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understanding what it means to be single

2013 September 18
by j a n

In case you missed it, we are right in the middle of Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Psych Central has an excellent post about changing our understanding of what it means to be single. While a national singles week may seem slightly silly, consider: 44.1 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older in 2012 were unmarried. When a demographic representing half the population is generally marginalized or even ignored, a bit of consciousness-raising may be in order.

“We need it because we are shorted on the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married. We need it because there is housing discrimination and there are tax penalties and pay disparities linked to marital status.

“We need it because our educational institutions – those colleges and universities that should be at the leading edge of scholarship and critical thinking – have been just as smitten by the marital mythology as the rest of society. Those bastions of higher learning are filled with courses, degree programs, textbooks, journals, endowed chairs, research funding and all the other components of the intellectual industry that is the study of marriage.”

This is equally misrepresented by The Church. Just yesterday I received an email claiming that healthy marriages lead to healthy churches. This is a pretty good example of unnecessarily prioritizing marriage by overlooking a simple spiritual truth: healthy disciples (single or married) lead to healthy churches – and as a bonus – to healthy marriages. Yes, healthy marriages are important in the life of a church. You get them by growing committed disciples, married or not.

“We need it not just for the privileges and protections but also for the opportunities to give and to care. Because I am single and don’t have any children, no one can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for me if I fall ill…I also can’t take time off under the same Act to care for a person who is important to me, such as a sibling, a nephew, or a close friend.

“We are doing more than our share. In some significant ways, more of the work of holding together our networks, families, and communities, sustaining intergenerational ties, and caring for people who cannot care for themselves is done by single people than by married people.

“Follow the finger of married people as they point to an important person in their life and you will end up staring at a spouse. Follow the finger of a single person and you may find yourself gazing at a close friend or a sibling or cousin or a mentor or a neighbor.”

Dr. DePaulo’s post provides an insightful look at being single in today’s culture. Tomorrow I’ll try to complement that with a look at what it means to be single and a follower of Jesus in today’s Church.

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