28 February 2008

Cross Stitches and Doilies

I went to spend some time with friends one evening recently, and we were at the home of a middle-aged female relative of one of my friends. The home was, by all appearances, a fairly typical suburban, mormon home. Flowery decor, cute epithets in stitching on the walls, a piano with a little light atop it, doilies, the whole nine yards.

This lady isn't married, and I would guess she never has been, but I don't know that at all because I didn't ask my friend about it. She's a tough-looking woman with whom I'd rather not tangle but nonetheless seems warmly personable. And I thought, "OK, yes she's suspect, but regardless of the direction of her attractions, here's an older, single woman who has made a comfortable home into which she welcomes family and friends, and who obviously lends service to her community and seems to be living well." She had toys for visiting friends' and relatives' children. She had memorabilia from service she has given. She had a cheery and confident disposition. She had cross-stitches with hopeful messages designed to motivate on tougher days. Strangely, those things which most often seem trite or mundane to me took on a brighter glow.

It just sent my mind scanning over my years of life, so far, to all of the older, single people I've known and how much love they have offered to those around them, how much service they've rendered to their communities, and how meaningful they have made their time. Yes, there may be some component of "making up for" a deep deficit in their lives. Yes, they probably have hard, lonely nights in which they want nothing more than to hold someone they love or be held by a companion and protector. But notwithstanding, they move on. They live. They contribute. They offer and accept love in other ways in life. And in the process, they teach each of us to be more loving and open to those around us rather than limit our love and influence to only our supposedly self-contained families.

Sometimes, the thought of living "alone" for the rest of life is depressing, bleak, and completely draining. Other times, like when I see someone like this, I remember how it can be done and done well, and though it may not seem ideal, it doesn't seem so bad.


The Impossible K said...

Why must we assume being single for life is a "deep deficit" we must make up for? I'm not trying to ignore the fact that there will be long and lonely nights, but that's true regardless of your status. Just ask anyone who's had to sleep alone while their partner was away.
I appreciate the fact that you acknowledge being single isn't so bad... but I don't like your tone of resignation. You don't have to be married to benefit from a loving companionship (and no, I'm not referring to civil unions, thankyouverymuch). I think, as singles, we have every reason to take Hinckley's advice and "lose ourselves in the work." We are entitled, married or single, to feel and express Christlike love. There's nothing stronger than that.
God has promised that all we lack will be made up for in the eternities... that includes an incredibly loving companion. (or perhaps, in your case, a few?) ;)

Original Mohomie said...

"K", I have to say that any tone of resignation was probably something the reader reads into it. This post was actually a reflection of a feeling of hope.

As for the deep deficit, I don't think you have a leg to stand on if you try to argue that not having that one companion who is always there and in whom you have entrusted your self, rocky spots or times apart notwithstanding, is not something significant that leaves a deep deficit or void, if this is a semantics issue and you prefer that term, if absent.

But the longer I go without any romantic relationship, the more I forget how intensely I felt that void and desire in the moment and how hard it was to let go of it again, so if you've never really felt that with anyone, I can appreciate not understanding what all the hoopla is about.

In addition, experiencing a deep deficit in one aspect of life is not a recipe for desolation. As you said, and as I intended to say, there are other relationships and causes in life which are meaningful and which can fill us in many ways.

But it seems, to me, a bit like "denial" to insist there's no deficit/void left by not having the kind of relationship God apparently hopes to establish as the foundation of families, if LDS doctrine has anything to say on the matter.

Some people have no parents. There's a definite void left by that situation. Can they find other ways to fill the missing parental roles in their lives and move on happily? Of course. You apparently wouldn't undercut the strength or hope of an orphan by telling them happiness is hopeless without loving, biological parents, so would you then turn and belittle the grief of an orphan by telling him or her that the parents he or she has lost don't leave a void in their lives, and they just need to find other options out there?

Original Mohomie said...

P.S. -- I really don't think you can compare the loneliness of not having a spouse/committed romantic companion with being alone a few nights but looking forward to a loved one's return. When you have a companion, there's a connection there that geographic distance doesn't dissolve. I think that's a completely different ballgame.

And I think you're saying, in most of your second paragraph, just what I was saying, but in different words.

Finally, what's this about a few companions? Are you talking about many women? Ugh...let's not go there. I'm having enough trouble with the idea of just one!

The Impossible K said...

I'm not trying to undermine the importance having the "one companion who is always there and in whom you have entrusted" - but I firmly believe that blessing is available to everyone, regardless of current romantic status...
Look at it this way: when you fall in love, you experience what science might call a delicious cocktail of PEA or phenylethylamine- a natural high. But that feeling, that intense passion, doesn't last forever. There are dozens of sources, secular and spiritual, that affirm this. How long it lasts can differ- could be six months, could be three years... Still, unless you've maintained a romantic relationship longer than that, your personal experience doesn't adequately cover the reality of romance either, does it?
I'm sorry. I really enjoy playing devil's advocate here. Kudos to you for pointing out my denial- I won't deny using that to some extent. But that doesn't negate my main argument.
I firmly believe you can have access to "that one companion who is always there and in whom you have entrusted yourself..." without getting married or entering into any sort of romantic relationship. We have access to the companionship of a member of the Godhead! I may not know how it feels to have a requited romance, but I know the absolute rush I feel of comfort, strength and LOVE that comes from the Holy Ghost.
I don't think it's fair to use an orphan analogy to compare with a broken heart. But if you want to use it, fine. Being single for life is not the same as being single for eternity. In one case, it's really a matter of faith and patience. Like an orphan who's lost his/her parents, we only need wait to cross the veil for that redemption to be made.

P.S.- I don't think comparing loneliness in those terms is a different ballgame. In the case of a married partner, perhaps the distance is merely geographic. But I choose to see my distance as temporal- just a different type of obstacle, but one that will be bridged (eventually) if I'm patient.
Oh, and I made sure to add a wink ;) at the end to accentuate the irony of my statement. I may get struck down for saying this, but I'd get a good laugh if that did happen! God has a sense of humor, after all. Not sure it's as twisted as mine though, so you may luck out... ;)

Original Mohomie said...

All I can say is that, from experience, feeling like you have nobody to whom you are emotionally/mentally connected and they to you is COMPLETELY different from being away from that person for a while. Completely. I guess I have to leave it at that.

And the romance "butterflies" are not the only thing, in my opinion, that make romantic partnerships special. They're a catalyst and a wonderful feeling, but it's the commitment and the nature of having given yourself most fully to one relationship that makes it special. I can have great relationships with people around me, but without the commitment of a marriage-type relationship, people necessarily come and go, though I may be fortunate enough to have close friends around for a long, long time. And obviously not all marriages last for life, either, but it's a special and unique relationship, as I see it.

Let me put it this way, when we single people are pining away for a companion, what do we hear from married people and ecclesiastical leaders? "You can rely on Christ and on God. The romance only lasts so long anyway. You can offer service and love. You have intimate friends." What do we hear when we say we don't want marriage? "Marriage is incredible and the best thing I've ever done. Raising a family is what life's all about. I don't know what I'd do without my spouse. I'd continue living, sure, but I could never replace the role he/she fills in my life and soul." Is any of those statements from either side false?

So focus on your relationship with deity. That's your way of having the intimacy you need. That's healthy, I think. And in your opinion, that's the most important relationship. And you're probably right. If there's a God, and our purpose here is to become like him, then we need to know him intimately and be dedicated to that pursuit above all else. I don't think that's being disputed here.

Being single for life vs. for eternity, as you put it, seems irrelevant to me in this context. Whether you're without someone for a year or without someone for life, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it feels crappy to be bereft of that kind of relationship if you've ever caught a glimpse of what it feels like or, unlike myself, actually had a real relationship of a romantic nature.

But the same idea applies: life is still worth living and can be enjoyed and fulfilling in so many other ways. But I wouldn't dare tell anyone they're being silly if they have a hard time seeing that. I've had only a tiny taste of romance a few times in my life, and it was very hard to see it end most times. When someone has truly had more of a relationship and loses it, I can only imagine how difficult that can be, and my heart goes out to them.

Nevertheless, I believe the crux of my argument was that there is, in fact, a void in a single person's life but that a life can be just as fulfilling and rewarding, even perhaps moreso, in other areas of life by serving and loving in other ways. Make it deity. Make it family. Make it community. Make it friends. Make it all of the above.

I just said it seems possible to live happily as a single person, and I leave it to each person to figure out how. Maybe you're just offering one way you believe it can be done. In which case, thanks for the input.