I’m not married. I’m not engaged. I’m not dating anyone.
I’m not anti-marriage, anti-engagement, or anti-dating. I have many great married, engaged, and dating friends. I’m certainly not anti-men; there are a lot of great men in my life.
I’m just currently unattached, and that’s okay: I’ve learned much and grown much and benefitted much from time spent in a romantic relationship and from time spent not in a romantic relationship. Both have merits. That it’s the latter right now really doesn’t trouble me. It does, however, make me more conscious of the role marital/relationship status plays in various communities, including church communities.
I grew up in a culture that taught my peers and me that we should date often and marry early (of course, it was also assumed that these would all be heterosexual relationships, which is another issue). My 6th-grade Christian-school teacher actually told the girls in my class that we should really try hard to find someone to marry in college, because once college is over, the only places to meet men are the bar and church, and the single men there aren’t necessarily the most desirable. (This is unfortunate, as churches and bars contribute significantly to my social life.)
Many of my friends did find someone in undergrad—I attended a Christian college complete with all the jokes about “Senior Scramble,” “Ring by Spring,” and “Mrs. degrees.” Most of these friends are really smart people in really good marriages, but I didn’t follow their example, and I’m glad I didn’t. I still feel—I still am—remarkably young.
This early-and-often attitude toward romance spills over into church life. Many churches see families as the foundational building blocks of church community. I love families, but I’m uncomfortable with a perception of marriages and families as the pinnacle of human attachment and Christian living. I don’t think this is a very hospitable (or biblical!) perspective, and I know people who have been deeply hurt as singles in church.
Overall, my own experience is a really positive one—I have single and married friends at church. Our 20s and 30s group incorporates singles, couples, and young families across the age range (which isn’t enforced—another plus for the group), and I LOVE having a mixed group. One of my church pet peeves is the way congregations often group themselves off by marital or relationship status, and I’m so glad my church doesn’t do this.
This may surprise you, but not all single people are alike (just as not all married people are alike). Some who are single really, really want to find someone to marry A.S.A.P. Some have decided to remain single and celibate for life. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, and I think it’s really important to recognize that there is a whole range of stories, and that assumptions about those stories are what can be irritating and even hurtful.
Single people hear a lot of dumb, ignorant things from (usually well-meaning) married people. Jon Acuff’s post and its 500+ comments cover most of these. [My favorite comment, from “Wtbowden”: “(line I used to use when single) ‘I used to get mad every time some grandmother type came up to me at a wedding and pinched my arm and said “you’re next!” They stopped doing that when I returned the favor to them at funerals'”]
I think the best thing to do is simply to embrace people of any relationship status in Christian community, and to remember that we all have things to learn from one another. Married people are not superior to unmarried, and vice versa. Neither group is wiser or more loving or more able to minister in the church. And each group has stories and gifts to offer.
Has your relationship status affected your church participation or attendance? Have you ever felt more or less welcomed because of that status?