Post Author: Abigail Conley
I never set out to become an independent woman, but throughout my adult life, that’s what I have been. Looking back, I ended up where I am as much by chance as much as choice. I’ve lived in many places in the last several years: Tennessee where I finished up college, and Kentucky where I moved home for a year to figure out what on earth was next. I moved to Atlanta for seminary, then Kansas City for my first full-time job, and Phoenix for my second full-time job. Except for home, I didn’t know anyone before I moved there. I met people by joining MeetUp groups, fitness classes, and talking to strangers in bars.
I guess as a pastor, I should give credit to God instead of chance, but the many steps along the way added up mostly to necessity. Still, at 31, I’ve never had a cell phone that someone else paid for. The name on the apartment leases and the utility bills have been mine for going on ten years. The student loans taken out and repaid in full were in my name, too. I bought my car on my own; after the dealership ran my credit, they no longer cared that I couldn’t provide all those addresses I’d called “home” in the previous seven years.
In the midst of it all, I became a woman who was ever more independent. Call me a bitch and I’ll take it in stride. Call me sweetheart or any version of it and you’ll regret it. I often throw people off with my directness; it’s not how women are taught to communicate. I tend to give commands, not make requests. I can’t deny that somewhere along the way, I became an independent woman.
And I’m proud of that. I hold my own in what is too often a man’s world and I do so without a man at my side. It’s been that way for years. I also know how many men it has scared away in real life and in the online dating world. They don’t know what to do when they find out I’m the head of an organization, religion aside. Mostly, I think religion is just an easier excuse for their stammering, walking away, and ghosting.
Then I found a man who wasn’t scared by any of that, or at least was scared in a good way. “My girlfriend’s a badass,” he says with pride. Wait, we’re getting married in October. I guess he’d have to say, “My fiancée’s a badass.” We talk sometimes about what he’ll call me after we’re married. Wife seems wrong and so does spouse; they’re just not right for me somehow.
Becoming a couple when I’m used to just being me is weird. For me, the weirdest part is the place of privilege couples occupy in our society. I’ve been the 5th wheel and the 33rd wheel and everything in between in my work. Church world, like most worlds, is built on couples. I’ve spent countless hours in rooms where the only single people were widows, widowers and me. Occasionally, there was the closeted gay man or lesbian, too. Thank God for them. I’ve been the only woman in the room without children. Triple that number if you want the number of times I’ve been the only woman in the room whose job wasn’t raising or teaching children. All of that comes with church world. Somehow, with my vocation, expectations for women and my job collide head on.
Suddenly with this man around, I fit better into church world. He’s rarely with me on Sunday mornings, but he will be some day. He’s definitely there for the social events outside of Sunday morning. No one asks what I’m doing for holidays anymore; they mostly skip the holiday invitations, too. They ask about him. In the backs of their minds, I’m sure there are thoughts of babies, creating the coveted young family in their midst.
I hate it. As much as I hoped and prayed for this relationship to happen, I hate how others react to me becoming us. I feel domesticated. Somehow, this wild, uncontrollable thing, this independent woman has become tamed, less scary, less threatening. It’s a rule learned by society that I can’t remotely begin to explain, but it’s being invisibly lived out all around me. All of a sudden, people know what to do with me, or at least they think they do. There are no more heads cocked to one side, trying to figure out what this person before them is. Instead, they try to make my last name Clark (it’s Conley, thank you very much, and always will be). They try to make me a future Mrs. (it’s Rev., actually, if you need a title). No, we won’t be doing co-ministry. For the sake of my sanity, my children’s sanity, and my future husband’s sanity, he will stay home with kids if anyone does (if there are kids to stay home with, of course).
Most of all I hate that, by merit of being in a serious relationship, I suddenly have legitimacy I didn’t have as a single woman. As I move into this next phase of my life, I feel like I’m betraying the woman I have been. I feel like I’m participating in wedging single people out of the church. I feel like I’m narrowing the confines of church with my heterosexual, accepted-pretty-much-everywhere relationship. The more rational version of me knows that’s not true; the midnight, trying-to-fall-asleep me isn’t so sure. The life lived as a Single Rev has been beautiful, treasured, and—I hope—has made a little more space in the church for the other.
Now as I am becoming something else, I wonder how much of what I have been gets lost. Much like I never set out to become an independent woman, I never set out to become a married woman. Here’s hoping for what comes next.
Abigail Conley is the pastor of Chalice Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the eastern suburbs of Phoenix. Officially, she loves hiking in the surrounding mountains and finding the best locally owned restaurants around. Unofficially, she loves to binge on Neflix and beat her fiancé, Matt, at Dr. Mario on her Super Nintendo.
Image by: Scazon
Used with permission