1. Admit that singleness is complex.
A lot of people seem to think that singleness is to marriage as junior varsity is to varsity. As a result, married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness when in fact they don’t. Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage. It’s an entirely different sport. The average marrying age is 29.8 years for men and 26.9 for women. If you got married before these ages, then it makes sense to acknowledge that your experience as a single adult is below average. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility. Like marriage, singleness is complex. The challenges and joys of singleness are equal to but different than the challenges and joys of marriage.
I talk regularly with a white pastor who got married when he was 21. Most of the time, we talk about our racial differences and how we can build bridges across them. But recently we struck up a conversation about how my experience as a single person in the church differs from his experience as a married person. As I was sharing my experiences, it occurred to him that my singleness is just as foreign to him as my blackness is. He said, “Wow! Our conversation about singleness and marriage is just as cross-cultural as our conversations about being black and white.”
Additionally, singles are a wonderfully diverse group of people—ranging from never married, to divorced, to widowed. They span all age groups with very different experiences, desires, motivations, and fears.
Treat singleness like you would treat any other cross-cultural exploration. Listen when singles share their hearts. Read books and articles about singleness. Don’t even think about preaching about singleness if you don’t have a substantial and meaningful experience with it. Or, if you do choose to preach on the topic, enlist the help of an actual single person or a group of single people.
2. Recognize that as a married person, you are privileged.
Married people dominate the Christian world. Consider these facts:
- Since many pastors, board members, and organizational leaders have spouses the married perspective is well-represented in the church. The single perspective is not.
- Married people are much more likely to get hired as pastors.
- A quick search at Amazon.com reveals that for every 1 Christian book on singleness, there are 298 Christian books on marriage.
- Just for getting married, friends and family members buy married people expensive gifts like Kitchen Aid mixers (a mark of privilege if there ever was one).
Marriage is the norm, the gold standard. So those who are married typically aren’t questioned about their relationship status as singles are. It’s my most frequently asked question. I meet new people all of the time. The fact that we’ve just met doesn’t stop Christians from asking me why I’m not married with a quizzical look.
When married people recognize their privilege, they can restore balance by:
- Listening well
- Being an advocate and raising questions (e.g., How can we make our small groups relevant and inclusive for singles?)
- Inviting single people to the table (hiring, boards, preaching, conference speakers, etc.)