Single through the twenties 2/2: building community and learning empathy

What’s been hard about singleness in your experiences?

Ija: I think what’s been hard is definitely the desire for that kind of intimacy. So as much as you have friends who love you and it’s great, sometimes you just desire a romantic kind of intimacy, like in the way that that person would support you around certain things. Maybe even in the way in which that person should show up, versus the way other people show up. Yeah, there’s been times where I’m just like, ah, that’d be nice.

Siwe: Someone who can carry your boxes when you’re moving for the 100th time and don’t wanna annoy people again. Well, that’s if you don’t end up in a long-distance relationship, haha.

Ija: Or buy me flowers because I just want flowers. Or plan a surprise date for me, or just take me on a date, stuff like that. I think the desire for things like that has been the hardest. Because in your friends getting into relationships, but also growing up and growing older, that desire just becomes more and more pronounced. So the conflict between wanting this thing right now, and it not happening has been the hardest.

So then how have you tried to organise your life and your community and your Christian walk in a way that helps you to make sure that, that desire is not something that’s overwhelming?

Ija: I think having a lot of good friends, and close friends definitely helps with that. And so even when I feel that way, sometimes I’ll be like, let me just call one of my friends and have the best chats and then the feeling subsides. Also, in times where I am in greater intimacy with God, and therefore in a greater place of purpose and clarity around how my life is in step with God’s plan for me, then there’s definitely a peace. I think there’s a peace but there’s also a reframing in ‘what’s good now ‘ when I’m in those spaces. So I’m able to then view my life from, yes I want it now but there’s reason I don’t have it now. Since that is so, then Lord what do you want from me in the season? What am I going to bring into the world? What am I meant to be in my relationships? What am I meant to be as a daughter, as a sibling that maybe I wouldn’t have the capacity to do as well if I was in a relationship. Where I’m so taken up by, this is how I feel you’re deeply calling me to serve either my friends or my family, or whatever you put before me in a way that’s so specific to this time.

Siwe: I think I can totally relate to the ‘walking in understanding’. Knowing that our purpose is to love the Lord and glorify him and enjoy him, you know. Then to love others in that enjoyment, essentially. So I can totally relate as to how that helps you to reframe, or like repurpose, and focus. You remember that there’s so much to do to serve others, to love others. But when you focus too much on yourself then it’s just you waiting on others to come serve you, and that is incredibly internally-focused

Speaking of your faith, you spoke a bit about how in times of difficulty, when you’re walking intently with God it’s been you know, a source of comfort. Essentially to help you reframe service to others. But what of your faith in the mundane? So not on your highs or lows in your Christian walk but like on the daily. How does that help you rationalise or frame how you understand your singleness?

Ija: I think in two ways: one realising that my whole entire existence is in motion because of God and what he has purposed. So it brings, even when I am not consciously thinking about it, it brings a sense of deep purpose. Like, if I am still here and still breathing then there must be purpose. Then that translates to, whatever season I am in, there’s purpose. Secondly, I know that when I am normally in the lows, its probably because I am thinking too much of myself as you said. So then it’s about thinking of how I live from a place of self-forgetfulness.

Siwe: Basically, thinking of yourself less. Not thinking less of yourself but the frequency of focus on yourself is now less. 

Ija: Exactly, because I think sometimes people can think that you’re trying to say that, “you must now neglect yourself and not care for your wellbeing“. Not at all, do all those things and once you’ve done that, remember to turn your magnifying glass and your focus outward. Yeah, I think that’s the way in which my faith influences me. It serves as the backdrop of my life to a certain extent, even when it’s not at its most optimal.

Siwe: Is your faith affecting in any way the reason you’re single now? If so, how?

Ija: Well it certainly has narrowed my pool, since I am looking for someone’s son who believes in God

Siwe: What other traits are you looking for? You know, maybe someone will read this blog and think “I meet the description. It is I. I am someone’s son that she’s looking for”. I’ll definitely put a picture of you with this post

Ija: Now you’re starting a dating app, haha what is this?

What has been the biggest lesson with singleness to date?

Ija: I think there is something to be said of situationships and how as much as there’s enjoyment in the moment, I think they distort to a certain extent, what you feel that men should bring to the table when they want to pursue you.

Siwe: No, that was a real thing for me. Yeah.

Ija: And that continues to be a lesson that like, this is the scam version and it’s not worth it. Because they don’t even give you the rich fulfillment of good friendship or the rich fulfillment of deep relationship in romantic love.

Siwe: Yeah, it’s like crumbs

Ija: It distorts the one deeply and cheapens the other. And at the same time, it doesn’t even leave you full the way in which friendship does. Where it’s just like, what is this beyond the butterflies in your stomach and just feeling vibes. It’s quite empty beyond the vibes and the endorphins that are running around your brain.

I think another lesson is being intentional about making the single years count. I think that there’s a hyper focus in our culture of saying marriage marriage marriage.

Siwe: It’s like, graduate from your singleness to the next level now!

Ija: Exactly. There’s no focus on, “how do I make this good and have intentionality around that“. And I think that’s a lesson I’ve learned in my later twenties. It’s only now that I’ve probably started utilising my singleness well, and continue to think about utilising it well. Thinking about, how do I just build a full life that I want? And that allows me to do a lot of the things I want in this state.

Siwe: I really like what you said about situationships, because it’s so true.

Ija: My one friend described it this way: the thing about situationships is that they are like a good bag of french fries, they’re tasty but they leave you hungry.

Siwe: They truly do!  

What would you say to your 20, 21-year-old self who was getting into situationships. What would you say as an older person, knowing that you’d still be single in your late 20s?

Ija: I think I’d say two to three thing, if you allow me haha.

Siwe: Here we go with your famous “few words”. The author in you is now out, haha! Go buy her book guys, An Image In A Mirror is available at most online stores.

Ija: I think there’s something to be said about like, the hyper relationship culture. And particularly in your earlier years where you’re not “chosen”, and this whole “chosen” rhetoric then makes you feel like there’s something inherently wrong with you. Or you’re not pretty enough or not as valuable. I think definitely in my early twenties, that kind of thinking was something that I grappled with.

Siwe: And what’s the second thing that you would say to yourself?

Ija: I would probably say how do you, even without a romantic relationship create the life you want. In terms of pursuits spiritually, emotionally. Because I think in certain aspects that we think, when I’m in a relationship I am going to do XYZ. But if you want to go on a getaway for instance, you could go with some of your homies. So just do the stuff you want to do!

Siwe: Yeah. Don’t basically postpone your life, or put it on hold until the thing comes because you don’t know. You might be 40 and you’re like, I have been waiting!

Okay let’s think about the different church spaces we’ve been in. So, how have i) African parents/church, which is where we grew up, caused the distorted ideas about relationships that you may have had? And how have you unlearned some of that; ii) then church in the context of charismatic churches that we attended in uni. How did that also distort your ideas of relationships and how are you unlearning that, because that’s more recent.

Ija: So I think like, church in just growing up in the church, I think there’s a lot to be said around certain teachings that kind of position this idea of women particularly. Growing up, the teachings were always leaning towards women, and them having to position themselves in order to be chosen. Or having to do certain things in order to make themselves more delightful for men and therefore suitable to be chosen. There was a lot of that rhetoric.

Siwe: And not enough about, like how do we live out a life of godliness as Christians in general versus you guys need to be soft and tender and pandering to the guys.  

Ija: Yes. I think in the more contemporary churches, there’s just a hyper relationship focus, a hyper marriage focus pretty early.

Siwe: But relationship in the context of romantic ones, right? Because I found that relationships in general were not that big a priority. Community was not that big a priority. Where there was community, it was literally like, community for purpose. Basically, you are in community to find this spouse. Where, when we go out for ice cream with the guys from our cell group, you need to be outchea tryna catch your man. So, not community to do life. And so for me, a lot of my friends were not my church friends, even those that I attended church with. Because my friendship community was different than the one that was trying to force me into a husband treasure hunt. Where there wasn’t community just to be young and grappling with your faith.

Ija: I fully, fully agree with you. Where even just cultivating a space for healthy male, female relationships just wasn’t there. Because if we’re all out for ice cream, people are angling and positioning. When it was now impossible to just be like, I can healthily be your friend and we can have a healthy friendship. And thinking through, what does it look like to have a healthy friendship? What does it look like to have a healthy community? What does it look like to serve as selflessly in those contexts? And I think there was little or no teaching on that. There was also zero speaking on healthy singleness. Like, not a lot of capacity and range to talk about that and for it to be as well-thought-through and deliberate as the teachings on relationships.

Siwe: And I want to add here that this is not to erase that from the bible, marriage is what we ought to desire and it should be normative, and it’s good. It’s definitely something that we should be rooting for, but like the reality is that not everyone’s going to get married. So now what must happen there? How do we celebrate the singles who won’t ever get bridal showers, weddings or even baby showers maybe. How do we find ways to celebrate with them and come alongside them? How is our love for them practical and the teachings they get deliberate, comforting and reassuring?

So in terms of the church then, if you had two minutes with all the pastors in our older churches and you were like, ‘yo, I want to talk to you about single women in the church’. What would be the things that you’re saying, you guys need to fix this, or you guys need to do better at this.

Ija: So I think for starters, I’d say that the language used at times needs to stop making it seem like women are incomplete without a partner. Realising that they have whole full lives and interests and things that are exciting that exist outside this one thing. I think number two, very practically is what we were having a conversation about earlier, around just teaching. Having teachings that focus a lot more on community, on adult relationships, as well as the romantic relationships. So, a more holistic well-rounded teaching that allows space for all those relationships to flourish. Uhm, I think also less pressure around the female posturing. So even similar to the settings we were talking about, where you can go for ice cream without this being the story.

So, one of my friends’ husband is convinced that most church guys are just not good at wooing, that they don’t have game. What do you think of church guys and game? Like, when we talk about these things of ice cream hangouts and all the pressure, how do guys present in those settings and what would you say about that?

Ija: I think they also find themselves under pressure. So, you find that a lot of times when you go for that ice cream, you can sense from them that there’s also an energy. I think not so much that they don’t have game, I’d say that they’re not decisive because the pool in the church favours them. The church has very interesting and beautiful women. So I’d say it’s more indecision than lack of game, but they’re definitely also are under pressure.

Siwe: Wait, going back to what we were talking about earlier, have any of your situationships been with church guys?

Ija: Yeah! So most of my situationshipping was in the church

Siwe: I definitely situationshipped in the church A LOT. I literally was in scenarios where we’ll go to prayer together, and I am thinking but how are you praying so vigorously and so publicly when I know all your shenanigans. Haha!

Ija: I mean, I have a theory that the ‘hyper pressure’ church environment is also breeding ground for situationships hey. Okes were outchea living their best lives pursuing women with no real intent behind it. Where it was even possible that we’re in a situationship with the same person, especially in huge churches. Like, I literally think it might be a breeding ground for that sort of thing where everyone is in a situationship.

Siwe: Haha, that’s hectic bra!

Let’s talk to younger women in the church who are dealing with different pressures than what we were dealing with. What would you say to them?

Ija: I think I’d add on to what I would advise my younger self. I’d add, just bringing it back to God, reflecting on just what it means to be loved by God and then as a consequence, the way in which you wish to love. And the ways you need to put yourself in situations that help you grow in selflessness, in considering another before yourself. I think you need to seek it out because sometimes there’s passivity after you rightfully pray for the fruit of the spirit, but not necessarily being in situations that make you choose to lean in and grow in that.

Siwe: And how are you thinking about being there for younger women in the church?

Ija: I think very practically it’s the point we talked about earlier, holistically forming a life that’s full and that’s rich and that’s wholesome. And then giving myself to community, giving myself to friends, giving myself to family. I guess also not being afraid to speak about the season, and to speak about the good, the bad and the in-between about the season. Creating room for others to do the same and also just like, pursuing purpose in this time.

Siwe: Is that what you would say someone who is single and our age, should be thinking about?

Ija: Yeah, definitely.

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