Honest Thoughts On Singleness & Church
Posted on 10-11-11
I rarely discuss the topic of singleness on my blog because to me it’s not a label that I wear. It bothers me when people categorise the world into ‘married’ or ‘single’. No, I’m not married but I am a whole person, comfortable being me and am not waiting for anyone else to come and (a) rescue me (be) complete me (c) start the adventure of my life for me.
Many of my wonderful single friends and I are not short of suitors. Yet each of us have found ourselves saying, in the words of Bono from U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. People are fine with this at 20, but hit 30 and people start pressing you to try a bit harder. Someone even used the phrase ‘you’d better hurry up…the clock is ticking’ to me a few weeks ago. Yikes. Thanks for that ‘helpful’ contribution!
Maybe I’ll get married someday, maybe I won’t. I’ve never bought a Bride Magazine or dreamed about how every detail of my wedding would be (and no disrespect intended if you have). I guess what I’m saying is, for me the idea of marriage has never been elevated to fairytale level. I know hundreds of my female friends who see it that way. I guess I’ve seen too many of these fairytales end badly, so I know that marriage isn’t the fix-it solution for being happy.
However, I love the idea of sharing the journey of life with a soul mate and making amazing memories together. Committing for the long haul. Knowing you’ll wake up next to each other when you’re old and grey and that you’ll care for each other ’til death do us part’. That sounds great. So I’m not anti-marriage or anti-commitment at all, I’m just anti the idea that marriage is the solution to all life’s problems and the only goal everyone should be running after.
It doesn’t always feel like society promotes that though, with the steady media diet it feeds us of Rom Coms, the mass-commercialisation of Valentines Day and the women’s magazines full of wedding dresses. Culture needs to start affirming that people are just as complete when single as when married.
As a Church-goer I am very keen to see the Church do better in the way it looks after its single congregation members. Singleness within the Church seems fine when you are a teenager or a student. There are a plethora of groups and activities provided. Yet for the increasingly large number of people aged 25+ who are choosing to not get married yet, there is barely any organised provision.
Often all that’s on offer for singles at Church are (a) Mums and toddlers groups (b) “Wine and wives nights” (c) Dating evenings where you get match-made by well meaning people.
So I write this to encourage Churches to reassess what they are providing for the generation, who like the TV Show ‘Friends’, are choosing to marry much later and still want to feel valued as part of the community. This demographic is huge in the States, especially where I used to live in California. People there are getting married later and later, which is an interesting sociological shift.
Research has shown the divorce rate halves if you wait until after you’re 25 to marry. So if you have singles in your community it might not just be that they can’t find Mr or Miss Right. Maybe they’re waiting until they’ve discovered more of who they are, before they choose the right life partner.
There are hundreds of other possible reasons for singleness and Churches can be quick to assume it’s simply due to ‘not finding the right person’. It’s crucial that staff bear in mind the many options – abuse in people’s past, or having experienced a painful parental divorce, or going through their own divorce, they may be widowed, single parents, gay, bisexual, celibate for religious reasons such as monastic calling or Catholic priesthood, or perhaps they’re in a long term relationship but their partner can’t commit to marrying them. These reasons are so diverse and cannot all be batched together under the insufficient umbrella of ‘not married’. So treating all singles as ‘just needing to be match-made’ is really something that the Church needs to stop doing.
Many don’t ‘get’ the idea that anyone would choose not to be married. People constantly say to me and my single friends ‘I’m SURE there must be someone amazing out there for each of you!’. Yes, we know plenty of amazing people and I’m sure all of us could be married 10 times over by now if we wanted. But that’s very different from waiting to find someone who’s genuinely right for you, and you for them.
Others of my friends married young, as that was normal in our Christian circles. Lots of them are now divorced. They’ve told me they walked into marriage as people who didn’t even know who they were yet, let alone who was the right partner for them. They also told me that the Church painted too fairytale a picture of marriage and didn’t suggest they waited a while until they’d grown up a bit. There are great marriage courses out there now, so hopefully this is less prevalent today.
If you go to Church, or another faith based venue, how are single people treated there? Are they made to feel like whole, valued people? Or just people who are waiting to meet their Prince or Princess Charming?
As a Christian, I hope that the Church in general embraces the fact that marriage isn’t for everyone. I have several friends who have already decided they want to stay single. Paul speaks so highly of this form of living in the New Testament, yet the Church rarely portrays it as a celebrated option. A friend who’s chosen to stay single told me that upon making her decision known, Christians responded that she was selfish, not following God’s ordained pattern for humanity and failing to fulfil her womanly duty to have children! What ever happened to Paul’s idea that actually singleness is a beautiful and aspirational option, just as marriage is?
I live in hope that things will change, and soon Churches will offer more to single people than ‘mingling’ evenings, or tagging along with the eighteen year old students on their movie night.