After a three week break from blogging due to work demands, I am happy to resume this journey!
From my earliest days, I was in some ways familiar with the concept of marriage as I grew up in a two parent home. I did not know about the political or religious dimensions of marriage, but I knew that my parents were bound together in a permanent way and that I along with my sister were part of this unbreakable family bond. I also knew that I had a father and a mother and that they seemed to have distinct roles. While both of my parents had professional duties outside the home when I was a young child, they still had a traditional marriage in many ways. My dad was the primary financial provider for the family, and he was the leader of our family. My mom was the primary caregiver for the children, and she was the manager of most things in the home. The complementary roles of my parents made sense to me, though I did not readily have access to other family and marriage models. Some of my friends lived in single-parent homes, and I always felt fortunate that I had two parents and that these two encompassed both the masculine and the feminine. I was able to receive emotional comfort and tenderness from my mom, while I was able to receive strength and initiative from my dad. I was not privy, of course, to all the dynamics of the marriage between my parents, but I saw that they complemented one another, loved one another deeply, and were devoted solely to one another as family for a lifetime. Yet not everything was rosy at all times. My parents argued a fair amount and on rare occasions, there were some minor physical altercations. Much of it seemed to stem from differing visions of their lives and the family. My mom was solely devoted to the nuclear family and found it frustrating that my dad seemed to have other priorities, whereas my dad also valued his relationships with friends and extended family as well as his career and found it frustrating that my mom seemed to demand so much from him. Witnessing this discord was certainly the most distressing part of my early childhood years, as it seemed to threaten the unity and continuity of the family unit that was my entire world. Yet my parents’ love for one another and their children won out, and the passage of time and the waning of youthful energy allowed them to settle into a peaceful middle space where they were less demanding of their own needs and adopted more of the needs of their spouse. They were still their own being with distinct personalities and interests, but somehow they had become more of a harmonious union that functioned as one in many ways. Through all the ups and downs of their marriage, my sister and I continued to be their joy and pride, who made their union more perfect.
As a child, I always assumed that I too would get married to a woman and have kids when I grew up. After all, pretty much every adult I encountered was married, so I did not even know what a single life would look like. I had this assumption even though I knew nothing about sexuality or sexual intercourse. As I hit puberty and began to develop romantic feelings mostly towards other boys, my long-held assumption was shaken to the core. By then, I learned that romantic interest and sexual intercourse were important parts of a marriage, and as I explored my own feelings, I realized that my insufficient interest in females would make marriage a difficult if not an impossible venture for me. Meanwhile, my friends were all beginning to date, and I was being repeatedly asked about my romantic interests and dating possibilities. My friends began to get married once I finished college. I’ve attended many weddings for friends, sometimes as part of the wedding party, and each of them was quite special. I have been especially touched by Christian weddings in which the meaning of Christian marriage was expounded in the sermon and testified to by the wedding couple. So often, the Genesis passage about the two becoming one flesh was quoted, and marriage was presented as a unique gift by God that completes us. In the midst of the joy I felt for my friends, I could not help but feel a sense of pain and loss every time I attended a wedding. They were regular reminders of the relational bond that was missing in my life, which unlike other singles in the audience, I had virtually no hope of ever remedying. I also could not help but feel that my life was less than what it should be since I was unable to partake in this divine blessing that everyone around me, including those wedding pastors, seemed to exalt as being essential to a blessed life. Moments have come periodically when I feel lonely and crave a connection with another human being, a connection that is in part about a physical connection but just as importantly about spiritual and emotional connection. In a sense, I crave the kind of relationship I saw my parents have, despite all their flaws. While I still have my family that I am very close to, I think about how wonderful it would be to have a soulmate I can grow old with and children who can complete this family and carry on the legacy. While my parents have largely been respectful of my life choices, they have at times expressed their desire to see me married and to have grandchildren. The disappointment of my parents has compounded my own sense of loss.
In the midst of the dismay regarding the absence of marriage in my life, I have generally been content with being single. A part of this stems from my emotional makeup. I tend to be fairly independent and require less relational maintenance than most to be content. Being single has given me numerous opportunities that I likely would not have had if I was married, especially if I had children. I have been able to devote more time to friendships both within and outside the church. As an introvert who requires significant alone time, if I was married, I would most likely not have enough emotional reserve to have many significant relationships outside the marriage. As a single person, the greater relational intimacy with friends, particularly Christian friends, plays an important role in meeting my intimacy needs. I have also been able to devote more time and energy to my profession, which I love. The medical profession and other time-consuming fields are notorious for handicapped marriages or careers because it is difficult to do both well. I consider my work as a physician to be an important part of God’s call in my life, and I am grateful that my singleness allows me to be devoted to it. Singlehood has also afforded me more time to devote to my faith, whether it is personal time with God, involvement in church activities, or ministry opportunities. In some ways, this greater involvement is out of necessity in that the absence of an intimate partner in my current existence forces me to get my intimacy needs met with God and with fellow believers. This is ultimately the secret, if I may call it that, to my general contentment with being single. I know intellectually and have felt in my heart the love of my eternal groom Jesus, my eternal Father, and my eternal Counselor. I get periodic experiences of this love and relationship with the divine that satiates my craving for relational intimacy. Indeed, some of the encounters with God have been so filling that I am convinced all human intimacy even with a spouse would pale in comparison. In a sense, I already have what human marriage is supposed to point us to, namely the eternal spouse we have in Jesus. This has not eliminated my times of loneliness, as I practically live in and out of faith even as I always intellectually assent to the truth of the gospel. But I know that my loneliness is temporary, not in the sense that I have to wait to get to heaven, but rather that heaven visits me and fills me periodically even here on earth. A critical component to my contentment has been arriving at a biblical understanding of singlehood and marriage, in which singlehood is at least as blessed as the married state. I turn to this in my next post.