Why It Sucks To be Unintentionally Overlooked Part II: Validating Our Struggles

The response to part one of this post, Singles and The Church: Why It Sucks To Unintentionally Overlooked has been pretty overwhelming. I have had 132 comments and counting. Two readers told me that they left the church because they felt left out as singles. Many others expounded on how they have had to hide their pain because they haven’t felt like it would be accepted by their loved ones and their churches.

There have been encouraging things too: I had links to two sermons which were given by single head pastors (very encouraging!) There were also married people that have tried to understand what we’re going through by saying “I don’t know what singles want! Please tell me!” 

So dear church and married friends, I want to tell you in the next three posts what would be helpful and life-giving to us as singles in the church. This is all based on input from the comments from the last post. These are things multiple people have said and not just my personal opinion on this topic. 

In the next three posts I will cover the most prominent themes in the comments people gave…

#1- Validate single’s pain.

#2- Acknowledge that singles have equal wisdom and life experience to married people and deserve to be considered for leadership roles .

#3 Be proactive in creating impactful singles groups and/or groups where people from different life walks can connect. 

Let’s start with #1: Validate single’s pain. It is of utmost importance to us that you acknowledge that we have truly difficult struggles we are dealing with. 

With this post and my other most popular post  What Single People Wish Married People Knew hundreds of people wrote in to say how hurt they have been when married people and churches have made them feel like their pain is not valid. One of the questions I asked in the last post was “Do you ever feel ashamed over your grief as a single person?” The answer was a resounding yes!!  

One of the married commenters on the last post said “Part of me thinks you don’t want to hear it from married people anyway. Part of me thinks in a small way, you are making yourself feel worse than you have to because you are letting yourself feel like a victim…I guess I would also wonder if much of the guilt and shame over grieving your singleness is largely self inflicted.” 

This was very hard to read. On one hand, I don’t want to be navel gazing. I don’t want to be hateful towards the church. I don’t want to miss all of the things that God has for me in my singleness. 

On the other hand, it is comments like these that make us want to hide away in shame our pain. But our pain is so real. We are facing incredibly difficult things like not having a person to walk through life together, little to no physical touch in our lives, and the horrible possibility of never having children. 

Please, please, try to see things from our perspective. Try to understand how deeply these things hurt. Try to allow us to share our feelings without any guilt or shame.

Secondly, let’s all stop playing the comparison game. Human beings have a propensity towards competition. Often, when someone shares their pain, our first response is “that’s not as hard as what I am going through.” Singles are just as guilty of this as married people. 

The truth is, being human is hard. It is hard to be single. It is hard to be childless. It is hard to be married. It is hard to have children. Sometimes, singles can barely stand eating one more dinner alone. And sometimes, moms can barely handle making one more dinner. Let’s all make a point to stop doing this.

Remember that competition is the enemy of contentment. 

Lastly, married people and church, it is so, so frustrating for us when you give us boxed in, formulaic answers to our pain. Comments like “You should be happy your single. Marriage is so hard, ” “If you just let go, you’ll find the one”  “Paul said that being single was better anyway, so you just need to embrace it” “You’re still so young,” “Just let Jesus be your husband” or “You’re just too picky” are all things that commenters told me are incredibly painful for them. These responses not only make us feel like our pain is not valid, it can even make us feel like we are not married because there is something innately in us that isn’t good enough or that our relationship with God is lacking. 

Can you see why we would be scared to share with you when these are the responses we get? 

So how do we combat this propensity towards comparing and these formulaic responses?

We must learn to listen with compassion and empathy and love. Listening and loving are so closely related you can barely tell them apart. 

Maybe sometimes instead of giving formulaic answers you should answer with more questions. “What is the hardest thing you face as a single?” “Have you ever felt angry with God over this?” “Do you remember a time where you felt comforted by God in your singleness? or “How can I love you through this?” are all great questions.

And maybe sometimes you should not answer at all. Maybe you should just give us a hug and let us cry. Sometimes we just need to sit in the questions and allow ourselves to feel our pain.

Allowing ourselves to authentically wrestle with our questions can be more comforting than empty answers.  And sitting with the questions with a friend is so much better than sitting with questions alone. 

Singles, what are some other questions that you would like to be asked?

Married people and church leaders, is this helpful to you? Does it make you see how some of your responses in the past might have been hurtful?

Married and singles both, have you found yourself comparing your pain to others?

Have you ever felt healing in sitting in the questions rather than having to have boxed in answers? 

Go to Amazon and read the great reviews on Kate’s book Getting Naked Later: A Guide For the Fully Clothed

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29 thoughts on “Why It Sucks To be Unintentionally Overlooked Part II: Validating Our Struggles

  1. A life without touch, without companionship, without knowing that you are someone’s priority, is so very tough at times. Actually, most of the time. I wonder if married people forget what it’s like? When half of that group will have to face this very scenario at the end of their lives, after their spouse has departed?

    The other rejoinder I have is this: Even when a married person is sharing how tough their life is, how they wish they could walk away for a break – would they really trade it all for a life of Alone-ness? No spouse, no children? No one to hug? I suspect the answer is no.

    God said it is not good for man to be alone. This is so achingly obvious, and yet, once no longer single, the pain is so easily forgotten.

    • >>>>A life without touch, without companionship, without knowing that you are someone’s priority, is so very tough at times. Actually, most of the time. <<<<

      This. Sometimes it's so tough, it hurts to breathe. And it hurts even more to be treated callously because of this.

      I feel forgotten and unwanted, even by God (if I can be perfectly honest).

    • I have been cut-off multiple times when sharing about what a particular struggle (such as building relationships) looks like for me as a single person and why it’s tough. Not even sharing my pain about singleness, just trying to respond to a question in bible study from my own context, and been told, “No, but it’s so much harder when you’re married…” Um, you LITERALLY just cut me off mid-sentence and you’re telling me it’s harder to be married when you don’t know what I was going to say. And by the way, I did not at any point say “it’s harder for me as a single person.” I really think married people think of singleness as married life minus the obligations and chores. They don’t realize that it is an entirely different animal. It’s not just the absence of the burdens of family life. It’s the presence of the burdens of single life. And yes, how many times do we have to hear, “I would love to trade places for a day?” Um, SO WOULD WE! But, you can’t experience being single for a day or a weekend. Would you trade everything you have with your family to have nothing but singleness? Because that’s what we’re living with.
      That being said, I also have a church that includes singles in sermon examples, especially when talking about grief and struggles of waiting on God. My pastor has even sought me out to open the conversation of how the church can include and minister to us. I think there are a lot of married people at my church who could handle listening to me about my singleness struggles, but I’m afraid to try it because I’d rather with the hope of a potential audience than the disappointment of another rejection or lecture. And, truthfully, that probably is a heart issue on my part. I am not giving my family of believers the chance to know me or share this burden with me because I’m afraid of getting hurt. I probably will get hurt some. And I will probably hurt others some, too. But, that’s what being a body of forgiven sinners learning to be more Christlike looks like. So, I am trying to be more open to making myself vulnerable. I have yet to garner the courage to lovingly confront someone when they have unwittingly been hurtful, which is also a heart issue on my part. So, the married person who commented may be partially right…I know I choose to be private over being vulnerable sometimes.

  2. Hi, I really enjoy your posts! Thanks for being so candid.

    This post reminded me of another series I had read about actual, concrete actions that churches can take to make singles feel welcome and to meet their needs. Here’s the link to the first blog in the series: Part One

  3. ok, so I must be a weird single person. I am 33 years old and female. I sometimes feel grief about being single (to be perfectly honest usually when I’m PMSing and generally feeling bad about everything), but most of the time I’m fine with it. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t *like* to find someone, but I am coping ok and enjoying my life and don’t feel unfulfilled. I also feel the exact opposite about children–for me having children would be horrible, I shudder at the idea (sorry people who want kids, not putting you down) so for me that’s not an issue. I wouldn’t say I’m “called to singleness” or anything that dramatic and I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to find someone, just that it’s really not a life-defining issue for me. I also go to a church where it’s quite normal to be single, so we don’t have any kind of emphasis on either family or singleness. Nobody gets “singled out”, so to speak. We’re just all believers in the body of Christ together, whatever our family situation in following him looks like. I guess I’m fortunate because it would drive me insane to be in a church where people acted or taught that marriage was the pinnacle of normality and if you weren’t married you were an oddity. That’s just silly.

  4. I think this post and the last one are really great and super important in the realm of Christianity. I am married now, but we have no desire for children ( a view which people consistently ignore, including our parents because well…they want the grandbabies… thankfully we have other syblings!). I originally was thinking about remaining a single woman in life by choice because I get so dang tired of people constantly saying things that imply that women’s lives won’t be complete until they are married with babies etc. (ugh). I did get married because I found a man who believes that my worth is not defined by staying home and making him dinner and producing all sorts of babies for us. I have a strong love and respect for single people because it is hard. Hardly anyone addresses it, and it feels so frustrating that people seem to ignore their God-given talents because they aren’t married. I think being married and having children is a great choice in life if that is what God called those people to do. But I also think we should really take the time to appreciate that God calls people to all sorts of different lifestyles and each one is EQUALLY valid before God. Each lifestyle has a way to serve God using their gifts. Thank you for writing this series of posts!

  5. @Susanna, thank you for your comment. It points to, not a question I would like to be asked, but an attitude I would like to be met with.Please don’t assume you know how I feel as a single person about my singleness. Each single person feels differently about it, and I feel differently depending on the day and the season of life I’m in.

    Some other questions I might like to hear from married people are along these lines: “I realize that many of those of us who are married complain all the time about all the work we have to do for our spouses, for our children, in putting up with our spouses and children, in our lack of freedom. If you knew you’d be heard, what would you complain about?” And “What (if anything) do you experience as the joys of singleness?” And “What are your plans for the holidays? Would you like to join our family or can our family join you?” And “I remember being single in my 20’s. Is being single in your 30’s and 40’s a lot different?” (Hint: short answer is “Yes!”)

    From pastors/church leaders: “How can I be involved in the daily life of single people? How can I not simply invite single people into my space, but also go where single people spend their time?” And “Why are single people so under-represented in our church?” And “Do my sermons adequately address the daily struggles and needs of single people?

  6. Questions I would like to be asked:
    (1) Would you like to join us [ insert doing something].

    Many times on Sunday I see people leaving in groups to go out to eat with one another and/or to go eat with their family. I would love to be invited. I could ask if people want to go out to eat, something to work on myself I suppose (though this goes against the church social status)… but I cant ask them to come to my place because I live by myself in a meager apartment with no kitchen table or seating. Why? What is the point when I would never use it? I eat by myself at my computer and watch Netflix. Even when I had cable tv I would eat at my coffee table. Being single, there just isn’t a need. Not to mention I dont have seating for more than 4 people. I just dont have money to buy furniture, a bigger apartment, or decorations. I’d like to make my apartment “my own” and invite others over, but being single I just cant afford it when rent is between half and 1/3 of what I make, then bills and student loans. I try to remind myself life is not about material possessions but I dislike not having things because I dont feel I have the means to entertain and hangout with a group, only one or maybe two others if they are ok with my expressionless apartment.

    (2) What could we pray for you about today?

    This assumes nothing.. and as singles feel more safe with you they will open up about life, dating, a desire for a spouse, ect. I can tell you I only tell my past regarding dating to people I have been friends with for a while. If I start from the beginning and get to the present, it might take an hour or so and they are usually like “Dang, that sucks”. And I say, “Yes, it does. But I try to do my best to follow Christ first and follow my calling, which is first to Christ and secondly my desire for a spouse. I think the priority there is important.” I dont just let anyone go that deep with me.

    Great Blog Kate!

  7. I’m single myself and I agree with the quote from the married commenter that singles who complain about being single tend to have a victim mentality.

    But pointing that out is generally unhelpful. We should all seek first to show our empathy, understanding and compassion. Hard truths (if needed at all) should only come later, after trust has been built.

    Hurting singles need encouragement, not criticism. Empowerment happens when people come alongside and help, not when people stand above and criticise.

    Criticism by itself perpetuates victimhood – when a community sees suffering people who don’t fit in for some reason, but doesn’t show compassion, it is in fact victimizing them.

  8. I have found myself ashamed to mention, even to my married siblings, my hopes for marriage, because of a fear that I will be seen with pity, as in “that poor girl, she can’t get a husband.” I would like to know that people will listen and not see me as the stereotypical single gal with a pint of icecream, a box of kleenex, and a chick flick. The interesting thing is, when I talked with my sister about it, she wasn’t thinking that I was a “pathetic single” at all. So, maybe some of it is real (my church growing up put SO much focus on marriage and there was a general pity for the singles), and some if it is my putting my past experiences and expectations onto other people without giving them a chance to be different. Some of it is also my fear of being rejected.

    But is this really much different than the fears and shame married people or parents go through? I am a single mother, and the fears and shame I struggle with over raising my daughter “correctly”, comparing parenting techniques with other moms, discipline methods, teaching methods, keeping the house clean like a “good mom”, etc., is similar. One difference might be that my fears over parenting revolve around doing, and my fears over singleness revolve around being. The being is harder, because it is an identity issue. I do know that when I don’t listen to either of the fears/shame groups, I am able to enjoy life without the weight if them surrounding me.

    One thing that has been interesting is that I have seen it as more valid to express this as “my daughter needs a dad” and not as “I need a husband”. The one seems more like a need than the other, and I feel less ashamed to mention it. Is it because I am afraid to admit my own needs or lack? Quite possibly.

    I find that it is difficult to speak of what my heart most desires, unless I am sure it is a safe place to be vulnerable.

  9. Something I’ve been pondering lately…
    I feel like asking someone directly about their struggle with singleness or whether they struggle with singleness could be a very awkward opening to the conversation, especially if they’re not already in a fairly open friendship. But I’ve noticed that, even with other singles in my life, we usually come at the issue indirectly–by talking about some other aspect of life–and then singleness comes into it. It occurs to me that this might be a much less threatening or awkward way for married people to open the topic without asking something too personal. For example, if the topic at hand is feeling overwhelmed with housework, the stay-at-home mom could ask, “Do you ever feel overwhelmed by how much there is to get done in a day? What does that look like for you as a single person?” Or, if a bible study topic is brought up such as trying to build more depth into our relationships with others, the leader could pose the question: “We have people represented here from several different walks of life–married with young kids, married without kids, single, emptynesters. I would like to hear what this struggle looks like from each of those diifferent positions, and how you apply the gospel in your particular context.”
    This way it opens the door to talk about singleness as a topic and from more of an informational/analytical approach. If we wanted to open up vulnerably about our emotions, we could. Or we could just talk about it without exposing our deeper emotions about it. Also, the question itself doesn’t imply that we should be struggling with singleness; it just acknowledges that singleness comes with its own unique challenges in life.
    I might mention this when I meet with my pastor next week. What do y’all think?

    • These are wonderful suggestions. This is exactly what I wanted to happen with this post….the smallest things that married people and pastors say to singles can make such an enormous difference and made us feel seen. Being aware of this and allowing these kinds of topics to come up can make such a difference…

  10. Old married guy here.

    I used to be incredibly unhelpful and hurtful… and then facebook came along. While I don’t remember anywhere near the pain expressed by the single folks in my feed, my approach has gone through a 90 degree turn. Rather than joking around the topic, and not understanding how that would just serve to add more pain to the mix, I now focus more on the listening side of things.

    The beaver cleaver model of so many church ministries is problematic, not only for the never married, but the more and more common single parent with kids, the single empty nester, the single non-nester, and the widowed. Yet another issue to consider is how left out the very common mixed faith family ends up being.

  11. Kate, I think you are hitting on some really important issues here! Thank you! It can be rough being single in today’s Christian culture with so much focus on family. I recently did a study on what a Biblical view of singleness is, and it greatly encouraged me as I spent time in the Word and sought out resources on the topic (your book included!).

    In my research, I listened to a very good sermon on the topic that I highly recommend. The sermon is by David Platt, entitled “Singleness and the Next Generation.” It can be found on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVq0mwhu2gQ

  12. The issue here is that in western culture, individualism prevails. This leads to a lot of lonely people with severe depression, simply because they have no one to talk to. In the Middle East, this is not so, people are constantly visiting each other, having guests over. In the ancient Christian Church, church was held at the home – and in home churches there is a lot more personal interaction and less formality. I was in a home church in Austin TX and it really did not matter if you were single or married – there was a lot of sharing, and it was a lot of fun. In such a setting people in the church are empowered to lead or participate according to their abilities.

  13. The first time I read the blog, I had nothing to say. Then, I had a conversation.

    A (nonChristian) friend divorcing said of her ex- “It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s that I don’t like the person I’m becoming because I live with him.”

    She has reason.

    A married friend said, “Well, I don’t know. There are perks to being single.” (She’s right. And she doesn’t care if I point out that those perks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be).

    Then she added, “But. I like the person being married has made me.”

    That’s what someone should ask, “Do you like the person being single is making you?”

    Because that encompasses grief and anger and bitterness and joy. Because sometimes I don’t like the person it’s making me: anxious, distracted, needy. And sometimes I do. Sometimes I see God revealing Himself and using me to pour Himself out. Sometimes I don’t what sort of person I am becoming and I need someone to listen while I sort that out.

    What about you? Do you like the person you are becoming because you are single?

  14. How can you talk about how you really feel when everyone around you thinks your life is roses?

    Sometimes I just need someone to gently nudge me in the right direction, who will listen to me talk until all the ideas fall into place. I do better if I have somewhere to vent, because I tend to bottle things up otherwise, and then explode. I crave physical touch, but am often too shy to ask for a hug, or my friends live too far away (or I have friends who don’t believe in physical touch among people who are not dating/engaged/married). I ache to just lean against someone on the couch while watching tv. I want to be able to say these things without being dismissed with “you’re so lucky to be single”. Well, why don’t you try it then? Why can married and dating people and parents complain about relationships, but childless singles can’t complain about their lack?

    What I really want is a community, somewhere to belong, somewhere where people notice if you’re gone, people to talk to. I think a lot of singles have issues with this, and I think a lot of married people forget that, for better or worse, they have this built in to some extent. I left my church because I felt invisible. I also felt used. Sure, occasionally I was asked to do Sunday School or music, which I love, but I never felt that anyone there actually cared to know me. I never felt comfortable sharing anything, and I felt like my suggestions were rarely taken seriously. My problems (which were not just singleness) were not seen to be valid issues. It was just kind of, “Hey, a young body!” and then they all went home to someone.

    Society seems like it’s built for two. I hate the insinuation that I somehow need a man to complete me, or that the reason I don’t have one is due to some personal or spiritual lack. Because, yes, I don’t need a man, but on some level I would really love that built in community of two. Or four.

    I honestly assumed I would be married and have kids by now, and so I do find it hard to tell anyone my hopes and dreams on that subject, because I don’t want to get my hopes up in case it never happens. Also, if the topic does come up, people tend to say, “Oh, God’s got the right person for you somewhere” or “you just haven’t met him yet.” Nobody can know that. It freaks me out that maybe it won’t happen ever, and I’ll be lonely forever and die alone, and no one will care. On some level I know this is just me freaking out over nothing, but still. What I really want out of that conversation is “yes, that sucks. Have a hug.”

    And no, I don’t like what continuing to be single is making me anymore. I feel like I’m losing faith in people, because they’re constantly letting me down. I’m questioning my faith because if God’s followers don’t seem to think I’m worth anything, how can I see God? I know my worth is not based on what others think of me, but it’s been a longtime struggle, and recent events just keep re-opening that wound, with very little to balance it. I feel like just retreating from the world, because being by myself is better than feeling alone in a crowd or worrying about when the next person will let me down. I’m frustrated with the continual sense of drifting, and that God’s answer to everything in the last two years seems to be “hold on” with no sense of how long or even for what. I’m on edge, and everything hurts worse when that happens.

    But communities don’t just materialize out of nowhere. And you can’t have a relationship unless you meet people. And you can’t meet people if there’s nowhere to meet them. And I don’t have anyone to talk to about this at the moment, because they either don’t understand, don’t have time, or they live too far away. And going into an existing community is hard, because it’s hard to become an insider unless someone invites you in. Especially as an introvert.

    • so…months later I’m reading this and your comment (N) left me with tears streaming down my face, it resonated SO much. Thank you for sharing. And know that you are not alone. I hope that things are different for you now, and I would also give you a hug if we were in the same room!

    • I know I’m late in replying to this, but here goes anyway:

      “Why can married and dating people and parents complain about relationships, but childless singles can’t complain about their lack?”

      Because there is still this idea in the heads of church people that you are single because you’re choosing it, therefore if you don’t like it just get married, ergo you have nothing to complain about because you can fix this issue if you really wanted to, ergo they can’t fix the other person in their marriage/dating relationship, ergo they have a valid reason to fuss and you don’t.

      Never mind that you can’t make someone choose you for marriage, so actually you’re kinda in the same boat as the marrieds as far as having to wait for someone else to change or be on the same page as you. I think too often for too long singleness was presented as the wild and free time you enjoy before settling down and growing up into maturity (marriage). Therefore there are still many remnants left in church society that believe this. So if you’re single, it’s because you’re avoiding adulthood. Therefore it’s not allowed to be hard. Therefore you’re not allowed to complain.

  15. I don’t plan on being married or having kids (long story), and I’m pretty open about it, but what I would like is for people in the church to accept that, to take it at face-value and not try to change my mind or laugh at me, maybe to ask me why I’ve come to that decision, to ask if there’s something they (or their husband) can do to help me out. Too often, I just get platitudes about how I’ll meet the right guy someday, and things’ll change, and that’s it. No offer of companionship or even eye contact and “I hear you.” I want to be seen, and I don’t necessarily think I should need a wedding ring to be seen.

    All it would take is for someone to honestly hear me out, to listen without judgement.

    And sometimes when I get told one too many times the right guy will come along, I just want to punch the well-meaning married-with-kids lady in her face. Or “it always happens when you’re not looking.” Punch in the face. To go right along with the gut-punch those elicit in me.

  16. You’re amazing Kate! The last 2 blogs have soooooo resonated with me!! It’s interesting actually cos only yesterday and today God has been speaking to me about how I am not worth any less because I am single and childless, infact I am worth everything to him. I am not less because I am single and childless. But anyway, I really really appreciate how you are articulating my pain.

  17. bingo: “We are facing incredibly difficult things like not having a person to walk through life together, little to no physical touch in our lives, and the horrible possibility of never having children.”

    You’ve put into words the very things I struggle with the most when dealing with being single.

    I’ve sent this entry on to a pastoral staff member….and wish I could send it to the entire staff. (just might have to do that). I don’t need a singles group created for me… but it would help to not get pat answers when I am in pain. Mostly I get prayed for those moments I send out quick texts or emails saying “I could use prayer today.” (the people who pray for me know that the singleness thing is the biggest thing in my life that brings me to tears every few months or so).

  18. Most of the time these days, I’m content with being single. Nonetheless, I have found that I still tense up at family weddings because I know that conversation will eventually turn around to the only family member in my generation who is not married. And, at age 48, I’m not holding my breath. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my congregation’s (and any other church of which I have ever been a part) lack of sensitivity to singles leaves me feeling much less engaged.

  19. Well i can certainly Blame the women out there why many of us Good men are still single today since many women that now have their Careers are so very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, and so very money hungry which really speaks for itself. Many of the women of today really want the Best and will Never settle for Less which is Quite a Change from the Good old fashioned women of years ago that were Never like that at all. And many of us men today are certainly Not single by choice.

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