by Kelsey Yarnell
Something happened when I turned 30. I started fixating on other women’s hands - specifically their fingers.
My gaze asked one question - ring or no ring?
Around this time, I was in a fairly serious relationship with a man I was pretty sure I was going to marry. I felt, with much relief, that I would also soon be in the “ring club.” The ring club included women who got to wear sparkly bands indicating something special: They had been chosen. Members of the “ring club” were secure. And maybe best of all, they no longer had to wait, date, or wonder.
But then, unexpectedly, I dropped my impending club membership. In other words, we broke up.
And all of a sudden, I was back where I started – single, again. And in that place, I found myself inexplicably ashamed and deeply convicted.
Let me backtrack for a moment: I spent most of my 20s single – very single. When I say that I can count the number of dates I went on from ages 21-28 with one hand, what I really mean is that I can count the number of dates I went on with two fingers. But at ages 24, 25, and 26, I loved being single. I loved being able to choose my own path, unhindered by someone else’s choices and will. I even loved the solitude and the time I was able to spend in prayer, focusing on my relationship with Jesus. I loved the freedom.
But in my late 20s, my desires and perspective shifted. Where I had equated singleness for so long with joyful independence, crossing an age barrier suddenly made singleness feel like a badge of reproach. I began to fear being relegated to pity, because I hadn’t found “the One.”
Who was responsible for executing that judgment? For labeling me with that so-called “badge of reproach?”
Me. I was the one who had decided that to be without a ring was to be less worthy, less valuable, and less fulfilled. I was the one who had started equating “relationship status” with “status.”
Realizing this post-breakup was painful. My judgments on myself and other women felt ugly, to say the least. I have always been such a champion of females, of strong leaders, of those who break the mold, and of “girl power.” I’ve always wanted to be a wife and mother, but it’s never been my premier aspiration. I wasn’t even raised in a family or a culture that told me I had to marry.
Yet, here I was, unfairly labeling myself and others who had reached their 30s without attaining wifehood. And, if I’m honest, those labels did not include words like “strong,” “independent,” “desirable,” and “fulfilled.”
Instead I heard the words “tired” and “late” (at best) or “desperate” (at worst).
Can these labels really be accurate?
When I consider some of the boldest and most courageous women recorded in western history, they were single. Joan of Arc. Mother Theresa. Mary Magdalene. Queen Elizabeth I. Oprah Winfrey. These women knew (or know) that singleness – even lifelong singleness – can surely be an advantage.
For example, I spent the mid-portion of my twenties teaching English in Morocco. During that time, I lived with a Norwegian woman in her 50s who had never been married. She was a teacher by profession, and worked at a local orphanage, spending her precious time with babies and children who were often forgotten and frequently disabled. She was joyful, totally fulfilled, quite productive, and had deep friendships. Plus, her skin glowed (I always attributed that to the fact that she never had children to fatigue her – could have also been her Norwegian genes).
In any case, I admired my roommate deeply. I learned that being single had not detracted from her life. It seemed to me that it had added a layer of richness, opportunity, and even motherhood that might not have otherwise been possible. Her life had purpose, intimacy, and beauty – even without a husband.
Breakups, disappointments, or long seasons of singleness will sometimes call for this: a reframing of perspective. But in this reframing, we must also hold onto this fact, engraved in Scripture: God knows the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37).
What I suggest is that it is very possible to live in this tension: experiencing fulfillment, joy, and contentment even in the hope that circumstances will change. Knowing you have a wonderful future even if you’re not sure what it looks like. Being released from a place of waiting to a place of purposefulness and anticipation.
I have found this to be true in my own life. When I broke up with my boyfriend, I started sleeping in the center of my mattress, no longer curled on the left side of my bed and feeling the empty space across from me. Not because I don’t want the other side to be filled with the warm body of a husband – I really do – but because I decided to fully occupy the space given to me. No more “other half missing.” For right now, I am complete, both halves present. I am fully alive and fully capable – ring or no ring.
Kelsey is a writer and self-proclaimed hummus addict living in Los Angeles. She looks for creative inspiration in God, people, and good conversation. You can read her lifestyle blog at https://flourish-live-inspired.com/.