Singles and the Church

It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons Why You are Still Single by Sara Eckel – Reflections from a Christian Perspective

About two years ago I read a great little book called It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons Why You Are Still Single. While not written by a Christian, or for Christians in particular, it is a refreshing, and often highly amusing, look at 27 common reasons that coupled people give single people, either to their faces or in print, for why they are still single. For those of us who have been single for any length of time many of these will ring true. In this post I wanted to give you my thoughts on the four that resonate with me the most and look at them from a Christian perspective. For a great review of the book as a whole (and many other great articles supporting singles) check out this one by Bella DePaulo at Psychology Today.

The first reason I really related to was Reason 1- You have issues. The amount of times that I have read, either online or in books, that the reason that I am single is because I have issues I need to deal with is frankly unbelievable. It is even more unbelievable if my own family and friends are anything to go by. I am not really sure why people assume that those of us who got married in their twenties took time out to do a deep dive into their own emotional and psychological states to get ‘healthy’ before they got married. No, the far more plausible situation is that they met someone they liked and they decided to get married, nothing more or less. It could actually be reasonably argued that the people who are more insecure and more fearful of being alone are precisely the ones who married young and not the other way around. Eckel writes that “The key to having a normal marriage isn’t having a ‘normal’ personality but finding someone with whom you mesh. What if you instead saw yourself as a flawed but basically lovable human being? What if the only reason you’re alone is just haven’t met your partner yet?

Suggesting that single people somehow have more ‘issues’ than married people would also imply that the Apostle Paul was somehow inferior to Peter. If that were true it is difficult to explain how he came to be the author of a large part of the New Testament. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that being single is somehow a result of someone’s troubled state of mind.

The next reason that I have heard often enough is Reason 7- You need to be happy alone. The idea that all single people are not happy alone first of all is a great fallacy, but the idea that someone needs to be happy alone in order to be ‘rewarded’ with a husband is even more implausible. Firstly, many single people, both those who want to be married and those who don’t, are not unhappy being alone, as extensive research by Bella De Paulo and others have found. However, the idea that someone has to love being alone in order to be somehow eligible for a spouse is quite a horrible notion.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to be married and the Bible itself points out that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’. If you are single and not happy being alone that is a normal human experience and not something that rules you out of marriage eligibility. Even Jesus speaks of wanting human companionship in the garden of Gethsemane as he repeatedly asked His disciples to stay awake with him and even more on the cross when he cried out ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me’.  The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:9-10 that all have abandoned him and he is looking forward to Timothy coming to visit him. One of the great tenants of the Bible is that Jesus tells us ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’. We are told that, as Christians, whether we feel it or not, we are never alone. But at no point is being alone ever associated with a particular marital status.

In It’s Not You, unfortunately, like in many other books and articles on singles, being alone is conflated with loneliness, albeit with a brief caveat. I feel it is important however to stress that the two are not necessarily connected. Loneliness is a feeling, a psychological state in which someone feels a lack of meaningful connection with other human beings while being alone is simply a description of a physical fact that may or may not lead to loneliness. Eckel rightly makes the point that loneliness is a normal experience when we live in a society that “is so rigorously constructed around couples and nuclear families” And further she describes how “Loneliness is treated like the ultimate taboo; yet at the same time it is regarded as a trifle”. In recent years loneliness has become less of a taboo or shameful subject and it is far more discussed, however for single people if you say you are lonely the typical assumption is that the reason you are lonely is because you are single and not because of anything else. Thus many single people will refrain from saying I feel lonely because they don’t want double the pity or double the shame.

The whole argument that you need to be happy alone before you find your spouse is very suspect. If you were to ask people who are married if they like being alone, those who answer yes probably do so for two main reasons 1) they know it is a temporary and not a permanent state or 2) their marriage is so dreadful that being alone is better than being with their spouse. There is however no evidence to suggest that prior to being married they were happy alone, and yet over and over again singles are lectured on this very topic.

The third reason I really related to was Reason 18 – You have to keep trying. This reason, one that is given to so many singles, is based on the faulty premise that meeting the right person, according to Eckel, is a) in our control and b) just a matter of effort. She writes that “I felt like I was studying extremely hard for an exam, only to see others ace it without cracking a book. And unfortunately, I allowed the goal-oriented view to siphon the very real happiness I was finding.”

Single people are too often given the idea that we need to try harder in order to meet that special someone. We need to go to church faithfully, address our issues, work out daily, look amazing at all times, go to every event that we can, volunteer, be an interesting conversationalist etc. in order to meet that special person. Again, this is highly questionable. The assumption of all this is again the idea that the single person is somehow flawed and if only they would fix all these flaws then they would meet the right person and get married.

Singleness according to this way of thinking seems to be all about performance and effort with marriage as the prize, providing public recognition of your having everything sorted out. In this scenario once you are married you can look, be, dress and act however you like. Single people are afforded no so such luxury, under these rules if we don’t dress well, then that is why we are single, if we are strident or strong willed then that is why we are single, if we are overweight then that is why we are single, if we are too educated then that is why we are not married and the list goes on and on and on.

There is a black comedy movie called The Lobster which, while not the most uplifting or easy watch, is an interesting social commentary on the perception of singles. In the movie people who find themselves single for any reason are sent to a hotel/prison with other singles in which they have to find someone to couple up with in 45 days otherwise they will be turned into the animal of their choice (hence the title The Lobster). In order to gain extra time to do this the single people can go out and hunt down other singles who have left society and are living wild as singles in the nearby forest. While this is clearly fiction and we singles are not being hunted down nor forced into coupledom under the threat of being turned into an animal, the message of couple up or be a social outcast forever still comes across loud and clear in many books, articles and especially on social media. Even in churches.

Nowhere in the Bible is being single portrayed as being something that is the runner up prize to marriage. Further to that nowhere in the New Testament will you find any talk of personal performance being the secret to a successful life, married or otherwise. In fact in the Bible we are told that we are to lean upon Jesus, that He is the vine and we are the branches, that we must rest in His strength, that when we are weak then He is strong. That His strength is made perfect in our weakness. The message of the Bible is not try harder, it is stop trying, it is let go and let God. So when Christian singles receive well-meaning but ultimately misguided advice about trying harder and doing more this is actually not really what the Bible says about how we are to approach life. This is not to say we just sit inside and do nothing all the time but that we trust that it is God who will bring us together with our spouse and that we should be going out and meeting people not to find a husband but to connect to people and share the good news of Jesus. As we live our lives for the Lord He will orchestrate the rest, including leading us to our spouse. I believe that it is when we stop trying and start trusting that we allow God to go to work for us. So the message of try harder just really makes no sense at all!

The final reason that Eckel gave that resonated with me was Reason 26- You need to figure out why.

As in why are you still single? Somehow, Eckel states, single people are supposed to have diagnosed their condition and have a reason for it.  She rightly says that ‘No one ever asks why are you married?’, I would add or why are you still married for that matter.  The assumption being that it is somehow ‘normal’ to be married and ‘abnormal’ to be single. I think it might be a good response the next time someone asks me that question, as if single people know any more why they are single than someone knows why they are married.

However, another common use of ‘why’ by couples to singles and one that I have encountered more often, is ‘why do you want to get married?’. Someone I know asked me that recently and then followed it with ‘I have other single friends and I am not really convinced they have a good answer/reason’. Wow! I was totally floored. I wanted to ask why did you want to get married? Did anyone ask you that? Did you have to pass a test? Is there a right reason and have all married people answered the question correctly? Of course not!

Unfortunately, despite the obvious dysfunctions present in so many marriages, singles are still being lectured about how they need to know why they want to get married or why they are still single. Singles are told they need to sought themselves out and fix themselves up while millions of unhappy married couples seemingly walk around compelled to keep up appearances just so that they never have to answer the questions that singles do. It is indeed a strange world in which we live.

Ultimately, I believe there is no one, or even multiple, reason why someone is single (who wants to be married) or why someone is married, only the Lord knows. Why doesn’t seem to be a question that God is particularly inclined to answer and I think for very good reasons, because we would probably just not understand. We all would love to know the reason why we are still single and why others are not, but that does not seem to be how it works. Instead God wants us to trust Him that He knows what we need and what is best for us. He wants us to grow into mature Christians and as I have explored more in an earlier post He is far more concerned with us living out His purpose for our lives regardless of our marital status.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us is not less because we are single and the Bible says He makes no distinction between people once we come to Christ. We are loved because He made us and planned us and created us in His image. He loves us so much that He sent His only son to die for each one of us, married and single. We need to rest securely in that love and draw our self-worth from it and from nothing else.

However single people still need support in a world where marriage (or coupledom) is far too often held up as the ideal state. Blaming singles for their singleness is insensitive at best and cruel at worst. Rather than offering us reasons about why we are single we would much prefer it if our married or coupled friends affirmed us as who we are in Christ. That we are important, significant and worthwhile people in our own right, with or without a spouse because we are the beloved sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.

Practically however many of us would welcome an introduction to any lovely, Christian, single friends of the opposite sex that you married folk might have 😉

I would love to hear any of the reasons you have been given for why you are single and what your thoughts are. God bless you!

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