A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”
A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)
The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?
That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.
Haven’t we heard this before?
It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.
“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”
“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”
“Just pray about it!”
And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.
I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.
“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”
My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”
As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives.
If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.
People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.
I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.
But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.
Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:
Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!
And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:
I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.
Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?
I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.
And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.
“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.
But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.
So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.
But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.
I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.
Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.