I keep getting ideas for blog posts, starting them, and then abandoning them. I can’t seem to get any creative leverage to motivate me to finish a post. So I decided to write an honest, personal ramble about some of the crap I’ve been dealing with lately, and maybe getting that out will leave room for the stuff I actually want to write.
Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were the three worst years of my life, and I don’t think that will ever change. But 2015 might win fourth place, or at least qualify.
This is the year that I turned the long-dreaded age of 30, and the year that everything got more difficult—both before and after the birthday.
Food—and thus social gatherings—got harder when I realized that I had to go gluten-free for the sake of my digestive health. Drink—and again, social gatherings—got harder as an intolerance to alcohol that had been building up over a few years reached a point where I had to swear off the stuff completely. (Half a cocktail would cause 8-out-of-10 stomach pain and a half-hour of praying to throw up just to get it out of my body.) Now I don’t know which I miss more: wonton soup or gin and tonics. I still have anxiety dreams where I accidentally eat gluten. Last night I had a dream that I was at a bar with friends and had two G&Ts with no repercussions.
Reading about celiac disease and gluten and the enthusiastic testimonies of others gave me high hopes that going GF would not only ease the digestive issues that had plagued me since childhood, but might also help my allergies, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. But as my digestive health steadfastly improved, everything else got worse. I started taking an antidepressant for the first time ever—long after I should have started. Results have been mixed, and I’m on my third try after the first two drugs didn’t take.
After much deliberation, I moved back to my hometown, and although most people think that means “where everybody knows your name,” it was not quite so. Yes, I have some family and friends in the area, and more further out, but the adjustment period since the move has been one of the most isolating I’ve ever known. Most of my social interactions occur online, and while there are advantages to that, and some of the best people ever, it doesn’t help when I really need a hug, or someone to help me eat leftovers.
I’ve tried to resolve some of this through church. After a long search, a few false starts, and a small-group experience that confirmed that small groups just aren’t for me, I thought I’d finally found the place. After a few months, however, I did what I always do and grew doubtful about the church’s priorities and overanalyzed its theology, and have resumed my search with even more frustration and confusion.
Even long-term friendships became more difficult this year, and not even medication helped as I had hoped it would. I had looked forward to a gathering of college friends in Colorado this summer, but ended up wishing I’d gone home sooner—or that I hadn’t come at all. Days of sharing a small hotel room and being at the mercy of others for transportation wore on this control-freak introvert faster than I expected. More negative expectations were met when I went home feeling like crap, convinced that everyone else is kinder, prettier, better company, more desirable, and have more put-together lives than me. I felt as though I’d fallen into—and gotten trapped in—a social role as grumpy, sarcastic cynic, which I hated, but didn’t know how to undo.
All these notions seemed to be confirmed by my persistent and increasingly difficult single status, and that it seemed as though every week I found out about People Who Are Not Me getting engaged, or married, or pregnant, or advancing in their careers, or simply finding someone of the opposite sex who found them mildly attractive and socially tolerable for more than a few hours at a time.
There have been bright spots in the year: visits from friends, Rifftrax Live shows, the discovery of local gluten-free options, trips to the zoo, Jurassic World, Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)’s new book, Bob’s Burgers, those days when I feel like a semi-competent adult, and adopting my bearded dragon Aravis. But all these moments have been like air holes poked into a dark box that is too small for me.
Aside from those pleasant moments, this year has been dominated by loneliness, disappointment, confusion, frustration, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and anger—at myself, at other people, at God. At the time of writing this, I am in my pajamas at 4:30pm—not already, but still. There have been a lot of days like that. (And I do not have the time, space, or energy to go into the current/global events that have also contributed to the year’s crappiness.) What keeps me going is the love and support from friends, both on- and offline.
Maybe I’m an incurable pessimist, but the only resolution I will be making for 2016 is just to survive it.
When I was driving from West to East in July 2014 after completing the Oregon Trail, I passed through South Dakota. I had plans to see Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug, but little else. The scenery was gorgeous, though I didn’t love it as much as I loved Montana. (I was excited to see a sign declaring an area one of the locations used for filming Starship Troopers, but not enough to stop and take a picture.) I was cruising I-90, having already seen Mt. R. and Wall, when I saw signs for something called “1880 Town.” After some indecision over the $12 admission fee (which I later decided was a bit too much to be worth it), I paid and went in.
Much like 2013’s trip to the country village in Mumford, NY, this “pioneer town” is a mix of original 19th-century buildings moved to the site and period-themed structures built on the site. Some buildings were originally sets for a Western movie.
This is one of the many places out West that was (or would have been) utterly charming and delightful 40+ years ago, when family road trips were a cultural staple and Americans were more easily entertained. I could imagine a family rolling along the highway in their big Buick, stopping for a picnic and to stretch their legs by playing a non-PC game of “Cowboys and Indians.”
Now, however, it’s just a little creepy.
I hope the pictures sufficiently convey how “Tetanus Town” would have been a more suitable name. Most of the buildings are in a state of disarray at best and moderate decay at worst. Rusty nails and splintering wood jut out everywhere, rickety stairs are left open for climbing, probably-lead-based paint is peeling, and borderline-feral cats roam the property.
The “best” part is that there are equally run-down mannequins posed in some of the buildings. I first discovered this in the “jail house,” when I had a heart attack after seeing a pair of legs sticking out from under a sheet on the bed. I didn’t get a picture–I was too creeped out–but just look through these bars and imagine you see a pair of legs.
The second mannequin jump-scare occurred when I turned around the corner in the old hotel (one of the original buildings) and saw this:
To be fair, there are some cool parts in the old hotel.
Still … if it wasn’t for the fact that it was a beautiful day, and that there were other tourists present (including families), I would be a lot more surprised that I came out alive.
As capitalism would have it, the building in the best condition is the one that sells stuff: the saloon/hotel where you can buy sarsaparilla at the bar and rent 1880s-esque costumes for the day for whatever twisted photo ops you desire. They also have actual, local entertainment show up occasionally.
I think my favorite part of the saloon was exploring the upstairs, where I found a rather … disreputable-looking room …
Another “feature” of 1880 Town is that it boasts the largest collection of Dances With Wolves memorabilia. I’ve never seen that movie, but it was kind of cool to see Kevin Costner’s chair.
They even have the mules used in the movie (so they claim).
They also had a lot of random historical stuff, much of it of local interest.
All right, well … maybe it was worth it after all. It was definitely one of the more enjoyable parts of the West-to-East leg of my journey.
It has been an extraordinarily challenging year, which is also a personal understatement of the year. And yes, I think is safe to say that ¾ of the way through. I keep wanting to post a personal update, but there have been so many ups and downs that to take time to write about it is like trying to pull over into a rest area in a car without brakes going 90 MPH. Every time I think I have something to talk about, it changes.
It also doesn’t help that I have had very little writing motivation lately. A symptom of depression is a loss of interest in hobbies, etc., and that one has hit me big time this year—with occasional respites and bursts of creativity.
One of the more constant difficulties has been singleness. Somehow I thought it would get easier by now—though, to be honest, I also thought I’d be not single by now. As with everything else in life, there are ups and downs. There are days when I’m grateful to be single, and days when I don’t care one way or another. But it feels like the low, needy, difficult times get lower and more difficult, and the grateful times grow fewer.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I thought it would be easier to be single as I got older is because one of the many lies I have internalized over the years (unfortunately, very much encouraged by many churches and Christian authors) is that God will not “bestow” the right man upon my life until I achieve a zen-like state of perfect contentment and fulfillment. Our fulfillment does come from Christ, but complete contentment cannot—or should not—be achieved in this life.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
~ C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”
And as someone for whom satisfaction is not in her nature, I am never going to reach that point in this life, at least not for longer than 10 minutes. It’s pointless to strive for a certain “state” just to gain a reward. The Christian life is not a videogame, focused on achieving specific goals and gaining points. The best I can do is follow God one moment at a time, focusing on what I can and ought to do in the present.
The other thing that makes it more difficult to be single at a post-twenties age is the loss of single friends. No, they haven’t died—although sometimes it seems that way, for how little contact there can be. They do tend to disappear into Married World, spending the vast majority of their social time with other couples, or their significant other’s friends and family, and where they primarily discuss having (or not having) kids, and buying houses.
It’s not that I no longer value them as friends, but it is hard to stay involved in each others’ lives. It is also difficult because so often “the marrieds” tend to forget what singleness is like: the difficulties of meeting people, the awkwardness of being around overly affectionate couples and being a third wheel, not readily having another person to pick up the slack in daily life. Single people also are often expected to show nothing but pure, unadulterated delight for the married/ engaged/ pregnant friend, and to never ever ever let there be any hint that, mixed in with the single person’s very real happiness for their friend, there might be a little pain as well. And of course, the difficulty of this happening as one gets older is in seeing it happen again…and again…and again…all to other people—friends, family, celebrities—and never to oneself.
If this comes across as an angry, bitter screed, that is really not my intent. I just want to be genuine in describing some of the things I’ve struggled with, and maybe reach out in the hopes that someone else might connect with it.
Of course, I still have my single friends—quite a few of them, too, when I think about it. Each of them are also valuable jewels in my life, and certainly helpful in the most difficult and lonely times. Something I have learned from all of them is that there’s no “reason” why any of us are single—by which I mean, there’s nothing wrong with any of us. At least that means I don’t have to waste my time with thoughts like, “What’s wrong with me?” when it comes to being single. Because the answer is “Nothing.” Being single (or not single) isn’t about that.
Still … that doesn’t mean being single doesn’t absolutely suck sometimes.
Disclaimer: This post may tempt some people to offer advice, such as how to meet guys or how to deal with the lower points of singleness. This post is mainly meant to vent and offer sympathy for others in a similar situation, not a request for advice. At this point in my life, just like with my insomnia, I’ve just about heard it all before.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to have a good church experience. I should add “ever again,” since my old church in D.C. remains the best: excellent teaching, service opportunities, and good people and fun events.
I know I complain about church a lot. I’m sure much of it comes from a combination of experience in seeking and attending churches (since I’ve moved a lot) and a picky, “can’t get no satisfaction” INTJ personality.
I’ve been going to a new/new-to-me church for four months or so. Generally I like it, but the greatest difficulty has been meeting people. I…pretty much don’t know anyone there. It takes me a long time to warm up to people and get a “feel” for an environment anyway. After a string of less-than-stellar small-group experiences, I decided to give myself this summer “off” from feeling any pressure to integrate myself and form new acquaintances. But now summer is winding down, small groups are resuming, and my social anxiety is doing warm-ups in preparation.
In my own experience, most churches are kind of terrible for socializing. If you want to meet new people outside of Sunday services, the usual options are small groups/Bible studies, or volunteering in a church ministry. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but can’t there be more fun, no-pressure, casual events where people can just hang out and be themselves—with no obligation either to “serve” or to offer up intimate personal details?
Of course, the whole body of Christians should encourage one another, teach each other, worship together, serve each other, and pray together/for each other. The church should be a place for people to confess struggles and sin and receive encouragement and admonishment and prayer, and to study the Scriptures and learn more about God.
My problem, though, is that I don’t actually need a local “life group” for those things. I have spiritual brothers and sisters across town, in Michigan, in Texas, in Washington, in Japan. We pray for each other, remind each other of scripture, hold each other accountable, and update each other on the joys and difficulties of our daily lives. I don’t feel a need for more of that—certainly not for it to be condensed and limited into a 90-minute weekly meeting.
What I need are local companions to hang out with. I just want someone to go see movies with, to talk about books, to eat Thai food with, to go to the gym or the art museum or the park with me. That is how most of my closest, long-lasting friendships started: a shared appreciation for something completely outside of ourselves. I bonded with people over history classes, choir, favorite childhood books, TV shows, British actors, and fascination with Myers-Briggs. I’ve never made lasting relationships by forcing myself into a room with peers and divulging thoughts and feelings before I was comfortable.
I think our beloved C.S. Lewis would have sympathy for my situation. I mean, The Screwtape Letters do offer valid, scathing criticisms of people who are picky about churches, but I’m not trying to church-hop here. I want a good situation where I am. But in The Four Loves, he wrote stuff about Companionship and Friendship that have a lot to do with the issues I’m trying to work out here.
Friendship, unlike Eros, is uninquisitive. You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. … In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually.
With most “church groups,” you don’t find out those things casually. You’re expected to share struggles and prayer requests and the nuances of daily life soon after joining. I realize that this format works well for many people, but not so much for me. (It’s even worse when there are people in the group I don’t like or trust.) I already share intimate details of my life, but with my closest friends. I do not want to share personal information with someone if we don’t already have a longstanding history.
That doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to form more intimate relationships. I would love to do that. But at this point, what I need most is not intimacy, but casual acquaintances. I’m tired of having nothing to do on the weekends and no one to go places with. I want people to join in shared interests. As Lewis says, “Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.” This doesn’t mean I’m into small talk–I still don’t care to rehash the weather, complain about traffic, or find out how many siblings someone has. But if looking at the same sculpture at the art museum prompts a person to share an anecdote that tells more about who they are, I’m all for that. Just please don’t make me exchange pointless personal trivia over coffee–I’m really tired of that.
And for those people who prefer practical solutions over theoretical ideas, I actually have some ideas for church-hosted/sponsored social activities:
- Group movie night: go see a movie (not necessarily a Christian one, at least not until Christians return to their Renaissance-era levels of artistic prowess), then go out for dinner, ice cream, or *sigh* coffee to discuss movie
- Grab lunch after church at a group-friendly restaurant
- Meet up at a local museum/park/garden
- Meet up to watch a TV show (or hold an awards show viewing party)
- Form a team for a local 5K or other community fundraising event
- Go to a local sports event as a group
- Support local academics by meeting up to attend a local school’s play/musical/art show
- Hold a bonfire and make s’mores
- An idea I got specifically for introverts: Have someone agree to host an event at their house. Everyone brings 1: a snack to share, and 2: some kind of work to do (studying, knitting, a book, a journal, a laptop). Everyone wears either a red sticker to indicate that they want to be left alone to work, or a green sticker to indicate they would welcome interruptions. People can either quietly socialize, or quietly stick to their own work. This may be helpful to people who are shy or introverted, but who also feel lonely and want to be around others. Having another, solo activity at the ready might provide a retreat and cut down on the awkwardness
…granted, my child has scales and a tail longer than her body, but still.
Dear readers, meet Aravis:
Okay, well, she is still very shy.
That’s more like it. (She’s sitting in her food dish, wondering why there aren’t more bugs in it.)
Aravis is a (reportedly) 6-month-old female bearded dragon that I adopted via Craigslist from someone who didn’t have time for her anymore. I felt sorry for the previous owner until I got her home and had a better look at her less-than-ideal living conditions. But I have since rectified that, and she is healthy and eats, sleeps, poops, basks, and reacts just as she’s supposed to. She’s still very skittish, though, but I’ve only had her for two weeks, and she is still a young’un, so she’s jumpy and excitable. Last time I measured her she was 10.5″, an inch longer than the first time I measured her.
Here, she is mad that I made her take a bath.
Here she demonstrates the bearded dragon “sexy leg.”
And here, she is exhausted from a hard day of dragon-ing.
She is officially my first pet as an adult, and I think she’s adorable. And yes, I named her after Aravis in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. Bearded dragons are desert animals, and I wanted her to have a literary name, so I thought it was appropriate. (If it turns out she’s actually male, I will change her name to Shasta or Eustace.)
Friday is my 30th birthday, a milestone of sorts that I have been anticipating and dreading for some time. I don’t know why turning 30 weirds me out, but I guess it just feels strange to leave my twenties behind after spending a whole decade in them.
After looking back on what I’ve learned about myself and life over the years, I wrote a list of things I wish I knew when I was entering my twenties and leaving my teens behind. Granted, I might not have listened to the advice at that age, but I imagine I’d be more likely to listen to myself than anyone else.
– If you aren’t sure whether to leave an issue or task up to God or deal with it yourself—leave it to Him. He can handle it.
– Get stuff done, but take your time. Despite what other people may say or how they may make you feel, you are not in any hurry. You are not in a hurry to find your ideal career path, to cross stuff off your bucket list, to get married, to travel to that one destination you’ve always wanted to see, to have kids, to get a house. Forget what T.S. Eliot says: you have a lot more time than you think. Just don’t waste it.
– Spend birthdays and holidays the way you want. You need to take the initiative to plan and invite people to celebrate birthdays with you. Often the birthdays will suck, but it’s okay–there’s usually next year. At holidays, be an adult: if you can’t stand to be around bipolar Uncle Stuart or racist Aunt Bianca, or if the way your cousin eats her food makes you sick or you can’t stand someone’s kids, you can do something else. There’s a lot more you don’t need to put up with than you think.
– No one else cares. Or at least, not as much as you do. What about? Anything: your college graduation, your new apartment, your new job, the book you just published, that guy you’re interested in, your new pet, your last vacation. It’s a hard truth, but no one is more interested in your life than you are.
– Most things don’t matter. Things that seem terribly important, like a single bad paper grade, that nasty customer you had to wait on at your summer job, the number of honors you wear with your graduation robe, that one embarrassing moment that still makes your stomach tighten with dread when you think of it, that jerk who made fun of your hat or your music taste, or whether you graduate with some kind of “cum laude” in front of your name, won’t mean jack in 10 years. That being said: Get as much sleep as you can, get regular mild/moderate exercise, use sunscreen, and always take earplugs to concerts and movies. Those things are important.
– You won’t meet your future husband by now—if there even is such a person. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it, seriously.
– Once you’ve gotten past high school, 99% of the affronts you experience are unintentional. Be ready to forgive people and move on. If someone does something that really does bother you, tell them. If it was unintentional, they probably didn’t even know they offended you. If you have to choose between stewing in a silent huff over an offense, or telling the other person about it and talking it out, choose the latter.
– It’s true that you don’t look as good without makeup. You know who else doesn’t look as good without makeup (or Photoshop)? Everyone.
– People will come in and out of your life. Let them. Don’t be dismissive of someone, even if they are less than your ideal. If they’re toxic or otherwise dangerous to your health and safety (physical or mental) or threaten your principles, then you are not obligated to spend time and energy on them. If, however, they are just tiresome or annoying or make you roll your eyes or seem like too much work to be around, don’t write them off immediately. They may need you more than you know, or they may benefit you more than you realize. If you have people you were very close with or who were very important to you, and that relationship begins to dissolve, or at least become downgraded, let it happen. It’s a part of life. Trying to cling to an expired relationship can keep you from going on to the next, better stage.
– Ask questions. When you don’t know something, and you don’t trouble yourself to find out, it will just make things worse in the long run. Don’t be ashamed to speak up when you don’t understand something, or don’t know what a person is talking about. People might tease you about it—ignore them.
– You will change. You will learn new things, new stuff will happen to you, other people will influence you, and you will change your mind. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Stand by your convictions, but also remember when you are going “This is me now!!!” that things could change in the next five years, five months, or five hours.
– Be nice. Sometimes it will seem edgy or cool to be flippant or rude or antagonistic. It’s not. Don’t be a jerk.
– People won’t listen. By all means, offer advice and warnings when you strongly, sincerely believe it is warranted. But expect to be ignored 99.999% of the time. It’s not you; people are stubborn idiots.
– You will worry about the people in your life, because you care about them and you want them to make the right decisions. There is very little you can do for them, and you have zero control over their decisions. The best you can do is pray for them, serve them in practical ways if they become obvious, and leave them in God’s hands.
– Don’t say “I love you, too!” on the phone with your mom when cute guys are in earshot. They will think you are talking to your significant other and it will ruin your chances with them.
– You are smart, pretty, funny, and competent. You will doubt this. Don’t.
There are a lot of issues troubling and dividing the Christian church in Western culture, but if I had to name one (among many) that I believe is heaviest in my heart, it is the treatment of singleness. As someone who has been single for all of her almost-30 years, and a Christian for approximately two-thirds of those years, it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking about.
As I’ve alluded in previous posts, the modern church is in great danger of idolizing marriage–if it doesn’t already. Marriage and family is now the foundation of the faith for many, with defending “the family” more important than defending the faith. Jesus and His other teachings (such as being willing to suffer for Him, visiting prisoners, caring for orphans, and not being anxious) are almost secondary. Getting married–and only having sex after that–and raising children is considered the most important thing you can do in this life, and it’s what everyone should aspire to. Granted, not all churches and Christians subscribe to this attitude, but it is there.
Another matter more volatile, and definitely more talked about, is the church and homosexuality. I think that the two issues are more closely linked than it may appear at first.
Homosexuality might be less of an issue in the modern Christian church today (not that I am proposing to solve the issue completely) if today’s Christian culture idolized marriage less.
Heterosexual singles have essentially been fed the idea of, “Just hold out until you get married, and then you get to be visible and of value to the church community. And you get to have sex and make babies.” Which incorrectly assumes that everyone will get and stay married. Single women who enter Christian bookstores to find advice for their lifestyle meet only an endless selection of books on what to do while waiting for that Prince Charming/Boaz/Mr. Darcy.
Meanwhile, if church doctrine says that Christian homosexuals can’t get married, then what are they waiting for? What are they supposed to do with themselves? Are they even wanted in the church community? How do they serve God from their unique positions? It’s the same questions that most Christian singles face, particularly in churches that do not require singleness/celibacy in certain roles.
If the church treated single and married members with more equal grace and welcomeness and purpose, it would matter less whether the singles were gay or straight. Right now, there’s an attitude among many heterosexual church leaders that is almost greedy, saying “We all get to have this thing, and you can’t, and you just have to deal with it.” But if the church treated both marriage and singleness as equally possible, valid, noble lifestyles that worship God and serve His people in unique ways, then perhaps it would be less of an “us vs. them” attitude—either between homosexuals and heterosexuals, or between singles and marrieds. Perhaps fewer people would feel as though they don’t matter in the church community unless they were married.
What does this look like? As usual, I’m not as good with the practical application, but some ideas I’ve tossed around with my friends include better, wider acknowledgement in the church that marriage is still a flawed, human institution, that it is not the ultimate goal of a Christian’s earthly life. More churches should be willing to give their single members greater authority and leadership and participation in church matters. Honoring God and nurturing community should be central to even the most casual church events, without reducing them to mere matchmaking opportunities.
Don’t assume that all women like or want children. Don’t hold up sex as the greatest gift from God and the greatest experience and goal of Christian living, or as a bribe. Don’t assume that everyone wants to get married, will get married, or will stay married. Hold more open, mature, appropriate discussion of sexuality in the church, among people who will ask and answer tough questions. Sermons should focus on both the abundance of the grace that saved us from our sins, as well as the seriousness of those sins.
None of this, of course, will solve every problem in every church, but I think it is a cultural attitude change that is desperately needed.
(By the way, this post was written under the assumption that homosexual marriage is and should be forbidden in the Christian church. That itself is a topic for heated debate, but I am writing from that assumption because it is 1.) my own belief, 2.) the current stance of many churches, and 3.) simpler for my argument. If any readers want me to elaborate on my beliefs and the reasoning behind them, I can write a separate post for that.)