You know you have hit your mid-twenties when it seems like half your weekends are spent attending bachelor parties, wedding ceremonies, and evening receptions. No doubt it seems like one of the most exciting things to do on these occasions is to speculate about who would be most likely to be wedded off next. Before you know it, your crowd of friends’ attention turns to you and you hear the dreaded question, “Why haven’t you found anyone yet?”
Weddings aren’t the only occasions where you find yourself really reminded of your singleness. If you’ve got conservative parents, are still living at home, and are over 25, you can best believe they will lay it down hard on you. I don’t know about you, but my mum regularly recites to me the age my dad got married to her most days of the week (which I’m not very far off from) and will continue this relentless verbal barrage presumably until I finally find someone.
Now I’m not going to lie, even though these repetitive cliché questions are often said with goodwill, some of them can be quite confrontational and really awkward to deal with. But upon further retrospection, these phrases can even be more unhelpful than you think because they imply more than we intend.
Don’t exactly know what I mean, friends? Well here are just three really common examples out of the myriad of phrases that single people most often hear across the spectrum of relationships they might have with other people:
“How are you still single?”
Oh, here is a classic one. It is rather intriguing to see how nosy people can be about knowing your love life. Expectations are placed upon you to quickly find that special someone while you are still living in the seasons of youth, lest you find yourselves in your thirties and in your forties without a partner because everyone else that was previously available would have been taken by then. You are told that no one wants to find themselves in that position when they get to that age.
To demonstrate with this rather funny analogy: imagine you are a carton containing freshly produced milk, ready to be packaged for delivery to your nearest grocery store. As you and your fellow cartons are moving along the assembly line, an expiry date is stamped on you, showing how long you will stay fresh for, before being stored in a big refrigerated shelf and ready to be sold off to grocery shoppers.
You sit nicely on that cold shelf, waiting for your buyer to come. First day goes by. Second day goes by. A week has gone by and no one has taken you off the shelves. Your expiry date is way overdue and people begin to get a whiff off the bacterial stench oozing out of your container. And like any glass of milk that has gone sour after a while, you get tossed aside to be disposed of.
Doesn’t this sound a bit like our rather smelly situation of singleness?
“Dating potential” expiry dates are stamped on our foreheads and we wait with anticipation for a prospective spouse to come along and hitch us away where we are still young and attractive. Weeks go by. Months go by. Years go by and we start to see the formation of wrinkles, weird spots, and saggy skin; signs that our time is dwindling fast.
If we have not relinquished our single status and found someone who is willing to pull us off the market shelves before that due date, we start giving off this strange, off-putting odour that reeks of prolonged singleness. Others are repulsed by the smell and people begin raising questions about our single status, “How come you haven’t found anyone yet?”
But who is to say we must find someone before our expiry date? Who is to say that every unmarried person will eventually graduate from their singleness?
For many, it is reasonable to assume that most people will end up marrying someone at some point in their life. However, not everyone will be able to find a life partner within the expected time-frames and some may never be given the opportunity to awaken romantic love.
Jesus, the most perfect and single man ever, taught in Matthew 19:11 that not everyone can receive this saying on the high expectations of marriage, but only those whom God has given it by divine grace. He continues: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this, receive it.” (Matt 19:12).
This teaches us that there are a plethora of reasons for why not everyone is called into marriage (cf. 1 Cor 7:7). Some of them willingly renounce marriage to utilise their gift of singleness but others can also be single beyond their control. But the main gist of this passage is that God never promises marriage to anyone; God has ordained that some will be single for a moment in time and some will be single until they’ve run out of time. He does so with all-encompassing consideration for our good and for His glory.
I encourage the lot of you who use these phrases habitually to refrain from nudging us into following the culturally conditioned plan for living. God has a much better grand plan for our lives that extends far beyond what we could ever imagine would be most beneficial for our own lives. Instead of peppering us with questions about our singleness, speak the truth of God’s amazing sovereignty that He has strategically appointed His people, married or unmarried, exactly where He wants them to be for His awesome purposes.
“Enjoy your singleness while you can, because once you’re married you’d wish you were single again!”
Now this one might at first sound humbling and accommodating because it seems to affirm the goodness of singleness, but as we will see, this statement diminish both the glorious view of marriage as well as the way our gift of singleness ought to be used.
The implied message of this phrase is that since marriage will tie you down with many inescapable commitments, you should enjoy the autonomy and freedom you have in being single with the season you are in. Much of this is true, as the apostle Paul teaches that those “who marry will face many troubles in this life,” troubles that can be avoided if one remains single (1 Cor 7:28). Paul goes on to say that unmarried Christians are not only spared from trouble but are also given many opportunities to give undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35). Since single people have fewer strings attached, they can use their freedom to serve God and His people with greater focus and capacity.
However, my gut-feeling tells me that whenever I hear anyone use this catchphrase, using our freedom to do the work of building God’s kingdom is usually never at the forefront. On top of getting this advice from others, the top three suggestions that I’ve received thus far on how my freedom is to be utilized are:
1. I should go traveling to enjoy myself more.
2. I should invest longer hours into working hard to earn more money.
3. I should find more hobbies to do to discover myself.
Now I’m not saying any of these things are wrong to do when you are as single as a pringle. But where are the exhortations to travel to other people’s homes to babysit their kids? Where are the admonitions to invest longer hours into studying God’s word with a yearning desire and bringing our burdens to Him through prayer in utter dependence? Where are the encouragements to find interests in other people’s lives rather than my own?
The world is already infested with egotistical people who are too in love with themselves and who pursue self-glory to the detriment of others. We don’t need more human-sized parasites in the world.
Instead of feeding our own sinful tendencies of self-fulfillment, urge us to not squander the amazing gift that God has given us single people to serve Him by serving His community in the world that He dearly cares for.
“Don’t worry, you will find your true love one day.”
This romantic advice can often be completely unsolicited as it is well-meant. Perhaps you wanted to reassure ‘poor lonely me’ that one day happiness will finally find me. But laying aside the cheesiness of this catch-phrase, what is actually implied when you say this? Do you possess supernatural foreknowledge of the things to come? How can you be so sure that this special someone is going to miraculously walk into my life?
But furthermore, where are you telling me to place my worth in? Do I, a perceived nobody, become a somebody when I find someone? Am I to find my significance in a significant other, you say?
We don’t need to wait for true love to find us, for true love has already found us in the person and work of the God-man, who was single throughout his whole life from birth to death. This love has broken into human history to make nobodies like us into somebodies – He has saved sinners like us into Himself and adopted us as sons and daughters of the New Kingdom (Eph 1:5), seating us with Him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). We are conjoined to Christ by His death and resurrection, and through this union He lavishes us with all sorts of divine blessings that show His insurmountable love for us. How much more do we need?
Marriage is a beautiful gift that God has given to mankind for them to experience the most profound intimacy between two people, a man and a woman; a union that reflects the great biblical love story between Christ and His church (cf. Eph 5:25-33). However, human marriage is really just that – it points to the fuller reality and ultimate satisfaction of Christ. Finding a marriage partner has never and will never bring everlasting hope and fulfillment to our greatest longings of the heart, by virtue that it is a mere image of the union we have with Christ. Marriage is not the end of what it means to live to the fullest.
We know you mean well for us. But if you really mean well for us, exhort us in this extravagant blessing that God has given to His beloved – that we are dearly loved by God, so much so that He extended His arms, embraced our sin unto Him, and took our place on the cross in death. Remind us fervently that we need not look to any other person to initiate an intimate union with for true satisfaction, for we are already united to the source of everlasting joy and satisfaction.
Let us be mindful of what we say to our single friends, folks. They may be silently struggling with their singleness in a myriad of different ways and I can testify that some of these phrases are often awkward at their best and deeply hurtful at their worst. Rather than thoughtlessly showering us with these cheap clichés, prod us with the Word that God has a plan that is greater than them, and that He has given them a role to live purposely in their singleness. Lastly, radiate the gospel in our darkest moments of self-doubt, to teach us that ultimate value comes neither from having a romantic partner or living single, but from God whose grace has no abounds.