The cliché “beauty is only skin deep” was revised in my generation to add “but ugly is to the bone.” I heard a retort to news that a girl at my school had excelled academically to the point that she could skip a grade was, “Yeah, but she’s ugly and she’ll never get married.” What? This message screamed at me. In fact, it was ingrained in me to the point of driving me to two goals: be pretty—get married. Once when I asked why I wasn’t given a middle name. The response? “You won’t need it. When you get married, you’ll drop it anyway and use your maiden name in the middle.” When. Not if. When.
But, I did get married and I did take my husband’s last name and I did take my maiden name as my middle, and let me say I have never regretted that decision. Ever. But I wonder sometimes if the expectations for me to be a wife and mother hadn’t been so ingrained would I have raced the clock to get hitched? I was barely 21 on my wedding day after all. I didn’t want to be an old maid!
When my mother was trying to identify a woman she might have known as a teenager or young adult, she would ask, “Who was she before she married?” I always knew what she meant. She wanted to know a married woman’s maiden name. Once I decided to respond with a snippy comeback to my mother, “She was the same person before she married as she was after.” I now regret that caddy remark. However, the idea that marriage is strongly attached to a woman’s identity was another message that shaped my own sense of value. I needed a husband to protect and provide for me. That was the dream that my parents had for me. I willingly adopted that dream by going to college, not for a good education, but for an MRS degree. It was okay, then, that I went to college because that was where a smart, successful husband could be found. Imagine my surprise at how many males I met who were neither smart nor headed for success.
My friend Nikki, just after their fourth child was born, was abandoned by her husband for another woman. Here’s what Nikki writes:
When my husband left me for another woman, I was completely devastated. For so many years, my identity was completely wrapped up in the fact that I was someone’s wife. Being someone’s wife meant that at some point someone had chosen me. It comprised a huge part of who I was. The fact that the person with whom I had chosen to do life had decided to “unchoose” me, sent me spiraling down a deep abyss. I felt like trash that had been thrown away. I felt completely unloved and unworthy. I now had the overwhelming task of trying to figure out who I was since my husband didn’t want me to be his wife. I spent many days comparing myself to this other woman…(personal interview)
According to statistics compiled by pewresearch.org, in 1960 72% of U.S. adults were married. In 2014, less than half of Americans were married. In 1960, the median age at first marriage for both men and women was in the early 20s. In 2011, the median age at first marriage is an estimated 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. The reasons behind these changes in these 50+ years are varied, but I imagine that, for women, the change is due to more women receiving higher levels of education and more women in the workplace. Women are now more independent and don’t have to rely on a man to support them.
Today it seems that women’s desires to marry and start a family are still strong, but because of the changing landscape in the workplace, women have choices whether to marry for protection or security. She has a choice. But what about those who truly want to be married and have not found that “special guy”? According to a blog christian-single-woman.com[i] the idea of a woman having to be complete in marriage is taking a hit. The challenge is the concept that “… if you’re not whole as a single woman, marriage won’t make you whole…”
A blog entitled The Briefing written by Australian native Emma Thornett includes an entry called “Satan’s Lies About Singleness.” The untruths that she recognizes, as a never-married woman, include: you’re single because you’re undesirable, God is not powerful enough to find you a husband, you’re single because God doesn’t love you, and that getting married will fix all of your problems. One of the lies, however, speaks especially to the idea of personal worth. The lie is that since no one has married you, you have no value. Emma writes,
“Someone marrying you will not make you valuable. Doing things for other people will not make you valuable. You cannot be made valuable, because you already are valuable. You are valuable because God Almighty himself tenderly created you—in his own image, no less! You were valuable the minute God wrote your days in His book and nothing that happens to you in this life can change that.[ii]”
In Christianity Today, an article by Ed Stetzer addresses the subject of how the married world looks (and sometimes speaks) to a single person, “Perhaps, with tongue-in-cheek, we can at least agree that the endless questioning and advice giving of the coupled is oppressive. ‘Met anyone special since I saw you last week?’ ‘Maybe you should lower your standards a little bit.’ ‘Don’t you want to get married?’”[iii]
I’ve not personally struggled with adult singleness. I got married at 21, remember? My firsthand knowledge of this subject is limited. But I have friends who did not get married at the “usual” time.
I asked my friend, Karen, who got married in her 40s, years after the “normal” time, how she felt during those adult single years:
Well, I thought “the right one” showed up several times, and each time it ended, and I was devastated… and angry… at God, and myself…
“Why aren’t you giving me the desires of my heart? All I ever wanted was to be a wife and mother. I’ve tried to be patient but that’s not working.”
But it was always in hindsight that I could say, “Thank you, God, for saving me from, what could have been, a real disaster.”
I didn’t necessarily feel stigmatized, but I felt that it was difficult at times to fit in, especially as I grew older. I’m not sure the staff of the church I attended knew what to do with singles, especially in the early days… everything seemed husband/wife/kid-driven. Being young and single is one thing. But watching so many of your friends and family members fall in love, get married and start families—over 2 decades— was excruciatingly painful at times. I was ecstatic for them, but sad for myself. However, my best friends, even to this day, were formed from the singles group at church. And being heavily involved in the music ministry was a great outlet that wasn’t dependent on husband/wife/kids.
One of the biggest challenges in my mind was learning how to fit into a couple’s world.
I had several serious relationships and each time, except one, the guy broke it off. Here are some of the questions I asked God and myself after each breakup:
Why doesn’t he want me?
Why am I not good enough?
What’s wrong with me?
When will it be my turn?
Why did You give me the desire to be a wife and mother if You aren’t going to let it happen?
Some women want to get married, but for the wrong reasons and occasionally it’s about the wedding itself. Say “yes” to the dress parties are precursors to the big event these days. More and more couples are choosing destination weddings, which, of course make for good photographs. Theme weddings are gaining in popularity, too. Whatever the reasons for getting or staying married, the expectations and realities of marriage should make couples think and pray hard about this decision.
I married a minister. Well, at the time he was a wannabe minister. After our honeymoon, he began seminary while I worked as a secretary on campus, and he had a weekend church. After graduating from seminary, he was ordained, and was hired fulltime by a church to lead their music program. It was a good job, a good church, and an answer to his call. But what about me? I wasn’t seminary-trained, ordained, or even “called” to the ministry like he was. Fortunately, I was a musician, too, and loved being a part of the program. But in many cases, especially with ministry wives, a husband’s career is what he does and maybe even who he is. What about her? How does she fit? Is her purpose fulfilled in his? There are certain expectations by which a congregation measures its minister. The more traditional churches expect the “two-for-one package” where the wife (or husband) does as much work in the ministry as the one getting paid to do it. But what if the wife (or husband) has another purpose or interest that is outside of the day-to-day workings of the ministry? Is she of less value because she doesn’t fit the traditional roles that some congregants expect?
What about those of you, however, who do not feel this need to get married? Maybe you don’t want to be married. What then? Well, there is nothing necessarily wrong with you period, just because you have the desire to remain single. There’s no law (civil or biblical) that says a woman or man must marry, and yet the stigma may still exist in our society. This should be a matter of self-evaluation and prayer if you want to stay single.
STOP: Are you single but want to be married? If so, ask yourself why you want to get married? Is it because of the stigma attached to singleness? Is it because you want a family? Are you married and find your worth in your marital status?
LIE: •Since no one has proposed, there must be something wrong with me.
•I cannot be “whole” unless I am married.
•I’ll just have to settle for anyone who is willing to say “I do.”
•Does becoming one in marriage mean that, as a single, I’m only half a person?
TRUTH: •God’s Word is timeless. Even though it was written hundreds of years ago, the Truths are just as pertinent today as they were then. God will restore you and heal your hurts. Isaiah spoke for God to the Israelites, but the prophet’s words spoke for God to us. These are good words and promises for those who are wounded.
Hebrews 13:6 says, “Since God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?”
[i] christian-single-woman.com (date, access date)