Never, ever, in all my years on earth have I had a date on Valentines Day. There’s been no surprise dinners planned, flowers given, or cards exchanged. The occasion has passed with little fanfare and, for better or worse, little to do with me.
If this were a romantic comedy, you’d cast me as the “lonely forgotten friend” walking down a New York City Street on a brisk February evening, my jeans still stained by the lunch I spilled earlier, feverishly dabbing them with a (hopefully) unused tissue from my overflowing handbag. I’d look up from my leg only to realise what day it is – Valentine’s Day – suddenly surrounded by couples laughing, smiling, looking all doe-eyed at each other holding hands. I’d sigh of course, disappointed at my lot in life, and go home to eat a tub of ice cream until my transformation montage kicks in and I somehow fall madly in love with “that guy from the café” who proposes in act three.
But that’s just in the movies.
In real life I don’t gaze at couples (weirdo) and haven’t knowingly walked around with dirty jeans that symbolize my romantic inadequacy. I have though, been conscious of the narrative we create around singleness and the “lovelessness” we associate with people who aren’t paired up.
Inside the church, and out of it, singleness is framed as “a season”. It’s meant to reach an end, a conclusion and a resolve. There’s no defined timeline within which that’s supposed to happen but read between the lines of questions about “how you’re doing”, whether you’ve “tried the apps” and if you’re bringing a plus one this time and you’ll soon sense when people think your timeline is expiring.
It’s a bizarre thing to feel like you’re not measuring up to whatever invisible qualifier allows you to move from “this season” to the next, while also not really minding being single, but then enjoying the thrill of a date and the appeal of deep relational connection.
Add to that the very Christian emphasis on family, children and the role you and your spouse play in the fulfillment of each other’s God-given calling, and singleness can become extremely spiritually confusing.
There’s a culture designed around the idea that marriage – or even a committed long-term relationship – is the completion, “the arrival”, the neatly tied bow.
However lovely that might be, no one really admits it’s not guaranteed. We don’t think about how to design a life without it: living with friends is plan B, saving up for a home deposit alone is an unfortunate side-effect and, well, if you remain childless, have fun existing on the periphery of society.
Anything other than marriage and kids is “making do”.
It’s a belief that’s gradually changing – but only because we’re being forced to accept the reality of people’s situations, not because we’ve changed the inherent assumption that being married is “better”.
We know humans need community and there are multiple studies linking marriage to improved mortality rates and longevity, but how do we facilitate health and connection for those that – for myriad reasons – don’t ever get married? How do we celebrate the milestones of a life that doesn’t include engagements, weddings, baby showers and first days at school?
The stories of single people in your life are still being written – much like your own – and while there may be marriage in their future, it’s unhelpful to suggest the time until then is “the wait” or the never-ending “before”. That mentality pushes life down the track until “after”, until “the one” arrives, until your “wed-able transformation” is complete.
What a waste to disengage from community, to feel misplaced or like your purpose can’t be “unlocked” until you have a spouse. It’s a union that’s so incredibly out of our control to guarantee, and added to that, how have churches forgotten that at the very centre of our faith is a single Man?
There are plenty of reasons I’m sure why Jesus remained single: could you imagine if there was a family bloodline that could trace itself back to Jesus? “Keeping up with the Christs” anyone?
I’m not saying singleness is a greater form of Christlikeness or shading marriage, but I do think some of the ideals we’ve created around coupledom may be more informed by our own cultural views than spiritual necessity.
This year, if you’re inclined to mark Valentine’s Day, why not celebrate those you love in all forms?
Treat your spouse to chocolates, your best friend to a handwritten note of appreciation, your single pals to a night out and your parents to a phone call.
And, if you’re single looking for love, go update that profile, finally tell that person you like them and commit your desire to God once more with humility and trust.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.
Feature image: Milan Popovic on Unsplash