(This article was originally published as a blog post at Elizabeth’s blog: Preacher on the Plaza on March 31, 2010.)
We live in a culture that upholds marriage or at least partnership as one of the highest ideals. By time you reach 21 or 22 and aren’t married or partnered up with someone (especially in some parts of the country), people begin to ask the famous: “When are you going to get married?” question. (This is so funny considering how in the world does anyone ever know the answer to this anyway?)
I came from a family with cousins who got married at 19 and 20. My parents met in registration line on the first day of college. So, without boyfriend in tow, I was suddenly the “old maid” in training by 23. Though no one ever set out to make me feel bad, it was like my singleness was a despicable undesirable trait about me that no one really talked about but they all were thinking the same thing: “What’s wrong with her?”
Yet, when I moved to Washington DC I found the culture to be different from what I was used to. Singleness in your 30s and beyond was actually more of the norm. (Thank God! I was safe for a couple more years.). And, the unexpected happened! I was blessed to have met the person who would be my husband at age 25 and was married at 27. And, looking back on it now, I am actually glad that I didn’t get married as early as others (or myself) would have wanted. And in the scheme of an urban culture, I got married young. Pastoral Pause: My two cents advice to couples in their 20s considering marriage is: don’t rush! Get to know yourself first. Do adventurous things together and a part. Complete your education. And, you’ll know when the time is right. Don’t settle for anything less than someone who loves, adores you and wants to share in your life’s ambitions.
But, yet as I say all of this, I know how painful singleness can be for those who desire to be married. It is good and beautiful desire to want to share your life with another person. For a Christian, it can be one of the greatest tools of sanctification– abiding alongside someone to the point in which neither of you can neither run or hide from who you really are. “How could God keep us from this gift?” we might wonder.
Recently I was reading, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new memoir, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, in which Gilbert recounts an email from one of her thoughtful, intelligent friends who says this about why she longs for a wedding so much:
“Wanting to get married, for me, is all about a desire to feel chosen.” (169)
While I totally understand this and indeed did feel chosen and special on my wedding day and every opportunity I have to tell someone who married me, I simultaneously think of the words of my ethics professor from Duke Divinity School, Stanley Hauerwas about this topic.
Hauerwas made the statement that marriage is NOT the highest Christian ideal, community is. Of course he began with the obvious: Jesus wasn’t ever married. The apostle Paul wasn’t married and writes about how marriage can be a stumbling block to ministry. Singleness, according to Paul, is a gift to be able to spend your time in worthwhile pursuits that married men and women would need to devote to family life.
However, Hauerwas took it one step further spoke about singleness in terms of Christian community. People who are single, he said, know how much they need community. There is not a natural source of it in their dwelling place. Thus, they are much more likely to embrace community from diverse sources than their married friends are. They go out and find it with great intention!
Now, being a married person seeking to find herself in abiding communities of friends, I agree with Hauerwas on this.
I see how easy it is for couples who begin dating or who are recently married to cut themselves off from others and create a little kingdom inside their home, pretending that they don’t need other relationships besides their partner.
I’ve also observed that as Kevin and I seek NOT to be those people, it is usually our single friends who always want to hang out with us. We go through a grieving period of sorts every time one of our friends begins a committed relationship. Not because we aren’t happy for them, but because we miss them as friends. Married folks often don’t make as good of friends if friendship isn’t a top priority.
Maybe then singleness is not so bad after all. Yes, it is disheartening to want something that you can’t seem to have, but at the same time, it is single friends, in my humble opinion, who bring life and fun to our communities. Our communities need singleness as much as they need marriage. I just hope we’re all patient enough to accept life’s seasons as they unfold for us…