By Deanna Johnson Cauthen
Some of you may be wondering why a happily married woman of almost 16 years is writing an article about being single. Well, the truth of the matter is, I haven’t always been happily married.
I will spare you the sorted details, but let’s just say that my first marriage of 10 years did not work out, and at age 30, I was facing divorce along with the daunting task of supporting three young children. I had gotten married at the tender age of 20 years old, so I basically had been in a relationship all of my adult life and the idea of being single was not only scary but repulsive. After all, who wants to be single, right?
I spent the first several months of my separation dreading singleness and living in denial. I hoped against hope that things would work out with my former husband. It didn’t. After two years of being separated, my divorce became final and slowly the reality of the situation began to set in. I was, now, unmarried, and the question became how was I going to handle it?
Well, the good news is that I not only survived, but I thrived during my time of singleness. The very thing that I despised, ended up being one of my life’s greatest gifts because it challenged me to do several things that up to that point I had not been doing.
Below are seven things I learned during my time as a single person. I encourage you to take some time and consider each of them to see how you can incorporate them into your life.
1. I embraced my community.
During the five years that I was single, I discovered that there were a wealth of people who wanted to be there for me. Not only did I have a biological family who cared about me, but I had a church family which loved and helped me in practical ways. I also began to talk to and form close, meaningful relationships with my neighbors, most of whom were older, and they nurtured me and my children.
Singleness does not have to equate to a life sentence of loneliness and relegate you into the shadows of society. Community is all around you–it’s your family, your church, your neighbors, the lady at the grocery store, the kid walking down the street. And, remember, being in community is a two-way street. It’s not just about getting support. You need to be giving back, as well. Consider becoming a volunteer with an organization. Start reaching out to the people around you and they will reach back.
- I engaged my brain and helped myself.
One of the first decisions I had to make as a single mom was where I and my kids were going to live. I had a little money in savings, and with the help of my parents, I was able to purchase my first house. As a new homeowner, I was faced with fixing and maintaining things on a regular basis. I learned how to paint walls, repair broken window panes and screens, patch holes in the sheetrock, plant a garden, and a host of other things. I also learned how to make a budget and manage the money for my household.
Although naturally independent, up until this point, I had not made many decisions on my own. Because I married so young, I basically went from my parent’s house to my husband’s house. Being unattached was empowering because it forced me to stand on my own two feet and think of ways to help myself. It allowed me to tap into my own strengths, make decisions, and value and trust my own thoughts, abilities, and ideas.
- I took the time to address unfinished emotional business.
Singleness gave me the time that I needed to work through some of my own underlying emotional issues. There was a reason that my first marriage failed, and although my former husband had serious issues, I married him, which meant I had issues, too. I had entered the marriage prematurely trying to escape the pain of my past, but the marriage didn’t solve any of my original problems. At best, it served as a temporary distraction.
Being alone can feel scary, but resist the temptation to jump into the next relationship before you’re ready. I know people who have done this and it has resulted in a string of failed unions. Do the hard work required to get healthy. If it means getting professional therapy or joining a 12-step support group, do it. You’ll be glad you did.
- I stopped looking for people to complete me.
Here’s a news flash: No one can complete you. Only God can do that and there are no substitutes. Does God put people in our lives who can share life’s journey with us? Of course, he does, but that’s very different from the codependent, dysfunctional relationships that are played out in the media.
A friend of mine, who is also a math teacher, told me something a long time ago and I’ve never forgotten it. She said, A half times another half does not equal a whole, but a quarter.” When broken people get together, it just creates more brokenness.
- I found an accountability partner.
Like any good pilot, sometimes you need help navigating the journey of your life. This is where a good friend can be a priceless tool. My accountability partner was the person I went to when I was about to make an important life decision and I needed help applying the practical truths of scripture to the situation. Having this component in place was the single most important element for growth in my life.
The trick is finding someone in your life who is strong enough to tell you the truth when you need to hear it, but gentle enough to provide a crying shoulder, as well. It needs to be someone who is spiritually mature and someone who has proven themselves trustworthy. Ask God to send them to you. He will.
Let me offer a word of caution, though. Because of the advisory role this person will be playing in your life, there may be a temptation to become overly dependent on them or to put them on a spiritual pedestal. Remember that they are just an instrument of grace in the hands of the Master and that God is the ultimate source for meeting your needs.
- I was willing to try new things.
During the five years that I was a single woman, I tried and learned more new things than at any of time in my adult life. In some ways, it was better than a college education.
It was during this time that I purchased and learned how to drive a stick-shift car, change a flat tire, ski down a mountain, and own and operate an office cleaning business. In the end, I discovered that I was stronger and more capable than I ever realized and that I had gifts and talents that I didn’t even know that I had.
I once heard it said, “That nothing beats a failure, but a try.” For those of you who’ve been shrinking back from doing the next thing, stop saying, ‘I can’t’ and get out there and try.