We’ve all seen and heard the stereotypes of single people. On a daily basis these generalizations creep into our conversations and even convictions. They can be used as weapons to marginalize and dismiss entire groups of people, and that behavior is inexcusable. But as society continues to perpetuate this cast of characters, maybe one of the few redeeming acts left is to evaluate if there’s any truth to these generalizations, to see if we, at our worst, are living up to the stereotypes we’ve created. As a single woman, I took the risk of going face-to-face with some of these generalizations (even though a few were painful for me to dive into) to see if there was anything I could learn about others and myself.
The Cat Lady
When I talk with my single girlfriends, we joke about this caricature most often. While we love our single lives (and our cats), many of us hope we’ll eventually live with someone other than a loving pet. It seems that the older I get, the less people gravitate toward living with roommates. They like the idea of being on their own and interacting with their space more independently; but this can be lonely.
Enter the cat.
This stereotype painfully conveys what some believe to be true but never dare to say aloud: female cat lovers choose to share their living space with no one but a pet, as if that animal is a stand-in for a significant other and children. When you realize you’re spending more on special cat food than your own groceries, or throwing your pet a birthday party complete with presents far more expensive than what you’d buy for a friend, you may want to take a step back and consider if you’re asking more of your pet than you should be. If your cat is a stand-in for other relationships, ask yourself why that is. Are you afraid of getting hurt? Are you too busy? Cynical? If this sounds familiar, consider taking steps to spend time with people you already care about, and meet some new ones, too. Your cat will cheer you on.
Desperate Man (or Woman)
We all know that person who’s always in a relationship, or at least thinking about their next relationship. They are talking about marriage on the first few dates and dreaming about their kids’ names within the first month.
It can be scary to be alone. For people who started dating early in life, being in a romantic relationship can be the only way they know to make sense of the world. They are used to having someone to bounce decisions off of, enjoy events with, or plan their future around. I’ve had tearful conversations with friends who knew that their relationships weren’t going anywhere, but they didn’t want to have to start over with someone new. When I broke up with one boyfriend, I remember him saying that he felt we’d been going through the motions for a while, but it was comfortable. Transition is hard, and what if you never meet someone else?
Desperation has almost always been a way for me to avoid dealing with areas I didn’t want to address. I find that God often asks me to be brave, to do things that bring me out of my comfort zone, and I look for ways to avoid those things. I’ve learned a lot about myself through being single, and when I’ve spent extended periods of time with myself, I realize something God has known all along: I am good company. Of course I still have days and weeks where I long for someone, but instead of pulling up the latest dating app, I’m trying to sit with the desperation and discover what it has to teach me. We can all have flashes of being that desperate single, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay that way.
If thinking about being single has you in a panic, why not plan a vacation and then go by yourself or with a friend? Travelling and adventuring, even by yourself, can be a way to discover more about what you enjoy and who you are apart from your job and a romantic relationship. Taking time for yourself can only enhance the connections you have with others, and you might have some fun in the process.
One of the major stereotypes of men in the church is the Bro’s Bro. This guy likely enjoyed his college years in a close-knit dorm or fraternity, and he’s made it a priority to rebuild similar relationships and routines now that he’s in the real world. These men might secretly hope for a wife and family, but for now they spend most of their time with their buddies grilling out, watching the big game on TV or camping over the weekend. They observe (and perhaps even pine after) women from afar, but rarely do they venture into their circles. They certainly avoid approaching a woman alone.
Women do this too, of course. It’s nice to have someone to talk to, share meals with, or watch a movie with at the end of a long day. However, a community this close and exclusive can make us comfortable. It’s easy to put off personal or spiritual goals when the rest of your friend-group isn’t on the same page.
In the same way, being the only person in your community to enter into a relationship can be isolating as you begin to miss out on memories and meals. But these communities, if they’re healthy, should come around, supporting the new relationship and celebrating the happiness of each member. Having a close group of friends is invaluable in surviving the single life, but remaining stagnant and comfortable, and resenting those who among you who aren’t, can bring out the worst in these groups.
If this sounds familiar, why not try diversifying your group? Set a goal for yourself to reach out to someone you don’t see very often, or someone new, on a regular basis. By adding to the richness of your friend group, you make yourself a more valuable (and interesting) friend in the process.
When my friends and I are starting new relationships, we’ll often talk about whether the person in question is a “man” or a “boy.” For those of us who are ready to get married, we know we need to find someone who is mature and seeking that, too.
The man-child is our worst nightmare. He lives in his parents’ basement, perhaps in the room he moved into as a teenager. He plays a lot of video games, hangs out with his friends, and his mom does his laundry and cleans his bathroom.
I’ve heard plenty of explanations from male friends who embrace the above lifestyle, but at the end of the day, we each need to build a life of responsibility and, at times, independence (and as women, we need to be valuing character over circumstances). But a spouse is not a replacement for a parent, and if that’s the expectation because a man has spent so long living at home, there’s bound to be disappointment and resentment on both sides.
If you’re putting personal development and adulthood on the back burner, consider what is holding you back from deeper engagement with your life. What are some positive goals you can set for changing your circumstances, whether it’s getting the job you want, moving out of your parents’ house, or being more intentional and productive with your time?
Fabulous Single Woman
I hear a lot about the fabulous single woman. She haunts me wherever I go. She’s always going on expensive trips and buying designer shoes. Her job is never anything but interesting, and she’s always in perfect shape and goes on all the delightful dates she wants.
I know a lot of wonderful, interesting single women, but none of them are this lady. Many may assume that I am the Fabulous Single Woman. I do have a lot of freedom in comparison with parents of toddlers, and there is a little more wiggle room in my budget. But I still have to save up for vacations and experience the pain of rejection as I navigate the dating world.
We have to resist the tendency to idealize situations, even if they’re our own. Sometimes the Fabulous Single Woman is my defense mechanism. I’ll see a peer from high school, someone I haven’t seen in a while, and I think of all the things I can say to let her know that my life is just great. I believe this, but I’m not sure I should have to convince other people. I can’t help but wonder if the Fabulous Single Woman is something others have dreamed up or a mirage we’ve created as an unattainable standard for our lives.
Some of the greatest gifts my married friends have given me are in conversations where they are honest about their marriages, both the positive and the negative aspects. In those moments, I realize that even though our circumstances are different, our feelings about them are very similar. Sometimes life is confusing and frustrating, and sometimes it feels like a great gift. Instead of putting on an armor of fabulousness, why not level with your married friends about the beautiful complications of your life? This kind of vulnerability will strengthen your friendships, and it will certainly help them know better how to support you.
There’s a reason we smile and nod (or maybe even tear up) at these stereotypes when we read about them or see them depicted on TV or elsewhere. Even if they don’t fully describe a person, they exist because they somehow hit home. They are valuable both as a tool of self-discovery and as a safeguard for preventing potentially unhelpful (or even destructive) behavior. God didn’t create us as stereotypes, but as living, breathing people with unique qualities, hopes and giftings. I want to break through the old stories I tell about myself, or those that others tell about me, to the person I was created to be.
Copyright 2016 Cara Strickland. All rights reserved.