I walk out of the front door into the morning air. The cold immediately coils itself around my ankles, my wrists, my neck, my face. The breath escapes my mouth like constantly curling fingers. It's mostly dark, but the edge of the horizon has started to burn and glow with the deep red of sunrise. As I make my way to the car, a flash of purple in the midst of all the gray and brown catches my eye.
A handful of spring flowers have popped out of the earth around the mailbox. I stop and stare at them. Even in the low light of dawn, they seem to shine bright. I stand there with the flowers, all of us shivering in the cold, and all of us quietly saying the same thing:
Spring, we're longing for you, desperate for you to come.
It's been a long winter--too long. In more ways than one. I don't recall ever needing spring as urgently as I have recently. I'm weary of this season, and I'm ready to move on to the next one.
Speaking of transition, I'm at a weird spot, friends.
Let me be honest--when I got married at 22, there was absolutely a feeling of relief: Oh, thank God I found my person. I do NOT want to be one of those people still looking when I'm 30. Every person who finally meets their love and walks down the aisle with them feels this, too: an overwhelmingly freeing sense that you dodged the struggling-single-person bullet. Come on, married people. You've been there.
I was there. I've felt it. I thought I was in the clear, that my worst fears about being single and alone were all but buried in the grave.
Hold the phone.
I'm in my late twenties, and I'm single again. Back to square one. Much like the characters in almost every single story the boys in my 7th grade classes write, the fear of being single and alone has come back to life, full zombie mode. Trust me--I would love nothing more than to not worry about this, not think about it, put my head down, and focus on how awesome single life can be. (And so much of it can be.)
But I do think about it. I don't live a normal life, but I have normal desires. I don't know how to reconcile those two.
My "bachelor" existence is a unique one--I'm newly single at 29, have a professional teaching career, and am a visible leader at a church of 1,400-plus people--which all means that my life is constantly under the microscope, there's hardly any public place where I'm not going to be recognized, and best/worst of all--people have supreme trust in me. People trust me with the well-being of their kids. People trust me to do my job well. People trust me as a leader. People trust me with their personal and spiritual baggage and journeys. People trust me to do the right things.
It's heavy, man. Every day, I feel insanely blessed to do what I do and have the life I live. And every day, I feel insanely burdened with the responsibility that comes with it all.
Here's a secret: I have no idea what I'm doing or how to handle it.
People who are not me have all kinds of opinions about how I should proceed with my life at this point, especially regarding the love department. If I'm really honest, I have a huge temptation to lift my holy hands up to everyone--with only two fingers raised. Know what I mean? I won't--but there are times I want to. Part of this process has involved me learning how to tune out all the noise, the voices, the opinions, the judgment. Fortunately, I have a tight team of really wise, insightful, and loving friends whom I trust with my life and who remind me what's okay to feel and what I might want to avoid. I owe a great deal to them.
There are also the friends who tell me, "You'll definitely find love again." While I appreciate the heart behind that sentiment, the truth is this: I have no guarantees about my future. Nowhere in life's rules does it state that I'm entitled to a When-Harry-Met-Sally happy ending. Good people are not promised good love lives. That leaves me conflicted. There's a part of me that's excited for the unknown, the adventure of it all. There's another part of me that has a natural desire for love. It's really easy for me to want to find a channel for that desire.
The way I see it, I essentially have three options:
- Sit around while I hope and pray I find "real love." Which is like watching a pot of water boil. Which leads to impatience, which leads to frustration, which leads to a marathon of How I Met Your Mother, but only the episodes where Ted meets Victoria (a.k.a. depression).
- Make it happen, Cap'n! I could jump into the first and easiest opportunities that pop up for relationships. The path(s) of least resistance. I could find myself in places I swore I'd never go looking for people (which, for me, is almost everywhere). Or to quote Death Cab, "This is the sound of settling." Bah-bah, bah-bah...
These first two don't sit well with me. The major risk I'd run (and it's not the only one) is this: I'd play into the idea that I should be saving myself, my energy, my creativity, my love for some hypothetical person or situation that may never come along.
It's easy to do. I already find myself doing it. One of my biggest problems is that I take my closest friends for granted sometimes and expend little energy to love them well--I'm short with them, I'm not fully present when I'm with them, I don't ask thoughtful questions or listen to them closely enough, I treat them like they're automatic, like they're a given in my life. I treat them in those ways, but then I think I'll magically be able to pull it all together for some pretend person I'll meet someday.
I'd be wrong.
But there's a better way, a third option, and it's a message that has been slowly sinking in for the last couple of months: Do not save myself for some hypothetical future. Love well now.
I'm prepared for the possibility that I could be single for the rest of my life. It's not what I want, but I acknowledge that it could happen. I'm not guaranteed another shot at romantic love. Heck, I'm not even guaranteed next week or tomorrow. What is guaranteed is today and the people I have in my life right now. Those people--my friends, my family, my coworkers, my students--they deserve everything I have.
I'm not going to set aside love in some reserve account--love gains no interest while it sits. Love is meant to be spent now.
The best thing I can do with my life is to love the people in it well. In every way I know how, with everything I have. There's no time to worry about next week or next fall or 2015. There is only now. I don't want to look back on this period of my life and realize that I spent it worrying and sitting on my haunches, that I wasted months or years longing instead of doing.
I have no strategy to my life other than that right now: love well. Don't hold back. Don't wait for life like it's a delayed train because I'm already on that train, and it's moving fast. I can't worry about where it will take me tomorrow. I want to make sure I don't miss what's right in front of me. Today. Now.
I roll the windows of my car down and let the breeze fill my car with warm air. Even through the dark tint of my sunglasses, the sun makes me squint my eyes as it floods my car with light.
It finally feels like spring, even if only for a day. It's enough to make me smile as I pull out of the parking lot and head home. It's enough that I finally feel my bones, my spirit, my heart thawing out. It's enough for now.