Confession time. This year I gave in to curiosity (read: temptation) and sampled the countless Valentine’s Day Facebook posts. After catching myself internally petitioning authors to ease up on their advice to singles, I realized there are three realities often ignored—especially on Valentine’s Day. Allow me to drag them into the open. Why?
I’m not engaged or married; since my second divorce I’ve needed space and time as a single woman. Many Valentine’s posts consist of happily married women writing that even though they’re no longer single, they remember what it’s like. Sincere encouragement is often welcome, but let’s be honest: when I’m single I want to spend Valentine’s Day with other singles, not hearing from wives why all the waiting is worth it.
Married women, of all times to write to singles about their singleness, Valentine’s Day is one of the worst. Save the encouragement for a better time and carefully weigh if it’s truly useful. I’m open to being proved wrong, but I’ve yet to see a wife-writing-to-singles post remain tactful and respectful of a single’s intelligence (i.e. are you writing something as if it’s a great pearl of wisdom when we’ve heard it dozens of times?).
I’ve been married.
I’ve spent Valentine’s Day as a girlfriend, fiancée, wife, and divorcee, passing the holiday in nearly every possible relationship status. My perspective differs from both never-married singles and wives.
On behalf of my friends—singles of all classifications and experience—I present three requests writers of Valentine’s Day posts (or any post on singleness). Because of my more unusual experiences, you may respect my perspective or discount it, but please consider that not every post on singleness should end with an inspirational “keep following the rules; the wait is worth it!” What is meant as encouragement is often nothing but sloppy theology, not to mention condescending to a reader.
Stop trying to inspire singles by promising God will someday fulfill their desire for marriage, i.e. “it was worth every minute of the wait for this amazing bliss!”
God never promised any of us a spouse, as unpleasant as that reality can be to accept. Clearly he has planted within most of us a desire for the intimacy, companionship, and love found in a healthy marriage. But this desire’s existence doesn’t guarantee our yearning will be fulfilled, just as my desire for physical health doesn’t guarantee I’ll escape cancer.
We’ve all read the books and articles by wives assuring singles that God will bring them to their spouses at the perfect time. Maybe in an ideal world this would be true, but there’s a joker in the deck: we live in a fallen world. Senseless evil leaves children starving and their parents dying in car bombings. On a different level it’s at work in all of our lives. Sin touches everything. How could we expect it not to mark our search for a spouse?
Sometimes a single girl will “save herself” for her future husband (i.e. be one of the few who manage to avoid being sexually abused and abstain from consensual sex), marry, and have a good life. Wonderful! But for her to then try to encourage singles by saying God will fulfill their desires in his time is presumptuous, to say the least. Don’t play the Psalm 37:4 card. Next to Proverbs 4:23, it’s one of the most commonly misused verses to put on a Valentine’s post.
God doesn’t promise us blissful marriage. If we marry, he doesn’t promise that our husband won’t experience illness, grief, or trauma and dramatically change. We all know this. But the belief that God will fulfill desires because “he gave them to me” still lurks.
Stop hinting—or insisting—someone is single because they aren’t ready, their spouse isn’t ready, etc.
One piece I just read stated that those who are still single aren’t married so they can someday be better spouses. Are these singles-who-aren’t-ready more special (or cursed) than the couples who marry unprepared to nurture a healthy marriage? Why do some singles have to wait?
Those who never enjoy marriage—or marry but then divorce—don’t lack their heart’s desire just because they neglected some step on a mystical preparedness list.
Writers want to be helpful, but listing reasons for someone’s singleness is playing God. They could never know all the details involved. Sometimes even the single will never know why. Unless you are close enough to the situation to know significant details, any insight is limited. Perhaps marriage doesn’t occur because our world is fallen, not because someone failed to be a certain definition of prepared.
Stop implying or promising a single’s future bliss will erase current pain.
This is a classic, false-but-prevalent Christian promise of rewards if you save sex for marriage, and I cringe just typing it: if you’ve saved yourself physically for your future mate, it will all be worth it when you get married. To put it in less benign terms, don’t have sex (or if you were raised in my circles, don’t even kiss) before marriage, and your wedding night will be passion and the heights of bliss. Another promise impossible to prove is, “Don’t get married until you’re sure it’s the right person, and your marriage will last a lifetime.”
Don’t do X and you will get the coveted Y. But when we don’t do X and still don’t get Y, then what? I saved myself for my first husband and was divorced a few months later. Friends said, “You didn’t choose the right person. It wasn’t the right timing.” Hindsight is 20/20. Trust me, hearing others insist “I saw that coming” during one’s divorce proceedings inflicts deep wounds. Let’s be honest. This is what is really being communicated:
“Don’t do X or anything else that could end up causing heartache (whether you can see it then or not) and one day you will get Y. And if you don’t get Y, you did something wrong.”
What is this belief doing to our lives? We call marriage a gift but think a certain someone is wronged—or wrong—if they stay single. We save sex for marriage and feel cheated when married life isn’t unending fireworks. Forget living a pure life simply because God told us to.
None of us can perfectly solve the formula and reach the elusive Y. Our sin guarantees failure. God calls us to run the race of faith and guarantees it will be hard (Hebrews 12:1–12). Instead of promises for a future spouse, great sex, or anything else in Valentine’s Day posts, God promises “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
If his promise doesn’t appeal to us as much as our romantic fantasies, perhaps it’s time we all stopped reading and writing Valentine’s Day posts.