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.