Defending the gift of singleness

Ah, another discussion on Singleness. I steel myself against the well-meaning platitudes of the Marrieds, and bite my tongue on my real take on this issue. I have discovered that, bar a precious few, it’s easier to agree blandly and change the subject than try to get my point across.

But now for once I can say, uninterrupted, what too many church people seem to find threatening or evidence of an embittered soul. I’m not ruling out the latter possibility (not trying to delude anyone that I am completely undivided on this question), but I do believe I have a valid place in the church as a single person, and I’m tired of being pitied.

I am gifted with singleness. Although it appears in Christian gifting questionnaires, it’s the one everyone hopes they won’t “get”. Everyone is much more enthusiastic about Genesis’s “It is not good for man to be alone” than Paul’s “I wish everyone could be as I am [i.e. single and celibate]”. But it’s true: singleness is a gift. In most ways that matter, and unlike many people I know, I’m good by myself. I like my own company, my life has more meaning and purpose than I can handle, and when it comes to my three lovely married siblings (two younger than me), I notice other people’s anticipation of my supposed comparative misery before said misery even appears on the horizon. Not to say that I don’t have dark moments, when I rail at how life can be so bloody hard when it’s “just you”. But I have no illusions that marriage would automatically be better.

Yet somehow, married people still feel obliged to reassure me that my state is temporary, and “God has someone for everyone”. Come ON. That’s simply not true, and even if it was, I’m not sure I want it to be. God is far more creative than that.

In the secular world, the view of singleness is quite different, although somewhat confusing. I once read a magazine article titled something about the joys of singleness, hoping to find a few amusing comments about being able to brush one’s teeth in solitude, and eat the yoghurt straight out of the tub. To my surprise, it was all about how being single set one free to couple (mainly physically, but also to some extent socially) with as many different people as one wants (or can get). My 20-year-old cousin recently informed me that all of his friends were breaking up with their girlfriends in anticipation of a wild New Year’s Eve in Plettenberg Bay. It seems that rather than celebrating the benefits of being unhampered by a partner, even the marriage-skeptical mainstream can’t quite picture a happy life on one’s own.

Needless to say, I value singleness for entirely different reasons. (It would be false to deny that sex is appealing, but very honestly, the side-effects of the anti-depressants deal with that quite nicely – another story entirely). I love being alone.  As sanctimonious as it might sound, I love the quiet time I get with God. I love that it’s just him and me, and that I am entirely free to co-labour with him wheresoever he might take me. Had I been married, I might never have got to spend five mad years living and working in the wilds of the former Transkei, or take on a PhD that sees me returning there to live three months in a hut. Married people certainly do those things (and when they are both dedicated to such work, are sometimes able to sustain such lives for longer), but most would cite kids, mortgages, or one or the other’s career as a discouraging factor.

It’s not just doing slightly outrageous solo missions in out of the way places. Even in suburban Cape Town, I have a role in my family and amongst my friends that I could not fill were I married. The maiden aunt is traditionally the object of pity and embarrassment, but how is a village meant to be able to raise a child if all of them are absorbed with their own children? One of the most influential people in my life is an unmarried woman in her seventies, and it never occurred to me to wonder why she wasn’t married. She was (and is) too awesome for that even to be a question. She was a midwife in the hospital where all four of us were born, she was our favourite babysitter, she gave me my first job, and she was the one whom I could talk to best when the Transkei put me on psychotropic medication. I aspire to be a little like that for my six nephews and nieces (even though they currently insist that as an unmarried and childless person, I’m not a “proper grown-up” and must still be twelve years old – bless them). Our current relationship revolves around fireman’s helmets, trampolines and an inexplicable phenomenon called “The Rock Game”, and I’m hoping that I will still be the “cool” aunt when boyfriends and teenage tantrums are at issue (and so do their parents!). I am of course extremely fortunate to live near them right now, but when I didn’t, there was never a shortage of other children of all ages needing a grown-up other than their parents to relate to (and parents needing another grown-up to share just a little of the burden of keeping a small person alive, or a conversation about something other than sleep-training). The extended family is alive and well, not limited to blood relations, and has a vital place for single people.  

My last point. Single women have things today that few women in history have ever been able to contemplate. I am blown away when I think of the millions of women throughout history, and in the world today, who could never think of learning to read (let alone have a postgraduate education), to drive a car, be financially independent, or of not being considered a source of shame for themselves and their families. My situation represents the tiniest drop in the ocean of women throughout time, and I cannot believe God has not done this for a purpose. (Jesus proposed a view of women that was radical in the ancient world, and the church was for a long time light years ahead of mainstream society in their equal honouring of women – notwithstanding how this was twisted in later times).

I’m not against marriage, by any means. I think it’s wonderful. But I think that singleness has its own wonder, and contrary to popular (Christian and secular) belief, I’m not stuck in some kind of “meanwhile” waiting until The One arrives on my doorstep. My One has come, and we have a life together now.

Married friends and family, I love you. I love how you complement each other, and how you restore my faith in relationships when the media gets depressing. I love how you include me and open your homes to me. But I would love you to love where I am too, and acknowledge that marriage is not God’s only solution for a full life. If it really was the be-all and end-all, why isn’t there marriage in heaven? Not everyone is destined to get married, any more than everyone is happy being single. Let us accept and enjoy each other’s differences, and get on with the more important business of reflecting God’s all-embracing, all-honouring character to a fragmented world.

Kate has a blog called Tales from the Coop, which you can get following over here.

[for another great story about Singleness by my friend Cilnette Pienaar, click here]

[for a great post titled, ‘Singleness is not a prelude’, click here]