This past Christmas my siblings and I gifted my parents with a family photo shoot. The only professional photos we had ever taken were at my brother’s and sister’s weddings and for the church directory when I still had giant poofy bangs and matched my sister in a checkered suspender dress thing in the early 90s. (It was a confusing time for fashion.)
Last week we finally gathered for our photo shoot: my dad, mom, brother & sister-in-law, sister & brother-in-law, and me. I had some mild anxiety going into it because I’m the 7th wheel in our family, and nowhere will that be more apparent than on an oversized canvas in my parents’ living room.
You’re the only one who even notices, I tried to remind myself. You have an important place in this family.
Our photographer (who is super talented and great and totally undeserving of any sort of lashing-out-in-bitterness) arranged us in our first pose on a cool wooden deck in the middle of a park forest. “Do you want to stand together as couples?” she asked.
I responded with something
gracious and kind jerky and sarcastic like “Yeah! Great idea!”
I ended up somewhere in the middle of the line, attempting to hide my lack-of-spouseness.
At a separate location, she spread us out, arranging everyone in pairs, and asked if I wanted to stand by myself or with my parents. I decided to stand with my parents, not sure which formation would be most embarrassing when shared on the internet in the coming weeks:
“My physical placement in this photo is the visual depiction of my actual aloneness.”
“I’m standing with my parents, which doesn’t mask my aloneness as well as I’d hoped it would.”
The photographer didn’t do anything wrong. This isn’t one of those “10 Things to Never Say to a Single Person” lists. I’m sensitive, yes, but I’m aware that there are bigger issues in the world to discuss than the fact that I’m single. It’s just that reminders of my singleness seem to be popping up more often than usual lately, and it’s an actual true thing that I think about in REAL LIFE. Not just on this blog or when I spend hours alone browsing Pinterest in my sweats or singing the Hamilton soundtrack as loudly as possible in the shower. But, like, most of the time, including now.
I don’t think I’m lonely. I’ve pretty much mastered not being in a relationship, and I’m kind of good at it, if I do say so myself. Sometimes my social media feeds are like “Hey, Tara! Look at everyone’s cute babies and perfect husbands! Bet you’re lonely now, huh?” and I’m like “YOU’RE THE WORST, FACEBOOK AND/OR INSTAGRAM!” and then I give the photo a heart anyway because I can’t resist cute babies and perfect husbands.
It’s not loneliness so much as it is knowing how much I have to give and desiring to share my life with someone who wants to kick ass with me and love people with me and serve Jesus with me. And also having someone who can permanently pick me up from the airport because, as any single person will tell you, arranging rides to and from the airport is literally at the top of the list of #singlepeopleproblems.
I’m currently in the process of buying a house. I had originally planned to wait until the fall, but then I found THE ONE. This precious little 70-year-old house with wood floors and tall windows that needs a lot of love. Eeep! Nothing about the process of attempting to acquire this house was normal or easy, but I was so in love and just had such feelings about my future home. I could see it in its finished, fixed-up state when I closed my eyes.
The day I got the inspection results back, I met with my parents to discuss financial stuff. After adding up the costs of necessary repairs and remodeling, it became abundantly clear that I wouldn’t be able to afford it, and that reality crushed my little soul. I was so sure it was the one!
My parents came with me to look at the house initially. My dad was there for the inspection. I went to them for financial advice. The whole process was enlightening to the ways I need my parents differently than my siblings do. Differently than the ways my married friends need their parents. It reminded me that, while I’m not actually alone, I don’t have a partner.
My friend Melissa recently asked me if I had any updates on my romantic life. I laughed and told her that if I had an update, I would have led with that information. “I’d love to be in a relationship,” I said. “I just don’t know how to get into one.” Life and the ways of meeting people get strange after college. You have to, like, “go places” and “do things” and “be available” and “talk to strangers” and “shower regularly” to have a shred of a chance of meeting someone. I tend to struggle in some of those areas. I also struggle with making eye contact with any person I find remotely attractive. None of that is conducive to the search for a partner in your 30s.
Whether it’s going solo to a wedding, standing awkwardly in a family photo, buying a house alone, or scrolling through Instagram while hibernating on any given Saturday night, my singleness cannot be separated from me. It is part of my identity, and while I fully understand and accept that — and sometimes even embrace it (gasp!) — it’s nice when it’s not all up in my face on the regular.
I went to an open house a few days ago to ease the pain of losing the first house. It was much nicer than the first house and was move-in ready with lots of potential, but I just didn’t feel anything there. “I don’t feel the feelings,” I told my mom. She compared my need to experience feelings when choosing a house to the process of finding a man. And I don’t think she’s wrong.
God put a dream in my heart that I would buy a house this year. That I would use it to love and serve others, and I would put down roots and grow there. My first try at it didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean it will be this way forever. If He planted that seed of a dream, He will be faithful, and I will find my home when the time is right.
He also put a dream in my heart that someday I would do life with a partner. Someone who knows and loves me more deeply than I can currently grasp or believe. It hasn’t worked out yet, but that doesn’t mean it will be this way forever. If He planted that seed of a dream, He will be faithful, and I will find my person when the time is right.
Until then, I plan to proudly display the family photos we took in the forest last week. They may serve as a reminder of my singleness, but they will also serve as a reminder that I DO have an important place in my family — and in my friendships and workplace and ministry. Plus, I think I was looking pretty good that day. Feel free to distribute them to your cute single friends as you wish.