Busisiwe Ledibane, 22
The other day I went to my little cousin’s school and came across two little girls on the way to the bathroom. As I entered the staff toilets, they approached the door and one said, “You’re not allowed in there.” “I’m not a child,” I responded, trying not to sound hostile, although I ended up sounding hostile anyway. My mom came to my rescue and said to them, “She’s 23, my darlings.”
My mom may have fast-forwarded that a bit for effect because I haven’t turned 23 yet, but it still stung a bit. No, not the fact that two little girls thought I was in primary school, but the fact that I’ll be 23 this year. “I’m old,” I thought. How ridiculous? 23 is not old but I know why I may have felt like 23 is old. It’s because I live in a world where 23-year-olds are dating and getting married; a world where being single is almost always portrayed as some sort of curse. I’m sick of that world and I want to challenge it.
I only became passionate about commenting and adding my 2 cents on dating and relationships in the Christian context when I turned 20 because it is around that time that I started feeling it. The curse. I had been single for a couple of years before that (I’d stopped going out with boys when I became a Christian as a teen) and had never felt weird about it. My friends would sometimes comment, encouraging me to get out there but I chilled. I was young. However, when I entered the 20’s, I suddenly didn’t feel young anymore. People started getting married and as someone who wasn’t willing to date just for the sake of dating, I started to see it: how being a single 20-something wasn’t fashionable. I was annoyed, in fact I still am, at how Christianity sometimes handles singleness and below are just some of my thoughts on some of the things I’ve observed over the past couple of years as a single Christian.
According to the made-up statistics in my head, there are about 1 million Christians (mostly women) on this planet right now who are moping about or smiling away their disappointment and hurt because they are either approaching; are at; or they are past the age of 25 and they are still single.
So, what it is about 25? I don’t know the answer to that but I definitely know that 25 is probably one of the worst things that can happen to the single Christian woman. I have met this woman a few times before and I often try to think up a million ways not to end out like her because she gets lonely and sad and she just breaks my heart.
It’s partly this woman’s fault that she feels this way but perhaps seeing younger women get married in her church has also taken its toll. She has seen the Church celebrate marriage and elevate it above being single and has been made to feel like she has lost. She even has nightmares about dying alone.
The “25 Phenomenon” is real and it has created an expectation among Christians to get married by 25. This is not just the fault of the Church, it’s something that married people and engaged people within the Church have played a part in too. It’s not all of them but often, married and engaged people in Christian circles even try to hook their friends up with their other awesome friends because, “You’re 22, you need to get out there!”
I may be wrong, but I doubt that it’s only the single Christian who starts to panic when 25 is looming; I think her non-single friends start to panic a little bit too…
So stop with the constant match-making. I know that you’re happy and in love and you want the same for me but I’m fine. I don’t have to be in a relationship. Besides, you’ve lost the plot completely because I would never be attracted to that guy. Yes, I’m sure he’s great but I’m just not that into him.
Married and engaged friends of mine, you get a little too excited about hooking your single friends up sometimes. Relax, it’s just being unmarried, it’s not an abnormality.
Words of comfort
Sometimes, our friends do not freak out about our singleness. Instead, they offer words of comfort because they truly believe that our prince will come. There’s one problem though; they are sometimes not so good at it, hey…
“Be patient, he’ll come.”
Uhm…okay, if you were married at 20, you can’t be the person comforting me when I’m having an “I’m tired of being single” day. You know why? Because I haven’t been with anyone for years and you’ve been in a relationship ever since I’ve known you. You can’t tell me about being patient when you did not have to be.
I don’t often have those days, but I’m woman enough to admit that I sometimes do and I really don’t want someone who can’t relate telling me how to deal because then I can’t deal with her.
To be fair, married-at-20-person, this single friend shouldn’t have come to you in the first place but she did, so please be sensitive. You don’t always have to have a verbal response, just listen and maybe even admit that you can’t imagine what that must be like.
Also, don’t make promises you can’t keep. You know why? Because you’re not God. Your life may have turned out like this: you met him in your late teens and got married when you were 21. That’s not everybody else’s life and it most certainly isn’t the blueprint of the Christian life either. So don’t get caught up in fantasising with your single friend and helping them build expectations which might not be met. You can’t guarantee that they’ll be married by 25 or 30 or even 35.
“Focus on becoming Mrs Right”
I’ve heard this so many times before and I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong. In fact, I think that every single Christian should apply it to their own life. My problem with this phrase, however, is that it can often come across as a little condescending, especially if it’s coming from already married people. And honestly, the younger they are, the worse it sounds.
It’s this very phrase, along with others, that has made me wonder if I’m not right yet. Is there some sort of preparation process that I haven’t gone through yet? Is that why I still don’t have a boyfriend? Perhaps I need to get to a Christian bookstore and find self-help books on how to get ready for my man. I need to start the process so that when 25 comes in two years’ time, I’m sorted. I’ll just need to find a guy around that age who can afford to cough up cash (or cows) for lobola, of course.
“Focus on becoming Mrs Right,” whether coming from the friend across the table at a coffee shop or the person on the podium or pulpit sounds a lot like, “Get right with God first.” Hairs on the back of my neck? Raised.
I would really appreciate it if I wouldn’t be made to feel like there is a level of spiritual maturity that I haven’t reached yet which is the reason for my being single. I love Jesus too, you know. I love Him as much as the 21-year-old who is getting married next week, so please don’t make me feel like my relationship with my God is flawed or illegitimate and that’s why He’s “withholding my spouse.”
Facebook and Instagram
It’s very nice that you got engaged and/or married. I’m thrilled for you but maybe you could slow down the constant sharing of your perfect life on social media. I’d like to see your wedding pictures but not all 2 000 of them. I would like to know how you’re doing but I really don’t want to live through your first year of marriage on Facebook.
This may come across as a bit of jealousy, but before going further, I would like to say that I’m not jealous. Do I want to get married one day? Yes. In the next two to three years? No. So, I’m not jealous but I do honestly feel like married and engaged Christian couples should slow down with the over-the-top sharing of their relationships on social media.
Many Christians (like me) want to wait for the right person and are not so much into casual dating. So they will wait until they meet someone whom they think could be their life partner and that’s when they’ll decide to give it a go, but just because they have high standards and are choosing to wait for the right one doesn’t mean it doesn’t get difficult sometimes.
So, it’s nice that you’re so happy. I don’t mean to make you feel guilty because you shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re in love and you should be happy about that, but perhaps you should keep 98% of it in a photo album on your coffee table, in your journal, his instant messages inbox… Yes? Thanks.
The “OTHER-ing” of single people
One of the ways in which marriage is always elevated above singleness is through the marginalisation of single people either through action or speech on the part of the Church and some married Christians.
Sometimes I feel like they don’t know what to do with us. We are a special breed of Christians. They must create programs for us and home groups to make us feel included. Hello? Why were we excluded in the first place?
My being a single 20-something doesn’t mean that I need your pity. I’m fine. I’m a person too and I just want to be treated like a person, not a single person.
Church shouldn’t be about the single and the married, it’s about community. I may be single because I want to be; or maybe I don’t want to be but I’m okay with waiting for the right guy, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is, I’m single. It’s not a phase, a temporary state of being until the next big thing aka marriage and it’s not a condition. It just is.
So stop making me feel like I’m the other. I’m as much a part of God’s community as you are.
To conclude, there is fault on both sides, really. While the Church and those who are married may have put marriage on a pedestal, the singles have also played a part in their own exclusion and marginalisation by buying into lies which have in turn created expectations (like, “God owes me a spouse and must deliver,”) that haven’t been met which have resulted in many single people being anxious and unhappy with where they find themselves in life.
Like I said, singleness shouldn’t be thought of as a temporary state, a condition or even a calling. It just is and it’s fine.
[To hear more thoughts from a Single person to their Married friends c/o Kate Sherry, click here]