By Fern Horst
If you’re a single adult I’d venture to say you’ve been disappointed at one time or another in the romantic department of life. If you’ve been in a romantic relationship that ended, if you wanted a friendship to become “more” but it didn’t, if you desire to be married but aren’t, if you’ve experienced divorce or death of a mate, you’ve experienced romantic disappointment.
Along with romantic disappointment you’ve probably also suffered the pain of rejection, of being misunderstood, of wondering why this was happening to you, and perhaps even wondering what’s “wrong” with you. You’ve gone through the self doubt, the sense of being abandoned by God and others, and the feeling that you’re missing out on the best life has to offer.
By God’s grace you can overcome romantic disappointments and once again have hope, peace, and fulfillment in life regardless of the lack of a romantic partner. God has a way of turning these disappointments into great benefit for you and those whose lives you touch if you will let Him work through the very situation that has caused you pain.
Overcoming the negative effects of disappointment involves three aspects: understanding and accepting the stages of grief, forgiving the other person, and believing the truth about what gives life meaning and purpose.
Understanding the Stages of Grief
It helps tremendously to understand the emotions that disappointment and grief throw at you, and to realize that each one is a part of the process of healing. Any time you lose something you will experience these stages of grief to varying degrees. The length of time from the first stage to the final stage of acceptance is determined in part by the value a person places on what was lost: the loss of a button off one’s shirt, for instance, will result in a very short grieving cycle (perhaps only one minute or so), as opposed to the loss of an important relationship (which may take months to years to process completely). Resisting these emotions rather than allowing yourself to go through these stages only prolongs the process and consequently also prolongs acceptance and healing.
The grief process may take you through these stages in an unpredictable order several times, making you feel like you’re getting nowhere. But if you work through each one as it comes, you will eventually come to the stage of acceptance where there is a sense of hope and well-being and purpose. The stages of grief are:
• Denial (shock, disbelief, numbness)
• Anger (resentment, blame, asking “Why me?”)
• Bargaining (negotiating with anyone-including God-who you think can change the situation; a last attempt to make the situation be as you want it to be)
• Guilt (“If only I had…”, “What if…?)
• Depression (sadness as a result of admitting that it actually has happened; can include anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, hopelessness, apathy, irritability, feelings of worthlessness)
• Acceptance (the point where you accept the reality of what happened and know that regardless of the loss, life will go on and it can be good)
The only way you can satisfactorily process these emotions and get to the other side of them is by realizing who God is and how He operates in the details of your life. Remembering the following three aspects will help you to realize that no matter the pain you are experiencing, no matter the mistakes you or someone else has made, God is in control and He can work in this very situation to accomplish His purposes for all involved:
• God is Sovereign (in ultimate control of everything, above the wills and whims of people)
• God is Benevolent (has your best interests at heart in all that He allows into your life)
• God is Redemptive (able to take your mistakes and sins, and those committed against you, and work them together for good).
Searching the Scriptures for the basis of these characteristics of God will help as you learn to view your situation from His perspective. There is no better Source for comfort and healing than the truth of God’s Word. Saturate yourself with it.
Forgiving the Other Person
Sometimes romantic disappointment is accompanied by mistreatment by the other person which can add to the pain. Forgiving does not come naturally; it is a choice one makes with God’s help. Misconceptions about forgiveness often hinder this choice:
• Forgiveness is not absolving the other person of their responsibility for their wrongdoing.
• Forgiveness does not mean trusting that person again if they continue to prove that they are untrustworthy.
Forgiveness does mean making a choice to obey God in releasing that person from your vindictive thoughts or actions, and leaving that person in His hands to deal with as He sees fit. This means that you will not try to take out your hurt on that person (causing him or her to experience pain also), or on anyone else who consciously or unconsciously reminds you of that person’s actions. Prayer for God’s grace is important. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult steps in the process of recovering from another’s mistreatment, and it can’t be done without God’s enabling grace.
Romance and the Meaning of Life
Many messages, both from secular society and from Christian circles, indicate that worth is based on having someone connected to you romantically. God’s truth is that He has created each person with value, with worth, and with purpose. Romance does not give this value, worth, and purpose. A “significant other” does not give these things. No earthly role can give true meaning to life. Only God gives true value, true worth, and true purpose. In the workbook part of his book, Search for Significance, Robert S. McGee suggests memorizing the following sentence to remember when struggling with worth, purpose, and acceptance by others: “It would be nice if ________ (fill in the blank with whatever you are desiring: ‘so-and-so accepted and loved me’, ‘I could be married and have children’, ‘I were more outgoing and attractive’, ‘so-and-so did such-and-such to show me he/she loved me’, etc.), but if that doesn’t happen, I am still deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, and totally accepted by God through Christ.”†
Jesus told us to lay up treasures in heaven, not on this earth. Marriage, for all its wonderment, is an earthly treasure. It is an earthly treasure that can be used to lay up heavenly treasure, but marriage in and of itself is earthly. Singles can lay up treasure in heaven by serving the Lord with the opportunities which only singleness provides, just as married people can lay up treasure with the opportunities that only marriage provides. The ultimate treasure for every person is Christ Himself. Building a close relationship with Him and living in accordance with His purpose is what gives meaning to life, whether single or married.
Acceptance and Living Life
No one is totally exempt from experiencing some degree of romantic disappointment. Choosing to love always means taking a risk. Even the most trustworthy people will sometimes disappoint the expectations of those they love, simply because they are human.
Learn to hang your hat, and your heart, on the truth of who God is and who He is for you, not on who someone else is and who he or she is for you. With this renewed focus on the Lord, sooner or later you’ll have the sense down to your very bones that there is life beyond earthly human romance. Hard as it may be to believe in the aftermath of romantic disappointment, life as a single person in the service of the Most High God can be purposeful and fulfilling. It’s a choice you make.
†Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance (Houston, Tex., Rapha Publishing, 1990), p. 292-293.