Serving While Single

by Amber Goodloe, LPC

A couple months ago I was standing at my kitchen sink doing the dishes and then suddenly I was covered in water and standing in a puddle and couldn’t figure out why.  When my brain was finally able to register what had happened, I discovered that my sink had literally come unglued and crashed to the ground and flooded my kitchen.  All I wanted to do was cry but I had to first clean it all up.  Once I did this though I just closed the door and went to bed, because I knew that I needed to call plumber and arrange a time for him to come fix it, but that required more energy than I currently had.  This experience was one of the thousands of moments I have thought “I hate being single.”  Because I knew that the sole responsibility for arranging for this to be repaired and then being home and answering all the questions the plumber had lied with me.  I didn’t even have someone in the moment who could laugh and cry about the insanity of this situation with me!  Such is the life of many single workers overseas. 

I recently read that 2/3 of active workers are married couples, 1/3 are single women, and the rest are single men.  I burst out laughing because of how accurate this is / feels, but when I’ve shared this with married friends they have often said “really??”  Well folks, it’s true.  25-35% of cross-cultural workers are single, and women outnumber men somewhere between 7:1 and 11:1. Which that by itself can be challenging when serving overseas – can we say limited dating options for us single gals??  And while you might say single guys have it made with so many options, it can often be lonely and overwhelming to be the only single man in a community.   Sure, there are many joys and gifts that come with being single – more freedom and flexibility, more time to devote to language and ministry, fewer responsibilities, etc.  But there are also many, many challenges of being single that are intensified in an overseas context. 

Some of the challenges and frustrations include:

  • No “built-in” support system
  • Having to carry the weight of decisions on our own
  • No other person to share responsibilities (particularly if living alone – insert sink story)
  • Must learn to notice and meet our own emotional needs
  • Might have challenges if singleness is not common or understood in host culture (I have had local women ask me why I hate my mother, because that is the only reasonable explanation in their minds for why I would move across the world by myself)
  • Feeling / being treated as “less than” married people in our community
  • Having different expectations placed on us because we don’t have a family (i.e. being expected to give more time or always be the one to change our schedule)
  • Being lumped together with all other single workers and treated as if we are all the same (a 23y/o and a 42 y/o are in very different life stages)
  • Being expected to provide childcare
  • Women may be perceived as a “threat” to the men in their community

If you have teammates or friends who are single, please remember that they are more than their marital status and that single does not equal immature.  That might sound obvious or ridiculous that I feel the need to say that, but believe me, whether intentional or not these are the messages we often receive.  Additionally, I would be remiss to write an article on being single and not discuss the layers of grief that come with this status in life.  When I was in college and dreamed of moving overseas, I always envisioned a husband to do this with, but that didn’t happen.  So then I thought “that’s ok, I’m in my 20’s, I have plenty of time to meet someone” and then that didn’t happen.  So then I thought “that’s ok, as long as I get married soon I can still have kids before I’m 40 and it’s dangerous” but I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.  Each time I have come through these phases I have experienced another layer of grief, that my life doesn’t look at all like what I expected or dreamed of when I was young.  And your temptation might be to say “yes but look at all you’ve gotten to do” which is true and I am so thankful for the life I have had, but that does not erase the grief that accompanies it.  So often we as single workers are expected to be happy about our lives, and if we aren’t we’re told to “just go get married” (as if it were easy) and are not given space to grieve what we are missing.  My grief as a childless woman is not that same as my married friends struggling with infertility, but it is a lot more similar than many might realize.  So please, allow space for single people to process whatever emotions they may have about their single status before helping them see God’s goodness that is also present.

Additionally, here are some other simple ways you can support and care for us:

  • Get to know us and build a relationship with us
  • See us as fully functioning adults and an integral part of the team with equal value and equal voice
  • Allow us to articulate their needs and give our needs equal legitimacy
  • Don’t always expect the single to plan their lives around the families
  • Ask how you can help
  • Pray with us about big decisions we are making
  • Invite us into your life, your family, your home, especially on holidays
  • Share about the challenges of a spouse and kids, but also talk about other topics in life

However, as singles we are also responsible for ourselves, and ensuring that we do what we can to ensure we are healthy and thriving – we cannot expect those around us to do this for us. 

So here are a few tips for thriving:

  • Cultivate your relationship with the Lord
  • See yourself as fully equal and an integral part of the team, and participate as such
  • Know your limits and set boundaries
  • Take responsibility for your emotional well-being
  • Learn tools for dealing with loneliness
  • Make your house a home and invite others in
  • Accept invitations from others
  • Honestly acknowledge and address your sexual needs and feelings
    • Learn to express these feelings in healthy, creative, life-giving ways
    • Consistently discuss the area of sexuality openly with a friend
    • Find healthy ways to meet your needs for touch
  • Develop a good plan / toolbox of self-care ideas
  • Plan vacations and try to include others in them

Lastly, if you as a single are looking for resources, or if you want to understand the single life better here are some resources:

  • Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness.  Joy Beth Smith
  • Single Mission: Thriving as a Single Person in Cross-Cultural Ministry Dr. Debbie Hawker and Rev. Tim Herbert
  • Cupid is a Procrastinator: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life.  Kate Hurley
  • 7 Myths About Singleness. Sam Allberry
  • Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church. Christina Colon and Bonnie Field
  • Redeeming Singleness Barry Danylak

1 Comment

  • Sheri

    Great article! One comment I would clarify/add to is that TEAMS (ie their colleagues) can treat singles, and in my experience the single women more than the single men, as a real threat to the married people. My team had a policy of no single women in the office alone with our male director. It made the single women feel like lepers. And the assumption is, of course, that a married woman couldn't be a stumbling block to a male colleague. The onus was always on the women to keep relationships with our male colleagues on the up and up, but it felt like the inverse was not true.

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