Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Single Life

I'm hungry for intimacy.

I'm searching for intimacy, even without realizing it. I seem to only notice it once I've found it and then it gets removed, like recently.

Recently I returned from a summer trip where I spent three weeks with the same group of 18 people (more if you count the others that came for a shorter amount of time - 62 total individuals). This is the third time I've been on this trip and the fifth time I've been on a trip like this, so I'm familiar with how it feels to make such deep bonds during the trip, only to have them quickly or slowly lose touch in the days and months to follow.

This year has felt a little different, and because I'm in a different stage of life, my perspective has been different. And as I've been writing in my journal and processing with the Lord, I think I've stumbled upon what seems to be a huge insight! [Granted, none of this has been verified by any married folk, so for now it is completely theoretical, and nonetheless my personal observation and interpretation.]

So for those who may not understand the kind of trip and relational bonds about which I am talking, I'll fill you in and get all of us on the same page. These trips are anywhere from three to six to ten weeks long, and for that time you are living together, working together and everything in between (especially these camping trips, like the kind I was just on - then even bodily functions become a normal conversation). Usually we don't know anyone going into the trip, yet we are all committed on the front end to loving and being friends with everyone. So when we finally get together, relationship-building is intentional and thorough. You pretty much share your life story every day and by the end of the trip, everyone of the same gender has heard it (and you've heard theirs) and half or more the people of the opposite gender knows your story and struggles too. Over the course of the trip you laugh together, cry together, be absolutely crazy and obnoxious together and even experience some relational tension...pretty much all the makings of a family. Ultimately that is what it feels like and what it becomes - a family, for those three or more weeks. Goodbyes are really painful, and nearly everyone cries - even the guys, but that's a sign of good, deep bonds. Many will keep in touch in the ensuing days, months and years, but it will never feel the same as when you were all together.

Much of this does feel the same for us leaders, but over the years I have noticed a difference between the leaders and the students on the trip (outside of the fact that the leaders return year after year, while there is a fresh batch of students). My observation is this: for the most part, the students do not keep in contact with the leaders to the same extent that they do to the other students. I will withhold my interpretations for now, but I will say that for me, this reality has created a bit of a void, which has stirred this deeper contemplation.

This difference, and for me, this void, stirs up my own brokenness and insecurities, so I dwell on it more. I ponder: why do I feel this way? Obviously these trips provide a source of relational and emotional intimacy that is rarely found in the "real" world, at least as I've experienced it. Once a year I have this amazing family for three weeks, then for the rest of the year, it seems a struggle to connect with people the same way, especially after graduating from college (another important observation).

So I wonder, as I have for years: can this type of community exist in everyday life? Why doesn't or can't my small group feel this way? This is where stage of life has created even more of a chasm. In college, there were some experiences throughout the year of community like that, yet the older I've gotten and the more my friends and peers have gotten married, the farther I feel from the reality or possibility of that type of community in everyday life. So I wonder: maybe it's because I'm single.

So I return to thinking about the trip and now think about the married couples on the trip. Do they feel the same loss of intimacy and community that I do upon leaving a group and trip like this? Of course they do to some extent. However, I imagine it is also different. As married people, your "family" - your essential community and source of intimacy is self-contained, whereas us singles need to outsource to find "family", community and intimacy. Thus we find it on trips like these, and why I think it is likely sweeter but harder for singles to come and go, than for couples who have a partner that comes and goes with them and where they experience intimacy no matter when or what (as a general principle, with their spouse). The leaders who are single connect much like the students, yet the post-trip interaction is not the same between the leaders and students, which is how I began to notice all this in the first place.

Then, in everyday life, as more of my friends and peers have gotten married (and as I have remained single) I've noticed a significant difference in group dynamics between groups of mostly singles and groups of mostly married couples. Groups of singles seem closer, more intimate/vulnerable, and more committed as a group, whereas groups of mostly couples seem more disconnected and distant as a group, by comparison. As I thought about why, it finally dawned on me that it is probably precisely because they are married and therefore get much of their need for intimacy and vulnerability satisfied within their marriage, so it is less natural to initiate and engage in that intimacy and vulnerability within the group setting.

And that is where, as a single person living in the reality of an ever-increasing percentage of peers getting engaged and married (and having babies), I have less and less intimacy, and am more and more hungry for it. :\ There is a huge, but natural, shift between group dynamics and group intimacy between college and adulthood. And if you're like me, in the group of people that gets married later than all your friends and peers, it can be a challenge.

So, I guess this wasn't a "happy" post, but it seemed a monumental insight to me, and an important one in order to help keep my expectations in check, both for trips and for everyday life. I, like many others, live on the margins of society (in a sense), frequently experiencing loneliness due to being single. But I don't say this as a complaint, just stating a reality. I know I'm right where God has planned, and I trust that he will provide according to his good will and his perfect timing (not that it's not hard though). And he has taught me that in the period of patience and waiting on his timing to provide, he has provided himself and a different means of intimacy and community. I do long to be married and to experience the intimacy and community of a husband, but I know that ultimately, there is a source of intimacy and community that is even greater and deeper than that, and I can experience that, even now, when he grants it. So it is that I ache for more, yet I am content and satisfied.

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