Single woman frustrated in a religious community (letter to advice columnist)
He issues the standard advice, advice I’ve seen a million times before, but it’s never worked for me.
Single woman frustrated in a religious community
By RABBI MARC GELLMAN
I notice that organized religion is aimed at families and married couples. It seems as if children are an integral part of the church and people with children are provided with many more opportunities to interact with one another than childless people.
I’m in my 50s and have had several serious relationships, but they’ve all fallen apart before marriage. The older I get, the harder it seems to meet potential partners. I’ve met two of my partners through church, but I don’t see many single men attending at this point.
I have friends, a good job and family nearby, and I’m active in my community, but I feel empty without a partner to share my life. I know I’m not the only person finding life difficult to navigate alone. Many of my friends are also single. We grew up hearing Matthew 19:5 about leaving our father and mother and uniting with a spouse. I assumed this was God’s plan for all of us. If so, why are there so many single people looking for someone special, and why can’t we seem to find each other? I know I don’t fully understand God’s plan for me and can’t always see the big picture, but why would he want me to go through life alone?
— An Old Maid
I’m deeply saddened but not surprised by your painful but spiritually insightful agony.
You’re absolutely right that organized religion and its institutions are primarily constructed to care for the spiritual needs of married couples and their children. Single people are often overlooked.
The historical reason for this — spiritual lacuna is obvious. Religions were formed long before adolescence became a large social force. By adolescence, I don’t mean the teenage years, although quite often a person’s drift away from organized religion begins then. I mean the period of time between puberty and marriage.
Until the modern era, that period of time in a person’s life was brief or nonexistent. People began learning a trade and working, and were often married off in their early teenage years. Most died before reaching what we now call middle age. The major faiths developed rituals and institutions to meet the needs of the only people they knew — adults and children.
Look at all the holiday celebrations, and you’ll see they have rich and varied roles for married adults and children but little or nothing for single adults.
Easter and Passover come to mind. Family dinners and children’s activities festoon these holidays and give both parents and children much to do and much to anticipate. Alas, Easter egg hunts and searching for the hidden matzoh are not big draws for people who don’t have families of their own and don’t want to elbow out the kids on their way to finding the chocolate eggs.
With the advent of extended training for adult work and romantic love as the reason for marriage, it’s not unusual today for people to still be completing their education well into their 30s.
These days, the period between puberty and marriage can last two decades or more.
Of course, churches, synagogues and other religious institutions have tried to create new ways to cover the adolescence gap. Singles services and social events help, but they can seem artificial and contrived to many people seeking to connect to each other and to God. Religious-based online dating sites work for some.
The Jewish community has had success sending Jewish adolescents on group trips to Israel through the Birthright program.
I would also mention for praise the Mormon year of service, which provides both spiritual connection and service uniquely suited to those who are not children and not married.
As to your frustration at not finding a soul mate, let me urge you to have patience and devote your free time to social service. The best way to find a mate with good values and spiritual roots is to go to places where people like that are doing good things. They find each other by finding God in the eyes of a hungry child or a homeless veteran. You are surely one of them.
(Link): Never Married Christians Over Age 35 who are childless Are More Ignored Than Divorced or Infertile People or Single Parents
(Link): Lies The Church Tells Single Women (by Sue Bohlin)
(Link): Sick of Being Single / I Am So Sick and Tired of Being Single Alone Unmarried Lonely
(Link): Want To But Can’t – The One Christian Demographic Being Continually Ignored by Christians Re: Marriage
(Link): The Isolating Power of Family-Centered Language (How churches exclude singles and the childless) by E A Dause
2 thoughts on “Single woman frustrated in a religious community (letter to advice columnist)”
This doesn’t even make sense. The rabbi doesn’t seem to grasp the concept that the woman posing the question is no longer in her early twenties, but is a grown-up single woman trying to cope with the realities that she is basically worthless to the religious world. Unfortunately, it isn’t just religion. I discovered, once I turned 40, I no longer had a social life, period. I had become a pariah. As a historian and a student of history, I think single women today are treated far worse than in many moments of history. One of the reasons women turned to a religious life was to be able to remain single and not be required to basically kill themselves having children. My great-aunts who never married were very well respected, at home, in the community, and in their churches. They had a blast. I’m dirt. Something has changed, and it has been in the past few decades.
I don’t have one married friend who socializes with me. I am not invited to parties, dinners, or functions. If I were divorced I would be. If I were widowed I would be. But, because I’m over 40 and never married, I’m nothing, absolutely nothing.
When did this happen to us, in society?
@ SJ Reidhead,
Thank you for the comments.
I am in my early 40s and have never married, either, though I had wanted to marry. (I was engaged in my early 30s but broke that relationship off. I never really cared if I had kids or not, but I definitely wanted to be married.)
I’ve noticed many of the same things you did. Married people don’t seem to want to hang out with un-married people.
IMO, one reason for this is a lot of married people buy into the cultural and Christian stereotypes that all adult relationships will end in sex – which is not true.
This is why a lot of Christian material about marriage gives married men all manner of rules, like, never meet alone with a single women in a diner for lunch, never drive an unmarried woman alone in your car somewhere, always leave the door open if meeting in an office with a single woman, etc.
There’s an assumption that married men are incapable or unwilling of controlling their sexual behavior and that all adult single women are harlots who are just dying for the opportunity to have sex with a married man.
Some married Christians, especially ones who are parents, assume that childless, single people are aliens from Mars. That’s another reason.
This seems more true of married mothers. Even today, many women have been conditioned to build their entire identity around motherhood / marriage.
So, when they meet a woman over 35 who has never married and is childless (or CF, Child Free), they sometimes become visibly awkward.
They feel that they have nothing in common with you and cannot think of a single thing to say.
They think all chit chat between two women MUST revolve around parenting and husbands (which no, it does not, but they don’t seem to realize that).
I’ve read of that situation countless times – new CF (child free), single adult woman in a church shakes hands with a married mom in church, and the instant married mom learns that the woman is single and CF, her eyes glaze over, she either feels uncomfortable around CF singles (doesn’t know what to say, no common ground, in her view), or she views single CF as being liberal, heathen trollops (because “good” religious women marry by 25 and have three kids, so, if you’re still 40 and single, you MUST be sleeping around with ten men a day, etc). I’ve heard of that happening.
Truthfully, I don’t like being around married moms who won’t talk of anything else anyway – the ones who will not and cannot discuss books, movies, politics or whatever – every single conversation HAS TO BE about their husband or baby or the trials of parenting, or the latest cute thing their toddler child did. I don’t enjoy their company anyway.
I too don’t think the Rabbi fully appreciated that the woman letter writer is 50 years old. He seemed to act as though she is 21. I agree with you on that for sure.
Being single at 35, 40, 45, 50 is an entirely different ball game from being single as a 20-something.
Maybe he was just trying to explain that churches have not adapted yet to the fact that most people don’t marry by 25 anymore. But yeah, I still got a sense he didn’t fully get that churches have a deeper problem going on with adult singles who are over 30.
People over 30 who’ve not married yet, with no children, are very invisible to evangelical Christians, Reformed, fundamentalists, and Baptists.
I’ve read in other material about this that Jewish folks are far better with adult singles…
Jewish people will even play “match maker” for adult singles who want marriage, so maybe the Rabbi does not appreciate what church and life is like for adult singles who are evangelical or Baptist.
(Most evangelicals and other Christians believe it is wrong to play “match maker” for adult singles because doing so is somehow dishonoring to God’s Sovereignty or something.
Their view is, if God wants a woman to marry, God will magically parachute a husband into that woman’s lap with zero effort on her part. I don’t think the Rabbi is aware of this aspect of evangelicalism.)
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