The first of my guest series – ‘The Grass is Greener’ – is by Pearl. Pearl writes a regular newsletter on relationships, dating and other 21st century romance-type issues. If you’d like to sign up to receive these newsletters to your inbox, you can do so here.
Five months ago, the seemingly impossible happened: I got engaged.
For someone as perpetually single as I was, the person who was most surprised by this turn of events was me. My previous relationships had been a rough assortment of one-way streets, dead-ends and hastily-performed three point turns (and here my driving metaphors end).
People often say that you’ll value your single years once you’re in a relationship. Personally, I always thought this was bull****, perpetuated by married people who had forgotten (or never experienced) the stress of going on a date with a person you’ve never met before, and accidentally blurting out, “So what is really wrong with incest exactly?!”
I always wondered why second dates were such a rare thing.
But the ominous undertones of their wisdom withstanding, I wish I’d actually listened to those people. Because now I’m engaged and as much as I love my fiancé, I really wish I’d made less of a hash of my single years.
This regret is sharper because in the six months before I met the man I’m going to marry, I had started to experience a revelation about singleness. Increasingly, we’re caught between a sex-obsessed secular worldview and a marriage-obsessed Christian one. To see both as dangerous extremes and opt out – to forge your own path – requires a bravery which I was only beginning to imagine I possessed. There was a hint of limitlessness there – a sense that with no partner to answer to, I could go anywhere and do anything, and what might that look like, which never fully got answered while I was single.
I was beginning to see that the choice to be single was in fact – cue favourite liberal-arts graduate word here – subversive. And I liked subversive. Subversive was something that I wanted to identify with.
To be honest, I liked the fact that a pro-single stance was different, not so “status quo”. I blissfully imagined that people who got married were less free-thinking, less imaginative, and just a little bit too conventional, you know? Marriage just seemed too mediocre.
Basically, I was simultaneously having a life-changing revelation and being a prejudiced idiot.
But I hope you can now see my dilemma in getting engaged, having held this point of view. Meeting someone who made me change my mind about dating, relationships and #goals was a humbling experience.
I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to matrimony, but I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t had some moments of quiet regret or outright panic at the “formerly-ness” of my single status – not because of the man I’m marrying, but because of the life I’m leaving; the sobriety of what I’m participating in. The fact that I am actually maybe becoming PART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT and will maybe take up gardening. I mean, anything is clearly possible now, right?
I wish I’d had more of a chance to explore the unique and subversive side of singleness. I wish I’d spent more time thinking and scheming of all the amazing things I could do and be, instead of worrying about guys who couldn’t commit, or wouldn’t text back.
But I also know that I have to leave behind that regret, and find a new way. Joseph Campbell, the famous writer on mythology, once wrote: “Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.”
The thing is, my marriage doesn’t have to look exactly like anyone else’s. Just as in choosing singleness we can choose to create a different path, so we can choose to do relationships our way.
That might not look like anything crazily different on the outside, but I think we need to live lives that are constantly challenging the assumptions and prejudices which lace our conceptions of relationships within the Church (including my former, charming, marriage = mediocre conventionality equation).* The thing is, my ungracious assumptions about marriage were ignorant and damaging – as ignorant and damaging as the attitude that all singles must be champing at the bit to get married.
So here’s my soapbox manifesto: I really, really want to see people thriving in their singleness, and recognising it as the opportunity it is, to say something different to the stories that we’re constantly being told by the Church or media.
And I really, really want to see people thriving in their marriages: which I think, includes letting people be free to choose what that marriage looks like – for me, I would love to see the stories that we tell about Christian marriage saying something different to the prevailing narratives of our time: to be hope-filled, servant-hearted, truly committed.
So, that’s what I’m going to do, as I stand at this crossing between singleness and marriage: I’m going to endeavour to bring some of the subversive, trouble-making potential of that singleness gene into our marriage, rather than leaving it back there, half-developed, with my single life. I’m going to choose – we’re going to choose (old habits die hard!) – our own path.
*Just to clarify, I’m not making a political or ethical statement here. The assumptions and prejudices I’m referring to are basically those which assume the default and desirable position for everyone is marriage, and relegate singleness to a secondary state. That assumption forms the foundation for a myriad of other wrong-headed behaviours and beliefs within the Church and seriously undermines people’s identity, potential and agency. As you can tell, this gets me worked up.