“Unwilling Desperado:” A guest post!

Today’s guest post is from my good friend, Abe Kobylanski. I hope you’ll enjoy his thoughts about singleness and the church’s view of marriage! And be sure to check out his blog at Images and Words. 

So, being a 27-year-old Christian male is pretty weird. The average marriage age for an American male is 28, so I still have a few months to go before I break that social norm.
But if I had to guess, I would guess the average age for a first marriage for Christians would be around 22. In other words, halfway through your senior year of college, you buy a ring you can’t afford, propose and start preparing for a wedding and marriage you won’t be able to afford.

So, in churches, I’m a bit of an anomaly. I am single. I never really dated anyone until I was 26, and didn’t get into my first serious relationship (the one I’m currently in, with the author of this blog), until this year. It’s kind of strange that I’m still a young adult by most people’s standards, but by Christian standards, I am an oddity. So strange, there should be a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records just for me.

I’ve spent most of my experience as an adult in two churches, both of which seemed to treat marriage as if it was a foregone conclusion. When I was 20, my closest friend got engaged, and there was at least one other young adult marriage while I was at that church.

Many of the sermons were focused on marriage. With the divorce rate being so high in America now, I could see why they might emphasize actually trying to make the marriage work. But for me, it was about as helpful as drinking milk on a 100-degree day in San Diego (“It’s so damn hot, milk was a bad choice”). Maybe not that bad, but the best I could take out of it is, “oh I suppose it could help my future marriage.”

In both churches, the second of which was a non-denominational church, which of course means Southern Baptist and trying to get away from the stigma of that denomination (let’s be honest, just call it what it is, unless you’re actually going to change your doctrine), people would always joke with me about getting married. They would do things like pray for me to find a “smokin’ wife” or ask if there’s a lady in my life and when I’m getting married, to which my response was, “it’s not exactly a solo activity, you kinda need a partner for that.”

There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, as it shows people cared about me. But it is frustrating because it shows how much emphasis the church places on marriage. But (I can say this, because I’m actually in a relationship now) it also shows the underlying attitude that marriage is not just important, it’s a rite of passage, which simply isn’t true.

It’s not as if I didn’t want to get married then. The importance of marriage had been drilled into me by both the church and pop culture. It was a necessary step to becoming a normal adult and living a fulfilled life, like a Chinese male who has to climb to the top of the Great Wall to become a man, though I’m personally still working on that one. But if I’m honest, I probably wasn’t ready for marriage yet anyway (having the wisdom of God generally means an understanding that I have no idea what I’m doing).

Other church people may have and probably did judge me for being a single man. It wasn’t exactly something normal to them. I did notice a new barrier growing between myself and some of my newly married friends, like we suddenly had no understanding of each other anymore. I was probably seen as either immature or a playboy, neither of which seems to describe me very well.

But one day, living by myself in a town where I knew nobody, I decided to go see a movie by myself (by embarrassing admission, that movie was “Walk Hard”). And suddenly, I felt free. Lonely maybe, but free. I was my own person, and I didn’t have to wait until marriage to live my life, like churches and college ministry seemed to make life out to be.

I didn’t exactly just not want to be married anymore. On the contrary, I was still lonely and sick of being alone, but I at least became aware of the fact that it’s ok to be alone. It might be difficult sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world. I was able to do so many things married people can’t do. I could do things like spending a summer going to all the concerts I wanted to, going on a mission trip to Peru and planning a vacation to Ireland. Like I said, not exactly the end of the world.

I have another single friend who is 38 now, and he’s told me he went through all the same struggles I did when he was younger, but he eventually got to the point where he didn’t put marriage on a pedestal anymore. I wish I could get to that point

It’s not easy being a single adult in church. You really do feel like you’re totally alone sometimes. I’m not sure I have a pick-me-up ending to this, but if you’re one of the few single Christians out there who’s having a rough go of it, I would recommend “Singles at the Crossroads” by Albert Tsu. It helped put things in perspective for me. It’s difficult living in a culture that thinks you should be one way, but you don’t quite fit into that mold. This book made life a bit more bearable and offered me some freedom.

Are there any other 27-year-old single Christians out there? If not, I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences being single in church. Or for those who are married, maybe remembering the push by culture and church to get married. Or if you’re also secretly a fan of “Walk Hard,” it’d be nice to know I’m not alone.

  • Pingback: I’m not here « Abe Kobylanski's Images and Words

  • http://actuallystrange.wordpress.com actuallystrange

    I’m twenty-two and I’m single. I’m ok with that right now. I don’t feel that I’m currently where I need to be to meet someone. Although becoming a mum is my number one goal, it’s in the hands of God.

  • http://www.holdingontothemagic.com Niki

    *raises hand* I’m 27 (28 in a mere week-and-a-half), single, and thus far, dateless. And yes, I hear you. In fact, a good percent (other than my health and general exhaustion) of the reason I haven’t been consistent about going to church for the past year or two is that I attend (and honestly love) a church where probably half the congregation is in its twenties and thirties, and us singles are few and far between. With the exception of one friend, who’s at least as busy as I am working and trying to make basic ends meet, all of my close friends at church are married, and most (maybe all… I haven’t taken stock recently, but not now that I think about it…) are parents of young children. I’m in the midst of trying to make sure I get enough classes in my part-time community college teaching gig (writing) and getting a pet portrait-painting business off the ground so that I can pay my mortgage when there aren’t enough classes to go around, so when there are hang-out times that come up when I’m not busy, I often find myself zonked out on the couch trying to catch up on sleep.

    In fact, I’ve mostly come to terms with singleness lately, except I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’d be nice to not have to shoulder finances and life in general alone. I don’t actually get out too often, and my attempts to plan a get-together for my birthday next weekend have elicited exactly one response from one couple who could come–the same couple who were the only non-family members who made it last year. It’s hard to ignore that pattern of isolation.

    Alas and alack, I have no wisdom to contribute, other than knowing that, by looking at friends whose marriages have broken up already, it’s better to be single without prospects than to marry someone who is wrong for you. Still, it’d be nice to get out on a Friday night once in a while… as long as I can take my needy dog. ;) And it would be nice to know that someone who isn’t a creepy WalMart stalker (recent experience) is interested in me. It does honestly shake my self-confidence a little to take stock of my complete lack of a dating life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1451889918 Elizabeth Ana Hardy

    22, and when I mentioned to a professor that I was in 3 weddings this summer, his prompt response was, “Any of them yours?” I laughed it off and said no, but it was just a really awkward question, as I have never been in a truly serious relationship. It kind of stung, to be honest. I’m still having trouble becoming okay with my singleness, even though I realize I’m independent and don’t have time for a relationship anyway (I’m student teaching). That’s my college culture for you, I guess. Not much support for singles.

  • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org melindaguerra

    Finishing up my 26th year and quite single (though I was engaged at 20, which is slightly ahead of your curve).

    I think… I think I got so close to being married at that point, at 20, that when we broke off the engagement, the possibilities that came rushing in were staggering. I was able to see and enjoy all the freedom to which I had access. My current issue is how much I love being by myself and whether I’d ever go through with a marriage…

    My church though… part of my love/hate relationship with it is that while there are few people my own age, most of them are single. And childless. It makes community life stuff easier.

    My communities though– they’re definitely on the marriage thing. On this side of my twenties, I find that most of my friends who got married in their late teens/ young twenties are now getting divorced, which is a whole new level of crazy.

    • abekoby

      The last sentence in your second paragraph was one of the issues I had heard about, and when I started dating, it was difficult at first because my time was suddenly not always my time anymore. But I’m getting better at that.

      But it sounds like you’re in a pretty good situation with your church community, so that’s neat. That was obviously something I struggled with. I’m the only single one left of my college friends, and I really haven’t found many singles my age in churches. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://theladyexpounds.wordpress.com Lady Tam Li

    When I was the age you are now, I was still very painfully single. I hadn’t even found anyone I liked enough to date seriously, but my hormones and loneliness were kicking into high-gear. Not a fun time to be alone.

    Living with friends, two of whom were married to one another, just made it worse. (They weren’t the push-you-into-marriage type, but I was insanely jealous of what they had.)

    It would not be for another two years that I would meet the man who would become my husband.

    I’ll be honest; I fought against that basic human desire for a long, long time. I don’t mean marriage specifically, but any idea of “needing” another person. I fought it viciously, due to insecurities about myself. But hormones and desire (and even love) won out in the end.

    I’ve read some of you and Sarah’s story now, and I want to make an observation. If I’m over-stepping my bounds, please forgive me.

    Being against marriage for the sake of being against it is just as bad as having aisle-vision: you’re still putting all your focus on it, one way or another.

    Instead of listening to what folks say….like, at all….ignore them. Go with the flow. If you two want to be together forever, then propose. If you don’t, then don’t.

    But don’t avoid the concept of marriage simply because the idea freaks you out a little, or because people around you are being annoying. People will ALWAYS have something to say. You can’t let it influence decisions like this (unless it truly is a bad decision you’re making, such as wanting to jump off a cliff or start using cocaine). To this day, some folks still ask us when my husband and I are having kids.

    The answer is “never”. We have some very good, legitimate reasons for that, one of which being I’m pretty convinced that pregnancy and childbirth would completely break me emotionally.

    But other people don’t need to know that detail. I let them know that those who are called to be mothers have my blessing, but it’s just not something I want. They go away confused, but unoffended. And I go about my day, not thinking twice about it usually.

    Anyways, some (possibly unwanted) advice from yours truly. :)

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com moonchild11

      Thanks for the tips. We are actually not against marriage and we definitely don’t plan on avoiding marriage. Right now I’m in school and we live an hour and a half apart so marriage just isn’t realistic yet, but it’s definitely in our plans for the future (though, I’ve learned that sometimes plans don’t work out the way they should)

      My biggest concern for myself is my tendency to derive all my own value from relationships instead of from Christ. Right now, I’m trying to change my perspective on that!

      • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com moonchild11

        and advice is always welcome! I love learning and hearing from others who are wiser than I :)

      • abekoby

        Yeah, what she said

        • abekoby

          And I’m guessing taking self value in Christ and understanding your own self worth without “needing” a relationship will only make marriage easier. But thanks for the advice. It is difficult at times to deal with peer pressure like that. And it’s good to be reminded that we don’t have to give in to peer pressure. So thanks for that.

  • http://wwww.theterriblelands.com tim

    twenty four and i think i’m the first male to comment on this post? o__o
    (btw, found your blog via andreayorkmuse.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-to-know-before-you-go.html)

    anyways, being single has been on my mind a lot and perhaps is even perpetuated more after seeing different family members or close friends getting married or announcing their engagement or even just hearing that they’re no longer single. it really is nice to know that i’m not the only one who feels the same way. thanks for sharing this abe.

    i don’t really have anything else to say except that i just ordered a copy of that book after reading this (i think you have a typo; “hsu?”) and that i just read this post (http://tinyurl.com/3dpeyc3) on a “girlfriend” calling service. oh sad irony, how funny you are. bwahaha. sigh.

  • Jeanette

    I don’t feel like because I’m married I can’t go on missions trips or plan vacations to other countries. I think I understand what you mean but I don’t want people to think marriage is limiting. People always told me that once I got married I was then limited to the things I could do and all the fun in life is gone but that’s not true. If anything I feel as though my husband empowers me to do more. My life is so much fuller now.

    • http://gravatar.com/moonchild11 moonchild11

      I think I agree with you Jeanette! Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be married, but I don’t think marriage HAS to be limiting. Good to know that it hasn’t been for you!

  • http://bluebonnetreads.wordpress.com Hannah C.

    Well, I don’t fall into the single adult category. I’m 22 and married with a kid. But both of my sisters-in-law, who are 25 and 27, are single-sans-any-serious-relationships, and living very fulfilling lives. So you’re not alone. :)

    Looking at my friends who are my age, it seems that they are either just-married or have no plans to get married anytime soon, whether or not they are involved in serious relationships. I think this is both geographical (the east-coasters tend to be more of the “oh I am not getting married any time soon!” while the southerners/midwesterners are more in the “I’m kinda married” camp) and religious (the non-religious are more likely to be in the no-marriage camp than the Catholics). My husband and I got married because we knew we wanted to spend our lives together, it was feasible for us to live together, and we didn’t want to wait anymore. If we were east-coasters/non-religious, I think we would have just lived together instead of getting married – but we still would have gotten married down the road.

    I really agree with Lady Tam Li: “Go with the flow. If you two want to be together forever, then propose. If you don’t, then don’t.”

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com moonchild11

      Definitely wish we could get married now. If it were feasible for us to live together, we probably would. Unfortunately, his job is an hour and a half away from my college, so either I have to graduate and find a grad school near him, or he has to find another job closer to me. Then we’ll go on with the whole marriage thing. We’re working on it! :)

  • katers

    great Anchorman allusion, and going to stuff by yourself that you previously thought was only fun if it was a date is SO great! I was engaged at 19, now I’m 22 and dealing with about a year and a half of the brokenness that ensued from that relationship, the anger and bitterness, and the challenge to choose to love instead of hating when there was no longer anything in it for me. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds, hugely hugely more than I ever thought was going to be possible for me, all because of something that I definitely didn’t want to happen and that I sometimes am still angry happened–and the new thing for this week, the new miracle has been an actual spirit of thanksgiving for the whole kit and caboodle–the stuff I couldn’t be thankful for before because I was too obsessed with controlling my life and making it perfect, and the stuff I couldn’t be thankful for in the present because I was still angry about the past. It’s wonderful. Receiving God’s grace with joy is one of the best things, probably the best thing, in my life.

    And the other week I heard a sermon where the pastor actually had the balls to quote the Bible and say that marriage is good, but singleness is BETTER. Score! I had to tone down my surprised pride for a little bit to realize that maybe I wasn’t so far out of God’s will as my peers and professors and literature had led me to believe. He said, prepare for singleness but be willing to be married. Similar to the axiom about missions which says, prepare to go but be willing to stay. It’s opposite of what you’d think and puts the emphasis back on the fact that loving other people is always a hard call to service, and not something anyone should enter into thoughtlessly.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com moonchild11

      Even though I’m probably going to end up getting married, I think that pastor was probably right! The idea of preparing for singleness is really interesting and I wish more churches would help me live life as a single rather than always trying to prepare me for marriage. I will probably get married, so it’s cool to be prepared and all, but I want to know what to do with my life NOW, not feel like my life hasn’t really started yet!

      Also, you are such a great encouragement all the time in the way you choose to love and in the way you truly strive to put all of your value in Christ. So inspiring!

  • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com brambonius

    Hmm… I’ve always found it strange how some Christians are obsessed with marriage and quote the bible to hammer it into everybodies head that marriage is so important and whatever. Don’t they know that Jesus, yes, Jesus, the bloke whose ‘last name’ was used to name Christianity (actually not really a last name, but nevermind) and the one Christians claim to follow was actually a single and celibate guy. And the incarnation of God the son also.. And that Paul guy (yeah, the converted Christian-killing terrorist) was also single. And het wrote about half the new testament, including the parts that are favored by most protestants, bapists and fundamentalists to build their theology on…

    Both guys were single, in a world where singleness was an anomaly. And then christians do deny singleness a place in the church. man, read your bible instead of following your traditions… Yeah that’s a bold statement for a postmodern charismatic to make to fundies but it’s the truth…

    As for my own story, I live in a very secular country where young marriage is frowned upon, so there isn’t the same extreme marriage culture as over there in the US. I’ve personally been single and celibate (though I alsway has more female than male friends, which confused some people who though the girl I was hanging out with should be my girlfiend) until I was 23 or so and then started the relationship that’s now my marriage (I’m 31 now, and having a baby of almost a year) We first had an anarchist church wedding and only later got maried to the state, but that’s another story…It would take an entire blogpost to tell I think…

    I think the church should be a place of love and community for everybody, be they single, in a relationship, married, celibate or whatever. We shouldn’t make those distinctions and love and be friends to everybody…


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