I never meant to be single
The number of one person households in the UK is continuing to grow and the number of people living in these households has doubled since 1971. Fiona Veitch Smith talks to three women, single for very different reasons
Missing a special friend
Anne Marie Lord (60) is a widow
Anne Marie Lord lost her husband, David, to a brain tumour when she was only 41. They had been married for 20 years and had three teenage children. David and Anne Marie met in college in their late teens. They were married at 21.
“I was never really single,” says Anne Marie. “Even now I still feel a bond but, paradoxically, a sense of freedom to be me.
“But sometimes even now there is a wistful hope that he will appear round the corner and walk in through the front door. There is the heartache of missing a special friend, someone I could confide in and the emotional and physical love we shared.
“I would be asked, ‘What does your husband do?’ People do not expect someone in their 40s to be widowed.”
Anne Marie says she has grown into singleness. It was only when her three children grew up and left home that she had to adjust to being in the house on her own – and having to do the dishes by herself!
“I’m happy doing many things on my own,” she says. “Being creative is helpful, but it is good to have supportive family and friends who will include you. My self-confidence has grown and I go on walking holidays and meet people I wouldn’t have met before. But the greatest benefit of being single is that the choices, however big or small, are now mine.”
Anne Marie’s faith has helped her in her bereavement and her journey into singleness. “God has guided me away from or through many a difficult situation. I was very aware of his help in the early days and it’s been a comfort to know I can place all my problems in his hands. With God I will never be alone.”
Complete in God
Debbie Webster (46) is divorced
Debbie Webster also married young. She was 18 when she met her husband-to-be and he was the same age. They met at work and got married soon afterwards. Debbie says she had run away from a difficult home situation and jumped at the first opportunity for a change.
Because they had no money, the young couple stayed with his family for a year. “I just exchanged one difficult domestic setting for another,” says Debbie. “If I had come from another background I probably would never have married him. I don’t even think we were ‘in love’.
“We just drifted along and had the kids. I had 11 miscarriages and one stillborn child. We also had two healthy children, Janice and David, for whom I would go through the whole thing again.”
After 19 years of just “drifting along”, she asked her husband to leave. They were both Christians, in the same church, and Debbie says some people judged her very harshly without knowing the circumstances.
“The Bible has very clear teaching on what are acceptable grounds for divorce and I believe I obeyed them,” she says. She adds that it took her seven years to decide to finally get divorced and, after much prayer, she took the step.
“Although we both became Christians, I grew in God but my husband didn’t seem to want to. I wanted to get an education and better our situation; again, he didn’t seem to want to.”
Since the divorce, Debbie has been to college and taken courses in counselling and IT - all while being severely visually impaired. Even before she was divorced she did volunteer work with the Red Cross and Justice for Abused Children. Until recently, she has headed up her church’s community help ministry and been a facilitator on Alpha courses.
After a very difficult childhood and marriage, Debbie believes she is finally reaching a place of wholeness and that her completion is found in God, not a partner. Her ex-husband is now engaged to someone else and is free to see their now grown-up children.
Debbie is moving on. A year before we spoke to her, she received prayer for her near-blindness caused by Diabetes. Since then, her vision has improved and she no longer has to use a white stick.
The woman who prayed for her, Rev Christina Cunnington, has now invited her to go on a ministry trip to South Africa. Debbie has never flown or travelled outside of the UK before.
She says: “This would never have happened if I was married. I wouldn’t have had the freedom or the courage to go where God wanted me to.”
More time for others
Karen Hall (50) is single
Karen has never been married. “I never planned it this way,” she says, “it just never happened for me.
“I became a Christian at 15 and since then never seriously considered having a non-Christian boyfriend. And seeing that there are far more women in church than men, the odds were already stacked against me.
“When I was in my teens and early 20s, the young people in my church started pairing off. I had a couple of relationships, but they never lasted very long.
“It never really bothered me until my late 20s. There were times when I desperately wanted someone and wondered if there was something wrong with me. You can’t help it. You ask: why me? Or why not me? But then I would think that I would far prefer to be in a loving relationship with God than be with someone and not be in a good place.
“I’ve seen lots of people get married and not be happy, or drift away from God or church. It’s not all a bed of roses.
“There are a lot more single women around than there used to be, so it is more socially acceptable to be alone. But it’s still hard. The worst thing is when other people assume that there’s something wrong with me or that I’m a bit of a charity case.
“I remember visiting a friend’s house and their nine-year-old son asking why I didn’t have a husband – which is a perfectly reasonable question, and one I was happy to answer. But before I could say anything the father laid in to him and told him not to be so rude and that he had hurt my feelings by asking it.”
Like Anne Marie, but for different reasons, singleness is something that Karen did not choose but has come to accept.
“If you’d asked me this 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given you the same answers. Up until I was in my early 40s I still hoped to get married. Now I appreciate the value of being single.
“I’m free to consider only what I want to do. I have a good network of friends – married and single – and I’m able to invest a lot of time and effort into those relationships.
“I’ve also been able to dedicate more time to the church. Some people get married, have kids and disappear. The church would fall about without single people.
“Of course I have fears about growing old alone. But when I look around at church I don’t see that. The older single people are always busy with social groups and have a good network of friendship and support. So I have something to look forward to, not fear.”
When asked whether she thought it was God’s will that she be single she answered: “I’ve never received a word from God ‘yes’ or ‘no’, although I’ve asked him many times. If I say that being single is not his will and I have been following him since my teens, then I am effectively saying that he hasn’t had a hand in my past life. How then could I trust him to be in my future?
“I know of some married people who think that singles are somehow incomplete. Worse still, I know of singles who believe it and go out with anyone just to say they are part of a couple and therefore a whole.
“We are God’s creation and he wants our joy to be complete in him. He wants us to grow and develop as individuals. If you say that you have to be half of a couple to be complete, then where does that put God? God created whole people, not half people, to say otherwise is to disrespect his will.”