Single #3: Getting Ready to be Single

Portrait of Emily Bronte by her brother, Branwell Bronte

Sure, most adults eventually marry or enter long-term partnerships, but even more adults in the West spend a considerable period of life as a single person.

Actually, I’m just guessing about that, but it’s probably right. I read that nine out of ten American women will be widowed, given statistical life expectancy. Even among Christians, marrying by 20 or so is pretty unusual. So between pre-partner life, relationship break-up, bereavement, and finding oneself single throughout life, learning to be single is a life skill we need to teach our kids.

Paul the Apostle (yet another famous single person) was very clear that marriage was, you know, okay, but should not be the default for the people he was teaching and leading:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who are married should live as if they were not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (I Corinthians 7:29-31, TNIV)

Whatever you think of Paul or his point of view, one thing worth discussing with our kids is his underlying point: there are more important things in life than marriage or partnership.

Like what? Perhaps that would be a good question to chat over with any tween and teen kids in our lives.

Marriage is not a right or a reward, but a grace, as Rebekah movingly wrote on our first conversation about singleness. The fact that I was lucky enough to meet my husband (and convince him to marry me) says nothing at all about what I deserve. I could easily not have met him, or anyone else, and still be the Brilliant and Amazing person I am.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how can we prepare our kids to thrive as single people, treat single friends really well and grow to be whole, content people who don’t depend on partners for their sense of self or fulfilment? Again, I’d like your thoughts on this, please.

Here are some of my ideas to kick off discussion, but they are not exhaustive or definitive, and are of course based on my observations and experiences – which don’t include parenting older children and teenagers. So please chip in, whatever your background and situation, and together, we’ll figure things out.

Magic Words

Have you found yourself saying these to your kids?

‘When you get married…’

‘One day you’ll have children of your own…’

‘When I’m a grandma…’

If we assume that our kids will get married and have kids, and we communicate that assumption, it makes it pretty tough for them to get their heads around being single-not-by-choice later in life.

But if we – and lots of our friends and family – just substitute ‘when’ with ‘if’ we might make a big difference. I suspect the same is true for making sense of many other minority life experiences.

Français : Photographie du révérant John RW Stott

John RW Stott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two halves don’t make a whole

Not when we’re talking about broken people, thinking that they’ll finally be okay if they can just find someone.

Of course, the message our kids will receive from almost all mass media is that finding a partner solves all one’s problems. Just ask any Twilight fan.

As with pretty much every value we hope to transmit, if we want our kids to view marriage and singleness in a healthy way we will need to do some team critiquing with them of what they’re watching and interacting with.

Finding a partner is neither necessary nor sufficient for happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing. If they are the goals, healthy adults need to work towards them in ways that don’t depend on a partner.

Some specific tips from single people to single people for building a whole and healthy life without a partner:

  • Cultivate social networks that meet different needs: friends to go to the movies with; friends whose shoulders to cry on; friends with kids; friends to travel with.
  • Don’t wait to start your life until you settle down with a partner. If you’re ready to, buy a house, travel, study, offer your services to a charity, learn to kayak. Any future relationship will be the richer for it, and your future single or partnered self will thank you for valuing your own life enough to invest in it.
  • Invest, too, in your personal wholeness. Consider therapy (I think pretty much everyone benefits from it for a period), read your way to wellness, find a mentor or three.
  • Make yourself available to someone else’s kids if you aren’t in a position to have your own. Being a treasured aunt, uncle or godparent can bring a particular brand of joy.
Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King (photo credit: UIC Digital Collections)

Life’s a happy song

Everything is great, everything is grand
I’ve got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand.
Everything is perfect, it’s falling into place
I can’t seem to wipe this smile off my face

Life’s a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing along

When you’re alone life can be a little rough
It makes you feel like you’re three foot tall
When it’s just you, well, times can be tough
When there’s no on there to catch your fall

This delightful Muppets song is not a romantic duet. It’s sung by two best mates.

It’s true for almost everybody, single and partnered, that life is easier when you have someone to rely on and share things with. This doesn’t have to mean a spouse though, right?

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all (single and partnered) made an effort to enfold lonely or alone people (single or partnered) in our social and family networks? And if we model this in our households, the kids we know will know how to do it, too, from either side of the fence.

Singleness does not have to equal loneliness or alone-ness. It’s up to all of us to make sure it doesn’t. It’s up to all of us to model something better for our kids.

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)

Single #2: 9 ways to Cherish your Single Friends

Single #3: Getting Ready to be Single

Single #4: Aunties and Uncles

Single #5: Richness and Roughness (by an anonymous guest)

Single #6: Three Things I’ve Learned (by guest poster Laura Giddey)

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

All the images in this post are of famous single people.

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