Years ago, for my niece’s third birthday, her mother threw a party. I can remember walking into the house and immediately doing a survey of the landscape. It was not unlike The Lord of the Flies: toddlers screaming, crying, fighting over toys, throwing pieces of cake, howling for their mothers. The chaos was crippling—literally. One little scamp charged me and wrapped her arms around my legs in a vise-like grip. Immediately I froze. God, what do I do now? I thought. The child’s mother soon freed me, and suddenly something concretized in that moment: This is not for me.
And I’m not sorry about it. Though I have always loved spending time with my nieces over the years, I also relish getting in my car and going back to an environment I can actually control. While marriage and children are the building blocks of any society, it is a calling unheeded by many. According to a study by the US Census Bureau, “single-person households increased fivefold since 1960, from 7 million to 36 million.” Marriage and family are desirable for countless people; for others, however, it’s not enough.
According to a 2020 study by Pew Research Center, angst over being unmarried in America has waned. “Many single adults in the US are content being on their own. Of the half who are not looking for a relationship or dates at the moment, having more important priorities and enjoying being single are their top reasons why they are not looking to date,” the report state. “A small share of singles report that they are, in fact, currently casually dating someone. This group includes singles of all ages and most of them are open to a relationship if one comes along.”
I deeply admire those who raise children—there is perhaps no harder job one can undertake. It’s just not something I want. As a single, I enjoy certain freedoms that married people do not. I am spared recitals and soccer games, PTA meetings, and midnight feedings. But I’m not lazy. Because I am not tethered to a family of my own, I have the freedom to assist friends, family, and neighbors as it is needed.
Because I have aging parents, I’m relieved that I have the freedom and the geographical proximity to help them if and when they require it. If I had a family of my own, I don’t know that I’d have the availability or the mental bandwidth to keep everything afloat. It’s more than an even trade.
But if I stand back and look at this from a different angle, I am reminded that we are never truly alone. I am part of a vast, human family. I am a link in a mighty chain. And because I am never alone, I have no fear of loneliness.
In his 2017 TED Talk, Pope Francis eloquently spoke to all believers—regardless of their marital status—about the need to shore up our whole human family. “We all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other,” the pope said. “And we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.”