If You're Single, Be Free. (But Not Too Free)

What’s the best part about being single?

The freedom.

Freedom to do what you want, when you want, how you want. You want to go out tonight? You don’t have to check in with somebody. You want to buy yourself a bunch of new books on Amazon? You don’t have to run it by your spouse. (And you don’t have to hear about how you already have four unread books sitting on your nightstand.) You want the thermostat set low so you don't rack up the electric or gas bill? Bring on the cold. You want the thermostat set high so your soul doesn't freeze? Heat it up, baby.

You’re free to watch whatever show on Netflix you want—no judgment, no arguments, no matter how many times you've watched this episode of Parks and Rec. You can go to bed when you want—stay up as late as your heart desires, or call it a night earlier than your grandmother would (with no one waking you up because they're stomping around the house like a drunk buffalo).

It’s good to be single and free, right?

I believe this wholeheartedly: you should enjoy being single. You should take advantage of all it has to offer. Learn to be content in being single. Chase your dreams. See the world. Eat ice cream for dinner. Everything is a possibility. We can discover so much about ourselves when we set out on our own.

I believe all of that—but I believe the freedom of being single has a downside. To understand it, let's look at marriage for a minute.

One of the perceived downsides to marriage--being tied down, the "tethered-ness," the responsibility to and for someone else--is actually one of its most valuable elements.

Why? Because contrary to our romanticized ideas of it, marriage's primary function isn't to make you happy or have you singing along to "You're Still the One" by Shania Twain every day. Marriage is actually one of the top vehicles to a necessary goal: killing your ego.

Dr. Kelly Flanagan, in an important and necessary piece, says that marriage is "...where our egos go to sleep so our souls can awaken, like squinting eyes in the bright light of a brand new day. It’s where ego-things—like condemnation, competition, and condescension—go to die, and soul-things—like empathy, courage, sacrifice, commitment, forgiveness, unity, and peace—grow and blossom and flourish."

Marriage isn't a ball-and-chain that keeps you from freedom--it's the fire that melts your selfish parts down and molds a better version of you. Dr. Flanagan writes, "Marriage is the space in the world that prepares us to change it from the inside out." Some people, even married people, don't realize that. Sometimes, they forget it. Sometimes, they try to fight it or run from it. When they do get it, though--when they let marriage do its intended work, when they stick with the process, marriage makes them better, fuller versions of themselves.

If the lack of "freedom" in a marriage can be its most valuable trait, the abundance of freedom for a single person might be his or her biggest obstacle to growth.

I know this. Despite the surplus of amazing relationships and community I have, my reality is this--if I want to, I can fly under everyone's radar for long periods of time. I can disappear, fade into black, check out for days at a time without someone noticing. Sure, I can reply to someone's text message or email, but that only lets them know I haven't been mauled by a bear or drowned in a river. The point is that if I want to avoid working on me, if I want to feed my ego or run from my problems, I can do it much easier than a married person can. When you're married, it's much more difficult to check out, and the consequences are more immediate if and when you do.

Consider the Shangri La for most single people as they grow older: ditching the roomies and living by yourself. When you live by yourself, you take one more step toward independence, self-sustenance, freedom--and you let your ego grow a bit more. Oh, I get it--living with other people can be the worst. How hard is it to understand that if you leave dishes in the sink without soaking them, you make it a hundred times harder to clean them? No, your annoying girlfriend can't move in here, too. What the heck is growing in this bathtub? And for the love of all that is good, the toilet paper roll should be OVER not UNDER. But living by yourself--it's one more part of your life over which you've asserted your preferences, your wants, your way.

When you're single, you run your schedule based on what's going on with you. You spend your money on what you want or need. You slowly become more and more the sun in your own solar system. Everything else begins to orbit you or becomes space debris just passing by.

When we place our freedom and independence above all else, we avoid some valuable work that needs to be done in our lives. And if you're someone who wants to be married someday, think about the turn you're assuming you'll be able to make with ease--going from doing what you want, the way you want it, to giving up what you want and the way you want it. You'd be exiting the expressway at a hundred miles per hour, expecting a smooth merge with someone moving at thirty-five miles per hour. Expect some wreckage.

This, however, is not a call for single people to get married. Nor does it mean you need to go on Craigslist tonight and enlist some roommates. Far from it. Instead of making you feel like you need a spouse or a roomie, I'd like to ask a question of any of us who are single: 

Whom or what do we have in place to check our egos?

Married people have their ego-check built into their daily lives. They have people who need them in some capacity and vice versa. If they don't face their issues, it affects the people in their household directly. A wife who needs you to be kinder forces you to deal with your selfishness. A husband who needs you to understand his pain forces you to deal with your selfishness. One or two or seven kids will force you to deal with your selfishness. You can't just not come home. You can't just disappear from your family's radar. You have to face your selfishness, and therefore, you have to grow.

For the rest of us who aren't married, we have to work a bit harder to deflate our egos.

Here's what some of that looks like for me. I have to force myself to open up to my friends--the ones I consider my people, my inner circle--about what's going on with me. That includes what excites me, what I'm stressed about, what I'm hoping, and what has me feeling low. I share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I don't try to sugarcoat myself to them. It's not anyone else's job to pry me open; I can't always wait for someone to dig into my personal life--it's something I need to initiate. When I do, they help me do the work of chipping away at my ego and encouraging the best parts of me.

It also looks like placing myself in positions of responsibility. For me, it's church. For you, it might be community work. It might be babysitting for your sister. The idea is there's something in my life where I have to show up--people are counting on me. I'm responsible to them and for them. If I blow off my responsibility, people get hurt. I need that. Single people need to be in spots like that because there are immediate consequences if we decide to be selfish.

There are dozens of other systems we can install to check our egos. Many of them look like giving up some of our freedom. I think that's a good thing. 

To be single is to embrace the need to be free, to be independent, to set out on our own and sail toward the horizon. To be single is also to embrace the need for an anchor, to keep roots in the ground, to allow ourselves to need and be needed by others.

To be single is to do the work to have the fullest life we can. To feed our hopes, our dreams, and our souls and simultaneously keep our egos from stealing that full life from us.