When Jamie Cullum’s “Our Day Will Come” blares at me through the car radio, I consider veering off the road. Twenty-second dance with morbidity, I play with the idea of wrapping myself around a pole with just a quick shift of the steering wheel. Guilt and realism prevent me entertaining it any longer. With my luck I’d just total it and spend five to seven years paying off repairs on a car I should already be selling.
I don’t turn the song off either. I just sit there and let my soul whimper through the romantic optimism. Nobody expects to be single at thirty-five. Hell, nobody expects to be single at eighteen in the United States of Rom-Com. I hold my fingers up to the vent to thaw. It’s January. Based on the FB engagement announcements that flared up over the holidays, I will receive eight to twelve save-the-dates from my peers in the next two months. One from my own roommate. Almost every one of these weddings will be on a Saturday in June.
Meanwhile, on the dating app, Wine Meets Cheese, I get this little exchange:
RichwhiteGuy39: You know you should really tone down all the religious stuff on your profile, it’s super creepy.
Sarah22F: Oh, unsolicited advice, my favorite. Bye.
And also in response to my profile:
TruGentleman43: Hmmmmm so you are affectionate
Sarah22F: Yes I have a cat that I dote upon ridiculously, and in my current job as a Nanny I am prepped to respond affirmatively to emotional needs in real-time. Comes with the territory. So it says you like Karaoke, what happens to be your go-to song?
TrueGentleman43: I need affection. My song is take me home tonight, Eddie Money.
Sarah22F: LOL. But if you date me you’d have to sing Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones until we got married because I am a good girl. Affection yes, sex no.
TrueGentleman43: No sex at all. Yikes.
Sarah22F: Not until married, that’s right.
TrueGentleman43: . . .
That ellipses is five days old and still going strong. You see, most unmarried teachers in their thirties got a timeshare, adult braces, or finally traveled Europe. I went to seminary.
Master’s Level Singleness
I didn’t go to enter a new marriage market. Those who want a ring by spring go to Bible college. But I still hoped the same way I’ve always hoped. You’ll meet someone in college. You’ll meet him at work. You’ll meet your husband when you do ministry with him.
Grad school for Christians has got to be the holy land for this kind of thinking. Where else could Godly-do-Right be? Sure, you’ll have to shift through some white-washed tombs here and there, but this is an established Southern institution of the faith—they don’t just let anybody in, you know. Plus, I had the cardinal virtues of chastity, a voracious hunger and knowledge of God’s holy texts, and a ridiculous work ethic going for me.
Yet, after four years it seems my potential life partners, though they made up the majority population, had these things against me: my lack of interest in becoming a ministry partner to their own dream, being older than twenty-two, not easily impressed, outspoken against the status quo, and worst of all, a feminist. Think of most evangelical males as they’ve appeared in the media of our country in the past year. Then consider:
Non-denominational, practically egalitarian, charismatic, molinist seminary graduate on antidepressants whose calling is theology through collaboration and the arts seeks spouse.*
*Did not take the original languages in her degree program.
You’ve read that Jesus wept? I said in my heart of hearts, I’d really like to be married in the next five years. God laughed. Maybe he’s still laughing. I still wanna get married. For all I know, he still wants me to get married, or to never get married. None of these are mutually exclusive facts.
How then shall I live?
I pray and sign up for online dating apps. I give all my friends and the church community a blank check to set me up with anybody. I read “Cat Person” in The New Yorker because apparently as a single person today it’s a must. I spend twenty odd pages with a twenty-something woman over-interpreting every moment with a man (like I do), have terribly dissatisfying sex with him (like I don’t), break up with him by text, fail to grant him any humanity during an awkward bar encounter, yet end up conveniently exonerated from all by the sexual harassment he sends her in a follow-up text. It’s brutally real and brutally inside and outside my own experiences.
I thank God, perhaps for the first time in my life, for my celibacy, and in the same headspace wonder if having terrible sex is still more satisfying than having none at all.
I wish I were not so shallow. Most of the time it’s not about sex, or lack of sex at all, and other times of the month I walk around with my body and being on fire. I desire sex, intimacy, witty banter, life sharing, collaboration, arguments that matter, mutual delight, and lifelong discovery. I want to have somebody to fry eggs and bacon for, and somebody who will wash and vacuum my car out so I don’t have to. I want a karaoke partner and birthday party plus-one that nobody mistakes for my brother.
The Regalia of the Available
I sign up for a second online dating service because I can’t afford a match-maker. I tell no one because I can just hear them church ladies saying, “Girl, don’t you know the Almighty God is your match-maker?” “Just have more faith” won’t cut it here.
Though I hate it, I swipe down and read through every profile, cursing the shitty reductionism of this format. I know how much more I am than a few talking points, pictures, and preferences. These men are universes more than what is listed or shown, like all humans, but this is how dating is done now, right? After all, at least five of those save-the-dates postmarked for me come from friends who met somebody through an app just like this.
Whatever I do, I do my best not to expect too much. All disappointment and discontentment comes from unrealistic or unmet expectations. Instead I turn to my married and engaged friends to re-write every rom-com and indy film plot line I’ve ever watched. I hear their narratives, not listening to glean a common denominator, but to hear the various and sundry ways people come together. But I can only do so much, some expectations will and apparently by God’s will, should go unmet.
I play with my cat, and buy him more toys, because all that un-spent affection has got to go somewhere, and I am unabashedly a cat person.
I spend an hour on my makeup and hair and spend four more at a coffee shop in a short skirt and a long jacket, reading any book that was required in undergrad English 101 and looking approachable. I smile light as a leaf on the wind at every man thinking how much my fingernails shine like justice. I can feel my icons, Frida Kahlo, Zora Neale Hurston, and Louisa May Alcott judging me all the way from the walls of my apartment back home, but I stay put.
And when it’s over I drive home alone in the dark. When I pass under a streetlamp I can see my own breath reach the windshield as I belt out “Marlene on the Wall,” followed by “Boys of Summer” over the drone of my heater.
This woman I’ve disclosed to you, by degrees pathetic, mercenary, and doubtful, she is not the single you want to turn to in a moment of fellowship. I get that. I don’t want her either. I’d rather my single status shine Christus vincit in me with all the snark of Dorothy Sayers or all the spark of Flannery O’Connor. I’d like for it to be a divine Mystery like the desert flower. A seventeen-point star on the cacti opening like an oculus. Petals slide apart like origami folds, flowering and retracting solo in the sunlight. Let my life untethered be tender and fleeting and vibrant against the wide curves of red-orange rock, wind-swept as carefully as a Japanese sand garden. Full and firm and generous in the stale mineral air of a spartan landscape. Austere yet marked with a simplicity to make Quakers sing.
On good days I can almost see her. The seed of her stirs, nestled within me, waiting to rise and prove all amongst these Joshua trees.
Save the date, I tell myself. She’s coming soon.
None of this makes me unique. I could name at least twenty men and women I know personally, brothers and sisters in Christ, navigating the same waters of singlehood. Some of them are cat people, some dog people, some are illegal ferret people, but they are my people. Showing up to serve the Eucharist on Sundays, and dragging themselves to another lunch after services, trying to keep the tart aftertaste of wafer and juice from growing bitter in us as we reflect on the third marriage series preached this year. God help us.
Cover image by Tim Wright.