Monday, January 24, 2011

The lack of love for singleness.

The danger of killing time by reading my Google Reader: Recommended Items (where I sometimes find really great things) is that I sometimes find absolutely ridiculous stuff.  Then Kristi's subjected to a half-hour rant about what's wrong with _____ today and then I have to go lie down.

The problem starts here:
Google Reader has noticed the frequency with which I "like" items in my Subscriptions feed which can be classified as "Christian" (most often:  the naked pastorA Church for Starving ArtistsJodi's Humble Walk blog The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO JesusThe Cartoon Blogand that for which every post I automatically "Like", Star, Share, and post quotes on my Tumblr, Pastor Nadia's Sarcastic Lutheran blog).  

Google Reader has failed to create an algorithm that will recognize that my Like for "Christian blogs" does not include a like for the following:

His first book, Heaven Help the Single Christian,  has been published by Regina Orthodox Press and is available on their website.  Thomas wrote the book
after years of striking out at youth conferences, coffee hours and monasteries, has a book to help single Christians through the dating scene with humor and advice. Heaven Help the Single Christian is relationship advice for the serious churchgoer, but it’s not homework. Ruthford offers us thoughts and laughter on Internet dating for Christians, on the joys and perils of dating the Heaven Help the Single Christian is relationship advice for the serious churchgoer, but it’s not homework. Ruthford offers us thoughts and laughter on Internet dating for Christians, on the joys and perils of dating the sons and daughters of clergy and shows us that modest clothing does not have to be frumpy. Cheer up, you’re not alone.

"Cheer up, you're not alone" - except you totally are.  And it's like the worst thing ever.


hate that the church has not developed an alternative voice in our romance-obsessed culture.

The "secular" culture (let's pretend that these lines are actually easy to draw, for simplicity's sake) encourages romantic involvement & sexual activity as the norm.  Music, ads, TV shows, blogs, tweets - there is so much to do with "who's with who".  Even our action movies have love interests.

Many Christian leaders like this.  In particular, I think Christian leaders who are interested in confining sexual activity to man-woman marriage are very interested in getting men and women to look at romantic relationships as the pinnacle of life experience.

I've been thinking about this, and I propose that there is a huge challenge to Christian leadership:

  • Humans are physically ready for sex (i.e. have sexual desires and can conceive a child) at the onset of puberty.  (Note that I say physically.  Emotionally, spiritually, practically, etc. are totally another ballgame.)
  • Puberty occurs before marriage, in most cases in Western Christianity (but, not so in biblical times).
  • Therefore, sexual desire exists outside of marriage.
  • But, literalist interpretation of Scripture demands the expression of sexual desire only within marriage.
  • So, somehow literalist-interpretive leaders have to convince other Christians to not have sex between puberty (between ages 12-16 on average) and marriage (18 at earliest, but average is 25.6 for women & 27.5 for men).

So, how does one do this?

Well, there are three options:

a) One abandons literalist applications, because of the inapplicability of rules designed for sexual expression when the average age at marriage was twelve.  Other rules for holy and safe sexual expression must be developed.

b) One creates an atmosphere in church environments where single people are celebrated as whole people.  Self-reflection and development, self-reliance, and the creation and maintenance of life-giving, non-romantic relationships is encouraged and modeled.  Restriction of sexual expression to marriage alone is maintained; the attempt is to redirect sexual energy into other activities, particularly those which require major or total physical or mental engagement.

c) The "romantic relationship culminating in marriage" ideal is given primacy as the end goal of all behaviors, dress, interactions, activities, etc.  The concept of soul mates is promulgated.  Romance is depicted as perfect, miraculous, and life-changing.  Restriction of sexual expression to marriage alone is maintained; the emphasis on marriage as life culmination event encourages marriage at a young age, which dilutes the problem of the time between puberty and sex.  Sexual expression outside of marriage is hidden; in some groups, its revelation is catastrophic for those involved, particularly the woman.

I see so many churches and church communities choose (c).  "Singles groups" are basically matchmaking clubs.  Little old ladies play Yente at coffee hour.  My unwed, un-boyfriended peers bemoan their singleness.  And on and on and on.  This just plays along with the "secular" culture where "chick flicks" end with a perfectly happy couple who will totally be together forever, and Taylor Swift's love songs shoot to the top of the charts*.  And on and on and on.

[*Said by someone who totally loves Taylor Swift, but I digress]

I do not like this.

I think that Christian leadership - and the church as a whole - needs to do a combination of (a) and (b).

I think that Christian leadership needs to openly recognize that Biblical sexual rules are not directly and perfectly applicable to modern relationships.  This has already begun to happen in permissive attitudes towards divorce, and to the same degree but with less frequency about queer sexualities.  But, this needs to happen for single people.

The church as a whole needs to have an honest and considerate conversation about singleness, and about how it gets totally railroaded by our culture as a failure to "lock in" some other poor sap into all your neuroses and baggage before you even know that you have them let alone have begun to address them like a semi-adult.

The church needs to be honest about the time gap between puberty and marriage, and admit that there are people who will - people who are - having sex before marriage.  This is where (a) comes in; should the church make space for this, create specific guidelines for safe and holy and mutually respectful sexual expression before marriage?  Or should it dive into (b), sublimating sexual drive and desires into other activities?  The church might even need to be prepared for (a) and (b) to be appropriate based on an individual's situation, personality, etc. But all this is a discussion that needs to happen.

No matter what - if the church (or individual congregations and leaders within the whole) decides on (a), (b), or whatever combination thereof - the glorification of the romantic relationship culminating in marriage needs to stop.

It depicts the human being as half a person without their "soul mate."

It lays pressure on unmarried couples to tie the knot prematurely.

It demands perfection and ecstasy from married couples.  (If you're married, you know it isn't the end credits to Eat Pray Love every day of your life.  It's more like ... I can't even think of a cultural example because we don't have enough of them.  Do you see what I'm getting at here?)

Basically, it's bull.

And it railroads single people into directing their energy into acquiring a mate rather than stretching their own soul or enjoying their own life.

So, if you're single, guess what?  You're awesome.  Go freaking enjoy it.  Sell your copies of The Princess Bride and Cosmopolitan and He's Just Not That Into You, and buy a new swimsuit  and go parasailing, or enroll in an art class and make jewelry, or learn to cook ten really kick-ass meals, or expand your collection of postcards from around the world by going there. Take a journal with you.  Learn who you are.  Overanalyze your parents.  Unpack your emotional baggage, decide what you're going to take with you, and burn the rest.

And not "so when you do meet the One..." or "because nothing's as attractive as...".  No.  Do this because it is intrinsically valuable to be a self-reflective, empowered, independent, interesting, happy person.

I promise.

[Disclaimer:  I say all this as someone who met her partner when she was twenty.  So I could be wrong about all this - moreso than usual.  So, please correct me.]

1 comment:

  1. First time here, I just followed the commentluv on your Bloggess comment from today.

    I'm not sure that churches (or anyone, really, who is promoting c) as the way to "deal" with singleness) would welcome a change in their tactics to (a) and (b) because of the whole traditional "this has always been our message" thing. But that said, I think it's a great idea for us to stop obsessing about making sure people pair up (although I do admit to being occupied by this conundrum more often than not) and to encourage them to enjoy their lives. I love your second last line.

    Great post!