is single… and if you are single:
God knows every detail of your life, and he cares about it all. He knows what you’re feeling. And he loves you. Single, married, with or without children, happy, sad, angry, grieving, contented – God doesn’t judge your worth by any of those things. He just loves you.