Not having a "special someone" may not be your choice, especially around Valentine's Day. So how can you deal with it? We spoke with Jennifer Howell Spaulding, a 4word woman who lived with a deep unmet desire for a life partner for many years. Jennifer's story is one of faith and courage that will not only inspire you, but also provide you with some practical truths for your current "relationship status", no matter what it is.
4word: Tell us about your journey through singleness before you met your husband.
Jennifer: I celebrated my 40th birthday with a great sense of joy. My career was going well, I was blessed to have amazing friends and family in my life, and I also knew I was spending my birthday with my future husband. All that was wonderful! However, I felt most proud to be celebrating another year of truly loving myself and for finding my joy as a single woman.
I wouldn't have been able to say that a few years earlier. I used to lament over my singleness and not being where I thought I should be in my personal life. When I was 29, I broke off an engagement, and at the time, I was hopeful that my future husband was right around the corner. Little did I know that I was at the beginning of another 10 years of singleness. The majority of those next 10 years were filled with a mixture of dating and tears, lots of learning, and searching for purpose in my life.
When I found peace and joy in singleness, it seemed like Evan, my husband, came into my life very soon after. I joke that I never thought I would meet Evan so quickly! I honestly thought it might be another 10 years before I met the man God wanted me to spend the rest of my life with, and I was OK with that. I was happy, because I knew God had great things in store for me!
4word: Now you are married! How did you meet your husband?
Jennifer: Meeting Evan was a combination of divine intervention, timing, and doing the necessary work to be ready for one another. The short story is that my next-door neighbor in my condo building set us up. However, the story is more involved.
Funny thing is, I didn’t want to buy a condo on my own. I wanted to wait until I could buy it with my future husband. However, I had learned that my life would pass me by with that attitude. If I hadn’t bought that condo, I’m convinced I never would have met my neighbor or Evan.
When I first met Evan, I was instantly critical of his turquoise t-shirt. Because I had worked on issues holding me back, I knew I could be critical about superficial things (like the color of a t-shirt or the fact that he wore a t-shirt!). It was how I protected my heart from getting hurt. I said a quick prayer, “God, please let me get past the turquoise t-shirt. Please let me get past it.” My prayer seems silly (and super snobby), but I needed help to be more open. The prayer worked!
4word: Can you share with us about your transition from singleness to marriage?
Jennifer: Our first year of marriage has been full of change. We moved to Austin for Evan’s new job, I’m launching a life coaching business while employed full-time, and we adopted a dog. Thankfully, our transition has been fairly smooth even with these adventures.
My biggest fear was wondering if we would have trouble merging our lives and households after all these years of singleness. I had heard that older people get “set in their ways.” We found that if you find the right match, it is easier to compromise when needed.
Because we had made many mistakes in previous relationships, we learned to be clear about what we truly valued in a mate. Also, we had lots of practice sharing our wants and needs. This has been invaluable in times of disagreement.
4word: Many women want to have someone to partner with for life but struggle with finding the "right one." What were some ways that you coped with this?
Jennifer: I can relate to women who want more than anything to get married but can never seem to meet that right guy. It's a real struggle to stay positive, put yourself out there to meet someone, and then end up disappointed – sometimes over and over again.
For me, I took a leap of faith with a trusted advisor and tried something different. When I was 36, my counselor at church advised me to take a break from dating. I thought that was a crazy idea. Take time off from dating?! Especially when I thought I “needed to be out there more than ever!”
My counselor told me that when you're in a relationship, you're less likely to work on yourself. People usually focus on the “we” instead of the “you,” slowing individual and relationship growth.
During my 9-month break from dating (yes, 9 months!), I looked at choices I had made, spent time with my emotions, mended some pain in my life, and worked on my struggle with trusting God and His plan for me. I took some other actions as well that I talk about in my blog, A Path to Joy in Singleness.
Now I understand that giving up dating for 9 months isn’t for everyone. I don’t expect others to jump on the bandwagon. However, I do recommend taking advantage of the gift of singleness and focusing on your growth opportunities. That 9-month period of reflection and growth was life-changing. I attribute my relationship with my fiancé to that period of time.
4word: In your opinion, what is the healthiest way a single woman can manage her desire for a life partner?
Jennifer: Every woman is different, but I can share what was helpful for me. I struggled with managing my desire for a husband, mainly because I thought I was doing a lot of right things to prepare myself for him. I addressed areas I needed to grow in, I prayed a lot, I surrounded myself with great people, and I put myself in situations to meet new people. But after 15 years of searching, my guy still wasn’t showing up!
I eventually realized that I wasn’t fully letting go and trusting God. I was so used to relying on my own skills to make things happen in my professional life, that I wasn’t relying on God to take over my personal life. I had grown frustrated with His timing. Once I realized I wasn't giving everything over to Him, I began to repeat, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind,” a hybrid of Proverbs 3:5-6 and Matthew 22:37. Over time, my faith in God deepened, as did my sense of joy.
4word: You mentioned having faith and trusting God. What does that mean and how does it apply to searching for a partner?
Jennifer: Trusting God’s timing and plan for our lives allows us to focus more on our life's purpose and less on what we don’t have. This perspective shift lets us see how truly blessed we are. Perhaps God has blessed us with singleness to accomplish things that we could not accomplish while married. Perhaps we're learning lessons that will make us healthier and stronger so we meet a healthier, stronger mate. God knows what He is doing.
Living our life's purpose brings us joy and confidence. We all want to be around joyful, confident people. When we begin to live our life's purpose, we become a lightning rod for great people and great gifts. And then, we are also better equipped to serve and help others.
4word: How can someone learn to be content in their current relationship status?
Jennifer: I think contentment in our current life stage is directly related to loving yourself, loving others, and loving God. Contentment isn't wrapped up in romantic love. I came to this realization from personal experience.
Mark 12:31 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Most of us probably haven't realized that this commandment requires us to love ourselves. We all know amazing women who demonstrate their love of neighbors by volunteering, taking care of others’ needs, and making themselves available to serve. However, we also know women who overcommit, put their friends and families first before their own needs, and are pretty harsh on themselves.
I was a woman in the latter category and didn’t see it. I wasn't showing myself the same care and love I showed others. The voice inside my head was often so unloving, extremely self-judging, and downright mean. No wonder I was miserable and discontent!
Once I became conscious of that mean voice inside my head, I began to counter it with sweet, loving phrases. I learned to say no to overcommitting and instead used that time to practice self-care. As the negative voice subsided in my head, so did my discontentment.
4word: What lessons from your time of singleness have made a positive impact on your marriage?
Jennifer: Who would have thought I would be so thankful for every bump in the road, every tear, and years of singleness, but I am. Those years were a gift!
There are so many lessons that have helped us. The most important so far- I learned to find love from within and lean on God more than I could have imagined. This takes a lot of pressure off of Evan. He isn’t responsible for my happiness. He is my cherry on top of my awesome sundae.
4word: Any other thoughts you'd like to add?
Jennifer: We all want community with like-minded people. This was definitely true for me when most of my friends were married, and I felt like the only one who was alone. So I began seeking out women who were blazing a path in the single world and succeeding at it.
It was comforting to know that I was in great company with women I admire. These women became mentors in my life, and I learned nuggets of wisdom from each of them. Plus, it was just great to call them up to go see a movie or grab a bite to eat. I think everyone should seek out girlfriends you admire that are walking in similar shoes. I call these women "luminaries," and I will forever seek them out.
Are you struggling with trusting God with your relationship status? This time of year is especially hard for single professional women, but take Jennifer's advice and view this time in your life as a blessing. Once singleness becomes more of an opportunity to you than a downfall, you will shock yourself with how invigorating and meaningful your life will become.
Are you living with any unmet desires? How can you apply the principles Jennifer mentioned to your situation?
Jennifer has been able to use her insight and experience in the 4word: Mentor Program, and has been a mentor to many single professional women. If you think you could benefit from having a mentorship with someone like Jennifer, click this link to submit your application for the upcoming spring session of the 4word: Mentor Program.