When I think of leftovers, I tend to think of those little packages in the fridge which are reminders of meals gone by, and which, if not used soon, tend to morph into green fuzzy penicillin specimens. But, a few weeks ago, I happened upon a totally new meaning of the word. Leftover men and women!
I thought I had ferreted out all the negative names for singlehood. You know the ones: spinster, confirmed bachelor, old maid, unclaimed blessing. . . well, that’s enough of that! But, leftover singles? China actually recognizes this as a term to define men over 30 and women over 27 who have not married. Perhaps they are finally realizing the negative effects of the one-child-per-family laws enacted in the late 1970’s for population control. In 2014, the restriction was loosened to allow a second child in families where at least one of the parents was an only child. This second child must be applied for, however – so more bureaucracy ensues. You can search out that term for many articles on this, mainly called “leftover women,” even though there are apparently many more unmarried men in China than women.
For this blog post, my intent is not to decry China’s policies. It is, however, to comment on the shaming qualities in such labels as “leftover women” and “leftover men.” Fortunately, I haven’t found it applied to singles from other cultures. But, I have to admit that the term sort of fits the emotional lives of too many of us who remain unmarried for extended periods of time.
This points out something I think many people miss when thinking about singlehood. Being single in the 20s and 30s is not the same as being single in the 40s, 50s, and – well, you get the message. Many of those living in protracted singleness have discovered, for the most part, that they can make it on their own because that is simply what they have had to do. They buy a home and learn how to face buyer’s remorse by themselves. They manage to leave a car lot with confidence they have made a good decision. They pay their bills in timely fashion on a single income. And, especially, they dig deeply into their souls and spirits to discover just who they are in relationship to God and others,
When I was in my 20s, buying a home was not even on my radar. That was something only done with a spouse. Lengthy years spent as a onesome was not on my radar, either. Being unchosen was unthinkable.
What can I say? Life has a way of dealing realistic blows with regularity. What’s a single to do? Even realizing that there are many more unmarried and never-married older singles these days, the reality is that those of us who choose to develop holy habits of fidelity – body, soul, and spirit – seem to be in the minority for the most part. Count the never-marrieds beyond college in your church, and my guess is that you will not run out of fingers on one hand. The most common excuse is that churches are too family oriented. The next one is that “no one spoke to me.” The next, “church is a very lonely place when you are alone.”
While I can relate to each of these thoughts, I’ve discovered the value of intentionality in becoming part of the family, speaking first, and seeking out those who can be friendly “walkers-beside” in life. I’m very fortunate in being part of a church which has always stressed strong Biblical preaching/teaching, and which encourages those who are unmarried, and, in particular, women, to be leaders.
I have to really work on being the one to speak first to others because I am basically a quiet introvert. I actually work on that when I’m making an important purchase. For instance, when I had to buy new tires for my car last summer, I told the salesguy to treat me as though I was his favorite aunt. (It actually helped to get a better deal than I expected!) As for church, I’ve discovered that just as Jesus often asked questions, it’s good to be prepared to ask people about themselves. That almost always works.
Loneliness is a larger issue, much too large to cover in a couple sentences. That’ll take another blog post. I know it is not limited to the single; many who are married experience painful loneliness. But, there are areas of loneliness which I believe are unique to being single. Stay tuned for more thoughts on that. 🙂
Meanwhile, I take solace in Scripture.