I had originally planned this article under the banner ‘Last (Single) Woman Standing.’ Before I get mown down in the stampede of other young, single, female clergy (for I know I’m not really the only one), I suddenly realized, while driving to meet a single, male (and gay) friend, that among the network of people who are my regular truly and deeply supportive community– not family, not congregants, not generally helpful colleagues, but the people who have gained admittance to my personal cell phone contacts list…I am the last of the single women.
This change in status came about when a close friend announced her engagement to her partner. I was and am delighted and wish my friend and her fiance all the very best in the blessings that God might confer as they plan their wedding and anticipate their future marriage together.
What I was less prepared for, frankly was completely unprepared for, was the myriad of emotions that would grip me as I slowly processed this news. As I dared to reflect on how I was feeling (with my trinity of trusted close friends), I gradually realized that what I was experiencing was a gamut of emotions named: hurt, anger and betrayal. At times I felt numb and was struggling to name how I felt. Strong feelings. Emotions with which I am far from comfortable. For a handful of days I thought of little else and everything else.
In short, what I was experiencing was a profound loss. The penny finally dropped when one of the trinity of trust offered to me that I should not underestimate the extent to which my friend’s pending marriage is to me a bereavement. I was grieving a change in friendship over which I had no control.
Now that was one I was not anticipating. To be accused of the mortal sin of envy I did half expect. That is one part of the emotional roller-coaster I have not ridden . . .yet (or if I have, I’m repressing it). After all, that is what society, the ubiquitous ‘they,’ preaches in a world that touts partnership as a condition of worth and ingredient for functional adulthood. That charge would not have surprised me. Jealousy is what I am to feel. But bereavement: that wasteland of a place, normally visited when a much loved someone dies, really? Memory defeats me as to what my verbal response was to my confidant’s offering. My cognitive response was something along the lines of, “but no one’s died, surely not, what?”
My emotional and spiritual response was to breathe out a sense of relief. This wasteland has a name. It is a place. Others have navigated it before me, survived and what was more, there was and is nothing wrong, as such, in how I am feeling. The cognitive did then kick in. The platitudes about there being no right or wrong way to feel. No two bereavements are the same. The message I preach at funerals and speak of to individuals and families about the different stages and expressions of grief within the auspices of pastoral care and by God, at the moment, those apply to me. And no one has died. My close friend is getting married. A happy occasion. That’s it. There is nothing to feel so strongly and passionately about. Is there?
And hence why this is an unmentionable grief. That I dare not mention to anyone other than people I really trust. People who care for me, as near to unconditionally as any friend can. People with whom I can be my honest self. It is not culturally acceptable to own these feelings in connection with the marriage of another. It is even harder when another part of myself is glad and looks forward to a much longed for time of celebration. While planning my outfit for the wedding, I simultaneously ponder how this friendship will never be quite the same again.
Another person within my trusted trinity some years ago offered me the nugget of wisdom that single people need to have single friends for the simple reason that you know there is the possibility that when the chips are down, your close single friend might just put you first. It is only other single people who can offer the possibility of fully reciprocal emotional support – those who are married, or in a relationship- rightly, have their partner both as primary responsibility toward and as fountain of strength when in difficulty.
I am left questioning whether this friendship is changing from one in which I can be fully myself to one in which I am going to need to be more circumspect? Once upon a time, my friend and I were single women against the world together. We both knew the deal. Things are different now and will be even more different in the future. My friend journeys into the new adventure of marriage. I wish her well on her journey. Meanwhile, I have lost my Cleopas (Luke 24), so for now I journey alone.
Christ does walk with me. Easter and Advent somehow join hands. For my friend, a kind of Christmas–the promise is here. I celebrate someone else’s Christmas and ponder, like Mary, what the future holds. How will the promise incarnate in my life? In this purple time (and perhaps that’s a color for a potential wedding outfit), I wait and I wonder.
Again, I fully expect essentially kind-hearted and well-meaning people to keep on offering the platitudes. I will not be surprised when some folk earnestly try to say that my Christmas will be a bit like this Christmas. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Does my constant traveling companion, the risen Christ, know? A bit of me hopes that Christ does know, but I suspect for the moment that Christ does not know.
Today and for several tomorrows, I follow a Christ who is God but also is human. As I explore this part of my humanity he simply journeys on with me, into the unknown where one friendship will never be quite the same again. And we go where that future promise is for today and for several tomorrows an open book of possibility.