Singleness: What's the Problem?
- Andrew Farmer Sovereign Grace Ministries
- 2003 29 Aug
"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.
I experienced the power of this perception recently while attending my 20th high school reunion. Having seen almost no one from high school since graduation day, I was in for a real eye-opener.
As I walked into the ballroom I was struck by two thoughts: "I don't recognize anyone," and "I always thought I was much taller than I seem to be now." Then I remembered; I spent most of high school wearing two-inch platform shoes! Anyway, I soon began to recognize people-after making mental adjustments for extra weight and less hair-and was able to reacquaint myself with some old pals.
You know what stood out most to me? I don't mean to sound like a sociology professor, but this is the best way to put it: there was a direct correlation between marital status and level of self-disclosure. Without exception, folks who were married were happy to talk about themselves and what was going on in their lives-and they had lots to say.
Yet in talking with people who were single, whether divorced or never married, it seemed they were almost apologetic for their status, and tended to say very little about their personal lives. It was as if these folks felt like second-class citizens at their own reunion.
Writer Barbara Holland, a single woman, laments this sense of inadequacy. "Happily-ever-after has rejected us. The fairy story has spit us out as unworthy, and sometimes we suppose perhaps we are" (from One's Company, Ballantine Books, 1992).
Have you struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and alienation in your season of singleness? Do you feel like a foreigner in the Kingdom of Marriage and Family? Do you wonder whether you have somehow been misplaced in God's plan?
If you wrestle with your singleness, read on. There is a single life for the Christian that is full of purpose, vitality, and adventure. God has not overlooked you. He isn't waiting for you to get your act together before he will direct your steps, and he isn't playing guessing games with your marital future. He has a place and a plan for you in your singleness. He has a vital and significant role for you to play in his purpose. God has supplied you with an identity that both transcends singleness and enables you to embrace and benefit richly from this time, for as long as it might last. This identity is revealed in God's Word.
Next time, we'll begin to explore his plan together by examining a biblical view of singleness.
The Rich Single Life by Andrew Farmer: "The truths contained in The Rich Single Life could revolutionize your understanding of singleness. Andrew Farmer skillfully shows single Christian men and women what a rich and valuable opportunity they have. Just as importantly, he explains how to take full advantage of that opportunity. This book will help you live the single life in all the fullness of God." -Joshua Harris, author and pastor. Available from the Sovereign Grace Store. Read a sample chapter on the Sovereign Grace website.
Outside Looking In: Courtship for the Rest of Us, by Brian Wasko. The courtship process can be perplexing to married and unmarried alike, yet the response of the church body to couples seeking God-honoring relationships can do much either to help or hinder them. Well-intentioned family and friends can easily heap needless pressure on singles, which can make courtships concluded without a marriage proposal seem like failures. This article, from the Sovereign Grace magazine, provides a perspective for those outside a courtship.