(… or how not to have a conversation on marriage and family.)
For single millenials – catching up with people from a former church (or the church before that) can get a little awkward. I found that one out today. She’s a white-haired little old lady, she married into one of the more well-connected families in an extremely tiny town and her kids are all grown up with kids of their own. She owns the hardware store and has a few rental properties in the area. She’s the eldest at her church – which consists mostly of her relatives. For the year that I attended her church, our weekly interactions were limited to:
“Hi, how are you?”
“Well, I’ll be seeing you.”
“Have a good one.”
Then I pulled a disappearing act and stopped going to her church, wound up at another one and after a year, managed to disappear again. But now I find myself regularly interacting with the crowd from the first church. I had previously caught up with the matriarch either the week or the month before today’s exchange. Today, our conversation was something like this:
“Hi. Are you married yet?”
“Um, no. It just hasn’t quite worked out.”
“Your brother, is he married?”
“No, but he’s pretty busy with his job, he’s been impressing his bosses and about to …”
“It’s just you and him that’s not married?”
“Well, I have a sister … and she’s not married either.”
“None of you are married? At your age? Why I never!”
Maybe that last part is a bit of an exaggeration – but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that’s what she was thinking. Because somehow it’s totally logical for just anyone to meet someone, have a proper dating relationship, kick it up to a proper engagement, get married, and start the process of having kids in under a month and live happily ever after. Maybe it does happen for some people – but I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them.
It’s not the first interaction like that – and I doubt it will be the last. But it really bothers me that whether or not I’m married is far more important that how I’m doing and what I’m feeling about where I am at in life. In a Christianity that’s all about that ring on the finger – it’s tough to be singled out. I’m not sure that married people quite get what it’s like because for them the shoe will never be on the other food: “Why aren’t you single?” “Don’t you know it’s far better to be single than married?” “You can’t handle being on your own, can’t you?
Marriage, it seems, has become the default, where singleness is the ‘other’ that’s not as good as marriage, but definitely better than cohabitation or some other sinful state. I saw that when a conversation about gender roles had to be amended to “gender roles in marriage” – though the piece itself remained the same – men are only true men when they’re husbands and women are only true women when they’re wives. Which means that single people, both men and women, are non-persons so long as they remain unmarried. That’s why I left her denomination.
I wish the conversation would have gone differently.
Hi, how are you?
I’m alright. And you?
I’m doing fine. So are you enjoying your work?
Yes, immensely …
So, do you have any hobbies you’re pursing?
I’m taking up photography
Do you have any pets?
I have a dog – he’s a …
So can you believe the news?
Following any sports?
Are you enjoying the weather?
What springs to your mind when I say the word: marshmallow?
Are you reading any interesting books?
Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?
Something … anything. Just talk to me. If it helps, imagine that I’m married and have a proper number of kids who are all doing amazingly well. Imagine that we’ve covered that topic in it’s entirely and you’d like to learn something else about me that’s not about being married or having kids – you’d just ask it, right? If you have to borrow, a stuffed animal, a pile of note-cards and practice coming with questions that don’t amount to an inquisition of a persons’ marital status. The ones I provided earlier can easily be modified:
Are you following any sports?
Are you following any t.v. shows?
Are you following any singers?
Are you following any actors?
People are more than being married – and it’s long past time that you learned to meet them where they’re at and get to know them for who they are. If you don’t – then you deserve every awkward conversation and the occasional fed-up answer. If you don’t – then a whole lot of single people are going to get the message loud and clear that they’re not accepted in your circle, your church, your world so improperly unmarried.