By Andrew Seely I think it's about time we as a church take a good hard look at what it means to be a single person within a Christian community. This largely comes from some conversations I've had with other single Christians and from my own personal struggles.
Where to start?
I think a good place is with a few statements. I am 25 years old. I have little to no relationship experiences. There's nothing really wrong with me, I just am kind of picky and really waiting for the right person to come along. My parents are divorced. I am adopted. I'm an Asian guy who basically thinks he's white. I really am looking forward to getting married one day. I desire to have children. And I'm for the most part ok with my singleness.
The church is really bad about talking about relationships, when it comes to singleness. We're ok at talking about marriage, but that's another post. We are even worse at talking about sex and single people.
Some basic things that have occurred since 1900. People started dating. No longer was courting the common practice after the turn of the century. As time progressed dating didn't necessarily have to lead to marriage. The freedom to choose a mate became more available for both sexes. Through the 20th and now in the 21st century, the average age for marriage continues to climb. (Currently around 27 for women and 30 for men.) This is also is influenced by a larger adolescence time span. Our bodies are biologically wired for sex between the ages of 11-15. While I do not disagree with the statement that sex is reserved for marriage, I think you begin to see that we have a huge problem if bodies are ready for sex at age 12 and people are waiting until their late 20's to marry.
The church has yet to address. I hope to open the doors of conversation about how the church can start to talk about this issue.
Obviously this is close to my heart. Let me just say it is not easy being sexually inactive at 25. While there are many people who reserve sex for marriage, I know countless single Christians who have not followed through on this responsibility. I'm not pointing any fingers (If you doubt me please read Chaste) nor do I mean to make those of you who may have had sex before marriage feel bad. This is not the point of this article. Personal restraint is one thing. Denial of a God given gift is torture. Especially when the majority of talk we hear from the pulpit and married Christians is how great sex is, how precious it is to wait and so on and so forth.
I have a few issues with this. First, many people making the above statements are 1) married: it's kind of easy to say you can't have any cake when you are already eating some, 2) got married at a much younger age than I probably will, therefore making the time of abstinence shorter, which equals less frustration, 3) made sexual mistakes, i.e. pushed boundaries and/or crossed boundaries that they ask us to be subject to, which in a sense sets up a false expectation.
I want the church to be willing to be honest in its sexual mistakes. It's not the end of the world if church leaders had sex before marriage, but are they willing to admit it when you talk about it to single people? Next thing church leaders can help with, please talk more about sex and relationships in front of single people so we can have some idea of how to have healthy relationships and how to deal with the time that we are called to be single (Don't let Desprate Housewives be our only example of relationships). After that, please recognize us as regular people, we are not sub-par if we are not married, we are not just waiting to be set up or enter into a relationship, we have lives that are full and fulfilling just like everyone else. Lastly, please acknowledge that is it becoming increasingly harder and harder to be single and remain faithful to sexual commitments.
Speaking personally, having no outlet for sexual expression, can lead to dangerous and unhealthy habits. Frustration needs to be vented in order not to explode. About 50% of my friends are married, the other 35% are in serious relationships and only a mere 15% of my friends are single. In my house alone, out of the 4 guys, I am the only one who doesn't have a girlfriend. I'm not saying that it's their faults for having girlfriends, but it does something to a guy when he's constantly around people in relationships. Cuddling, kissing, and spending time together leaves me feeling alone. It's not their fault but it is a reality that I face daily. And church has had nothing to say on how I should deal with this? There are days where I cope by day dreaming about the day when I will wake up next to my spouse. Each day, I build up a more unrealistic expectation about marriage and life with a woman, but why? Because I have not had people explain to me what the day-to-day life of marriage is really like. I know I am not alone, so the church needs to take responsibility for this demographic.
Please be warned. A “singles group” is not the answer to this problem, more often called a “meat market”. Church is not a dating service, and when you place 10-40 single, frustrated, alone, confused, uneducated people in a room together, you're one spark away from blowing the powder keg.
By this point in my life, I can almost rationalize the thought, “I should just go have sex, I've waited this long. I really, really, really want to know what I'm missing out on especially since people keep building it up as, amazing, indescribable, the best thing ever, great, satisfying and so forth. Besides, God will forgive me.” I know this is not what God has in mind, and I know better, but let me just say, there are those days, when I don't think I can take it anymore.
The church must respond! How do we handle this? I want to spark a discussion and help people realize that is this a problem the church needs to acknowledge and confront. The elongation of abstinence, the over sexualization of culture and the growing frustration of singles is something that the modern church desperately needs to look at, especially as we move further into a post-modern world.
Is there a good way for single Christians to deal with sexual frustration in the midst of abstinence? Is masturbation as evil as we think it is? Is dating socially good for people to experience? Or are we just being put through the “desert” as we wait for the promise that God has for us?
While not exactly what I'm talking about Lauren Winner has some good things to say about the whole “no sex before marriage” promises, you can find it here. (free registration required).
Here are some of my ideas. In looking back on my earlier years, I would have liked to have seen churches initiate dinners with married people and a single people, no holds-barred, open conversation. Or perhaps more open discussion about what it really means to be a single person, from being a single teenager and what happens if you find yourself a single 20-something. I don't think it is too early to talk to middle schoolers about relationships and how to have good ones. With hormones off the charts and their brains trying barely understand what it means to like someone, doesn't mean that we can't talk to them about how to communicate or how to make sure a relationship is worth getting into before they start. If we don't talk about these kinds of things, we doom ourselves to maintain a middle school mentality about relationships based on superficial qualities. This leads us to remain people who are unable to determine what qualities we truly value in a relationship.
If the church truly believes that youth are the future of the church or even better yet, part of church, then we need to do things that help any generation after us, lower the divorce rate and be able to enter into fulfilling and meaningful relationships.
I think the fact that the divorce rate for Christians and non-Christians is pretty equal, speaks volumes to the fact that we must not be doing a very good job preparing people for marriage and especially since we hold it so highly and seem to think that Christian marriages are somehow different from secular ones.
Is the church ready for this conversation? Is the church willing to own up to the fact that they probably have contributed to, instead of helped the divorce rate in America? Is the church willing to take seriously the task of talking about relationships and truly preparing people for them? As well as caring for those people who find themselves called to singleness and how to deal with the sexual allure of culture?
You tell me.
As always, I truly appreciate your thoughts and comments. I will try and be active responding and adding questions, please come back often and follow the discussion.