An anonymous reflection from a regular reader.
Being in a minority is tough. It can be very painful trying to fit into a dominant culture when you are different in some significant way, in a way that sets you apart.
Our culture often tells us that being single is bad, that happy people are in couples and you’re incomplete until you find that one person to spend the rest of your life with who can complete you. If you’re single for any length of time and hearing this, you can either waste a lot of time reaching for that unrealistic goal (unrealistic in terms of needing that one person to make you happy and whole, not in terms of never finding a partner!), or you give up and feel that there must be something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you unlovable.
And yet the issue is bigger than how single people do life well in a culture where couples and families are the majority. It questions the very way we as human beings connect with each other. Can we genuinely relate to people who are different to us? Are things that draw us together greater than things that divide us and pull us apart? It is safe, and easy, to spend most of our time with people who are the same as us. We’re not nearly as challenged in our ways doing things. If single people only spend time with single people or married people with married people, or young families with young families, it is simpler. But do we really want to isolate ourselves in these small homogenous lives?
I might have been happy just spending time with other single people, because I for the most part really enjoy being single, only the older I became the fewer single friends I had left. And thus I became the minority, and had a choice. Did I wallow in resentment for being placed in a minority (not my choice since I would have been happy if all my friends had stayed single, and my singleness was largely because I hadn’t found someone I wanted to share my life with in that way so it wasn’t so much a choice I had made), or did I embrace a wider, and truer, view of humanity? As I have spent the last few years exploring what it means to live in an intentional community, and adjusted to having married friends and friends with young families, I have learned some valuable lessons.
We miss out if we only spend time with people who are like us. And we can hurt others doing it. For example, take a refugee family who flees to New Zealand – do they as a minority have to change to be just like us before we will accept them and befriend them? Or do they isolate themselves in little pockets of mini-culture if they can find others from their home country? Or can we, and they, find creative ways to connect and build relationships, celebrating each other and cherishing each other’s distinctiveness?
Richness. There is so much richness in living in community with different people! The bible talks about the image of a body as us together in community. We’re not meant to be all the same. How useless would we all be if we had exactly the same things to offer each other? I for one love when people like to cook for me in exchange for me cleaning up after, because I hate to cook! Imagine if everyone liked to cook, and no one liked to clean? That’s a pretty simplistic example, but if we take single people and married people… when a friend in her incredible generosity lets me be a part of her family’s life, and when I get to be an honorary auntie to her gorgeous boy, my life is so much richer, if at times more complicated. I don’t know about vice versa, but at the very least I can help give her a break from time to time. What is different about our lives is what adds texture and meaning, and helps us see a wider view than just our own private issues.
Richard Rohr (he’s brilliant) talks about the Cosmic Egg of Meaning. It’s a goofy title, but the concept is fantastic. He describes a picture of three increasing circles. The smallest, central circle is ‘my story’; individual identity. The next circle is ‘our story’, which is group identity and belonging. The third, largest circle is ‘The Story’, which contains what is, or as Richard explains it, the great patterns that are always true. I love this. It means I don’t need to limit myself to being a ‘single person’ as my identity, or even as a person living a single lifestyle within our culture. It’s so much bigger than that. I am connected to something much, much larger. I have a part in The Story, which is bigger than my story or even our story. Being single doesn’t need to define me, any more than being married might.
When my rough edges rub against another person’s rough edges we are both challenged and changed. We are forced to face the discomfort of realising our way is not the only way, that we might not have all the answers. Encountering people who are different to us is a humbling experience. And particularly when we have the courage to share life with people who aren’t exactly the same as us, we are made to grow and mature. We see our own intolerance and are invited to greater tolerance. We see our own limitations and are invited to let people help us fill some of the gaps with their giftings. We are perplexed and frustrated and challenged and inspired by building these relationships and seeing the world through new eyes.
When we recognise the inherent and sacred dignity in others who are not exactly the same as us, life is a beautiful thing. The recent French movie ‘The Intouchables’ is an incredible story of recognising the humanity and sacredness in others, and how when we do that somehow we can more clearly see our own humanity. We can be more deeply and honestly ourselves when we give others the opportunity to be more truly themselves (and vice versa). When we don’t feel like we have to be exactly the same as the people around us, or when we don’t try to only see the things in others that are the same as us, we can stop being afraid of who we are and of who others might be. We don’t have to worry about not fitting in or feeling left out, of not being good enough or not measuring up. I am me and you are you, and both are good.
So, is what connects us stronger than what divides us? Are we are able to see our common humanity in spite of (and because of) our differences? Only when we are able to acknowledge and put aside our desire for what is safe and known and predictable, will we be able to discover the beauty and richness and diversity surrounding us. And it does surround us.
This is part of an occasional series on being single and being friends with single people. You might like to check out the other posts:
Single #1: Open thread (check out all the excellent comments on this post)
If you’re newish to Sacraparental, you might like to check out the Sacraparental Facebook feed, with daily links and resources, my Twitter feed and my Pinterest boards, especially the topical Koinonia: deepening community.
The shadow image is by Nina Matthews.