I can vividly remember the day, even the moment, Stu and I met. I remember what I was wearing (white shirt tucked into navy shorts). I remember what I was doing (ordering a veggie wrap in the student union of Grove City College) and why I was there (returning from babysitting and dashing for food before everything closed). I remember seeing him, the only other one in the room, and the rush of excitement and nervousness that came next. We had a class together and I had absolutely noticed the tall, handsome blonde stranger even before we both arrived to our first day of Sociology.
Stu introduced himself that evening, and my life changed forever. It was ordinary and sweet and in hindsight so incredibly significant. It seems strange now that there was a day when Stu, the one who is now my best friend and my forever, had to introduce himself to me and ask my major and where I grew up.
The moment I met Stu my world shifted. All the expectations I had lined up for my future shattered, and it became clear very quickly that this, him, was so much better. But I wasn’t prepared, and just about every stage of my relationship with Stu was completely a surprise and characterized by me feeling totally unprepared. I had never been in a real relationship before (yes, I’m one of those) and I wasn’t necessarily ready to shift the way I spent my time or my expectations of the future to include someone else. There were times in our relationship when I felt confused, desperate for advice, and worried I would fail.
I had a shimmery idea before I started dating that everything would fall into place, that I would know exactly what happened next, that I wouldn’t need a mountain of support because my significant other would meet those needs. Instead, I realized that I was more desperate for support than ever before.
There is an idea that once we find relationships or get married we’ll find everything we’ve been ever waiting for. We act like singleness is a stage of waiting and marriage is the goal. I was surprised when Stu and I started dating that something didn’t click in me. There wasn’t some metamorphosis from single Abby to dating Abby. Actually, I stayed mostly the same, there was just now this enormous thing that I was working to maintain and an amazing person I was desperately striving to love well. My circumstances changed in the best way, but my personal flaws, weaknesses, and struggles remained.
I’ve found with myself and my friends that the issues and longings you have as a single person not only prevail in marriage, but they become even more pronounced. Your spouse can see things about you with perfect clarity that you were afraid to even admit to yourself. Marriage is beautiful but at its core it is still two broken people united by love and commitment — it does not do away with the discontentment, insecurity, and dissatisfaction we may feel when we are single. At its worst, it makes all of these things blow up when your marriage isn’t all you hoped and dreamed it would be.
I love Stu with my entire heart, more than I thought I could love another person, but it didn’t take me long to realize that my marriage is not enough — and it’s not supposed to be. I need more than my marriage to support me, and if I depend on it to be my everything I will crush it under the weight of my misplaced expectations. We are not created to be isolated or even limited to the support and love of one other person. These things do not undercut our marriages, they do not discount the deep connection and altogether unique relationship between ourselves and our spouse, they encourage and deepen it.
I could write pages and pages about all I’ve learned from and with Stu, but at its core marriage has taught me that I need the same simple things I did before we ever met:
I need to have honest expectations. Some of us, especially those of us who grew up in the church, expect marriage to be the “cure” to singleness. We expect perfect purity to set us up for marriage bliss. We expect love to cover all wrongs. Even if in our heads we know these things are unrealistic we still often enter marriage with them buried deep in our hearts. We need to extract these dangerous, lethal expectations before we ever enter into relationships. You are significant, whether married or single. Your singleness is not just a period of waiting. Your marriage is going to be deeply flawed. Your marriage is going to be hard sometimes. Your marriage will not look exactly like you hoped it would — it will be so much more challenging and also, if you’re pursuing Christ together, so much better.
Second, I need vulnerable friendships. Stu and I have moved twice since we got married, and I couldn’t imagine making those moves without him. But in the moments where we have had no one but each other I have been devastatingly convicted of my need for friendship. We need more than just each other. We need friends who will encourage us in our faith, who will laugh with us, who will speak to parts of us that the other person cannot. My friendships have become far more important to me since Stu came into my life than they ever were before because I realized how beautifully rare our relationships are. I need people who I can be vulnerable with, who I can trust with my heart and my brokeness.
And lastly I need to be pursuing Christ to fill my deepest needs. I could rely on Stu or my family or my friends to meet my needs. I could expect them to give me the love and affirmation and purpose and grace that I crave. I have done this before — I have depended on mortal relationships to fill me and I have ended up desperate, lonely, and angry. I have wondered why I felt so unfulfilled when I have the best husband, family, and friends, I could ever dream of. I cannot expect my mortal relationships to fill the needs that Christ wants to fill — the needs that only he can truly satisfy. I can delight in the way that Stu knows me better than anyone, the way he loves me selflessly and fully, the way our life together brings me deep contentment and joy, but he will fail me and I will fail him. I need to be clinging to Jesus’ perfection and everlasting grace because only He can meet the needs completely and wholly.
Please, my single friends, do not think that as a married person I no longer need these things simply because I have the love and fellowship of Stu. Do not undercut my needs as whole person simply because I am also a wife. My marriage is not enough and neither are my friendships or my accomplishments, but there is One who is. With him there is fulfillment and purpose that has nothing to do with my relationship status, and that is where I have found my deepest joy.