Phil and I have been married seven years today. The passing of a year whether an anniversary, birthday or the annual turning of the calendar makes me reflective. I had intended to write a post today about marriage and the “secret” to having a happy one (with the caveat, of course, that we have no idea because ours has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster).
But after a month of relationship sermons at our church and a discussion yesterday on singleness, I have other thoughts requiring a voice. I am fired up about single people, and if that’s you, I have a message for you. If it’s not you, I have a message for you, too. Because whether single or married, we have done singleness a disservice.
First, some background.
I had one boyfriend in college before a stretch of several years of singleness until I met my husband. Well, before I knew he would be my husband, anyway. From the time I was 19 until he and I started dating seven years later, I enjoyed a period of singleness. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way at the time. My 20s were filled with times of longing for relationship, especially when my best friends got married and started having children. I attended more weddings in that period of my life than I have since and my question was always, “When will it be my turn?” Even when my turn came, it didn’t come fast enough. We dated for a year, got engaged and then waited two years to get married because Phil was in the Army Reserve and was expecting to be deployed to Iraq for a year. We didn’t want to start our married life apart so we waited.
I’ve written before about marriage, how it wasn’t what I expected nor did it fulfill my every longing, so I won’t repeat those messages here.
What I haven’t written about is singleness. I don’t have a lot of single friends anymore, not because I don’t want them but because I’ve needed married people and families in my life. But after hearing some words from singles yesterday at church and after thinking about my own years of singleness, I have to say this first: on behalf of married people everywhere, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that we haven’t celebrated you for you.
I’m sorry that we assume you’d like to watch our kids while we go out for dinner or that you wouldn’t want to hang out with us and be a “third wheel.”
I’m sorry we make marriage look like the ultimate fulfillment of everything everywhere.
I’m sorry we hear “single” and assume you’re lonely.
I’m sorry we don’t throw you showers for moving into your first apartment or take you out for dinner when you get a new job.
I’m sorry we talk about you like you’re some kind of freak of nature because you aren’t married.
I’m sorry we make you feel like time is running out if you don’t get married soon.
I realize those are generalizations and we don’t all do that all the time, but if I’m honest with myself, these kinds of things have come out of my mouth even when I remember how much I cringed at hearing them when I was single.
The truth is this: single is not the same as alone. When I was a single 20-something, I had an awesome group of single friends I could hang out with just about any time of the week. We took road trips. We stayed up late watching movie marathons. We did life together. We celebrated birthdays, took care of each other and helped with life transitions. We were single, but we were not alone. I think of monks who live their lives as single people but in community with other monks. Single people, you do not have to be alone in this season and you don’t have to treat every other single person like a potential date or mate. Community, I believe, is one key to fulfillment in singleness.
Singleness is also not a life sentence. Can we quit using words like “spinster” and “old maid” or condemning people to a life as “the crazy cat lady” if they don’t get married. (Nothing wrong with cats, but do we even think about how demeaning that sounds?) And why do all of those words seem to apply to women? What’s the word for a man who never marries? (Maybe I don’t want to know.) Singleness is usually a season.
But it’s also not a death sentence. I fear we do not tell good stories about the amazing things single people are doing in this world. I met a man this weekend who has never fathered a child but has adopted more than 40 kids off the street. Tell me his life as a single person doesn’t have meaning.
Hear me out single people: You do not have to put your life on hold because you are not married. You have gifts and passions and desires, and quite often you have something us married people lack–energy and time! Do the things you were put on this earth to do, whether you’re married or not. I guarantee you’ll find fulfillment. <Click to tweet that.>
Because the truth about marriage is that you can still feel alone, you can still wish your life was different, you can still wonder if you’ll ever do anything with meaning.
Married people, can we encourage our single friends to follow their God-given passions? Can we talk about the realities of marriage so it’s not all “happily ever after”? Can we celebrate singleness as a gift?
And can we stop assuming something’s wrong with a person if they’re not in a relationship? Sometimes I think that says more about us than it does about them.
Most days I’m glad I’m married, but I also wish I’d done more with my single years. I refuse to live with regrets so I won’t waste a lot of time wishing for those years back. My hope, though, is whatever season you find yourself in, for however long, that you live it like it will last forever (it probably won’t) and don’t wait for “someday” before you live fully.
Jesus has promised us a full and abundant life no matter our marital state. It’s time we live those lives to their fullest potential and encourage others along the way.
Single people, we’re rooting for you. And we love you for you. And we promise to stop asking you stupid questions about your love life.
I’d love it if we could share some stories of single people doing amazing work for God and for good in this world.
Are you one of those people? Tell us your story. Do you know someone like that? Tell us about them!
I would love to feature these kinds of stories on the blog. Contact me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com if you have a story to share.