What Single People Wish Married People Knew (Repost)

Hey everyone…I am being interviewed on Frank Viola’s blog this week. Frank is a well known author whose new book God’s Favorite Place On Earth reached #13 on Amazon. I feel honored to get to do this interview.

Because I know I will have a few new readers this week, I thought I would repost my most popular post so far What Single People Wish Married People Knew. Hope you enjoy it!

My friend Jess is a beautiful, single blonde girl who has been a missionary in Italy for 10 years and is 37. One day, an Italian woman, let’s call her Mamma Carmen, came up to her with a little charm necklace that had a picture of a saint on it.

“What’s this?” asked Jess.
(Cue in accent of Italian mama who doesn’t speak much English)
“A necklace for you. A picture of Saint Anthony. ”
“Who is Saint Anthony?”
“Is-a- the patron saint of lost-a things.”
“And what have I lost, Mama Carmen?”
“Oh, you know sveetie. ”
“No I don’t know. What is that I have lost?”
“You lost-a your husband.”
“Mama Carmen, isn’t that usually the saint you pray to for a lost sock or car keys-things like that?”
“Yes, but not for you. For you, pray to him for husband. More important than sock.”

Mama Carmen’s Formula:

“Lost Husband + Praying to Patron Saint of Lost Things + Ten Hail Marys= 1 wedding, 5 socks, 2 spoons, and 1 bracelet you thought you gave to your friend Jill.”

I had my own formula concocting conversation with a ministry leader of mine a few years back. Let’s call her Emily. The conversation looked like this:

“Kate, do you remember our babysitter Joann? Well, she  went through a season of really struggling with being single like you are going through.  She cried and battled  and finally brought her burden to the Lord. She let go.

Two weeks later, she met her husband. And he looks just like Ryan Gosling. ”

I said,”Emily, I am really happy for Joann.  But she is twenty freaking years old.”

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”

I respected and loved this leader, but I just couldn’t brush the comment off this time.

I said “I have had a decade longer than her of wrestling with God over this issue.  In all my wrestling,  I have had several seasons where I have been content as a single person, embracing the thought of God as my husband. But often, those seasons fade, and I’m struggling again. It is a cycle that happens.  I don’t think God laughs at my cycles of frustration. I think he understands. I think He wants to meet me there. ”

Emily continued to argue with me, saying that I just needed to let go, insinuating that it was  my own fault that I was still single.

I said, “Em, please understand me here. If you had a friend who was not getting pregnant or who was having multiple miscarriages, someone who had been struggling with barrenness for fifteen years, would you say to her ‘If you just trusted the Lord more with your barrenness, he would give you a baby?’ You would never say that! You recognize how much she is mourning that loss, and so you careful with her words. You don’t want to hurt her even more by making her feel like it might be her own fault.

Well at times, I feel barren. Not only barren in my childbearing, but barren as a lover as well. I don’t have children or a husband, and so I really have no immediate blood family. Please, please, be sensitive to this barrenness in me. Please don’t tell me that I have done something wrong in not letting go, and the result of that shortcoming is my barrenness.”

I know that sounds pretty heavy, but it is how many of us feel at times.

In the very thick book of popular theology that is not actually in the Bible, a book I like to call “First Assumptions” , we have this formula:

“Not letting go=being single.
Letting go= being married. ”

Most singles I have talked to have had this formula given to them in one way or another. Many of them dozens of times. Almost every time I mention writing my book on singleness, single people give me some kind of version of this story.

Most of us, when we first heard this formula as a young person, grabbed our journal and bible and went to a quiet place. We turned our sweet young faces to heaven with tears in our eyes and said “Lord, I let go. I give my husband to you.”

Do you know why we were saying this? Because we wanted a husband. And according to the formula, if you wanted a husband, you had to let go of him first. So we were letting go of him in order to get him.

Quite ironic, isn’t it?

But as years passed, when that formula didn’t work, we started cringing when someone told us we just needed to let go. We couldn’t put our finger on why it irked something deep inside of us, but it did.

I have a theory about why it frustrates us so much. At the root of this formula is the idea that all single people have done something wrong and all married people have done something right. Married people, I know you probably never meant to make us feel that way, but it is the nature of that formula.

It kind of reminds me of the story of Job. Here is the formula we can get out of his story.

“Tragically losing everything+wife that is pissed+hideous boils all over your body+annoying friends telling you that you must have done something wrong to deserve this+being totally frustrated and not getting why you’re going through this+God’s booming voice telling  us humans that we don’t know nothing and He doesn’t fit in our formulas and boxes+ praising God even through horrible circumstances and singing “Blessed Be Your Name” = even more stuff than you had before.”

Sound familiar? That story is one of the oldest in the bible. One of it’s lessons? Don’t make formulas. Meet Him, wrestle with Him, praise Him even when you don’t understand, but never, ever, put Him in a box.

As Donald Miller said, “As much as we want to believe we can fix out lives in about as many steps as it takes to make a peanut-butter sandwich, I don’t believe we can.”

My married friend Becca, who is incredibly dear to me, explained to me that married people don’t often have bad motives in their formula making. She said that when human beings don’t understand something, they make formulas. They want to feel like they are giving their friend some control over the situation. They even make their own life journeys into formulas. Sometimes we singles cling to the formulas given to us because we want some control over the situation as well.

I really appreciate that we had this conversation because it reminded me that  married people are not the enemy. They love us.

But out of love, I want our married friends to understand why these formulas are so hard for us to hear.

These formulas makes us feel like our being single has nothing to do with God’s will or our choices or the enemy or any other theory you have on why hard things happen.

It has to do with our lack.

We already struggle with feeling like we lack when we wonder why we haven’t been chosen. Please don’t cut that wound deeper.

This formula also makes us feel like our not being married  has to do with our relationship with the Lord, which evidently is wanting.

For most of us, our relationship with the Lord is the most sacred one that we have. Please, please, don’t criticize that relationship as well. Don’t tear down the one relationship where we feel loved and accepted. Even if you mean well, just don’t do it.

I think a good rule of thumb for both parties is to do less formula making and pat- answering and do more listening. Listening to what the Lord has to say, and listening to each others journeys with compassion.

Restrain yourselves from formulas. But don’t restrain yourselves from giving each other a hug. We probably both need one.

Be encouraged that we all have our own journey, and that all of our journeys our valid.

Don’t forget that my book Getting Naked Later: A Guide for the Fully Clothed is on sale for a limited time only for $10. Buy it here. 

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17 thoughts on “What Single People Wish Married People Knew (Repost)

  1. Thanks Kate! Having a tough lonely wishing-I-had-someone-to-hold-me-day today – appreciate your blog and openness!

  2. Imo, “formula-itis,” as I’ll call it, is a much more significant problem within the church, and it is too often associated with guilt and personal failure.

    Q: Are you sick? A: Well, you probably don’t have enough faith in God as your healer.

    Q: Struggling financially? A: Well, that’s probably because you stopped tithing—even though you’d have to use the credit card.

    Q: Are you lonely or depressed? A: Well, that’s probably because you haven’t loved God with ALL your heart, soul, and mind.

    Q: In urgent need of wisdom and direction? A: Well, you should have spent more time praying and reading the bible last month.

    Q: Is your career not nearly as successful as you’d like it to be? A: Well, that’s because you’ve made it an idol, forgetting your first love.

    Many believers in the church subscribe to such a DSM-V approach to “Christianity”—that is, each problem has an associated diagnosis, which always becomes a shameful referendum on the life of the Christian in question; it does nothing but lavish guilt and condemnation upon the body of Christ.

    It needs to stop.

    There is a fine line between “works-based formulae” and “actively receiving grace.” The elusive answer to that all-important question will transform the life (and effectiveness) of “The Church.”

  3. Thank you for your article, I think you describe the phenomenon quite well. As a committed Christian, who also happens to be a ‘never-married’ single guy in his forties, the formula often has a slightly different wrinkle to it.

    Since gentlemen are expected (I think rightly) to be the ‘pursuers’ in a relationship, the formula for us is often distilled down to “Just pick one already!”,though worded more politely. The character flaw ‘diagnosed’ by this formula is lack of commitment.

    I refuse, however, to treat any of my sisters like some kind of commodity. I am not choosing a car, or buying a house. I also have no interest in ‘playing’ (pretending to pursue with no serious intentions for the relationship.)

    I have several friends, sisters in the Lord, whom I have admired. I have noticed their character, encouraged them in their walk, and prayed for them as they struggled with loneliness. I have not, however, pursue them. Not because there was anything ‘unworthy’ in them, heavens, I would be honored to walk with them. But in each case, God said, “no” (not audibly). It was a gentle check in my spirit, as if His Spirit was saying, “she belongs to another.” So I don’t move the relationship past friendship, sometimes to my friend’s evident frustration, more often to her relief.

    So, I guess, I would like to encourage my single sisters out there with the reality that, while you are struggling with not being pursued, there are single men also struggling, men who are aware of your true beauty, and in obedience, will not treat you, or a relationship with you, casually.

  4. Kate, your post reminds me once again that we all have our own battles. We have a God who lavishes unending Grace on those struggles. As someone who married young (just after turning 20), the last 13 years have been far more painful than I ever bargained for. I had no idea that as a couple we would struggle so much and our biggest struggle…being connected. I know many married women who struggle to just be “known” by their spouses. The loneliness that I have felt in marriage has been excruciating at times.
    I have two amazing boys who are my saving grace daily. I have a promise from God that I received on a mission trip before I was even married, that they would grow to be mighty men of God. 13 years later, it seems like a miracle that my young boys love their Jesus inspite of our struggles. My faith is stronger now than it was 13 years ago, but that primarily because I learned just how much I need HIM through painful/ impossible circumstances. It has developed a great compassion for women and the struggles that we face.
    I think it’s sad when we limit God to teaching us in such narrow ways. God is far more profound in how he teaches and grows each of us. All of our struggles are different but doesn’t that speak to how well God knows the depths of our hearts and what will draw us to our knees in faithfulness to Him?
    Marriage has NEVER completed me or made be a less deficient person…ha! If anything, it has left me far more lacking in most areas. Oh but how it has grown my appreciation of GRACE. And God has used it to bring to surface so many things that He doesn’t want occupying my heart.
    Blessings and thanks for sharing so honestly. Remember most people are a little ignorant and we, as humans, want to have answers. Makes us feel like we are lacking when we don’t have an answer (formula). Some of the things people said when we miscarried are 2nd child would make your hair stand on end! Moments like that make me grateful that God’s grace is bigger than mine!

  5. Hi Kate! Thank you for writing so openly and honestly. I agree that too often we hear ‘Hey this worked for me, therefore it will work for you too.’ I agree that we make formulas because they give us some measure of control, as otherwise life would be way too scary – we might even have to trust God! Even the disciples wanted formulas – who sinned this man or his parents? (John 9) Jesus is very clear in his answer! Neither!!
    It’s especially hard when something that is such a source of pain for us comes so easily to other people and is even taken for granted. I am married, but know a little of the struggles of single friends.
    My own struggles have been with issues of personality and usefulness. Everyone has different things that they struggle with. If we all tried to listen a little more and fix a little less that would go a long way in helping each other feel less isolated and inadequate and more loved and accepted.

  6. Great blog!!
    People trying to be “helpful” with comments about why you are single are not helpful. Only God knows the plans He has for you!
    I was told by someone that I was single because I was too independent…….
    When people gave their opinions, I used to take a step back and check whether what they were saying is according to God’s word……..probably 99.9% of it was not, so I disregarded it completely.

    I was single without even a coffee date for 7 years………and got married at the age of 41.
    God is faithful. God answers prayers.

    God’s word prevails above all!! Keep being fabulous!

  7. In the very thick book of popular theology that is not actually in the Bible, a book I like to call “First Assumptions” , we have this formula:

    “Not letting go=being single.
    Letting go= being married. “

    Most singles I have talked to have had this formula given to them in one way or another. Many of them dozens of times.

    And always by Christians who married at 18.

    It’s always those who’ve never been there who have all the Smug Advice for those who are.

  8. Sent over here from one of Wendy Andrews’s posts on singleness. Couldn’t agree more. I am 35 and still single, 2 dates in 11 years of singleness. First was damaging, second was a good guy, just not a good match. (I can see him in the first comment on this post from the 40 something guy, the idea of “just pick one already.”)

    I wanted to add, beyond the “just let go” thing. Alongside Jo’s comment above about how people tell you what worked for them because it must work for you. I have heard so many versions and suggestions of how to snag a guy/husband. the more I ponder it, the more I can recognize that the people giving me those oh so frustrating answers are not the people who have walked this Valley of the Shadow of Death* with me. Those friends cry with me and hug me and pour into me. It is the people on the outskirts, on the edges, who need *their* God to fit into a box, and my singleness does not fit into their box for God. So they have to find a way to make sense of that. Even if the making sense of it means I get blamed for something I truly only have a small amount of control over.

    I have heard that you just need to be secure in yourself and be confident. But if you look around, half the women you know who are married are incredibly, deeply insecure.
    I have heard to just live a full life and enjoy your life, a lot, and (somehow, magically probably) you’ll find someone that you have things in common with. But, that comes from people who were doing that, not those of us who have been doing that for 10ish years and have yet to meet anyone who even wants to get coffee much less a diamond ring.
    Those are the two big ones, but whenever someone tells me “Oh, just (do whatever garbage, over-simplified advice thing they have to offer) and you’ll meet someone.” I look to their life and I can almost always see that whatever their advice is, is what worked for them. It rarely, if ever, actually looked at MY life or my heart and sought to love me and encouragement. If I can get my own heart and hurt out of the conversation long enough, I can see it really boils down to their attempt to make God fit into their box.

    *To be clear, being single is not my Valley of the Shadow of Death. I have struggle with depression my whole life, and two years ago my Dad died unexpectedly and my faith has been shattered ever since. I have been totally 100% single, no kids, for over 10 years. I only started calling this time the Valley after my Dad died. Being single has never, by itself, been such a big struggle/burden/hurt that I could call it Death.

  9. Love your heart. Stumbled across your post through Facebook, we are kindred spirits! I blog about dating, singleness, and how to get dating back after you’ve kissed it goodbye ;). Published a book about it with Zondervan, out in October. Lets connect! You can contact me at truelovedates.com/contact, would love to hear more about your book and heart for ministry. Or email me!

    • I loved this article! It is very similar to mine. (Plus I have a whole post on Hannah, but I’d have to look for it to find it for you.) I love EDA- that is such a great term.

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