It wasn't until I read Cathy Lynn Grossman's USA Today blog post Tuesday that I knew there was a word for them: Yentas, the people (usually women) in your life who pry about your love life (or the absence thereof) and, for better or worse, try to set you up with someone. The term is Yiddish slang (think Yente, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof), but let's face it, every culture has its yentas. And American evangelical culture is no exception.
Are evangelical yentas helpful? In my experience, they only serve to exasperate.
I'm 23 years old and a recent graduate of a private evangelical college where people paired off as quickly as its suburban rabbit population reproduced. I graduated without an official significant other, and thus became prime yenta target.
Fresh from the holiday season, I'm sure many Christian singles have had recent encounters with yentas. Surely the yentas in our lives mean well when they about our love lifes and try to set us up with a "nice young man" or "sweet Christian woman." But I ask the evangelical yentas out there: Why do you do what you do?
One of my suspicions is that our culture is overly romanced. It provides a narrow view of what romance is: something that is passionate and limited to the young or those in the bloom of a new relationship. Perhaps when a woman's era for romance is over, a yenta looks to younger women to vicariously enjoy romance, just as she might turn to romance novels or chick flicks.
Or perhaps most yentas are just nosy people. I give the benefit of the doubt to the yentas in my life and suspect that most of them genuinely care, but genuine care isn't always genuinely helpful. In my experience, yentas only add unnecessary pressure.
Other than an evangelical college, the place I feel the most pressure to find a significant other is church. In my experience, most singles' groups aren't there for support, but exist as places where the "leftovers" or "unmarrieds" can find each other. Evangelicals are typically great proponents of family, so it's no wonder there is pressure to get hitched. But I have never felt pressure regarding my singleness from my extended family, which is by and large not evangelical, or the culture at large. I don't think this is necessarily because American culture is anti-family, but because it embraces singleness as a valid way to live—something the evangelical church hasn't always done.
Asking about someone's love life and even setting them up aren't bad things. But when I am asked about having a boyfriend or the lack thereof, I prefer to be asked about it in the context of the rest of my life—my job, my goals, and my life in general. When dating is the first thing I'm asked about, I can't help feeling that I should feel like an old maid.
Stephanie Woodard is acquisitions editor at Tyndale House Publishers in suburban Chicago.