I have led a life filled with unique experiences that I have walked through alone. I have been acutely aware of my singleness, and even more so, my aloneness, of late. When I was young, I presumed that I would fall in love and marry early in my 20’s, as was the custom for many of the women in the church and ecumenical community where I grew up. My mom was a spiritual director for several of the young adults in our community, and I observed as they were engaged, married, and started families. We hosted a number of bridal and baby showers.
As a young adult, I attended wedding upon wedding of friends, family, and acquaintances as people found their person and committed their lives to each other. I was steered toward service and a major I was not sure of, but completed. I struggled deeply with my physical appearance as I served exhaustively, hoping to be seen through my work as I stood behind the screen and admired the beauty of romantic love from afar. I had crushes and experienced the letdown of learning my attraction was one-sided.
I was approached by the director of a religious order in my hometown, as I continued to attend the church I grew up in, and asked if I had considered a vocation to the religious life. I had, and I knew it was not for me. But being asked, I wondered if I somehow wore a “permanently single” sign on my head or through my demeanor. I had several friends who were becoming older singles, like me, and we clung together at events but always resisted going to the dance floor to catch the bouquet. After a certain point, I think around age 30, I did not want to draw attention to myself or be called out for “still being a single girl.” I yearned for a man to notice me and ask me on a date.
I have been asked out, without the help of a dating app, twice in my life. I have been set up on numerous (10?) blind dates by both colleagues and friends. None of those led to a second date, and, honestly, many of them left me shaken and doubtful. (Perhaps I should write a blog detailing each date and match I have had – that would be a doozy!) I have forged ahead with life as a single woman, and am in many ways blessed by the adventures and career opportunities I have been able to pursue as someone on their own. I have been able to live in fabulously quirky homes, move overseas at the ripe age of 34, and sell nearly all my possessions to live on the generosity of those who funded my stateside expenses while I worked as a volunteer, and have moved states and climates at short notice.
There is a freedom in being able to pick up and change jobs. Setting up house and learning new cities, finding the neighborhood favorites and learning the geography of the region is fascinating. I am, of course, grateful for my dogs and the wonderful places I have lived.
The ache is still there. That yearning for companionship, the desire for romantic love, the safety and security of a long-term relationship with a good, handsome man is still present. Establishing a life in a new place as an older single woman gets harder each time. I have also held some unique work positions which easily cause me to feel even more isolated. The intensity of the job I have, whether in the US or overseas, is all-consuming and is hard to unpack, when I deal with life-and-death situations on a daily basis, or see the chaos and color and smells of desperation and poverty. I face complex moral and ethical issues in each patient situation and in the dynamics of providing bedside care to critically ill children and their families. This is not light conversation!
My circle of friends has continued to shrink, as lives diverge so much and as we reach middle age. What were once close friendships have become less so as we have less materially in common to share with each other. Marriages and families come first, as they should. I have never been terrific at keeping up with those who do not live in my geographical area. I was used to being spontaneous and dropping everything to grab a drink or dinner. That is not the way of things anymore. Planning vacations and attending events short notice is impossible since each week of my life looks different. My politics and spirituality have been greatly affected by my life experience, which makes me hesitant to share freely in many situations, especially as each topic is so “hot” and the art of civil conversation seems to have eluded many of us these days. I come home from work completely spent. I spend my days off quietly and in recovery mode, with small spurts of energy, enough to go on hiking ventures and do a bit of vintage shopping between reading books and keeping up the house.
There are days it is so quiet in my house that the noise in my head gets louder and louder. I can physically ache for a companion, a hug or a touch. The work I do involves a lot of tactile presence, and I pour love and worship into my patient care. I still struggle deeply with my physical appearance and my body structure. I carry the “what if?” question in my head, and the “what’s wrong with me?” question as well. I know that my unique life and the many extraordinary soul stretching and heart expanding opportunities I have had have shaped me immensely, and I am grateful for every one of them.
When my soul and heart crave companionship, when I wonder if I will encounter the man who will love me for who I am and allow me to love him, when I feel the doubts and comparison and temptation to resign myself to the “this is how it will always will be,” I remember a prayer another older single friend shared with me. Lord, please turn my loneliness into solitude. Please change my feelings of isolation and separateness into opportunities for transformation and deepening of strength.