I went on the most amazing date last Friday night. Just kidding—I spent my weekend watching It Takes a Church, a game show that briefly appeared on the Game Show Network in 2014 and just last month got added to Netflix.
The show follows 16 different churches as they coax single members into relationships. Sitting in my living room with four friends, we gawked at this pious version of The Bachelorette. The plight of the solo churchgoer hit uncomfortably close to home for each of us. I cringed as plotting pastors ambushed unsuspecting singles in their pews—beckoning them in front of the cameras and into the throws of the dating world.
When the mothers on the show sighed about their daughters’ relationship woes, I wondered how my mom speaks about me in her church groups.
I’m as chronically single as they come, so it’s not surprising that I’ve had more than my fair share of unwanted attention in the church: women offering up photos of their sons, providing unsolicited reassurance and suggesting questions about my orientation.
When the matchmakers showcased their parade of single Christian men, I worried—not for the first time—that when my married counterparts at church look at me, all they see a half-finished puzzle.
Because that view of singles is wrong-headed, all too common and needs to stop.
Somehow I’ve managed to minimize the awkwardness of these experiences—even retelling the more comical stories to others, deflecting my frustrations with them. However, there are four types of statements that should just be off-limits when discussing the romantic lives of singles:
1. “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.”
There are many variations of this ill-advised encouragement. It sometimes ends with, “eventually,” “when you least expect it,” “you’ve just got to put yourself out there” or “when you stop looking.”
Sometimes it’s accompanied by some touching anecdote about a friend or relative who met his or her true love right when all hope seemed lost.
These comments aren’t constructive.
At best, when you make comments like this, you’re ruining credibility by feigning to know the future and assuming we won’t be legitimized in the Church until we’re married. At worst, you are sharing a false promise with us—a promise that God has not made and that He may not choose to fulfill.
When you tell single people not to worry, you are both assuming that we are worrying (and that all single people desire to be coupled) and you’re marginalizing any fears we may in fact have.
A more helpful way to support would be to help the singles in your church to avoid worrying about finding someone since God has a plan for our lives. You don’t know what that plan is—and your single friends don’t know what that plan is—but we “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Instead of reassuring us of promises that were never made, help your single friends set their sights on our sure hope of eternal life, which has been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Instead of talking about our future spouses as if you have already met them, remember that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14).
2. “You’re too awesome to be single.”
As a single person, we already have to work hard to reject society’s lie that human relationships validate our worth. When you tell us that we’re “too great for someone not to swoop up,” you reinforce the idea that a married Christian is better than a single Christian.
When you ask “How are you still single?” we then become obsessed with asking the same question. While you may be trying to convince us that we’re the ‘good ones,’ you are absentmindedly passing judgment on all of our other single counterparts and filling us with more self-doubt—when you pull out the yardstick of marital status, we have trouble turning down the temptation to see how we measure up.
Show your single friends their value and worth in being redeemed people of God. Point out our spiritual gifts, our strengths and ways in which we can grow.
The conversation of our merit can happen outside of the mention of marriage entirely. In fact, viewing our worth through the lens of marriage is a shallow vantage: through it, you can only see our worth as a partner to a spouse rather than as a follower of Jesus Christ.
3. “You’re so lucky.”
Resist the urge to over-compensate and attempt to make singleness sound like it’s a life-long party. But a ring doesn’t make a person better or worse in the eyes of God. Usually, your lauding of the bachelor life leaves us feeling patronized. Some of your single friends may be hurting with the pain of disappointment—of watching Instagram feeds fill up with wedding gowns and baby clothes and longing to share in such deep life experiences.
Empathize with your single friends instead. For your friends who long for marriage, offer prayers on their behalf. While we don’t need your help throwing a pity party, we do need real talk. We’re adults.
Treat your single friends as your equals, and recognize that our life experiences and challenges are just different.
4. “But don’t you want …”
Any time you’re assuming about the desires of someone else’s heart, you should probably just stop. I don’t even want someone presuming they know what I’d like from Chick-fil-A, let alone my five-year-plan.
When you ask, “But don’t you want to get married?” you’re making two uncomfortable suppositions. You’re making it sound as if the only thing standing in between us and a killer Bed, Bath and Beyond gift registry is our own sheer will.
Some of us really do desire spouses and children and grandchildren—but we can’t will a spouse into existence. Maybe we’ve even been heartbroken, and your questions just dig into the hurt of what we had already envisioned for ourselves and seen ripped away.
Others among the single ranks desire a different life than the one marriage allows. Maybe they feel called to ministry in a dangerous field. Maybe they are more focused on other aspects of their lives. There are plenty of valid reasons some of your friends may be less-than-inclined toward the altar.
Many Christians harmfully assume all other believers to want to marry, have children and send those kiddos off to church camp. There’s nothing wrong with desiring to build a family—but there’s also nothing wrong with choosing a different path, either
The most supportive thing you can do in the lives of your single friends is affirm God’s truths, which does not include replying to, “I’m single,” with “I’m sorry.” Helping change a cultural narrative that says your worth is in your relationship status is a daunting task, but don’t lose heart. It’s not all up to your effort alone.
A Netflix show set-up is not the set-up God designed for us. Still, the show has at one thing right: It takes a church.