Having invested myself into some deep relationships with single women in recent years, I've become deeply aware at so many levels of the issues facing women who are unmarried and beyond their twenties.
As author Philip Sheldrake has noted, "There is no really well-developed spirituality of singleness in terms of spirituality" and then he goes on to insightfully add, "A great deal of what may be said about sexual union may also be said of non-genital intimacy."
For me, in my research on friendship and intimacy between the sexes, I've had a growing belief that we all, singles and married, hunger for the human intimacy experienced in deep friendships.
Whereas so many in the evangelical community have sexualized love and human intimacy, desexualizing human intimacy opens the door for the unmarried celibate to experience human intimacy, life, and deep love.
Kate Hurley's new book, Getting Naked Later, is a refreshingly candid, emotionally and spiritually mature look at love and life from a celibate woman's perspective. I highly recommend this to singles and for married people who desire to be intentional in their communal connections with singles.
I think Kate's book opens the door for celibates within the evangelical community to taste and experience human intimacy--including intimate, life-giving cross-gender friendships.
I welcome Kate's bold and courageous admission, "being single sucks." This is candid, authentic, and real. I for one, don't want single people who want to be married to gloss over the personal challenges of singleness. Kate courageously steps out and reflects on her struggles with singleness.
I think "The Rant Chapter" is appropriate and healthy to process what many unmarried people experience. She rants about formulaic responses singles here from married people: "The 'marriage is so hard' speech is one of the most popular messages given to single people, right up there with the 'if you just let go' speech."
2. The openness of Kate to listen to wisdom beyond the romantic comedy.
The challenge for celibates as they grow older is to stay stuck in sort of a victim's mentality rehearsing the romantic messages of romantic movie plots over and over again: lonely adult men and women find each other and have happy endings.
I appreciated Kate working through the issue of loneliness in her chapter on expectations. Pity parties now and then, are something that are authentic expressions for unwanted single life. We should not try to cover that up. Settling into a victim's mentality is deeper than a pity party.
Part of the real life wisdom though is coming to a grounded place and understanding that "getting married will not cure that disease" of loneliness.
Her chapter on wrestling through expectations is refreshingly rich.
"I have had several married friends tell me lately that there is a deep loneliness that happens when you finally get married. It is a different kind of loneliness than what you experience as a single person."
Kate even quotes John Stott at one point, "The greatest danger [singles] face is self-centeredness....If we are not careful, we may find the whole world revolving around ourselves."
3. The need to see human intimacy is something beyond formulas and stereotypes.
I knew this book had great potential when I saw two chapters in sequence: "What Single People Wish Married People Knew" and then, "What Married People Wish Single People Knew."
The inclusion of those two chapters in a book on singleness speaks volumes about Kate's heart and her desire to listen and invite others to listen. Sometimes, I hear singles totally dismiss what married people honestly have to say about life, love, and intimacy. I'm not talking formulas or stereotypes.
Kate invites us singles and married to listen to each other. A running thread throughout the book is her engagement of stereotypes and formulas. Her deconstructing so many formulas for me gave me hope for singles who are hungry for human intimacy.
If we invest so many expectations and romantic stereotypes into human intimacy, then we will be less likely to engage intimate friendships with the opposite sex. If we can't process through the formulas and stereotypes at a deep level in our souls, we will interpret expressions of closeness with little value or meaning regarding something that isn't loaded with sexual-romantic meanings or trajectory. In doing so we block the very thing we long and hunger for: genuine human intimacy.
I will never forget the first time one of my single friends said to me that she received my expressed delight as life-giving to her and she said she soaked it up. Learning to receive and give delight in another is a vulnerable step toward intimacy.
4. She makes it clear human intimacy and love are intentional.
This too, is where I saw great potential for healthy, life-giving intimacy in cross-gender friendships and community. She has two chapters toward the end on building your own family through intentionality.
Intimacy is not going to fall out of the sky for celibates.
I almost jumped out of my chair when I read her words:
"Jesus, on the other hand, says to love, love, love, love, no matter how hard it is, no matter what you have to give up. He tells us to passionately love, as he has passionately loved us."
I loved this. This does indeed open the door for passionate human intimacy. I've had many discussions with a variety of single women from their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties, etc.
Some, following evangelical and Hollywood stereotypes are reluctant to passionately love others. Passionate love, language, heart, intention are all bound up with romantic-sexual meaning for them.
However, it is interesting and fascinating to hear the hearts of those who are open to really loving others passionately. You hear a sense of relational depth and beauty within their hearts and their stories of others; you hear a wholeness within them that doesn't compartmentalize or romanticize life-giving human intimacy.
This hasn't replaced the embodied ache for marriage; but they have opened their hearts, minds, and bodies intentionally to taste passionate love within their friendships.
Toward the end Kate makes this great observation about intentionality: "You can be in a family if you want to be." One of the things intentional, healthy, intimate friendships opens up to is a real solidarity of chosen, committed, day-in, day-out, intimate family-like ties. Satisfying, abiding, delightful intimacy can be experienced even in celibacy. You don't experience the glamor Hollywood expectations but you may experience the deep Love story of community and intimacy.