On an ordinary Tuesday last spring, the Dean of Student Life at an evangelical Christian college in the Midwest said to me, her graduate assistant, "Marcy, the evangelical culture of our campus does a lot to prepare its students for the inevitability of marriage, but we do little to set them up for singleness. We need to do better. You should be the one to speak with them," she decided, "and the title of your talk should be, 'Single by Choice.'"
She was a provocative one, this dean, with sharp instincts. Her title's declaration posed an ultimatum: to reconsider the assumptions about singleness and marriage passed down to us by the lore of our Christian campus, and an ultimatum to me as a representative of the most recent generation of young adults, most of whom, according to U.S. census data, will not marry until we're at least 27. A full one-fifth of us will never marry at all.
There are several reasons for this trend toward prolonged singleness. Sociologists such as Robert Wuthnow and Christian Smith point to a changing job market that requires extended years of education beyond a traditional, four-year bachelor's degree. Many young adults devote their post-college years to volunteer or low-paid service. Few careers available in one's early 20s come vested with the 9-to-5 sturdiness that used to turn one's thoughts to starting a family.
In this climate of enterprise and ambition, few young adults experience singleness as a condition worthy of their attention or concern. When I asked my 28-year-old friend why he never came to any of our church-sponsored events for singles, he replied that he didn't know he was supposed to. In fact, though the church I attend is nestled in a college town and lists over 120 single adults in ...