Contentment can be elusive for single people when we just want someone to share burdens with, when we are feeling lonely, when all our friends are happily paired off and we’re constantly the third (or fifth, or seventh, or thirteenth) wheel. It’s perhaps especially frustrating on a day like Valentine’s Day, when romance floats through the air in the form of heart-shaped balloons and pink confetti. On days like today, here are a few examples of singles who, whether fictional or not, inspire me by choosing to be content in their situations.
It’s not easy to fight against social expectations. Merida does this by defying all definitions of a “proper” princess because she is smart, energetic, and headstrong; she is no damsel in distress. Instead of letting a tournament decide her marriage, she fights for her own hand (much to the chagrin of her mother and the other clans).
It can be easy to assume that marriage is the only socially acceptable thing to do, and therefore if you are single, you are letting yourself and others down. Perhaps you feel guilty because you know your dad wants to bounce a grandchild on his knee, or because you lean on friends to help you through your loneliness. But we don’t need guilt piled on top of the other challenges of being single. Like Merida, we can embrace our singleness as an important part of who we are. We aren’t worth less than others because of it.
Toph Beifong, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Toph Beifong is the only main character who doesn’t get paired off at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and she’s totally cool with it. A powerful earthbender who’s also blind, Toph doesn’t let other people tell her how to be content, she just chooses to be.
“One of the good things about being blind is that I don’t have to waste my time worrying about appearances,” she says in the episode, “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” “I don’t care what I look like. I’m not looking for anyone’s approval. I know who I am.”
Trying to dig up flaws, physical or otherwise, to explain our singleness is tempting, but if we focus so much on what other people think of us we may miss out on experiencing joy.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
Obi-Wan takes the Jedi’s rules on celibacy pretty seriously (assuming Rey doesn’t turn out to be his daughter, of course). The way he finds contentment is serving a bigger purpose than himself. Helping others and promoting peace is what he’s striven to do since childhood, and when he’s plunked on a desert planet to keep an eye on a whiny farm boy for the rest of his life, he doesn’t complain.
Single folks are often able to serve God in ways that married people can’t. I’m not convinced we have “more free time” than married people (my busy schedule says otherwise), but I think we are more flexible in many ways. Focusing on serving others joyfully helps me find contentment in my single life.
Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter
Luna finds contentment by embracing weirdness (“You can laugh! But people used to believe there were no such things as the Blibbering Humdinger!”). She’s not afraid to be herself, no matter what anybody says about her. She gets picked on because she’s different, but refuses to feel ashamed.
Shame and believing we are not worthy of love can get in the way of contentment. God tells us otherwise — that we are worth loving no matter how many Nargle crime theories we think up.
Frodo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings
Frodo’s story does not revolve around romance; he’s a little too busy carrying the weight of Middle-earth around his neck. He finds contentment because of his friendship with Sam. After Sam rescues him from being captured by orcs, Frodo says, “’Well, you have now [found me], Sam, dear Sam. . .’ and he lay back in Sam’s gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand.”
A lack of romantic relationship does not diminish our friendships. In fact, much joy is to be found in community with others, like Acts 2 describes. We are not meant to live life alone, and finding a community of people who care about each other and share beliefs is crucial to personal growth, serving Christ, and finding joy.
Saint Valentine was a Roman priest during a time of persecution in the church and when polygamy was widely accepted. In 269 AD, he was sentenced to beating, stoning and decapitation because he promoted marriage between only one man and one woman and officiated marriages between Christian couples.
The day where couples celebrate romance with red flowers and heart-shaped candy is named after a single man who died for what he believed in. Being joyful because of hardships sounds counter-intuitive, but James tell us to do so: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (1:2-3). When we want to be married, singleness can be a trial; but we can find contentment through faith in something bigger than ourselves.
The Apostle Paul
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul in this list, as he is one of the more prominent singles in the Bible and the only author who talks about it. Paul was content in his singleness because he traveled and served in ways he would not have wanted to with a family. He refers to singleness as the ideal life for this reason and as something to be celebrated rather than mocked. Though we might not choose the single life as Paul did, we can still find good in it.
Remember, contentment isn’t necessarily a feeling. It’s OK to feel sad and lonely when we are single and want to be married. But we can choose contentment by fighting feelings of worthlessness, living in community, serving others, and loving God. How can you do that today?