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Opinion: The myth of Mrs. or missing out

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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The scratching on the chalkboard stalled for a minute as my biology teacher offhandedly asked us — the unlucky sophomores who had biology fifth hour at South Christian High School — how many of us wanted to get married someday. The question might have been rhetorical, but most of the class raised their hands. The only fingers not waving in the air belonged to two boys in the back row … and me. Thus began five years of justifying that response.

My friends were scandalized and wanted answers, preferably in the form of charts, graphs, a peer-reviewed thesis and a PowerPoint for good measure. After finally assuring them that I was either just pulling an elaborate and bizarre prank on them, suffering from a secret head injury or lying to them because I was afraid I’d never find love, they began to joke relentlessly that I would be the first of our friends to get married. My mom reacted much like my friends did, only with 500 times the intensity. Their reactions are not without precedent.

Scroll through Calvin students’ Facebook newsfeeds during junior or senior year. Look at the pictures of couples frolicking in fields, facing each other, standing so close their noses touch, all with a large glittering diamond as the focal point. A couple posts down, a group of girls—the one in the middle sporting a long, white wedding gown—grin at the camera, hand outstretched to show her ring, and the caption reads, “mission accomplished.” As a 20-year-old in a conservative Christian community, I see weddings everywhere and the topic of marriage is unavoidable.

The assumption that all little girls have weddings on their minds stems from the assumption that everyone eventually wants to get married. In conservative communities, people tend to get married sooner rather than later: ages 20 to 23 seem to be optimal ages for matrimony for girls. (Tack on a couple years and you have the ideal for guys.)

The assumption, when it comes to single people in this community, is never that they want to be single forever. If one says, “I just need time to find myself,” or (gag) “I’m dating myself right now,” there is still an understanding that singleness is temporary. Finding a marriageable mate is still very much on the to-do list.

According to Pew Research, 57 percent of evangelical Protestant adults in Michigan are married, while 10 percent are divorced or separated, 9 percent are widowed and 5 percent live with a partner — leaving 19 percent who have never been married. A different survey conducted in 2012, also by Pew Research, found that roughly 25 percent of the American population as a whole has never been married. Based on trends, this number has almost certainly gone up in the last four years. Basically, all these numbers indicate that being a single adult in Evangelical circles is slightly less common than in the general population—and, to someone living in a CRC bubble, it seems far less acceptable as a life choice.

The stigma surrounding being an unmarried adult in a conservative community manifests in both unspoken ways and verbalized sympathy. When events at church are organized for exclusively single members, the hope is that two of these poor, lonely souls will find completion in each other. The older a single person becomes, the greater the pity and the larger the suspicion that something must be wrong with her. “She seems so sweet,” is said with more uncertainty each passing year, because if she truly was, wouldn’t someone have married her already?

In the years after I made that unintentionally dramatic proclamation in Intro to Biology, observing the attitudes toward single adults became akin to looking into a crystal ball at my future — which was sure to be full of pitying looks, condescending shoulder pats, and moderately insulting suggestions to “become the type of person I’d want to marry.”

As delightfully torturous as this sounds, I’d like an alternative. I’d like a choice. If I ever get married, I want to marry because of the person, not the institution. I want to be accepted as a complete person on my own, and if I ever do fall so deeply in love that making a life-long covenant seems like fun, I don’t want the speculation to be that I was secretly looking for a husband all along.

And I want this all here, in my CRC bubble.

It’d be far easier to find the acceptance I seek in a less conservative community. There are plenty of places in the country where I could be well into my thirties before anyone would think to question my marital goals. I could, as I heard it cleverly phrased, flee to the arms of the pagans and there find acceptance. But I’m greedy. I want it here.

Marriage doesn’t automatically equate with happiness, maturity or a life well lived. And neither does being single. Neither is better than the other. Neither is more supported by scripture. Neither has God’s stamp of approval as the-best-most-Christian-way-to-do-life.

Five years have passed since I kept my hands on my desk in response to a question I was unprepared to answer. Do I want to get married? Five years have passed and I still don’t know. Maybe someday I will. Maybe I won’t. Do I want to get married? I want acceptance, no matter my answer.

1 Comment

One Response to “Opinion: The myth of Mrs. or missing out”

  1. Amy Hiebel on October 15th, 2017 12:23 pm

    Well said! I did “fly into the arms of the pagans” to escape the CRC bubble and the archaic expectations that go with it. I spent my 20’s traveling and working abroad and when I decided to move back to the States, I chose Seattle, partly because it was about as far from Western Michigan as I could get. Lol! I always knew I wanted to get married, but didn’t want to feel pressured into conforming to that norm. I met and married my wonderful husband when we were was in our early 30’s and settled down to family life with two wonderful children. I am so glad I took my time, saw the world, and got to know myself. I applaud you wanting it both ways, and hope the community there can relax and give you the space to do your thing.

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