Natasha Bedingfield once sang: “Who doesn’t long for someone to hold, who knows how to love you without being told? Somebody tell me why I’m on my own, if there’s a soulmate for everyone?”
The iPod selects this beauty at the best times, like when I’m travelling home on the train with a meal for one, on Valentine’s day, for the umpteenth year in a row and surrounded by men in suits clutching bunches of flowers. Feeling flatter than a pancake, in desperate need of shoving a whole stack of said pancakes in my mouth, I’m at serious threat of heading home for a wallowing session.
Angry at these rise of feelings, I resolve stubbornly to not give in to the self-pitying, time-wasting, ‘wallow’ – complete with evil Ben and Jerry – that many single people do, particularly on Valentine’s day. I get on with being the sociable extrovert who enjoys and values friends, freedom and spontaneity that my single life offers.
Yet why am I battling a temptation to wallow at all? Have I swallowed too many lies from our sex-obsessed culture about my image and identity? Yes. Have I been sucked into believing in chickflick/ fairytale endings at times? Yes. But what concerns me here are the messages and false hopes that I am fed by a marriage-obsessed Church.
When smug-marrieds at my little sister’s wedding asked me when my turn would come, I imagined all sorts of Bridget Jones-type sarcastic retorts about biological ticking clocks or grabbing the nearest single guy.
In the Church, marriage is talked about and assumed from childhood. Parents try to match-make infants and big up the expectations of a proud wedding day. “You have all this to come when you get married and have children of your own,” type statements are rife. Told to hold out for “the one” or ” “wait for the right person,” while being comforted with the phrase “your Mr Right is out there somewhere”. All these comments, no matter how well intentioned, are as useful as a bikini in a blizzard when faced with the harsh reality that for many of us there may be no prince charming, wedding day or indeed wedding night coming at all.
The Church male/female ratio statistics are a bitter pill. As pointed out by the Engage coalition this week, figures show that 2.4 million women in the UK Church “face the difficult choice of choosing between being single and childless, or marrying a non-Christian”. More men are going for non-Christian women now too which only exacerbates the problem.
“It’s three women to one man you know – how are we supposed to deal with that?” “If it was switched around would the men be prepared to wait or live life as a single?” These are phrases I hear rather too many times in my single social circles. Short of suggesting ‘flirt to convert’ techniques or praying for more Godly men en masse, I do not have much to offer in reply.
Personally, I made a choice that I don’t want to date a non-Christian or indeed settle for someone who doesn’t allow me to flourish, so I could be faced with the choice of perpetual singleness or compromise. There was a moment recently that I was challenged to lay down expectations and assumptions that I had believed: “Are you prepared to follow Jesus wholeheartedly even if it means you may never get married?” was the question. Big gulp. I said: “yes”.
This decision is not something that, once chosen, means that it’s sorted – far from it. I’m faced with this choice again and again especially when batting unhelpful comments, heading to another wedding or on a date. It’s a decision to focus on the one that ultimately satisfies rather than pinning my hopes on a dream of a man (even if he turns up he will still be a mere man).
To believe the truth of who God says I am, rather than fall for the line that I’m half of a whole, is the constant challenge. To celebrate life, count my blessings and resist idolising the luscious green grass on the other side. It is well with my soul.