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A dialogue between two contemporary (and available) widows

A dialogue between two contemporary (and available) widows

Singleness isn't my first choice. If I'm honest it doesn't sit comfortably with me. I'd like it to, to make life easier to live, but it doesn't. I know singles who are happy and satisfied with life on their own. I envy them. I guess singleness happened to us because our husbands suddenly died – and that was never part of our plan. Overnight social status altered and social rules changed. It's often felt a marginalised place to be, including in the church. I've always tried to bring a positive perspective to whatever life's brought me, but there's an unavoidable underlying grief around the many losses and changes singleness has brought, and it journeys with me. That's the simple truth.


Yes, I'd have to say it isn't my first choice either. You can feel quite socially isolated in a gathering when you don't have a partner and you make the numbers at a dinner party look untidy. It often feels hard in a group of couples, especially when it comes time to go home. Then you have situations like one I can remember, very soon after my husband died. There was an organised church lunch where we were assigned places to go and you didn't know who else would be there. I ended up with a most unusual collection of singles, with which I had nothing in common, while all my married friends were put together.


Early on I remember a church friend telling me she just wanted me to know that she was going to ask me to dinner with all our shared friends, but only married couples were coming other than me. Because she didn't want me to feel left out she thought she'd wait and invite me around to lunch with a group of singles some other time.


A lot of things certainly changed. No longer was I considered safe. I'd always heard that single women could be a threat to married people, but then I realised I was one! I suddenly experienced the reality of that.


Like when some women started being very territorial around husbands, staying physically close, seeming edgy. I was the same me – just widowed. It felt like I'd become an awkward problem – through no fault of my own. My integrity seemed questionable, and that hurt. Some relationships felt uncomfortable when they never were before.


Male friends just stopped dropping by anymore unless they had their wives or children with them. I wondered if sometimes the men thought I was going to make a pass at them.


Well were you?

Yeah, right…

Being married had challenges. Being reluctantly single does too. So, let's start a list …in random order…

  • A daily sense of human vulnerability…having to get through everyday life's ups and downs and responsibilities alone, make choices alone, and cope alone. There's no one person there committed to you through thick and thin or having a vested interest in sharing the load, or offering strengths to balance your weaknesses...
  • The loneliness – It can be a deep, unfathomable aching. And contrary to the popular view, taking night classes or joining a club somewhere isn't the perfect fix.
  • The lack of the everyday intimacy of a close relationship – so often taken for granted but inordinately precious, rhythmic and sustaining. Having someone to talk about the little things of the day with, tell private information to, go places with, to get practical help from without feeling embarrassed to ask, even to get grumpy with!
  • Lack of sexual fulfilment. You're automatically barred from the privilege of sexual fulfilment. Hormones don't just switch on for people on a wedding night. They're on for everyone – they're part of who we are.
  • Feeling disregarded, or feeling judged and speculated about. Feeling you've failed somehow, that something must be wrong with you – a sense others must be thinking that too. Feeling awkward and embarrassed by situations you find yourself in, or by personal questions people feel they can ask, which were never asked of me when we were married. And all of it affects your self esteem and self image. (And you become aware that at times one's over-sensitivity doesn't help either )
  • Spiritual questions…Why hasn't God favoured me with a partner like others have? Am I sinful? Is this punishment? Are my prayers not good enough? Does God even know I'm here!!!!!
  • The kinds of relationships possible with others is different from when married – you're definitely less easy to manage socially. Your marital status becomes a big part of your definition in a new, disadvantaged way. You're in a ‘special category' – some don't really know what to do with you. Those who do always relate to you as a person first are invaluable – they validate your worth and existence.  (...This issue has certainly changed our own perspective about single friends we've known in years past, and today)
  • Being viewed by some, including occasional church leaders, as a potential danger,  potentially likely to lure married others astray…someone needing to be ‘managed' carefully…placed in home groups and church responsibilities sensitively  etc
  • You're not seen as an adult – often church leadership responsibilities or opportunities to preach are given to people only when they get married. 
  • And the multitude of sensitive issues around meeting someone of the opposite sex in a coupled church context, and in today's world

There's more, but that's an honest start, and everyone's different. Being able to talk openly about what it is like being single vs. married is taboo in church circles on the whole – no one much is interested in its realities or comfortable with the subject. Even saying yes to writing our conversation down like this has felt risky.

Yes, most people do feel uncomfortable with the subject, and hurry to change the subject!. Some try to fix you, and feel sorry for you. Some try to befriend you – which isn't what you are looking for. By voicing what it is like you do not want them to have to become your friend.

And in the church context the ideal social image is, of course, being part of a couple or family. Church programmes typically are most relevant to couples and families.  I know couples without children often feel the same pressure from the ‘married with children ideal' – a sense of not fitting in to what's expected or wanted as good Christian role modelling in their church.  Church language frequently overlooks the existence of single adults, or they get tagged on the end of a line. One single person commented that being single in their church triggered people's condescension, (Good on you for being single – God can really use you single people - bless you – you'll find someone one day ), coupled with a total unwillingness to ever relate meaningfully with them (no social invitations, questions only ever about their job, requests and expectations to babysit without payment and to automatically help at church events because they were 'on their own' with less responsibilities…etc  etc)

I get pissed off that so much church stuff is geared towards the ‘norm' being that of the married person, with the inference that if you're not married you're ‘lesser than' or just plain invisible.  And that the marriage relationship is the only one that matters really. I know of single people not getting jobs in churches because of their singleness. Preaching is rarely about aspects of singleness, but if it is, it is commonly around singles needing to keep pure and righteous. There's even that view around that you're lucky if you're single because that makes you more free to be more spiritual. In fact, I think singles is a category that doesn't exist easily in many churches (other than young adults) and many just leave because it's just too hard to keep battling against the social ‘norm' and maintain self esteem.

Bottom line, I really miss being one of a partnership. I think I was good at partnering when I was married…I enjoyed it. The roller coaster of sincerely praying and hoping to leave singleness behind and the disappointment that I haven't can get so tiring and disheartening….. Though my faith has been genuinely sustaining for me at times, being told more than once that I should consider Jesus like a husband didn't ever do the trick for me!

Yes, I've always regarded myself as a person who needs close relationships and who enjoys being with people. Not having someone to talk issues and life through with in a day to day way is a huge loss. I think you once called it a living loss – it is always with you. You learn better how to live with it as time goes on and think you are doing OK and then something comes along that highlights it again and….

It does help to openly table issues together - and share the journey. And I'm deeply grateful for others who've also shared the journey. Some married. Some single. They've made life so much better. They've been alongside me with acceptance, support, love, genuine care, practical help, engaging with me about the issues, insight, loyalty, humour, patience and unshakable no-strings-attached friendship.

And it's been strange and ironic how we've had unhappy married people say at times they envy our freedom, individuality, not having to fit in around someone else etc!! I guess when it comes down to it, we often just want what we haven't got.

Well that's true! What we've said will no doubt have echoes for lots of people  whose life circumstances present them with unwanted situations. So I guess we journey on, like everyone else, into unchartered land ahead. What do I want for Christmas? Courage for the road, and things to make me laugh.

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