From time to time friends of mine send me articles on singles/dating. Let me just walk you through what happens when I get these:
Notification. Click. Cringe. Reluctantly read.
The absolute worst is when someone posts one on my wall for the whole world to see.
Notification. Click. Horror. Delete. Delete. Delete. Why is it so freaking hard to remove from my phone?! How long has it been there?!?!
In my right mind, I’m thankful friends take the time to pass them along. I need to be up to date. So please, keep sending… as emails.
Recently I was sent one called, “What Not to Say to Single People” posted on Relevant. Let me start by saying there are helpful ideas in her blog. My goal isn’t to attack it. I’m responding because it made me stop and wonder for the first time, why do Christian articles on singleness make me so uncomfortable?
I came up with the following: It’s the way Christians talk about singleness and dating. It’s not so much what we say, but how we say it.
Think about it; in the secular world the single life conjures up images of fun, freedom, excitement, choice, and strength. It’s hot and sexy to be a single girl. The single storylines we see in movies and TV aren’t tragic, but exciting. The plot ends when a girl gets married.
The storyline we get in church is that life can’t begin until we are married. We usually only see the roles of wives and mothers played out. Christian single life paints images of tears, desperation, cat ladies, and awkward adults gathered around a bowl of church punch playing Catch Phrase.
Why is this? Both groups are talking about the same exact phase of life. (And both have misunderstandings to be sure) But why do Christians talk about it so differently? How can we talk about dating in a way that highlights the good parts about being single?
Don’t Make Singleness a Thing
Honestly, I’m horrified by the fact that an article on on how to talk to singles even exists. (I realize I am writing one.) I’m sitting here feeling all-normal, when apparently people need help talking to me. Really? It makes it sound like we have some type of rare disease that requires special handling. I can’t imagine an article like this in a secular setting. Married or not married, it’s not as big of a deal outside the Church.
Don’t Make Singleness Everything
In my office, people talk about all kinds of things- sports, news, and job related issues. At a Christian function? Forget it. I’m constantly fielding random questions about my dating life. Since the Bible is largely silent on romantic love, it seems odd that Church is the place I feel most pressured to answer for myself.
I don’t hate talking about my dating life and I’m grateful people care about what goes on. It truly is an issue of proportion. One friend wrote me, “My pastor is CONSTANTLY commenting on how he’s praying for my future husband. However he never comments on how he’s praying for a better job or financial stability or something else equally worthwhile.”
My friend appreciates her pastor’s concern and prayers. It gets tricky when it starts to feel like the only thing people care about.
Don’t Talk About Singleness if You’re Married
I’m going to get burned at the stake over this one, but hang in there with me. Think, “I can talk about my mom, but you can’t.”
Just like finances, marriage, parenting, and dieting are often precarious and complex issues, so is dating. These are topics we build up to with people we put our trust in over time. For some reason it’s socially acceptable for a married person to casually ask a single person how their relationship is going, but inappropriate for a single person to ask how a marriage is doing.
That being said, I have married friends I love talking about my relationship with. The difference is, I’ve invited them into it.
Don’t Treat it Like a Problem to Solve
My biggest concern with Christian single articles, books, and conversations is they typically come across as “how-tos” with lots of advice. This is off-putting because it presupposes the single person is unhappy being single, and unmarried because of a lack of knowledge or effort.
You can see how this would be frustrating.
The Relevant article said, “It’s important for those who are married to remember the struggles that come with being single and do their best to walk away from an interaction with a single leaving them feeling helped, not hurt.”
Do you see the top-down innuendo? While I appreciate the heart behind this, it’s uncomfortable to read your life as a “struggle” in someone else’s eyes. Also, it assumes I need help when I don’t see finding love as a problem to be fixed; I see it as something that happens when it happens.
The truth is, I like my life. I don’t like reading things that give the impression I’m unhappy because I’m not married. If you are married, how would you feel if most articles assumed you were depressed in your marriage?
The bottom line is no one fully understands love. Poets, writers, musicians, and philosophers have tried to capture and describe it since the beginning of time. Despite all efforts, we still don’t even have a solid definition. Single people don’t like being talked to as if it’s something married people have figured out while we haven’t.
Don’t Go too Far with Expectations
Christians can be weird.
We somehow manage to get even weirder around the topics of dating and relationships. We don’t like grey areas. When you take a mysterious concept like falling in love, it’s tempting to want to put it in a standard sized box. In this case, married with children by 26.
When a person doesn’t fit this expectation, our instinct is to want to fix, help, and give advice. Which is a bummer. My single friends and I don’t want to be fixed. We aren’t unhappy with all of life because we aren’t married. Sometimes we love being single. Like Saturday mornings, when no one bugs us or needs our attention. We look at the divorce rate and know marriage isn’t going to solve any of our actual problems. In the meantime, we pursue other things and enjoy our independence. Maybe we’ll get married at 40 or 50. Maybe we’ll love it. Maybe we’ll hate it. Either way, we want to decide for ourselves.
There are so many ways to live a life. I often wish I lived outside my Christian circles because there seems to be more space for things to look differently. Which is disappointing since Jesus is the ultimate includer of the outsider. Something about the way He spoke to people made them feel welcomed and validated. And at the end of the day, that’s how we all want to be talked to.