Shame

An online engagement announcement. In one second I was thrown from a bored moment at the computer, idly Facebooking between tasks, to crushing doubt, self-criticism, and questioning every decision I had made in the last four years. The last thirty five years, really.

The last guy I had been in a serious relationship with was engaged. Statistically, I knew it was bound to happen at some point after our parting four years earlier. He wasn't a bad person, and our relationship had ended as ideally as a relationship can end. So I was shocked that when I read the announcement of his engagement my first reaction wasn’t joy for him and his future wife, but a sinking in my chest and a surprising swell of self-pity. Quickly followed by guilt- I should be happy for him that he found a life partner, not feeling like a failure because I was still alone. I briefly wondered if this was a sign of full-blown narcissism. It certainly didn’t seem like the sort of reaction a clergyperson should have to news of a wedding. Nevertheless, there I was, sitting in my office, crushed by someone else’s good news.

And it wasn’t the first time.

Though the involvement of an individual I had seriously contemplated a future with, who I had dated for a very intense year before things crumbled into unsustainability, added a unique dimension to my reaction, I had felt this way before. When my friends from childhood called one by one to share that they had gotten engaged. At weddings. At the happy news of pregnancies. At baptisms. When families were formed, and grew, while I was still single. Each time I had a flash of envy, followed immediately by shame and guilt that I couldn’t be overjoyed for these people who all mean so much to me, whose friendships I have cherished, who have lived through formational times in my life with me, helping share the load in tough times and celebrate in good. Was I really so selfish? Why couldn’t I just be happy for them?

In each case, I managed to set aside the envy and genuinely celebrate the good news. But it is still there, in the background- my own desire to be the one announcing to the world that I have found someone I love and who I want to spend the rest of my life with, that we are entering into a sacramental relationship in front of God and our families and friends. I struggle to stop the nagging mean questions and junior high theology - Why isn’t it me? Am I destined to be alone? Have I done something that God is punishing me for? I tell myself what everyone else tells me, that the right one is out there, I’ll meet him when I’m ready, but that doesn’t soothe the gnawing ache that I feel deep down that I might really be walking this path of life without a partner. And as I buy Christmas presents for my godchildren this year, I push down the twinge of wistfulness for the children I would like to have, the tiny socks for tiny soft feet, the caps for warm, sweet smelling heads.

Most of all, I try not to think about how my choice to follow God’s call into ministry might have sealed my life of singleness. I cherish the intimacy I am part of in the lives of all those I serve in my congregation. I have a close group of friends who support me like a family, and love me on my good days as well as my bad. But in the midst of it all there is always a yearning to find that one person God made for me. Every day I do everything I can to not show how much I want these things that have so far escaped me, to trust in God and this call, but I guess I fear pity most of all. And the shame of sitting with a happily married couple, or new parents, and feeling jealousy along with joy. I don’t have any answers for all of this, but in case I am not the only one, I pray that in confessing there might be a little less shame next time.

 

Comments

Oh, 'Name Withheld,' I understand ... I understand so well! And nobody really understands (although they do have the best intentions) than someone walking a similar road. I don't have words of wisdom, just the assurance that you are not alone ... and the sudden realization that I'm not alone either! Thanks.

Sometimes this blog is so much like when you're finally able to move after having to sit still for a while--that relief feeling. Thank you for writing this and expressing the reality of what so many of us go through. I am right there with you, and have been esp. wrestling with these feelings this past weekend, as TWO close friends called to say they were engaged during that time. I, too, don't have any answers, but I thank you for putting the questions out there and making all of us feel a little less alone.

Reading this, I felt I could have been the author. And oh, how that last paragraph strikes a particular chord. Though I was able to make my own wonderful announcement about growing my family from one to two through adoption recently, I still feel guilt-inducing envy at every engagement announcement (or heck, even a change to "in a relationship"), wedding photo, baby bump and baby arrival. I have made choices to follow God's call on my life in ministry and motherhood, and desperately hope that by doing so I haven't narrowed my partner possibilities down to nil. I try to keep my trust that God will call me in that way as well. But yes...it hurts, and I echo the other women who assure you that you are not alone in those feelings.

I would just like to sit with you in the midst of all the complexity of your emotions and silently affirm their presence within you and within me.

A beautiful and poignant reflection. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for voicing something very real that I wrestle with, too. There is comfort in hearing your own feelings and thoughts expressed by another. I've been struck by the irony that even as I love and celebrate this Advent season of waiting and preparation and hope, I am so tired of waiting and hoping to find a partner. One scripture that I've been turning to to remind me to hope lately is Isaiah 62:3-5.

One of my pastor-type, ministerial friends just got married after 30-ish years of adult singleness. I don't doubt she felt as you do, but she's darn happy now. Don't give up.

KC, clearly, I don't know who you are or what your or your friend's experience is to which you allude; I believe that you offer what you say with good intentions and a kind heart; but speaking as one who shares some of what this author describes it is not helpful to be told 'Don't give up'.

I feel that comments like that do down and fail to honor the very real life experience that is being offered here. I also think they also play right into the cultural conditioning that believes a single person is not complete. There is an element I feel when someone makes such a comment to me that I feel that I'm not being listened to because I'm daring to speak contrary to the happy couples/happy families rhetoric that dominates western society today at the cost of many.

Read this and dealt directly with it maybe 48 hours later. It's so common - thanks for speaking to it.

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