Things Single Christians Wish You Knew: You Can't Talk About It
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Back in the early days of the mob, when La Cosa Nostra was formed, they had a code of silence called the Omerta. Adopted from the south of Italy, it was a code of honour and silence. It meant that men could be men, that no one snitched and that everyone knew the consequences for those who did.
The Omerta was, in large part, responsible for the success of the mob in Italy and the US, and it's Omerta style principles have been coopted by other criminal enterprises and terrorist organisations around the word.
At its heart, the Omerta was one of the things that gave the mob its strength. Yet it was also one of the things that perpetuated a message into that culture of "you don't talk about certain things."
So how does one of the foundational pillars of the mob apply when it comes to singleness?
Well, whilst none of us are going to wake.up with a horse's head in our beds for talking about the issue of singleness, there is still a culture of silence when it comes to singleness. Much like the Mob don't discuss (to quote Tony Soprano) "this thing of ours," nor do single Christians. We don't discuss this thing of ours.
And much like the consequences of breaking the Mafia code of silence, there are consequences, very real ones, for talking about singleness in Christian Culture.
The ugly truth single Christians need to know
Let's acknowledge an uncomfortable truth.
When a lot of single Christians talk about singleness, they can be a bit much. Single Christians sometimes have a flair for the dramatic.
Remember that bit in Bridget Jones where she's in the car singing "All By Myself?" That's what a conversation with a single Christian can often be like, except without the crap film.
Even I find it a bit much sometimes, and I'm the one writing a series of articles on it!
Yes, single Christians are frequently juggling a lot of hurts and uncertainty, but sometimes talking to a single Christian about this issue can be like preparing for battle. We don our battle gear, arm ourselves with our spiritual AKs and brace ourselves for the bombardment to come. Even knowing that single Christians can be a bit much often doesn't prepare you for the almost projectile-like artillery bombardments these discussions around singleness can often turn into.
And a lot of single Christians can be very one note.
Literally, all they talk about is singleness.
And because of that, a culture of silence develops because we go out of our way to avoid these conversations. Whether we admit it or not, none of us want to be stuck with someone who does nothing but rabbit on about the same thing over and over to the exclusion of all else.
It's a bit like that friend we've got whose identity is their job, it's a bit awkward when that's all they talk about. We love them to bits, but sometimes we'd love them just to shut up and change the record instead of yet another 25 minute monologue about how much they hurt.
No wonder people shy away from these conversations.
So part of what builds a culture of silence is a resistance to get into these conversations. I sometimes feel that people are reluctant to enter a conversation about singleness with a person who is long term single because it is the Christian equivalent of opening Pandora's box.
All the misery and bad stuff comes rushing out, and we miss the hope at the end. It's easier to keep the box closed.
Sometimes our default strategy is avoidance of this issue, which causes there to be fewer opportunities to talk about the issue for single Christians. Which is kind of where this idea of a culture of silence comes from.
We don't talk about it because, when we do, it's like me in a pair of Primark skinny jeans.
It's far more awkward than we thought it would be
So what happens when we do talk about it?
Going back to our Omerta example, one need only look at the examples of Henry Hill, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, Joe Valachi or Frank Lucas. When someone talks, all the crap comes out, and people get caught in the crossfire.
When it comes to the mob, the crossfire means people get hurt or killed.
When it comes to talking about singleness, often the wounds caused by the crossfire are emotional.
Often these discussions around singleness, when they happen, can be ridiculously intense. And I think part of the reason discussions with single people around singleness can be so intense is because of our avoidance tendencies. And it's that intensity that causes such a big fallout emotionally when it does often get talked about.
I think, and my personal experience on both sides of the fence, is that many single people just don't have an outlet for their feelings because of our culture's avoidance tendency with this issue.
So when single Christians are presented with the opportunity to have one of these conversations, almost everything has to come out. The conversations around singleness are almost like a laxative for emotional constipation, all the crap just comes bursting right out.
My experience of talking about singleness, from being on both sides of the fence, is that it goes into one of three camps, but almost every conversation about being single is unhelpful in some way, because the single person hasn't found what they're looking for.
Some conversations are helpful but surface deep. These are the majority of the ones single people have but they are littered with platitudes. Platitudes are things like "there's someone for everyone," "it'll happen when you least expect it," and other such pleasant soundbites. They sound lovely and they're designed to be encouraging, but are they really helpful? I feel that the reality is this is often what people say when they don't know what to say. These sorts of things sound lovely but often come out of a place of Christians engaging in default encouragement because they don't know what to say.
This isn't to say there is anything wrong with this kind of conversation, but it is like putting a plaster on a stab wound. It might cover it for a bit, but what the single person is in need of is healing, not a temporary fix to take their mind off it.
Some conversations are more difficult because they frequently take a more aggressive turn. They can become littered with condemnation and condemnation is a difficult one with singleness because these are harsh words spoken into a place of pain. Generally it comes in the shape of "you should," or "you shouldn't." You should lose weight, you should focus on yourself. You shouldn't talk about this publicly. You shouldn't be so obsessed with this. It's often intended as direction but it can come out of a place of frustration, often at having the same conversation for the umpteenth time.
Again, there is something to be said for direction and correction,but when it comes to how we engage with single people, we need to be so careful of the heart behind it. Because, often the heart we have can be rooted in frustration. And when frustration speaks into pain, the results are never good.
I think, perhaps the most frustrating and damaging conversations single christians can have are with other single christians. As mentioned previously, each single Christian has, whether they'd acknowledge it or admit it, their bitter brigade. Their brotherhood of brokenness. Their sisterhood of failure. Every single Christian has a group of like minded single Christians they can go and have a moan at.
Often the basis for a lot of these inter-singles conversations is one-upmanship. We all have that one guy in our lives. They have to outdo everything. If you had a big dog, they'd have a bigger one. Believe it or not single Christians do this to each other. You talk about how you're feeling, inevitably you get "how do you think I feel?" Or "well my issue is..." They shut conversation down to make themselves the center of attention or the focus of the conversation. This leaves a lot of single Christians feeling frustrated when they can talk this stuff out, because they inevitably end up shouting over each other to make their voices heard. This self reinforcing fellowship of failure often doesn't lead anywhere except to mutually reinforcing bitterness and regret.
Mutually reinforcing bitterness and resentment does nothing but build more bitterness and resentment. It's like a really crap self fulfilling prophecy.
What I want you to notice is this. Not one person in any of these conversations is in a position to be built up or blessed. The single Christian runs into a brick wall of frustration or encounters anger or overwhelming bitterness. Those talking to the single Christian are often overwhelmed by what's being said and are asking before they think.
Much like when someone breaks the code of silence, lots of people are caught up in the fallout.
Breaking the silence
Because of this culture of silence, there can be consequences when we talk about this stuff.
I will be the first to admit that I have been a complete pain in the backside when it comes to talking about how I feel about being single. I have, in my desperation to make my voice heard in this culture of silence, caused a lot of hurts.
And for that, I'm sorry.
The problem is, when you do talk about this stuff, there is a price that is paid.
I've lost friends over this. Not through any fault of theirs, but because I've not been able to communicate this stuff well and maybe the conversations haven't gone well.
It's caused me reputational damage. I've always been known as the loud, gobby bloke who is very blunt. But there are social circles I'd love to be part of that I've alienated myself from. There are couples I'd love to get to know but they keep their distance because of how awkward it has been.
It's caused me emotional damage because, as an external processor, I have an inherent need to talk about this stuff. Yet I'm not in a position to outside of articles. So what do I do? I either bite the bullet and pretend it's all good, or am I open and risk the stigma?
The male perspective
This is particularly worrying as a guy. In a time when we tell fellas that they should open up about their feelings and telling people we have a culture mired in toxic masculinity. Given that we are encouraging men to open up, how does this apply to Christianity's culture of silence around singleness?
I genuinely feel that, as a bloke, I am often not allowed to feel sad when it comes to this issue because it's so uncomfortable to talk about. There is such a stigma around opening up about the pain of singleness, and there is an additional stigma about men opening up, it's like having the words to save the world, but it feels like no one wants to listen.
That sadness, if it isn't processed, will manifest in other ways. Anger. Aggression. Frustration. Self harm.
If this stuff isn't transformed it will be transmitted.
Men need to be able to talk about this stuff.
Surely there is a better way?
What we need is a new paradigm to talk about being single. Clear rules and clear expectations. That's the only way we can allow single Christians to talk about this stuff.
The benefits of being able to talk about it are
It normalizes singleness. One thing many Christians don't get is that single people feel like the odd one out. In a culture that elevates the status of marriage and kids to the apex of existence, we constantly feel like we are missing the mark. By removing this culture of silence, by opening up a dialogue that amounts to more than “think about it differently,” then we begin to normalize it.
It reduces the stigma around singleness. I often feel like I don’t fit. I wish I did fit better, but the very fact I don’t fit makes me able to do what I do. But sometimes, I feel a bit stigmatized by the fact that I am unmarried at my age. I genuinely wonder if people ask “what’s wrong with him?” or “there must be something not right there.” Being single and not being able to process this stuff means we internalize a stigma that may not be there.
Talking about singleness decreases isolation. In a culture which says we often can’t talk about this stuff openly, it’s incredibly isolating. When we say no man is an island, surely that needs to apply here? When single people can be open and vulnerable, it lets us know that people care.
Ultimately, the ability to open up about singleness is going to save lives. I am very lucky in that I have a couple of amazing mates I can talk to and I have this platform. Many others are not so lucky. Many single people are incredibly isolated and cut off from the world. And they are losing their lives. They are dying emotionally, relationally, spiritually and eventually some will die physically.
Clearly, what we do now doesn't work, so why don't we try something new?
Single Christians. Maybe we need to realize that the person you're talking to probably can't fix your singleness with the wave of a hand. They should try and help if God leads them to, but they probably don't magically have a wand to wave to provide a husband or a wife. That stuff doesn't happen outside of Hollywood or Netflix. That person we're talking to probably doesn't have the solution or a quick fix, so maybe let's stop talking to them about it with the expectation that they can fix it.
In addition, maybe we need to realize the world is bigger than our singleness. We need to recognise that when singleness becomes the lens through which we view the world and through which we view God, then we end up with an incredibly distorted perspective.
Non Single Christians: We need to be far better prepared to allow people to talk about this stuff, because it's harmful not to encourage this discussion. It's uncomfortable, but we've all been through it. People need to be able to explore their feelings and hurts and some of us need help to process them. But know your own limits. Set boundaries, set expectations. Hell, set a time limit.
Whatever happens. We need to do better.
All of us.
We all do.
We all need to do better.