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.