Several months ago I met a sweet, young, single woman for dinner. We talked and ate, and she mentioned that some friends of hers wanted to get into a small group or Bible study. She wondered if I’d be interested in leading it. So I asked her if all of the friends she was talking about were single.
She responded by saying, “Well, two of them are and then there’s me and one other girl.”
I hesitated as I did some mental aerobics in my mind. I knew the woman I was having dinner with was single. So why did she say, “Then there’s me and one other girl”, implying that she wasn’t single?
I didn’t want straight out and say, “But you’re single, aren’t you?” The whole conversation was so confusing.
Since then I’ve been in other conversations with single women who were dating someone, and they didn’t refer to themselves as “single” either.
I know using (or not using) the word “single” is mostly about semantics, but the more I’ve thought about it I can’t help but see how it also reveals a trend in our society among single adults that I think is an unhealthy one.
For one, a person is single until they make the decision to no longer be single my committing their life to another person legally, and for a Christian, in a marriage covenant. I’ve been single, and I’m now married. Trust me when I tell you that there is no dating relationship, even one that has gone on for years and years and years, that even comes close to a marriage relationship. And living with the person doesn’t make you any more like being married either.
There’s something about vowing your life to another person, permanently, that makes marriage marriage. A marriage covenant brings more intimacy than a person can ever experience otherwise, but it also brings more pain. It’s hard work. Marriage is there when life’s not pretty with the vow to never leave.
I want to be honest. The first time I heard a single person not refer to themselves as single I was a little annoyed, and this is why. Marriage for me has been really, really hard. Even after all of the tears and begging God for a husband, it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. So my first thought was a person can’t consider themselves “not single” until they’ve done the hard work that I’m doing.
I don’t think anyone will deny that marriage in our society is grossly undervalued. And I know that none of these women I talked to called themselves “married”; they just said they weren’t single. However, I think we all – married and single – need to view marriage in a higher esteem by saying to ourselves, “Until I have made a marriage commitment, I am single. I have the option to get out of this relationship, and if I do, I have the opportunity to date someone else.”
Which leads me to my next point. Many dating couples get too serious too fast and end up playing house too soon. This is because single people are not remembering that they are not married. They are single. They’re pretending to be married, but again, they haven’t made the commitment and done the hard work to be married.
Many times the thinking that “I’m not single” leads people into a make-believe marriage-like-dating-relationship which causes them to stay in relationships far longer than they’re meant to or maybe even marry under unhealthy conditions. They make themselves believe they can’t get out.
This also gives the man you are dating too much of a stake in the relationship. You’re worth being pursued and won-over. When you take yourself off the market before you’re married, he gets what he wants without pursuing you into marriage.
I actually did this myself. I dated a guy for four years, and because our lives were so intertwined with one another’s in a marriage-like-dating-relationship, it was hard for me to see that I had the choice to leave when I realized I shouldn’t be with him. This further led me to fear “what if no one better comes along.”
One of the benefits of dating, even if it’s a serious relationship, is discerning if this person is someone God is leading you to marry. No matter how far along you get into the relationship, until that wedding ring is on your finger, you can change your mind.
Single women, I want you to view your singleness in this way. Not a marriage. But a time of discernment with options. Reserve marriage for the sacred covenant it is. Require the men you date to date you, pursue you, win you. No man deserves the honor of having you “not single” until he puts a ring on your finger.
Am I saying that it’s okay to be in an exclusive relationship with someone and date several other guys? Of course not. Exclusive relationships where the two individuals are discerning marriage (a courtship, if you will) is healthy and right. However, even then you are single simply because you’re not married.
There are only two marital statuses: single and married. Even though in our culture we pretend like there’s an in-between, there isn’t.
What about you? How do you view your status when you’re in a relationship with someone?