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Learning to See Your Single Neighbor
I recently found myself in tears over a beautiful white couch. Someone had kindly offered this couch to me for free, but I had no way to pick it up, transport it, and store it. After more than a week of text messages, face-to-face requests, and social media posts, I found myself unable to move the couch the night before the deadline I had been given.
Here is a text I sent to a friend that night:
I’m so tired of being so dependent on other people. So tired of being vulnerable and asking for help and being made to feel/making myself feel like a burden. I’m so tired of how crushing the need for a truck and strong muscles is on a recurring basis. I was so excited about this couch, and now I’m crying not because I probably can't get the couch, but because all day I laid myself out there and asked for what I cannot do and was not treated with gentleness and understanding. I’m so tired of doing daily life alone.
Doing life alone. I’m far from the only single Christian who is regularly exhausted by it. Singles who have great family and friends and churches still regularly experience loneliness and feelings of powerlessness. From ordinary Saturdays to life-changing events, singleness can often make you feel like you are hiding in plain sight.
This is not how it’s supposed to be. In the kingdom of God, partnership is not reserved for married couples. The Scriptures consistently paint a picture of interconnected community, showing us a way of life where our unique personhood matters and where we find ourselves in day-in and day-out partnership with others. But sadly, the American church has often adopted a vision of singleness that emphasizes independence over partnership, excusing married people from laying down their lives to love their single friends.
It’s been my experience that the church celebrates the independent single who moves overseas to do mission work while the single who stays in her hometown to care for a sick parent is almost invisible. Perhaps that’s because the strong and adventurous single seems to require less from the church. But the truth is, all of us need the body of Christ. No one can, or should, go it alone.
You Are Not Alone—or Are You?
Couches are just the beginning of the daily grind singles are trying to manage alone. There are also rides to the airport and doctor, needed house repairs—everything from mental health struggles to jump-starting a car battery. Yes, many of these things one can hire help for, but constantly hiring help can become a financial burden for singles living on one income. And then there’s the relational isolation that often comes with singleness—a problem that can’t be solved just by throwing money at it.
As one friend recently shared:
I had to have my cat put down and he was my little companion. I remember digging his grave in my backyard in the rock-hard Texas soil by myself being one of the loneliest moments in my life. What was even worse was my closest friend knew this was happening and didn't even call to check on me. She was married with kids and I think just didn't “get” how much my cat meant to me.
It has become popular for people to say to someone hurting, “You are not alone.” That message has brought me comfort many times, but the reality is, I was alone that night as I sat on the carpet, soaking my cheeks with tears about a couch. That doesn't mean I was unloved or without people, but I was alone in my physical room and in my need. No one was there to hold me as I cried; no one else was even sending text messages asking for last-minute couch-moving help on my behalf.
Another single friend recently told me:
A few weeks ago I was feeling dizzy and feverish. If I'd had a spouse here, he obviously would’ve been looking out for me. But since I didn't, I was left wondering if I should call someone to come over and watch out for me, but everyone I know is really busy. There was also the fear of what if I call them over and it turns out to be nothing? Would they be less likely to come in the future if I had an actual emergency if this time was a false alarm?
Do You See?
When I need to move a couch or find a ride, when I am sick or sad, when my car is broken or the medical bill is more than I expected, I often want to scream, “Do you see me?!”
Do you see what vulnerability it takes to send text messages asking for help each and every week?
Do you see that single people have more housing instability, so, yes, we are moving again, and, yes, we are just as tired of moving that old dresser as you are, but we cannot do it alone?
Do you see me on weekends and holidays and all the other times our culture has dubbed “family time”?
Do you see that I am never quite sure who will help the next time I am in need? Do you see the lack of consistency, dependability, and commitment I experience?
Christians cannot begin to learn to show up for the single people among them until they learn to see. Sometimes that means being willing to step outside the boundaries of what’s comfortable or easy to understand. Because here’s the bottom line: Even though it’s difficult and time-consuming and may upend our priorities, God calls his church to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way … fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
All of us must acknowledge our own capacity and limitations. But at the same time, we often miss what we have to give. If you are a parent with three kids under five, maybe this isn’t the right season to commit to helping a single person with monthly yard care, but you could invite that person to a dinner of mac and cheese. You may think your single friends want nothing to do with bath time, but in my experience, the warmth and chaos of a home can be a gift. When community is seen as partnership, you can welcome singles into your life, not only to serve them but also to be served. Let us change the diapers and read the bedtime stories; invite us to the dance recitals and Little League games. You don't have to wait until you are an empty nester, or until your house is in perfect shape, to partner in love with your single friends.
If you are ready to start seeing and showing up for your single friends, here are four ways to begin:
One of the biggest gifts marriage gives is stability and commitment. When you are married, you know who your first phone call is, who your feedback and logistics person is. Many single people ache for that kind of relational commitment. If you do not believe marriage is a reward for being a better human, then you also should believe single people are just as deserving of commitment. Just as you chose your spouse, choose your single friends in concrete committed ways. Be verbal, get specific, and follow through. Offer to serve as a friend’s emergency contact, or say things like “Every other Tuesday we want to get together with you, and not always at our house.”
- Build a Community
Identify one or two other couples and begin the conversation about which singles God has placed in your life and how you can start actively seeing and partnering with them. Create a group text with those committed couples and singles you feel called to partner with.
If I could send one text to three individuals or couples that have committed to me when a need arises, that would bring relief and security, and cut down on the barrage of “no” that single people often have to deal with. And being part of such a group would allow me to help them, too. When friends take turns stepping up to meet each other’s needs, everyone benefits.
- Take the Initiative
Love should be proactive. Show your single friends you see them by consistently taking the initiative. There is a fatigue that comes with constantly having to ask for help, so when a married couple pursues me, asking what I want and need before I have to send another text, I feel deeply loved. Healthy marriages often have points of check-in, a time each week where you hash out calendars, talk through conflicts, and emotionally care for each other. Why can’t this also be the case with your closest single friends?
- Affirm the Ask
For almost all of us, married and single alike, asking for what we want and need is hard. The independent culture we have grown up in has taught us that to need is to be weak, and to be weak is unacceptable. But in reality, to have needs and to be weak is to embrace our beautiful, fragile humanity. On the good days, I actually cherish the ways that singleness forces me to reckon with my humanness.
So when your single friends ask for something, from a hug to a ride home from the mechanic’s, no matter whether you can help or not, affirm their courage in asking for help. Remind them over and over that they are not a burden, that you know doing life alone is hard, and that you want to help and you want them to keep asking.
In the end, I’m thankful to say, someone did this for me. My friend responded to my heartbroken message: “I was sad to receive this text. Give yourself the grace to ask. People are allowed to say no and that’s okay … but they can’t say yes or no if you don't ask. You are loved.”
With those compassionate words and the grace of God, I kept asking for the help I needed. By the next day, one couple had offered their own master bedroom to store the couch, a neighbor had offered his truck, and another neighbor his muscles. My people showed up for me.
One of my deepest desires is that every single person could say the same.
Holly Stallcup is the founder and executive director of Rise.