Not long ago, I was the featured guest on a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Because I direct Boundless, Focus on the Family's ministry for single adults, and because of my own single status, the host asked me to share my perspective on singleness — the good, the bad and the ugly.
I talked about the many perks of singleness: the freedom I have with my time and money; the luxury of being able to pour into friendships, go on missions trips and spend uninterrupted time with the Lord.
And I also spoke candidly about the many griefs of singleness. For example, I will never be married in my 20s or 30s. And my dad will not be at my wedding; he died when I was 30. I've had to grieve this. If I get married in the future, who will walk me down the aisle? At this stage, perhaps I'll pick whoever can physically accomplish the task without keeling over.
I bear many of life's responsibilities alone: a mortgage, home repairs, monthly bills. I have no life partner with whom to dream about the future or shoulder the burdens of today. In short, I'm no one's most important person.
As I recounted loss after loss, the talk show host listened intently. I wondered if these singular sadnesses had ever crossed his mind. He was middle-aged, married and the father of several adult children. But he saw my pain.
The feedback in the days following the interview showed that I had touched a nerve. I received emails and messages from singles who said they felt validated and represented and from married people who said they'd learned about issues they hadn't considered before.
Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that almost half the U.S. adult population is now unmarried. Yet in many ways we singles still feel marginalized and forgotten.
I'm not trying to pit marrieds and singles against one another — far from it. I know many married adults who are walking through hard stuff and feel abandoned or alone. Marrieds have challenges that I may never be forced to grapple with.
But singles have unique pressures that bear mentioning. Just look at the annual cycle of holidays and seasons beginning with Thanksgiving. This holiday is synonymous with family and togetherness. For single adults who go home to spend time with extended family, it's often as if a time warp plunks them back into childhood — from sleeping on an air mattress in the living room (so siblings with spouses and children can have the guest rooms) to being relegated to the kids' table, to being peppered with questions about their love lives (or lack thereof).
Then jump into the Christmas season with weeks of marketing imagery featuring perfect families in matching pajamas gathered around a spectacularly decorated tree. Most singles soldier through holiday parties solo, returning home to scroll through social media feeds and see picture after picture of engagement rings as friends announce their big news.
On to New Year's with its couples-centric parties, midnight smooches and promises of new beginnings. For a single adult who's staring down another year and fearing it will end like the last one, feeling festive or hopeful is hard.
By Valentine's Day, if they're still standing at all, singles are at least a bit wobbly as they stagger through a day that seems bent on shutting them out completely.
Spring promises a fresh start, but it signals the onset of the wedding season. A few years ago, I saw 14 of my friends get married in just more than a year. That's 14 bridal showers and gifts; 14 bachelorette parties; 14 weddings, gifts and receptions; and almost as many bridesmaid dresses, plane tickets and engagement parties. Plus, it was 14 reminders that this wasn't my big day — and by the way, would my big day ever come?
When I share this with my married friends, they're usually stunned. They've just never thought about what we singletons shoulder as we navigate singleness in a society that celebrates romance and "couplehood." Many of them wish they knew tangible, helpful ways to encourage their single friends and family members. This is wonderful because it shows that they see us and care.
With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for how to love, include and encourage the single adults in your life throughout the year:
Celebrate your single friends.
Many singles feel forgotten on holidays designed for couples, like Valentine's Day. And when our married friends ask us to watch their kids that evening so they can go out for a romantic dinner, it can rub salt in the wound. Of course, I should bless my married friends by watching their kids so they can have time together, but marrieds can remember us singles, too. Send your single friend a card or flowers, or invite him or her over for dinner and board games.
One Valentine's Day, a married co-worker invited me to join her and her husband for dinner out and a movie we all wanted to see. They paid. We had so much fun, and I felt included and valued.
Remember your single friends' birthdays and other important milestones, too. Invite them to family gatherings and let them play aunt or uncle to your children. Put yourself in the shoes of your single friends and think about what would make them feel loved. Better yet, ask them.
Don't act as if your marriage is the biggest thing about you (because it's not).
I love that you're investing in your marriage, and I want to support you in that. But marital status aside, you and I actually have a lot in common, so let's start there. Talk to me about faith, career, family, hobbies and finances. Ask me about my struggles, and don't minimize them or compare them to yours. Share your own hurts. Ask my advice. Let's learn from and support each other.
Help your single friends make good matches.
People used to find spouses through family, friends and their church community. But for whatever reason, these groups of people have abdicated their role in the matchmaking process. Instead, single adults are going online, using dating apps and trying speed dating to find potential mates.
Friends and family need to get back into the matchmaking business. Not in a creepy, meddlesome way, but with discernment and care. Who better to help us singles find a life partner than the people who know and love us best?
Keep your eyes open on behalf of your single friends. Introduce them to mature, godly members of the opposite sex. Host a party or dinner and invite some of your single friends, allowing them space to get to know one another. Pray for their future mates.
Yes, your single friends have unique challenges, but there is much more to them than just their singleness. They are your brothers and sisters in the faith, and seeing them for who they are right now is a great way to love, honor and value the body of Christ as a true, complete family.Lisa Anderson is the director of Boundless and Young Adults at Focus on the Family and hosts "The Boundless Show," a national radio show and weekly podcast. She's the author of The Dating Manifesto: A drama-free plan for pursuing marriage with purpose.
Encouragement for Single Young Adults
Boundless is a ministry of Focus on the Family with the goal of helping young adults grow up, own their faith, date with purpose, and prepare for marriage and family. Through articles, a group blog, a weekly podcast and the power of community, Boundless challenges 20- and 30-somethings to reject society's low expectations and live biblically and intentionally in all things, including relationships. Visit Boundless.org for more information.