Every Older Singles' Battle
Does true love wait, and wait, and wait some more? Christine Colón and Bonnie Field, friends at Biola University in the '80s, did not begin to think seriously about singleness until their 30s, when they realized this marriage thing wasn't happening. Frustrated by several churches where marriage and family life were framed as spiritually optimal, both women turned to each other and to other singles for constructive ways to interpret their singleness beyond, "Just hold on, he [or she] will come along soon."
Thankfully, the book borne of Colón and Field's experience does more than vent. Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today's Church (Brazos) looks at common assumptions about marriage in popular culture and the church, critiquing the latter from taking too many cues from the former. Drawing on biblical motifs and the church fathers, Colón and Field envision singleness as a witness to radical dependence on God — and to his expansive love for those outside the church. Assistant editor Katelyn Beaty spoke with Colón, who is associate professor of English at Wheaton College.
What prompted you and Bonnie to write Singled Out?
The two of us have been friends since college. As we went on with our lives and earned degrees, we had long conversations about our frustrations of being single in the evangelical church. So we started to look for good advice for older singles, because much discussion about abstinence [is for] high schoolers and college age people. But once you're out of college, once you are working, there really wasn't much of a discussion.
Much of the discussion around singleness is, "Just have enough faith, and God will provide a spouse." And we started to worry about what that says about God. This idea of, wait a second, God hasn't provided a spouse. What does that mean? Does that mean I'm not a good Christian? Does that mean God is not faithful? When you start going there, that's dangerous. So we started to look for a better discussion.
What are the sociological factors leading to so many Christians, particularly women, remaining single?
One factor is that we just have more singles in the U.S. The most recent statistic is from 2006, which says 46 percent of Americans are single. There's just not the assumption that you will marry, you will marry young, and you will stay in that one marriage for life. But many churches have reacted to this by focusing on the nuclear family, and because of that, a lot of singles are uncomfortable in the church.
There have also been discussions about the feminization of Christianity, and how men don't feel comfortable in the church. So when you have those factors working together, from our experiences and our friends' experiences, single women in churches look around and are not finding anyone. The other dilemma is "marrying down" — what does it mean to marry someone who isn't as spiritually mature? That is a dilemma for many single Christian women.
I don't want it to sound like we are ragging on all the single men in the church. Yes, there's a problem of immaturity in the church, for men and women, but a lot of writers say, "It's the men's fault, and if they would step up and do their job, we wouldn't have this problem." And it's far more complex than that. I feel for men in the church who say, "I also have reasons why I'm single, and it's not because I stay home and play video games all the time."
Might part of the problem be that Christians are being too picky?
I'd phrase it this way: We have learned the importance of thinking before getting married. We've seen a lot of broken marriages. We've seen people jump into marriage and realize "oops," in both the Christian and secular worlds. So a lot of Christian singles are pausing to say, "Maybe I shouldn't just jump into marriage, because I want it to be a lifelong commitment and I recognize how serious that is."