Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

By the grace of God, somehow, a few years ago I came to peace with my singleness.

I really don't know how it happened. Perhaps after a lifetime of no's and other closed signals, maybe somewhere inside of myself I finally just gave up trying.

I also believe that if life gives you lemons, then you should really be using them to make the best lemonade that you can.

It's funny, but although being in a relationship is generally considered to be more desirable than singleness, I hardly ever hear anyone, single or otherwise, explaining that comparison.

For example, almost every film now features at some point two characters very happily indeed becoming a couple. How many movies can you name in which a character very happily indeed becomes single? In fact, surely that would make for more original and better defined characters?

Likewise I often hear of people saying how much hard work it takes to successfully have a relationship, but I never hear anyone say how much hard work it takes to successfully be single.

I mean there's the obvious emotional stamina you have to develop. There's no-one to regularly talk to at length, no-one on hand to comfort you, and no-one to foster a sense of self-worth. Friends can do a bit of those things, but not daily. Heck, if you just need someone to hold your hand, there's no-one who you can even ask, especially if you're a guy. You're on your own, buddy.

Not to mention all the other feelings that have to go unexpressed. There's no point in writing poetry that no-one will read.

Then there are the practicalities. Couples will share household tasks, but a single has to be able to do it all. Cooking, laundry, trash, gardening, shopping, finances, negotiating with the neighbours, whatever.

And as you know, it's more expensive to be single. To have a conversation you need to pick up the telephone or travel somewhere, which requires the maintaining of a social life. And there's no going halves on the line rental, or sharing a car to save petrol. In fact in this respect, I admit that consumerism is well and truly stacked against you.

When going on holiday, a couple will effectively pay for half of a double-room each, while the single pays an additional 'single room supplement'. Couples can take-out cheaper joint insurance schemes, but not so the single. This pattern is repeated right down to the humble loaf of bread, which can be economically purchased large by the sharing couple to save money, but not by the single for whom it would go mouldy before reaching the end, so we have to buy the more expensive small one.

What's that? Children? Yes, that's right, a child is insanely expensive to bring up for the single too. Crikey, just think of their childcare fees…

However, kept quiet are all the positive things about being single. (they're kept quiet because we have no-one to tell) The best relationship in the world still subtracts time from other endeavours - time which the single still has. Freedom too - for example I could hardly live my dual-life between England and New Zealand with a long-suffering significant other in tow, unless she took a big cut to her freedom for me.

And then there are the more trivial daily things. If you live alone, then when you run out of milk, there is absolutely no responsibility whatsoever to go out to buy another carton if you don't feel like it. Nor to make the bed. You can even build that scale replica of Knight Rider out of garbage and keep it in your room, just because you feel like it.

Slowly, over a few years, I have perceived my acceptance of my relationship status as a single eclipsing 50% and building to, at time of writing, about 85%. 15% of me is still bothered about it, but not that much anymore.

In 2009 I realised that I could no longer imagine any girl being great enough that singleness would be worth giving up for her. Well of course I couldn't. The girls in my imagination are all based upon the ones in real life, who have all unanimously declined. Even the one girl who did say yes, later denied everything. I literally can no longer believe that a girl can like me in that way - I would have to deny overwhelming first-hand experience.

Five weeks ago some friends were running a six-part weekly course based around Gary Chapman's famous Five Love Languages franchise. It wasn't just about romantic love, but love for one's friends, neighbours, colleagues etc. too. It didn't seem that relevant to where I was in life, but avoiding it didn't seem right either. So, following my principle of doing something rather than nothing, along I went to hopefully learn something, and to pay my $20 course fee. (and yes, the couples enjoyed their usual discount - good for them :) )

Each evening consisted of a video presentation, followed by some sort of activity. In case you haven't come across it, Chapman's famous five love languages are:

A. Words of affirmation
B. Quality time
C. Receiving gifts
D. Acts of service
E. Physical touch

Obviously there are more than that (eg. laughter, singing, being prayed for), and obviously you can write your own successful book about the ones that you come up with, but Chapman's strategy is based around which one of the above five scores highest for you.

So on week one this consisted of a 30-question worksheet, featuring pairs of statements which we had to express a preference between, in order to isolate which love language of the five each of us tended to prefer. For example, the statements included:

I love hearing my spouse tell me he/she believes in me. (A - Words of affirmation)
I love that my spouse shows real interest in things I like to do. (B - Quality time)
I know my spouse loves me because he/she surprises me with gifts. (C - Receiving gifts)
My spouse sometimes runs errands for me, and I appreciate that. (D - Acts of service)
I can't help but touch my spouse when he/she is close by. (E - Physical touch)

I looked down the sheets. Those of us who were single were told to replace the word 'spouse' with 'important person', but that didn't help me. My problem was that I had no experience of anyone - spouse or 'important person' - doing these things for me. I went all the way through the thirty questions, but just could not answer them. I simply didn't know how things like kissing, being told I love you, being told I look good etc. felt, so I could hardly discern any preference between them.

I looked around at the other singles, younger than me, busily beavering away at their sheets. Of course they were. They knew the answers.

Lest I might sound full of self-pity, I tried not to say anything about the ink I had saved, but it just wasn't possible, no matter how evasive I was. Curse my principles of telling the truth.

Girl: "So Steve, what love language are you?"
Me: "I don't know."
Girl: "Well didn't you do the questionnaire?"
Me: "No."
Girl: "Why not?"
Me: "I didn't know what any of the answers were."
Girl: "What do you mean you didn't know what any of the answers were? You just put down whichever one you prefer."
Me: "I don't know which I prefer. I have never had any experiences with which to know which I prefer."

And then, without meaning any ill, she said it.

Girl: "How can you not have had any experiences? I'm 20 - I've had loads of experiences!"
Me: "Have you tried this cake? It's awesome. I'm going to get another piece."

And there it was. I was twice her age, but she had already had a kid and was engaged to be married for the second time.

And at that moment, my old darkness began to rake up.

The bitter darkness. The darkness from which used to emerge the world's mistaken assumptions that I was not good enough. The darkness that used to make me feel like I was God's mistake.

I wasn't feeling like that yet, but I recognised the outskirts. Obviously I said nothing. I made my excuses, left, and sat around in the rain outside Countdown supermarket with a milkshake to cheer myself up.

It had been years since the last time I had felt this way. I didn't like feeling this way again.

After much deliberation, I eventually decided to continue with week 2 of the course, but on the proviso that I could quit at any time. I think I really did it so as to not discourage the teacher by leaving. Maybe it would get better. Maybe it did, but I got worse.

The sharing on the subsequent weeks increasingly made me feel like I was the problem classmember. Whatever the question, I felt like I was always giving a miserable answer. Well, I know what I always think of that kid, and hence what to be afraid of everyone else thinking of me.

One Sunday in the middle at church, a similarly-themed series of services began entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide To Relationships. There we jokingly showed a clip of a teaching film from maybe 50 years ago, in which a young teenager prepares to ask a girl out for the first time. Well, he's nervous, afraid of what the girl will think of him. I identified with that kid, which turned out to be a mistake when everyone started laughing at him. That hurt quite badly.

So badly that the pastor actually rang me at work the next day because he'd noticed that I wasn't myself. I explained that the theme was raking up a lot of old stuff within me, and that I wanted very much to talk to someone about it, but had no-one in my life with whom I could. Now that's singleness.

That's why this is on my blog. If I don't share this story here, then no-one will ever hear it.

Tonight I made it to the end of the course. Maybe I should never even have started it. Although billed as being as much about loving your friends as that special someone, the inescapable truth is that it has been heavily romance-centred.

I'm usually quite happy about being single these days, enthusiastic even. Being single frees you of much responsibility, opens up your choices, and enables you to get on with whatever. I know it's a cliché, but if you use what it offers, then it actually does become a very precious gift. I recoil from the idea of someone expecting me to give it up for them.

But I guess my loneliness is perhaps not so much gone, as simply dormant. Fallen into disuse, after all I rarely dwell on it.

When I do, I guess I ask the question why. Why did all those old friends - without knowing each other - each feel that I was not worth finding out more about? They can't all be wrong, so I have to conclude that there is something wrong with me.

I suppose that might be easier to accept, if one person had once felt that there was something right about me.

And if I didn't sometimes meet a girl with a look of hopelessness in her eyes that I think I recognise, and want so much to comfort.


2 comment(s):

At 12:08 am, Blogger Michelle Sharie said...


I'm so confused about your blog. I see at the end of your blog it says 29 6 11, which I interpreted to mean that it was written on June 29th, 2011. And yet, when I logged onto my blog dashboard, it said that this was written just a couple of hours ago. Can you help me out and let me know if you wrote it just recently (January 13th, 2012?) or not. Also, I think the way you feel is normal. Most people feel that way. You are very funny with the way you think about some things - I can relate very much to the things you say. Do you get a lot of women writing to you?


At 9:01 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Hey there Michelle,

Thanks for your kind words.

I wrote this last year and kept it in a Word document, before eventually uploading it to Blogger this week.

People do occasionally write to me because they've read the blog, but not very often. I've formed no impression of what the male/female ratio of those emailers is. At present 130 people a day read, although most of them are one-off visitors to a previous post.

Best wishes,


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