The Other L-Word

Single Rev's Guide to Life

If you're single, most people you encounter will assume you are, but if you admit it, they will likely become uncomfortable.  It's an unmentionable for clergy, a confession that might hurt or puzzle your congregation, or encourage them in inappropriate matchmaking attempts.  The very nature of it leads you to believe that you are isolated, that you are the only one who has ever felt this way. 


Of course, we have all felt lonely – yes, even the married people.  You probably already know that, intellectually.  We single people are just the ones who are actually asked, "Aren't you lonely?" 

You can't win on this one, by the way.  If you say no – even if you're being honest – the questioner generally assumes you're lying.  Or crazy.  Or somehow deeply faulted to the point of being incapable of having a relationship.  If you say yes – especially if you're honest – you get pegged as that poor, needy, desperate woman.  What ends up being communicated is something like this:

- Being single means you are alone.

– It is bad to be alone, even if you are happy; besides, it's not possible to be happy when you're alone.

- Since it is impossible to be satisfied in singleness, you should want a partner…

– but you shouldn't want one too much. 

The truth is, most of us have moments of both no and yes when it comes to loneliness (which I suspect is true of partnered people as well).  All the well-intended, "helpful" suggestions in the world probably won't change that.  The question of whether we should feel lonely is a moot point; emotions rarely obey our shoulds.  On the days when we preach and teach about the importance of community, and then send our congregants home for quality time with their nuclear families while we return to empty parsonages, it's hard not to feel like there is something not quite right with the world.

As an extreme extrovert, I've surrounded myself with reasons not to be lonely: a sometimes grueling work schedule, the band with whom I perform, volunteer activities, and a vast and varied social circle.  Even so, I still find myself alone, and sometimes not entirely happy about it.  I've begun to suspect that the answer is not finding yet another activity to fill that time.

I write this from a hotel room in Montreal, on another of my favorite diversions from loneliness: the random road trip.  Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Cathedral Marie-Reine du Monde.  The pleasure came not just from the beauty of this structure, a replica of St. Peter's in Rome, but also from the silence of it.  Not that there weren't people there; there were many, but aside from the soft footfalls in the aisles, it was quiet.  People sat, separated by rows of pews, heads bowed or lifted toward the domed ceiling, each of them in solitude, and yet so very not alone.

It is quite probably that some of these people are often lonely.  Perhaps that was even the subject of their prayers, the longing that drove them to that lovely space.  But in that time, solitude was not their enemy.  They radiated the peace of people who are not alone.

We may sometimes be lonely.  We may sometimes feel isolated.  But solitude is not our enemy.  We are not alone.       

5 replies
  1. Emily
    Emily says:

    How I dread questions about my personal life, not because I don’t want to share appropriately and with good boundaries with the congregation in life together, but because inevitably the conversation turns into “who/how can I set the young, single, solo pastor up with so she won’t be by herself anymore.”

  2. Sarah - from the UK
    Sarah - from the UK says:

    I hate the “don’t we feel so sorry for you” questions and comments. I also hate that people think that they can pry into my life in a way that they would never dream of doing into a married person’s.

  3. elle
    elle says:

    My church is a bit different because there are quite a few people who married in their 30s and started families late–so while they’re not worried about me being 30 and single, they do say things like, “Well, you’re not married yet…” or “You don’t have children yet…” Part of me is grateful for the “yet” and part of me is troubled by how there is still such an–if I dare use a strong phrase sure to offend some–idolatry of family. Though I would still love to marry and have children, I also know that marriage does not necessarily equal happiness or togetherness–and that I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to develop or use my skills in the same way had I married young and started a family.

  4. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Perhaps the most honest answer to the question is “sometimes.”
    And I do think people feel more allowed to pry into single people’s lives than they do married people’s. And more like they should act like your parent. There is a sense in which people aren’t considered grown up until they’re coupled. And then you’re not really grown up until you’ve had kids…
    Hang in there. I am careful to balance my prayers for loved ones and families with prayers for people who are lonely, and to touch on a variety of reasons why people might be lonely. The truth is that there are lots of lonely people in churches.

  5. Meg
    Meg says:

    I struggle with this too, not because I’ve got anything to hide but because inevitably the conversation ends up being about me. And I find that uncomfortable and undermining to my pastoral presence. For example, I was on the phone with a woman facing a big diagnosis and she used questions about my personal life to change the subject. While I understand resistance, I was thinking to myself, “How did we end up here? I’m not the one waiting for a life-changing phone call.”


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