Here are some ways I’ve seen single people, including myself, present themselves in the world when this day rolls around.
- FISHING FOR PITY OR COMPASSION. This is usually manifest by using the phrase “Singles Awareness Day,” and points to the fact that celebrating “coupleness” inadvertently isolates and singles out, literally, those who aren’t coupled.
- FEIGNED INDIFFERENCE. “Oh, it’s February 14th? Well happy Thursday, everyone!” Unless you are this chipper about every other “ordinary day,” we ain’t buying it.
- Morphing Into an Anti-Capitalist. This one isn’t exclusive to single people. I’ve seen a decent amount of coupled people decry all the commercial aspects of a saint’s day being hijacked to sale cards and chocolates. But it is a much more easily accessible tool for those without a partner.
- Celebrating “All Love.” This could also be labeled the “Love, Actually” response, because actually, love is all round us in many different forms, from friends, family, and even occasionally romantic partners.
- The Evangelical Response. This is when people who love Jesus the rest of the year REALLY love Jesus on this day. He’s “all they need.”
There are, of course, others. And I don’t want to demean any of these responses, most of which I have employed at different points of my life. But this year I’m leaning into the very comfortable (for me) truth that, aside from the sugar high I am riding because of all the extra treats floating around, this isn’t a day for me. But it is a day I can celebrate those people for whom it is for.
Rich Mullins once talked about how people talked about singleness as if it is such a tragedy. His reply is one of my favorite quotes from him– “It’s only a tragedy between the hours of ten and two at night. But that time is tragic for a lot of married people as well.”
I think the greatest thing the enneagram has taught me is that there are a hell of a lot of different ways of being in the world. Culturally we’ve given higher preference and status to some of those ways of being over others, mostly because they are most common and, therefore, most familiar. Marriage, or togetherness, is the default setting for the world, and I wouldn’t ever want to change that. But there are other “settings,” and I am content in mine.
Here’s what most of my days look like: My dog wakes me up at 4:00am to eat and be let out. I do that and then sleep again until around 5:30. I make breakfast and work on getting my blood pressure up by looking through Twitter while drinking the first of several cups of coffee for the day. I go to a job that is incredibly satisfying, in that it gives me a lot of flexibility and options to figure out the best and most effective ways of making positive change in the world, particularly in the area of eliminating hunger. I come home and, lately, have been trying to do the responsible thing and take care of every day chores like washing clothes, doing the dishes, and mowing the lawn. (Seriously, it’s February and I’ve already started mowing my lawn. Thanks Texas and Climate change.) I watch some tv, read some, then go to bed early.
Several nights a week I’ll go to a basketball game. Several times a week I’ll see my mom and handle the duties of trying to be a good son. I have coffee or beer or meals with friends, and I spend a LOT of time browsing the internet for potential flights for real and imagined trips around the globe. (Usually, though, to Estonia and other places where I have people.) I go to church. I workout an hour every weekday to pay for the hours I spend on the weekends eating donuts, ice cream, and Mexican food. Most of this is done with a soundtrack of (these days) Jason Isbell, Ashley McBryde, Kacey Musgraves, and Ryan Bingham playing through my earbuds.
Every now and then, as I’m doing all this stuff, I realize that other people are more aware and more concerned than I am that I’m doing all this stuff, basically, by myself. This is my default setting, but I’m reminded that it’s not the default setting. Mostly this amuses me.
Every way of being in the world comes with its own costs and rewards. The costs of being single and middle-aged are obvious. (And no, I’m not just talking about having someone to share laundry duties with, although that one is huge. Seriously, how do folks with more than one human in their house keep up?) But the rewards aren’t quite as obvious.
Mental illness runs in my family. Although I know it can hit at any stage of life, I have so far been relatively unscathed by it, aside from general, enneagram-6 related anxiety. This could be genetics. It may have just bypassed me. But I sometimes wonder if the amount of margin singleness gives me has helped me regulate my environment and emotions in a way that has nurtured a level of health that I may not have with people to be responsible to and for? This isn’t to suggest that mental illness is reserved for people with more chaotic lives than mine, but simply that my way of being in the world may have spared me from it.
I’ve been afforded time and space to give to my community and people I love in ways that might not be possible if my responsibilities were multiplied.
I love children. And I’m not so old that I’ve ruled out the possibility of having my own some day, but I’m old enough to recognize how much of myself I have to give to the kids of close friends who see my as family, as well as kids in my community that I don’t know who benefit from my work.
Costs and rewards.
I kind of have an unspoken and unwritten (until now) pact with the default world of married and coupled people: I won’t minimize your cost or covet your rewards if you don’t minimize or covet mine. Let’s celebrate more the different ways of being in the world. Once we do that, we can better free up today to celebrate the world of love and of people who have found each other. We are all products of it, and most of us continue to receive the gifts of it, whether we are in it or not. My life has been enriched a hundredfold by my married friends, and today I am aware and thankful for their way of being in the world.