Singleness: What's the Problem?
- Friday, August 29, 2003
"You're not from around here, are you?" With those words, I knew I had been exposed. My southern drawl had given me away again.
Born and raised in the deep South, I had moved to Philadelphia in response to what I had sensed was God's leading. But the more I tried to adapt to northern ways, the more I wondered whether it was God's wisdom or his sense of humor that had been at work in moving me here.
I didn't know it would be such a big adjustment. It's not like I'd left the country or anything, but there was a world of difference. Besides the weather being colder, the pace of life is much faster-in Philadelphia, a yellow light at the intersection doesn't mean "caution," it means "speed up." And while it's a great place to live, I still haven't mastered the language. None of my best words, like "y'all," really work here. After a great meal at a friend's house one evening, I let loose with a southerner's highest and most genuine after-dinner compliment: "Boy, I'm full as a tick." They didn't even offer me dessert.
It's been 17 years now, and I'm still a hick in the 'hood. Have I adapted? I'd like to think so. Do I feel at home? Not entirely. I've learned that no matter how much I try to blend in, I'll always be a transplant, someone who resides in a culture not ultimately his own. I live in Yankee country, but I'll never be a Yankee.
So what does my little cross-cultural odyssey have to do with being a single adult? As I interact with my single friends, they often describe a similar feeling of dislocation. There is a vague but consistent sense that they are single in a married person's world. Most would not say they feel discriminated against or looked down upon, but simply misunderstood.
In the same way that I cannot as a southerner expect my northern community to adjust to my way of doing things, in the cross-cultural interaction between single folk and married, singles usually end up doing most of the adapting. Now this would be understandable if we were to consider that, historically, "singles" (as we define them today) made up only about 3 percent of the population.
Yet a number of trends, such as a steady 50 percent divorce rate, have been swelling the number of singles in our society at an amazing rate. Many now forecast that single adults will make up half the adult population before the 21st century gets much older.
An explosion of singleness in the past 50 years has emerged largely from a redesignation of singleness as a respectable lifestyle. In 1957, for example, more than half of the U.S. population viewed singleness as something "sick" and "immoral." By 1991, just 34 years later, more than half the population had come to feel there was simply no good reason to get married!
Despite what pollsters may tell us about the present-day acceptability of singleness, on a real-life level it is still widely seen as a problem that needs to be solved, escaped from, or avoided. Many, if not most, single people still see marriage as by far the socially superior state of life. For them, singleness is a place, but marriage is the destination.
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