catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 4 :: 2003.02.14 — 2003.02.27


On being single, on being married

What is accurate or inaccurate about the media's portrayal or society's general opinion of single people?

I believe that society in general sends some inaccurate messages to "singles." The main message that I encounter is that people see a single person and immediately wonder "Why?" and "How can we correct that person's situation?" Another dangerous message that I see singles latching onto is one that says that single people are on a lonely journey celebrating the milestones of others, continually reminded of their own "failures" to attain the same goal.

Based on recent shows—The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, Joe Millionare—society seems to portray the single life as desperate. If you don't have someone (preferrably hot) in your life, apparently you aren't complete—and by complete, they imply having a relationship based on looks, money, and sex. Sure to last.

And then there's church. When you walk into a church and you're not married, you get this vibe that everyone is either wondering why you're 25, not yet married (you're not that ugly) and they're racking their brains to see who they can set you up with, or they want you to get involved in their single adults group. I'm not opposed to single adults groups, but I wonder what the harm is in integrating single and married people. Personally, I find my social realm much more fulfilling with an odd assortment of married and non-married people. When I'm surrounded by only single people, I have a tendency to focus MORE (and somewhat negatively) on my singleness than when I'm surrounded by that assortment.

I suppose the opinion that single people are unhappy can be both accurate and inaccurate. I know non-married people who truly still believe that they will be "happier" with someone else in their lives. I understand the desire to be loved unconditionally (not always liked, but loved) and to come home to someone, etc. But I also know that marriage is a LOT more work than my relatively self-centered single life and it's not always all it's cracked up to be. If anything, I think marriage gets just as much if not more falsehood attached to it!

What advice would you give to someone seeking contentment in being single?

That's a loaded question. I think it would be easier to be totally content if I were able to get in there for some non-committal making out and spooning once in a while (ahh, high school). Seriously, though, I don't know that it's ever possible to be 100% content in being single when you don't feel as though that's your call in life. A lot of being content lies in the social context you put or find yourself in. I am blessed with great friends and a job I love, and I find contentment in those things, which makes it easier for me to be content in being single. If I were sitting at home every night, waiting for someone to call me to do something, it would be much more difficult. I hope that doesn't sound hopeless. It just means that you can attempt to seek out other venues of fulfilling activities so that your life isn't primarily focused on your marital status. I recommend really good beer.

Why do we need a romantic relationship when we have the love of God? Why do we seek out a companion when we have one always with us? I struggle with these questions all the time, especially around this time of the year. "If I do not have a boyfriend, then there must be something wrong with me. I must be ugly, stupid, or just wrong in some way." I start to wonder about the future and the thought of being alone forever is horrible. Then I am reminded of how I am never alone and I never will be alone. I continuously have to put my fears about relationships in God's hands. God is using this time of singleness to prepare me for a future that may or may not include a husband. I lean on God during this time of the year to receive the best love and companionship there is.

What is accurate or inaccurate about the media's portrayal or society's general opinion of married people?

I think the media tend to be very accurate when it comes to the realities of marriage. Many sitcoms make good money making jokes about the differences between men and women and the different expectations people bring to marriage. People laugh at these jokes because they know the reality behind them, because they feel that something familiar is being articulated in a very public way. Unfortunately, however, the times of harmony and peace in marriage do not make for much entertainment, do not make good tv, so we don't see that side of things very often in the media.

Wondering about marriage in the media is interesting because it is so hard to generalize. Sometimes I leave a movie or finish a book and think, "Wow, they got it this time." Carol Shields? newest book, Unless, is a wonderful example of a good marriage. The ironic part is that this couple is not actually married. But I think more often, I am uncomfortable with media?s portrayal of marriage. Marriage is too often seen as the carrot at the end of some silliness, as in most romantic comedies—but I have to admit, I love them on the days I really just want to veg out. Don't we all just want happy endings? Not knowing about all the work and pain that a real marriage involves is just nice sometimes. Then there is the other extreme—marriage as the trap and prison of the spirit. Drama after drama portrays this and so do many books. I don't even want to go into television. I guess the same holds there—in general, it is trivialized or ignored, especially with all the reality shows and detective shows that are filling the screen lately. I think no one dares to really take it on.

I guess as a 27-year veteran of marriage I can understand why. It is the most complicated and difficult relationship we can choose. I am totally in love with my husband even after all this time and I think that is a blessing and a gift from God. I also think it is due to the fact that we have worked hard on this commitment. We have had some really hard times with each other and some really wonderful times. There have been times of illness and tragedy when we have needed each other so deeply, it didn't really matter how we felt about each other! And there have been times of contentment and joy when it has been wonderful that we were able to share them.

It seems to me that the mass media glorifies love at first sight, shallow relationships based on appearance (television can't show the inside, only the outside), relationships that start with a sexual encounter, and relationships that are often short-lived because someone else comes along and people's minds and hearts change. More generally, we get messages telling us that the individual deserves to be able to choose (consumerist culture), that things bring happiness and buying something is the way to win love and fix broken relationships, and that you need to find someone who meets your needs. Television marriages (especially according to commercials) seem to feature one partner being the stupid one, unless they have kids, in which case, both parents are stupid.

As near as I can figure, each one of those messages is inaccurate. The wonderful thing about marriage is that you get to know one person really, really well. As you weather difficulties together and rejoice when things go well, you learn more and more about that person until, in some marriages, you can tell what the other person is thinking just by looking at their face. Because you have made a decision to stick together through everything, you can take comfort in that, and weather all sorts of storms that would destroy a person who couldn't lean against someone else. What a great adventure.

Sex ought not to be the starting point for a relationship, I'd argue partly because it takes years to get really good at it with one person. Starting off a long-term relationship with a one-night stand is as backwards as anything I can think of.

God gave me the freedom to choose, out of anyone in the world (who liked me) and I chose my wife. That was the choice. To re-choose is not to gain more freedom, but to lose the freedom of the first choice. To re-choose someone else after you are already married is to throw away everything that you have and start over. Why do we buy into that kind of faulty logic?

Things don't bring happiness. They sometimes make life slightly easier, but usually just result in you having to clean, maintain, and store more stuff. For a successful relationship, you need to spend time learning to care for someone. If something that you buy would result in less time learning to care for someone, don't buy it. What is more important—your marriage or the new nine-foot wide TV screen?

What advice would you give to someone seeking contentment in being married?

I would say that if one thinks the other person ought to give them contentment, this is an unfair expectation. The first year of marriage is often very difficult because each person has their expectations as to what they hope to receive from the other one. The first several years of marriage must be spent learning to be content with things, but also discerning what things must be altered in order to have a happy home.

One key to a good marriage, I think, is communication. Communicating when you don't feel right about something or if you feel you've been wronged can actually cause feelings of discontentment in the short-term, especially if you're fighting all the time. But it's necessary to communicate the problems in a patient and mutually-supportive way (which can be done, even in loud voices) to provide a long-term sense of contentment, which is the contentment of trusting the other person. Even if two people never find total agreement on how to look at things, it builds trust to know that at least the other person understands my point of view and still loves and supports me. Arguments do not need to be seen as a sign of a bad marriage. Communicating your disagreements can be a great opportunity to achieve a greater understanding of eachother's thoughts and feelings.

Make sure that you are friends before you get married. There is just too much in life for romance to carry you through. And more importantly, be sure of your commitment to each other in Christ. Even in hard times, we made it because we never doubted our commitment to each other and were sure of that commitment because of our faith. That's the goal I think. I know that effort fails sometimes and that is extremely painful, but in the end I think commitment and friendship are what can make a marriage work.

To the extent that I would presume to give anyone advice (I've only been married fifteen years, so arguably I don't know what I am talking about), I would suggest that married couples shouldn't make fun of each other behind each other's backs. When I see guys talking about "the old battleaxe" even jokingly, or women talking about how they are going shopping to spend money before their husbands can stop them, or men who say that their wife spends all their money, or women who say that their husband is incapable of doing anything in the kitchen, I think that there is (or will be) trouble in that marriage. We should help, strengthen, edify, and stand by each other. It should be a partnership, not a contest of wills or power struggle.

Excuse me, I have to go make the waffles for breakfast now.

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