Notes on Love: A Review

Ashleigh Hull
Reviews 3 mins

Lauren Windle, Notes on Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage-Obsessed Church (SPCK, 2021)

Notes on Love is a delight from start to finish. Covering familiar ground in an entirely refreshing way, Lauren Windle manages to retain a conviction that this whole subject matters deeply, while simultaneously not taking it or herself too seriously. The book is winsome, helpful, thoughtful, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Lauren draws from many different sources (her own personal experience, interviews, peer-reviewed research, opinion polls, books, articles, dating courses, focus groups, and more) to give us considered, well-rounded insights into ‘being single and dating in a marriage-obsessed church’.

The short chapters are organised into three sections. The ‘Singleness’ section does a great job of highlighting particular struggles that come from being single in church. It covers a range of experiences and acknowledges the varied and fluctuating feelings that we might have about our singleness. Singleness is upheld as good – but also acknowledged as not always easy.

The ‘Dating’ section goes nowhere near idealism. It offers grounded practical advice, challenges some assumptions, and includes personal anecdotes that cover the whole emotional range of dating experience, from excitement and joy to disappointment and heartbreak.

And as for the section on ‘True Love’ – it doesn’t talk about marriage, as you might expect. Instead, Lauren discusses our relationships with ourselves, with our friends, our family, our church, and Jesus himself. True love is something we can all experience, whether we’re married or not. Lauren’s prayer here is that ‘as you survey your incredible network of connections and the relationships that keep you afloat, you will see a partner as an enhancement, not an essential’ (p.168).

There are many, many things I liked about this book.

There are many, many things I liked about this book – its high view of friendship, its care for those who feel isolated or marginalised in church, the way it acknowledges a whole range of experiences rather than leaning on stereotypes or generalisations. But there are two themes that I personally found particularly helpful.

The first is the way it nudged my perspective on singleness closer to the biblical plumbline. As we are hearing with a reassuringly increasing frequency, singleness and marriage are both good gifts. However, the unspoken addition is often that marriage is the better gift and the state that everyone should be pursuing, while singleness is sort of the runner-up prize.

Now, I actually love being single, and I call this addition out whenever I hear it. But Notes on Love, just through the way it spoke to and around this topic, helped me realise that I’ve overcorrected in my perspective. I have begun to undervalue marriage, considering it and a desire for it somehow a falling short of the ideal Christian life. All of us need to come back to a more balanced perspective:

‘When a person gets married, or indeed becomes “un-married”, they are not trading one inferior state for a superior one or vice versa. It’s just a transition from one setting to another. Being single is something everyone will experience and if they have the desire to get married and circumstances allow, they can. But this is not a levelling-up process. They are trading the perks and challenges of flying solo with the perks and challenges of pairing off. Fullness, oneness, wholeness are present and available in both these states through Jesus’ (p.16).

The second thing I found particularly helpful in Notes on Love is the grounded vision of church as community.

‘If we want to encourage people that there’s nothing wrong with staying single and it’s an equal state to being married, then we need to put a framework in place whereby someone can be on their own but still have companionship’ (p.158).

So much of what I read about church and relationships rightly calls out the problems with the ways we currently do (or don’t do) community, and paints a beautiful picture of what we should be enjoying. Often, however, the gap between problem and vision is not bridged, leaving me with impotent pining and dissatisfaction. Not so here.

As with the whole book, I deeply appreciate how Lauren grounds what she’s saying in reality. She casts a vision for a different way of doing community while also suggesting tangible actions we can take to make that vision a lived reality. She includes more anecdotes from her own life – for example, outlining how she lives alone but has given her key to 10 friends, and her home is now a space they can come to any time, to work or relax or pray or cook or hang out. This is such a simple thing, yet it has powerfully transformed her experience of community. It’s irritating and inconvenient; ‘[B]ut what I’ve learned is, if I’m willing to relinquish control and some comfort, what I get back is the everyday companionship I would otherwise miss out on’ (p.159).

This book has left me encouraged, challenged, and with concrete steps I can take to experience the kind of community I long for.

Instead of impotent pining and dissatisfaction, this book has left me encouraged, challenged, and with concrete steps I can take to experience the kind of community I long for.

So, read this book if you’re single and loving it. Read it if you’re single and hating it. Read it if you’re dating. Read it if you’re married.

And definitely read it if you’re a church leader. There are some sections that particularly focus on church, but the whole book will help you as you work to make your sermons, attitudes and teams more inclusive of your whole congregation. In Lauren’s words, ‘I pray that this will spark conversations in churches. That leaders will look around and ask themselves if they are doing enough to reinforce the importance of each individual and not each couple’ (p.168). Let it do that for you.