Just over a year ago, I sat at my parents' kitchen table, across from a friend I had known for years. We were both in town for a wedding and catching up on life. Me, my friend, and the bride had seen one another through many years of singleness, and now two of the three of us were married. My friend was the odd woman out.
As we sat there drinking coffee, her eyes filled with tears. She is normally one who keeps her emotions close to the chest, so I knew she was really hurting. She didn't understand why marriage hadn't happened for her yet. Was there something wrong with her? she wondered.
I knew that there wasn't. She is an incredible woman who God has used mightily. She was a staple at the church we attended together, rock solid in her faith, the salt of the earth. All I could think to do was affirm her in those realities.
for some reason, fall 2011 was marked by several conversations like that one. Earlier that month, I had wept on the phone with a single friend as she shared her feelings of inadequacy. Several weeks later, I spoke with another friend across the country who also wondered at her singleness and ached to find a godly man.
In each of these conversations, I struggled to find the right words. Part of me wanted to shout, "What's wrong with men? These ladies are amazing! They should be fighting guys off with a bat." But the situation is more complicated than that. For one, women in the American church outnumber men. In 2009, sociologist Mark Regnerus reported in CT that there are 3 single women for every 2 single men. Simply put, there aren't enough Christian men to go around.
Add to that the elements of romantic chemistry, life circumstances, and God's providence—all factors that are simply out of one woman's control. It's not her fault, and there's nothing wrong with her. Nevertheless, most longtime single women are tempted to pause and wonder, Is it me?
Don't get me wrong. There are certainly single women out there who have difficult personalities. But, there are married women with equally challenging personalities who still managed to find a mate. Having a strong personality or being independent or failing to look like a supermodel are not deterrents to finding a spouse.
Dating is not simple. There is no tried and true formula. Which is why I become frustrated whenever I come across articles, blog posts and books purporting to tell women why they are still single, and how they should act to snag a man. Author Suzanne Venker recently made a splash over at Fox News with her article "The War on Men." In it she squarely blamed women for men's reticence to marry, writing,
"In a nutshell, women are angry. They're also defensive, though often unknowingly. That's because they've been raised to think of men as the enemy. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs. Now the men have nowhere to go."
Really? Because I would describe none of my single friends that way. Many of my single friends are the most gentle and wise women I know. Having allowed their singleness to sanctify them, they are founts of truth and love, not angry and defensive man haters.
Similar to Venker's piece, I came across an excerpt from Rachel Greenwald's book Have Him at Hello, featuring the list "10 Reasons He's Not Calling You." The list includes items like "You bored him to tears," "You over-shared," and "He'd rather hire you than date you" because you were too independent and not feminine.
Although the book was recommended by one Christian blogger, this list is essentially a Cosmo article, not wise counsel. I don't doubt that men have turned down women for the reasons this list describes, but some of the reasons are incredibly subjective. Too boring? He may have preferred to talk about his career field or hobbies instead of her interests, but different interests does not a boring person make.
What this list communicates implicitly, and what Venker's article communicates explicitly, is that women are single because there is something wrong with them. Not only does this message shame members of the church who are already vulnerable, it depicts a world in which, like the prosperity gospel, good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Feminine, passive women are blessed with husbands, while independent women are not.
In the same way that the prosperity gospel falls apart as soon as you look at the world around you, the same is true of this teaching. Some married women are extremely difficult, and some single women are lovely pillars of the church. Marital status does not reflect the loveliness of one's personality—or God's special favor. The world is more complicated, marriages are more diverse, and God's ways are more mysterious than that.
I am all for giving counsel on dating. Singleness is hard and the church should partner with its single members in living faithfully. What's more, women are sinful, they do make mistakes, and sometimes relationships fail for that reason. Women are not blameless. But, our counsel should reflect the nuances of our doctrine. Christian orthodoxy teaches that both genders are equally sinful, equally in need of redemption, and that God works his good ways amidst it all.
In light of this theology, checklists and broad generalizations are too simple to be helpful. On behalf of my sisters who persevere through singleness in a manner that surely delights their Father, let's affirm their faithfulness, and let's offer them something better than to-do lists.