Single Scenarios in a Marriage-Obsessed Culture

There is a system surrounding marriage in our culture that designates some people as more valuable than others.  My purpose in this post is to give you a window into the world of those people deemed less valuable.  In other words, I want to share some stories of the oft-ignored, oft-devalued single experience.  I will mostly let the stories speak for themselves, but here is my underlying point: Everyone, regardless of marital status, deserves the same care and consideration.   Not only does our cultural obsession with weddings, marriage, and family often inhibit loving consideration of all people, it is an obsession many seem to view as normal, acceptable, and even good.

I offer the following scenarios simply to bring this problem to light.  Although I have changed the names and contexts, all of the stories are based on actual situations. The stories barely brush the surface of the problem, but I hope their simplicity makes them accessible in a way that you consider others in a more caring way than you may have before.

Just to clarify, as I usually do in this type of post: No, I don’t think marriage is bad. No, I don’t think married people are bad. I do think the emphasis placed on marriage is wrong (see Our Idolatry of Marriage), and I believe this emphasis creates a damaging view of some people as more worthy or important than others.  Yes, marriage and the accompanying adjustments are a reality of earthly life, and I’m certainly not saying that should fundamentally change or “go away.” But marriage is only one reality of many, many realities among many, many different people. In this particular post, I’m not going to get into thoughts about balancing those realities. While that doesn’t mean a balance between realities doesn’t exist or shouldn’t be sought, what I want to represent here is the situation we find ourselves when one reality (marriage) eclipses another (the truth that all people are intrinsically valuable).

As you read, please bear in mind these are not stories of bitterness or jealousy, as stories of singles are often cast.  Instead, these are stories of unprovoked hurt.

Scenario #1: Drew walked in late to church, feeling awkward as he scanned the rows for an open seat.  He saw a space open next to a guy friend and one of his kids.  Drew knew the family and had spent time with them, so he walked towards them and took a seat.  A few minutes later, he looked up to see his friend’s wife standing with the other child, apparently arriving late, as well.  “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “but would you mind moving so that we can sit together?”

Drew murmured an apology as he slid out of the seat.  As he found another place to sit, he stared at the bulletin in his hand, trying to mask the hurt on his face. He used to be considered part of a family. What happened?  

Scenario #2: Jessica, a single woman, sits with a group of twenty-something women.  They discuss the fact that their mutual friend’s fiance is going out of town.  “We need to rally around to support Ashley while he’s gone,” one woman says, “We have to make sure she’s ok.”  The other women, including Jessica, murmur their agreement.

As Jessica thought about it later, the irony struck her: She was alone all the time.  Why did someone else need “extra” support for a temporary time spent alone… while she survived all of her time alone?

Scenario #3: Michael, a young single man, talks confusedly with Brian, an older, married friend.  He explained, “My best friend, Chris, says he’s getting married and that we can’t hang out like we used to.  He said his wife is his best friend now, and we can get together sometimes, but she is most important.  We have been friends since we were kids, and have spent so much life together.  I feel like he’s tossing me and all that history aside.”

Brian thought for a minute, then responded.  “You know, Michael, this is just how life works.  People get married and move on.  Someday you’ll move on, too.”

Michael wasn’t satisfied.  He still didn’t get it.  Why did any of that mean he should have to step aside?  What had he done to deserve this?

Scenario #4: Sarah kicked off the uncomfortable bridesmaid shoes and sat on a bench outside the sanctuary.  Staring at the large pile of gifts waiting to be loaded into her car, she took a moment to rest her aching feet.  She thought over the past several weeks: her just-barely-earned income spent on expensive bachelorette parties, wedding attire, and bridal showers; smiling despite insensitive comments and being intentionally excluded from conversations; gritting her teeth while following demand after petty demand…

She had tried to express some of her hurt, frustration, and disappointment to her mom last night, but her mom just laughed and said, “Oh, Sarah, that’s just how weddings are.  You’ll understand when you get married.”

Sarah hoped she never understood, married or not.  Why was two people making a life choice a socially acceptable reason to treat other people like dirt?

I read a study once that asserted that young, unmarried people are more likely than married people to be depressed and alcoholics.  The study implied this phenomenon was due to that first group’s being unmarried (and that those single people should get married, preferably at a young age).  If that statistic is even valid, I suspect the unmarried tendency towards depression and alcoholism would have a lot less to do with with the fact people are unmarried and a lot more to do with the way society treats them because they are not married.

I’m not a literalist when it comes to interpreting Scripture, but it’s hard to take Jesus’ direct proclamation in Matthew 22 as anything but what He is actually saying: “In the resurrection they neither will marry nor be given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Marriage is an earthly construct, not an eternal one. That doesn’t make it wrong to pursue or be part of marriage here on earth, but it is wrong to use it as a boundary between people. After all, Jesus came to tear down divisions we create. As Paul writes in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” No exceptions.

Thank you for reading and for considering my perspective. While my point here is not yet to move into a discussion of how we can proceed in a more caring and considerate way for all concerned, I hope reading these stories awakened in your heart an ache for reconciliation. That, in itself, will be the beginnings of a solution.

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3 Responses to Single Scenarios in a Marriage-Obsessed Culture

  1. andi day says:

    People can say such insensitive things! Many of my friends are single–I try not to go on and on about my marriage and daughter, and definitely do not say anything that would be hurtful like in the scenarios you gave. When I got married I had no parties (except for a shower) or expensive dresses (I bought my bridesmaids their dresses–makes more sense to me! lol), it was all pretty low key. I tried to make it comfortable for my friends. The craziness over weddings is soooo off-putting to me. And to treat marriage like this ultimate thing in life is annoying too. I experienced it first hand at Bible college, where it’s all “ring by spring or your money back”.

  2. Um. These things actually happened? Why are people so weird?

    If those things really happened, I’m sorry.

    Oh! I had a piece published to the HuffPo that I’d love to hear your thoughts on.

  3. Thanks for sharing your Huffington Post piece, Akirah! I appreciate it when people who are married are honest about the part marriage does (and doesn’t) play in their life. That’s so important for people considering marriage to hear.

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