When I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I was excited. I knew that I had achieved something great, and that with the knowledge I had gained that I would be able to make the world a better place. I also knew had a secret: I had failed. My failure did not occur in a classroom or determining future career prospects, but in my inability to snag a spouse. But, my secret didn't stop there. Three years later, I became the first woman in my family to earn a Master's degree. I had never felt so proud in my life, but that joy was far overshadowed by my shame. I may have had a diploma in my hand, but that hand still didn't have a ring on it.
In five months I will be turning 30 and my dirty little secret is beginning to feel like a noose around my neck. I mean, I'm actively dating. I have zero-to-negative interest in having children. I have several comrades-in-arms who are in the singles war trench with me. My friends (who are mostly married) tell me, "You're young, enjoy it, this is one of the best times of you life!" But why doesn't it feel that way? Why do I feel a little embarrassed when I check both the "age 25-29" and "single, never married"boxes on a survey?
When I discuss this topic with my straight, single-lady friends, they often talk about meddling family member, biological clocks, career paths, Sex and the City, but I often find that I am along in this sentiment of failure. Upon comparison, my friends and I have had very similar experiences: dated in college, but nothing serious (mainly because there was no one to be serious about), a few good boyfriends, a few not-so-good boyfriends, and a whole lot of are-we-friends-or-are-we-more-than-friends-and-we-may-have-made-out-once-friends who are boys. So what gives? Why do I feel so alone in my loneliness? I'm the only Christian in this group of women.
Growing up, my mom and dad told me the stories of how they, my grandparents, and all of my aunts and uncles met at York College, ACU, Lipscomb, etc. (all small, private, Churches of Christ institutions) fell in love and lived happily ever. Though I know my parents' goal was to share with me my faith heritage and how we all became a family, what I inadvertently began to learn at a very young age was that the purpose of going to college was to find a husband and in order to be a member of the family, I was expected to do so.
This null-curriculum was reinforced in Sunday school as I learned how Ruth, one of the greatest heroines of the Bible, practically prostituted herself for the purpose of becoming Boaz's wife and how Sarah spent most of her life in mourning because she was barren and was only able to be joyful when she finally conceived a son in her 90s. It continued as I transitioned into Youth Group in middle school and high school. I found myself participating in young ladies' Bible Studies complete with pink NIVs and countless lessons entitled, "How to be a Good Christian Woman: The Wife of Noble Character." So prevalent was Proverbs 31:10-31 in my youth group's curriculum that I began to think of it as a checklist. Once, as a Sophomore in college while knitting a red scarf I recalled, "When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet" (Proverbs 31:21), and thought to myself "I've got this verse down, I guess that means I'm one step closer to finding my husband."
And though my undergraduate years were spent as a Biblical Text major in which I spent my days writing papers on contextual criticism and social-histortial impacts on the modern-day church, I spent most of my evenings wondering what was wrong with me in that at the age of 19 I had not yet met my soul mate. No matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I read my Bible, no matter how many chapels I attended, my desire to become a wife was left unfulfilled.
Christmas and summer vacations were spent with extended family members asking me, "How are you supposed to find a Christian man if not a Christian College? Do you want me to introduce you our new youth pastor? He's single!" Filling out the FASFA involved the commentary, "You know, if you would just get married, I wouldn't have to pay for you anymore." Family friends would ask, "How do you expect to support yourself if you're not married? I mean, what will you do if you get a flat tire?" Though these genuinely concerned parties had good intentions, they simply reinforced that not only was I failing as a Christian woman, I was a becoming a burden.
Towards the end of my senior year, the amount of wedding invitations I received far outweighed the amount of graduation announcements.
Years have passed since those days and during that time I have been able to accomplish many a great thing, but at night, I as get ready for bed, in which I sleep alone, I often see that frightened 19-year old woman staring me in the mirror. She's not frightened because she's not found a spouse, she's frightened because she has failed to be come a good Christian woman, she has failed to become a wife.