So another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and, once again, you just stood on the sidelines and watched while everyone else did all the romance stuff. You watched while everyone else did the special date thing and the traditional flower thing and the surprise getaway thing because you don’t have anyone in your life right now—and, honestly, as the years slip by faster and faster, you’re wondering if you’re ever going to find true love. You’re wondering if you’re maybe looking at a lifetime’s worth of Valentine’s Days all by yourself.
And, sure, you’ve got your coping strategies: You stay busy, and you know better than to look too closely at all those social media photos that your coupled-up friends are going to post, and, when your co-workers or your parents or the folks in the next apartment over ask about what you did on The Big Day, you’ve got a new, humorous comeback that you can use.
So you can get through the holiday, and that’s a good thing. But there are 364 other days during which you are going to be single, so, if you’re up for it, how about some advice from an old priest?
And, yes, I’ve been married for 39 years now, but I’m also an Orthodox priest, and, in Holy Orthodoxy, we understand single. We understand single because we know that being alone not only generates a whole lot of challenges, but that it is also a surprising source of blessings. So, let’s start the advice by addressing two of the biggest challenges:
Don’t Settle- A lot of times, folks are so afraid of being alone, they go ahead and marry someone that they know is going to break their heart and wreck their life. “I know, I know, she drinks too much sometimes, but she’s working on that.” “Yes, it’s true he hit me once—okay, twice—but he was really, really sorry, and he’s not going to do it again.” Trust me on this: Being alone can be really tough, but it is still way better than being married to someone who is an alcoholic or a rage-aholic. All of which is to say that if there isn’t anyone who is up to your standards, don’t you dare lower those standards. It’s just not worth it.
Don’t Be Resentful- It’s never pretty, but single people often deal with their loneliness by hating on married people. Sometimes they do that by getting snarky about the whole institution of marriage, but the snark can easily get personal, and you’ve probably been there: A group of singles are at work or at a restaurant or even online together, and, eventually, they end up gossiping about specific married couples and labeling those folks as either boring and predictable or hypocritical and miserable. If the jealousy weren’t so transparent, it might be funny, but, ultimately, the only thing that kind of envy produces is a really toxic environment, and, since being single is so difficult anyway, who needs to breathe in that kind of poison?
But that’s a good place to transition to the blessings that singleness can produce. People who are not married can have lives that are rich and rewarding and exciting and fulfilling; however, in order to activate all that happiness, you need to do two things:
Find a Real Community- Some folks experience community through their jobs or volunteer work or through political activity, but, for single people, the best community is to be found in a local parish. I’ll explain why that’s the case in just a moment, but when I say you need to get involved in a local parish, I’m not talking about joining one of those mega-congregations where they herd single people off into groups as if they are some sort of unique species. What you need to be looking for is a community like the parish I serve: It’s small enough where everyone can know just about everyone else, and, yes, most of the people are married, but single people are just—well, they are just included. They aren’t objects of charity or the focus of a compartmentalized ministry; they simply get the same support and love and concern and compassion as everyone else. And it’s that support and love and concern and compassion that makes it possible for single people to…wait for it…
Embrace Celibacy- Yes, you read that correctly: the word is celibacy. As in, no sexual activity. So most folks automatically assume that celibacy is one of the challenges of being single, not one of the blessings. In fact, most people really do believe that it is impossible to live without some sort of sexual activity. But look at it this way: sexual activity is one of the most basic ways that we give ourselves to others; we entrust another person with our physical desires and our most intimate needs and our deepest longings. However, it’s also possible to offer all of that to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So celibacy isn’t the denial of sex; it’s the redirection of that activity. Instead of giving yourself to another person, you give yourself to the Most Holy Trinity. And here’s the thing: other people will often reject or exploit or abuse our sexuality, but that’s never going to happen when we give ourselves to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But since celibacy is so misunderstood in our day and age, I need to re-emphasize the importance of finding a real community. Because this isn’t about going it alone; it’s not about turning our backs on others; if you are going to find happiness as a single person, then you will need a parish that can provide you with support and love and concern and compassion, because that is what will empower you to offer yourself completely to the Most Holy Trinity.
And when you can give yourself to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with that kind of intensity, you will have found the source of all true love. Then every day will become Valentine’s Day, and you will never, ever be