When I speak at a college, no matter the topic they give me, I start the same way: Thank you for having me. You are significant with or without a significant other.
I say it every time because our culture is weirdly obsessed with romance and couples and being part of a matched set.
I say it every time because some of the people I love most in the world are single—either because they haven’t yet found their person, or because their marriage has ended. Honestly, I’ve reached that age when I hear more divorce announcements than wedding bells.
And sometimes I wonder if there would be fewer divorce announcements if we weren’t so hung up on marriage as a status symbol or accomplishment.
I love being married to Aaron. He’s my person, and every day I’m thankful for the life we’re making together. But being married doesn’t mean my life is any more valuable or important or significant than the lives of my single friends.
A friend was in town over the weekend, and just as he left, he said “Hey–we broke up. I wanted to tell you. And I wanted to thank you for always reminding me that it’s okay to be single.”
He’s an old friend, in the awesome little brother category, a smart and sensitive person who’d been trying to make a relationship work. And there was a lot of pressure for him to make it work, because it would turn him into that magical thing our culture loves to celebrate—a married person!
And I’m so happy that my you are significant with or without a significant other mantra was valuable to him. That’s kind of one of my things—one of the things I love to tell people. A couple other things I love to tell people: go to counseling, make your own salad dressing, just about anyone can run a marathon. But I digress.
I love to tell people that it’s okay to be single because so many of my very favorite people are single. And it breaks my heart when they feel like they’re less or half or waiting around for their real lives to start. That’s garbage.
You are significant with or without a significant other. Marriage isn’t like being named prom queen. It’s a partnership, one I love being a part of. But it doesn’t make me more special. It’s not a status symbol.
For whatever set of reasons, our culture loves the Game of Life two-in-the-front-seat way of living. But that’s not the only way. And you’re not less-than for being solo in your car in this season. And I’m so sorry if sometimes you feel that. That’s awful.
Here’s the truth: some of the worst people I know are married. I don’t know how it happens. And some of the truly best people I know are single. I don’t know how that happens, either.
But what I do know is it’s not about the fundamental value of the person in question. Your value is not up for grabs, and certainly your value is not riding on a cultural obsession with romance and tulle and diamonds.
You are significant with or without a significant other.
A few thoughts for my single friends, who I just adore:
Don’t wait for marriage to start your life. Oh, man. My single friends do this so well. I love all the ways that my single friends are living well, with a great sense of adventure and purpose. They’re starting non-profits, traveling the world, creating homes with great style and creativity, contributing to their communities with so much love and honesty.
One of the very worst things about the whole wedding tradition is that we help people set up households when they get married, communicating that homes and nice things are for married people. Why should you have to be married to own a decent knife? Why do we only give married people towels and china? Shouldn’t every person, married or not, have a decent coffee pot? Isn’t that sort of a basic human right?
I remember when a single friend said, listen, I thought I’d be married by now. I thought I’d find that person and we’d buy a house together and buy furniture together. But just because that hasn’t happened, I don’t have to use an upside down milk crate for a nightstand, like I live in a dorm room, do I?
No, dear sister. Grown-ups should have good knives and nightstands and homes that have been created with love and attentiveness. You don’t have to wait for a partner to invest in your space, in yourself, in your life.
At the same time, being single is an opportunity, even if it’s not one you choose. Spend it. Singleness gives you a little more flexibility (unless you’re single parenting, which is a whole different deal, and which means I think you’re absolutely amazing.).
You might not want to be single right now. I get it. But it affords you some freedoms, and you should take them, every single one of them. I’m so proud of my single friends who are traveling like mad and living in interesting places and training for super-time-consuming races and getting fascinating graduate degrees.
Not every season affords this flexibility, and if you have it, grab it. Take it. Use it up. Please don’t wish away this season just because it doesn’t look the way you thought it would. What does singleness afford you? Time to write that book? Space to learn that skill? Flexibility to spend the summer in that dreamy place? Even if it’s not what you wanted, or not what you planned, how can you spend the opportunity you’ve been given in this season?
And while there are moments when you don’t want to be single, please do know that there are those moments when married people don’t want to be married. There are those moments when parents don’t want to be parents. It’s how life is, for all of us.
A thought for my married friends:
Don’t miss out on friendships with amazing people because they’re single and their rhythm of life is different than yours. My single friends add so much to my life. My life would be so much less rich and fun and challenging if I was only around married people. Lame.
And don’t assume that because someone’s single, they don’t want to hang out with married people, or people with kids. Our Cooking Club is a mix of married and single. Our small group is a mix of married and single. Some of the sweetest connections my kids have aren’t with my mom friends but with our single friends, and some of the most necessary and loving conversations I’ve had in recent months have been with single friends.
We all lose when we spend too much time with people right in the very same demographic. Life gets too small.
Dear, dear single friends: if I could reach through the screen, I’d put my hands on your shoulders, and I’d remind you as often as you need to hear it: you are significant with or without a significant other.
Being in a dating relationship or a marriage relationship doesn’t validate you or make you more.
You are extraordinary, enough, more than enough.
Don’t let a multi-billion dollar wedding industry tell you who you are. What do they know about your particular awesomeness?
You are significant, with or without a significant other.