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Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the experience of longing as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience.

One of the most natural desires we have as a human being is to love and be loved. Let’s just say, I got an extra dose of relationship enthusiasm when God made me. I love love. I’ve watched The Wedding Planner 150 times. I’m a hopeless romantic with a wild Irish heart. And I’m 34 and single.

My parents met in their mid-twenties. My mother lived abroad in Paris at the age of 23 and then worked in Manhattan as a secretary upon her return. My father was in the Navy in the South China Sea and had even more adventures to tell. When life brought them together at 25 and 27 respectively, they had a whirlwind courtship and were married six months later.

I always imagined my life would mirror this timeline—a few years of exciting travel and work experience post-college and then falling in love and settling down by 25. At 34, my life looks much different than the American suburban dream I pictured.

No husband or kids, SUV, soccer practice, or endless home renovations. Instead, weekly travel for work pulling long hours and late nights, take-out from my favorite neighborhood sushi spot, lots of failed Bumble dates, and the realization that the thing I was longing for wasn’t something I could manufacture, control, or speak into existence.

How the longing has clarified my vision

Being single for most of my adult life has not been a walk in the park. Has the longing for a partner left me bitter and hopeless? Well, if I’m being honest, some days it does. But when feelings of longing for a spouse well up, I try to shift the emotion from desperation to hope. Hope moves my mindset from the sense that the thing I desire is unattainable to something that will eventually be obtained and fulfilled.

Longing for a spouse and being single for a decade has meant I’ve gone on dates with a plethora of men from all walks of life: pilots, engineers, lawyers, psychologists, foreign affairs officers, entrepreneurs—the list goes on.

Sometimes I would think a date was going great, and then the conversation would shift to an in-depth analysis of his particular choice of beard balm. Other nights I would find myself realizing the stereotype I had built up of the suave, perhaps materialistic guy sitting in front of me fell to pieces and deeply humbled me, as he turned out to be the most caring and affirming man I’ve ever dated.

Many of these dates, although they didn’t lead to walking down the aisle, were windows into personality types, religions, senses of humor, and styles that were very different from my own—and in that way a growing experience.

It also made me assess the long list of attributes I had built up for a future spouse and decide what was essential versus superficial. Meeting and dating men from many walks of life has honed my vision of what character traits a husband should have—and in particular the virtues and lifestyle choices I believe my husband should have for us to build a strong and happy relationship together.

Finding intimacy in other places in my life

While my longing for a partner is as yet unfulfilled, this desire for a spouse has pushed me into deepening the relationships in my life that I do have. The friendships I have with my family members and friends have blossomed and become stronger than I ever could have imagined.

When my sister had her first baby, I flew overnight to Chicago to hold him in the hospital. Tears filled my eyes, and I felt my heart expand at the new life she and her husband brought into our family—and how excited I was for the unique and special relationship we would develop as aunt and nephew. (I also cried because I got her car stuck in the hospital parking garage and needed a stranger to back me out of the spot—but that’s a story for another day.)

And I can’t say enough about my female friendships and how they have buoyed my heart during my decade of singleness. I have incredible women in my life—but these relationships have also developed so deeply because I am single and have had the time to devote to them. We’ve shared in each other joys and sorrows and relied heavily on each other’s advice for navigating relationships, breakups, work stress, and more.

The “I love you’s” that are spoken by my best friend, mom, or nephew are just what I need to hear after a long grueling week at work, or a date that went awry.

I find that my longing for a spouse rears its head as soon as the holiday season rolls around. Pumpkin spice appears on every menu and wreaths start going up on doors and the lump in my throat and knot in my stomach reappear with a vengeance. Perhaps you can relate to the complex emotions the holiday season can bring.

In these moments, rather than ignoring the pain and emotion, I lean into it for a time, processing and talking through it with loved ones. Then, instead of sulking through the holiday season staring at my bare left hand, I take on duties and responsibilities to help make the holidays more robust in celebration and easier in execution for the whole family. Hosting happens to be my forte, so what better way to cure the blues than to lean into what I’m good at and make things more bright and cheery for others? I encourage my nieces and nephews to participate in holiday traditions, baking, and decorating—even teaching them a DIY project or two, so their parents can get a break.

Do I wish I had a significant other to share these moments with? Of course. But by acknowledging those feelings and then throwing myself into the love that’s in front of me, I find a great amount of fulfillment.

What I’ve come to see over the past ten years is that everyone is waiting for something. A job, a house, a child, a spouse. If you can learn to find fulfilment in the gifts you have, in what is right in front of you, and shift a sense of longing to a sense of hopeful expectation, you’ll find a great deal of happiness and contentment in today.

Do you have reflections on longing that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.