A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Discretionary Singleness

I was thinking recently about how people often discuss the issue of singleness. Perhaps we are missing something in the way we categorize the unmarried. We usually talk about "singles by choice" or "singles by circumstance." But what do these categories convey? The first implies a group of people who embrace singleness as a preferred status, perhaps with enthusiasm. The second group implies those who would marry if they could but circumstances beyond their control prevent them from doing so. But I think a lot of single people, if not most of them, fall into a third category. They can be identified as follows:

1. They would very much like to get married (unlike "singles by choice").
2. They have had opportunities to get married (unlike "singles by circumstance").
3. However, they have passed up opportunities because of circumstances they deem to be unfavorable.

In other words, their singleness is due to an exercise of judgment (discretion). Many of us have probably said "no" to a lot of potential mates. Maybe we could have been happily married to any one of these mates, but we can't be sure in every case. Also we must consider that some people don't feel ready at a given moment to pursue marriage, although in reality, they might be ready enough. Given that bad marriages are worse than not getting married, sometimes doing nothing seems like the best thing. In short, a lot of judgment calls are made. Do we hold our cards or fold? One can pray about it and seek godly counsel, but at the end of the day, we make choices. We hedge. All the pious platitudes of the "gift of singleness" crowd or the marriage mandators are of little comfort to singles in the dirty trenches of agonizing over decisions.

So how should we treat singles who are not married because of judgment calls they have made? I have a few recommendations. First, we shouldn't belittle them for their singleness. We should not treat them as "incomplete" or as second-class citizens in a church. We should not treat them as asexual eunuchs, either; they have honorable desires that need to be acknowledged. Finally, we shouldn't force these singles to get married, but we should help them get happily married--if that's what they want. If we take these matters to heart, a lot of nonsense and ill-feelings generated in discussions about single people will probably fall by the wayside.


kevin said...

If you have a chance, read "The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Money Sex and Power" by Foster. He discusses this issue.

Anonymous said...

Rock on.