I think cynicism may be the great vice of single people. It’s been such a struggle for me, especially in the past few years, that I’ve begun to think of it as part of the universal single experience. I may be wrong on this; I’ve certainly known singles who’ve seemed to avoid this path, and goodness knows I’m trying very hard to do the same.
In any case, here are my seven reasons why I think single people, particularly those over 25 or so, have a tendency to become cynical.
1. We become cynical because the world is a funny place. (Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.)
I had to read the odd-but-funny short story “Orientation,” by Daniel Orozco, in multiple short story writing classes, and the following excerpt always stuck with me:
Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce’s existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn’t the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course.
I, like most single people, am very aware that the world is a funny place, but not in the ha-ha sense. The guys you like never like you back, and the guys who like you (or an idealized version of you) are guys you just can’t muster up any feelings for.
In fact, based on my own experiences, it seems strange that enough people have liked each other at the same time for so many marriages to have taken place in the world. The odds of that just seem pretty slim.
2. We become cynical because we are rarely forced to be vulnerable.
Learning vulnerability as a single person vs a married person is sort of like trying to learn French from an app vs taking classes. Doable? Sure. But it requires so much discipline and intentionality and choosing to keep on even when you feel stupid and could just stop if you wanted to.
Also, it’s worth noting that it’s hard to be vulnerable around people who don’t understand what you’re going through. At a ladies’ retreat last year, I decided that the time had come for me to learn vulnerability, and I told my prayer group that it was hard for me to admit that being single was difficult for me.
“Oh, don’t rush into marriage,” said a kind, well-intentioned older woman. “My daughter is 20, and I just tell her, ‘don’t rush into marriage.'”
Should I, I wondered, inform her that I was 27, not 20, and could hardly be accused of “rushing into marriage?”
I just kept quiet. So much for vulnerability.
3. We become cynical because we’d rather be single than married to your husband
There’s a certain stripe of married people that like to tell single people they’re being too picky. They should lower their standards. Give that guy a chance, even though he was boring and had a bad taste in music.
There’s another stripe of married people that like to tell single people we idealize marriage too much. Marriage is hard, they say. Some even whisper in our ears that, “don’t tell anyone this, but I should never have gotten married at all.”
So maybe we’re cynical because we feel like married people give us advice without even understanding what we want. We don’t want marriage for the sake of marriage. We’d rather be single than married to your husband. We just want to marry someone we really like. We don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.
4.We become cynical because we’re tired of our problem being more noticeable than your problem
My friend Dolly was born with short arms and only three fingers on each hand. Recently, I was talking to her about her experience having a very visible disability, and how this made other people treat her.
Dolly told me that in reality, while having short arms was somewhat inconvenient when she wanted to load a top-loading washer or put a pie in the oven, it’s nothing compared to the depression she’s always dealt with. But no one thinks to feel sorry for her because of her depression. Everyone always feels sorry for her because she has short arms.
The noticeable problems are not always actually the bad problems.
I think we single people feel a little resentful that our problem is more a visible problem than it is a terrible problem. Yes being single is hard. But while many married people have it even harder, no one notices and bombards them with unhelpful platitudes, visibly relieved that they’re not in their shoes.
5. We become the cynical single because we don’t want to become the sad single.
Once, in my very early 20s, I happened to be in a car with two older single women who were very sad about their marital status. They talked about singleness for the whole car ride, bemoaning the fact that the older single men they knew never seemed interested in asking girls out. And then one of them said the following:
“I learned that I need to have an open hand for God to give us gifts, but I can’t close my hand around that gift, because God might take it away again. Like once several years ago, the guy I liked was on the same volleyball team as me. That was a gift from God. But then the next time we played volleyball, he wasn’t on the same team as me. That was God taking the gift away again.”
I sat there in the back seat, completely baffled that someone could take their romances that seriously.
“Do you want to get married?” one of them asked me.
“Sure, if the right one comes along, but I don’t mind being single,” I said.
“See, it’s girls like you that always end up getting married,” she said resentfully.
I determined then and there that even if I didn’t get married, I was not going to become the sad, pathetic single.
Cynicism is, in a way, an overcompensation.
6. We become cynical because you got married at 22 and still think you know what it’s like to be single.
Single Mennonites and married Mennonites like to argue online about who has it harder. But the married people come across as having an extra inch of smugness because, since they were single before they got married, they think they understand both sides.
Don’t get me wrong. We singles have no idea what it’s like to be married, and are full of false assumptions. But unless you were over 25 when you got married, you don’t understand the older single experience either.
7. We become cynical because we’re tired of being treated our lives are incomplete because of something we can’t control.
At a recent ladies retreat, the ladies all stood up and introduced themselves by stating their name, who they were married to, and how many children and grandchildren they had.
They also said how many of their children were married, and how many were “still at home.”
A woman and her husband came to visit our home. The woman mentioned her three daughters, and then proudly said, “they’re all married,” as though that were their greatest accomplishment in life.
A single guy I follow on twitter once wrote, “So I taught an adult Sunday School class last Sunday. An older visiting brother was in the class. His 3rd question after class was ‘who are you married to?'”
Maybe this is a Mennonite problem more than a society problem. But when marriage becomes such a defining factor of who you are, those of us who never even had that option become a little cynical.
I realized, after I’d already composed the majority of this post, that if I consider cynicism to be a vice maybe I should have written a post on how to combat it instead of a post about why it happens. On the other hand, how can a problem be fixed if it isn’t even understood?
I hope that this post helps you understand the single experience a little bit better. Please leave your insightful thoughts in the comments, and your platitudes at home.
P.S. There is still time to enter my book giveaway