Last summer was full of weddings. Dear friends from college who served on various mission fields and found their matches after years of waiting. New friends who found each other in a much shorter time. Beloved teammates from my years in China marrying on American soil. And then there were the weddings of more distant college acquaintances, celebrations that I followed on Facebook.
I traveled to three of these beautiful weddings during the month of August and was deeply disappointed when distance and finances forced me to miss others in June and July. The ceremonies filled me with joy for the ones who stood at the altar, and the receptions filled me with delight as I visited and “reunioned” with so many beloved friends.
Of course, I felt a pang of sadness at the fact that I was at yet another wedding that was not mine, but I found it harder to realize that nearly every attending friend was either married or dating. When another male guest and I shared a few minutes of small talk, one of my married friends pounced on me as if I was 15. “Were you talking to a guy?” she asked, meaningly. During wedding receptions, my status as “the last of the Mohicans” seems to grow a badge, and shame creeps over me. I’m the only one here on the outside of the circle of love.
Fortunately, I happened to read Sara Eckel’s lovely Boston Globe article during this wedding-filled summer. Appropriately titled “Being Single at Weddings,” this piece had me nodding in agreement from the start:
“As a wedding guest, I set myself to single-woman cruise control. You can’t let a wedding get to you.”
“These [two at the altar] were citizens of a universe I had no access to.”
“I didn’t feel like the kind of woman men wanted to marry.”
Someone who understands the way I feel, I thought. Yes, and amen. But then, I read this:
“When I look back on my single years, I feel deep regret. Not because sometimes I felt envious at weddings—hey, I was human—but because I didn’t respect how much I already knew about love. If you haven’t yet merited a ceremony honoring your achievements of the heart—wedding, anniversary, baby shower—it’s easy to believe you don’t know much about love. At least, that’s how I felt when I was unattached. But now I understand that that ineffable energy was always stirring inside me; it was just channeled differently.”
I was taken aback. I thought of my years in China, nearly every day brimming over with counseling, teaching, relating, comforting and feeding these college kids whom I loved as my own soul. I remembered the deep love between me and my teammates, forged through fights and tears and bared souls. I thought of the love poured out on my five siblings and the intentional entering into their lives. I remembered this past year in the States and how I’ve been privileged to travel all over the country, showering my friends (and their children!) with love. I thought of my close relationship with my grandma and how often I get to plan special times with her. I remembered my ongoing mentoring correspondence with my beloved students back in China. I thought of the opportunity I have (at my current job) to show kindness to girls rescued from human trafficking.
Slowly, my “singleness shame” began to diminish as I realized that Eckel wrote the truth. It was not a comparison between married love and the love of an unattached heart; it was a beautiful reminder that we all have love to channel. Each one of us chooses between hoarding love or giving love to others.
If I allow love to flow through me and bless those around me, I actually know something about love, single status nothwithstanding. Eckel writes, “My love has a vessel now, and the rewards are palpable—he loves me, too. But I’ve also noticed my interactions with those outside our happy bubble are less intense.” She writes that the love that “spilled out” from her during her single years was “more expansive in a funny way than the more contained loop of affection couples enjoy.” Without denigrating the love between partners, Eckel reminded me that the love that “spills out” from my unattached heart is love just the same. This love deserves the same honor as the love we celebrate at weddings. Sacrificial, deep, abiding love takes work, whether it is directed to a partner or a student. The challenges and obligations may differ, but I need Jesus to channel His love through me no less than my married friends do.
We are all traveling the path of love, sometimes stumbling and sometimes celebrating.
I’m reminded that God used Paul, a single Apostle, to write the “Love Chapter.” And Jesus Christ, the God-Man, Love Incarnate, was unmarried. While I won’t pretend to know much about the love between a man and a woman, I am starting to realize, as Eckel did, that “wisdom about love is not limited to those blessed with partners.” Somehow, this realization lessens my singleness shame.
Maybe there is nothing to feel ashamed of, after all.