As our married friend gazes earnestly at us and ponders aloud how it can possibly be that we haven’t been snatched up yet, we know their intentions are good. We know they think they are complimenting us. We know they are trying to say they think we’re great, and that they just can’t understand why Mr or Mrs Right hasn’t recognized what they see so clearly
We know all that.
And yet still, our heart sinks. Something that was uttered to build us up instead falls flat. We’re left with no idea how to respond. As the hurt settles in we give an awkward laugh and try to change the topic.
Married friends, we know you mean well, but please stop saying this to us single Christians. We ask that for your sake as much as for our own.
Friends, we know you mean well, but please stop saying this to us single Christians. We ask that for your sake as much as for our own.
For Your Sake
The reality is that this comment, well intended as it is, diminishes the significance of your own marriage.
When you express your confusion about how someone as great as us is still single what you are actually expressing is the belief that marriage is a reward for the “good” people. It’s the prize you rightly deserve when you’ve got a winning personality, or a charming manner, or a well-functioning life, or a smart mind, or a pleasing appearance, or all of these things combined.
You see, what you’re actually saying is that marriage is for the “worthy”. You’re affirming the notion that our value as individuals is tightly, even ultimately, connected with how likely it is that someone will want to put a ring on our finger. As a friend recently wrote, while ‘people might intend it as warm praise, they say it because they’ve bought into the assumption that the “better” people are the ones who managed to get married’.
Yet your marriage is not a prize for the worthy. You, as a spouse, are not the promised reward for someone who has managed to form themselves into a pretty great human being.
To the contrary, your marriage is a wonderful gift you have given, not because of your own merit but because of God’s goodness and graciousness to you. Your marriage is a covenant in which two flawed people have committed to loving and serving each other for life, not simply because of who you both are, but also (and often!) despite it. When you wonder why someone as great as us hasn’t been made a husband or a wife yet, what you are actually doing is commodifying your own marriage into something far less remarkable than it truly is.
Your marriage is not a prize for the worthy. Your marriage is a wonderful gift you have given, not because of your own merit but because of God’s goodness and graciousness to you.
Not only that, you are also squandering the privilege you have been given as a husband or wife to allow your marriage to witness to the kingdom of God. Your marriage is designed to be a foreshadowing of the eternal marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church (Eph 5:32). Our collective place in that heavenly relationship is in no way secured by any worth or merit to be found within us. The bride of Christ is ultimately wedded to her bridegroom, not because of who she is, but because of who he is. Marriage is all of grace.
As a result, when you equate your single friends’ possibility of getting married with the degree to which they might rightly be considered “worth” marrying, you ultimately diminish the significance of your own marriage as a living parable of the heavenly wedding to come.
For Our Sake
We know that you’re trying to say that you think we’re wonderful, but musing about why we are still “on the shelf” makes us feel anything but wonderful.
Firstly, it reaffirms what we already feel—that our singleness has placed us in a position of ongoing deficiency. When you wonder why someone like us isn’t married, you are (perhaps subconsciously) suggesting that where we are is not good or desirable. By encouraging us to believe that there is something so much better out there waiting for us (which, for some incomprehensible reason, we have failed to attain as yet), you leave us feeling that our current situation is inadequate and abnormal. This is a far cry from the Apostle Paul’s commendation of the goodness—even the betterness—of singleness in 1 Cor 7:38.
Secondly, we are left wondering “what is wrong with me?” If marriage is secured because of something profoundly worthwhile within us, then every single time that guy or girl doesn’t ask us out, or chooses to pursue a relationship with someone else instead, or breaks off a relationship with us, we are left to agonisingly ponder what personal failing let us down this time. We’re left wrestling not only with the guilt of not ever “being enough”, but also the shame of everyone knowing it.
Thirdly, whether you meant it or not, we cannot help but read a sub context into your comment. When you ask why someone as great as us is not yet married, what we hear you asking is whether there is something you don’t know which explains why we haven’t managed to make it happen yet. We feel you scrutinizing us with idle suspicion (even though perhaps, in actuality, you are not), analyzing what you might have missed about our personality, or our smarts, or our appearance, or our social skills which makes sense of our ongoing singleness.
A Way Forward
We know you mean well. However, the result of that comment rarely goes well for either of us. So, let me encourage you to consider an alternative approach.
If you long to support and encourage your single brothers in sisters and Christ, then share with them why you value their friendship and what you most enjoy about being in their company. Explain why you are encouraged by their godliness or humbled by their thoughtfulness. Speak about what you most appreciate about their interactions with you, and rejoice with them over the spiritual fruit which they bear for Christ.
If you want to love your single friends, stop musing over the non-existent relationship they don’t have with someone else and instead take delight in your relationship with them.
Photo by X. K. on Unsplash