And we’re back with another installment of “the single sessions.” I have loved reading your comments on Joy and Evan’s posts. Now I’m excited to introduce you to Ashley Gillman. Ashley has a great attitude about the single life and dating in the digital age — I thought that we all might learn from her joyful and adventurous perspective.
There are so many fun, wonderful things about being 28 and single. Do I have lonely days? Absolutely. But I’m choosing to embrace this adventure I’m living…I spent a year living in Uganda working with street children. I’m a globe-trotter (just enjoyed time in South Africa). I’m a wedding and humanitarian photographer based in Lancaster, PA. I’ve had so many experiences that have shaped me into the woman I am today, and this might not have happened if I was married at 22.
So without further adieu, meet Ashley Gillman.
Name: Ashley Gillman
City, St: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Relationship Status: Single/Blind Date Connoisseur
Profession: Business Owner (Wedding Photographer)
LN: What does dating look like for you?
AG: I’m a single 28 year old woman in a small-ish town where it seems the majority of people marry between 21-25. As you can imagine, people in my life are often suggesting blind dates. The eager matchmakers range from friends to strangers at Panera (“Oh hey, gotta get back to work, but I’m sure your grandson is great. Enjoy your bagel.”)
I’m not opposed to all blind dates. In fact, I typically say “yes” if the matchmaker is a trustworthy source. However, the problem lies with the following conversation that happens quite often:
Friend: So Ashley, there’s this really great guy I want you to meet!
Me: Oh yeah? Tell me more. What do we have in common?
Friend: Well ummmm….you’re both single!
This season of dating is difficult to navigate. I’ve dated men who are driven and fantastic, but as time went on we were heading in different directions. Breakups are excruciating. Yet nothing is wasted. I’ve learned countless things about myself and about relationships through each experience.
This day and age offers a plethora of ways to meet someone: online dating, blind dates, and the good ol’ fashioned way of a friendship growing into something deeper. I’ve done it all. I’ve had incredibly fun dates and also some bizarre experiences. I would love to see singles lighten up and take dating less seriously. What I mean by that is GUYS, take a risk and ask that cute girl on a date. It doesn’t mean she’ll be envisioning your wedding. It’s simply a date. And please plan a fun and unique activity so that it doesn’t feel like a job interview!
LN: What do you dislike the most about dating in 2016?
AG: One of my fears and challenges with dating is “ghosting.” Ghosting is when a person ceases communication with the individual they’ve been on multiple dates with. Y’all, disappearing without explanation is not the answer. It’s a cop-out that causes confusion.
I’ve been ghosted by multiple men, and I have fairly thick skin, but this is something we shouldn’t tolerate. I urge all of us to just be honest. Express your feelings. Men, I will respect you for it, even if I’m disappointed we won’t have a fourth date.
I know it’s not always easy to be truthful, but listen—I’ve suffered through some extremely awkward dates. There’s the guy I refer to as “Mr. Skillets” who proudly admitted he collected cast iron skillets and hung them from his log cabin’s rafters. The kicker: he doesn’t cook. Then there’s the guy who I will call “Pirate” because I’m convinced he hadn’t bathed in decades. And let’s not forget the multiple men in their 30’s who look me straight in the eyes and say “I’m a mama’s boy.” When they asked me on a second date, it would have been easy to ignore the text. But I strive to treat people the way I want to be treated. So I simply responded, “Thank you for dinner, but I don’t see this going any further.” And guess what? They actually thanked me for my honesty.
LN: What has been your experience of singleness in the church?
AG: So often the American church acts like they don’t know what to do with singles. More than 40% of adults in the US are unmarried. Yet, when was the last sermon you heard on the topic of singleness? I’ve been attending church my whole life and have never heard one. At best, during a marriage sermon there might be 2 minutes of advice for singles. But I so desperately wish this topic was talked about more often on a Sunday morning. I believe it would help couples in the church have a glimpse into this stage of life.
I’m a firm believer that adults in the church should join multi-generational small groups. In so many churches, people are lumped together by their stage of life: young marrieds, singles, families with children, and empty nesters. Is this wrong? No. Though I’m not sure it’s the best way.
I don’t see Biblical evidence that the early church was segregated by marital status. We all have a variety of wisdom we can share with each other: Inquire about the meaning of a Bible passage from someone who’s older and wiser! Seasoned mothers, pour wisdom into the life of that single mom. We each have so much to offer.
My own life is enhanced by a multi-generational small group. We range in age from 28-50+. A few of us are single. Many are married couples, some with young children. Others have adult children who are planning their weddings. We value each other for the gifts and talents we each have. We do life with each other outside of small group (this includes but is not limited to kayaking and Hillsong concerts). We love each other fiercely, through the joyful times and through the sorrows.
LN: What are some things (experiences, relationships, pursuits) in your life that singleness has made possible?
AG: I’ve chosen to embrace and enjoy my singleness by spending my time this way, but I’m not implying married people can’t do these things!
Mentoring teenage girls: Let’s rewind 15 years. I may have appeared confident as I entered the high school years, but I felt awkward and out-of-place. I hadn’t grown to love and accept myself yet. My church youth pastor’s wife was a young busy mom of five, yet she made time to regularly treat me to coffee and listen to my heart. She helped me navigate the typical teenage angst—ya know, “mean” parents blahblahblah. (Now my mom is my close confidante, funny how that works!)
Now it’s my turn to invest in several teen girls who have entered my life. We’ll text each other and set coffee dates so I can sit with them one-on-one as they pour out their hearts about dating, broken families, etc. When I feel inadequate, I’m reminded of the power of presence: simply being there to listen.
Traveling: I prefer spending my money on experiences rather than knickknacks. I’ve toured Italy with my mom where I ate my weight in gelato, ventured to Cape Town, South Africa, where I strolled along a beach with penguins, and I’ve played tourist in London, England, riding around on a red double-decker bus (just like the Friends episode!)
Recently I taught a photography workshop to train Ugandans in Africa who work for non-profits. In my early 20’s I lived in Uganda for about a year. I did PR/photography for a Christian non-profit that rescues and rehabilitates street children. I view the world differently because of that experience. It stretched me and shaped me into the woman I am, and I would not have taken that opportunity if I was seriously dating or married.
Spontaneity: Because my time is my own during this season of life, I have flexibility and can spontaneously grab Thai food with a friend or take a rooftop yoga class on a whim. It’s freeing to make last-minute plans.
LN: What do you feel like God is calling you to in this season?
Healthy marriages begin with healthy singles. Too often, two needy individuals join in marriage instead of two confident healthy individuals. I’m using this season to better myself and to continue pursuing my passions. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet a man who’s on a similar journey, looking for a teammate.
AG: I also feel called to keep investing in my “home team” as author, Shauna Niequist says. I desire to be a loyal and supportive sister, daughter, and friend. A home team consists of your closest family and friends. These are the people you would drop anything for. You drive hundreds of miles to attend their bridal or baby showers. You visit them in the hospital the day after they give birth. You can call them late at night sobbing after a painful breakup. Take a minute and ask yourself: “Who is my home team?” And love them wholeheartedly.
LN: How can your friends and/or your church do a better job of loving you in the season you’re in?
AG: I’m ridiculously grateful to have a marvelous support team on this life journey. Nevertheless, I have some tips for people in love when interacting with us singles:
-Please, oh please, eliminate clichés from your vocabulary such as, “God will bring you a spouse when you’re not looking.” This statement can cause shame to sneak in as we struggle with the question, “I have a desire to date, so how in the world am I supposed to not have this on my radar??”
-Treat singles as a whole person. We are happy and complete individuals, yet there’s often an underlying message in the American church that singles are “incomplete.” We all need to shift our thinking and refuse to define people by their relationship status.
-Invite singles to hang out with your family. My heart melts when I walk into my friend’s home and am greeted by a hug around the legs from her ecstatic 2-year-old. My life is richer because of families who embrace me and welcome me into their lives. Whether it’s a text saying, “Ashley, join our family’s Passover celebration!” or “Want to come over for dinner?,” I am always thankful to be included. Even the simplest act of inclusion can really bless singles who have never been married, are divorced, or whose spouse has passed away.
LN: What are some of the challenges of being single?
AG: When getting to know a guy, it can be tricky to exhibit vulnerability. I desire to show up and be real yet wish to maintain boundaries. Because in the back of my mind I’m asking, “How long will this guy be around in my life?”
I struggle to resist the lie that I am somehow behind. My college friends are married with multiple children while I am still floundering in the tumultuous waters of dating. Then I fix my eyes on the One who created me. Nothing surprises Him. My friends’ stories are beautiful. But so is mine. Don’t wait to live a fulfilling life. Pursue your dreams now.
Singles, I would love to hear from YOU. If you would like to be featured in “the single sessions” email me a little bit about yourself and I will send you some questions.
And tell me about your experience with dating in the comments!