My brother calls me “single.” The first time he did it I was taken aback. “What did you call me?” Single, the Uzbek word for “little sister.” It’s actually a pretty apt nick-name, as I am single in every sense of the word. I’ve returned the favor and call him “Brat” (Russian for brother). Also fitting, especially when he’s trying to poke me in the sides or quoting from an unfortunate you-tube video, “Woman, make me a sandwich.” All joking aside, there is an underlying affection between my broski and me. We’ve found ourselves in the interesting position of two grown children living at home. Two adults trying to chart a course through a confusing melee of life choices, who have had to grapple with disappointments, with ways that God doesn’t make sense, with not being sure what to do next. We often feel “lost” together, but we fill the time with Star Trek and League of Legends, with researching exploitation issues and politics. We joke that we will become bums and move into a “van by the river.” We’ve discussed the tempting notion of building a lake cabin somewhere and being an old maid and bachelor infinitely cooler than fictional siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables). Despite the things that aren’t “going right” for us, our mundane normal has become a good normal. Our companionship in this season of life has become an important support for me. Instead of “Beauty and the Beast,” I am living “Single and the Brat,” but it’s not without a certain appeal.
Rewind one year. I’m still an adult living at home, but I’ve swapped brothers. My days include lifting weights at the gym and running with little brother number two. We have been on many adventures together: long-distance backpacking trips, kayaking, Colorado expeditions and meeting up with “Brat” for some white-water rafting through a thunder/hail storm. We ran our first 5k together, and discussed how much we both hated running every day in training. I brought him mochas from work and he made me laugh. I made guacamole and he did dishes. I have a level of camaraderie, of shared jokes and experience, with my family that I don’t have with anyone else, and it’s precious to me.
I share these stories because they illustrate a truth I think our culture has widely forgotten, but which I have been daily living. The truth is that there’s more than one relationship that can feed our need for love, support and connection. Our culture has become obsessed with romantic relationships, increasingly convinced that there’s only one kind of love that really makes life worth living. Think about recent movies that have come out. How many have you seen that show parents and children as a crucial support and encouragement network, or show siblings relating to each other in a really positive way, not at each others’ throats for one reason or another, going on adventures to save the world and save each other? How many movies tell the story of a friend whose love was “better than that of a woman/romantic partner,” as King David experienced? There may be a few out there, but they are definitely not the majority. Our culture paints parents and children as disrespectful and misunderstanding of each other. Most siblings at best tolerate one another, and are usually in some kind of competition to be the best or be on top. Most friends are on the side-lines, offering advice and doing everything they can to find that “one necessary” relationship for themselves as well. It’s all made for some entertaining movies, and many movies that feel “true to life,” but they lie to us. They tell us that if we don’t have that all-important romantic relationship, we are less alive, less human. If you’re single, if you’ve “never been kissed,” you’re seriously missing out, and you’re weird to boot. If you’re in an unhappy relationship you should definitely get out and find a better one. After all, it’s what life is all about.
Intimacy is something we long for as human beings, to be known, to be loved, to not go through life alone. Our culture has become very narrow in the way they perceive intimacy, as something that occurs primarily sexually.But there are actually many spheres of intimacy, and many kinds of relationships that can offer life-giving intimacy in those spheres. Counselor and Spiritual Director David Benner fleshes this out in his book, “Sacred Companions.” He writes, “Intimacy is shared experience…[which] can be experienced in a variety of forms. Two people are spiritually intimate when they share spiritual experiences, emotionally intimate when they share emotional experiences, sexually intimate when they share sexual experiences, and intellectually intimate when they share intellectual experiences. Other forms of intimacy include vocational intimacy (shared work), recreational intimacy (shared delight in play), creative intimacy (shared experiences of creating something), aesthetic intimacy (shared enjoyment of beauty) and social justice intimacy (working together to make the world a better place).” He goes on to describe how intimacy in one sphere strengthens intimacy in another, and how important it is for companions to have intimacy in multiple spheres. A couple who limits intimacy to sexual and emotional spheres will experience less genuine intimacy than one who develops it in other areas. And I would suggest, a single person not experiencing sexual intimacy but intimate with people on many other levels, may actually be experiencing deeper and truer intimacy in the context of their non-romantic relationships.
We are familiar with the Bible teaching, “It is not good for man to be alone.” This is a favored text in support of marriage, but can also be taken as a general principle. No matter what your marital status, it is not good for you to be alone, and the Bible has illustrations of all kinds of relationships meeting this need. Multi-generational housing was very normal, and we see families living in close proximity to each other, pulling together despite the human tendency to pull each other apart. On two separate occasions Jesus called brothers to follow him together (James and John, Peter and Andrew). The latter two even got a co-nick-name, “Sons of Thunder.” Famous duos in the Bible include Moses and Aaron (brothers), Naomi and Ruth (mother-in-law/daughter-in-law) David and Jonathan (friends) and Paul and Timothy (mentor/mentee). If you need strong evidence that full life apart from marriage is possible, look no farther than Jesus, who said, “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full.” His life was full of non-romantic, highly meaningful and mutually encouraging relationships, including his closest friends, the twelve disciples, and other special individuals that blessed his life, such as Mary and Martha.
I’ve had to re-evaluate my “woe-is-me” mentality towards being a single. I have realized how blessed I am in the realm of non-romantic, life-giving relationships. Beyond my family, I have a dizzying array of friends and mentors who have been there for me, invested in me, shared rich experiences with me. I have much to be thankful for. I’m not living the fairy-tale of my dreams, but I am never lacking for partners in crime, companionship or adventure. Maybe someday “Single and the Brat” will become worthy of a compelling movie of its own.