Saturday, October 23, 2010

Destination Marriage?! Some Reflections on a Lecture on Singleness (Which is NOT Mono)

Yesterday my program hosted a guest speaker to talk about marriage, singleness and the 21st century. A pretty hefty meat-and-potatoes speech, and definitely one I was going to carefully consider. About 10 to 15 minutes in, my pen was out and I was thinking about how to respond on this blog, because if there has been anything consistently on my mind this semester in DC, it has been the amoeba-like idea of "singleness."

Our guest speaker at one point said that the talk was going to address what happened if "singleness" was prolonged; if, that is, by the time you are 30 or 35, you are not married. My initial reaction is pretty strong. I wanted to stand up in the middle of the room in my DC power suit and shout, "IT IS NOT LIKE MONO! ME NOT DATING DOES NOT EQUAL ME BEING A CONVALESCENT RECOVERING FROM THE 14th CENTURY PLAGUE!"

When people talk about what to do if you are single longer than expected, I want to ask them what they think singleness is. It isn't a piece of lint stuck to your sweater that you can't shake off. It isn't the annoying song that won't leave your head for two months. It isn't something you "catch" from your ambitious, career-oriented single friends. And it DEFINITELY isn't something that you can take vitamins, read books, or do yoga exercises to avoid.

Our guest then went on to talk about this idea of living in autopilot, thinking that marriage and children and career and suburban home (or city apartment, or even a farm out in Arkansas) is the next stop to be called out by the conductor on the train of our life. And our guest was right - living in autopilot starts in college and doesn't end there. And it can often make us blind: blind to what God has in front of us, blind to the unexpected doors that fly open or the switching of tracks in the nighttime (this train metaphor is harder to continue than I thought).

So our guest (who I will now refer to as "Dr. X" for anonymity) cautioned us against living in autopilot. Dr. X is right. Autopilot makes us think that if we just sit quietly and bide our time, if we just walk forward, if we just follow a daily routine of Bible reading, praying, exercising, being environmentally conscious, being coy, not calling a guy back for 3 days or reading What Southern Women Know About Flirting, watch SATC and mimic Carrie or Charlotte, eating only almonds for breakfast... THEN we will get a significant other!

Woah. Wait... that phrase. "Significant other." I have a hunch that there is an inherent assumption in your mind (and in mine) that "significant other" means boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. But does it have to? I just wrote about Meredith and Cristina and our people. Aren't THEY also significant others? Aren't our good friends, family members, mentors - significant others in our lives?! We would never say that you need to do all that crazy reading/exercising/eating almonds/TV watching to be worthy of the love of friends, relatives or mentors. We would never suggest that you are not ready to have friends, relatives or mentors if some "Checklist" had not been fulfilled. So why do we think that about dating relationships?

It isn't about worthiness. We are not at recess in elementary school being picked last for the dodgeball/kickball/soccer team. We are not in high school standing on the edge of the dance floor as the "Wonderwall" song plays and couples awkwardly put their hands on sweaty waists and shoulders. We are not sitting in the cafeteria at college alone (and you know what? Sometimes that is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Seriously). Singleness is not something we are supposed to escape out of, waiting for Superman/Batman/Spiderman/Iron Man to rescue us. It is something we live into. It is something we enjoy, enjoy the difficulties and the questions and the hardships, as well as the freedoms, joys and laughs. And trust me, when you're single, there are plenty of hilarious stories.

Dr. X said one other thing that I want to respond to. When asked by a student if people were called to be single, Dr. X replied, "Yes, but I don't think you'll know that until you are on your deathbed." First of all, I fundamentally disagree. Part of the difficulty of talking about Marriage and Dating and Relationships as a single person is that I unconsciously begin to expect those things for my life. I hear people saying, "God could bless you with other things besides marriage and children," but I then also hear, "It's never too soon to be thinking about what kind of wife and mom you want to be." My brain can't take all that paradox. Do I live into the meaning of being single as a 20 year old in the city of Washington, DC? Do I prepare my heart to be a wife and mother? If I prepare for that, and God intends to give me something else, then what was all the preparation for, if not to make me think God had withheld a promise to me? If I am on a train bound for a life of being single, what good does it do to be checking the map for "Destination Marriage"?

I fully, wholeheartedly believe that people are called to be single, and that it is a call that can be known and lived before you gasp your last dying breath. Singleness can't kill you; but the expectation that it is a passing phase, a part of life to be gotten through, a bad cold or case of mono that you need to cure... that can stop you from living fully. And so, with all due respect, I disagree with Dr. X. You can know that you are called to be single, and far from waiting to find out if you are called or not (all the while hoping you are not), I think we should be sticking our heads out the window of the train we are on, breathing the air and looking at the landscape, and being surprised and excited by the unexpected stations we pull into over the course of the journey.

I'll end with a funny story, because, after all, I am 20 years old and life is here to be lived and enjoyed in its fullness. And I love sharing it with you all... and if you have heard the story before, well, enjoy it again.

About 2 years ago I was home for the weekend and decided it would be a nice thing to go to Dunkin' Donuts and buy the family Munchkins or a dozen donuts as a "I'm home and culling favor with everyone because I really want something AWESOME for Christmas" gesture. And it is raining, pretty heavily. Sidenote: all my truest adventures happen in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot. Once I found a $100 bill there. Not kidding. Just landed at my feet. Awesome.

So it is raining and I am crossing the road in front of the drive-through window. And there is a crack in the pavement and I see it. As I'm walking, in my converse sneakers, my sort-of waterproof jacket and my nice pair of jeans, I think, "PHEW! Glad I saw that dangerous crack in the pavement with the big puddle of water collecting right next to it. That could have been bad!" And as I triumphantly think this, and step over it with my right foot, my left foot catches in that very same crack. I faceplant into the pavement, into the puddle, in front of a Chevy Suburban getting her coffee and the entire drive-through line, Dunkin' Donuts staff included. I stand up. I am covered from my forehead to my feet in muddy water. I stand paralyzed for a few seconds and then decide that my small French vanilla coffee is worth it. I walk into the Dunkin' Donuts with my head held as high as can be expected. I order my drink and then say, in an attempt to play off the incident, "Man it's raining. I just tripped into a puddle." The guy taking my order just looked at me and said, "Yeah. I saw you."

The only happy ending to this story is that I got a free coffee - Mr. Didn't Smile But Probably Laughs to this Day and Tells This Story on His First Dates decided to pity my mud-soaked self and gave me a free coffee. This story never fails to make me laugh and I hope you laugh, too. Wherever God may be taking me, I am glad to be going, single or married, with or without children, in whatever city or whatever country - with all the opportunities for tripping and embarrassing myself that new places afford.


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