A year ago I wrote a blog post called Why Being Single in My 20’s is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. It was a well-received piece about how I committed the third decade of my life to soul searching instead of jumping in and out of relationships like I witnessed many others my age doing. When my piece went viral, I received messages from young people all over the world about how my choice to pursue self-discovery and self-love over being in a relationship inspired them to do the same. I spent my 20’s traveling, chasing dreams and getting to know myself, kind of like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love minus the age and messy divorce.
As the emails kept pouring in, I felt like a trailblazer for my love-obsessed generation (OK, that’s dramatic but I felt pretty good). I did it the right way, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. So that’s why, when I turned 30, I was ready for God to hand-deliver a dreamy, future hubby who volunteered on the weekends and went on mission trips instead of vacations. He will be as self-aware as I am and we will live happily ever after basking in each other’s enlightenment.
That’s what my love life sounded like after my 30th birthday and needless to say, I was pissed. Wait, so you’re telling me (I’m questioning the man upstairs here), I spent all that time working on myself, rejecting dates in favor of spiritual retreats, journaling instead of hanging out with a boyfriend just to not find “the one” now that I am finally mentally and emotionally ready? Did God’s notification for bringing me the man of my dreams get lost in his heavenly iCloud? My conviction about it being the right time to meet my dream guy made me do what every other well-meaning Christian woman does when the situation gets desperate – I joined Christian Mingle.
No shade on Christian Mingle but pretty sure “God’s match for me” was nowhere on that website. After a few dates (honorable mention to the Rico Suave who was upset I wouldn’t comply with his attempt to kiss me in a dirty subway station and another who told me that if I’m not ready to pop out babies within the next year, I’m clearly not ready for a relationship), I was done. Online dating proved to be emotionally exhausting and it wasn’t for me. Which left me at 30, still single and still desiring to be in a loving relationship. This is when I went into a period of prayerful reflection and I felt God saying “You won’t find love until you realize that I’m enough”. You can call it a random realization or divine intervention but whatever you call it, it was what I needed to hear.
As simple as this sounds, this is not what popular media feeds us about romantic relationships (including my own blog post, for that matter). I already knew that I had to love myself before seeking out a relationship but I couldn’t quite grasp the concept that I was already loved so deeply by a supernatural entity that even if I never found “the one”, I’d still be okay. Sure, I had always known that God loves his children but it felt more like a vague, universal type of love rather than a deeply personal and intimate love that’s enough to reconcile all the voids I was expecting a human being to fill. I mean, to be fair, I’ve never seen, touched or heard God. How do I even begin to feel wholly content being loved by someone I’ve never had a physical encounter with? We as human beings are funny in that way, we’d rather chase human love than accept God’s love only because human love is tangible – we can see, hear and touch them and “feel” the butterflies even though it’s a mere puddle compared to the vast ocean of God’s love. However, when tragedy strikes, we waste no time dropping to our knees and crying out to him for comfort. Why is there a difference? Why is it so difficult to believe that a God who shows up in the depths of our despair will also satisfy our yearning for love?
Even as I write this, I realize how idealistic and unrealistic this sounds. I don’t blame you if you’re rolling your eyes at my oversimplified, granola approach to one of the most significant components of the human condition. I’m also not suggesting that an inherent understanding that you’re loved by God will magically erase your natural desire to have a significant other or lead you to the picture perfect relationship. However, I am saying that internalizing this truth is a great starting point. And even though articles like my previous one have led many to believe that self-love reigns supreme in the matter of finding a partner, I must admit that I was wrong.
The problem with believing that the only precursor to finding a healthy relationship is loving ourselves first is that it contradicts what loving another human being actually is. Loving another human being, especially in the context of a long-term relationship, requires us to be selfless, not self-absorbed. We have become a generation of self-lovers that are quick to drop a relationship or marriage as soon as we feel that our needs aren’t met. Instead of the sacrificial commitment that is required of us, modern relationships have become two people longing to be adored by each other because we’ve been doing that for ourselves for so long. As imperfect human beings, loving ourselves will only take us so far. When self-love alone fails to validate us, we eventually look for another person to fill the gap. When we inevitably discover that they can’t complete us either, we move on and the cycle continues. Accepting God’s perfect love is also understanding that an imperfect human being is incapable of making us whole. But if you’ve already been made whole in God, they wouldn’t need to anyway. There’s a huge difference between a relationship rooted in unrealistic expectations versus. an unwavering sense of identity and contentment. It’s the difference between a transactional relationship and unconditional love.
There’s a quote in Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love, that perfectly describes the difference between a relationship that is led by the Holy Spirit and one that is not:
For an unholy relationship is based on differences, where each one thinks the other has what he has not. They come together, each to complete himself and rob the other. They stay until they think that there is nothing left to steal, and then move on. A holy relationship starts from a different premise. Each one has looked within and seen no lack. Accepting his completion, he would extend in by joining with another, whole as himself.
Do I still desire to be married someday? Of course. But I’ve made the decision to rest in God’s love rather than my own expectations of what I think my life should look like. If a husband is in God’s plan for me, instead of expecting perfection, I will be happy with an imperfect man who knows he is perfectly loved by a magnificent God.
To all the young people who were inspired by my former piece on being single, I would like to amend that post with this – while learning to love myself in my 20’s was an amazing journey, discovering God’s love in my 30’s has been even better. This is my hope for all of you as well.