No Complaining in Our Streets

There’s a phenomenon that I’m observing, and I’m not sure what to think about it. Has anyone else noticed it?

It’s this: it’s ok for young moms to complain about how tired they are and how cranky their children are. It’s ok for  other moms to announce to the world how worried they are about their teens driving, or the dreadful trouble they had washing their husband’s shirts, or how their house is always a wreck because of the husband and children. It’s all part of life; it’s expected–or at least accepted–to complain.

But it’s not ok for singles to tell their world about their worries. Wives can fuss about their husbands, but singles aren’t free to mention that their husbands don’t sit beside them at the church potluck. Wives are allowed to worry aloud about their husband’s job change, but singles feel unheard if they mention how weary they are of needing to decide every year if they’ll teach school again. Singles are expected to be independent but it’s ok if the wife complains that her husband didn’t fill the car with gas.

Maybe singles’ worries are more personal, and shouldn’t be public. Maybe they need a spokesperson who says ‘guess what–did you know the single girl who appears so happy and independent actually cries alot when she’s alone, and she wishes she had the things you complain about?’

What are the dynamics going on here with these unspoken rules about complaining? Can anyone tell  me?

Or maybe all of us, whoever and wherever we are, should try to stop complaining.

Heaven knows (and  my closest friends do too) that I do more than my share of complaining. I have no excuse except that sometimes it feels like the whole world has gone on without me and all I can do is wail. But a gentle voice emerges between the wails reminding me that there is something more sure than loneliness and stronger than pain. (You know how a parent talks to his child while the child catches his breath when it’s crying? That’s what God does to me.)

And if I listen long enough in my whimpering, that voice persuades me that I was really foolish to complain because I’m not the center of the world, and there’s a lot of heart break out there that I should care about, and how about washing someone’s feet instead of navel-gazing?

Related Post: Nobody Knows the Trouble

23 thoughts on “No Complaining in Our Streets

  1. The only way I know how to interpret the phenomemon is to note that singles are a whole lot more mature than the rest of us. 😦 Me, I’m okay if they whine alongside us–but you’re right, they usually don’t. Publicly. Which is what you’re talking about.

    Maybe we’re more okay with people whining about what they HAVE than what they DON’T have. After all, coveting is banned in the Ten Commandments. Ingratitude is just this little thing we all do.

    😦 Wretchedness. Thank you for noticing, and wrapping your noticing up in words.

    I don’t know what to do with the fact that as far as I can tell, everyone’s greatest pain-in-the-neck (husband tracking in mud, too much yard to mow, never-ending silence, all this noise) is someone else’s elysium.

    • I think you’ve analyzed it well, differentiating between the HAVE and DONT have.
      Thanks for introducing me to a new word: I had to look up ‘elysium.’ 😉

  2. Yep, I’ve noticed that phenomenon too and taken part in it way too often.
    Every time you write about singlehood, Anita, I’m deeply impressed with the way you face it so bravely and faithfully. God give you courage and comfort, dear friend.

  3. What I wonder….what phenomenon causes me to notice complaining from someone else’s mouth and remain clueless to my own? I believe you’re right; there are certain acceptable forms of complaining. The one I most notice and dislike is the complaining about how ‘busy’ someone else. Probably because to me is sounds sort of like “I’m just too busy taking care of my cute kids and nice house and great husband….wish I had more time and was less stressed, but I’m just too busy trying to deal with all my blessings…”

    Whoops, that sounds a little cynical! But even though I dislike the too ‘busy complaint,’ I unfortunately find myself using it in a different context. And I can ‘talk’ (complain) about busyness as well as the next person, and never even notice when I’m complaining about a blessedly full life. So your call to ALL of us to stop complaining and to reach out was good instruction for me. Thanks for the good words.

  4. I wonder if you didn’t hit the nail on the head when you said that with singles it’s more personal. We, as a whole, are scared of personal, scared of deep, scared of emotions. we don’t know how to speak to that deep longing and need in a single woman’s life. We are so much more comfortable with absolutes than abstracts. Abstracts are messy, and there is no rule to quote, no suggestions as to how to deal with single hood. It’s the horse on the table.
    I have a husband. My sister does not. There is loneliness and pain and I don’t always know what to say to her. But I want her to be able to say anything to me. I cry with her. I can let her talk. I want to engage in the struggle. And I think every single lady has the right to unload her frustration, her pain, her struggle. Maybe not complain. We were created to share each others burdens. And it wasn’t meant to be a one way street.

    • Good insights, Jessica, about the horse on the table. And we DO need to hear each other. I want to hear about the moms’ crazy nights and dirty windows. Really. We need to hear each other, to value each other’s stories, to hear what’s under the spoken word. I think you’re being a good sister for your sister. =)

  5. I agree that it’s generally more acceptable to complain about what we have than about what we don’t have. However, even that assessment isn’t totally accurate. The church will cry and pray with a couple struggling with infertility, but what about the childless single lady going through menopause?

    I will add though that I think any of us can feel shamed for expressing our feelings. Many mothers have heard the line “oh just enjoy your children while they are small!” And they do want to enjoy their children, but at the moment, they feel terrible and need a listening ear. Not shame.

    Complaining seems like more of a vice than a virtue, but sometimes expressing those negative feelings is the quickest route back to joy.

    • Thanks for thinking about/caring for the menopausal single woman, Rosina. I agree that we need to be heard, and not be shamed for expressing what we’re really feeling. We DO need to empathize with people, to really care and not brush over what they’re feeling. This takes a largeness of soul that is sometimes hard to find in ourselves, but needed!

  6. I think you have a point here but there is another side of the story. I knew a lady that when she got pregnant, she complained the entire 9 months (and she didn’t stop there!). She lost all of her friends and only a few brave souls would dare to venture near and talk to her on Sundays. She was married but people were still turned off and were wary when she came near. I’m single and i appreciate your post! 🙂

    • I think some people are only happy when they’re complaining.
      I think we can decide (with the Lord’s strength, not our own) whether or not we’ll be that kind of person.

  7. Anita, thank you.

    What you write resonates with me(and obviously others). You do so well at being honest. And seeking/longing for redemption. The combination is breathtaking. Thank-you.

    I’m reminded of a quote.

    “It seems like the most important thing to remember in just about any creative venture, whether it’s songwriting, playwriting, painting, novel writing, whatever…is to be honest.  If you can simply be honest, you will be original, because no one has the exact same perspective as you do, no one has lived the exact same life, with all of the exact same memories, images and experiences.  However, if you’re honest, you’ll also share something that likely just about everyone has felt at some point.  It seems like this balance of universality and uniqueness is what makes the best art.”
    -Michael Logen

    Bravo! keep on Miss Anita! You are a joy!

  8. I am not sure which group is given more space to complain — is there a cultural aspect to all of this? In places, i.e. in some churches, where family life is set up as the ideal, where young girls grow up dreaming about having children, where wives are expected to work in the home — perhaps here singles are silenced more. What about in families were girls are expected to be educated, to choose a career? Is there a difference in whose voice is listened to?

    When I read articles about the singles/wives with small children divide, I get the sense that those who win the argument are simply those who whine the loudest. I have thought on your post here, Anita, for some time, perhaps because I am sensitive to women’s issues. The best I can do at this point is to seek out the most qualified person to contemplate this: someone who has lived in both camps for significant periods of time ought to have the best insight, and most objective weighing of words. Yet I still do not know if this is possible: there are so many variables.

    Here are some aspects that would need to be accounted for:
    1. the cultural context needs to be addressed (as I mentioned above). As a single I found I had more of a voice out in the world, within academia, etc, much more than I ever had in the realm of Mennonite church culture.
    2. the fact that we are not comparing apples to apples: the two paths are drastically different, carrying different spheres of duty and service, different causes for loneliness (yes married women are lonely too), different areas of life purpose and fulfillment…(to quote my mother – one is not necessarily better than the other, but they are different)
    3. the duty of mothering small children has been attested as one of the hardest jobs on the planet (I will not go into stats, research or anecdotal evidence here, I state it just as a point to consider)

    I think you have made a valid observation, Anita, but you also are not in the shoes of a mother of small children. And I, vice versa, am no longer in the shoes of a single, and I can forget what it was like. However, I have no wish to silence, and thus add to the heaviness many young mothers carry. The things young mothers complain about may seem petty at times, but sometimes they are only the tip of the iceberg where vast gulfs of pain lie below; pain that is not permitted to be spoken. This iceberg-reality is thus in all of us, whether married or single. There are things that cannot be spoken, so we speak the small complaints, testing the waters in others’ souls.

    The question of giving women a voice is critical to both demographics, and it varies from community to community. Instead of setting up differences, and arguing, we need to seek to understand each other.

    • Tamar, you said “The things young mothers complain about may seem petty at times, but sometimes they are only the tip of the iceberg where vast gulfs of pain lie below; pain that is not permitted to be spoken.” I think that is really true. I can say from experience that early on I struggled much in my marriage, but felt I could not talk about it. I didn’t want to talk bad of my husband, and it seemed all the other young couples were so happy and in love and I felt so alone. So talking about the burdens of motherhood released pressure but it wasn’t even the main issue I was facing. It was only the tip of the iceberg.

      • Loneliness is an inevitable part of the human experience and talking helps us feel not so alone. Complaining doesn’t help the issue, but knowing we’re not alone/talking with someone can help us deal with the real issues that need to be wrestled with. Thanks for your honesty here, Jessica!

    • “This iceberg-reality is thus in all of us, whether married or single. There are things that cannot be spoken, so we speak the small complaints, testing the waters in others’ souls.”
      You’re right, Tamar, and I don’t want to silence the voice of mothers who unarguably have the hardest job in the world. It could be that this blog post was ‘the small complaint, testing the waters.’ My goal was to be a voice for those who have no voice, who are not allowed to speak their pain.
      You’re right, too, in that we’re not comparing apples to apples. Here’s to listening well to each other, and really hearing each other, aware of hidden parts of the icebergs!

  9. Here is a belated response, now that I read the others. Some time ago I journaled about the comparison of the support, visits, etc. widows and never-married single women receive. One is mourning that which she no longer has, and the other may be mourning that which she never had. I suspect there are some similarities in the mourning process, but not so much in the expressions of support from others. It would probably seem awkward for the giver and the receiver to relate in the same way to never-married singles as they do to widows. I am not criticizing those around me; I feel affirmed in many ways. Just some observations about these dynamics. Thinking out loud–LRM

  10. An interesting observation indeed. As various commenters pointed out we tend to learn rather quickly which sorts of things are okay to complain about and which are not. Isn’t complaining one way of connecting with others? Making it okay to share a complaint that the listener can identify with and not okay to share one that they can’t. Singles generally can commiserate together. Married people complain to everyone because they are the majority, and the majority sets the rules for social norms.

    In my own experience i think avoiding complaining may give me less reason to complain. I.e. my contentment as a single makes it easier for my married friends to include me in group activities where I may be the only single. I go home blessed to have experienced community rather than moping about the fact that I sat alone at the campfire while they sat in pairs. I do admit to being lonely – perhaps honesty is easier to hear than complaining?

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