by Carlene Hill Byron
Midlife is when I finally bit the bullet and got married. Being single was just too hard.
The guy who proposed to me was an elder in his church, the first guy to ask me out in the dozen years since I’d been baptized as an adult. And by my late 30s, singleness had become a very wearing way of life.
I was exhausted by roommate roulette.
My roommates were Christian women, often from my own church, 10 different ones in just over a decade. I adjusted and readjusted to new lifestyles. The airline pilot who was home a couple days a week. The gal who thought all the decorations in the common spaces should arranged in straight lines, equidistant from each other, smallest to tallest and back again. The woman who lived behind her bedroom door except when she emerged to cook, leaving her dirty dishes by the sink for up to 10 days at a time.
It’s good to adjust to others’ idiosyncrasies. It’s just wearing to have your home rearranged by a new set of idiosyncrasies every year or so.
I was tired of moving.
When unmarried people make life changes, they often overturn households. Roommates go away to grad school. They take off for the mission field. They get married. And if the person making the change signed the lease, your life changes also. Unless, of course, you can afford to put your name on the lease. Which I never could until I was part of a two-income married household.
I wanted a “default” setting on my social life.
As a single, my social life happened on my initiative. If I wanted to go to a movie with someone, I needed to call someone. If I wanted to chat over dinner, I needed to make plans. If I wanted to debrief about my day, I had to reach out. The “default” social life in my marriage turned out to be a pretty boring string of movies and Mexican restaurants, but it was reliable.
I wanted a chance at church “insider” status.
It’s not just that singles are shunted off into singles groups. It’s that single people don’t get to do anything interesting at church. It took being married (to an elder, no less) for me to discover that marriage isn’t enough for a woman to gain church responsibility: she has to have children, too. And having married just shy of perimenopause to a husband unwilling to adopt … Oh well.
I wanted a reliable support system
Marrieds “divide and conquer” a lot of tasks that singles handle alone. Singles who live with transient others regularly renegotiate how household chores will be managed: who’ll clean which rooms how often; what personal items can be left for how long in shared spaces; which cupboard and refrigerator space is available to whom; whether shoes are removed at the door or worn in the house.
The lack of support is most evident when you’re sick. When I got the flu as a single, I stayed on the couch for most of four days, but still prepared whatever I ate or drank, cleaned up what didn’t stay down … you get the picture. At the end, I washed three loads of flu-stained jammies and bedding, emptied all the trashcans full of tissues, and made a pot of soup for the week.
The Hard Work of Being Married
Now, I know that those who are married, and especially those who have raised children, feel like you’ve lived through similar challenges within your family. Your version of “roommate roulette” is watching your children become different people when they hit puberty. You spent the next years adjusting daily to their new personalities and wardrobes and attitudes. You’ve moved more than once for someone’s career or to land in a better school district. Your “default” social life has ground to a boring impasse more than once. Your built-in support system has let you down at a critical moment. I remember, during my married years, lying on the sofa with the flu wondering how deep the dishes would be in the kitchen sink when I finally was able to get up and attend to them. Pretty deep, it turned out.
The difference, of course, is that the single person doesn’t get to establish a pattern of adjustments, or even to look at the impossible teenager they’re living with and remember that she once was a lovely child and is likely to become a lovely adult. Singles live in transition. Always. And it’s tiring.
Single Again: What’s Changed
As a single-again woman in her sixties, I’ve learned a few things that make singleness easier:
- I’ve found a church where it’s okay to be unmarried. Surprisingly, congregations full of elderly widows and widowers are great places to be unmarried. These are churches where the weekly prayers include prayer “for those who live alone.” It’s good to be in a church that prays for you. If the Sunday service includes a monthly celebration of wedding anniversaries, it’s probably not going to welcome you as a single.
- Friendships count. I can’t commend too highly Shasta Nelson’s teachings for women who need to build their circles of female friendships. Even if you marry again, you desperately need to be surrounded by sisters who understand you. Because it’s really true: Men come from a different planet, and it helps to have girlfriends reassure you of that from time to time.
- Family is essential. Churches all have unspoken rules about who does and doesn’t deserve assistance. Family, on the other hand, is likely to help. A girlfriend and I both were abandoned by almost all of our “couple” friends after long-standing relationships crashed. And both of us found temporary homes with caring family members.
I’ve also learned that as little as I like living alone, I should. I’m done with roommate roulette and unplanned moves. Of course, as a volunteer chaplain at a nursing home, I know lots of older single women who are shuffled from room to room and roommate to roommate. I just pray that should I reach that point, I will have prepared my heart for someone else to dress me and lead me where I don’t want to go (John 21:18).
Singleness is hard. A church that is focused on the family doesn’t make it any easier. Christina Hitchcock’s The Significance of Singleness is a breath of godly wisdom that was published years too late to prevent my unfortunate marriage. If you’re single, read it today and find God’s peace for the challenges you live.
Carlene Hill Byron is a fundraiser for Independence Association, a Maine nonprofit supporting people with special needs. She lives just a few miles from her family’s third-generation wild blueberry farm. Her writing appears on The Mighty, Mad In America, The Redbud Post, The Church and Mental Illness and Pocket Purpose Blog.