by James Hayes
The United States Census shows that men and women are waiting longer to get married now than at any point in American history. In 1950, the median age for first marriage was 22.8 for men, and 20.3 for women, which means that approximately half of the people who were getting married shortly after World War II were teenagers. Twenty years later, 95 percent of 31-year-old women had already tied the knot. However, the trend shifted over the next forty years. The median age for first marriage was 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women by 2010.
Social scientists have concluded that there are three main reasons why young adults are waiting longer to wed. Linda Waite, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, believes that the divorce rate gives pause to some young people: “The fact that a lot of these kids are the products of divorce makes them cautious, it makes them scared, it makes them gun-shy.”
Young adults are also waiting longer to marry because more of them are going to college and graduate school than ever before. Most of their grandparents could only dream of college. Children of the early 20th century grew up with Mom and Dad, got a job after high school graduation, and married someone shortly thereafter because it was nearly impossible—especially for women—to make a decent living without the assistance of a spouse. Today, women work alongside men in nearly every profession and can support themselves very well.
The third primary reason for delayed marriages is that companionship is easily attained in 21st century American society. The world has gotten much smaller due to the proliferation of social media. A person who lives in a rural area can maintain interaction with friends from around the country. Young adults do not believe that companionship can only be found in a spouse.
Single Christians are in a different—and often more difficult—situation, however. While they are marrying at nearly the same rate as secular singles, their faith establishes boundaries that do not confine secular singles. For instance, secular singles are not restrained by sexual morality. Single Christians, hopefully, are committed to preserving sex until marriage. Delaying marriage is delaying sex, which could be extremely frustrating for a single Christian. Along those same lines, most unchurched people see no moral problem with someone deliberately having children outside of marriage. A single Christian endeavors to bear and raise children with their spouse. So, sexual morality brings added stress to the single Christian.
As a 35-year-old single Christian, I have faced the basic frustrations with singlehood as well as the added pressures from Christian friends. Yes, that’s right. One would think that Christians would be my biggest encouragers and comforters, but many times they are not. I know that their intentions are pure and that they want the best for me, but their comments and actions do not always add comfort.
Many people who give advice concerning singlehood did not spend many years as a single person, or they were single during a different generation. As I mentioned above, many people from previous generations were married soon after high school graduation and never experienced life as a single person. They never had to try to mesh their lives with someone who had already established themselves in their job and community. Couples from the past started with nothing, so they did not have to leave anything behind to marry their spouse.
Along with the general misunderstandings that some older Christians have, other Christians make comments that are well-intentioned but can actually be quite hurtful. Single women in the church have been called “unclaimed treasures” by other Christians. That comment is intended as a compliment, but it is actually quite condescending. A woman might think, “If I am such a treasure, then why haven’t I been claimed? Plus, I am not a piece of property that can be bought and sold.” Our society already forces women to view themselves as objects of desire instead of God’s creation. Christians do not need to perpetuate these worldly views.
There is a general view in the church that single people have a disease that needs to be cured. No one is allowed to be comfortable with singlehood. In a March 1992 article in The Gospel Advocate titled “Single Adult Passages,” Parker Allen noted: “Congregations must decide if singleness is an acceptable lifestyle. Many churches continue to perpetuate the view that people are happy only when married. Programming, classes, sermons, announcements, and activities often reinforce this view.” While Allen’s article is now 20 years old, the ideas he noticed in many churches are still prevalent today. In the Christian community, singles have to be constantly searching for their mate in order to appease their married friends. If you don’t believe me, consider this: When someone announces that he or she is engaged, what happens? People celebrate. Showers are planned. Pictures are made. The parties begin. But what if a single man assembled his friends and family in a room and announced that he had no intention of ever marrying? Would there be any parties? Would their friends and family congratulate him? Of course not. Actually, the reaction would probably be the polar opposite of the wedding announcement. There would be disbelief, sadness, and skepticism. Someone would say, “You don’t mean that. You’re just discouraged. Be patient. God has a plan for your life. He has someone in mind for you.”
What is interesting about those ideas is that some assume that God has someone for everyone. They think that it is God’s will that all people be married. But they forget that Jesus and the greatest missionary in the history of the church, the apostle Paul, were unmarried. Clearly, it is not God’s will that all people marry. God’s word teaches us about the beauty of sexual intimacy in marriage (Song of Solomon), the spiritual roles of husbands and wives (Eph. 5), and parents’ responsibility in rearing their children (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4), but it never commands people to get married.
Some Christians also have misconceptions about the lifestyle of the single person, which might contribute to their desire for single people to marry. Here are a few of those misconceptions:
- Rich. Since singles do not have to buy baby formula and diapers, they have extra money lying around. Truth: Singles often pay more for products since they cannot buy in bulk, and there are many tax advantages for families that do not exist for singles.
- Ignorant. Singles have never reared a child or argued with a spouse, so their advice on those matters cannot be trusted. Truth: One does not have to experience something in order to know the truth about it. An outsider’s observations are often valuable.
- Promiscuous. Singles are sexual ticking time bombs who will undoubtedly fail to maintain sexual purity unless they get married…now! Truth: While maintaining sexual purity is difficult, it would be irresponsible for someone to get married simply to have sex. A spouse should not be an outlet for lust.
- Selfish. A generous person would be willing to share their lives with someone else. A person who delays marriage is likely just seeking a wealthy spouse or a spouse who meets certain physical characteristics. Truth: Instead of assuming a single person is selfish, why not assume they have a heightened view of marriage, and that they do not want to be counted among the millions of divorced people?
- Homosexual. If singles are not married by the time they are forty, they either love the opposite sex too much or not enough: they’re promiscuous or gay. Truth: Failing to marry does not make one gay any more than failing to go to college makes one stupid.
- Physically defective. Bless her heart. If she could only lose 20 pounds or fix her nose or have a prettier smile, etc., then she would be married. Truth: The newspaper is filled with wedding announcements from people who do not fit society’s standard of beauty, yet they still fell in love.
Undoubtedly, some of those stereotypes could apply to certain single Christians, but no one has the right to assume that any of those stereotypes apply to all single Christians.
I certainly have no right to speak for all singles, but I can confidently say that there is one thing that all single people would love to say to married people: “Stay out of our personal lives!” For some reason, married people think that they have the right to ask singles about who they are dating, who they “like,” when they will get married, why they haven’t married, why they do not date a certain person, and so on. (Granted, close friends can ask those questions, but only close friends.) If someone asked those same married people questions about their personal lives, they’d tell that person to mind his own business. “Don’t ask me about my marriage. That’s personal,” they’d say. But singles are often not afforded those same privacy rights. The Golden Rule needs to be practiced here.
Sometimes singles feel unappreciated and ignored when their church goes all out for married couples by having numerous Sunday School classes and describing itself as a “family church. ” Churches also fail when they design camps, retreats, etc. for singles with the sole purpose of expanding the dating potential for those who participate. Singles should not be made to feel special nor excluded; they should feel like a valuable member of the congregation—nothing more, nothing less. No matter what someone’s marital status might be, a congregation’s sole goal should be to respect one another and encourage one another to be more faithful to Christ. It should not be in the business of singling out singles.
I fully believe that being married is better than being single. Woman was made because nothing else that God made was suitable as a helper for man. It is a beautiful event when a man leaves his father and mother and becomes one flesh with his wife. Marriage is a God-made, God-approved institution. The world is a better place when Christian parents rear children to love Jesus. But single Christians should not feel ashamed of their status. They should not waste their days assuming that they cannot be happy unless Mr. or Mrs. Right knocks on their door. There are scores of married people who thought that marriage would solve all of their problems; but now they are in a life-long relationship with someone they barely know and love. As the adage goes, it is better to be single than wish you were.