Church and the single girl

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?

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10 thoughts on “Church and the single girl

  1. Awesome! Will be forwarding this to the my much beloved crew of “single girls”, who feel very much the same way. (will also be passing it on to those who sometimes forget what it was like to be a single girl/boy when the grandmothers descended).

  2. I think very, very highly of my single friends (thou included). Know that there are people in the church (and in life) who appreciate you and your gifts no matter what your relationship status!
    As young married folks who are focused on education and a future career, we had difficulty at the first church we attended: there were no couples our own age, few people in our age group, and a plethora of young families that dominated the church’s culture. During a membership-seeking class, we found we were the only people who did NOT have children, and did not PLAN on having children for quite a while. The most common question was, “When are you going to start a family?” to which I coolly replied that I already had a great family, thank you very much. When we asked what we could contribute to the church, we were very nearly shoved into running youth ministry and … (drum roll, please) young marrieds and college age! We were barely out of those doors ourselves, and the church couldn’t find where to put us, since we weren’t going to start poppin’ out babies any time soon. We left soon afterward.
    We did find a church (yay) that loved us and our gifts without putting us in a “demographic” box. But it took us an entire year to do so.

    • Thanks, Andrea, and thanks for your thoughts. I’ve also seen the pressure on young marrieds to get themselves some children, though it’s a pressure I feel less directly, of course. Cheers to intergenerational, demographic-box-free churches! 🙂

  3. Alissa, this was so spot-on. And your comment, “I love families, but I’m uncomfortable with a perception of marriages and families as the pinnacle of human attachment and Christian living” really hit home for me. We hear all the time about how God loves the family and how the family is everything, and it never occurred to me that enforces upon us the idea that it is what we all should strive for and the only thing that gives our lives meaning. Your insight is impeccable.

  4. I guess the one silver lining about churches that are pressuring their young singles to get married is that they are at least paying attention to them (Not that I think this is the ideal situation by any means.)

    But what I am referring to is the fact that some of the mainline churches I visited had lots of ministries for senior citizens, and of course religious education for kids, which also involves their families. But really very few explicit opportunities for childless couples or singles of any age under 50. I mean, it’s not like they shooed me away at the door or anything. But it’s like they can’t believe any young person without kids would ever want to get involved with them. Hello, self fulfilling prophecy.

    One of the things that your title seemed to allude to is the double standard for men and women with regard to singles in the church. However, my experience has been that some churches are starting to (sort of) realize the double standard that they are putting on women. But, instead of relaxing the pressure for women to conform to a certain ideal of the family, they are just putting more pressure on men to conform. It’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out over the coming years.

    • Also, I can sort of understand the comment about men in bars after you graduate college, because there are some creepy characters in bars, particularly men. But the idea that single men in church tend to be undesirable, yikes! Is she implying that men who are in church but are still single must have something wrong with them, because otherwise they would have found a wife by then? Or is she not even thinking that far ahead, and just trying to scare women into getting married ASAP?

    • Yeah, I’ve seen the lack of opportunities for young adults. Sometimes I forget that many churches are lacking in this area––one participant in our 20s & 30s community is actually a parishioner at another church, but he is the 20s & 30s group at his church. Not that intergenerational activities and opportunities aren’t great––indeed, I think they’re vital––but it is really good to have a way in, a peer group.

      Mostly my title alludes to the fact that I myself am female, and it allowed me to riff on Sex and the Single Girl which, I think, gave me a remarkable increase in blog hits yesterday (haha). I do see that weird dynamic, though, with who gets pressured and who doesn’t. The thing is, at least in my experience, there are generally more women to pressure. Boundless––err, not my favorite publication––posted a related article recently: “Where Have the Men Gone?”. This also applies to your follow-up comment (though I do not claim to know what was running through my teacher’s head). To be honest, I have a lot of problems with the article, but it’s… interesting. I guess.

  5. Pingback: “…the helpless, the lonely, and the unloved…” | Thinking and Doing

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