As I look forward to the upcoming wedding of a friend I cannot help but notice that my pool of single friends is quickly dwindling. The average age women in the United States are getting married at is 27. So why am I finding myself alone more and more on weekend nights? Girls night out is being passed over for date night. Don’t get me wrong. I love my married friends and I enjoy hanging out with them. The relationship looks different though. We suddenly have to match three schedules rather than two and spontaneity basically goes out the window. And not that there’s anything wrong with newlyweds but they are often inseparable, and don’t seem capable of doing anything without each other.
This leads to an entirely different problem. The dynamic of being a woman and having married friends that are men. I grew up with mostly male friends. That changed as I got older, I made more female friends, but I stayed friends with most of my childhood buddies. The majority of them are now married. This complicates the relationship. I do not want to put him in a situation where he feels like he has to choose between me and her. I also do not want her to feel jealous or threatened by my friendship with him. So, the relationship changes. I still remain friends with him, but I get to know her as well, if I don’t know her already. I create boundaries. One of them is I don’t talk about their marital issues, concerns, or problems with him. My closest circle of friends have changed to women, with the “next circle” including most of my childhood buddies and male friends.
This brings me back to my dwindling supply of single friends. I come from a large, mostly conservative and religious family, a small town, small(ish) church, and went to a small, fairly conservative, Christian University. All of these things add up to early marriage. Almost all of the women in my family were married before the age of 22. My mother was 20 and one of my grandmothers was 17. I love these women dearly but my life experiences have become drastically different from theirs. Most of them went from living with their parents to living with their significant other. Then they started having children. They do not necessarily understand my longing, and need for single friends because they were (and are) on the other side of it. Most of their friends are married, like them. They connect with married people in ways that I cannot. In the same way I connect with single people in ways that they can’t. Beyond my family the majority of my friends started getting married in high school which is definitely something I cannot connect with. I even have more than one friend who is divorced, and they haven’t even hit their mid twenties.
Looking at it objectively, I find myself wondering why I am quickly becoming the only single person in my social circle. The factor that I keep coming back to is religion. No, not all of my friends are religious, but for now that’s what I’m going to focus on. The church has done a wonderful job of making people afraid of their sexuality and their own bodies. Women are held to an impossible standard of purity. I remember sitting in “sex education” classes that were really “how to remain modest and pure” classes. Women are told to not be a distraction to men because they are always thinking about what is under your clothes (or ripping them off). They are told to remain pure in thought and deed but not given the tools to learn how to be single. Everything is geared towards finding that one, perfect mate, and still being “perfect” once you do. I remember one analogy in particular about a lollipop. Every time to think or do something “impure” that person is licking your imaginary lollipop. When the time comes that you do find your perfect mate you are basically damaged goods. Nobody wants a half eaten lollipop with someone else’s (or multiple people’s) spit on it. Another analogy was done with a paper heart. Same idea, the only difference was that pieces of the heart were torn off, so that by the time you met Mr. Right your heart was no longer whole.
There are several concerns I have about this approach. First of all, no one is perfect. Every young person out there has “messed up” somehow. So instead of teaching them about remaining healthy, they are being shown that they are something to be ashamed of. We are teaching young people shame and secrecy. If a young person is in an environment where purity is being preached loud and clear they are going to bury their “impurities.” They are not going to share their concerns about their bodies and/or feelings when they believe they are the only one who is struggling. It is not an environment that allows for healthy, honest questioning and dialogue with their peers or with those older than them. I believe that it comes out of a place of good intentions. We are trying to protect our young people but the result is all too often irreparable damage.
I wonder if the church is unintentionally making people afraid of being alone. There are classes, seminars, and Bible studies all geared towards “finding your match” and maintaining/building healthy marriages. I rarely hear anything about how to live a healthy single life. I have heard though, how to “take the SIN out of single.” This attitude of demonizing the single life and glorifying the married one pushes young Christians towards marriage. That and the fact that they are asked to remain abstinent till marriage. This applies to more than just sex. It applies to thoughts, public displays of affection, and emotional boundaries. Again, it is an impossible standard of purity. Not only is marriage glorified, but so is virginity. Teaching women that their virginity is some sort of gift only to be “unwrapped” and offered to their husband is dangerous. What about women who have been sexually abused, or raped? There is no leniency or understanding. We are teaching them to keep quiet and this is not okay. It goes back to shame and secrecy. We are also instilling a fear of intimacy and sex.
On the other hand there is an anticipation that comes with finally being able to have sex and be intimate in acceptable ways. Sex is built up so much that in all honesty it can be a let down when it finally happens. When you go from 0 to 60 in one instant the possibility of getting burned is high. Nothing to everything is not healthy. Yet, that is what we are doing. There has to be a better way to teach young people about their sexuality and their bodies. And there has to be a better way of teaching, nurturing, and guiding the single people in the church without a. trying to set them up constantly, and b. making them feel like there is something wrong with them. It does not have to be a sad and lonely thing to be single. Not that there is anything wrong with marriage either. There needs to be a balance in both conversations. It should not be an “all or nothing” conversation that pits single people against married people.
**Note: the photographs on this page belong to me and may not be used without my permission.