You don’t have to look far to discover that there is an epidemic of women in their mid to late thirties (and fourties) in the body of Christ who have long wanted to be married and find a spouse, who are single. While it is true that there are often seasons in a single’s person life when they are content being single, and some single folks who know they are called to be single and never want to get married – others, particularly women, are really desperate to get married (as much as one is shamed in our culture for being – gasp – desperate) particularly as they watch biology’s clock ticking. I am unashamed to admit that I am one of them – as much as the culture would shame me for saying so.
Now by “desperate”, I don’t mean that I nor others are willing to marry anyone regardless of what he is about nor that we are somehow not totally in love with Jesus and set on knowing and serving Him above all else. But it does mean we know something important to us is not happening and we feel the pain of it. My friend Kate Hurley has blogged about this beautifully in blog posts such as this one. It’s hard to watch as one’s friends are on their third or fourth baby – or even when they are celebrating their own children graduating from high school, while you are still waiting patiently “on God” for your chance to get married and have maybe your first child. Not that single folk aren’t happy for their friends – they are – but as the years go on it becomes more and more evident that one is way out of synch with the human timeline.
There are a lot of things this epidemic can be blamed on:
* the ratio of males to females in the body of Christ is one reason;
* the small size of the generation born in the late seventies compared to the baby boom of the early 80’s is another
* and the “kiss dating goodbye” teachings of the 90s and early 2000’s where women were taught to never pursue or show interest in a man but just wait patiently is another.
And while individual women might have their own personal factors involved, I personally would add one factor that I think is keeping many people single needlessly: Western Christianity’s cultural embarrassment over “appearing too interested in finding a spouse.” That is, women who really want to be married who turn to their churches and ask for help or prayer are met with married people who seem embarrassed to be asked to help, and will quickly suggest to the person that they join a dating site. (Most single women are already on a dating site, or 4 or 5 of them.) Contrast this to most other Christian cultures or Jewish cultures or muslim cultures around the world, where the families and communities see it as a communal event to help match up people with one another when it’s time for people to start families. How great would it be when “loving your neighbor as yourself” begins to include the idea of helping that person meet other eligible singles? Western Christians are more apt to somewhat roll their eyes at single people and tell them, “When you’re not looking anymore, it will happen.”
But one thing I have recently seen is a slew of 35-39 year olds suddenly getting married, and it seems that they are getting married just in the nick of time. Now I have watched these marriages and I know that in our Christian mythology it looks like “faithfully waiting until you’re just about too old to safely have a baby is rewarded as God comes through just in the nick of time with helping people find a spouse.” That’s the way we tell ourselves that it’s all ok – that it’s no big deal that thousands and thousands of women are now just suddenly finding spouses in their mid-to-late thirties – it’s all about God. And now God has shown Himself to be the giver of good gifts, and the answerer of promises, and the one who makes people wait until having a child starts to become dangerous to start their families. One should not worry about this because population statistics on things like incidence of Down’s syndrome or other birth defects, or even things like low preterm birth weight just won’t matter to thousands and thousands of couples for whom God has finally given them their promised spouse at age 37, and God will skew statistics for all these families.
For many of these new families that will be true. After all, statistical probabilities are only about increased odds, and so many people WILL skirt those odds. Babies will be born healthy, normal, and then the only issue will be that parents will be dealing with becoming senior citizens right as their own children are graduating college.
But you know what? I think it’s a disaster. I rejoice for my friends who have suddenly had a last minute reprieve from their sentence of unwanted singlehood, but I hope someone is noticing the social disaster that is taking place all around us when singles are rejoicing to finally get married at 36 (to someone they barely know because now they are in a hurry) and have their first child with that person at at 37 or 38…if they were blessed/lucky enough to get pregnant easily at that age.
And then you have me, and some of my friends, for whom even THAT miracle has not happened. My own personal story was that I had my own miracle guy show up at age 35, proposed to me when I was 36, and then I lost my job and had nowhere to go but his couch (and this was not meant to be some shacking up thing – we had/have never even kissed on the lips.) Then, by 37, we broke off the engagement as we found some huge issues that made a marriage somewhat dubious – but we kept trying to fix/save our relationship so we could turn it into a marriage. And the older I got, the more I was in a quandry of “too old to stay with someone who isn’t marrying me” and “too old to give up the one guy who has shown interest in me to go back into a dating pool where I was already unsuccessful at finding someone for the past 20 years of my life.”
I’ve watched other friends make choices too. Some of them were “just in the nick of time” very good choices. Some of my single friends have made choices now to marry guys that I know they never would have even considered 10 years ago. Some of my friends have fallen away from the Lord, or they are still with him but in what most Christians would consider sinful sexual relationships with nonchristian guys. Some of them have had no choices, but continue to wait with desperation crying out in prayer to the Lord when the reality of their fertility years being over really hits them.
To be continued.
August 27, 2015 at 10:33 pm
I got married when I was 22, actually to a 28 year old (she is six and a half years older than me). I found it interesting that being from a Southern Christian culture I thought I was getting married at the right and correct age. My wife, from an Israeli secular culture and became a follower of Jesus, thought she was getting married too young and had to finish college, etc. I remember thinking after we knew each other two years, “Don’t you know your biological clock is ticking?” She knew I was the one, but wanted to wait, which I didn’t understand. What I realized is we had a cultural worldview clash, one eventually I won, and we are married today for 14 years. Most of her friends married at age 30-35. Most people in the Southern USA thought I was the right age to marry, when I moved to Israel, they asked me lots of questions about “why so young?” Some of those same people asking me that question are in the predicament you are talking about on this blog. That being said, from my own experience and those I watch, I think secular culture is alot to blame and it has seeped into the church. Nobody wants to be seen as a Bible thumper, and getting married young puts you in that category of that christian who hasn’t come into the times. Its time to start promoting young, but responsible, parent-guided marriages. I think when the parents don’t have a say-so it could lead to divorce in the future because of not investigating bad behaviour. However, we try to resolve this by self-investigation which needs more maturity than a usual 20 something with hormones has, which is why most people wait and this has created the self-making secular culture that has seeped into the church for earthly wisdom. The problem this creates are late and possibly no marriage, in a worse sense shacking up with people to find the right one in an attempt to self-investigate and getting in trouble (which can also lead to unwanted pregnancy, fast marriages, and divorce, as well as in the Christian worldview fornication). My view of how to solve this problem for our kids generation is be involved. Let them know and raise them despite what Disney tells them, that it is wise they have a say-so in their kid’s marriages. Let them feel safe with your decisions but still honouring theirs. Let it be a partnership between the kids and parents, not just either’s sole decision. I think you will then see a response to a modern view of seeking a partner where the kid has some choices, but partners with the parents for the investigation part of it and maturity test. You will then see more young marriages that through mature investigation may last longer, yet still honours the “falling in love” culture and attraction that could be the kids choice
August 28, 2015 at 4:20 pm
I have been coming to the same conclusion… Well said.
August 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm
I thought it was a very meaningful and well written article. My wife and I are both ‘in the nick of timers’, and I often remark that in the next life I will have to have a very frank chat with God about the experienced of delayed singleness (which on the whole was very much a negative one for me.) Like yourself I have often wondered about the reasons that push the process so late. I do think there does seem to be something very fundamentally wrong with what one may call our ‘romance theology’, which perhaps over-romanticises the notion for Christians, which leads off to our having unrealistic expectations. But honestly the subject still leaves me very much perplexed.
August 28, 2015 at 8:56 am
Very good observations Heather.
August 28, 2015 at 2:03 pm
I was 31 when I married. By then I was prepared to remain unmarried and childless. We were married a few years before our first child was born. I am so glad I waited. I have been a better wife, mother, and woman for waiting. I am so glad I was prepared to not marry rather than marry just snybody. I firmly believe never-married single is better than divorced-single. I don’t think it’s a disaster if people don’t marry. Neither did the apostle Paul. I don’t think it’s a disaster for people to marry and have kids in their 30s. The disaster is succumbing to societal pressures (friends, family, church) to marry any time.
August 28, 2015 at 5:05 pm
It’s not a disaster for people not to marry – if that’s what they are gifted and called to do. Paul said that “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” The norm for most people is to get married and have a family – family is God’s provision for most people – “He sets the solitary in families.” In general, friends and even a strong church community are not equipped to provide the same level of concern and care for an individual that a spouse and children and other family members do. If someone comes from a warm loving home where their parents are still alive, then being single as an older person may not seem so bad, because they can still go “back home” if trouble arises – if they lose a job, or have a major health problem. But the older one gets as a single, the more one finds that not having the security and love of a family can be a major issue.
I broke my foot two years ago – I couldn’t walk without crutches for 5 months. I couldn’t carry anything from the refrigerator or microwave to a table without help. My friends weren’t going to wait on me hand and foot for 5 months. One learns quickly that there is a reason for that “if one falls down, another helps him up” idea in being a couple – in being married.
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August 28, 2015 at 3:49 pm
Ronda, if you have mature Godly parents, I don’t think a bit of societal pressure along with help is wrong. Its worked for the Jewish people for years with matchmakers and most marriages did not end in divorce and were happy (because they made it happy). Not saying we should go back to the matchmaker model with 100% parent inolvement. But having some parental involvement and some church involvement doesn’t hurt. They can see things we don’t see at a younger age, and when we are able to see them and develop the maturity to see them at an older age it is often too late.
August 28, 2015 at 4:16 pm
Looking forward to the next installment!
August 30, 2015 at 5:56 am
If you want to discover your faults, Marry.
If you want to discover your virtues, Die.
August 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm
Certainly marriage is an iron-sharpening-iron situation 🙂
But I’m not sure I fully understand the aim of your commment?
August 30, 2015 at 4:55 pm
Marriage is a blessing from God and an opportunity to die to self. As a generalization, I suspect that very few of us really get to know ourselves outside of full time life-long committed relationship with another.
September 8, 2015 at 6:31 pm
“Some of my single friends have made choices now to marry guys that I know they never would have even considered 10 years ago.”
That says it all. They prioritized College, Career and (perhaps) Casual sex before marriage, and this is the result.
There is *nothing* in scripture that says God will give *anyone* the spouse that they think they deserve. And almost of the women I know think that they “deserve” better than what they ended up with.
Supply and demand, ladies, supply and demand…
September 8, 2015 at 8:46 pm
I don’t know how you got that out of that sentence. If, at forty years old, people give up doing what they’ve been doing for the past forty years (waiting for a mate) how can you now say, “AHA! They didn’t wait!” None of the girls I am thinking of put any of those things ahead of marriage. And, you talk about supply and demand – well – if you met these gals, you would seriously wonder how any girl so pretty, so pure, and so faithful could still be single. Or maybe you wouldn’t wonder, because you seem like the person who is ready to come up with any explanation in order to blame girls.
September 20, 2015 at 12:16 pm
I agree that this is a real issue. Sometimes we feel like it is even more so in countries like Brazil. We have one friend who waited faithfully until her late 30s. She then married a guy who was unfaithful to her. Another friend is in her 30s and wants to get married. We would like to find someone for her, but a lot of Brazilian guys are cheaters. Maybe it’s just my perception and it’s really the same in the US too, but it seems like there are a lot more quality, eligible bachelors in the US then here in Brazil!
I totally agree about helping friends who want to get married. I think part of the problem is the religious idea that is always saying “wait for the Lord’s time” or “wait for the one the Lord sends to you”. Yeah, there can be truth to waiting and not “settling” for someone is disrespects or devalues you. But I think because of fear, that gets really exaggerated.
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January 16, 2016 at 3:04 pm
Quiero, I think you really nailed it:
” totally agree about helping friends who want to get married. I think part of the problem is the religious idea that is always saying “wait for the Lord’s time” or “wait for the one the Lord sends to you”
April 14, 2016 at 7:22 am
Heather, this post is very timely, considering what I have noticed of late and my own situation. First, let me thank you for NOT blaming the men. I’ve read too many articles about this issue which simply blames the Christian men based on the faulty logic that – men are supposed to take the lead – marriages aren’t happening – therefore men aren’t taking the lead – therefore Christian men are to blame for the too few marriages. As we both know, there are other cultural factors that come into play.
I have noticed a lot of different things that contribute to this trend. You touched on Josh Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”. I can remember when I was a teenager in the late 90’s, early 00’s that the churches I attended had a very strong message of sexual purity. I think they swung the pendulum too far the opposite way and went into the territory of legalism. This was also a time when I saw churches putting stronger restrictions on dating in an attempt to maintain sexual purity. Unfortunately this removed pressure-free avenues to get to know members of the opposite sex. Dating had to be marriage-focused. This complicated the process so very very much that I’m sure it has contributed to the issue of late marriages.
I have definitely noticed that in some churches, the singles have a really strong sense of entitlement. They have a long, long list of things they demand in a spouse before even considering someone. They expect someone to accept them with all their flaws but won’t tolerate any in a potential spouse.
Here in Australia, we don’t seem to have such a male/female ratio issue as you mentioned you have in the US. However, looking for a Christian spouse tremendously narrows the field. It’s simply maths – lower numbers equals lower chances of finding someone suitable. As more people have left the faith, the numbers have gotten lower.
I’ve met more than one single who blames external circumstances for their singleness but once you spend a bit of time with them, it is clear the problem is internal.
Lastly, the doctrinal belief that “God will bring the right spouse at the right time.” Oftentimes this leads to inaction with singles leaving the job of finding a spouse in God’s hands. I like to bring up the example of looking for work. If you are looking for work, you don’t expect God to bring the right job at the right time with no effort on your part. You send cover letters, resumes and pound the pavement if necessary. Why does that wisdom work for job seeking but not for marriage?
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September 29, 2017 at 9:34 pm
This is a hot topic for me. In my case, a 35 years old and single by choice, find it annoying as hell when people around assume I’m single cause I set my bar up too high (btw, what if I do it? It’s my problem), or they’re constantly trying to arrange unrequested set ups with guys.
I think the great point of this article and furthermore the point of all this issue is that it’s great to have a real desire to get marry and ask for help if you really think you don’t want to wait for ever. But, same as when you don’t want it, like my case, it is a choice that should be honored and respected in both ways. And sadly in our christian culture being a nosy became somehow normalized and spiritualized as “trying to help”.