The Grief of Singleness, The Grief of Marriage
Words by Hannah Nation
Sometimes there is fault line that runs between single and married women. It can often feel like women on both sides of the divide are gazing across at each other, wondering what is going on over there on the other side without ever attempting to cross the divide created by one little adorned finger.
When I was single, I remember trying to interact with the married women I knew. I remember feeling like they didn't really listen to what I had to say. They were so quick to give me advice, but their advice usually seemed to be, "Just wait and it will all work out." Then they would launch into their own personal experience finding a husband, as if it were the golden ticket for finding a man. To be honest, though, I didn't really listen. I found their advice irritating, if not sometimes silly, and quickly chalked them up as unhelpful.
Now that I'm married, I still feel the gulf. My single friends like to do things spontaneously and late at night. They are always with other singles. They somehow both want and are offended by my relationship advice in the exact same way I was five years ago. I'm on the other side of the divide now.
I often find myself wanting to tell my single friends that marriage isn't a piece of cake. I remember so many married women saying this exact same thing to me, and I remember reacting to it negatively. “Of course,” I thought, “but at least you have what the rest of us want.” Honestly, it felt like a queen complaining about the weight of her crown to a peasant looking for food. To my mind marriage was hard, yes, but it still seemed like the married were winning the game we were all playing.
But now I do know it's not a piece of cake. Any person in a healthy marriage will tell you marriage is a beautiful wreckage. It involves the total collision of two people traveling at high speed in pursuit of their own wills, and nothing but a major crash brings them together. At times I stand in awe of the beauty of marriage. But as with any collision, marriage is also an incredibly painful thing.
I believe that the pain of life is what can and ought to bridge the chasm between the single and the married. After all, the honest truth is that, this side of heaven, we all live our lives in grief. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4). Grief is the pain that exists in us from knowing things are not yet as they should be. We all have countless things causing us grief throughout our lives, and being able to enter into another's grief is one of the most humble and humane expressions of love a person can offer.
Being single was painful. There was a persistent grief to it that I hated. My body was frequently grieved by the denial of sexual desire, and I can remember shedding tears many times over the frustration it produced. Grief was present when everyone else had someone to love and look at, someone to take pictures with, someone to cherish. It was painful to wonder if my singleness was a sign of my immaturity, my lack of beauty, or my inability to interest a man. Every birthday was another reminder that I had yet to enter into the "inner circle" of married life, and standing on the outside looking in caused me to grieve deeply over my unfathomable loneliness.
Being married is painful. Many of the specific griefs of singleness are gone, but none of them entirely. Instead they have morphed into new married versions of themselves. My sexual desires can now be fulfilled, but because sex is not about one-sided individualized fulfillment, it can become disappointing or twisted if not guarded carefully. I do have someone to love and look at, but I have not known any pain worse than when that love is out of joint. Singleness brought the dull pain of absence, but marriage ushers in the sharp stabbing pain associated with harmful words. There is simply no pain like being wounded by your best friend, and no remorse like being the one who plunged in the knife.
No one lives a life without brokenness. If we want to foster better relationships between single and married women, if we want to go deeper in each other's lives, if we want to jump over the chasm, we must understand this. No one is carefree, no one is satisfied. Married women need to take seriously the pain of their single friends without rushing in to offer advice. Single women need to understand just how difficult it is for their married friends to be open and honest about the grief they experience in their marriages. We all need to stop idolizing things we don't understand. If we took time in our communities to be truly honest with each other and to listen to each other's stories, we would see that we have more in common with each other than not.
After all, God's daughters know that this side of heaven is a world that continues to await its full redemption. But that redemption is coming and it is real. We live by the words of Romans 8:22–24, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
In the meantime, whatever stories our lives tell, there will be beauty amidst the grief. Singleness is not just loneliness; it is also freedom, whimsy, exploration, openness, and community. Marriage is not just a collision, but is also the refiner's fire. It is surrender, union, and passion. All of these things are good. All of these things are to be desired and celebrated in their time. Let us support and encourage each other as sisters, weaving our stories together across the fault line.
Find this article and others in Issue 11:Wisdom of Deeply Rooted Magazine.