Saturday, October 24, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--Singleness and The Forbidden Words

Aunt Dorcas likes to talk about things she knows.

I've been surprised at how many questions I get about dating and marriage. That suits me fine, as I have plenty of things to say on these subjects, based on up-close observations. Readers' conclusions may differ, but let's agree that we all need to think about what life is like for singles in the Christian/Mennonite world.

--Aunt Dorcas

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Dear Aunt Dorcas,

Why is online dating looked on as so dangerous? If a lady meets a guy at a singles retreat and they start dating, it’s acceptable. If they meet at church, work, or social gatherings, it’s okay. No one raises eyebrows or labels her as desperate. But as soon as she "met him online on Menno Meet or Christian Mingle," the eyebrows go up, and how terrible that is....and she’s whispered about in low tones.

How is meeting someone online any different from the other scenarios I suggested? Please enlighten me. Thank you!

--A Believer

Dear Believer,

Every time and culture has its rules about What Must Not Be Spoken. When my sisters and I would freely discuss at the supper table which ladies in church were pregnant, our parents would tell us how such things were never spoken out loud in their Amish youth. I think they were glad we were a bit more liberated, but they always found it hard to actually form words about Such Things. Mom forced herself to tell us about our changing bodies when the time came, but she used awkward terms and was obviously embarrassed.

Today’s under-30s discuss periods and bras with a casual frankness that makes me cringe.

In 1994, we moved into an old house that was being vacated by a lovely old couple named Bud and Mary who had lived there for 48 years. Mary used to call me up for long conversations. She told how a relative had died of cancer. “Well, back then no one said ‘cancer.’ You didn’t say that out loud. People would say it in other ways, like they ‘had a growth.’”

I thought, surely you’re not serious.

We consider ourselves so liberated from those outdated rules, but we modern folks have our own rules about What Must Not Be Spoken.

You can’t admit that you long for marriage and children. You don’t dare say out loud that you’re available and looking. You’ll be mocked if you ask for help getting matched up.

This results in awkward conversations, weird pretending, contorted decision-making, and lots of silent grieving.

People go to Bible school to “make friends” and “draw closer to God.” They go to widows & widowers retreats at Penn Valley for “encouragement” and “spiritual input.” They attend lots of weddings because oh, well, they just like to travel and it’s important to be there for your friends.

If anyone suspects that their motives aren’t quite what they say, and they might be going to meet potential spouses in addition to the spoken reasons, the long-married folks at church nudge and chuckle. “Well, Joe is off on another missionary journey. Heh heh heh. Poor guy.”

Signing in on a dating app means you can’t couch your motives in vague high-sounding terms. You can’t pretend. You want a boyfriend/girlfriend and hopefully a husband/wife.

Gasp. God forbid. The very act of getting on MennoMeet is Saying The Unspoken Out Loud.

I will grant that back in the early days of the Internet you never heard anything good come out of meeting an online character in person. It was the Wild West, and we were all suspicious of it.

However, those days are long gone. Most of us have learned what and who and which are legitimate. We meet strangers to buy or sell canning jars. My daughter tutors physics students online and would meet them in person if Covid allowed. I’ve connected at book signings with women I had only known online.

I think the stigma against meeting someone on Christian Mingle or Menno Meet is not because it’s online. It’s because you didn’t use a ruse, like Bible school or Penn Valley, to make it happen.

Let me contrast that with a story my daughter Amy told. When she lived in Thailand, she often attended a Thai church. A 30-something gentleman would always request prayer for himself, that he could find a wife.

Now imagine the giggles among both grandmas and teenagers if someone did that in your local prayer meeting.

But no one giggled at the Thai church. It was treated like any other need you might pray for, like a job or a new apartment.

God eventually answered his and their prayers with a sweet little wife.

From Isaac to Joseph to Moses to Ruth and on and on, the Bible is full of people who found a spouse in the most practical ways, from the resources at hand, usually facilitated by family members, without any snickering or pretending.

How about we all work to change the culture in this regard? Marriage is a legitimate desire. We all ought to be able to say that out loud and use the available resources to make it happen.

Maybe our children will tell their grandchildren about all the codes and contortions we used about finding a spouse, and the kids will think, surely you're not serious.

--Aunt Dorcas

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Dear Aunt Dorcas,

In our culture, widows typically get considerable support. They are affirmed in their sorrow. And it is a deep sorrow. If they have young children that is an added burden. If they have children, however, they have hope of someone taking care of them when they are old. People visit them.... much more so than never-married singles. Even Scripture teaches that we should visit the widows. So widows are affirmed in their sorrow for what was, should singles be affirmed in their wistfulness about what could have been? 

And when a couple sets up housekeeping, they generally get gifts from a bridal shower, a wedding, and a grocery shower. And I'm not saying that we should change that. But when singles set up housekeeping someone might do a housewarming for them.

Is it fair?

How should never-married singles feel about this?

--Lisa

Dear Lisa,

Never-married singles should feel exactly how they feel. If they’re happy and content, great. If they are grieving, the grief is legitimate. If they feel they are treated unfairly, they're allowed to feel exactly that.

Your question very much ties in with the previous one. The things our culture doesn’t allow us to say out loud means that singles are seldom, as you put it, affirmed in their sorrow.

When a nephew and his wife lost a baby at birth, the grief was intense. However, one woman had the insight to say to me, “We don’t think about the sorrow of those who can’t have babies, like “Alice” who is infertile or your daughters who are single.”

It meant the world to me to have that unspoken sorrow affirmed.

The conservative Anabaptist culture values marriage and children, as we should. But sometimes we don’t know what to do with never-married singles, so we pretend they will be fine if we just ignore them. So they struggle financially, and no one comes to repair their sagging eavestroughs. We assume they are ok emotionally because it’s too awkward to have a conversation about it.

We need to acknowledge the needs and realities of singles, in addition to taking care of widows and orphans. It’s not either-or.

Widows are allowed to post their grief on Facebook, and we all reply with hug emojis and comforting Bible-verse memes.

Of course the losses of the never-married are different, but what if they were allowed to post what they felt in honest words, and we all replied with affirmation?

I suggest we change the rules about What Must Not Be Spoken, and we have the awkward but necessary conversations with single people about what they feel and need.

If Mom could overcome her past enough to tell her daughters about "menstruation," we liberated people can ask the singles at church the hard questions.

That's what I think.

--Aunt Dorcas

16 comments:

  1. Great answers! I met my husband by answering a personal ad in the daily newspaper in 1987. People were aghast, but our paths wouldn't have crossed any other way. We've been married 32 years, five children, one married with two children. All has not been smooth, but we've stuck together through it all and by the grace of God have had many blessings. I encourage our adult, unmarried children to follow where God leads and to be faithful. He can guide you to find the right person at the right time as He wills.

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    1. Oh yes, personal ads! I had forgotten about those.

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  2. I've know couples who have met through E-harmony and have been together for years. I agree we should make sure our never married singles are taken care of. Another category that unintentionally gets ignored is our widowers. I don't know why these precious men, get overlooked in our churches but I think we should make sure their needs get met.

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  3. Very good thoughts, Aunt Dorcas! :) Keep in mind, all you singles out there (myself included) that you don't have to go to drastic measures to find your future husband/wife. If God wants you to get married, He will put that person in your path, somehow! (That's not to say that "putting your name out there," so to speak, is wrong; it just depends on your attitude.)

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  4. Aunt Dorcas, you offer such a rich refreshing perspective. Thank you!

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  5. Times definitely change. My nephew said how else do I meet a prospect during a pandemic, before meeting a sweet girl who answered his profile on a Christian dating app. Nothing wrong w that. Maybe a bit unconventional than we’re used to but might be a better match due to the application profile than just meeting at church who knows? Thanks for addressing the topic!

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    1. Good for your nephew! Dating is certainly one of the many things made more difficult by the pandemic.

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  6. There are many things about my single life that I enjoy, and, yes, I know that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side; it just comes with a different set of shame, humiliation, grief, and loneliness. But...if you want to know how some singles feel (at least some of the time), read on.

    Shame.
    I must be unlovable, unattractive, unappealing, etc. Apparently, something is wrong with me for no one to want me. Is there nothing about me that is desirable? Nothing that one of the opposite sex would be attracted to? Am I too skinny/fat? Too loud/quiet? Too opinionated/unopinionated? Do I joke too much/not enough? Am I not godly enough? Is my character lacking? While those last two are especially hard ones, I think the hardest thing is to know that none of those are true, because I see folks who appear like me in these areas who are married. Why is that hard? Because if none of those things are the reason, then the reason must be deeper; it must mean that there is something wrong with me...my very essence...my being...me.

    Humiliation.
    To speak out that I desire a spouse puts me in an extremely vulnerable place. If I make it known, then I'll be looked on with pity by those outside the dating pool, and, as for those inside the pool, what potential mate wants someone who is needy and desperate? And then, what if I never get married, now everyone knows of my desire and will feel sorry for me. 

    Grief.
    I believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Therefore, as a single person, I am, for all intents and purposes, infertile. There is support for those married folks who are struggling through infertility but there is no support for the single who deeply longs for children.

    Left out.
    God has given us a small picture in marriage of Christ's relationship to his bride. There is also a small picture in having children of God's love for us. As a childless, never-been-married single, I can't relate to either of these scenarios, so it feels like I am left out. Like God has given most folks this picture/taste, but He didn't give it to me.

    Yes, I posted anonymously. I'm just not that strong.

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    1. This was supposed to be a general comment; I didn't mean to reply to Lori (sorry Lori).

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    2. Dear anonymous,
      Thank you for writing so honestly. This touched me and I'm sure many others.

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  7. Thank you so much for your vulnerability. I don’t want to ever forget what it was like to be an older single “never been married” adult. Singles have a very special place in my husband and I’s hearts.

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  8. Love how you went to the heart of the matter with truth-telling! Yes, name our needs for what they are and feel what we feel. Thank you.

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  9. As an "older" single woman myself, I must say that your comments, "Anonymous" resounded greatly with some deep places in my heart. Places I know are there, but are so closed up, that they are almost never spoken about. Thank you for taking the courage to share and letting us other singles who have these same thots know that we are not alone. And yes, I also enjoy my life and the many blessings that God has given me, and some of these, I wouldn't have if I had married and had a family.

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