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Following Jesus

Is Being Self-Partnered Enough?

December 6, 2019 by

Winter (IV), Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1907
Winter (IV), Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1907

Emma Watson’s recent declaration that she was happy to be single and considered herself “self-partnered” has drawn a wide range of reactions. As a woman in my thirties who happens to be single, I was encouraged to see the topic in the news. The unspoken pressure that, by thirty, one should be married and have a child, is real for many people, especially when it is a personal goal of yours as well. And to confirm what we sometimes feel, research shows that single people are judged more harshly than married people, and single people report lower life satisfaction than their married peers, although this generalization does not always apply.

But singleness is a growing reality. It’s late 2019; we have entered an era of post-truth, post-trust, and post-faithfulness, where “presentism” is driving an existential crisis. A lack of a sense of “future” renders a lifelong marriage commitment difficult, if not impossible. Life is getting cheaper and I don’t blame women who have simply had enough of abuse and leave their partner, or don’t even dare to enter a relationship. More needs to be done to address gender inequality, take away the stigma surrounding singleness, and support those who are on that path.

Still, Watson’s neologism doesn’t quite jive with me. To me, the concept of “self-partnering” sounds hollow, perhaps because I am a Christian who still believes in truth, trust, and faithfulness. I crave dialog with some “thou” (to quote Martin Buber) other than I, even if the relationship is not exclusive or romantic. I value relating to other people, from whom I learn so much, and I value my relationship with God.

For centuries, the relationship of the soul to God in the Judeo-Christian tradition has been described in terms of marriage. The state of God being enough for the soul is sometimes called spiritual marriage. Similarly, “spiritual parenthood,” where the childless can act as close mentors to others, can help fill a void for those who feel it. And luckily for us singles who love kids, it really does take a whole village to raise a child. These are beautiful concepts to aspire to. Still, I have found that they are only helpful when I have already found some degree of peace, in times when my life is purpose-filled, and I am keenly aware of everything I can do for the world simply because I am unattached to husband or children.

But at other times, singleness and childlessness can feel like being stuck on a hamster wheel of perpetual adolescence while everyone else’s seemingly satisfying lives go hurtling onwards. Or being cast away on a vast, colorless ocean of existential uncertainty, desperate for any lodestar of human security and parched for personal love. Sometimes we are dying to give or receive a hug, a look of understanding, a piece of advice, a word of encouragement. In these dry times – these dark nights, if you will – focusing too much on spiritual marriage or parenthood can be counterproductive: we are not only spirit but also matter, and longings for what one does not have loom subliminally beneath the surface. Furthermore, the reality of not finding a partner can bring monsters of self-doubt up from the depths. Wedding after baby shower after life milestone, they whisper: Is there something wrong with me? Why doesn’t God trust me with a spouse and children?

However, God is still there. Like all Christians, my task is to seek him and play my little part in his grand plan. Remembering that God created many paths of equal worth and that everyone needs to walk theirs unselfishly has brought me a lot of peace.

And in the end, I have realized that the question is not if God trusts me, but rather, do I trust him? Trust in God is the only comfort to a heart that’s weary of aching in the same way year after year, disappointment after disappointment. But how can I trust him whom I do not love, how can I love him whom I do not know, and how can I know him with whom I do not dialog through prayer? In other words, talking to God and being quiet before him are key to finding some degree of healing.

So although I do not consider God my spouse, I cannot imagine a meaningful life without him. If the answer lies within me, it is only because something of him is there. We all need dialog, we all need other people, we all go through tough times. And of course, one doesn’t need to be married or a parent to give or receive a hug, or understanding, or advice, or encouragement. As has the “self-partnered” Ms. Watson, we need to come to peace about our lives, over and over again – but the highest stretches of that road often run through other people, and some transcendental power as well.

Coretta Thomson is a Bruderhof member studying at the University in Montevideo, Uruguay. 


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