It’s just the same for me. *Caution: a rant*

Well, my husband doesn’t come to church either. I’m there on my own all the time.

Yes, that’s so the same as living on your own, and being pretty definitely single, isn’t it? Excuse me whilst I restrain myself from punching you for a thoughtless comment.

Also: I know that many married women work, raise kids, look after a household pretty much single-handed. And that is exhausting. Also, I know that there are growing numbers of women out there who bring their kids to church without their partner, for whatever reason. That’s another issue altogether. This particular rant is about me and since this is my blog, I think that’s OK. If I start ranting about me on *your* blog, then I would consider that out of order.

Very recently I was asked to help out with youth work at my church and I said no. Sunday evenings are frequently the only time in a week where I have downtime – me, Evensong, quiet night before the week ahead.

My church might describe itself as a family, but does it act like one? How deep does the unconditional welcome go? How often does it think about how people are unintentionally excluded? Families are about getting on with people you have no choice but to love; and being the place you call ‘home,’ regardless of where that actually might be or what the relationships might be like (same sex, blended, single parent – the actual make-up to me isn’t important). I have a lovely, if small Batts family who love, support, humour and tolerate me. Who understand how absolutely exhausting it is being on your own.

My train is late, what I really want is a relaxing bath. No-one to turn hot water on. I’ve worked hard, and I’m hungry; what’s for dinner? Whatever it is that I have shopped for, thought about, and prepared. The laundry needs doing, the flat needs cleaning, the car needs petrol, the cupboards are empty, shoes need cleaning and the ironing’s piling up, the bills need to be paid, the budget worked out, the landlord spoken to… every single thing that a household does, I do, and I do it by myself. Want to go out and meet friends? 95% of the time I organise that too, trying to fit around married couples’ commitments. Nothing social happens unless I am the one that makes it happen. I’m busy. Don’t forget the professional education and networking events to be attended. And did I mention the two trusteeships, the five committees (two of which are international), or the PhD, which I fit in?  So yes, I’m busy.  I have a limited backup team. In 6 years of commuting, I’ve once asked for a rescue from someone based at home (stuck at Marks Tey). There have been other incidents of unplanned overnights in London or Kent when I’ve just not been able to get home. Who on earth would I ask to come rescue me from Shenfield or Chelmsford, in the absence of a spare £50 for a cab fare?  With whom do I discuss the joys and sorrows of life? With Twitter. Not quite the same as someone at home. And before you accuse me of creating a fictitious ideal marriage, remind me to tell you about the scar under my chin and why I know it’s not all roses.

Yes, you’re busy too, with your job, your household, your kids’ commitments and your church commitments. But you have a family – you chose that; you expect that when you have kids, right? It might be a shock just quite how little cash or life you do have left, but the compensation is that you’re a parent; and you have the joys and rewards of that to go with it.

I get none of that. I haven’t even been required as a godparent to any of the squads of kids friends have. I just get the relentlessness of it always being my turn to do everything. It’s exhausting and it’s bone-crushingly lonely.

You go home to someone. I go home to no-one. You should try being at a bouncy, happy, all-age family service then going home and having lunch by yourself, then not speaking to anyone for the rest of the day. You want me to feel part of your church family? It’s going to take more than chit-chat over a lukewarm coffee.

So yeah, when I show up to church on my own, and you don’t talk to me because you’re busy with your existing friends or sorting out your kids, when you assume I’m perhaps less busy than you as I don’t have a family to look after, when having to be in church by yourself is so difficult cos your family is at home, or your husband’s cross because you’re busy: it does irk, to the point of punchiness. It’s not the same thing. Please don’t try to pretend it is.

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25 thoughts on “It’s just the same for me. *Caution: a rant*

  1. I so want to reach out and hug you after reading this – but even virtual it’s not the same…

    Thank you for writing so honestly and thank you for the reminder to double check my attitudes and behaviours.

  2. Hi there. Thanks for this. Yes, it is a rant, but sometimes that’s good to hear. It’s good to have insight into other people’s worlds. I think that much of the pain and frustration you articulate comes from Christians being too caught up in their world and (unhelpfully) assuming things about others.

    Speaking as a vicar’s wife – what would you most want from a church community? What would help you? (I’m trying to think realistic attainable targets for the average church…) is there a ‘top 3’ things to avoid and ‘top 3’ things to do that would start to make a difference in changing the ‘family-centric’ culture?

    • I will reply properly later to this – but the key thing is, are you really trying to be a Church Family; or are you a church made up of famililes? The two are very different things.

      • Great question, thank you. I think actually we are privileged to be part of a church that is definitely the former; I’m sure that there are people who could be better served and whose needs need to be considered more deeply, but I’m really thankful to say that at its heart, it is a Church Family, not a church of families. Your question actually clarified that for me, and it’s a nice realisation. I’ve been part of other churches where it hasn’t felt as much like a family, and it’s making me really thankful for a being part of a group of people who are messy and messed up but real and loving…

        Would also be good to have the ‘top 3’ things tips as well though, so we can keep them on our agenda, and make sure that we are consciously looking out for those who are single.

      • Prompted by @lizaclutterbuck’s comment – one more thing for your church for all would be to recognise that for some of us, school terms and holidays are irrelevant. So closing down housegroups etc over the summer just makes it harder for us folk who might rely on them for sociability. And if you are struggling because everyone’s away on holiday – has anyone been generous enough to invite a single person to join them? Going away on one’s own is, at least for me, always disproportionately expensive…

  3. Amen.

    I love my church, and there are a whole heap of not marrieds there. As well as married but no children.

    However….I can count on the fingers of one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of times I’ve been invited to a fellow congregant’s family lunch after church.

    And yet I run out of fingers, toes and other body parts to count the number of times I’ve been talking with someone in coffee time and they’ve said ‘got to go, we’ve got lunch to get back to’. I guess whilst they know I’m single they never think that when they’re hurrying back to lunch en famille, I’m dawdling back to lunch on my own. (Unless I’ve made the effort, as you said, to arrange something with other friends.) And quite how that relates to the gospel we’ve just heard.

  4. As a fellow singleton I empathise.

    I have a “friend” I am currently not really talking to as she has upset me so much by telling me over and over again that I can’t be busy because I don’t have a child and by expecting me to be able to drop everything when it suits her to socialise.

    I think you are brave going to church on your own, I never do. There is lots of stuff I don’t like to do on my own and I do miss out on lots of stuff because of it.

    • I’m not brave, at all. I’ve taken the route of going to services where it’s quiet, and there is no chit chat or interaction, because then I don’t mind so much being on my own.

  5. Thanks for pointing out those things that we couples don’t see, or don’t acknowledge about being alone. I’ve never been alone in that way, I’ve always had either family or partner to be with and to share with. And of course the joy of children, now grown and having five grand children. As well as a number of firm, long term friends and numerous acquaintances.

    Our concept of single people sometimes is one of having the freedom to do what you want, when you want, without having to consider anyone else – we don’t seem to appreciate how loneliness can be so depressing and how the lack of companionship can make you feel that you are ostracised from community or society. Even in church, which is supposed to be one big family.

    I’m also aware that some insecure married couples will look on single people with suspicion – thinking perhaps is this person possibly going to the the catalyst of breaking up their relationship. Having once been in a marriage like that, it’s hard to overcome the jealousy and insecurity that it causes. You can even feel isolated and lonely in a marriage when it becomes loveless and the only reasons for being together are children or financial dependency.

    We have many single women in our church, but mostly, they are widows. Who still have remaining family to support them or to share with. I know that we’re a caring parish as there is a visible effort to include them. We visit them, we provide transport for them and invite them to be part of all of our activities – I see the benefit of this as they are in the main happy, but just occasionally one or two will talk about being on their own, and how they miss their departed partner.

    Surprisingly, a number of elder women are from broken marriages late in life and feel themselves to have failed in some way – it’s hard to listen to – but just listening seems to help. There are also some single men, who don’t talk that much about being alone, accepting it with stoicism perhaps, but I suspect that they have similar issues.

    I often meet lonely people in the care homes that we support in our parish, whose family either live to far away, have been outlived are to busy or just can’t be bothered to visit them. Even in a caring community, personalities dictate that some don’t fit in, or don’t want to be there. They miss their independence and feel consigned to the scrapheap. Our visits and just sitting and listening are looked forward to. We take Holy Communion to them and offer it to all – we don’t ask about what denomination they belong to – we try to bring everyone to the Lord’s table.

    I suspect that you airing your ‘rant’ here will bring loads of support and I can only hope that you are able to find that elusive permanent relationship you seem to be lacking. I’ll be praying for that, if you don’t mind.

  6. Thanks for much for ranting, Sara, that was very close to home and I’m just keeping it together as it all sounds so familiar. Keeping busy as a single is one way of avoiding the loneliness, but nothing of the business and “social life” makes up for not having somebody waiting at home or not having somebody to wait for at home to ask “how was your day”, “let’s go out for dinner” etc.

  7. PS I should add, the lunch thing, yes, that really winds me up and it was only one family, on a couple of occasions, that spontaneously invited me for lunch. Probably one of the reasons I left church last year…

  8. I should amend this to point out that there was a marvellous rescue orchestrated by @philmoss5 in December 2009 that involved him paying over the phone for a cab for me from Stansted Airport home to Colchester after a late night line problem.

  9. A rant? Maybe, or the considered and heart-felt thoughts of someone who commutes daily, works hard, gives to the community, studies for pleasure, runs and then makes a jolly good job of living all this out through the eyes and mind of a Christian. (A supportive one to others I should add too)

    Your colleagues support you at work, family with running, friends with your PhD and even fellow (virtual and real) commuters offer fun on your travels – if nothing else! The least you could expect would also be for those in your sunday church family to get to know you, understand a little about your life and situation and so offer some genuine base-camp support, but certainly not be so insensitive to your feelings like this and just see you as another pair of hands.

    It’s hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, but something I try (but sometimes fail) to do. Rather than thinking ‘how would I feel if I was asked to do this?’ or ‘do I know enough about this person to ask them to help with the youth?’, it can come out as ‘I’ll pass this rota on to them because they are by themselves and don’t have a role … and lunch is in the oven, so I’d better dash’!

    Although not single, we’ve experienced similar and this makes me think once again about why this happens and to question how I see others? I’d hope it’s simply because people aren’t thinking straight or maybe because they can’t handle someone who doesn’t fit their style or age range …. Surely its not because they are self-centred, can’t be bothered to get to know you, are narrow-minded, happy to smile at coffee and ‘pass the peas’ but then not give you, any single person or the even the ‘challenging homeless person at the back’ another thought until the next sunday-cosy-family-friendly service. Is it? A Family loves and cares for all its members.

  10. Mmm, I can empathise with a lot. It’s really hard when people try to say they know what it’s like when they just *don’t*. I don’t underestimate the pain widowhood or divorce is, but the fact is that if you’ve had that once and had kids then it really just isn’t the same.
    I’m massively blessed by being able to live with my parents – and by that I mean I’m actually happy there and choose to be so because I’m fully aware of what a financial and time drain living on my own would be. Plus I’d never feed myself and would actually turn into pasta after about a month. This has the advantage of giving me more time to do church stuff, but nobody to share the burden of that with. I’m involved to some degree with church leadership now and our church is going through an ‘interesting’ phase. I’m not sure anyone really gets what it’s like to have to make important (or even non important) decisions by yourself – I get lots of verbal encouragement saying I’m doing a good job but if I actually say I’m struggling and could do with a hand then there’s very little forthcoming. Then I can go home in a grump and not even have someone to rant at!
    I guess churches never will be perfect and maybe all we can do is have a rant now and then so people can tell how much they’re hurting people even if they don’t realise they’re doing it…

  11. I don’t attend church but I did recognise your post.
    Does this sound familiar
    “The orchid world had the intimacy of a family and the fights of a family. Like a family, it provided a way to fit into the world, to place yourself in a small and sometimes crowded and sometimes bickering circle, and that circle would be surrounded by a bigger circle, and then an even bigger circle and finally by the whole wide world; it was some kind of way to scratch out a balance between being an individual and being part of something bigger than yourself, even though each side of the equation puts the other in jeopardy.”
    The Orchid Thief: Susan Orlean

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