for release August 31, 2001
by Melodie Davis
When You're Not Part of a Pair
In a quick review of themes I frequently write about, I discovered a pretty glaring absence. I never write about singleness. For obvious reasons: married for 25 years, it's kind of off my radar. Plus, I know if I write about it I'll open myself to the criticism of "how can you write about this as a married person?"
Many years ago I wrote about "Creativity as a Single" and one person responded: "Oh why do people place such burdens upon us. It's like you're telling us, we have to be creative! We have to celebrate it!" So I hope this doesn't feel anything like that.
Today almost half (44 percent) of adults in North America are single. That's a pretty astounding demographic when -- especially for those of us who are married -- usually think in terms of couples. This number is increasing and will probably increase in the future. Many young adults don't even want to think about marriage -- they just don't see themselves as married. As with any other "minority," even an "innocent" remark can be cutting. One woman at an event especially for singles said the thing she particularly hated was when her married friends would say, "Come over. My husband is out of town."
Churches can be the worst offenders along these lines: churches may sponsor a "family night" or talk about being a "family church." Once kids grow up and go off to college and come home for the summer or get a job in the community, what kinds of Sunday school classes or programming is inviting for them -- that isn't related to couples -- or singles with children? Pre-marital counseling is planned for couples and includes practical counseling on such things as managing finances, setting up a household, building relationships. People who don't get married miss out on this "free" counseling and advice. Businesses have company picnics or banquets for families or couples -- yet how does a single person enjoy the full benefit of that perk -- the extra meal enjoyed with a close associate. Most places of work these days recognize this problem and extend company invitations to employees and a "guest" -- not necessarily a spouse.
One church, to address this need to minister to all persons, married or single, started a "pre-fly-the-coop" series of classes during a teen's final year of high school, designed to help kids learn about such things as meal preparation, grocery shopping, budgeting, handling responsibility (Mennonite Brethren Herald (MB), July 13, 2001). Too many young adults end up picking up dinner through a late night drive through window. One young woman (not anorexic) collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. The diagnosis was she hadn't been eating properly and had passed out from not eating. Young people need help preparing for life on their own as singles.
Another issue for singles is that many friendships undergo major change when one of the friends gets married -- and the one who didn't get married may felt left out. You don't want your relationship to change, but it changes by the very nature of marriage. How can you maintain friendships?
Some of the greatest leaders are single, and exhibit singular commitment to their calling: Jesus, Paul, Mother Teresa, to name a few. But maybe it's not helpful to mention these "superhuman" kinds of singles as role models. Marina Froese, a married woman, writing about experiences of singles, says, "One of their most common complaints is being questioned as to why they never married, as if that is a more legitimate question than "why did you get married?" ("Being Single in a Married World," MB Herald, July 2001). Singles are frequently expected to have more spare time -- yet a single friend of mine pointed out that when you have to do all the household stuff by yourself -- take care of car appointments, mow the lawn, keep up the house -- singles may actually have more demands on their time.
The Bible actually suggests that family take a secondary role to commitment to faith (see Luke 14:26, for instance). We don't often hear that from "family values" crusaders.
Recently a former co-worker from our office headed back to China for her third term of teaching English there. She is about my age but has always been single. There is a part of me that envies her freedom and adventures, yet I know from experience in living abroad while single, that it can be incredibly lonely, too.
There are gifts and advantages in both the single and married life. Most married folks could probably do a better job of recognizing that couples don't make the world go around. We can also recognize that singleness is honored equally with marriage, and sometime even preferred.
Would you like to sound off? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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