“They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

— Job 2:13

The trouble for the beleaguered single is that their specter is ephemeral—it lacks substance, lacks shape, and lacks form. It is a shadow; a longing and expectation fueled by desire and sustained by hope. It is as difficult for the single to explain their sorrow as it is for some of our comforters to understand. It is a loss that is not a loss, an ambiguous loss.

I found myself suffering from a heartbreak several years ago while working in ministry. I shared my ministry duties with another leader whose wife had a miscarriage. He took some time off, and I filled in. I was miserable, hurting, wounded and my smile was pained and unconvincing. I was rebuked for my “unwillingness to die to self” and my colleague was comforted in his time of loss.

I took the rebuke and pondered the truthfulness of the charge. I wondered what it is to die to self and what it is to mourn. Are the rules different for those in ministry? Are the rules different for the single Christian? To smile and pretend all was well seemed hypocritical to me. But to wear my heart on my sleeve may be equally inappropriate.

Before someone says, “You cannot compare the death of a child to a heartbreak!” yes I can. They are not the same, not equal, not close in measure, but they can feel the same—like death. What is important is not our idea or categories of tragedy but the reality of suffering. Each person has his or her moment of deep sorrow and each person suffers differently. The same compassion was not extended to me because what I suffered appeared trivial. I am sure I would mourn a miscarriage over a heartbreak but I did not suffer a miscarriage. I suffered a heartbreak and the pain was very real, very deep, and profoundly crippling. It was a loss that was not a loss, an ambiguous loss.

In Ambiguous Loss, Pauline Boss wrote, “… meaningful connections can’t happen if people in the community never validate ambiguous loss as a traumatic loss” (79). That is inescapably true. The single does not want separate, special treatment. They want equal treatment. They want an understanding that while a mother has many problems to deal with, the heart of a single woman also needs care. Yes, many married women muse that single women are “lucky,” but single women crave that burden of children.

What ambiguous loss can do is isolate. It not only isolates singles from singles but singles from married in the church. This is true because we are all so prone to see our problems as great and the pains of others as menial. That’s why it is easy to say, “Snap out of it!” or “You need to die to self.” It all seems so easy from the other side. There is the miscarriage of a child but what about the miscarriage of the hope for children? What about the death of dreams?

It is a kick in the stomach to be treated as though we are children weeping about bruised knees when our hearts are breaking, when our dreams are dying. A kiss will not make all things better but a little sympathy will go a long way. A little empathy could heal.

I often pray to God, “Lord, I know I have no idea what I am asking for, but give me a wife.” I am aware that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (1 Corinthians 7:28) but there are joys in marriage as well. It would be one thing if the longing of singleness was pain free, but it is not. The joy of singleness is tinged by the longing just as the wonder of marriage is marred by the sinfulness of its members. None of us is exempt.