What do you do when it feels like there’s no one out there for you? Are we really in the middle of a Christian man drought?
It’s been a little while since I’ve last posted something here. That’s because my wife and I have been in Europe for our anniversary. We went across England, Ireland, France and Greece. From London to Stratford to Galway to Paris to Athens, and even more places in between, we’re back and refreshed, ready for the next chapter of life.
I returned from our holiday to find that the ABC published a super popular, highly resonate article regarding the man drought in the Christian community. I have written a few times about the perceived man drought in the past, but this article in particular seemed to reach far and wide across the faith community, scratching at a perceived reality that affects people to the core of who they are. This, coupled with Singles Day in China causing multiple billions’ dollars worth of sales on the Alibaba site alone, is definitely of note at this time of the year.
The notion of a Christian man drought here is referring to the disparity between the number of single Christian men and single Christian women, with many women feeling like there’s no one in their faith community who is out there for them. Whilst there is some statistical evidence of a disparity, I think it is mainly the perception of this reality that is just as poignant than any numerical difference (which to me seems to be not that large).
Being single definitely becomes harder and harder as life goes on. For many, it is a source of constant pain and regret. For others, it has necessitated significant life change and deviation from plans and dreams that have driven people their whole lives. The ABC article mentioned features a number of women who speak with sombre acceptance of how they had expected life to look a certain way especially by their late 20s or 30s, and even into the years beyond. Notions of family, of motherhood, of children, of wanting to share their faith journey with someone – these all perpetuate the interviews for the article, as well as many conversations I have with a lot of single females throughout the Christian circles I am a part of.
I think this is a subject so painfully in people’s faces that they often don’t know how to deal with it. My experience has been that many end up avoiding having a proper conversation about whether or not this reality exists, and what it means for them. So I thought I would seek to offer some balanced observations on my experiences in this arena. Throughout the years, especially as someone who likes to write about friendships, relationships, and marriage, I have received a lot of perspectives and people’s experiences, not just from the women who are affected by still being single beyond when they expected, but also of the Christian men who are at the centre of this quandary. My heart goes out to people who feel affected by this and it’s always been an area really close to my heart.
So here are some observations on the Christian man drought.
Your dreams are important
I think at the heart of the frantic back and forth about whether or not Christian men ask people out, about whether they’re actually worth it, about how long you’ve been waiting for approach you or to make it right, is a heart that dreams of more. It dreams of no longer eating alone. It dreams of being able to share the journey with someone. It dreams of intimacy and closeness and honesty. These are all important dreams.
I think something we do as people in general when our dreams haven’t happened yet is that we start to dismiss or diminish them. Especially in the case of relationships, people start to become bitter towards the opposite sex or angry about their lot in life, blaming God and people and churches and systems for the way things are. We’ll do everything except confront head on just how important in our hearts our dreams are.
And if the dream of marriage is important to you, let it be! It should be important to you. I have seen so many people over-spiritualized out of considering life partnership as important or that they’re making an idol out of things, but I don’t think it’s wrong to want it. Adam was described by God as incomplete without Eve, and even the apostle Paul said, “Hey, I wish everyone could be without a partner like me and be happy, but if you can’t, it’s not wrong, go ahead!”.
Where do you think that dream came from, anyway? Together is a God idea, and the tone of Scripture is clear on just how powerful it is.
Differences in faith are big differences
When it’s been a long time, you start to wonder if it’s worth looking outside your faith group for companionship. I have seen this many times with very mixed results. On the whole, I am yet to see a couple that started following the decision to “give up on finding a Christian” where it has not been either highly divisive issue, or a topic that is completely avoided for the sake of keeping the peace. This is more common than it has ever been, with a study by the Pew Research Centre showing about 24% of couples are in this boat of faith differences. A number of situations I’ve seen over the years as well as looking through any of the discussion boards or support services around marriage reveal just how many issues can arise when one person’s faith takes them in a completely different direction to their spouse.
For Christians, our faith is supposed to be the centre of our lives. In truth, no matter what religion or value system you follow, you have a set of driving principles that govern everything about you. And how can you really be together if the centre of your life is completely different? It affects your view on how you spend your time, how you speak, what you do and don’t watch, who you spend time with, how you raise kids, views on sexuality, and so on. It isn’t just whether or not the couple goes to church together, but all the other decisions that make up their life together.
If you’re at that point of being ready to give up on Christian men or Christian women or to look beyond your faith in general, I would caution you not to. It can work, but starting a relationship when the core of both your lives are different is implicitly asking for conflict going forward.
Christian men are more active than they’re made out to be
Something I really, really emphatically struggle with is hearing about how Christian men are supposedly cowards who never ask anyone out. I remember even for a number of years hearing this complaint aimed in my direction and in the direction of men I did life with and respected. I am telling you now – it is actually very rare that a Christian man is not actually out there getting to meet people, dating, courting, spending time with women, or putting themselves out there. People don’t see a relationship status on Facebook or a girl you clearly are in more photos with than any others (although you can usually work it out if you’re looking hard enough) and so they assume no action is being taken.
You just don’t hear about it because of the enormous pressure it would put on the girl/s of interest. For this reason, it’s kept very low key and even a pressure for why some men date outside their church. If you’ve ever been on the receiving side of that pressure, you know how hard it can be to be trying to work things out with some guy when you have your whole young adults group, your home group, all the pastors and the parents of every young person on your back about it. As a result, most of us guys try to keep the pressure off the lady of interest until there’s a substantially strong enough relationship for more people to find out.
Granted, I have met a few guys in recent years who have done nothing in this area at all, but my experience has been this is less than 10%. Any time I’ve heard a specific complaint about a guy, I’ve thought in the back of my mind, “If only you knew”. Usually it seems to be more “the guy I like hasn’t asked me out yet” rather than “no one is asking anyone out”.
Dealing with the decisions of others
I think the most difficult aspect of relationships is that you are at the mercy of two or more people, yet you can only control your own actions. Theologian J.I. Packer speaks to this notion of what is actually within our control, what he called the ethic of marriage – “…first to look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, then to proceed with God’s help to do just that”.
Many people have had relationships that have not ended well. That’s just a reality of the world we live in. And many times, although it takes two to contribute to issues, it really only takes one person to check out of a relationship (of any kind) to cause its decline.
And many of us live in the shadow of the things that have happened to us in the past. Bad breakups, divorce, custody battles, abuse and domestic violence, schisms in friendship groups following big events, churches breaking down and people abandoning their faith out of nowhere – these can all contribute to a person’s single relationship status. And so maybe the Christian man drought isn’t always because of a lack of availability, but perhaps these other factors make it hard for people to love again, to put themselves out there again, to try to love someone new after a broken heart. No matter what’s happened in your past, at some point, we have to allow our future to be greater, and we have to accept that we can only control ourselves.
Are you saying no to everyone?
This is not everyone, but I think we need to be honest about a percentage of individuals who exist who complain about staying single whilst saying no to every relationship or every potential relationship they’ve ever had. Are you in this boat?
There can be a lot of reasons why people say no to a particular relationship. You might have different callings, you might not have a lot of common interests, and of course, you might not even like the guy. But I think when you’re saying no to everyone, there’s something deeper at work. You may feel like you’re too busy for a relationship, that you’re not ready for a relationship, or that nobody is good enough for you – all of these having deeper issues behind these sentences. Whatever the reason, there needs to be an element of acceptance that you and I are the gate keepers of our own hearts.
It always amazes me when I know for a fact a person has just turned down the last 10 guys to ask her out or was the one who broke off a really great relationship who then turns around and says there are no good men around. If you do that for 2, 5, 10, 15 years, eventually the numbers of eligible bachelors start to dwindle, which is possibly where the statistical disparity comes from. Most men don’t wait very long and are actively looking and meeting people from a young age, but if you’ve said no to all of them during this time, chances are they’ll be taken by someone else when it’s all said and done.
No relationship will ever stand a chance if you’re always saying no. There has to be some element where you take a chance. And not just “I went out with him once and I didn’t feel anything / instantly know that he was my husband” – a vast majority of us don’t get “the spark“. But a properly prayer driven, wisdom focused determination about whether or not this is a good decision. I know so many happily married couples who would not have given their husband or wife a chance initially, but after assessing the greater qualities of the person involved, they saw someone they could (and have) successfully partnered their life to. We need to make sure we’re not in the way of our own happiness in this regard.
If you want Boaz, be prepared to be Ruth
Out of all the Biblical relationships that people cling to in the search for “The One“, the story of Boaz and Ruth is right there at the centre. At the same time, the Christian man drought is perpetuated through the idea that men must always be the initiators. However, these two are not compatible views, as if you read the story of Ruth, at the suggestion of her mother-in-law, she actually got dressed up all sexy and proposed to Boaz at the threshing floor.
Now granted, Boaz did his part already knew all the details of who was closer and what he would need to do to make it happen. But it shows that not every godly relationship is established by a male decision alone. Should men initiate and put themselves out there? Absolutely, I think so. Personally I was the initiator of all my relationships. However, not every guy knows he has a chance with you, and sometimes even just the suggestion of interest is enough to get him thinking in that direction. After all, in a difficult world full of rejection and hurt, wouldn’t it be a shame for someone to never know how loved they were?
You need to be ready to settle to some degree
Probably the biggest line I hear in church around the conversation of relationships is that “I don’t want to settle”. We all know plenty of people who did decide to settle at some point and ended up with someone they knew was wrong for them or that they knew had horrible patterns and habits that were utterly destructive.
At the same time though, we go too far the other way, probably as a coping mechanism, and refuse to accept the notion that you have to change for love. Even in your relationship with God, He accepts you as you are, but gives you grace to be able to change to become your best self. If you stay where you are when you first met, you’re missing the point. To think that you’re going to meet someone and not have to change anything about yourself is completely naive and unrealistic.
You have to learn to dream for two. You have to be able to make things more about “us” than about you or me. You have to be able to have space in your schedule, emotions, energy, time and heart for another soul. And you have to be able to accept that there are certain allowances you’re going to need to make for another life, certain things you may have to go without, in order for the partnership to work.
The same way that someone else would need to change and settle in order to be with you.
Now of course we don’t settle for destructive or evil people (at least not knowingly). But if this is a good and godly man with the fruit (evidence, proof, calendar, spending habits, tangible actions) in his life to back it up, someone you get along with, a man of integrity and character, and someone who is heading somewhere similar to you in life, you might have a contender – you just have to allow yourself to be able to see it.
Marriage really is a wonderful gift when it works out. I know personally I had many years of pursuing people and trying things and making time before I eventually found someone to share it all with. I feel the pain that people go through on their journey towards finding and developing a meaningful life partnership, because it is a lot of work as all relationships are. I don’t think great relationships are found as much as they are built, developed, and strengthened through the intentional actions of two lives.
And when I see widespread news about a Christian man drought or any sort of relationship disparity in general, my heartfelt prayer is that all of us can move beyond the things that hold us back and that for all the things that are within our control, that we do those things to the best of our ability.
My final encouragement to you if you find yourself in the boat where this has been affecting you is that you don’t lose heart. Hold the dream with the importance it should have, and while you can’t control the hearts of other people or always the opportunities you wish you had, you can go forward making your own and pursuing holistic relationships with godly wisdom, a level of boldness, and a helpful dose of the fun and joy that makes relationships worth it.
How about you? Do you think there is a Christian man drought? How do you deal with it?