Thursday, July 23, 2009

identity, advocacy and relationship statuses

It’s funny how some things become a part of your identity that you feel awkward when they change. I didn’t realize that being single and independent was one of those things until my recent engagement has forced me to rethink it.

In college I slowly let go of the idea that I’d get married soon after graduation. I had a few dates and several crushes, but nothing that would make me change my facebook status to “in a relationship” if we had had facebook in those days. In that maturing process, I realized that temporary or long-term singleness was not a terrible sentence, but one situation in which one can live well. I especially was aided in this realization when I considered some single women who were professors at my school. They were smart, fun, successful people who I wanted to emulate. If I could be single like them, then that wouldn’t just be okay, it would be great.

This attitude cemented itself as I moved to Georgia alone and discovered that academia is full of successful people in a variety of life situations, and 22 wasn’t very old to “still” be single. Living alone, I became proud of my independence. I killed my own bugs, assembled my own cheap furniture, made my own decisions about food and time and money (with advice and support from parents and friends, of course). I felt like this time as a single adult made me a stronger person, and forced me to rely on and appreciate community.

I began to feel so strongly about this perspective, that I started to get frustrated with the ways single adults were treated in church and spoken to and about in Christian literature. These were issues I finally wrote about on this blog and in an article for The Banner. I was surprised after the Banner article hit print that a lot of people contacted me about how much they appreciated the article. Maybe, I thought, this is an important project God has for me: help the church find new ways to love and include singles. I started to see myself as Bethany Keeley: singles advocate.

Then Justin went and asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes, I love Justin and am excited to commit to him. And of course, I can still be married and smart and independent, and I can still be invested in community. I can still stand up for single people in the church, but I realize my new life situation makes me a little bit less credible on the topic. This is a perennial problem in identity politics: do you have to be in a certain identity group to write about it? I think the personal experience helps, but I also think attentiveness to the issue and passion is the most important. And all along my writing about singles has been less about me and more about a set of experiences, mine and those of friends. I don’t need to share someone else’s experience to help represent it.

I’m writing this post in part to clarify for myself why I’m worried about this, and in part to announce that this issue is still important to me even if it has become less personal. So, single friends, if something happens to you that makes you say “this is what is so hard about being single in the church,” please, tell me the story. I need anecdotes.


Pam said...

The church & the world need people who can be sensitive to others -- especially those in DIFFERENT situations than themselves.

You've only just begun!

Pam said...

Oh - PS Congratulations!

Sina said...

Congrats on your engagement! I am single-in terms of relationship status and the parenting of a 2 yr old. I am a Christian as well, and have often questioned when my husband will arrive. However, the more I've learned to just seek God and accept my life for what it is right now, I've become content with being single. I've stopped worrying about tomorrow and started living for today. You still have a voice for all of us "singles," so don't stop using it! By the way, I really respect your comments on thinkchristian!

bethany said...

Thanks folks. It's so touching to have support from people I haven't even met.

Morgan said...

Well you have met me, but congrats and stuff as well. I'm quite sure you'll still be a great voice for singles, as you still were that for a long time. Don't forget your single friends and start doing nothing but "couples" crap once you get married. Don't do it!

punishergood said...

Hi Bethany- found you via Rachel H Evans blog. I am single and really appreciate all you shared here on this post. Go to Kathy Escobars blog and read her article singleness and the church for some anecdotes. is my email if you ever want to hear more. Congrats as well on your engagement!!!