By Caenisha Warren
There was a time when I was reading in Paul’s letter to the people at Philippi and dared to ponder what his words could mean for me. Paul writes “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11-14, NIV). Paul went on to explain this concept as having learned the secret of being content in any situation, whether fed or hungry, in plenty or want. Paul’s words challenged me to explore contentment as a discipline in my own life.
Recently, as I have re-considered the place of singleness in my life, I am finding a growing discomfort and discontent. I wasn’t the kid playing wedding in the backyard. In fact my friend was the one who was going to get married, have four or more kids; and I was the one who was going to have a small house in her backyard. Then I was a tween and not expected to be married any time soon. I went through a contentment phase in my twenties and this included singleness. But as a 20 something, it was still acceptable to be single.
I have had a share of relationships but always found a way back to being a contented single. However now I am finding unexpected bits of friction in my 30’s. As I have gotten older, yet still single, I have noticed differences about being single that seem harder to accept because of the social climate and structures I engage and encounter. The older that you are as a single person, the more complicated the social context is, as the orientation for my age group is towards couples or marriage.
Though I may be content as single, my social context around me does not relate to me as single anymore. My friends from school days are mostly married now and having babies within what is identified as advanced maternity age, which apparently includes myself. I work in Christian higher education where the culture of ring-by-spring finds its waves each year. I am the only single person on my staff, and that is between a collective of two departments. I have taken surveys or questionnaires whose category boxes are married or unmarried (uh…why does that have to be my only options?).
One aspect of my growing discomfort, is being resistant to advice about being single, or at least less open to advice, from those who are married– especially if they married at a younger age than I am. I remember last year’s blog post by Dr. Christena Cleveland on embracing single adults into the church, in which she references some of the complexities of being single. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to marriage and I am not unhappy single. I have good friends and confidants who support me in life. But my daily encounters increasingly do not reflect this part of who I am, and therefore I feel like I do not belong anymore. There are not many places where I have been taught that singleness is an expected or natural part of being older. Of course there are single older adults in this world, but I don’t see us recognized and given a prominent platform, especially in areas of community, work or even the church.
I value multiple perspectives. I couldn’t do reconciliation work without it. I do think that being single and being married and even being divorced as a single person, offers changes in our perspective that do not remain the same, even when we reflect back. And maybe in this wrestling place, I am actually growing to be discontent with being single. However, I would like to give thought to questions about singleness (especially above the age of 35) for the life of the community and the life of the church. How do we hear from all people and different perspectives? How do we minister towards all these perspectives? How are we contributing to a place where singleness can belong?