With the big 4-0 fast approaching, my prospects for getting married seem slimmer and slimmer. Not that there’s an age limit on marriage. In fact, a friend of my mom’s who is in her seventies recently found the second love of her life, moved out of state with her new husband, and now plays sports and travels on cruises.

I want to travel on cruises. With a husband. But for some reason, second love seems to come easier for older adults than first love.

Several wonderful single women I know, friends of mine who have become family, are facing the same dilemma I am. If God made Eve from Adam, than where’s the guy whose rib I am walking around with? Is marriage God’s design for everyone?

Yesterday, as I was driving home in the evening, I heard a story on NPR about a 30-something Egyptian writer whose blog turned book, I Want to Get Married, is soon to become a movie and a sitcom.
< Ghada Abdul-Aal began blogging in 2006 about her experiences with the Egyptian customs of being paired off. Known as gawwaz el-salonat, or living room marriages, life-long commitments are often entered into after one evening with a man in the company of both sets of parents.

But it’s more than just the family’s involvement in arranging marriages that Abdul-Aal bemoans. It’s the cultural pressure that marriage is the only alternative for young men and women, that’s it’s a sign of adulthood. In her NPR interview, commentator Deborah Amos explained.

The pressure comes because marriage is an important right of passage between adolescence and adulthood, says Cairo-based sociologist Ghada Barsoum. “It’s this whole issue of completeness. You’re not a complete person unless you’re married. It’s so different from the West.”

Or maybe not so different.

Every Sunday when I am worshiping in church, I feel a similar social pressure about marriage. There isn’t living-room match-making (though sometimes I think that might make the whole process easier). But there is the feeling that if God established marriage as part of creation order, then surely that design is for everyone.

One Sunday, when I was visiting another church out of town, the pastor went so far as to say that it was abnormal for women not to get married, since that’s the purpose God designed us for.

Sounds frighteningly similar to the conservative Egyptian culture Abdul-Aal writes about. In a 2008 BBC interview, she said about her I Want to Get Married blog:

Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her. To say she wants something is seen as impolite.

I am learning to find my way in a Christian culture that extols marriage and family to the extreme. I have a deeply connected group of other single women that I spend lots of time with, but I accept that in other situations I will be the only single person in the crowd. I have learned to sprinkle conversations about parenting with stories of my own about my nieces and nephews. And I pray for my married friends and their children. Being a family is hard.

But I also long for a different way. Not a way contrary to the Bible, but a way that moves beyond the stereotypes and fears that single and married people have about each other. A way that values cooking for one as much as homeschooling a family of five. A way that says maturity happens over time and through great difficulties, whether you live alone or share your bed with a mate.

One of my life’s dreams was to be the women sitting in the pew on Sunday, happily married with a two children by my side. But until that days comes (or maybe it never will), I would like to be the single woman sitting next to that family, feeling just as much a part of the faith community.

We’ve got a little ways to go. 

You might also be interested in some earlier posts on singleness and marriage:
Photo by Nono Fara, used by permission under the Creative Common License