It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, and I’m in front of the bathroom mirror applying lipgloss, checking to make sure that I’m not wearing too much mascara and picking lint off of the shoulder of my little black dress. I have a date—with my girlfriend Paula and her husband, Brian.
I’ll be joining them at their home in Tampa for dinner and spending the night in their guestroom to avoid the past-midnight commute back to my apartment in St. Petersburg. The following day, Paula and I will visit Centro Ybor, the local entertainment mecca, for an afternoon of lunch and window-shopping, while Brian, who is a law student, studies for his midterms. It isn’t uncommon for me to spend a lot of time with the Williamses. After all, Paula is brilliant, witty and generous—and also one of my best friends. Brian is well read, intelligent and an extremely entertaining guy—what girl wouldn’t want to spend her time with people like these?
According to society, a girl like me. I just happen to be single. Shouldn’t I be out at a club with a single friend, or having a single girls’ group date to dinner and the movies? Indeed, I do both occasionally, but the truth is, I really love being with my married friends. We have common interests and enjoy time spent in each other’s company. They think I’m funny, and I think they’re fabulous. We fit well together, and when I’m around them, I forget that according to modern dictates, I should at least feel like a third wheel, or the odd person out. But I don’t. I realized a long time ago that in most cases, I will get out of a relationship exactly what I put into it. The marital status of my friends doesn’t stop them from enriching my life, nor does mine impair me from contributing an equal amount of enrichment to theirs.
My girlfriend Rita agrees. Single like me, she also has a lot of friends who are married or in long-term relationships. We both agree that our age group may have a bearing on the marital status of our friends. We are in our mid-20s, and people are naturally progressing, it seems, toward big, puffy dresses and honeymoons in the Caribbean and ’til death do they parts. We celebrate them, we have a fabulous time at their weddings, and we enjoy their collective company, but we aren’t ready to join them in wedded bliss. Should we then change the friendship because their relationship with the opposite sex has changed? What about people that we meet and form a connection with who just happen to be married? I am certainly not willing to let that stand in my way. If I did, I’d miss out on a lot of really special relationships.
In some cases, instances of married and single connections are increasing by design. This is especially true in churches, where some congregations are making their discipleship programs more “single friendly” by involving singles in committees and classes typically reserved for couples. They see it as a way to encourage singles to become active members of the fellowship. It’s also beneficial to address single issues and marriage/family based issues to classes attended by both single and married people, helping both groups to understand the issues being faced. This newly developed integration could be based on the large number of single adults in church today. Statistics show that the median ages at first marriage are at an all time high in American history. Women are typically waiting until they are 25 and men until they are 27 to marry. Add to this the instances of young couples divorcing, and the singles group grows even larger.
Another way for singles to bond with married people is through mentoring programs. In churches across the country, mentoring programs are available to people who want to connect, regardless of marital status. In these programs, there are more experienced people, typically married, who are eager to guide those who may just be starting out—new college graduates, new church members, and the like, regardless of marital status. Mentoring programs offer a chance for people to develop relationships that may not have existed without them. The friendships that are born out of these relationships are often strong, lasting ones, forged of a common bond, especially in the instances where, as a single person, one may feel left out. These relationships are also seen as a way to help the single person feel more involved and connected to the congregation.
In many ways, married people are just as enriched by their single friends. We keep them young. We bring with us the message that they are important to us as individuals and as a couple, and that they are a much-needed part of our circle of friends. We remind them of one of the main reasons that they got married in the first place—to escape the ever-present cycle of dating disasters that are part of every single person’s life. We bring them stories from the front, and in return, they steady us, entertain us and allow us to see what a fully stocked refrigerator looks like. It is truly a win-win situation.
In all actuality, I believe that the connection between married and single people is invaluable. The problem is that many of us can’t see past the stereotypical barriers that “the norm” has built up over the past several decades that have kept us apart, deciding for us that we should stick with “our kind.” To tell you the truth, I don’t think that “the norm” has any idea what “our kind” really is. It’s only when we are willing to work our way past these barriers that we can truly appreciate the incredible fortune of being part of these relationships. In many ways, deciding to let go and trust that I am an important part of my married friends’ lives despite my single status was the best favor I’ve ever done for myself. I am reminded daily that our disregard for marital status is part of what allowed my relationship with Paula to deepen. Since I can’t imagine my life without her (and her husband Brian) in it, I thank God that He made me a rebel.
And so, it’s Saturday night, and I am in front of the mirror again. I have a date with my girlfriends Brianna, Caryn and Regina, and when we get together tonight, it won’t matter that one of us is married and the other three are not. It won’t stop us from behaving like this is a girls’ night out. We know that what matters is that we have this connection, this friendship, that gives us a place to belong, to share common interests and to support one another. And you can’t change that with a wedding ring.
[Melanie Levi is a writer from Tampa Bay who spends her time at coffee shops and bookstores. She loves a good chai latte and admits that half the experience of going to the bookstore is in the smell of the pages that fills the room.]
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