“When you find contentment, you will find love.”
“When you stop trying, that’s when you’ll get pregnant.”
“Let go and let God.”
We hear these phrases come out of well-meaning mouths often. They’re trying to remind us that it’s a journey, not a destination and it’s out of our control. But what they’re really saying? “There’s no formula—except this trite formula of not having a formula.”
When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream of a big wedding day and raising babies of my own. I imagined moving to a city and wearing oxford shirts and writing for a living. That was my dream. And there wasn’t necessarily a man in my future dream life—I actually felt okay about singleness even then. I’ve never been in a season of ache and desperation for marriage. I do not have a Pinterest board of venues and colors and hand-lettered chalkboards.
Now, to be clear, I do get the ache occasionally. I have moments when I walk into a room full of couples and feel unsteady. I take photos and video of brides and grooms on their wedding day and wonder if I’ll ever pick out a white dress of my own. I remember clearly walking into my apartment when I was living in New York City one summer with arms full of groceries, setting them down and quietly saying, “God, I hope this isn’t it.”
I write these moments down when I can to remember them. To document this ache because it is real and honest and true. I wrestle with the fact that I’m walking into new seasons of being an author and there’s no one to share that with. If I met my husband tomorrow, he’d never know me pre-book writing. Every new season that I walk out alone is one that I don’t have a ring on my finger and that hurts sometimes.
I have this sneaking suspicion that we’re an all-or-nothing crowd when it comes to how we approach relationships. If we express that we feel confident in singleness, people say, “Good for you!” but if we admit that some days are hard, there’s a sense that we need immediate cheering up toward the assurance that we WILL get married.
“Singleness is really hard.” we say
“You will meet the right one, and here are 15 reasons you’re marriage material.”
But this is the thing: if one day everything culminates in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and we are all participants in that as the Bride of Christ, we are all Marriage material (with a capital M.) And we’re meant to be that–deep in our souls–made to be that all the way through, regardless of our relationship status in this life.
You married? Great—you’re Marriage material.
You single? Cool—you’re Marriage material.
Also: we’re not just material—we’re souls. And beyond that, we are Marriage bound, even if it’s not on this side of eternity. Our worthiness is not dictated by how marry-able we are. Our identity does not hinge on “I do.” Our status before God is one of being fully known in ways deeper than marriage and perfectly loved in ways that marriage will never fulfill. It’s a shadow of things to come, not an idol to be worshipped or hailed as the ultimate goal to attain to.
So back to the thing where we’re all-or-nothing on relationships. Like everything good or important, there are tensions that have to be considered in this. I can be confident and single and wish I could be married one day and healthy and complicated. When we treat our singleness like a problem and marriage like a goal, we forget the reality of how complicated that process is—and how simple it is. We believe that we can prepare and check off lists and that we will be fully ready for that new season (that may or may not come.)
We start to make formulas about how things need to go in order for us to get where we want to be. And then, when something unexpected happens like a feeling we didn’t anticipate or a circumstance we didn’t consider, we call it all a wash and question the relationship altogether. I’ve watched this play out countless times with friends and in my own love life. One thing gets said or done and instead of saying, “Wait—this isn’t what I signed up for, but let’s try and work it out together,” we say, “I don’t think that he’s the one because I don’t like the way that He thinks about this one thing that is different than the way I think about it.” Instead of pushing further into discomfort because we know relationships are messy, we pull back, trying to reassess on our own.
Now, to be fair, there are red flags of unhealthy patterns that are absolutely deal breakers. If someone is manipulative or abusive or not committed at a point when they should be, that’s a real concern. I’m referring, however, to the fact that we expect our significant others to always do everything right and then when they mess up because they’re still learning, or they disagree because they aren’t our clones, we start to panic because it’s not a Nora Ephron film.
Relationships are never what we expect because we’re entering into them with actual human people. Our formulas and our pro/con lists and our over-thinking aren’t going to make them work out. So when you say to your single friends, “Just do (fill-in-the-blank) and then you will find love,” it’s actual reinforcing the lie we believe that relationships are in our control to begin with.
I have fallen in love twice in my life, and both times, it ended. It didn’t matter that we went on cute scavenger hunt dates or wrote love notes back and forth or prayed together. It didn’t matter that we met in serendipitous ways or pictured our future together or loved the same strange pop culture references and historic events. Because at the end of the day, relationships are more than those things. And if two people aren’t on the same page about what they’re committing to, they aren’t going to make it to marriage. Things are messy and they are hard and they go beyond our feelings or our expectations.
And this is where I recall that all relationships are like this. They are a choice and they are intentional and they not always movie material. And this isn’t just romance I’m talking about. It’s every single friend and co-worker and neighbor that I encounter. They are all people and every day I have the opportunity to love them. Not just because I’m “supposed to” but because I get to.
Not because it’s “easy” but because it’s hard.
It’s hard to be a person and we are called to walk that experience out with one another. We’re called to enter into hard things and speak hard truths and wrestle through hard seasons. We are called to push in when we want to pull back and accept the fact that it’s not going to be some magic rush of excitement every time they walk in the room. Ask anyone who has been married for more than a few months: relationships are commitment more than constant butterflies and comparison will ruin them if we let it.
We say we want to be content in our relationships, but newsflash: we are called to be content in all circumstances. Not just romantic relationships. Not just finances. Not just work-life balance. In every single circumstance we are called to believe that God is still more than enough and we are okay because He is our home and gives us value and tells the Truth.
So when someone says to me, “When you do (this), you will find love,” I have to remember the truth that there is no formula. There is only the person in front of me at the bank or the grocery store or the church meeting or the picnic. And when I remember that we’re all complicated and we’re all looking for love, I can confidently look them in the eye and love them as they are, knowing that we’re all Marriage bound in deep, eternal ways. We’re all meant to know communion and closeness and intimacy and love.
“When you find contentment, you will find love.”
I have found contentment, but only because I know I am already loved, no matter my relationship status.