Profiles in the Gap
Arleen Spenceley is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times and author of a forthcoming book about love, chastity, and sex, to be released by Ave Maria Press in Fall 2014. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com and tweets @ArleenSpenceley. Click here to like her on Facebook.
Did you expect this time of singleness?
Ultimately, yes. In short spurts (mostly while getting to know guys I thought were good for me), I might have expected to be married, or engaged, or at least in a marriage-bound relationship by the time I turned 28. But if I put a lot of thought into how I’ve spent my 20s so far, that I am single today was pretty predictable. It was college first, and then grad school, and then the book I’m writing now. Since grad school, I’ve found myself saying “THIS is the busiest I’ve ever been,” and saying it with increasing intensity with every passing semester: “No, THIS is the busiest I’ve ever been – for real, this time.” That isn’t to say people can’t meet and love and marry each other while they’re busy, but that I didn’t go a lot of places where meeting a guy was likely. One semester, I worked 32 hours a week for the newspaper, interned 14 hours a week as a counselor, took one or two graduate level classes, and wrote a book proposal, while living, working, interning, and going to school in four different cities. It is solely the result of how awesome God is that I survived that, and for the best from a bunch of perspectives that I didn’t try to date on top of it.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
This season of my thus-far single life is not what I expected. It is way crazier and more fun and scary-in-a-good way than that.
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it?
I do find fulfillment, in part, in my career. One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from theologian Frederick Buechner. It says, “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” Writing is my passion, and there’s a lot of fulfillment found in getting to do that professionally, and in doing what I can to learn how to get better at it. What makes it better, though, is getting to merge it with the world’s greatest need. What I see as the world’s greatest need is an education in a better way to live, as modeled by Jesus, who makes living a different kind of life worth it.
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?
There is a stigma attached to single life sometimes, as perpetuated by single people and by people who think everybody’s supposed to be married, and just as erroneously, that everybody’s supposed to be married by a certain age. My faith is the umbrella that covers everything in my life, which is why I’ve averted adoption of these attitudes. An old, viral article about early marriage I read once said marriage is a formative experience, in which spouses grow, and grow up. I think the article implied that people who don’t marry particularly young forego that growth, but I totally disagree. Every day is a formative experience. We’re all going to grow, no matter our states of life, if we’re willing.
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself?
For various seasons in my single life, I have challenged myself to go without stuff that previously had been staples for me. I called 2010 “My Sugar Free Year” because I gave up all food that had added sugar in it (with the exceptions of bread and condiments). I spent several years without Facebook or Twitter or texting. I probably will come up with a year-long challenge for 2014, but I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do or give up. I really, really, really like a challenge, especially if it requires asceticism. Voluntary self-denial is good practice for parts of life like work or marriage or parenthood, in which we have to put other people’s needs before our own. Plus following Jesus always requires self-denial, and this is kind of a way to improve my ability to do that.
If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
I think I worry about fear itself more than I worry about failure. The part of the fear of failure that stops us from pursuing stuff isn’t the potential for failure, but the fear. I hope in my life to do a lot of what Harriet Lerner writes about in her book The Dance of Fear: “When you avoid what you fear, your anxieties are apt to worsen over time…. If you fear rejection, you may indeed need to accumulate more experience being snubbed.”