Is it possible to be both single and happy?
It’s an intriguing question, really.
This is not ever really a direct question anyone says towards me, but sometimes it’s implied: how can you be single and happy at the same time? Not only do I feel that implication from the world around me at literally every corner, but I also at times come face to face with the question myself.
Is singleness and happiness mutually exclusive?
And just to heighten the intensity, let’s ask that on Valentine’s Day. On the cultural celebratory day of love, when you don’t have a lover, is it possible to be happy?
Let’s explore this.
This has been a top-of-mind topic since it’s come up in three separate conversations in the last 2 weeks. And those conversations have been specifically with women who feel that desire to be with someone, to be married, but also feel like, “Am I just waiting around to start living my life?”
It comes from a tension, an insecurity about committing to a specific path or personal values when knowing that means possibly saying no to a relationship, to marriage.
For females, this is an especially difficult conundrum. In our world, especially the Christian culture, there’s always an expectation, whether quietly implied or explicitly exhorted, to find our purpose and mission through a man and through marriage. Here’s the implication:
If you’re going to mean something to this world, it’s going to come through another human being.
Though that’s a duo-gender message, for females this is often paired with the concept of submission. To submit.
And it is until we do this flawlessly, submit our will and purpose through another human being, then we will find true happiness and meaning.
Say that out loud. Sometimes logically and verbally expressing that belief brings us to a stark realization:
That conclusion is not reflective of who God is and how God made us.
First of all, in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall and any sin, God gave a job before he gave marriage. God gave purpose in an intimately personal way before giving a path to do that alongside another person.
This means that each of us is made individually unique before God — which means we each are special, set apart, called, and meaningful. Though we need community and relationships to thrive, we only need God individually to have meaning. To tie a human being to our core purpose means to resign ourselves to co-dependency, that in order to have meaning, I must be attached to you.
So, from the beginning, we are missioned and meaning-full. When God looks at you, He sees a full person that has a unique name.
Second, let’s look at the word that trips us all up: submission. If one day I’m supposed to release my will and life to another person, then why would I start my own knowing I’d have to give that up? Would my primary value as a wife be my ability to serve men? And if I’m supposed to only find it through a husband, then why would I think I’d ever have something special to offer the world? And if submission only applied to marriage, then are singles not supposed to submit to anything?
I love what Lisa Bevere* said about this topic: “I heard a definition of submission that framed and aligned it with God’s plan for all Christians, not just couples. Consider this: the prefix sub means “under,” and mission is an assignment. Put them together, and we can draw a conclusion that submission means “under the same assignment or mission.”
This gives so much more intentionality and thought behind not just personal mission, but also marriage. Instead of fearfully thinking, “In order to be married, I have to loss my mission,” instead we can think, “When I choose a marriage partner, it’s because we are under the same mission together.”
Why would God ask you to submit to God ultimately, to be sent on His mission in the world, and then nullify that unique mission because you are now married?
God’s mission and call is always greater than man’s, no matter who that person is.
Which is why I think, as single women, we can freely and fearlessly move into outrageous acts of mission because that doesn’t deter God’s path or purpose for us. It will actually move us closer to the best outpouring of it.
What does this have to do with happiness?
Actually, I don’t think this has anything to do with happiness. Which is the point of this article.
I’ll use my own story as an example because I’ve always wrestled with that question: Am I happy?
Though I love being happy and can easily pinpoint those moments of extreme highs in my life (picture me prancing carelessly through a wheat field throwing flowers into the wind), I realized pretty early on that that picture of “happiness” never really motivated me. For such a long time I was always obsessed with one thing: purpose.
I mean, check out this blog title. And no, Vita By Design is not some sort of customized vitamin supplement. Vita means “life.” And By Design means, “on purpose.”
One life, on purpose.
I have a bit of an odd history, per se, with all the moves and experiences in my life. There were many crisis moments of change and I wasn’t satisfied with trite answers about silver linings. I wanted to know “why?” What was the purpose?
It began as a practice in youth and has continued through today. And I can’t say it’s been easy. Actually, a better word would be messy.
And throughout the time of trying so hard to find purpose in my life, I had to live with the question of singleness in the back of my mind. Am I resigning to singleness in order to find purpose?
From my perspective, it’s most likely only been down the road of singleness that I have found personal meaning in this world through God. I’ve had to let go of figuring out who I am in light of another person or of the expectations others perceive of me. I’ve sat down over long spaces of time and let God really show me who I am. Honestly, I was always terrified of that person because it’s much too abnormal. It took being threatened, mocked, and on the verge of losing everything before I was willing to stand up for myself and say, “No, I’m a person with worth who has a gifting in a specific way.”
You remembering that part about messy? You don’t even know the half. It’s been in this dirt of bitterness, shame and oppression (both outwardly and inwardly) that all seeds of goodness have been planted. And the harvest is the obvious things. That’s what you get to see — accomplishment, mercy, kind actions, goodness, justice for humanity. But you weren’t there when it was planted, all the bitterness, pain, self-shaming, hate for my life and my heart, loss of belief in any of the goodness or reality of God. No one else was there to save me from that.
Sometimes I wonder if we, as single women (or men I suppose), never get to taste the true God because we’re always looking for someone else to be our Savior. To tell us what to do when confused, to save us from despair when all is lost, to provide for us when we’re flat broke, to comfort us when we’re lost and afraid.
I remember at one specific epic low point in my life, after I had lost all the work I had and a job offer, I thought for the first time in my life, “Maybe this is why girls get married? So that when these things happen she can rely on someone else to provide for her?” It was a bitter moment, because I knew I could no longer provide for myself, financially or emotionally.
But that’s exactly when I found God as my true Husband. He showed up and he saved the day. I mean, there was a journey involved that was extremely hard. I remember not having money to buy food that day and realizing, “Well, looks like I’m fasting and praying this week!” And judging by where my life is today 2 1/2 years later, I would say it work 😉
Now here’s the hardest part of all of us, and I know that because I’ve fought it continually: if I step out and into a defined mission that I believe is tailored for me, then that means I won’t ever get married, because guys are only looking for girls that fit into their own life trajectory.
Now, once we say it out loud, it sounds a bit silly. But it’s TOTALLY real when dwelling on it, right?? And it does actually makes sense to a degree. When I train businesses on marketing, we intentionally lead them to define a target market, and that makes them really uncomfortable, because then that might be saying no to some people. But that’s what we want. We want some people to see their business and think, “Yes that’s for me!” and others to think, “Nope, that’s not for me at all.”
Choosing to live and stand for your beliefs and personal passions is going to immediately polarize some crowds. And I hate that feeling. But it’s true. And it’s actually a good thing that certain people will be attracted to you more than others due to your life choices.
And if anyone gets this, believe me, it’s me. I have been so torn and uncomfortable with my calling. Words like, “Inadequate, unprepared, naive, un-understanding, and pointless” are my constant companion when standing in the gap for those who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. I’ve come so close to giving up on this in the past because I’ve felt so incapable and unworthy.
On top of that, leaning into this mission means I’m committed to certain counter-culture things: doing outreach at strip clubs and other places of adult entertainment, believing in abstinence and then a monogamous life through marriage, exposing the harms of pornography, advocating for healing in our communities due to the brokenness through the sexualization of women. I really did believe and fear that moving into this calling would render me single forever because I couldn’t imagine men being vulnerable enough to partner with my mission from God. I just never saw too many examples of that.
This is also why I died a thousand times in my heart and soul when the mic taps were released of Trump’s verbal description of how he thinks about and uses women. It wasn’t simply that he did that (I see that everyday in the fight against sexual exploitation). It was the visceral defense of that action from not just the general community, but from Christians — men and women.
“That’s just how men are,” and “It’s standard locker room talk,” and “Boys will be boys,” and “Why should we have standards when that’s the way the culture is anyway?”
Watching this play out choked me with alone-ness and fear of the future of all women. That if we don’t submit to this belief that we are naive and unbelievable.
But in short answer to that fear, it’s not true. Men are not supposed to talk like that. Humans are not supposed to use each other. We should have standards for how we think about, treat, and talk to women and men. Period.
Which one will you choose?
As you can imagine, it can be an internal storm, and I don’t think I’m exempt or unusual. We live this — a fear that we’ll have to choose, man or mission.
At the end of the day, I believe each of us, married or single, have to look back and assess, “Did I live up to my God-given gifts today?”
Does it mean it’s a paid position, or a social cause, or a title? I don’t think so. At my core, I believe my life calling is Mercy. Which isn’t super popular because it doesn’t jive well with common sense. But despite what others may think or interpret it as, that is what gives me meaning each day and I have only God to answer for how well I lived that out.
Am I happy?
Finally we get here. Am I a happy and single girl on Valentine’s Day?
Honestly, I can’t say I am. Once I start asking myself “Am I happy?” I start remembering all the pain that has stolen good, happy moments in my life that isn’t necessarily even related to relationships. The wounds start throbbing again and I easily make a case for all the reasons I’m not fulfilled.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think we were made to be happy. Happy implies a lack of strains and cares. It’s a false reality we think we can obtain by building walls around ourselves and staying as safe as we possibly can, the thought that only hurt-less people are truly happy people.
I look back at my life and some of my “highest” moments were moments when I was living purely who I am and who I was made to be. It was those Mercy-filled moments when God’s purpose and my gifts collided. It hasn’t always been a happy life, per se. But it sure has been meaningful.
So, is this single girl happy on Valentine’s Day? I guess not. But I sure do have meaning.
And, you know what?
I guess that’s what makes me so happy.
I’ll end with a selection from Ron Rolheiser which has additionally inspired me recently in light of conversations with friends about singleness. I hope you lean into desiring a meaningful life today, not necessarily a happy one. I think that comes after the meaningful part.
Am I happy? Is my life a happy one? Am I happy inside my marriage? Am I happy with my family? Am I happy in my job? Am I happy with my church? Am I happy inside my own skin?
Are these good questions to ask ourselves? No. They’re questions with which to torture ourselves. When we face our lives honestly this kind of question about happiness is more likely to bring tears to our eyes than solace to our souls because, no matter how well our lives are going, none of us live perfectly fulfilled lives. Always there are unfulfilled dreams. Always there are areas of frustration. Always there are tensions. Always there are deeper hungers that are being stifled
The question should not be: Am I happy? Rather the questions should be: Is there meaning in my life? Is there meaning in my marriage? Is there meaning in my family? Is there meaning in my job? Is there meaning inside my church?
We need to ask the deep questions about our lives in terms of meaning rather than in terms of happiness because, for the most part, we have a false, over-idealized, and unrealistic concept of happiness.
We tend to equate happiness with two things, pleasure and lack of tension. Hence we fantasize that for us to be happy we would need to be in a situation within which we would be free of all the tensions that normally flood into our lives.
But that isn’t what constitutes happiness. Meaning is what constitutes happiness and meaning isn’t contingent upon pain and tension being absent from our lives: Imagine if someone had come up to Jesus as he was dying on the cross and asked him the question: Are you happy up there? His answer, I am sure, would have been unequivocal: “No!” However, the perspective is quite different if, while on the cross, Jesus would have been asked this question: “Is there meaning in what you are doing up there?”
There can be deep meaning in something even if there isn’t happiness in the way we superficially conceive of it.
*quote from Lisa Bevere’s book, Lioness Arising.