I recently read an article in which a counselor was addressing a 30 year old single woman who was feeling bad about still being single. As I read it, I was once again blown away by how lost we are in dealing with the new reality of singleness in our culture. Essentially we are in the midst of exchanging old lies for new ones. Worse, the Church is spiritualizing the whole process.
The old lie (which this article said was still the lie being told in the “evil” western culture), is that if you don’t get married by about 21 then you are in trouble, and if you hit 30 you are an old maid. Now this has never been as hard as a man. Women in general, and for sure historically, faced much more pressure to marry early. But even as a guy, there is some pressure. The message to the 30 year old woman was/is that you must be unwanted, and the message to the 30 year old man was/is that you must be immature.
There is no doubt that no one should be pressured into marriage. I also don’t doubt that many people have compromised to get married by a certain point. It was a sign of adulthood, really a sort of right of passage.
The truth is of course that many things can contribute to not being married early, and you can for sure be an adult without being married.
However, this is not the most current lie from our culture about marriage.
The new lie is this. You can get married whenever you want and you will still get to do and experience everything the way you would if you got married earlier. After all marriage is a huge decision and it should only happen if you are 150% sure. This counselor literally said “the thirties are the new twenties”. Um no.
The idea now is that you go and live you life for you during the twenties and then maybe get married later. Secular society has totally bought in. Now they don’t mind having sex, living together and having children, but marriage can wait. Get everything you want, then get married.
But the truth is that this is also a lie. There are costs to getting married later. You don’t get to start out life together. You build a life that you don’t get to share. You decrease your chance of having children together. (Sorry friends, biology is still biology). From a purely secular point of view this lie is even worse for women. Like it or not women and men age and mature differently. A 40 year old woman does not have the same chance in the “singles market” as a 40 year old man. The truth isn’t what we want it to be no matter how much our culture wants to tell you that.
In Christian culture we have joined in the lie. In attempt to run from pushing early “irresponsible marriage” that leads to our greatest fear – divorce, we end up telling people to wait. We still tell men to man up and ask women to marry us, but we aren’t in a hurry about it. And to “guard our women’s hearts” we only encourage them to marry the perfect Christian guy. Do you see a problem here?
But even worse, because we don’t want to actually walk with people and help them navigate dating, marriage and celibacy, we tell them not to fret. Enjoy this season of singleness, be closer to God and then God will bring you the person when and if He wants. He is after all writing your love story. If you are 35 and single, that isn’t your fault – it’s God’s.
You see it isn’t that our culture has gone off the rails. It’s that God has decided that in the 21st century, as opposed to all the previous ones, people will get married 10-15 years later than ever before.
So the message ends up being – you should seek only marriage, don’t have sex, but if you aren’t married it’s not your fault – God is just asking you to wait a decade or more for it. It’s all part of the plan! Really?!
Now let me make a couple of huge clarifying points. You are not less valuable single than married. No matter your age, situation, or past, you are not disqualified from marriage. You can still have a great marriage. I got married at 41. I love my wife and my life with her. There’s hope no matter what. You are both lovable and capable of loving.
But we need to stop pretending. We need to stop blaming God and start looking at ourselves and our culture – including our church culture. We need to stop reacting out of fear and actually help people overcome their wounds, arrogance, and fear. We need to be proactively thinking about how we teach, encourage, and walk with people through the whole process and every stage.
Telling single people they are less because they aren’t married is wrong. But so is offering spiritual platitudes as a way of avoiding hard conversations and putting band aids on obvious wounds.