(The following is an excerpt from my book manuscript, "Single and Proud." Subscribe above to receive updates when the rest of the series is posted.)
Myth: Singles are Incomplete
Hungry hormones aside, this anxious and sometimes all-consuming desire to find a girl to spend my life with came from what I had learned in Christian circles since I was 7 years old: sometimes special (and strange) people are “called” not to marry; but for everyone else, God has a special person picked out just for you - “the one.” Someone you are to wait for, but also search for, and of course to save yourself for. (For those without a conservative Christian background, “save yourself” is a euphemism for “no hanky panky.”)
Somehow, “the two shall become one flesh” got reinterpreted in my brain to mean I was only half a person until I slipped a ring on some girl’s finger. (Click to share on Twitter)
Maybe I’m exaggerating the memories, but it sure felt like we were hearing and thinking about - and, somewhat confusingly, being encouraged to “pray for” - our version of “the one” all the time as Christian teens. This lovely little romantic idea of there being just one person, a soulmate hand-picked for us out there, was I think intended to strengthen our understanding of God’s sovereignty or reinforce the walls of “waiting” already erected around our virginity (I’ll let you choose if that pun was intended).
In reality, though, this assurance of a divinely arranged marriage that had been determined before the dawn of time really only added more anxiety to the whole situation. It made me search so much more frantically, because I was afraid of that ridiculously oxymoronic question, “What if I don’t find the one?” And it made me feel totally incomplete, because somehow, “the two shall become one flesh” got reinterpreted in my brain to mean I was only half a person until I slipped a ring on some girl’s finger.
The constant searching was fueled not only by what I was being taught, but from what I learned by observing: the longer you stayed single, the less chance there was of finding someone good. Slim pickings, my friend.
As I watched friend after friend get hitched - first from my own graduating class, then the next, all the way down to kids who were in middle school when I finally donned a gown and threw my cap in the air - I couldn’t help but feel very, very afraid. The quicker you got married, the more desirable you were. The longer you waited, the harder it would be to find someone. It felt like reverse supply and demand. The longer I stayed single, the less I was worth. All that talk about “the one” that I received as a pimply, horny middle schooler didn’t seem so helpful anymore.
Truth: Singles can be whole people! (Shocking, right?)
I submit that we need to lay our belief and teaching about “the one” to rest. For good and forever. Good riddance. Why? Because it is rooted in a fundamentally broken and extremely toxic assumption: You aren’t whole until you find “the one.” This teaching might be marginally successful (at best) in its goal of keeping Christians from premarital sex, but it is a teaching rooted in negation and denial. “Don’t have sex now, wait until later, when you eventually (and supposedly inevitably) find the one that you currently don’t have ... yet.”
It felt like reverse supply and demand. The longer I stayed single, the less I was worth. (Click to share on Twitter)
What if we started teaching kids - and adults! - about singleness from a position of positivity and affirmation: “Live your best life now, pursue wholeness and maturity, find your self-worth and identity in Christ and in the community of believers, take advantage of the advantages and opportunities you have as a single person, and eventually, if you do find someone, you will be able to give your whole self to them.”
“Anyone can live without sex,” church leader Mike Moore said, “but no one can truly live without intimacy.” This quote changed my life. In a message on singleness to a group of college students, this 30-something Christian virgin shared his powerful story of finding intimacy in community. “Intimacy is a whole lot more than rubbing your grundles together,” he continued. Everyone laughed, some more nervously than others, but we were captivated by his testimony, the testimony of a man who is as broken as anyone else, married or single, but also pursuing wholeness far more than most people I have met.
The agonizing anxiety of needing to find someone was less about loneliness and more about the subconscious lie that I needed to find someone to start a new chapter of my life, a chapter that was necessary to move the plot forward. It was less about the desire to experience sex for the first time - a real desire for sure! - and more about the subconscious lie that I couldn’t experience real intimacy without losing my virginity.
I’ll say it again: Anyone can live without sex, but no one can truly live without intimacy. If you are single, take this as an encouragement and a challenge, even if you’re tempted to disagree that you just can’t live without sex! If you’re in a relationship, you also have to take it as an encouragement and a challenge. Mike Moore was definitely not saying that being in a sexual relationship means you necessarily have intimacy! I know so many sexually active people, whether married or just fooling around, who have a serious lack of intimacy in their lives.
A Word on Marriage
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that marriage doesn’t change you. I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t add something to your life. But it doesn’t - or shouldn’t - add something to fill some kind of hole that you previously needed to be complete. Rather, in true dialectical fashion (pardon the philosophical term), in marriage the relationship between two individuals coming together produces something neither greater nor lesser, but something new. Something developed in some ways, even in ways that are not accessible to single people, that are different than they were before. The development and maturation that comes from marriage is unique, but so is the development and maturation available to single people in their own unique ways.
To make this abstraction more concrete: marriage is not better than singleness. It isn’t worse either. It’s just different. Teaching Christians from a young age about waiting for “the one” may have a positive message about the values of marriage and sexual purity, but the other side of the coin is that it is inseparable from the unspoken and harmful corollary that you aren’t truly whole until you find them.
As Mike Moore so wisely said, the key to wholeness is intimacy. Single people can be whole. They may live alone, but they need not be lonely. In fact, in order to be whole, we cannot be alone. So don't let yourself, or the single people in your life, try to do it alone.
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