I doubt I’ll ever write a book about dating, but if I do, it will without doubt include a story from my best friend’s wedding. As I stood in the receiving line, greeting guests, an old friend made a point to start a conversation with me. Eyes ablaze, she asked innocently, “Ashley, where’s your husband?”
Chuckling to myself, I replied: “Oh, you’re mistaken; I’m not married.”
Which solicited from her a most surprising response, if I ever heard one: “Are you sure?”
And thus ensued one of the more awkward conversations of my life, trying to convince someone, against her ardent assumptions, that indeed I really am single, have never been married, and am a trustworthy authority on my own marital status. It ended in a truce: She walked away assuring me that she was “sorry for my loss,” and “whoever he was” made the worst decision of his life. As to the identity of “whoever he was,” my best guess is Christian Bale.
I’ve treasured that story through the years as a cocktail of humor and regret. How flattering it is to have someone think I should be married, or couldn’t possibly not be. But how sad that I never responded to her comment on my “loss” — to this notion that my story is at least ten points lower on the quality-of-life scale because I go to bed alone.
In spirit, the woman wanted to affirm me and show that she cared, which is worthy of applause. But what she couldn’t see, or at least in that moment, was how lovely it can be to be single, and why many women and men celebrate celibacy — chosen or not — for a time. I should have told her that, but instead, I chose to escape into some bridesmaid duty I have thankfully forgotten.
So in a spirit of redemption and second chances, below is another crack at it. My completely personal, hack list of reasons (in no particular order) I’m glad I’m single. Wake up, they’re coming fast.
1. I have time to read. I guess this needs a caveat that, of course, married people read too, but again, this is my personal list. I have lots of time to read because I live alone. This is life giving, and the first reason I’ll mention.
2. I know that I don’t need to be married to be happy. There was a time when I worried that if I didn’t get married in my early 20s, I wouldn’t be happy the rest of my life (see formula: princess is rescued by prince, is married by bumbling minister, cheesy music, happily ever after, end credits). What a relief to find out fairly early in life that the formula is reductionist and mostly false, that my marital status isn’t holding all other happiness hostage. I can still make music, talk to friends, write, serve, do literally hundreds of thousands of things that bring me pleasure, with or without a spouse.
3. Whitney Houston. I can sing and dance to Whitney without permanently scarring my children.
4. I have a chance to wait. I might not write a dating book, but I’d certainly write a waiting book. I know it makes me a better person, not getting what I want when I want it. I have no doubt that without waiting, I would be a far worse person than I already am. (See future bestseller: Waiting for Groceries: The Perils of Using Automated Check-Out Machines.)
5. The historic Christian tradition cherishes singleness. Contrary to popular stereotypes that the good Christian life is all about procreation, the Bible and Christian history hold single people in high regard. Would I like to have a time in my life when I can have my marital status in common with Paul and Christ himself? Sure, I’ll take that. (I’d also recommend this old sermon from my pastor which helped me understand this truth.)
6. In many ways, my life doesn’t make sense. I read Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir years ago and came across a sentiment that never left me: that the life of a Christian shouldn’t make sense without Jesus Christ in it. To live a single life, celibate, and expect some satisfaction is hard. Financially it is hard. Interpersonally it is hard. No one can say it isn’t hard. But am I glad that I’m in a situation that calls for Christ to show up? Yes.
7. The drama. I’ll confess: It’s great. I’m a lover of plot, and the ins and outs of intrigue, love, disappointment and possibility are ripe in the single life. For now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else — unless of course the narrative called for it.
So here’s to 2016, and another year of the messy, complicated, wonderful single life.
Ashley May is a writer in Washington, DC. She has five husbands.