Single people are not a college-aged monolith.
Unfortunately, within the church, they’re often treated as such. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017, the average age of marriage is twenty-eight. This skews a little younger for women, and a little older for men. In my lifetime, the average age of marriage has increased by six years. I want to start by acknowledging that I know this demographic of “older singles” is a new demographic for The (big c) Church.
(And so help me God, I will lose my ever-loving shit if I hear another Christian online voice refer to this new demographic as a “problem”.)
This new demographic is not a problem to be solved—but it is made up of unique individuals who need to be loved, respected, cared for, and heard. This is a prime opportunity for The Church to learn—and sure as the Lord is good, it needs to learn about this. I found one of my favorite online authors about womanhood in the church— Jasmine Holmes—in 2017 when she tweeted this article:
This article gave me a lot of clarity on why speaking to married people about singleness is often unhelpful—they don’t really remember it fully. More often than not, they remember it like a deceased loved one (who was also sometimes an asshole)—all the silver lining, all the gilding, all the good, and very little of the struggle, pain, and hardship. I’m not saying they don’t remember any of that—but they’re looking at it through a new lens (shall we call it the death of their singleness) with a different tint. Singleness will never look the same again for someone who is no longer immersed in it.
If you are married, and you cannot have a discussion about singleness with your single friends without putting it into the framework of your marriage, this is probably you. You have singleness amnesia. This is not an indictment, so much as a call to learn from your single friends. Shut up for a minute. When they talk about their singleness, don’t interject about your marriage experience. We know marriage can be difficult—we know you think marriage is harder than singleness—we’ve heard it a thousand times. Now hush.
I have spent the last few years having conversations with my single contemporaries (primarily women) about the issue of singleness in the church. The conversations started when I was about twenty-eight years old, and picked up in intensity and frequency when I hit thirty. (I am thirty-three now.) I noticed something was shifting about singleness, and my relationship with it. I started talking to other women of a similar age—and we all had similar feelings.
Something big shifts about singleness when you hit that age where suddenly the majority of your friends are married, and they’re starting to have kids—and you look around and find yourself not just single anymore, but deeply lonely. Couples often get married and abandon their single friends. And I get it—it’s a big life change, and you need the marriage support, and you think that can’t possibly come from anyone but married people. (You’re wrong about that, by the way.)
Church friendships are often functionally segregated between the singles and the marrieds—and the only time those circles really overlap into a venn diagram are:
- At group events/parties
- When married couples “adopt” singles
And honestly, this sucks.
Single people, especially this new demographic of older singles in the church, need married friends—and we don’t need them as superiors, parent-like figures, mentors or counselors—we need them as friends.
This notion of “adoption” of singles ensures that the existing church class system is perpetuated. It labels singles as children in need of parenting. It allows for a superior person/inferior person relationship. It is infantilizing, degrading, and all around shitty. And I know many churches are now making statements about singles’ equal worth and value in Christ, but until I see this practically change—I won’t believe that they really believe it. It is a good preached word that holds zero value until it is practiced.
Single people aren’t projects. We’re not a clog in the church’s plumbing that needs to be flushed out to marriageland. We don’t need to be fixed—and we sure as hell don’t need to be fixed up.
The solution to singleness is not marriage.
It is Jesus.
It is an ever-present loving savior (who was hella single for his whole damn life, FYI) who comforts and empowers single Christians with the same Holy Spirit that married Christians have.
The solution to loneliness is not marriage.
It is community—it is friendship.
When married people “adopt” singles, and turn into functional counselors—that’s not friendship. That’s mentorship. Friendship is a two-way street. If you are married and have a single “friend”, but you never invite their input into your life, or share your struggles, or seek advice from them—that’s not friendship. That’s mentorship. In friendship, you are standing on equal ground. The Holy Spirit in me is trusted just as much as the Holy Spirit in you.
In the conversations I’ve had, we older single womenfolk are neck-deep in unsolicited (and often unwanted) mentorship, and extremely short on deep friendships.
Singleness gets very, very lonely. We’re too old to keep up with the young singles (um, no I do not want to go out at 9pm on a Wednesday night.)—and too single to be accepted as equals among the marrieds—and especially with the married-with-kid folks.
This, my friends, is division in the church. The church is segregated—siloed—divided. It is not an ideological division, but a practical and functional division that keeps single people in a lower caste than married people.
I know that the married people reading this may be tempted to react in defensiveness right now. You probably theoretically agree that single people are equals. You probably theologically agree. But ask yourself some questions to check yourself:
- When was the last time I/we invited a single person on an outing—family or otherwise?
- When was the last time I/we spent time with a single person (non-relative) outside of a group context?
- When was the last time there was an odd amount of adults at the table when we went out?
- When was the last time a single person showed up to serve my family? When was the last time I showed up to serve a single person?
- When was the last time I shared about the hard stuff in my life with a single person outside of a group context?
- When was the last time I invited a single person’s input/advice/thoughts on something important in my life?
- And really, really, honestly ask yourself this one: When was the last time I trusted a single person to provide something of value to our relationship, excluding acts of service?
Last night we had a dating seminar at my church—I went because I was running sound. I would not have attended otherwise, because as a woman in my thirties who’s been around the church for a long time—I’ve experienced more than my share of dating advice. (barf emoji) It was good—and by that I mean I agreed with almost all of the advice given. But it was still an example of married people speaking at single people—and I couldn’t shake the notion as I sat at the soundboard that if married people in this church really cared about the single people around them, they would’ve been there learning, too. This is a heavy indictment, I know—so I want to pause and add that I have seen a lot of willingness to listen—and have been listened to a lot—within my own church. (I would not be writing this blog, had I not first had the discussion amongst my community.) I think perhaps the barometric pressure is dropping, and there’s a bit of a breeze, but the winds of change have yet to arrive. I love my church—and I love my community—and they are no strangers to my thoughts on singleness.
Single people are not monolithic. Many desire marriage—some do not. Some desire kids—some do not. Some want to date—some do not. Some are content, despite their unmet desires—some are not. Me? I have a deep desire to be married and have kids someday—but want nothing to do with the dating world. I am content insofar as I feel I am valued and respected as a single person—whole in Christ. Discontentment creeps in (and sometimes bashes the door down and holds me hostage), when I feel I’m not being treated as an equal.
Many of us are attempting to come to terms with the idea that our desires may never be met. Marriage is not promised—children are not promised. For me, this acknowledgement often manifests itself in grief—sadness and sorrow. It is easier to come to terms with this idea when I know that singleness doesn’t have to mean loneliness—when I am surrounded by brothers and sisters who value me (not what I can do).
Often, single women in particular are written off as angry and bitter—and when it comes to me, you’re right. I am single, angry, and bitter. I get to repent of this daily (well, not the singleness—that’s not even remotely close to being a sin). But… I want to address this as I wrap up, and this comes from my own experience as well as the conversations I’ve had: We are not angry and bitter because we are single. We are bitter and angry because every time we express the grief and loneliness that come with unmet desires and singleness—we are pointed toward marriage, and not Jesus. We are bitter and angry because we’re told we’re equal, but not treated like it. We are bitter and angry because everyone is talking at us, and no one is listening beyond the lament of singleness—they hear that lament and cut us off with verses and platitudes and reassurance that “marriage is harder”. We are bitter and angry because not only do we have to fight for our value, as women, in the workplace—but also in the church, where we should, hypothetically, be treated as wholly equal. And we are bitter and angry that every time we express any sort of bitterness or anger—we’re told we’re wrong, dismissed as angry and bitter (with little attempts to understand how we got that way), and told that the solution is any man but Jesus.
The Church has a long way to go when it comes to caring for this new demographic of older singles. If you’re sitting there thinking, “My church does this well!” and you’re not either a single person, or you heard that directly from the mouth of a single person at your church, you’re probably wrong.
Like I said, I think perhaps the barometric pressure is dropping, and there’s a bit of a breeze, but the winds of change have yet to arrive.
Single Christians, speak—honestly, openly—say the hard things that have been growing gangrenous in your heart because you’ve felt dismissed. Married Christians, listen—and maybe invite a single friend on the next double date you go on, even if it means adding a 5th chair at the end of the table. Churches—maybe it’s time to have a panel discussion with singles on the panel, and married people in the audience listening and asking how the singles have felt dismissed, and how they can become better friends.