I belonged to a group of single working women at my church a few years back. We met occasionally to discuss the blessings and challenges of being single, pray for the desires of our hearts (which included much more than catching a man!), and form friendships with other young women who were in a similar stage of life. Our meetings were something we all looked forward to very much.
Each time we gathered, our leader (a kind woman our mothers’ age who was living a different type of singleness having been both married and divorced) gave us a handful of thoughtful questions to discuss. One particular gathering she posed the question, “What do you wish others who are not in your situation could understand about you?”
The “situation” she referred to didn’t have to be our singleness. It could be our finances, or our education, or our friendships, or whatever else was on our minds. Many of us did reference our singleness, though, because it was often on our minds and it was easy to talk about among a group of like-minded women.
One of the common threads to our answers was wishing people would stop assuming we were incomplete if we weren’t married. We spoke of our frustration when meeting someone new and one of the first questions they’d ask was if we were married, as if we ought to be. Our irritation with family members who constantly asked if there was someone special in our life when we showed up alone during the holidays year after year. Our feelings of being left out when pastors only used stories about marriage and family to illustrate their points in their sermons.
In addition to our discomfort at being asked within the first few seconds if we were married or not, people’s responses to our answer were very off-putting. It ranged from pity to bewilderment to trouble-shooting, none of which we wanted from a stranger or a distant relative in regards to something that was so personal. A lot of people just didn’t know what to do with us as single professional women, and that made us feel even more misunderstood, unwelcome, and alone. We wished they had simply not asked us about our marital status in the first place. We figured, “If I hadn’t mentioned a husband or a boyfriend, then they should assume I have neither until I do mention it.”
Our leader understood exactly what we were talking about. She affirmed the complexity of our feelings about being single (both the negative and positive ones), and about our interactions with people who didn’t understand our singleness.
And then she offered an additional perspective filled with empathy and grace. She said that, as people, we usually bring our own experiences and perspectives to the table when we’re meeting new people, and we don’t realize the sensitivities that lay under the surface for others.
Take, for instance, the getting-to-know-you question, “What do you do?” meaning “What’s your job?” It’s innocent enough to those of us who feel completely secure about how we spend the majority of our time, whether we’re a stay-at-home-parent or working for pay. But for those of us who have been unemployed or underemployed for quite some time, the question can hit some nerves, especially if asked over and over again by everyone we meet.
All people are trying to do in conversation is connect with others in some way. They may do it badly, and they may hit on things you’re sensitive about (like we single ladies were sensitive about our singleness), but they are trying.
Understanding that helped me
- have a bit more grace with those I met whenever the topic of marriage and singleness came up. And,
- learn to formulate my own questions to people I meet with much more care and sensitivity.
I am so grateful for my time with that group of single women. It gave me a place to feel understood, to grow as a person, and to form meaningful friendships in the town I lived in.
I hope that there is a group (any kind of group) that can do the same for you.
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