This conversation has gotten some interest on here. As I’ve watched my stats go up and as I’ve heard from people in my life, I’ve realized that we have a lot to talk about in this realm. This is going to take more than the three parts I had planned out. So I’m doing a little bit of reorganizing.
Here’s where we’re going to (try) to go with this conversation:
Part One is for the Church and those in leadership in the Church
Part Two is a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three is going to be a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is going to be some practical steps forward.
We’ll see how this actually works out. I’m going to try to do a part each week so we have time to digest and really thinking through these things. My overall goal with these posts is to take a look at how we can deepen our community across the lines of relationship status. Often times in the church singles feel separated out because they don’t have a spouse. That seems like such an obvious statement but I also think that as we hope to deepen our communities and become more of a spiritual family, we need to say that out loud.
So here we go – Part Two – Married Friends Gut Check.
I often hear from single people that their married friends only want to hang out with other married friends. And I often hear from married friends that they don’t want to make single people feel uncomfortable. Or both sides of the equation are thinking the grass is greener on the other side. Married people think that it must be nice to live so independently and single people think it must be nice to always have another person by your side. And BOTH are true. It is great to be fully independent – but it’s also lonely and ostracizing. And it is great to have someone by your side until death do you part – but it’s also complicated and challenging. But what we’re looking at here is a huge disconnect between our married friends and our single friends.
We need Emotionally Healthy Relationships. Just like with any relationship or friendship – they function best when all parties are emotionally healthy. One of the trickiest parts of relationships across the married/single divide is maintaining health and integrity. We have to name that. Married couples need to know what their boundaries are in relationships with others, I get that. But here’s the thing married friends, your single friends do not want to threaten your marriage. I know there are horror stories of affairs and predatory people and we have to be real that sin exists. But please don’t ostracize people out of your life because you’re afraid.
I want to give counsel that before you can really let single friends into your world, you probably need to have boundaries and conversations about how that’s going to work. I’m a big fan of boundaries and conversations. (So maybe you and your spouse should chat through that and if you’re both cool with having single friends. We’ll still be here you when you get back from that convo.)
One of my biggest complaints about the church is when we marginalize single people out of fear that mixing them with married people automatically produces affairs. I want us to assume the best in people. Just because a person is single and hopeful they may have a spouse one day does not mean they want you or your spouse.
Before we can even begin this conversation, we need to really assess what we think about single people around us. If you are hoping to take some steps towards people who are single, here are some ways to move that forward.
Think about the single people in your community – first, can you identify them? If not, that’s probably not a great sign. They are all around you, single by choice, single by situation, single moms, single dads, widows, widowers, divorcees – they are there. And if you don’t see them in your community it’s a good thing to ask yourself why.
Secondly, think about the last time you interacted with them, especially in spaces where you are already in community with them. Did you engage them in conversation? I cannot tell you how many times I have been serving alongside of men and women who seem to not know how to talk to me because I am 32 and still single. It ranges from straight up leaving me out to not knowing how to engage my singleness outside of some platitude that really makes no one feel better (i.e. Jesus is your husband).
This second step might need some time. Be aware of the spaces you are in with people who happen to be single. Be aware of the conversation around the table/room/whatever. Seek out their opinions, their stories, their interests – even across gender lines.
On some level, I understand the separation between married and single people. We live in an overly sexualized culture that seems to send us the message that men and women are incapable of being friends. But like I said before, I want us to assume the best of each other, and if we are Christ followers aiming to live lives of integrity, can’t we assume that two people in a can be talking a public setting without anything shady going on? And remember that I’m talking about people already in your community – people you go to church with, sitting at a community lunch with you (and probably your spouse). No one is talking about one on one dinners or hotel rooms. I’m talking appropriate spaces to be friends with the opposite gender. (okay- soapbox time is done).
Thirdly, while you’re interacting with the single people in your life, remember a few things – unless you are a good friend of theirs, their relationship status probably shouldn’t be your conversation topic. You can literally talk about anything else – music, sports, food, family, jobs, the weather, politics – just please don’t start your conversations or interactions asking them why they are single, if they’ve gone on any dates recently or if they would like you to set them up.
Once you get to the point where they are firmly in community with you, those conversations may come up but that shouldn’t be the starting point. No single person wants a stranger asking them what the deal is with their singleness.
The best thing to remember in community with people who aren’t like you is that you need to be humble in your approach. In this case, remember that unless you were recently married, you may not remember what it’s like to be single. Or you may have found your spouse in your younger years and so you haven’t experienced singleness in your late 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. Either way, what it’s like to be single in today’s culture and world may be a foreign concept to you and that’s okay. Us single people are not expecting you to 100% identify with what we’re going through; we simply want you to value our presence in your life.
My encouragement to you is to really take some time to think through this stuff. Especially if you hope to have community with people who are single (if you are not). Taking a few moments to gut check yourself and be aware of how you interact with single people around you could go a long way in moving forward towards Spiritual Family.
If you have further questions or comments on this topic, feel free to comment or reach out – I can give some specifics/anecdotes if you really want to hear the crazy things my friends and I have experienced in this conversation.
And single friends – our gut check is next, and I promise you it’s going to be just as challenging as this one is to our married friends.