Singledom – Or The Social Leper Syndrome, Part 1

I got married a little later in life.

Ok, it wasn’t actually that late. I was twenty-nine years old.

I can already hear the disbelieving laughter. “Twenty-nine? Come back and talk to me when you are fifty and still single!” I know, right?

I am aware that, compared to most of society, twenty-nine does not sound that old.

But context is everything.

Church culture

I grew up in church. I went to youth group and I watched most of my friends fall in love and get married in church. I saw most young people get married by the age of twenty-one. It appeared to be a pattern in my church.

Most young people got married by the age of twenty-one.

My observation was that marriage was not only common in the church, it was encouraged. A lot of teenagers attended youth group not because they were hungry for God, but because they were horny. Youth group was a great place for matchmaking.

Hey, it happened.

I also observed, rather disturbingly, that a lot of Christians got married just because it was expected. Not because they were mature enough. Not because they were ready. Not because they had a lot of dating experience.

In fact, most people who married young had little dating experience or emotional maturity.

I have since watched several of those we-got-married-young couples get divorced. And yet, the church trend continues.

The lepers

The upshot of this early-to-the-altar culture is if you are not married by twenty-one, your reputation in the church community starts to shift. You can feel the unspoken questions in the air. Why is no-one marrying her? What is she doing wrong? What is her problem?

Bit by bit, year by painfully single year, you become less popular. You become excluded. You become unwelcome.

You turn into a social leper.

You turn into a social leper.

Social lepers apparently forego their rights to privacy. They get interrogated. Their lives become public domain. They are placed under microscopic analysis so their singleness “problem” can be solved.

I’ve heard it all.

“Why are you still single?”
“Maybe you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you should try ____ (insert magical cure here).”
“You’re being too picky.”
“You don’t have enough faith.”
“You need to address _____ (insert area of sin).”
“Maybe if you wore make-up/lost weight/were more assertive/were less opinionated…”
“You need to get out there more.”
“You need to stop looking. Only when you stop looking will your partner come along.”
“You need to become the ideal partner first.”
“You need to enjoy this time of freedom!”

Being a social leper attracts advice-givers like the proverbial honey to the bee.

The problem

The problem with the above statements – apart from the obvious insensitivity and clichéd nature of these prescriptive “remedies” for singledom – is they place blame squarely on the shoulders of the single person.

They suggest there is something wrong with singleness.

They infer the single person is to blame for their singledom.

They imply that singledom is inherently bad, a problem to be solved.

Being blamed for singledom is bad for your self-esteem, your health and your faith. After I received this blame for a number of years, I became convinced I was at fault for my terminal singledom.

I became convinced I was at fault for my terminal singledom.

It took its toll. I started to wonder about my attractiveness, inside and out. Did I have a personality flaw? An undesirable quirk? Too much or too little of some crucial yet elusive marriage ingredient?

I went into over-analysis mode and questioned everything about myself. I did not know what I was doing wrong or what I ought to do differently. My mind became a whirlwind of confusion.

My prayers became frank during that time. I had it out with God on several occasions. I protested my singledom. I was lonely. I was fed up. And I told God so.

Eventually I reached out. I told my best friend how I was feeling. She walked with me through those agonising questions. She assured me that I was still attractive, still desirable, still on God’s mind. I do not know if she was just trying to make me feel better, but it helped. . .

Tune in next week for Part 2 to read about the moment of inspiration that changed everything. I will be sharing the quest I embarked on, the stupidest prayer I ever prayed, and the life-altering decision to put my problem to good use. 

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