Becoming a Singular Sensation

by Dawn Eden

A New York City university recently offered continuing-education students a course on “Living Single.” “Now, more than at any other time, the single lifestyle is viewed as a viable, desirable choice for men and women,” read the course description. “Whether they find themselves single again, or single still, many adults are not completely comfortable flying solo—or confident in their ability to do it successfully. Topics include: viewing the contemporary world; relating to couples; the dating scene, how to be part of it (or not); and battling the blues that sometimes arise. Enrich your life with resources on what to read, pursue, reflect on, and talk about to gain confidence with single living.” As a final note, the description added, “No grades are given for this course.” Phew! What a relief. After getting your certificate in “Living Single,” wouldn’t you hate to have to confess to a new love interest that you got a C minus in “viewing the contemporary world”? 

I don’t want to be unfair. Since the divorce rate spiked in the early 1970s, society has become more atomized than ever before, leading the unmarried and unattached to feel increasingly isolated. So I can understand why some people might be attracted to a course that claims to help singles face the unique challenges of their state of life. But honestly, as I read that course description touting, “the single lifestyle,” it all seems to boil down to a single word: lack. 

The paradigm for modern singlehood is yin without yang. To avoid “pronoun trouble,” I’ll speak of it from my own experience as a woman, but this by no means applies to ladies only; you can switch the references to the sexes anywhere in this chapter and the point will be the same: the modern single woman’s goal is to relate to love interests from a single perspective and to have fulfilling relationships with them without ever becoming part of anything larger than herself. As my parents’ generation would have said, she is on her own trip. 

For the unmarried woman who harbors the least bit of longing for something deeper, this modern-singlehood rut ultimately devolves into the familiar merry-go-round of pursuing, or being pursued, by almost-but-not-quite-right love interests, revolving around the hope that the ever-distant Mr. Right will come along one day and stop the music. During the years when I believed I was called to marriage, I found that whole mind-set terribly stifling, and I think most other singles do too—they certainly complain about it enough. Yet, most seem helpless to find an alternative. 

The truth is that there is another way, but few singles want to think about it. No one wants to get off of a merry-go-round while it’s still spinning. Sometimes, however, that is the only way to avoid a ride to nowhere. 

A woman who has the courage to step out into the unknown, risking temporary loneliness for a shot at lasting joy, is more than a “single.” She is singular. Instead of defining herself by what she lacks—a relationship with a man—she defines herself by what she has: a relationship with God. 

A single woman bases her actions on how they will or won’t affect her single, lacking state. She goes to parties based on whether or not there will be new men to meet; if there won’t, then the food and drink had better be first-rate. She chooses female friends who likewise define themselves as single and lacking, thus reinforcing her own cynicism. 

But a singular woman bases her actions on how they will enable her to be the person she believes God wants her to be. She trusts that God has a plan for her and that no matter what suffering may come, she will find joy if she seeks nothing but God’s will, making the best use of the gifts she has been given. She’ll still enjoy parties and meeting people—but as ends in and of themselves, not just as a means of finding a man. 

A single woman, in seeking a husband, feels the need to act in a coy, sly, or deceptive manner—even if she normally would never think of intentionally misleading someone. Somehow, within the parameters of a budding relationship, to be cagey with a man doesn’t seem wrong to her. Likewise, she accepts a level of superficiality from a man she’s dating that she wouldn’t tolerate from her friends. She’s not stupid—she just loses perspective when facing the possibility of a relationship. Her brain compartmentalizes dating into its own relative morality: “all’s fair in love and war.” 

A singular woman behaves with an honesty and lack of guile that will appear arresting to the love interest who expects a superficial relationship—as well it should. With her words and actions, she is speaking a deeper language, one that can be understood only by the kind of man for whom she longs—one of integrity. Such a man will understand that the singular woman’s straightforwardness and absence of pretense is rooted in deep respect for him as a fellow child of God. For example, Miss Singular is not going to suggest to her love interest that he faces competition for her if that is not currently the case. She expects him to be equally truthful in return. 

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between a single woman and a singular woman is that of gratitude. Because the single woman defines herself by her lack, she is plagued with a sense of sadness and resentment at what she doesn’t have. When positive things happen in her life, she may be thankful, but she may just as well respond with a sense of entitlement—”At last, I’m getting what everyone else has.” 

The singular woman not only expresses more gratitude than the single woman but also expresses it for different things. She’s grateful not only for things she receives but also for the opportunities she has to give. She knows in her heart the spirit of G. K. Chesterton’s words: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

Being single places you in a mental cage where your value is measured by what you do, whether good or bad: how well you are able to attract men, acquire friends, make money, say witty things, and put forth other social commodities. Ultimately, your capacity in these areas is finite; you can do only so much before you’ve exhausted your resources. The world may say you can never be too rich or too thin, but all it takes is a look at celebrities’ love lives to see that wealth and slenderness don’t guarantee happiness. (That’s not to say I wouldn’t be very happy to squeeze into the size 6 silver lamé 1960s minidress I bought for $45 dollars on what turned out to be the only day of my life that I ever weighed under 115 pounds. On second thought, however, it probably wouldn’t be well received at the Dominican-run school of theology I now attend.) 

To be singular is to embark on a wide excursion of discovery. No more is your identity limited to qualities that can be defined by the check-off boxes in an online profile or personal ad. It’s no longer what you do, but who you are. Prayerfully, you strive to develop inner qualities, including empathy, patience, humility, and faith in spite of hardship. 

Such a transition is not easy, especially when your temptation around an attractive man is to shift back into your single self. There’s a comforting familiarity in interacting with others on a superficial level and knowing that they will interact with you in the same way. But I can tell you from experience that the more you develop a singular identity, the more confident you will become around men and in every area of your life, because you will be comfortable in your own skin. 


This excerpt from The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition): Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On by Dawn Eden, is reprinted with permission of the publisher, Ave Maria Press. You can read more about the book here.

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