I Let My Relationship Status Ruin My Relationship With God
I was somewhere around the age of 15 when my subconscious began to internalize the idea that singleness was going to be a way of life for me rather than a temporary state of being. I say that because that was the age when I began to pity the single women lining my church home's pews and feel a sense of disgust at the thought that I could one day be one of them. Nothing in life suggested that I'd one day be one of the women the preacher tried to pawn off on every unsuspecting single man who stepped foot into the sanctuary, other than the fact that I was crushing on a church bad boy who'd have nothing to offer me but tired letters from a juvenile detention center, but something in my gut at that age knew eternal solidarity was very much a possibility, and so it was.
What's interesting is I can't remember receiving any messages that outright suggested being a single woman was a bad thing, but there was something about the attention placed on these women that told me their status was less than desirable. I found the way their names were dropped into announcements about visiting pastor/song leader so and so embarrassing. I never wanted to hear my name spoken from the pulpit, whether called out in the name of prayer or penis. There was also something about the fact that these were the same women who came into the female dorm rooms during youth retreats and removed the phones from the walls so that boys couldn't call us that felt off. I didn't even know what a double standard was at that age but I knew something was odd about girls being penalized for attracting the attention of christian boys -- the very ones we were told to save our virginity for. I also felt like these women were projecting their own missteps on us. Just because some of them had ended up young moms didn't mean the rest of us didn't know how to resist Satan's temptations. At that age, my friends and I were still asking Sunday school teachers whether two-stepping with a boy at a school dance was a sin because we might incite lust; sex was hardly even a consideration. Plus, my own mom had me at 20; if anyone was going to show me how to navigate the male gaze it was going to be her.
Except I can't recall my mom telling me anything related to men other than never let one put his hands on you. And while she meant that in the sense of physical abuse, I couldn't get past the fact that no boy seemed to want to put his hands on me in any kind of way. By 18 that started to feel like a problem. My friends were talking about boys wanting to do x,y, and z with them and I was still looking for my first kiss. And once I got one from a boy who decided the fact that I wouldn't have sex with him was intolerable I started to feel like I'd been duped. By 20 I was convinced I was. I watched friends get boyfriends, have sex, and live life without visible signs of pain and I wondered who and what I was saving myself for. I was also convinced love and marriage were unlikely if by that age I hadn't even managed to successfully capture a man's genuine interest. So I decided I might as well feed the lust brewing within me, lest I become a 40-year-old virgin. And so I did. And I didn't feel any sort of way about it.
The man I lost my virginity to didn't love me and he wouldn't ever love me, so I thought, and I think that's what I liked about him most, the fact that I knew exactly what I was dealing with and emotions weren't a part of the equation. He wanted to have sex and so did I, and for a while that felt fine, until I realized a pattern: sex was all any man seemed to want from me. Nobody was asking me to be their girlfriend or to take me out. They wanted to chill. And by that age I'd finally learned "chill" was code for sex -- shout out to all the men who directed me to the exit once they realized I wasn't down to fuck for teaching me that lesson. As a result, I wasn't doing much chilling anymore, but I was doing a lot of questioning. Namely asking God why he made me this way. Why I was unlovable. Why I had to be alone.
That questioning would continue for years to come. As ridiculous as it sounds, the fact that everything else in my life was going relatively well made me question God even more. It felt like he was intentionally keeping me single and that angered me. My childhood church always taught us that we have to be dependent on God and since I wore my financial and professional independence on my chest like Superman, I decided God wouldn't let me have a man so that I would forever be dependent on him in some way. And that, frankly, was some bullshit. How could I worship a God who would deny me something I'd desired for so long? Y'all told me all I had to do was let the desires of my heart be known and have the faith of a mustard seed and voilà. But I'd been trying that since the age of 13; that seed wasn't bearing an ounce of fruit. I'm not going to lie, by this point my faith on the matter might've been the size of a chia seed, but I still knew who to turn to in prayer. I knew God was the one from whom all my blessings flowed and, unfortunately, stopped, I surmised.
And so I prayed about this desire more than anything, which some pastor later implied during his sermon was a demonstration of my lack of faith. If I really thought God was going to come through for me why did I need to keep asking for the same thing over and over again? Touché Pastor whose name I don't remember. That must be why when money was low and anxiety about my career was high and I said a prayer about those things and didn't obsess over them things somehow worked out. At one point I had so much faith I quit my full-time job and started freelancing because I knew being belittled in the workplace wasn't a way of life I could sustain. In fact, when a week or two after making that decision an editor contacted me about writing for her publication I developed a mantra that I still live by to this day: You never know what God has in store for you.
But when it comes to matters of the heart that phrase has never seemed to mean much. All that's ever been in store is disappointment and, again, that angered me. Why do freelancing opportunities pop up through no effort of my own when I need money? Why do I get to choose between accepting a job at a new company and taking a significant raise to stay put when tensions at my company rise? Why are my only options settle or be lonely when it comes to men? That must be what God wants, I tell myself. But that proclamation doesn't provide the kind of comfort it does other believers who ask God to remove anything from their life that he doesn't want for them. Instead, it enrages me because if it's not good for man to be alone then why has he decided that's how I should be? Why does everyone else get a helpmate and a rib and I have to figure out life on my own?
So while I never made a declaration that I wouldn't go back to church to avoid being that girl -- i.e. that single girl with no prospective life partner in sight being pegged off on every potential bachelor -- subconsciously, I began to pull away. I didn't want to be fed tales of false hope about how my day would soon come. I also didn't want to be told I didn't have a right to my feelings, which is the last sermon I remember sitting through in a church in Brooklyn which I loved until the pastor essentially likened depression to ungratefulness.
But I can't deny that when I get caught up in my singleness, ungrateful is what I feel. I've experienced things in life I've truly never dreamed of. I've met people I've only wished I could and survived rats, roaches, cats and cowards in my bed -- literally. I'm not owed anything above and beyond what God has already done for me, but I can't forgive him for denying me love. And the audacity of believing God has to answer to me for that only makes me feel worse. But not bad enough to stop feeling that way, to stop questioning him, to cease wanting what I want and feeling like the only thing standing between me and that desire is him.
And so I praise him in the morning when I wake up because I know he didn't have to allow me to, and I curse him when the sun goes down because I don't get why he bothered to. And then I usually wake up in the middle of the night and ask forgiveness for being an entitled asshole. It's a cycle I'd like to end; one I declared I'd put an end to a little over a year ago when I realized how ridiculous it was to let the absence of this one little aspect of the human existence overshadow all the others. But like the song says, "It begins to tell 'round midnight." And it's around that hour when I'm alone with my thoughts that"it really gets bad" -- both my loneliness and my shame.
The plot twist in all this has been attempting to comprehend recent revelations that some of the men from my past did in fact like me, nearly loved me even, but didn't gather that I had an ounce of interest. That's become a familiar tale, one I even sometimes took pride in because I never wanted a man to think he had me right where he wanted me. But it's only now that I realize the price of playing that game, the fact that God doesn't bear the brunt of responsibility for whatever love I think I've missed out on, I do. But even when I thought I took that revelation to heart and declared myself "open," I've retreated to old, destructive thought patterns when that interest hasn't immediately been returned. I'm undesirable, I tell myself, unloveable, and destined to be alone. And while just looking at those words conjures up thoughts of my preacher saying "that ain't nothing but the devil," there's still something inside me that wonders whether God is just waiting for me to accept my fate so we can all move on.
But even as sealed as I feel my single fate is, I still haven't gotten to a place of accepting it. My best friend would say the fact that I have that desire at all means one day it will be fulfilled. I, on the other hand, cynically think it's still a joke. I picture God and Lucifer just sitting together, looking down on me, thinking, "what's she gonna do now?" kind of like the story of Job, except I'm nowhere near as pious as he was and I've already failed on that whole cursing God test.
As I work through these feelings, all I can hope is that God truly does know my heart. And that he can forgive me for hardening it toward him and toward other men from whom I claim to want affection. Something inside of me knows my current circumstances can't be the end of the story, but until I can figure out how to create the life I say I want I remain stuck. I continue pointing a finger at the very man who does want to love me and rejecting him because his love doesn't come in the form I think it should. Paul might've been convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God but I think I've done a pretty good job of distancing myself from him. I'm also certain the sooner I can forgive myself for doing so, the more I'll realize I already have love waiting for me.