Driving home from yet another mediocre date, a familiar disappointment hits me highlighting the depth of my unfulfilled longing for a husband, a partner for life. After fifteen years of dating, I find myself asking God, “When is it my turn?! Don’t you know my child-bearing years are scarily close to their end?” I also find myself simply wanting some form of certainty: “God, if I’m going to be single forever, just let me know now!!” At other times, I feel genuine peace in my singleness. I have meaningful friendships, a career that I’m passionate about, and I’m growing in confidence and emotional health. Unencumbered, I can seize more opportunities to travel and help others. In these moments, the often confusing and painful process of dating seems more problematic than singleness itself.
I’ve received a lot of advice from well-meaning friends, many of whom were married in their early twenties and never had to deal with dating in the digital age. I’ve been told: to work on myself, to accept myself; to stop looking because that’s when you’ll meet someone, to join E-harmony, Match, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Christian Mingle; to make myself more physically desirable, to embrace my inherent beauty; to try and meet someone at my own church, to avoid dating people at church; to be thankful for a season of singleness, to recognize that marriage is normative in the church; to live with wild spontaneity, to prepare for domestic life; to be self-sufficient, to “let the man be the man”; to accept that God doesn’t always intervene, to trust that God gives us the desires of our heart. Apparently to successfully date, one must be very good at navigating paradox.
One of the hardest tensions I’ve wrestled with is how to honestly acknowledge my currently unfulfilled desire for marriage while also living a life characterized by genuine contentment. Can I hold these two seemingly contradictory but true experiences at the same time? Can I acknowledge one without diminishing the other? Finding contentment in singleness seems particularly daunting given that there is no guarantee fulfillment will come in my preferred timing or even at all.
Proverbs 13:12 states, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Yet, even in times of delayed hope, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6. Scriptural wisdom seems to suggest taking a dialectical view and embracing the paradox of longing and contentment. In a sense, particularly for the Christian, all of life is paradoxical. We are living in the tension of the seen and the unseen, brokenness and wholeness, the now and the not yet. However, when it comes this uniquely deep desire of my heart, the distance between the now and not yet is less ethereal and crashes into my daily reality.
While I hope for a God-ordained love story like Rachel and Jacob’s, right now I relate a lot more to Leah who remained romantically unloved – though very loved by God. (See Genesis 29). Never was this sentiment truer than when I walked down the aisle alone as a bridesmaid at my little sister’s wedding and had no date for the event. Ugh.
A wise pastor, aware of my desire for marriage, reminded me that although God never promises to remove our suffering, He does promise His presence in our pain. While this brings comfort in many areas of life, when it comes to my desire for marriage, things get trickier. As much as I love God’s presence, sometimes I yearn for a flesh and blood man to walk beside me in a non-metaphorical way! As much as I’m glad God holds me in the palm of His hands, sometimes I just want someone who physically can hold my hand.
So how do we actually live in a manner that treats longing and contentment as non-mutually exclusive? How do we walk this out when it comes to our desire for a life partner? Admittedly, I am writing from a place of present vulnerability. I haven’t attained perfect balance and writing this article would likely be easier if I were now happily married and merely reflecting on my time of struggle. Nevertheless, in my experience, authenticity and intentionality have been crucial in gaining a healthier (and happier) perspective and creating a more integrated emotional experience.
On the longing side, I’ve learned to self-validate my desire for a husband. Yes, I’m complete in Christ, but it’s also natural to long for another human with whom I can grow in intimacy, express sexuality safely, and create new life. I date with purpose, giving me courage to end things sooner once I’m fairly sure it’s not a good match and also to risk more where there is potential. I acknowledge, without shame, that my eyes well up at weddings not just because I’m happy for friends, but also because weddings trigger feelings of loneliness. I try to honestly face my disappointment that being single at 35 means I may never have biological children with my husband if get married, or that my parents may be too old to be active grandparents. I also take steps to be the best version of myself, such as going to therapy and getting my finances in order, recognizing this will make me a better spouse. I read books on marriage. And, I continue to place my desire before God in prayer with expectancy, but not expectation.
On the contentment side I have to work harder. I have to continuously give myself permission to be content, to push away the nagging feeling that I must arrive at destination marriage before I can rest. I try to relinquish my worries about timing by taking breaks from active online dating. I’ve made efforts to stop living in anxious limbo as the cliché “lady in waiting” the way I did after applying to law school when I would run to the mail box every day to check for acceptance letters. I see myself as fully alive now. I discipline myself to take a stance of gratitude for all I have. I have forced myself to sit in the reality that I may never get married and to ask God to help me visualize that kind of future. This process was initially terrifying, but facing my fear head on has taken away some of its power and helped me realize that regardless of marriage, I can still have a full, adventurous, meaningful life. Ironically, this has given me the audacity to acknowledge the full intensity of my longing.
For those of us in a season of unfulfilled desires, the danger of not holding both our longing and contentment is that we easily begin operating between extremes, always losing a part of our self. We can go from melancholy despair that leads to unhealthy relationships to stoic hopelessness in which we don’t let anyone into our hearts. By owning all of our experience, and trusting that God is with us in it, we can live as we truly are, not as ladies in waiting, but as RAD ladies in living . . . and longing.
If this message blessed you, be a blessing by sharing with others.