It’s Saturday, I’m single, and I’m surrounded by friends.
Eleven years ago today, it was Saturday, and I was saying goodbye to singlehood surrounded by friends. Unfortunately, I didn’t carry those friendships into marriage with me. And perhaps it made all the difference.
Today, I found myself confronted by marriage head on. I went to a wedding, followed by an anniversary party.
One of my dear friends who has midwifed me back into being single went and fell in love. Today, on the eleventh anniversary of my attempt at marriage, she tied the knot with her soulmate, a man whom I believe was an unrequested and most beautiful gift from God to a woman whose dedication to being of service is beyond words. I couldn’t be happier for her, although it is difficult to watch her go into that new state of being while I remain confused and feeling quite alone back here in the land of singleness. I feel like an abandoned little sister, wondering what will become of me now that my guide has crossed into territory through which I may never venture again.
But one of the great lessons she has taught me is that feelings are not facts. She is not abandoning me, or any of us. In fact, as part of her wedding ceremony, she made all of us there promise that we, too, would do all in our power to support their marriage. I remember that being a part of my Catholic wedding ceremony, too. The difference is that within days of the ceremony, I began shutting everyone out. I did the abandoning. I had some pretty ill-conceived notions about marriage – mostly that it was something that he and I had to do alone (with God, of course). And as I’m continuing to process the reality of being actually divorced, I’m being given many opportunities to examine just how distorted my thinking was.
When I told my brother that my marriage was falling apart, one of the first things he brought up was how my ex and I had isolated ourselves from our various communities. Some of it was just the natural course of events; most of our mutual friends were pals from high school, and they physically moved away. Beyond that, our support networks were very separate – his were gaming buddies and folks from work, and mine were my parents and a handful of friendships from church. We didn’t have the support we needed to sustain a marriage.
Over the years, I have blamed the marital breakup on a lot of factors, most notably our lack of a common faith language and shared spiritual vision for life. I had this fantasy (and I now call it a fantasy) that if only I had married someone of the same faith and we pursued a life of shared ministry, I’d have a wonderful, healthy sacramental marriage.
Then two things happened. The first is that I’ve had the opportunity to test the waters of dating with a really nice Catholic man. That has taught me numerous lessons, most notably that I’m still healing and I’m a bit too insecure to entertain romantic relationships, despite how nice it is to have a shared faith community and the comfort of companionship.
The second thing that happened is that my faith community invited a wonderful musician to lead a parish mission for several days. At the very end of the program, he asked us for prayers, specifically for his marriage. He told us that in spite of being married for twenty-some years and being devoted Catholics who had embarked upon a life of shared ministry, their marriage needed help. Lots of help. Even a Retrovaille retreat (http://www.retrouvaille.org). This man, who on the surface had exactly what I thought an ideal marriage should look like, broke through my fantasy with a hard dose of reality. And in witnessing about his marriage difficulties, he mentioned how he and his wife had become isolated from their parish, and how important the faith community is to keeping marriages together.
The anniversary party this evening served only to confirm this. My friends Scott and Connie were celebrating their 50th Anniversary. Not 50 years. 50 months. And he got down on one knee, pulled out a ring, and in front of their community of friends asked her if she would stay married to him for the next 50 months.
What today’s activities have demonstrated to me is that commitment is impossible without community. And though I stated that it’s Saturday, I’m single, and I’m surrounded by friends, the truth is that I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of developing meaningful friendships and fostering a community of support. Being single means nurturing the gift I’ve been given until it blooms and puts forth fruit. That’s what happened for my friend who has redefined what September 29 means to me. She wasn’t looking for love. She was tending her own garden and found unexpected yield. And as she likes to remind me from time to time, if I want what she’s got, I have to do what she did. I can’t wait for her to get back from her honeymoon so I can learn more about what to do next.