I like being the only single columnist at Prodigal for the moment, because it means that I have a corner on the dating advice market. Unfortunately, you all have to listen to what I say, because I’m the Dating Expert! (Note to Editors: When does my Expert raise kick in? Editors? Anyone?)
Perhaps no other topic captures the attention of twenty-somethings more than dating stories, relationship how-tos, and opinions on coffee dates vs. dinner dates vs. study breaks. I don’t think this is necessarily bad. Our twenties and thirties are a time of significant decisions, all of them involving relationships. We’re making big choices about our selves, coworkers, roommates, family, friends, neighbors, and significant others. I know I’m more likely to make better decisions in all of these areas after talking with and listening to those who know me best and want the best for me.
But then there are those times when you get cornered at an extended family reunion or a work party or after church and someone says, “You’re so (handsome, nice, smart, spiritual, great with kids, good at cooking, whatever), why aren’t you married?
Have you been ambushed by that one recently?
I think those backhanded compliments are particularly grating because they take something genuine about you and reduce it to a commodity. They imply that we’re not valuable in our own, only in pairs. They assume that I’m miserable because I’m not married.
In an attempt to prepare a wittier comeback in these situations, I’ve written down a few of the reasons why I’m not married:
- I didn’t learn to flirt til I was 24
- I have trouble being vulnerable
- I’m really picky
- I’m highly independent
- Everyone in my generation Kissed Dating Goodbye
- I weave the merits of the Harry Potter series into most conversations
- The other Emily Maynard won that reality TV dating show
- I own fifty-four pairs of shoes… (Yeah. Fifty-four).
Then I found myself listing some more substantial insights on this topic. And what sort of Dating Expert would I be if I didn’t share my discoveries? Here are three legitimate reasons why I, Emily Maynard, am not married:
I don’t think marriage is a prize for being awesome.
Isn’t it funny how there are basically no qualifications for marriage? There are traditionally attractive people who get married. There are socially unkempt people who get married. There are world class communicators who get married. There are people with terrible people skills who get married. You can’t use a magical combination of good character and charm and grilling prowess to create Mrs. Right out of thin air.
Good communication, grace, and a lot of prayer might help you to stay married, but you can’t earn a beloved through good behavior.
Relationships aren’t a reward for living the right type of life, they’re your whole life.
And they aren’t in some video game hierarchy where you work your way up to Romance because you’ve conquered the Colleague and Friend and Sibling levels. Realizing this took some of the pressure off getting married and allows me to passionately live my life, whatever adventures and relationships it contains.
Being awesome does not directly cause the state of being married, so we can worry less and just, you know, be awesome for the sake of being awesome.
I value relationships, even if they don’t end in rings and vows.
While I’m still open to a giant lifetime commitment ceremony/feast/dance off party in my future, I don’t think that marriage is the ultimate goal of my life. And marriage isn’t even the ultimate goal of all my dating experiences. It’s a complicated connection because it’s hard to get married without dating, but that doesn’t mean that every date I go on is an interview for the future Mr. Speaking Up.
The best dates I’ve been on are about fun activities, learning someone’s story and telling yours, and making hilarious puns.
I’ve dated some truly intelligent, generous, funny, and high quality men. Each of those relationships has enriched my life, even if I didn’t end up with a giant rock on my hand. Some people will tell you to “date intentionally,” and I agree, but I think your intention should always be to enjoy, learn, grow, and honor every relationship in your life, not just to lock one down.
Once we understand that all relationships are valuable in their own way, it takes away the pressure of finding one and frees us to enjoy the unique challenges and beauty of every one.
I am kind of afraid of marriage.
Here’s where all those vulnerability issues kick into high gear.
Pledging yourself in complete partnership to another human is pretty scary. We’ve all seen marriages that end up exactly the opposite of what they hoped for and what we want: broken ends, terrible situations held together by apathy or dogma, and unexpected challenges. Some days it just seems easier to stay single than committing to something that has a record of ending poorly fifty percent of the time.
I’ve got a pretty great life:I’m building a career I love, I have fantastic family and friends, and I usually have enough cash left after meeting basic needs to add to my shoe pile. But when I think about what I really want my life to be built on, who I really want to be, and what drives my decisions, it’s always love, not fear.
Married or not, we will all be presented with opportunities to grow, change, and walk through tremendous challenges.
It’s foolish to think that I’ll never have to work through fear if I can just hold commitment at bay. Realizing this has helped me see that my real enemy isn’t marriage.
My real battle is against fear, and Love will win.
My married friends assure me that even once you’ve got the spouse question answered, it doesn’t stop the intrusive questions from people. The territory for awkward encounters just expands: ”Are you pregnant yet?” “When are you buying a house?” “Are you getting chubby from eating all those tacos?” “You’re pregnant again?”
So, maybe I’ll get married and maybe I won’t. Much of that is actually outside of my control. But I can build my value in God’s unwavering love for all humans, regardless of marital status. I can work on loving others well and treating all relationships with respect. I can choose to work through my fears willingly and patiently. And I can cultivate kind responses instead of biting retorts to awkward personal questions.
But please, don’t test me on that last one.
Speak up! What’s the most awkward question you’ve ever been asked? Have you asked someone an intrusive question in public? Why are or aren’t you married?
[photo: ashley.santiago, Creative Commons]