I started writing this as a joke. It turned out not to be so funny. This is actually real. To be thorough, I poled about 12 women to get their opinion of the stages. It is possible to go through the 5 stages several times during the course of singleness. It's also possible to experience one stage in isolation from the rest, not necessarily in succinct order.
Stage 1: Denial and Isolation
When first you realize that you are officially considered single and that marriage did not come when you expected or wanted, the reaction is denial that you even want marriage in the first place. Quotes like, "I'm all good. Who needs marriage anyway?" come out of your mouth frequently when the subject comes up. You also seek to isolate yourself from these conversations as much as possible, deny that marriage is something you care about, and isolate yourself from people who might want to probe deeper into the state of your singlehood. What usually follows is a cavalier attitude towards singleness, marriage, and the lot.
Stage 2: Anger
Once the initial defenses of the mask of denial break down, the next reaction is anger. The first target is usually the member of the opposite sex, whether it’s the opposite sex in general or a particular member of that sex who happens to be less than compliant (i.e. an old boyfriend). The target can also be a friend or a family member who happens to be in your presence frequently during the whole of this stage.
Stage 3: Bargaining
A common reaction when someone feels vulnerable and out of control is to try and rationalize how the situation occurred in the first place. Common rationalizations occur in the following forms:
“I should have gone out with so-and-so, he wasn't that bad looking.”
“Maybe if I had tried harder in that relationship, we'd be married by now.”
“If I hadn't gone to that school, taken this job, or joined this church, this would never have happened.”
Stage 4: Depression
Depression can take on one of two forms. The first form presents itself as worry over details: future plans, financial issues, major and minor decisions. The second is a quieter form that may not be altogether recognized. It's a silent and slow realization that nothing can be done.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Typically marked by a calmness and dignity. Usually this is experienced at the outset of one or all of the previous stages. Grief over singleness is different than grief over loss of a loved one or loss of a dream, as it is an ongoing state that could potentially end someday.
The reason I find this helpful, as opposed to depressing, is it shows the difficult feelings associated with singleness as normal--as normal as grief over the loss of a loved one. I believe that God created people for marriage and that the state of our society has propelled us towards a growing number of single households and broken marriages. We were not created for this and the grief is a natural result. Like the grief of wanting to have children but having a body that won't allow it. It's no one's fault. It just is.
I find it helpful to know that grief is normal and okay. It doesn't mean we trust God less or desire marriage too much (see Stage 1). It just is.