Perhaps the most consistent conversation in the lives of young people (myself included) is that of singleness. While we see this in all young people, it is especially true in Christian circles. Call it a marriage culture, a quirk of the Christian movement, or even a deep respect for marriage in the Christian community, the point remains the same: “single” groups at churches often look like dating pools, both to their organizers and their participants. There isn’t much between the college Sunday school class and the “young marrieds” or the “new parents” classes.
I’m not immune to this phenomenon, of course. I’ve spent countless hours talking about my relationship status (note: single) with family, friends, trusted confidants, younger people, older people, married people, and other singles. These conversations can sometimes be frustrating (either in the “let me set you up with so-and-so since she’s a Christian and so are you” way, or in the “I’ll spend my life praying that you find someone who can make you whole” way), even if they do mean well. There are helpful conversations, of course, but they are few and far between, for the most part.
I’m not here to tell you how to talk to singles. Some have told us what not to do (my favorite is the “pants” suggestion; seriously, read that link [EDIT: This link has since been broken. The author wrote an amusing anecdote about being told to put a pair of man’s jeans at the end of her bed, and to pray that God would send a man to fill those pants.]). And while a lot of work still needs to be done (if you search for “How to encourage Christian singles,” one of the top hits is “Single For Now”), I’ll see if I can give examples of the sorts of things that are more often helpful.
1. Being single doesn’t mean I’m less than a whole person.
Sometimes, we act like people are the separated half-souls from Plato’s Symposium, rather than full people created in the image of God. There’s a wholeness to people, and there’s something to be said for being whole. In fact, the Scriptures describe marriage as “two becoming one flesh”: God values unity of the self, either to ourselves or with another.
2. Not all Christians are compatible with each other.
In fact, just avoid setting people up, generally. There might be exceptions (e.g., you’re really good friends, you know the sort of person your friend might be interested in, and you have good reason to think the other person might actually be a good match), but generally blind dates are kind of terrible and awkward. It is one thing to invite lots of people to an event, in hopes that two will hit it off. But please don’t invite me out to dinner with you, your spouse, and your single Christian friend. Wink, wink.
3. Singleness does not need a solution.
When we talk about “singleness,” we often frame the entire conversation in terms of “waiting”: I’m single, because I’m waiting for Jesus to send me the perfect woman, or to send me to the perfect woman. The often-utilized alternative is similar: you’re working on making yourself a better person, so that you can be a better spouse one day. We’re told to pray for our future spouses–some even write letters–and we’re rarely taught that we simply might not get married. Our divorce rates rise, and sometimes I wonder if that’s in part due to our emphasis on marriage. Not to say marriage is not worth emphasizing, just that singleness has a fairly decent precedent (Jesus and Paul, to name just two).
4. Just because I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely.
The converse of this is also true: just because you are married, it doesn’t mean you’ve escaped loneliness. Jason Helopoulos already gave this point a solid treatment, so I’ll leave this point to him.
5. If I volunteer, just let me serve.
The apostle Paul says that “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.” There’s a lot more to this passage, and it’s a little bit of a strange one to work through, but one clear truth: single people have more time. So when we (single people) ask to serve, seek to be a part of your ministry, or desire to help out with whatever it is you’ve got going on, don’t stop us on account of our singleness. Sometimes we treat marriage as a stabilizing stamp; if someone is unmarried, that doesn’t mean they are too unreliable to settle down, necessarily. Maybe they’re called to service, or maybe they just haven’t met that person God has in mind for them, or perhaps there is some more practical reason. But the point is that we might be uniquely capable of pouring quite a bit of ourselves into a project; give us the space to do so.
6. Lastly, we need your friendship more than we care to admit.
I value my single friends–sometimes to commiserate our mutual single state, other times just because they have lots of free time–but without my married friends, life would be a lot more difficult. Seeing that my friends are still recognizably themselves after they get married is a reminder that single people are people too. Beyond that reminder, however, is just that I have a need for fellowship, same as you. Having fellowship with married people helps keep me from thinking of all fellowship as either focused on dating or focused on talking about dating. That helps me treat everyone as a whole person; I’ve got to follow my own advice here.
So singles: rejoice. You’ve got time and life and love. Befriend married people, hang out with them, babysit their kids, watch a movie, and call it an early night if you’ve got to. Spend time with other single people, but don’t just do it as a dating pool: people are valuable for who they are, not just who they could be to you.
And to married folks out there: rejoice. You’ve got love and fellowship and you get to reflect God’s love for the Church. Try to work us into your schedules, but never forsake your spouses. Don’t set us up, treat us like whole people.
After all, we’re all made in the image of God.