Sunday, May 24, 2009

Random Thoughts on Being a Single Woman in the Modern Church

Okay, these are just some random thoughts I've been jotting down lately on the subject of being a single woman in the church and how my life experiences have shaped my opinions of that. Please take these with a grain of salt and a sense of humor as some as this is supposed to be both enlightening with a touch of humor at the same time, if that's possible.

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My experiences and interactions with other people’s marriages have definitely shaped my opinion of what it is to be married and what it is to be single. As a high school student, I had a rosy, idyllic view of marriage. I saw only what I wanted to see and never saw the hard side of marriage, the stress, the arguments, and the compromise. All I saw was the constant companionship (wanted or otherwise) and was convinced I would be married with babies by age 19. I never once thought as a young student that marriage was not for everyone. I was convinced that we would all grow up, pair off and have our happy little families (reminiscent of Leave It to Beaver) in our perfect Christian communities. Marriage was my answer to everything: How am I going to support myself? Don’t have to because I’ll have a husband for that. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Be a mom. What am I going to do for an education? I’m going to be a mom; I don’t need to go to school to learn that.

Around 20 years old however it was like the blinders were taken off. Granted, I had always been a little na├»ve and unobservant, but when people I loved, people I thought were unshakable broke down before my very eyes, it impacted me in a big way and it definitely hit home that marriage is not the answer to everything. It wasn’t that I became anti-marriage, but I have definitely an advocate of the single life as well as cautiousness and careful consideration in pursuit of marriage.

It was a big epiphany for me to realize that I wasn’t supposed to be focused on marriage. (Shock! I know!) Even within my relationship with God, my prayers would sometimes (oft times?) begin and end with the request for my long-awaited husband. I asked for a husband more than I asked for peace, or guidance, and more than I even worshiped God. It took a lot to come to grips with the fact that that just wasn’t healthy. Even now, I’m still struggling with giving God the right place in my life. Over time, my request for a husband has been replaced by prayers for jobs, for good grades, the occasional request for world peace, and the ever-on-my-mind prayer for financial aid among other things.

Now that I am getting into what I would deem my ‘truly single’ life (finished my undergraduate degree and am looking to go into the realm of ‘real jobs’) I realize that marriage is not something that I want. I know people think I’m crazy, and many think I’m misguided, but I really don’t see a problem with living the single life. The unmarried life has been extolled in the Bible for various reasons and marriage is never listed as a necessity for spiritual fulfillment or obedience. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me that I will change my opinion when ‘Mr. Right’ comes along. They can’t seem to handle that anyone could be content, and where they’re supposed to be, in singleness. A friend jokingly told me once that it was because all married people wanted us to be as miserable as they are. Truly, though, I just don’t know how to explain this to people. I don’t see my staying single as a ‘misguided reaction’ to the failing marriages around me, and neither do I see it as a selfish decision of not wanting to give up my time for another human being (as that's not really the purpose of marriage anyway). I am not opposed to the idea of marriage. Indeed, I suppose it is possible that I could eventually marry (though I have no desire for it right now). However, I am not planning on it. The idea that we (especially single women in the church) are supposed to put our lives on hold for the knight in shining armor to come sweep us off our feet is preposterous.

It almost seems as if the heroes of our favored novels (Christian, classics, and otherwise) have ruined us and ruined our perception of men. Men are expected to live up to the fictional-likes of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Rochester (perfect, despite his faults), and the occasional Christian romance hero. These ‘ideal’ men are nowhere to be found and they have skewed our idea of what a good man looks like. Instead of seeing men as human, and accepting their faults as we expect them to accept ours, we hold them up to a fictional standard that is only achievable on paper. While I recognize the place for good literature (and most of these books I would hesitate to call ‘good literature’, particularly outside of the realm of that which would be found in a solid literature class), I cannot stress enough that these standards of fool's gold should be taken with a grain of salt (make that a cup of salt!). A friend from my early college years deemed Christian romance fiction ‘Christian erotica’ and more and more I am seeing that I agree with his opinion. Christian romance novels (I can think of several authors I read when I was younger) create false expectations, in a similar way to pornography, that are always disappointed when we encounter real people.

What has really irked me most about my experience with being ‘single’ in the church has been the assumption that I have not yet reached adulthood because of my marital status (or lack thereof). Granted, I will admit that I have not reached what I hope is my ‘peak’ of maturity (and there are those I know in their 50s and 60s who hopefully haven’t reached theirs either!), but when I see the young marrieds (same age as myself) welcomed into churches more than I am, I find it just a little bit insulting. Is there such a thing as marital discrimination? However immature or mature I may truly be, I believe that we all have something to bring to the table. I have been enlightened by conversations with everyone from the four-year-old in the nursery, to my 82-year-old grandmother, and many people in between and I believe that we all deserve the same amount of respect, regardless of how big our entourage is.
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