My neighbor Scott casually called from his front porch, “Gotten on any of those dating apps yet?” I rolled my eyes and laughed.
“Scott, for the tenth time, I don’t want to be dating right now.”
He shook his head incredulously. “Impossible.”
Although Scott didn’t believe me, my statement was and today continues to be, quite possible. At this point in my life during our conversation in the summer of 2016, I was just coming out of a very draining relationship. I had spent five months of my existence managing another human’s emotions. I felt exhausted, angry, and utterly disappointed. But let me not just dwell on the negative; I also felt the profound feeling of freedom. The moment after we broke up, I danced to Enya in my T-shirt with a glass of wine in my hand. I then transitioned out of my bedroom into my roommate’s right next door. I sat on her pile of clothes on her bed (the safest, coziest place in the world) and laughed as we sorted through my dichotomy of emotions.
The next morning, however, was not nearly as pleasant. I woke up with a deep sense of restlessness and insecurity. In the midst of a somewhat toxic relationship, Jared* had become a place of stability for me. I was used to waking up to a text from him. He was my go-to person in times of trouble. I felt physically ill. I didn’t know how to go from a relationship to suddenly no contact. It felt contrary to my relational nature. I’m the person that doesn’t let go easily. I’m fiercely loyal to those in my inner circle, sometimes to a fault. So, saying goodbye with no intention to see Jared again felt like a betrayal to myself on some level.
A Complicated Holiday
I’ve had three break ups the last three years right around Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day tends to evoke strong emotions in people. Either a deep passion for the holiday of love or a cynical distaste for a celebration of romance. I see the validity in both perspectives. I’ve always adored the holiday despite the residue of failed relationships. I find Valentine’s Day is often too narrowly tailored to romantic connections.
In reality, Valentine’s Day is a commemoration of the greatest gift of all – love. For me, Valentine’s Day is a time to reflect on the great gift of God’s love in my life as well as the love He has surrounded me with through community. Mark 12:31 reminds us to “love our neighbor as yourself” (NIV). Oftentimes, we have to learn to love ourselves well before we can extend that love to others.
After my first in a series of three breakups, there was so much uncertainty. Yet, in the cloudy midst of confusion, one thing became increasingly clear. I wanted desperately to stay single. I needed space for me. For my emotions and my thoughts. During that year post break up, I started therapy for the first time. I raised more than $20K with my roommate to fight human trafficking. I received a promotion at work. I hiked the Salkantay trail in Peru all the way to Machu Picchu. I experienced such great joy, meaning, and purpose. It felt so good just to do me for several months. If the song, Miss Me More by Kelsea Ballerini would have been out, trust me I would have been singing those lyrics loud and proud every day.
Because the reality is, yes, I did miss Jared, but a greater part of me missed myself. I missed my solitude. I missed quiet evening by myself with a book in my hand and a candle lit. I missed mornings filled with dreams and visions for the day, rather than Jared’s schedule. I missed being able to go off the grid and jump in my car for a weekend adventure. I missed being MIA for a full day of diving under the sea. I missed the feeling of not caring what someone else thought about my appearance at any given moment. I missed spending time with my friends by myself and not catering to my significant other.
Are many of these symptoms characteristic of coming out of an unhealthy relationship? Absolutely yes. But are they also somewhat reflective of moments cherished and gained by being single? I think it’s affirmative as well.
More Than a Relationship Status
I’m learning we have to be sensitive to seasons in our life and become generous in our assumptions towards others. Culture, especially Christin culture, pushes us to believe that our worth, joy, and happiness is wrapped up in another human being. First, that’s a lot of pressure to put on someone else. But secondly, I also think it does our own sacred identity an injustice.
We often neglect to explore the treasures housed within ourselves in an effort to connect with a significant other. We romanticize a relationship, rather than doing the hard, and sometimes incredibly messy work on ourselves. We choose to get our affirmation and a sense of security from another human, rather than fighting to understand why we lack a sense of confidence and stability on our own. We lose ourselves in someone, rather than wrestling to find our truest beliefs and values housed within our own heart.
I don’t think this is always the case in every relationship. I think there are whole beautiful worlds opened when we fall in love. I think we discover new, surprising aspects to ourselves. I’ve always believed that falling in love is one of the greatest miracles God gives us. I will always be a romantic. But being a romantic doesn’t mean I want a relationship right now. Being a romantic might mean sipping wine in my bed planning my next trip to Santorini, Greece. Being a romantic could mean working on my next fiction love story. Being a romantic could mean coming to tears when my friend tells me how her counterpart gives her wings to fly.
Last year a guy I pseudo dated for a season told me that throwing a Valentine’s Day party for Galentines was rubbing singleness in every girl’s face, reminding her of her painful existence as a single. We argued for a bit. But what’s sad is that he truly believed on some level that these incredibly powerful women would somehow be better off if they were in a relationship. Can a romantic relationship add joy, life, energy etc. to your life? Absolutely! But can singledom also bring a sense of freedom, independence, and adventure to your daily? Of course!
I think it comes down to honoring what our heart and mind are telling us. Right now, I find myself in a similar season to the days and weeks post break-up with Jared. This fall, I tried to make it work with a couple different guys I had been talking to for several weeks. The reality is though, I found myself wanting to spend my time and energy with my core tribe and closest friends instead.
I don’t want to try to make something work with someone simply because I’m in my late twenties and the norm is to be pursuing a serious, romantic relationship. I want to spend my days learning how to become the best lawyer I can possibly be. I want to spend my evenings working on my cocktail recipe book, reading dystopian teen fiction and trying out new foodie spots with my closest people who make my heart come alive. This spring, I want to continue to spend weekends diving into case analysis and legal research or head out in my car to discover a new adventure. I genuinely want to fall asleep and wake up alone.
Embracing the Adventure
People often talk about the sweet joys of being in a relationship, but they also talk about the potential for some major lifestyle changes and burdens that can co-exist with embracing another person. There are definitely pros and cons to both. I believe one day I may be ready/desiring to make those changes that come with a relationship status, but for right now I’m not, and I’ve had to discover that feeling is OK.
However, if you are in a place of deep desire and longing to pursue a relationship, I say go for it. Embark on the journey and adventure of loving someone deeply. I think we have to take time to step back and gauge what we are truly feeling and thinking, rather than what society tells us.
For me right now, my heart says, “Jessica, I want you to enjoy the journey of discovering yourself. Find what makes you come alive. Allow your previous wounds to heal. Let your adventurous spirit be free. Go MIA for days at a time. Pursue your passion for human rights with everything inside of you. Prepare that ceviche you’ve been wanting to try. Buy the puppy at the animal shelter. Work towards owning a house. Plan for your next big trip. Get physically and mentally prepared to trek through the mountains again.”
So often women find themselves in a place of longing. Sometimes they may not even be longing for a romantic relationship, but rather the outcome they see as a result of that relationship. I hear women all the time saying they don’t want to travel somewhere because they are saving it for their honeymoon. I hear my friends say they don’t want to own a house on their own. They say they aren’t prepared to move across the country to pursue that long desired graduate degree because they don’t want to miss out on their hometown love who lives next door.
I believe in reality, all these statements account to women holding themselves back for someone who may or may not exist in their future.
Why not go to the store and buy yourself a dog today? Why not book your trip to Capetown now? Why not save up financially to own a house in the next five years? And ladies, why not make that Valentine dinner you want yourself or better yet, host a night for your best single Galentines?
So, the next time some woman tells you she genuinely wants to be single, believe her. Don’t assume she is trying to cover something up or playing hard to get. Ask her instead how you can come alongside her and support her dreams as a single woman who is fully content in herself.
And if you’re single and your reading this, be encouraged if you’re loving this season. I’m right there with you. I wouldn’t trade it. If you’re hating it, be honest with yourself, and then go to book a ticket to Capetown 😉 Bring your best girlfriend and a bottle of wine. I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Jessica Sherwood is a creative at heart with a passion to use words to bring life, meaning, and a sense of curiosity about the world around us. She previously worked at an international non-profit in communications and storytelling. Today, she is pursuing her Juris Doctorate at Regent University in hopes to pursue a career defending human rights.