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Published Date: October 31, 1993

Published Date: October 31, 1993

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Being Single In A Couples’ World: Gender Roles, Identity, And Contentment

For many people today, singleness feels like an embarrassment, a reason for apology, a motivation for therapy. We are asked if we are “called” to singleness, but no one ever asks if one is “called” to marriage. We have to “deal with” singleness. No one ever talks about “dealing with” marriage, although all marriages are sometimes stressful experiences. We may be asked “Why are you single?” but no one would ever think to ask “Why are you married?”

Especially if we are single beyond a particular age — whether 25, 30, 35 — singleness may dominate our worries and our friends’ or family’s conversations. After a certain age, though — 40 or 45, maybe —people no longer dare mention it. Those of us who are single begin to question God’s provisions for us, to worry about our own attractiveness, or struggle to avoid even thinking about the issue, putting on a brave and unconcerned front. “God will provide,” we say, while secretly wondering if God will For too many of us, ending our singleness becomes a mark of our happiness, of our mental health.

Singleness, of course, is not an embarrassment, nor necessarily God’s “second best.” Indeed, for some, marriage may be “second best.” Singleness should not be viewed as a “holding stage,” even for those who would like to get married, nor should it be seen as some sort of “default mode” for those who choose not to seek a marriage partner. If we think about fellow Christians who feel called to serve God without a marriage partner for the duration of their life, is it appropriate to wonder if God — in calling them to life as a single person—is ignoring their best interests? Certainly not!

Singleness should be thought of not as a problem, but as a type of living with its own advantages and disadvantages, its own opportunities for service to God. The increased singleness in American society is a cultural and economic phenomenon characteristic of our society since the 1970s. Singleness needs to be viewed in this larger perspective so that we don’t individualize the issue unnecessarily and immediately fault ourselves for not having a marriage partner.

How can we foster a positive attitude about being single, whatever our long-term intentions about marriage? Let’s look at singleness in our society and consider some hurdles singles face.1

Why Are There So Many Singles?

One reason there are more singles now than in the generation of those in their 50s and 60s is that people are marrying later than ever before.2 Whereas in 1970, 9% of men and 6% of women between the ages of 30 and 34 had never been married, by 1988, 25% of men and 16% of women between these ages had never been married — a striking increase.3 Further, there are more divorced people in our society, people who need the support of the church. About one out of every three marriages in the late 1980s and the 1990s is expected to end in divorce.4

In terms of singles who have never been married, there are many reasons for the trend in delaying marriage. One of those is that there is less pressure to marry now than earlier.5 Earlier, one finished high school or college and got married. There were few other models for lifestyles. Today, when one finishes high school or college, both men and women often choose to live as singles. They find support groups, housing, consumer marketing targeted for older, affluent singles, and even church groups focusing exclusively on the interests of older singles.6

One of the key factors affecting the higher incidence of singles is that greater education is needed to participate in an increasingly technologically-oriented society.7 Men have always gone to school, but they are now in school longer. Women are pursuing college and graduate education in increasing numbers. In the late 1980s, in fact, women outnumbered men in high school, college, and master’s level programs.8 Going to school is stressful and increasingly expensive, so, although men and women do many during their school years, many people prefer to delay marriage, hoping to reduce the stress of school and in their first few years of marriage.

Today’s singles — especially women — have much more freedom than in earlier generations. For example, Ginger’s mother is turning 80. She was born in an era when there were few singles past their mid-20s, and women were particularly protected. Ginger, a Christian woman in her mid-30s, describes her mother’s views:

Mom periodically writes me to suggest that I not venture out at night alone, even though I live in a quiet, safe suburb. Imagine what life would be like for single women if we could not go out at night alone! In some places, of course, women should not go out alone at night, and the problem that many places are not safe for women at night is obviously a discredit to our society. Still, it is interesting to note that now, as opposed to earlier, we are making the assumption that women can experience the evening — if they want to — as well as the day. Since women purchase many more goods than men, if we still worked under the assumption that women don’t go out alone at night, clothing and food stores would close, at least during the evening hours, and malls would be empty. And, when would I see my friends? Yes, things have indeed changed.

This greater freedom provides men and (especially) women more choice than before about what we do with our lives, and with this greater choice also comes the responsibility to use that time in ways that honor and serve God. Also with the choice, however, comes anxiety about what to do to fill that time (particularly when we would most like to fill it in the company of a steady boyfriend or girlfriend).

Singles Are More Often Female

Think of the singles you know above the age of 30. Most of them are probably women, because women outnumber men at every age above the early thirties.9 Therefore, another reason for the delay in marriage (especially for women) is the lack of suitable mates.10

The baby boom (the surge in births during the years 1948-1964) explains some of this gender inequity. Because of the tendency of men to marry younger women, men now in their early 40s have had a large selection of marriage possibilities, while women now turning 40 — or soon to do so — have had a much smaller selection of older men. This difference continues through most years of the baby boom, evening out only in the population of young people now in their mid-20s.11

This “marriage squeeze”12 — with fewer men trying to select among more women, primarily because of the baby boom — has created a large population of singles whose character is markedly different from that of any other generation of singles: educated, independent yet strongly connected to peer support groups, relatively affluent, and mobile.13 Far from our image of single women as “old maids,” the women in this group are very appealing: bright, articulate singles, often fully involved in their community or with friends in various activities. Many of these women are Christians who love God and actively serve God in multiple relationships and activities.

Singleness Is More Than Dating

Unfortunately, for many of us, married or single, the central issue of singleness is marriage. Consult any book on singleness in your Christian bookstore. Almost all deal extensively with dating and all but a few highlight dating in the title, indicating that many of us view singleness as a way-station transitional to marriage. Once a single has passed the age of 25, the shorter the time in this transition, we feel, the better.

However, dating, when given too much priority, stunts the spiritual life and interpersonal relationships of the single person and may even interfere with the establishment of potential marital relationships. For some single people, the search for a mate may dominate their prayer life and conversational time with friends. If the single has a “significant relationship,” he or she may agonize: “Is this the one?” If there is no relationship in the offing, they may agonize over its absence.

Singles who are obsessed with marriage may fail to recognize their wholeness as human beings and to value adequately their satisfying relationships with their same or other-sex friends. A healthy view of our identity as Christians, however, is based on response to God’s calling regardless of our marital status. As one popular minister to young adults has said, “When you come before God’s judgment throne, the question you’re going to be asked is not ‘Were you married?’, but rather ‘How did you respond to My Son?’”14

Singles who are obsessed with dating relationships may be responding primarily to societal and church pressures. Singles who are not in a dating relationship — whether they actually crave such a relationship or don’t seem to care — seem aberrant to many persons. These short-sighted persons may question: “Can’t Sally/Joe get along with anyone?”, as if singleness is somehow wrong if it goes on too long, or they wonder: “Can’t s/he recognize a marriageable person when they see one?”, or they may even speculate about the person’s sexual orientation.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a relationship for oneself or for our close friends. But assuming that all singles hunger for a marital relationship, and zeroing in on that one aspect of them as a person, is to stereotype them unfairly and limit their options for relationship. Worrying that a friend’s search for a mate is “taking too long” may overlook their concern about choosing the right person. As one unmarried woman in her late 20s said, “My concern is not so much to get married soon, but to avoid getting divorced!”

Another big problem for dating is sex! Our society stresses the importance of instant gratification; advertisers tell us that we can go out and get whatever it is we need to make us happy. Self-restraint and patience are not valued in our contemporary culture. This emphasis on self-gratification transfers quickly to the sexual realm. A 1988 poll of approximately 1500 teenagers in conservative churches indicated that by age eighteen, 65 percent of youth had had sexual contact of some kind and 43 percent had had sexual intercourse.15 Older singles are subject to the same pressure to progress too fast sexually in a relationship.

Balance the physical aspects of a relationship with the psychological and spiritual ones. Physical and even emotional intimacy (inappropriate disclosures, or strong signals about interdependence) are not particularly healthy if the psychological and spiritual foundations of the relationship have not been firmly established.16 A couple needs to understand how they see themselves and God in the context of their Christianity before furthering their intimacy and physical affection.

Does the Church Minister Effectively to Singles?

The presence of a large group of single women and men in our society has validated singleness in society’s view to an unprecedented degree.17 Many people now delay marriage by choice, choosing flexibility, autonomy, and job progress to early marriage and child care. Indeed, when some choose to marry, they may even receive condolences from their single or married friends!

In the church, however, singleness does not have the same positive status. Most churches are strongly family-oriented, with programs focusing on every segment of the family, except the single person. A recent study by Barna Research of Christian churches in the U.S. noted:

[w]ith the recent upsurge in interest among church leaders in family-oriented ministry, it would be easy for many unmarried adults to receive the impression that they are the second-class citizens of the body. When we are asking these people to commit themselves to the church, it is imperative that the church itself return that kind of commitment to singles.18

When was the last time you heard a sermon with illustrations from the lives of singles over the age of 25? Yet married people frequently populate our sermons. Singles, when they are addressed, are described as separate, as if they don’t share the lives of the “rest of us.” One recent sermon focused on “the needs of singles,” as if singles share in common a large segment of their needs. Of course, the primary “need” discussed was for marriage, despite the multiple other everyday issues that confront many singles.

A recent study of singles in America suggested that singles have two primary needs: belonging, and having their individual needs and interests met. Half of the singles surveyed (53%) considered religion important in their lives. (The study included singles who attended church and those who did not, but the authors did not report how many singles were surveyed or how these singles were chosen.) These singles felt that the most important characteristics of a church were “making visitors feel welcome” and “having a strong young adults program.” Singles not in a church, when asked what would encourage them to attend, suggested sponsoring a musical concert or seminars open to the public.19

Loneliness may be the “bugaboo” of singles, a factor that churches should take into account as they seek to minister effectively to singles. Singles (especially divorced singles) experience more loneliness than marrieds, particularly than married men, although marrieds too can experience significant amounts of loneliness.20

Too many churches, rather than attempting to meet the particular needs and interests of singles, ask singles — who are expected to have “lots of free time” — to run the church’s nursery and Sunday school programs, on the assumption that singles wish they could spend more time with children. Some singles may want to spend time with children, but others don’t. The needs and priorities of singles are frequently not recognized or met by traditional church programs.

Some churches have developed “singles programs” to minister specifically to the needs and interests of singles. These are often helpful, providing Bible studies, weekend retreats, and evening activities for their participants. Toni, however, finds herself frustrated with the generic nature of these programs and often does not attend. “What do singles have in common?” she fumes. “You’d think that our ‘lack of a mate’ makes us somehow similar. What a put-down! I am who I am because of my interests and abilities, not because I ‘lack’ something. If my church had a group of skiers, or of movie buffs, or even of social workers, I’d go in a minute!” Too often, these needs for sharing with people with similar interests — needs typical of young adults — get met outside the church setting. Singles need churches which instill in them a sense of belonging and which minister to their individual needs and interests, listening to the details of their everyday lives, and giving them a sense that their lives have meaning (i.e., in serving God). The Barna Research concludes:

In the final analysis, the keys to reaching singles are enabling people to forge meaningful relationships within the Church structure, and feeling that the Church is a haven from judgment and rejection, offering instead valid solutions and wisdom in response to expanding external pressures and confusion. Many single adults are interested in spiritual asylum, not a hostile challenge to their very existence. Any institution that can offer them a better perspective on how to live, and offer assistance implementing that perspective, will gain their attention, if not their loyalty.21

Singleness as Connection

Many single men and women value their independence while equally valuing their connections with family, single friends, friends who are married without children, or friends married with children. One single Christian woman gave up an excellent job and a well-established niche with friends and in a church to move nearer her parents. “Since I have not established my own family yet,” she says, “my connections with my parents and brother are really important to me. I want to know my nephew and niece, and participate in their rearing. I know I can establish new friendships — and find a new job — but I need this sense of rootedness.” Married people can strengthen the sense of rootedness that many single people sometimes lack by remembering them on holidays, by celebrating their birthdays, or simply by offering them friendship.

Singleness Can and Should Be a Rich and Wholesome State

The quantity of singles in our contemporary society is the result of recent cultural phenomena, and these individuals have distinctive characteristics and interests far from the “bachelor”/“old maid” stereotypes. The feelings that some singles experience of embarrassment and despair are often the product of thoughtless remarks from friends or family who think of singles as odd (and uncommon in our culture) or as “losers.” Such perceptions, however, do not reflect reality.

First of all, singles are not a coherent group. The U.S. Census, for example, draws distinctions between the “never-marrieds,” the divorced, and the widowed, aware that each group has distinctive characteristics. Some singles are young; some old. Some are very active and outgoing; some are “hobbits,” preferring to stay home, wear comfortable clothes and eat whenever and whatever they want. Some wear the latest fads; others prefer dungarees. Some love children, while others love sports.

For some, singleness is a developmental phenomenon, eventually to end with marriage. For them, it is a stage of life which allows possibilities for growth and ministry that one will have at no other stage. For others, singleness is life-long, providing exceptional potential for a rich and meaningful life, for personal growth, and for service. Although all singles sometimes experience the loneliness and frustrations of singleness, they can also experience the flexibility, freedom and self-confidence that comes with healthy singleness.

Singles, particularly in the church, need to be validated by all of us as mature individuals, with their own strengths and contributions to make. Instead of giving them the place of “not yet married,” we should give them the recognition they deserve for their talents and characteristics as individuals. We should include them in our lives and activities because of who they are and what they can contribute.

For those who choose to serve God through the church or through their professional lives without a marriage partner, we need to affirm them in their pursuit of God’s calling. While celibacy is not an alternative for everyone, God provides strength and wisdom for us — whatever the circumstances — when we faithfully follow our calling. Freeing ourselves from our cultural stereotype that someone has to be married to be really an “okay” person is a vital aspect of affirming the various gifts and callings within the body of Christ.

Singleness and Gender Maturity

As singles consider how to glorify God in their personal and professional lives, it is important: 1) to focus on spiritual primacy (finding our core identity in Christ and seeking His call and completion in our lives), 2) to root our relationships in holiness (based on what Scripture teaches), and 3) to know when to flex and when to stand firm as the better way to glorify God in our changing society. The gender-role maturity and flexibility we need, both in terms of our own lives and in our relationships with others, does not imply anarchy. It does imply that gender roles change, to a degree, in our society, and that no one—man or woman — should be defined simply by “what they do.”

In our recent book, we propose a model helpful for singles: the identity-flexible model. The identity-flexible model suggests asking “How can I most creatively fulfill my potential in the effort to glorify God?”, rather than “What is the socially appropriate behavior for a single man or a woman?” With identity-flexibility, each man and woman is given the prerogative to explore his or her capabilities and callings within a community-oriented, dynamic covenant that compels them to honor and serve God and one another.

The gender-role maturity undergirding this flexibility means that we adapt different roles for our use as we seek Christ’s calling in our lives, not that we slavishly follow roles our society has handed down to us. Gender-role maturity is founded on respect (an admiration and affirmation of each gender’s unique strengths); responsibility (the obligation of men and women to assist in one another’s lives without domination and without becoming patronizing or subservient); tolerance (an acceptance, within a biblically acceptable range, of others who act in ways that we find unfamiliar); and flexibility (the grace and courage to modify old behaviors when we discover new ways to edify and improve our relationships).

First, singles deserve respect and tolerance. Singles differ widely from one another and have their own unique gifts and abilities. Accept their diversity. Get to know them as individuals well enough to recognize their strengths (see 1 Cor. 12:4-12 for an example).

Singles, on their part, need to be comfortable with flexibility and are called to responsibility. They need to be open to different ways God may use their abilities, regardless of their gender, and they need to be supportive of the ways God calls them and their friends to service.

In seeking how best to serve God, singles, in discussions with pastors and counselors, often report struggles with the following paradoxes: adaptability vs. structure, independence vs. dependence, and making commitments vs. maintaining distance.

Adaptability vs. Structure

Singles may need flexibility more than any other group of people, and many of those who end up in clinics and pastors’ offices asking for counseling are struggling with the transition to an identity-flexible lifestyle. Healthy single lifestyles blend flexibility with a level of structure comfortable for the individual.

Some people need more flexibility than others. If you prefer to structure your weekends, find a group of friends to do activities with, or join an exercise class. Make a list of people to call when you’re eager to do something. Most singles find they need to plan some activities ahead, such as going to the movies, the theater, craft shows, or apple picking. If you want to maintain relationships with married friends (indeed, all singles should have some close married friends, just as married people should maintain friendships with singles), you may need to structure time with them during the week, as weekends are more difficult for couples. We all stand to profit by relationships in the body of Christ with people who are different from us, whether the differences be age, race, gender, marital status, etc., and we should cultivate these relationships. Married people have a lot to offer singles, and vice versa.

Of course, there is such a thing as being too flexible. Be dependable. If you say you will go out with someone, don’t back out because a better offer comes along. For one thing, you’ll get nicknamed: “That’s ‘Susie I’ve-got-a-better-offer Smith.’ Every time she gets an invitation from a man, she drops her women friends.” People will see you as disloyal and desperate. (Your friends of the other sex may also look down on you.) It may seem an unfair reaction to you, but single people have feelings too.

If you are a woman, your female friends will not always agree that Joe Blow, whom you met on the ski slopes for ten minutes and seems the man of your dreams, is more important than they are when they have known you ten years.

If you are a male, don’t ignore your male buddies just because you’ve started to date the attractive woman you met at last month’s retreat. Backing out on plans is okay once in a while, but if you cancel plans regularly, then don’t reschedule get-togethers at your convenience — if you respect your friends and want to keep them. Allow them the same flexibility you demand.

Independence vs. Dependence

Sandra, a Christian woman in her mid-30s, reports a huge struggle with taking care of herself. She remembers:

My first major trauma was buying my second car. The first car was easy. I bought it with someone else, named it “Bernadette,” and she was a clunker. I’d stop at a gas station and, instead of the usual “Please fill it up and check the oil,” I’d embarrass myself with, “Fill up the oil and check the gas please.” Buying another car — alone — took me almost a year to do.

Jim, who is 28, reports:

I moved away from home for a while during college but later moved back while I was looking for work. I decided several years ago to stay partly because I’m still trying to find the job I want, and partly because if s comfortable here. I know that living with my parents cuts into my independence and my social life a lot, but I don’t see any way out at present.

What are singles waiting for? For Sandra, it was buying a car; for Jim, if s moving out of the family home. For you perhaps if starting a master’s degree or buying a condominium. Sometimes singles fear these activities as a symbol of independence, of beginning to “accept” singleness. Singles often need to learn responsibility. It is as if they think that taking charge of their own lives dooms them to singleness. Pay those bills; clean your apartment; see your doctor; fix the lock on the door; take off those jeans and put on more attractive clothes. Your life generally becomes more comfortable, satisfying, and rewarding when you begin to take responsibility for your life, and you feel better about yourself.

Another issue for singles may be going to parties alone. Some singles never seem to need to do this. They have an active group that meets all their social needs. But many people don’t have such a group. Unless we have a strong ego and a good sense of who we are, most of us would rather not go alone. Find someone to go with, or go alone, but just go. You will be surprised that doing so is not as uncomfortable as you thought, and you will find that every time you go somewhere alone, you become more comfortable about going the next time. No one respects someone who always has to have a man in tow, or a woman on his arm, to feel self-confident. Besides, the important aspect of going to a party is not with whom you’re seen — or whether you’re alone or not — but the relationships with your friends to enjoy at the gathering.

Many older singles struggle with the prospect of giving up independence if they begin developing a more intense relationship with another person. They have been on their own for a long time, and they enjoy it, make money at it, and surprise themselves by how well they can do. Giving all this up is not always easy, for any of a number of reasons.

You don’t have to give it all up. The key is mutual responsibility. Replace independence with interdependence. Each person in the relationship has something to offer, and each has needs. In a relationship, each can be dependent on the other, meeting their own needs and receiving support. Particularly in a romantic relationship, carefulness about intimacy is a reflection of our mutual responsibility and respect as we seek to edify one another and glorify God in our relationships.

Healthy relationships also need space, particularly among older singles. In this space, you can practice interests that the other may not share or simply have time to be alone.

In addition, mutual responsibility demands a willingness to become interdependent. To develop this quality, both people must be willing to be vulnerable. Indeed, mutual vulnerability is an important vehicle for the edification of the community of Christ (Gal. 6:2), and it is an important aspect of opposite-sex, as well as same-sex, relationships.

At the same time, you — as a healthy single — must be independent and willing to survive on your own. You should be willing to communicate this perception to the other person at the appropriate time and not be guilty of “stringing them along.” For singles of any age, being too dependent on our friends makes it harder to cope with singleness.

Mutual responsibility also requires honesty, and honesty demands that you know your own feelings and be willing to talk about them. Some guys have problems with a simple “I enjoyed the evening — Thank you” to a woman they’re not interested in seeing further. Instead of leaving it at that, they confuse her with “I’ll call you soon,” never intending to do so. Many women fear the possibility “He might want to sleep with me” so much that they communicate nervousness and dislike of the other person. Talk about your desires, for your own sake and that of the relationship.

Of course, honesty also demands tact. We all like to feel desirable and wanted. Egos ride on such a simple event as the movie Friday night. Be kind.

Commitments vs. Distance

It may seem odd, in discussing singleness, to talk about commitment. Yet singles — particularly women — seem determined to remain totally flexible, uncommitted to anything, whether house, car or friendship, until they have the prospect of a marriage relationship. They seem determined to keep their lives on “hold,” into their 30s and 40s. It is as if they believe that commitment closes off options, and one wants to have as many options as possible.

Responsible Christian living, however, demands that we make commitments. Be open to relationships with both males and females. Don’t assume that people who have a fantastic job are happy and have all the close friends they need, or that professionals have no social needs, or that those who are always cheerful and friendly actually feel that way. And don’t assume that people who seem undesirable have nothing to offer you (note Paul’s comment about this in Rom. 12:3).

Responsible Christian living normally calls us to be involved in our society (remember, even those called as monks or nuns are active participants in their communities!). Here are some suggestions for ways to pursue that involvement, involvement that will benefit both you as a single person and your community:

Cultivate interests. Don’t study all the time, or work all the time, or even go to church all the time. Do something interesting — ski, swim, juggle, tap dance…. It is often easier to meet people through your interests or through friends than through special groups designed for singles. Singles as a group of individuals are as diverse as the entire church population. When you are in a singles group, use your interests and find others who share them. Each of us who is single needs good friends more than we need dates. Cultivate relationships with people of all ages. You limit the richness of your life, and become prone to narcissism, when you limit your contacts. The Bible commends us to friendships (see John 15:13, Eph. 4:32; I John 4:7-8). The encouragement, nurturance, and accountability our friends provide us are key vehicles for our growth as people and as Christians (James 5:19-20, Heb. 3:13, Eph. 4:1-3; I Thess. 2:7-8).

There is nothing wrong with planning activities that are more likely to bring you in contact with members of the other sex, but be sure your activities include both males and females. Sharon recently decided to go on a “manhunt.” Literally. She and several women met and talked about how to locate good quality, marriageable Christian men. That’s a worthy goal but the wrong tactic. One can certainly plan events with a goodly number of the other gender invited as guests, but pursuing new friends primarily because of their gender is unbalanced.

If you are unhappy, and no one knows, tell someone. You can problem-solve together (see Gal. 6:2). If your particular need is to meet people in order to make more friends, tell the friend you trust, or those not-so-close-friends who seem to know lots of people.

Live towards tomorrow, while living in today. You may or may not be single as your life unfolds. But if you live now as if you are only marking time, you make for yourself a prison, a prison that prevents your experiencing the richness God provides, limits your potential for building relationships, and restricts your opportunities for growth and service. Experience Paul’s “freedom to serve” (Gal. 5:13). Break free from your prison and move out into the light of day. Live flexibly and responsibly. You will then draw others unto you, and truly experience what life in God’s service can offer. living out gender-role maturity in our lives may, indeed will, provide many challenges, if we are listening closely and responsibly to God’s calling. We should welcome such challenges as means to build up the body of Christ.

For Further Reading:

Fields, D., & T. Temple. Creative Dating. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1986. Humorous “do’s” and “don’ts” of asking someone out, descriptions of the world’s worst dates, and 49 ways to say “I love you.”

Holzmann, John. Dating With Integrity. Brentwood, Tenn.: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1990. This book presents a good examination of the differences between friendships and romances. The author discusses how each of these types of relationships can be developed and maintained.

Powell, John. The Secret of Staying in Love. Valencia, CA: Tabor, 1974. This book is a classic on love and self-esteem—loving others by loving ourselves.

Reed, B. Learn to Risk: Finding joy as a single adult. Grand Rapids, MI: Pyranee, 1990. “Forgive,” “let go,” and “reach out,” she challenges singles, encouraging wholeness that depends on becoming more open, honest and caring.

Rinehart, Stacy, and Paula Rinehart. Choices. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1982. This husband-and-wife team provide a nice examination of the importance of discretion, wisdom, and a sense of responsibility in dating relationships, well supported by Scripture.

Smith, Harold. Positively Single: Coming to terms with the single life. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986. Rather than singles feeling like losers because they can’t find a mate, Smith provides practical advice for living positively. His guidelines include suggestions for handling anxiety, change, relationships and ministry.

Stafford, Tim. Worth the Wait: Love, sex and keeping the dream. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988. Stafford provides good advice for younger singles, discussing why sex is so attractive, how to handle pressure towards sex, and how to find and accept forgiveness.

Trobisch, Walter. Love Is A Feeling To Be Learned. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy, 1971. This classic poem/ essay is wise and gentle, reminding us that love is both happiness and suffering, beauty and burden.


  1. Many of the ideas and stories in this article appear in the recent book Man and Woman. Along and Together (Victor Press, 1992), which we wrote together with Dr. Lance Lee.
  2. See Leonard Cargan and Matthew Melko, Singles: Myths and Realities (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1992) for evidence that the number of singles is increasing and J. Peter Stein, ed., Single Life: Unmarried Adults in Social Context (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1981) for an explanation of why. See also William Novak, The Great American Man Shortage—and Other Roadblocks to Romance (New York: Rawson Associates, 1983) for a discussion of gender differences in singleness.
  3. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 129a 110th ed. (Washington: Bureau of the Census, 1990).
  4. Jack Balswick and Judy Balswick, The Family A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989). pp. 260-262; and Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1991,111th ed. (Washington: Bureau of the Census, 1991), p. 62.
  5. J. Peter Stein, “The Never-Married: Introduction,” in Single Life: Unmarried Adults in Social Context, ed. J. Peter Stein (New York St. Martin’s Press, 1981).
  6. “Living Alone and Loving It,” U.S. News and World Report (August 1987): 52-60.
  7. See, e.g.. Stein, “The Never-Marrieds.”
  8. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 1990
  9. Statistical Abstract of the United States. 199?, H2th ed., Washington: Bureau of the Census, 1992), p. 14.
  10. Despite these differences, recent predictions are that 90 percent of individuals will many in their lifetime.
  11. Keith Bradsher, “For Every Five Young Women, Six Young Men,” New York Times. January 17, 1990, sec. CI, C10.
  12. Stein, “Never-Marrieds.”
  13. Christine Doudna with Fern McBride, “Where are the Men for the Women at the Top?” in Single life: Unmarried Adults in Social Context, ed. J. Peter Stein (New York St Martin’s Press, 1981).
  14. Attributed to Steven Haynor of InterVarsity Fellowship.
  15. Study Show Church Kinds Are Not Waiting,” Christianity Today (March 18,1988): 54-55.
  16. On these sexual ethics issues, see Howard Frost, “Purity and Passion: A Biblical Approach to Mutually Edifying Relationships, Priscilla Papers (Summer 1991).
  17. Cargan and Mielko, Singles: Myths and Realities.
  18. Barna Research Group, Single Adults in America (Glendale CA: Bama Research Group, 1987), p. 77.
  19. Ibid. pp. 40-43.
  20. Stein, op. cit.
  21. Barna Research Group, op. cit., p. 79.
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