Here’s a new wedding tradition I recently heard about: Instead of tossing their bouquets, Christian brides give each single woman at their reception a flower from the bunch and pray individually for them to find a husband.
Compared to the ritual of competing to catch the bouquet, this approach was “sweet,” “thoughtful,” and “selfless” according to the women I saw discussing the idea on Facebook—plus a unique addition for brides eager to do something new and memorable at their weddings.
As a single woman, I immediately thought, No way. I tried to imagine attending a wedding where the bride tried to do that to me. I can only picture myself declining the flower and leaving the event altogether. It’s a well-intentioned but condescending gesture. It’s pretty presumptive to assume that all the single women you know would want a husband right now. Just because you did doesn’t mean I do.
This new ritual got me thinking about what it means to be single, specifically a single Christian woman, during wedding season. Never am I more aware of my singleness than in the summertime, when my calendar is dotted with weekend ceremonies and I’m under pressure to find a date or prepare to sit through another wedding solo.
When I turned 16, my dad made me a wooden hope chest. Before bridal showers and registries, girls received hope chests to fill dishes and doilies and linens in anticipation of when they would be married and setting up house with their new husband. That year, I spent all my birthday money on dishes and silverware and glasses to put in the chest. My grandma sent me doilies she had crocheted, and an elderly woman in our church knitted me an afghan. Once the chest was filled with the essentials, I thought it was only a matter of time before I met Mr. Right and lived happily ever after.
More than 20 years later, I’m surprised as anyone that I’m still single—never married, never engaged, never had children. Sometimes I can shrug off those nevers, but sometimes they’re enough to make me cry. It’s no wonder I have mixed feelings about weddings.
As a person who would like to be married someday, I enjoy seeing my friends get married. Their celebrations evoke hope and remind me how beautiful romantic love can be. But there are negatives, too. Sometimes I end up feeling lonely or discouraged, and if I’m really honest, bitter and jealous that I still don’t have a ring on my finger.
Wedding season doesn’t have to be this way. For starters, I think we need to agree as a society that a couple’s wedding day should be about their marital status, not their guests’. It doesn’t make sense that as a single woman, I’m expected to elbow my way towards an airborne bouquet, or get a flower and a prayer for me to find a husband, as a roomful of happy, cake-eating married couples look on. It’s hurtful and humiliating to feel that, simply because I’m not in a relationship, somehow that means I have to be free entertainment at the reception.
I also think we need to re-focus our priorities as a faith community. Between weddings and church services, I’ve easily heard over 100 sermons about marriage. And yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 that it’s preferable to be single because single people can devote more time and energy to spreading the gospel. For unmarried members of the body, it seems like the church has glanced over that teaching, choosing instead to camp out in Ephesians 5 and similar passages that address marriage. I have yet to hear a sermon about how valuable and important singleness is; no church leader has encouraged me in my singleness. Instead, they have pushed me to “get out there” and date more. I think of Paul and wonder, Are you reading the same Bible I am? (The same goes for other areas of the church that can, often inadvertently, leave singles as an afterthought, like when the only prayer group for women is for moms.)
At the same time, it’s important for single people to acknowledge the negative emotions we experience around weddings, rather than trying to deny them. When we feel down, we need to choose to take those emotions to God instead of directing them at the bride and groom. If witnessing a wedding makes you think that God gives good gifts to everyone else but you, or if it makes you feel neglected, or if it reminds you of how weary you are from going it alone, take those things and lay them at God’s feet. Use the experience as an opportunity to tell God—and yourself—the truth about how you’re struggling. Use it as an opportunity to practice contentment.
We can also remember the point of attending a wedding: to witness and celebrate the union of two people we know and love. This couple has requested your presence to share and multiply their joy that day. Be gracious and selfless and kind by having a positive attitude, and by rejoicing with those who rejoice. It’s gracious for brides to consider how single women may be feeling at their ceremonies, but the focus of the day should be for them to celebrate their weddings, not to console their single friends. I don’t go to wedding receptions to be singled out, given leftover flowers, and prayed for.
We know that marriage is ultimately a metaphor for the ways in which Christ chose us, the church, as the object of his affection, commitment, and love. For the record, I’m not a big fan of taking the metaphor literally—like some of the girls I went to college with who planned “rotic” dates with Jesus (rotic = romantic without the “man”), as if he was their imaginary boyfriend. But weddings do have the power to remind us that even though we might not be married—now or ever—even the longest, happiest marriage is only a temporary hint of the eternal love Christ has for us.
As for me, eight years after I filled my hope chest, I moved to Connecticut for grad school. Living on shoestring budgets, my roommate and I ate off of Tupperware lids. One night, I was sitting on the empty kitchen floor eating dinner off of a plastic lid when it dawned on me that I had a chest filled with beautiful stemware, china, silverware, and linen napkins.
I said, “Forget this!”, went upstairs to my bedroom, and unpacked the chest. I still have those dishes, and to this day, whenever I eat off of one of the beautiful, delicate china plates, I’m reminded that, while I never dreamed I’d be 37 and single, I trust God when he says he has a future beyond what I could ask or imagine—and I trust that no matter what happens, whether I ever find a husband or not, God will meet me there.
Sarah Thebarge studied medicine at Yale School of Medicine and journalism at Columbia University. Her memoir, The Invisible Girls,was released in April 2013, and describes how a Somali refugee family helped her heal from her cancer experience.
This article was inspired by a recent post on her blog: “All the Single Ladies: The Wedding Trend that Has to Stop.”