Why Singleness Has to Be Grieved

I’ve been on a mission for a while now to help people understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with being single. I believe the expectation of coupledom, the emphasis on traditional family, and the myth of guaranteed romantic bliss are cunning distractions from the real things we all wrestle with regardless of our relationship statuses: desire, purpose, surrender and faith. I think singleness has been cast as a problem and a punishment for far too long, and that those who haven’t found romantic partnership are tired of being pushed to the margins and feeling like failures.

And while there are many who agree with me, there seems to be a barrier to stepping into a life that actually embraces singleness. Because many are held back by a simple fact: being single can be sad.

I think some believe to embrace singleness, is to walk around basking in independence, gleefully spouting off adages about not needing a partner, and mocking the toils of coupledom and family. The reality is

the most contented singles have become very well acquainted with the concept of grief.

The more I explore other experiences of singleness, the more I’m convinced that before a single can pursue an intentional life, they must first grieve their unintentional life. This may of course involve actually grieving the loss of specific relationships, people, and opportunities, but it goes further than that. It takes into account the lives we visualized, the weddings we dreamed of, the families we imagined, and the many adult tasks we expected to do in partnership. This is a grief I know well.

I had to grieve being single before I could enjoy being single.

I had to mourn my imaginary romance and wedding and husband and home before I could move on without them. I had to let myself be angry and sad and confused by the independence I didn’t ask for before I could stop resenting it and start embracing it. And while I have done a lot of this work— of allowing myself to wrestle with the uncomfortable truths, of realizing some dreams might never come true, of denying, bargaining, raging and crying—

I can still be surprised at how grief is not a static thing.

How it can sneak up on me in the middle of a fantastic weekend with my girlfriends and make me feel lonely. How some birthdays are celebrations and others are empty reminders of what I don’t have. How I thought I found contentment about the prospect of maybe never getting married, but forgot that it might mean that I won’t ever get to be a mother. How some days I’m giddy with freedom and other days I find myself inexplicably choking back tears over ticking the single status box on a tax form, or purchasing a queen-sized mattress for just me. I still sometimes breakdown in the grocery store at a random recognition that I may always be cooking for one. I see a certain ritual to the romantic comedy and ice cream combination that can emerge on a lonely Friday night, and have learned to be gentler with myself when I am upset.

As I’ve learned to characterize my own disappointment as grief, I am able to recognize times where I oscillate between the acceptance and embracing of my single life and its adventures, and the sadness at the lack of companionship and family I thought I would now have.

When after a significant day I am greeted by an empty apartment with no one to debrief with and feel the sting of loneliness, the frame of grief permits me to let the tears run down my face for a moment. When I attend a church service or Christian event and am made to feel like a novelty or some kind of minority, the lens of grief empowers me to balance advocacy with compassion for myself and for those to whom I am constantly explaining my experience to. When I am surprised by a lump in my throat during a romantic scene in a silly movie, the voice of grief whispers “it’s ok to be sad.” When I’m sick or see an elderly person struggling and suddenly have a flash of fear about dying alone, I realize sometimes grief comes early in bite-sized pieces to make it easier to digest. My life circles back to the topic of coupledom often: most times I don’t even notice; oftentimes I am able to handle it with grace; sometimes I greet it with a tantrum. Such is the nature of grief.

The risk of not grieving the lives we have, is the risk of any grief avoidance: a failure to embrace reality, a drifting into pretend, or, to put it simply: getting stuck.

Are you stuck?

Are you holding onto some idea of the future that’s keeping you from moving forward? Are you wanting to live more purposefully and meaningfully, but afraid to let go? Do you wish you could enjoy the good parts of being single, but find yourself frustrated at all the things you hate about it? Maybe it’s time to let it out: to rage and ugly cry and start admitting what is disappointing and scary and sad.

Embracing singleness doesn’t mean you are always happy about being single, it means you stop pretending that your singleness isn’t a reality to be lived in.

How is your approach to singleness impacting your life and faith? Take the “What Type of Single Are You?” Quiz to gain insights about how to move towards your purpose.