Relishing the Richness and Freedom of Single Life

Dating can feel like an endless loop. These are the benefits of being single while you wait patiently for love.

If you’re like me, in your 30s and still searching for a partner, there’s this level of fatigue that can come from so many encounters with potential partners. Many of the men I’ve dated are wonderful people — just not my people. I’m grateful for so many of the dating relationships I’ve cultivated over the years — many of which have led to deep, fruitful friendships — but I think I speak for all my single peers when I say that getting dressed for a first date can feel like I’m stuck on an endless loop. Because I’m getting tired running this existential treadmill, I’ve reframed the way I think about dating, and the opportunities I have as a 30-something who isn’t married and doesn’t have children.

Single seasons are a time to celebrate solitude and freedom 

It’s Saturday morning. I wake up whenever I feel like it. I go on a long run. I cook a breakfast of all my favorite foods. I read for three hours. I meet up with friends for dinner, at which I only have to pay for myself, and I stay out as late as I want. 

Single adults have freedom to develop a personal rhythm that partnered couples do not. Because I have lived alone for so long, I know exactly how much I eat, how often I do laundry, and how much sleep my body needs. 

This freedom to determine how I spend every moment of my day is a real gift. Do I want to be a mom? Absolutely. But the freedom I have, without children or a partner I need to coordinate with, is also a gift. 

In a culture that frequently puts parenthood on a pedestal as the ultimate goal, it’s very comforting to know that enjoying my life, on my terms, is just as valid — and to be honest, just as holy. St. Irenaeus said that God’s greatest glory is the human person fully alive. You know who’s glorifying God? Me, right now, single and living alone, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine on my porch. Me, single and living alone, washing the dishes and listening to my favorite podcast. Me, single and living alone, creating a safe space for a friend to share the joys and frustrations of her marriage. Me, with time and space to explore passions and hobbies and art exhibits and concerts because I have the gift of being single and alone. I am sure motherhood is a hoot. But I am not a mother — and I really, really enjoy my life. 

The gift of being single into our 30s (and beyond!) is that we have the opportunity to cultivate the richness of our personalities, our desires, and our talents. I think that too often we are called to express extremes: “I am not married and that’s awful;” or, “My self-determined life is about me standing up to society’s expectations and no one can take it away!” Instead, I’ve learned to consider this season of life as a gift, and I tend to it as such. It is not greater or lesser than having a partner or family. But it is mine, and that makes it good.

Friendships and family roles are richer

Because I do not have a nuclear family to tend to, I have the bandwidth to be more available for others. I’m able to move my schedule to accommodate the mom friends in my city; I’m able to help out when there’s an emergency pick-up, or deliver food during an unexpected school-mandated quarantine. I can walk into a home and help with cooking, play with kids, do the dishes, and tell stories knowing that I’ll head home at the end of the night to a warm bed and a good book. The time that I am present to families is fully given, because I am not drawing time away from my own partner or family. 

Because of this, I have a longer roster of people with whom to spend time. The hobbies and activities I participate in lead to friends and relationships that are deeply satisfying, each in their own way. Being single allows me to be present in a variety of relationships that I can tend to in a fuller way. Marriage, above all, is about communication, mutual decision making, and compromise. You fit your life to your spouse, and vice versa, in ways big and small. I don’t have to do those things.

My lack of a spouse does sometimes make me feel utterly forlorn. But it also makes me feel gluttonously selfish. Deliciously selfish. The time is all mine. I get to hang out with whomever I want.

Expectations come into focus

The most obvious benefit of a long single season is that I know who I am. I mean, I really know who I am. I know what I like. I know how my budget works. I know how to plan a vacation I enjoy. I’ve watched friends with families stumble through the sacrifices and accommodations of making a whole out of many parts. I’ve had the privilege of discovering every personal need and professional desire and being able to adjust to each without asking permission, or disrupting school, or having to compromise. Which means when I think about future compromise, I know exactly what I need, and what I’m comfortable giving up. 

This also means that my understanding of partnership has matured. Shared values have and always will be my priority, as it is for most everyone I know. But beyond that, my priorities in a relationship are vastly different from what I was looking for in college. To put it bluntly, I’ve gone from seeking someone attractive, funny, and smart to seeking someone confident, thoughtful, self-aware, and kind. I want my husband to have lived his time before me deeply and richly, as much as I seek to do in the time before meeting him.

When you have a full life, you know what you want

My mom and dad met in their late 30s. My mom always told me to wait on marriage, because the later you marry, “the more you know about who you are and how you want to raise your family.” She interned at the White House and worked for the Attorney General of California. “I was a lawyer for a decade,” she said. “When I became a mom, I was ready.” 

My parents had me when my mom was 37 and my dad was 38, and they had my brother two years after. In 33 years of marriage, I never once saw my parents argue. They both brought their full selves to the marriage, with all the pieces of their lives and dreams, fully formed and comfortable in who they were at the time they met. They were also late to marry among their friends, and their wedding party was stuffed with flower girls.

When my mom was in hospice, my dad pushed her wheelchair to the bathroom. When she couldn’t do that anymore, he lifted her to the commode. When she couldn’t do that anymore, he changed her diaper. I have one image on my phone that I snapped in secret of my dad lifting my mom from her wheelchair. She clings to him with arms around his shoulders, and he has his hands around her bottom and lower back. Her body is frail, and his hair is gray. I knew at that moment that I was seeing the summit of marriage fully animated before me. I prefer one year with the man who would tend my bed sores and change my diaper than a decade with anyone less. 

My happiness does not hinge upon my husband

And what if I don’t meet him? What if I am single for decades to come? I take great solace in the fact that my life will not begin when I meet my partner, because it is happening right now, and it is wonderful.

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