I’ve been a legal adult for more than a decade now. However, as a single woman without children, in a church context I often feel relegated to a kind of pre-adult status. Don’t get me wrong: I’m perfectly willing to concede that there are quite likely unique life lessons and experiences involved in marriage and parenting that can’t be gained elsewhere, and I’m not out to downplay the value of those things. Nonetheless, I’d like to find a way to talk about adulthood which didn’t assume that it necessarily included those elements.
The thing is, I don’t see myself as being in some preparatory, not-yet-real phase of life where I’m simply passing the time while awaiting the possible arrival of a husband and children. Yes, I’d like for those things to happen. But I’m living a real life right now. I have challenges and problems and things I’m learning and opportunities and stresses. And it stings to hear comments about those who don’t yet know what life is about because they aren’t married or don’t have children. Likewise, I have no desire to be an object of pity. The truth is that my life is actually pretty good. I study something I love. I have some amazing friends (as well as a bunch of lively if not always completely sane siblings). Sure, there are things that are awfully hard at times, but that seems to be a fairly universal aspect of the human condition.
I’m currently watching several of my single friends struggle to stay active, ones who have far fewer doctrinal difficulties with the church than I do. I wonder what would make it easier. I’ve long been a bit jealous of the Catholic view that adults can follow a variety of legitimate spiritual paths, marriage being only one of them. As I said, I’m open to the possibility that some things can only be learned through marriage and raising a family. But I also think I’ve learned important things from my own life circumstances, perhaps things I wouldn’t have learned if my life had gone in another direction.
Talks to singles tend to go along these lines: “Marriage and children are the greatest of all blessings, and we have great compassion for your difficult state. Try not to feel too bad, though, because God will fix it all in the next life.” And while I know it’s well-meant, I’m rather tired of hearing about singleness as some kind of tragic affliction to be endured and single adults (women in particular) as victims in need of sympathy. (In many ways I think single men have it even worse, as they are more likely to be blamed than to be pitied.) It’s difficult to remain in an organization that sometimes seems to see your very existence as a kind of problem in need of explanation. I would far rather hear something like, “You have a unique and valuable perspective on life, and we hope you’ll bring it to the table.” As much as anything, I simply want to feel that I too have something to contribute.
I honestly don’t mind that the church places a lot of emphasis on families and parenting; I think they’re tremendously important. But ultimately I think our focus should be on becoming better Christians, in whatever life situations we might find ourselves. And in that endeavor, I don’t think that any particular group of people can claim a privileged position or inherently greater insight; surely we all have much to learn from each other.