Singles are staying single longer and longer. Advicers are dishing advice quicker and quicker.
If there is a favorite pastime among blogs, married people, self-help books and your engaged friend Chris who asked you to be in their wedding party, it is this: telling single people what to do. What to feel. How to date. If they’re even ready. Judgments drop meaner than your favorite dubstep song.
You get two streams of let-me-tell-you-what from your friendly neighborhood advice-givers:
1. Stay single. “It’s OK to be single.” “Don’t feel bad about being alone.” “You do you.” “Your life doesn’t begin when you get married.” “Stop looking for a spouse, and focus on being the right one.”
2. Don’t stay single. “How come you’re still single?” “Have you tried online dating?” “I have this really nice friend.” “You should stop being so picky.” “When I stopped looking for a spouse, that’s when I met Gwen.”
There isn’t a ton of critical thought that goes into it. But other people seem to love to tell single people how to exist. So, I thought it would be helpful to take some space to give you permission to feel a few things, no matter what your frustratingly beautiful and happily married friend/favorite blogger may say.
It’s OK to Hate Getting Advice.
You’ve probably picked up that vibe from me already. Just because someone tells you some opinionated something with rhetorical flair and conviction, that doesn’t mean it’s right, or needed, or even in the ballpark of what you need to hear.
Advice-givers often care (Proverbs 27:9). Advice isn’t bad per se (Proverbs 15:22). But more often than not, from-the-hip advice on singleness is less “wise guidance” (Prov. 20:18), and more “the mouths of fools pouring out folly” (Proverbs 15:2). So, it’s OK to feel that. You don’t have to accept all the judgments of others who don’t really know you.
I’m not saying don’t take advice. I’m saying sometimes it’s OK to not like the advice you get, and to not take it.
It’s OK to Want to Be Married.
In some Christian communities, among singles, there lurks a cynicism toward the desire to get married—a shaming cynicism. If you’re interested in finding a spouse, you’re creepy (male)/clingy (female).
Christians are famous for giving impossible dating advice: “Don’t be scared to ask her on a date, but don’t be weird” (male)/ “Say yes to coffee, but don’t think about your possible wedding” (female).
We guard ourselves against the cynical voice of our peers that says: “If you want something, you’re pathetic and unworthy of the thing you want.” It may not be vocalized in those terms, but those in college know the Christianized judgments and words that orbit around desire for a spouse: desperate, discontent, deserving, pitiful, unattractive—and Christians spiritualize all of those words to make them mean something more gravely diagnostic of being spiritually unwell.
Don’t believe the lie of the young Christian social elite—those too cool to want to get married. If you’re content being single, great. But if you really do want to be married, that’s OK too. “Let them marry” (1 Corinthians 7:36), Paul says. And Proverbs tells us, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22). It’s good to feel that truth in your soul. God delights in it.
If you meet someone and you are interested in them, tell them. If they think that’s weird, they’re weird.
It’s OK to Feel Awkward Around the Opposite Sex.
If you’re a guy and talking with a woman doesn’t feel like hanging with your bro, that’s OK. And if you’re a woman and talking with a guy doesn’t feel like a coffee date with your bestie, that’s OK too. It’s actually normal. Hollywood meet-cutes with naturally unscripted and eloquently delivered lines don’t really exist.
That awkward feeling between the sexes is natural. That feeling is meant to be a catalyst—in some cases, for romance. In others, as a deterrent from romance. Neither outcome delegitimizes the feeling itself. It’s just the way it is, and no theology or pep talk will ever make conversations between single men and women easier.
But what makes awkward dating interactions awkward? It’s the mixture of tension, expectation, desire, performance, witty banter and a pinch of nervous anxiety. None of those things are wrong or bad. The only comment we can make here is: don’t let anyone make any of these romantic ingredients a big spiritual issue. Some awkwardness is normal.
It’s OK to Not Be Attracted to Everyone.
Christians can make this a weird one. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). Yeah. But not that kind of love. We feel guilty for not being interested in someone romantically, when this, too, is perfectly normal.
This is another weird piece of advice that gets thrown out a lot: “Why aren’t you interested in them? My spouse does weirder stuff and I love them. That’s what marriage is: loving someone when it’s hard.” Yeah. But you’re not married to the people you date. And being less-than-attracted to someone doesn’t de facto mean you have impossible standards or a fundamental incapacity for a healthy loving relationship.
Without that basic sense of attraction, it’s hard for unique marriage love to grow. It’s reasonable. You’re allowed to want to be attracted to someone in order to date them.
At the end of the day, we’re all figuring out singleness and dating and romance one step at a time. There are standards to meet. There are real rights and wrongs. But things are rarely as black and white as advice-givers would have us feel.
Singleness and dating are part of a mostly uncharted journey—different for each of us, not chapters in a repeatable and resellable textbook. God “has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip” (Psalm 66:9). He cares for singles. He cares for daters. He cares for marrieds. And he cares for (and protects from) advice-givers. He gives grace to keep stepping out amidst judgment, awkwardness, rejection, bad advice and deep desire.
Paul Maxwell (@paulcmaxwell) is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. He writes more at his blog, paulcmaxwell.com, and pretends to like coffee.