Singleness: How to Encourage and Not Discourage

I’ve been married all of two months and a day.  Ryan and I are both still pinching each other because we really don’t believe it.  We’re also still battling through all the changes that take place when you start living with someone who you’ve given your heart, your life and your future to.  It’s not all rose petals and fairy dust but there is a lot of laughter even during the tears and our vows and commitment to each other keep us holding hands.

Although marriage changes pretty much everything, Ryan and I both hope to remain sensitive to singleness.  We realize that just because we’re married doesn’t make us experts in how to find a spouse.  And it definitely doesn’t make us marriage experts.  I had a lot of advice pre-marriage but I am especially thankful for the advice that was conflicting but completely sincere.  This is an important reminder that all marriages are different and we have to find our way together.

And that’s kind of a long introduction to my main point that comes from a blog entry called What Not To Tell Single Girls (And some things you should do.) This is a good article (click on the title and it will take you to it so you can read it for yourself) that elaborates on why certain platitudes said mainly to single women (although I am sure some single men have heard them too) are not helpful nor edifying.  I think that her words can be an encouragement to singles but also a call to those who are not single to watch our words.

So in that spirit I want to respond to her six points with observations now on this side of marriage.  It’s not too long that i’ve forgotten what it is like to be single but my perspective has definitely shifted.

1. “I know the Lord has someone special for you.”

This is just not true unless that someone special is Jesus.  Yes, God could have a spouse in mind for that person but he may also have a plan that includes a beautiful, fulfilled life as a single.  Do not lie to single people.  It doesn’t make anyone feel better.

When people would say this to me I remember thinking- How do you know?  I don’t know if God has someone in mind for me so how could you possibly know?

What did actually help me was the reminder that God is sovereign.  2 years ago with no Ryan even close to the picture and even now that I am married- I need to constantly remind myself that God is sovereign even if I had never dated again and God is sovereign even though i’m married.  That is the truth.

2. “You’re just so great; guys are intimidated by you.”

This point is definitely one to read from the other author.  She points out that this is emasculating to guys and not helpful to women either.

I heard this a lot and I took it as a challenge.  I wanted a husband, not a puppy.  But I did date a lot of guys who would have followed me around like a puppy.  That was not God’s plan and in his grace he provided me with a husband who is not intimidated and also not overbearing.

I can’t really explain it but somehow God provided me with a man who lets me be strong while at the same time loving and encouraging my vulnerability with him.  I’m still observing this and trying to figure out how it even works but I know that it’s beautiful.

3. “The Lord is preparing both of you.”

Ok so this point may actually be true in some ways but it is definitely not helpful for a single to hear.  And getting married is not about being perfect and ready.  Praise God or we would all still be single.

God was preparing Ryan and God was preparing me.  Now that we are married he hasn’t stopped preparing us.  God is still working in us individually and now he gets to work in us together as well.  This will continue.  It’s a process called sanctification.

4. “He’ll come when you least expect it.” 

Could be true but was not true for me.  I was expecting it.  Each time I went on a date I was wondering if this was the guy.  Each time I updated my online dating profile, I thought about what I would need to write to interest the one who would marry me.  I thought on my first date with Ryan, “This could work”.  I, of course, didn’t say that to him but I was thinking it.  I had no idea how it would unfold but I was anticipating each step.

If I wasn’t married to Ryan, each new guy at church, each random encounter at the grocery store, each new seat mate on an airplane, I would still be waiting, anticipating.  I’m not ashamed.  I wanted to be married.

So maybe this isn’t the most healthy outlook but that’s where I was.  I was living my life with my eyes wide open and my heart was waiting.  This could have been disastrous if I had met a smooth talking liar who was good at telling me what I wanted to hear.  But by God’s grace I met a man with character and an amazing heart.

If I could go back I would tell my single self that it’s ok to anticipate and it’s ok to hope.  And just because a guy is over 6’4 doesn’t mean he’s perfect for you:-)

5. “Enjoy this season of singleness.  You have so much freedom to adventure and find out who you are.”

Yes!  Enjoy this season of singleness but don’t tell singles to do that.  I enjoyed being single but that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to be married.  These aren’t mutually exclusive.

There is also a part of this that comes in how it is said.  Is the married person unhappy in their marriage?  I have a divorced friend who continually reminded me that being single was better than an unhappy/unhealthy marriage.  This was actually a good reminder for me to be careful who I was choosing.

And now to that other part: the freedom to adventure and find out who you are.

First of all, the adventure for Ryan and I didn’t stop with marriage, it just changed.  And everything superficially I thought I knew about who I am is also going through the spin cycle and becoming something different.  Marriage changes things.

But the core remains.  The other author hit the nail on the head with this.  She writes:

“I also probably will never find the end to finding out about myself. If I did, I would think myself pret-ty boring. I am the daughter of the Most High, the Great I AM. You know why I love His name? Because He is. He IS kind. He IS good. He IS just. He IS mercy. He IS jealous. He IS patience. He IS love. He IS truth. He IS. We cannot find an end to Him… Why would the Creator of it all make us so finite that we could find an end to ourselves? Science has not even found an end to us biologically. The matter of the heart has not yet been tackled. So HOORAY for never finding an end of myself or of God and ALWAYS living a life a discovery and adventure!!!!”

Those words can remain true whether single or married.  Amen.

6. “Enjoy this season of singleness.  It is a special time with the Lord.”

Once again, Yes! But don’t say this to singles.  It is not helpful or encouraging.  I am so thankful for all the special time I had with the Lord as a single.  I am also thankful that God does not revoke the special times with him now that I am married.  They are both special, both worth celebrating and both are possible and lovely.

Adding Ryan into my relationship with God has been a very challenging thing for me.  God and I were getting along just fine together.  I knew (but was still constantly learning) how to talk to God, listen to God, commune with God and worship God.  But then this man came into my life who is not Jesus and who is definitely not God.  But he wanted to be a part of this relationship and became a part of it when we said “I do”.  I’m still struggling, learning and stretching as we figure out how this whole being-one-thing works when it comes to communion and relationship with God.  Ryan and I now have our own time to be with God but we also have time to commune, worship and pray together.  It’s part of the great mystery of becoming one and it’s good but it’s by no means easy.

Prayer and Encouragement

The author ends with an exhortation for people to encourage and pray for singles.  Her words are lovely so I won’t try to summarize here.  But I agree that there are so many worthwhile and easy ways to encourage that don’t include cheesy platitudes.  It’s a reminder for all the married people to think before they speak.

I will add this.  Although I did want to be married, I have come across many single women (as well as men) who are not actively praying for or seeking marriage.  This is perfectly acceptable.  So please don’t assume that just because someone is single necessarily means that they want to be married and just because they want to be married don’t assume they are not content with their singleness.

I had a few friends as well as strangers over the years ask me how they could pray for me while I was single.  They weren’t making assumptions, they were listening and genuinely wanting to pray how I was praying.  To have someone treat singleness not as a disease to get rid of but a normal part of life is amazing.

Whether single or married, God is sovereign.  How’s that for encouragement?

Support Raising, Anticipation and Trusting God

When do you leave for Australia?  What is your current timeline?  When do you think you will have the financial support? How much do you have to raise!?  How do you currently to support yourself?  What have you been doing since you returned from PNG?  What do you do on a typical day? Why are you not going back to PNG?

These are pretty normal questions that tend to come up whenever I have conversations about Australia.  I spent this past weekend in Santa Clarita having lots of interesting conversations, sharing about the work in Australia and building relationships.  I I did my best to answer the questions that were asked but, like usual, as I answered I wondered if people wanted the easy simplified answer or the longer more complicated, sometimes confusing answer.

There are a few current realities in my life that impact the answers to these questions.  God has opened my heart and put me on this path towards Australia.  I want to be in Australia.  My full-time job is support raising and I work for MTW.  I am dating an amazing man and we are discussing what the future might hold for us.  I am NOT engaged.

So what does this mean for my current work and direction towards Australia?  I am having to trust that God’s timing is not my own.  And I need to be faithful even with the current uncertainty.  I wondered early on in my relationship with Ryan, if I should just say no to Ryan and yes to Australia.  In my mind it was an either/or thing.  But then I realized that even saying no to Ryan wouldn’t  ensure the financial support for Australia.  Maybe I would have gained more supporters if I hadn’t been dating Ryan but there is no guarantee that I would be any further along in the process.  This is my job and I need to be faithful and continue to do the work that I have been given to do until God directs me elsewhere.  God is in control and it is his will that will be done.

And what does this mean for my relationship with Ryan?  I am trying to simply enjoy the place we are in.  Even though we can’t anticipate all the ramifications and changes that will come after engagement and marriage, we are fully aware that things will change.  And while we are trying to be intentional with our discussions and planning, we also just want to continue getting to know each other and enjoying the time we have together now.  For me this means being patient, being faithful in my current circumstances and looking to the infallible God of the universe for guidance as I learn what it is to trust a wonderful yet fallible man.

Hopefully this also answers the question of what I do on a typical day.  I may not have a set schedule but each day I am raising support, anticipating the future and trusting God through it all.

101 Questions to ask Before you get Engaged

101 Questions to ask Before you get Engaged by H. Norman Wright has been the most recommended book since the beginning of my relationship with Ryan.  As people began to find out that we were serious and discussing the possibility of marriage, inevitably this book would come up in conversation.  However, it is also the least recognized book when I mention it to other people.  So I am saying it now so that more people can know.  If you are dating or even already engaged then pick up this book.

9780736931038_p0_v1_s260x420Because Ryan and I are dating long distance, this book has been the catalyst to many conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have ever thought to have had.  And each conversation has been beneficial.  Even if you live close to each other and see each other on a regular basis, you might never have the opportunities or think to discuss the wide range of topics that are brought up in this book.  Many of the conversations are difficult and touch on uncomfortable subjects but it is better to start now than to realize there are issues once you’ve already said your vows.  This book has also indirectly helped us to work on how we communicate.  It is written from a Christian perspective so the questions get at the whole picture of marriage and have a good biblical foundation.  However, even if you aren’t a Christian this book has a lot of questions that would still be worth discussing and it might also give you another perspective on the purpose and goal of marriage.

The topics range from parenting styles to whether or not you even want to have children.  There are also questions about emotions and specific things like dealing with grief.  The book digs into past relationships and asks about relationships that have influenced or shaped your views.  Other challenging topics are sin, money and expectations.  But this is just a brief overview.  This book covers everything except who will clean the kitchen sink, although even that falls indirectly under questions about expectations, love and dealing with conflict.

I don’t think this book, or any book for that matter, can solve all your problems or answer all your questions.  However, I do think that it is a great way to assess your relationship and find out if you and the person you are dating are on the same page when it comes to major and minor life decisions.  It is about getting to know someone from their head to their heart.  Who you marry is one of the most important decisions you will ever make and this book is a tool that can help you say “till death do us part” and mean it.

Tales of Dating in California

My last date before I tried online dating was…hold on i’m thinking.  Maybe sometime circa 2007.  Now you have to give me a little leeway because of Papua New Guinea but still we are talking a good 4 or 5 years here.  I was never really the girl who needed a boyfriend.  I’ve had a few past relationships but it was pretty clear in college that for various reasons, these weren’t the right guys for me.  I learned from these college relationships that no matter how great the guys is, if our faith and theology aren’t compatible then it isn’t going to work.  And well, if all we have in common is our faith and theology that won’t work either.  So with that in mind I plunged headfirst into the online dating scene.  I figured I would keep an open mind and get a few dates under my belt.  Now 8 first dates and a couple second dates later I am a little wiser, have two new friends, am still single and that’s ok.  If anything, I have some new stories to tell so here you go.

Date #1: This is the only guy out of these 8 who has given me that lovely butterfly in the stomach, don’t know if you’re going to throw up or pass out feeling.  We met on State Street in Santa Barbara, had a burger and then walked down to the beach.  It was a beautiful day, not too hot and not too cold, perfect Santa Barbara weather.  We pretty much cut through all the chitchat and Date#1 shared his dream of becoming a firefighter and working in LA.  He talked about wanting to use his work to share his faith and help people.  It was really easy to see his heart for LA and his drive to make this happen.  So far so good but it was pretty clear that his focus was US based.  As we brushed off the sand and headed back up to our cars, we talked about everything from our families to favorite things.  I said goodbye to him and walked away a little lightheaded and woozy from the pheromones.

I talked with a friend later that night about the date and while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t really good either.  I had yet to make my non-negotiables list so I couldn’t really pinpoint what was bothering me.  But I quickly zeroed in on the fact that he wanted nothing more than to be a firefighter and live in the LA area for the rest of his life.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it felt (and still feels) very limiting for me.  Maybe if he had been more aware of the world but that wasn’t the case.  So I met up with him a couple days later when I was driving through his town on my way back from LA.  We talked over icecream and I told him that while my Grandmother would love him (she’s always telling me that we should focus on our own local problems first), that it wouldn’t work for me.  But there were still major butterflies and at one point when he touched my hand while illustrating a point, I thought I was going to fall off the bench we were sitting on.  However, I kept myself together and our final goodbyes were injury free.

Date #2: He’s French.  We have had lunch a couple times up at UCSB.  He’s come to church with me and that always causes a bit of commotion among the church ladies.  He’s catholic and doesn’t understand why religion has to be anything but private between you and God.  We have great conversations but that’s about it.  Date #2 and I are still friends and he’s going to teach me some French when I get back to Santa Barbara.  It’s kind of fun because every time I see him, I think about the last French guy I met who just happened to be walking through Walagu.

Date #3: On this date I broke many of the online dating first date rules.  We went hiking and I got in his car.  Now keep in mind that this is small town Santa Barbara, the trails are always super busy on Sunday afternoons and it turns out that one of his company bosses is an elder at my church.  But just to make things clear I don’t advocate hiking or getting into someone’s car on a first date where you are just meeting the person.  Date #3 and I talked on the phone a couple times before the date.  And from the beginning I was hesitant but I was willing to give him a chance.  How much can you really know from talking on the phone anyway?  He seemed nice enough but somewhat stuck.  I have nothing against the fact that he lives on a boat or is in his late 30s but those things didn’t really sweep me off my feet.  We talked easily, he talked a lot but not too much.  He brought apples and other snacks so at some point we sat down and just enjoyed the day.  The hike was obviously beautiful.  I mean this was once again an amazing Santa Barbara day and the views from Inspiration point were just as I had remembered.  But the date left me uninspired.  Once again not particularly good but not bad either.

I got home and the house was full of church people including including Date#3’s boss.  So Mr. Boss and I just chatted for a few minutes about the date and his connection at work with the guy.  He’s not directly in charge of Date #3’s work so he didn’t know him super well but Mr. Boss listened, shrugged his shoulders and said that sometimes it just isn’t meant to be.

Later that night there was an email waiting for me, asking me out again.  I wrote back politely declining while trying to be vague and basically saying I enjoyed the hike but didn’t think it would be a good idea to pursue something further.  And he wrote back asking for an explanation since he had a wonderful time.  Now for all you guys out there reading this, asking why is not in and of itself a bad thing.  However, if you ask why be prepared to hear something you might not like or agree with.  I tried not to be harsh but yeah.  So he thanked me for my honesty and I thought that was it.

A couple days later I was at Mr. Boss’s house for Bible study and my phone rang.  We were all still hanging out and just talking so I didn’t bother answering it but then I saw who it was, Date #3.  If I had any doubt that I made the wrong decision not going out with Date #3 again, this message eliminated it.  Basically he called to apologize for every little thing he perceived as going wrong on the date.  These weren’t even bad things.  He was still picking it all apart and it really wasn’t that complicated.  The message didn’t make me want to give him a second chance, it just made me feel sorry for him.  And it’s things like this that make me feel like the ‘bad guy’ and it was just one date, let it go.  Needless to say I didn’t call him back but for his sake I wrote a brief email saying I received the message and there was nothing to apologize for.  Thankfully he didn’t respond.

Date #4:  This was the most stereotypical first date.  We met at a nice restaurant and he had made reservations.  It was a fish place and I don’t really like fish but the place has good beer so that made up for it.  We sat down, ordered and talked pretty easily for the next couple of hours.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that this guy was an adrenaline junkie with no real focus in life.  But he was interesting enough and he also thought I was funny which helps.  So we were laughing and I noticed a table of guys behind him being a bit stupid and rowdy.  I didn’t give them another thought until they paid their bill and walked by our table on the way out, throwing a small paper airplane down by my plate.  I picked it up, opened it and read something to the effect of “You’re super hot.  What are you doing with this guy?  He seems nice and all, but really?  If you want a real man give me a call.”  This was followed by a phone number.  Date #4 of course was curious but I told him it was rude and just continued the conversation.  Even if I wasn’t going to marry the guy, he didn’t need to read that.  So dinner ended and we both went out separate ways.  There were a few polite text messages back and forth, one phone conversation saying that it wasn’t going to go anywhere and that was it.

On a side-note:  The after-date text message really makes me laugh.  It’s kind of like an excuse not to call later because you’ve ‘talked’ already and feel like you’re in touch but yet they can be so meaningless.  My advice to guys:  The after-date text message can be reassuring to both you and the girl.  However, if you are actually interested, CALL HER.  Even if you have to leave a message, plan it, say something nice and ask her out again.

Date #5: Just getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks and chatting can be really comfortable.  This guy is a single dad, tall, with a decent job.  The best part of the date was seeing pictures of his adorable little girl.  He obviously loves her very much.  Once again, the after date text message.  But this time nothing followed and that’s ok.

Date #6:  Once again Starbucks,but this guy was more interested in finding someone to take home.  And well that plan backfired for him.  I think he was trying to branch out and meet a different type of girl then he normally meets at clubs and bars.  Maybe after meeting me, the girls at the club seem more attractive.  I guess i’ll never know.

Date #7:  All I need to say is Hometown Buffet.  This should never, under any circumstances be a place for a first date.  Date #7 was from West Africa but I don’t think that is necessarily an excuse.  I should have just declined once the words Hometown Buffet were mentioned but by that point I had already put him off once before and couldn’t really do it again.   He was very kind and dare I say charming but when I wasn’t completely caught up in memories of my time in Ghana, I was thinking to myself “What am I doing in Hometown Buffet?”.  And well, those thoughts can be very distracting.  The date ended and I was missing Africa but Date #7 just couldn’t compare to Charles.  Charles was a beautiful Christian African man who I dated while I lived in Ghana during my semester abroad.  Of course I didn’t tell Date #7 this and it was sort of an unfair comparison because very few men could compare to idealized memories anyway.  But we talked and I kept trying to tell Date #7 why it just wouldn’t work for reasons actually on my list of non-negotiables and he kept insisting that we should try.  I could give him points for persistence but there is a fine line there.  Eventually he got the hint.

Date #8: Beer and pizza.  Sounds like a pretty good start.  And it was but the best part about this guy is his faith.  Our first conversation after ordering consisted of him telling me how he had been praying for God to teach him dependence and how his prayers had been answered in amazing but frustrating ways.  I mean you aren’t going to think that lessons in dependence are going to be easy.  While we talked about life, language, family, traveling and other topics, it was all interspersed with the Bible and things we had been learning about God and about ourselves.  And as we talked, Date #8 was actually interested in Papua New Guinea and not just because it was weird and different.  Having traveled a bit himself, he also could relate to some of my stories and had a framework to respond and comment.  Nothing like bonding over lack of water or strange foods stories.  While the earth didn’t move or anything, we were actually having a really good time.  After we finished our pizza, we walked around a bit, got some icecream and the conversation just continued.  A few short hours later, I gave him my phone number and we said goodbye.

About 1000 text messages and a short time later he asked me out again.  I wasn’t going to say yes but my best friend was excited about him because at the very least he had all the non-negotiables (as far as I could tell from a first date).  Similar faith and theology. Check.  Bigger worldview/International Outlook.  Check.  Want to have and provide for a family.  Check.  And so I said yes.

The second date was just as easygoing as the first.  Our initial plans didn’t work out because of the weather but the backup plans were great.  I really enjoyed myself.  However, it’s not just about a list or about being compatible Christians.  Date #8 and I talked and basically both came to the conclusion that for now, for the two of us it isn’t time to start a relationship.  Maybe one day circumstances will be different but being just friends is a good place to start.