graphic image of a woman looking at the clock

30+, Single, and Trying Not to Settle

Online dating in one’s 30s is not for the faint-hearted. Repeating answers to the same few questions for months on end, labouring to shape an organic conversation out of a vacuum, doing my best not to glance at my watch during tedious first dates . . . required a kind of endurance I hadn’t anticipated. But, hyperconscious of my ticking biological clock, I braved the doldrums of small talk to see if anything might come out of it.

And then, after a few months: a genuine spark. This guy was interesting. He seemed to have a rich inner world. He responded thoughtfully, asked compelling questions, had good manners. And for all his seriousness, he also had a whimsical sense of humour (and a nice smile). We liked the same biting English comedy, the outdoors, and learning new things. In the three hours of our first date, conversation flowed so effortlessly that I didn’t once think I wanted to be home doing something else.

But even though he’d listed “Christian” on his profile, it became apparent that he didn’t have a relationship with God. “God” existed as a vague notion of a higher power, and he wasn’t sure how the cross “worked”. The more we spoke, the more the signs of a life void of God revealed themselves. Though ambitious, clearly on track to be successful, his drive came from a place of insecurity. He admitted that he was terrified of being irrelevant and overlooked. To overcome that anxiety, he refused to relinquish any control of his life—not even to God—and drove himself relentlessly to be ahead of the curve.

 

The Temptation to Settle

After my last breakup nearly four years ago, I knew that the next person I dated had to both love God and be God-fearing. I could foresee the problems that came from being with someone who relied on himself to navigate through life. Life has shown me enough by now to know that when Jeremiah said, “The human heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (17:9), he wasn’t being facetious.

My own heart, as much as I try to surrender it to God, causes me enough trouble as it is. So, if my partner blatantly refused to yield his heart to God, how could I trust any of his decisions or words? I’d always be second guessing whether his intentions were self-centred or safe(ish). And forget about trusting him to be the spiritual leader of the family.

With the Christ-centred, God-fearing relationship, and eventually marriage, that I hope to have, it should have been a no-brainer in terms of ending this courtship. But as I considered the choice that lay before me, I faltered.

You’re not young anymore.

Do you really have the stomach for more dull first dates?

How many more times can you possibly get this sort of chemistry?

If you keep passing decent people up, you’re going to end up alone.

Surely this is something you can work with; it’s not like he’s an atheist.

Tick, tick, tick, TICK, TICK, TICK

The reality of giving up someone eligible by society’s standards hits harder at this age. I could feel my mind scrambling to find some sort of compromise. Perhaps I could rally and take it upon myself to disciple him. Maybe wanting my future husband to be a spiritual leader is a nice-to-have, not a must-have? After all, some of my Christian friends seem to function just fine with the wives being the spiritually stronger ones. Maybe I’m just fearing the worst: the man checks every other box but knowing God AND he’s ready for a serious commitment. Surely that counts for something!

My gut (or, perhaps, more accurately, the Holy Spirit) looked at all this rationalisation and raised an unimpressed eyebrow. But my fear-ruled mind kept grasping for straws.

 

The Home I Hope to Build

My better senses knew to pray for God’s conviction to do what was necessary, even if I wasn’t feeling it just yet. One evening, while doing the dishes, a question popped into my mind, “What are the most important values that you’re hoping to impart to your children?”

Quiet but pointed, it felt very much like something from the Holy Spirit. “Easy,” I thought, “that they can have a real relationship with a God who loves them. That their obedience is the only response befitting a holy God. And that they see everyone as being made in His image, and so is worthy of dignity and honour.”

To me, these few values would be my way of giving my children the very best version of life they could live. I’d tried a life without God, in defiance, and it was a wretched shadow of the richness that comes from being with Him. Being loved by God, loving God, and loving God’s people shaped a way of life that—though I didn’t always walk in elegantly or without struggle—I truly believed was the only way to fullness and wholeness.

A second question came swiftly after, “But what if your partner didn’t believe in these things, or refused to see them as a priority?”

And suddenly . . . all the tension that I’d been wrestling with for the last week dissolved. The thought of short-changing even my hypothetical children was inconceivable. How could I, knowing what I know, intentionally deprive them of growing up in a home that was united in pointing them to their best life?

Perhaps God knew that since I’m far more liable to compromise on the good for myself, and far less likely to do so for people I love, this was the easiest way to get through to me. This thought exercise helped me see that the choice I’d make about my future spouse wouldn’t just affect me, it’d have very real consequences on the lives of others—ones that I would probably love more than my own.

I realised this was, once again, a test of my heart. Did I trust that when God set certain boundaries for marriage, He knew best what we needed to thrive in it? Or was I arrogant enough to think I knew better? That I was “strong enough” to handle the consequences of not yielding to His guidelines and create a thriving marriage on my own terms?

Speaking to friends who had married non-Christians or spiritually immature men quickly dispelled me of any such illusions. They explained how lonely it was not being able to share the deepest part of their heart—their walk with God—with their spouses or how frustrating it was to pull their family along spiritually on their own. They all said that as much as they were still committed to their marriages, while I had the choice: I should absolutely not settle.

In contrast, friends who ­did marry godly men were discovering the unexpected joy of submitting to husbands who did their best to love them as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25–29), and who embraced the responsibility of leading the family spiritually. They had their struggles, too, but were generally flourishing, both as women and as Christians. They didn’t need to say it: I could see for myself why I shouldn’t settle.

After a few weeks of working through my thoughts, I told the guy that I wouldn’t be able to pursue the relationship further.

 

Single for Today

I know that growing in spiritual maturity means that my decisions—even about marriage—need to have less to do with serving my own needs and more about whether they glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

But making choices based on whether something makes me “an imprint of [God’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3) can feel like a burden sometimes. On low days, glorifying and obeying God feels like an exercise in suppressing my needs and resigning myself to being overlooked.

On better days though, I remember this promise: “those who honour me, I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30). It reminds me that as much as He doesn’t want me to settle for someone who doesn’t love Him, it is also not in His nature to leave me to “settle” for a life of misery as a single person. Though He may not meet my needs in the way I want him to, He will let me flourish. After all, it is a truer picture of who He is, when my life both reflects His holiness and that He is a Father who treasures, loves, and fulfils His children.

In this season, I see how He has brought me deep spiritual friendships that mitigate my loneliness, and gives me opportunities to contribute to His kingdom meaningfully. I’m learning to trust that His goodness—whatever the form—will be satisfying.

If I’m honest, I’m not ready for God to tell me that it’s His will for me to be single for the rest of my life. I haven’t come to trust Him that much yet. It’s easier, at this stage, to take “being single” a day at a time. As often as I remember, I begin the morning praying, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way that I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (Psalm 143:7–8). It’s my act of faith that, for today, there will be grace to thrive in my singleness.

8 replies
  1. Jo Rebeira
    Jo Rebeira says:

    Thank you so much for being so honest & vulnerable about this Nelle. Just like you I too am going through a period of Single ness in my life. It’s definitely tough being single in your 30’s but I trust God will open doors at the right time according to His will. Once again thank you for this article. Its truly been a blessing.

    Reply
  2. Elisse
    Elisse says:

    Amazing thoughts and writing, Nelle.
    I am getting closer to 40 now and also had been in similar situation where I must end a budding relationship which didn’t put God as a priority. That’s the best decision I ever made because in the end God revealed how fragile the whole things were.
    Like you, I still hope and pray for a relationship which put God as the highest priority, and I also pray that God help me be thankful and joyful for everything He gives/doesn’t give in my life, and help me see it as a unique life that He creates just for me. God bless you.

    Reply
  3. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    This echoes my heart ❤️ Thank you for sharing and being an encouragement to many of us in a similar journey.. may God comfort us personally and grant us peace.

    Reply
  4. Lucy
    Lucy says:

    I’m still single too. My suggestion for you is to find resources that is very relevant to your situation. I’ve been reading some books to get insights on finding and pursuing God’s purpose in my life.

    Reply
  5. Iris C
    Iris C says:

    I’m 30s and single too. I know how all of you feel. I ask for our Father’s grace and blessings to pour on us single women. May He divinely lead us to a spouse who loves Him before us and before anything else.

    Reply
  6. Ming
    Ming says:

    Thank you for sharing so honestly. It was inspiring and yes, I fully understand the struggles, having been in that situation more than 30 years ago. In those difficult times, I leaned heavily on God and resolved to be a happy person come what may. I took a year off to study, travel, widen my horizon and make new friends. I also studied the bible more intensely than ever before and began to learn to be obedient and thankful for even the most minute things in life. In my case, God provided. In January this year, my husband and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary :)) Marriage is never a bed of roses, but we have been blessed with God’s presence in this union.

    Reply

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