I have to revisit this question, “Why are you still single?” because it perpetuates so strongly most of what I believe is wrong with our perception of singleness. It’s counterpart are the teasing phrases “and can you believe, she’s single, folks!” and “It makes sense you’re single.”
In both cases our single person has made clear the lack in character that results in the loneliness of singleness. In other words, in order to “still be single” there must be something deeply wrong with you.
In most cases this lack is attributed to a basic unsociability, or antisocial tendency. This can take the form of rudeness, tactlessness, bitchiness, uncouthness, or any other inappropriate social misfiring. “Doesn’t work and play well with others” is to blame for your inability to catch a spouse.
Of course, there are those of us who are acknowledged as “still single” because of our appearance. Our inability to dress to socially accepted standards, a lack of socially accepted personal hygiene, a lack of some physical attribute that naturally always ensures a successful romantic pairing. One can’t, for example, have bad eyebrows and expect to get married.
The analysis in the question “why are you still single” hits at a deep fear in society, a lack of control in an area we desperately want to control. We want assurances. We want to know that if we do everything correctly then we will have relational bliss and success.
Humans are fond of taking inexplicable things and forcing anecdotal evidence to function as causative proof. The reality is that plenty of people with major character defects are married. There are many “ugly” married people. Many people are married who have huge glaring flaws physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Being an attractive person with good people skills, healthy self awareness, and an attitude of moderation is no recipe for relational success.
And I do mean success here, because we singles understand that marriage is success in society. The gay rights movement has a critical hinge on marital equality. If you are single you are perceived, and may even perceive yourself, as unsuccessful. Lacking. Choice enters into this not at all, because we know that everyone wants to be married.
“Why are you still single?” is hurtful, rude, and inappropriate because what it so clearly indicates is that your obvious flaw is not visible to me, but I’m pretty sure you have one. I have to know what it is because I can’t account for you, this anomaly, in a world where by all rights you SHOULD be married. Your very existence alarms and unsettles my perception of the world.
What we are really discussing is a much deeper and more profound fear. We’re afraid of loneliness. And we see marriage as the correct avoidance of this condition. When we ask the question “why are you still single?” what we’re really asking is “I need confirmation that loneliness is only to be feared for an avoidable reason.”
But this unsettling fear is one thing you should live with, should wrestle with. It should transform your thinking to recognize that marriage is not a reward. It’s not a guarantee, it’s not a promise. It’s not the end result of being a good person. Marriages don’t stick together because both people promise to be “good people”.
It should unsettle you to recognize that marriage, an institution we run to often to avoid loneliness, is not a haven of companionship. We must think bigger if we take marriage to be a relational safety net that catches the deserving.
And as singles we must endeavor to work hard against our own fears about our singleness, and we must work even harder to confront the terrifying realities of loneliness by seeking out and carving whole communities that resolve not only our own fears of isolation, but those that exist in even the married and familied folk.
There is no remedy against loneliness but seeking out, or creating, healthy community, whether married or single.