church · dating and singlehood

if you had a dowry

A friend posted an article by a single woman writer reflecting on her status at the age of 45. She rehashed a conversation she had on a date, one of many she always had and one that I have had plenty of times myself as a single woman. It brought to light the prevalent thinking of society, and even of a man who should know better, ie a divorced man in his 30s, that if you’re single for “too long” (insert age of current “too longness” here because it keeps shifting on us) there must be something wrong with you.

There are a few observations I’d like to make. Thus a blog.

It isn’t THAT much different in church circles. I’ve heard people bemoan the “fact” that christians tend to want everyone to get married faster than the rest of the culture. Maybe. Maybe it’s true that Christians are uncomfortable with singleness as a general rule and the temptation to have sex is a bit too much to bear and so we all want everyone to go “legit” and all. You might as well just go ahead and get married so you don’t sin. Because getting married can never be a sin, right?

Let me tell you a secret. Getting married can be the worst thing you ever do. I know that sounds horrible. It’s true. I can give you a long, comprehensive list of reasons to NOT get married. I can tell you about couples I know who should never have gotten married, some of whom I consider close personal friends but have not had very many days with true peace, contentment, and joy, and will tell you their marriage has been a constant struggle. I can tell you about how so many I knew who were absolutely in love once upon a time now have nothing civil to say to each other and are now in divorce proceedings. I personally feel like it’s the job of the premarital counselor to convince the couple why they should NOT get married and make certain that they are well suited. No one will ever ask me to do their premarital counseling for sure. Actually only the very wisest of couples would, but I digress…

Christians should definitely know better. They should know that not being married means one thing and only one thing: you aren’t married yet! It isn’t a valuation of you or how much you’re worth to society. It is not a statement about you, if you’re good enough, if you’re too picky or too easy. My value was not in being a wife. My value was not in finding the one to complete me. My value is not in what I’ve accumulated so far in life and what I bring to the table. I’ve come to learn that the one thing that gives a person dignity and worth is this: breathing. Are you breathing right now? You’re valuable. Are you alive? You have great worth. If you’re not alive, well I don’t know how you’re reading this but you’re freaking me out right now.

Society has always struggled with this notion of hierarchy. For as long as time was time, human beings have vied for status and rank. Men v. women. Older brother v. younger. Woman with child v. woman barren. Man with property v. man without a pot to pee in. It’s been going on forever now. And it’s time we stopped. It’s time we stop trying to rank and file people like they are commodities. We need to stop sizing people up and putting labels on them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about people so far, it’s that no two are alike. Yes, we have common ground, experiences that are shared and emotions that bring out our more empathetic sides. But it feels like we are more often trying to figure out our differences and doing some kind of subconscious calculation of where the other person fits in – either fits into our range of experience and knowledge warehouse, or how he/she fits in to our value system, to see if this person is “worth” our effort to understand and embrace. We seek out answers to the “other” so we can better categorize and organize our associations and if that person doesn’t readily resonate with us, we want to put quick and easy labels that tell us to learn more or to put aside.

And for every list that some blogger writes, there is an equal and opposite list that refutes or states a contradictory experience which is no less valid and worth reading. I like reading the ones that have nothing to do with me or my personal experience, because I’d rather understand an experience that isn’t my own. It makes my experiences all the richer and more meaningful. I know my experience and share it when I can or when asked. I can only hope it enriches others and points them to the God I have come to know as the Lover of my soul. And I seek to find that same love and grace in other people’s experiences or to learn about the beliefs they have come to claim as their own, so that I can better understand the wide spectrum of human experience.

And maybe in the end the only value we gain in life is when we can truly embrace another person, with all their complexities and differences from us, and see them as equals, no matter what their status is, net worth, neighborhood, education, race, creed, gender, orientation, political party, etc. etc. Maybe the only dividing factor is how you really see other people who are nothing like you and who make completely different choices from you. Maybe the real haves and have nots are the ones who have compassion and deep respect for all life and those who do not. The haves are those who see beyond all exteriors and quantifiable measures to the deep, rolling waters of the soul, the nuances of human emotion and the capacity to experience all the complexities of life even when it is so different from our own.

And maybe I’ve learned these things the way I have because I was single so long and have travelled through many stages of life with eyes wide open and a willing heart. Who knows. What I do know is we can never have too much understanding and empathy. If it’s even possible, I will err on the side of love every time and never question the inherent dignity and great worth of everyone I meet, exactly where they are, no matter how they got there.

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