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Platform Delving: That’s Going in My Next Book!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I just spent the last two hours reading this blog post and the 291 comments left there. Let me summarize it for you so you don’t have to spend that much time:

People say really dumb things to folks who aren’t married.

Well-meaning? Usually. Intended to encourage? Usually. Condescending and hurtful? Almost always.

As I’ve already established, the genre that I write—romance—is populated with unmarried people. And in my books, my unmarried heroes and heroines are always surrounded with well-meaning, intending-to-encourage people at their churches as well as their workplaces and in their families. But so far, I haven’t really had many of those loved-ones offering the same kind of “encouragement” or “advice” that I’ve been hearing myself for years and years and years. Mostly because when I’m writing, I’m writing my fantasy world—a world in which married people (even parents and pastors) don’t say stupid things to single people.

What only child/eldest child who didn’t marry young (or who did marry but decided to wait to have children) hasn’t heard, “I want grandchildren someday,” from a parent? (Or if it isn’t said in so many words, the person knows that’s what Mom’s thinking every time one of her friends calls to gloat about their most recent grandchild.) I did actually use that one in Menu for Romance—mostly because it’s something I never had to deal with (my parents have four grandchildren and two step-grandsons already).

As part of my effort to delve into my platform and see where it takes me, I’ve spent several hours today sending out a questionnaire to a bunch of single/unmarried folks—though my writing groups as well as doing websearches and finding bloggers that I “cold-called” and got responses from. As I was reading through those 291 comments, some of the questionnaires started coming back, and I was amazed at how many of them were almost verbatim as to what was on that blog.

Here are a few:

“You just need to stop looking. As soon as you stop looking you’ll find him.”
“You need to put yourself out there more. You need to search for opportunities to meet more single Christian men.”

“Don’t worry; God has someone special for you.”
“Maybe there’s something in your life God wants you to work on.”

This happened to me at a book signing event. The Total Stranger’s kids were running around screaming, wreaking havoc in the store:

    Total Stranger: “So, do you have children?”
    Me: “No, I’m not married.” (But thinking: Absolutely not, even if I were married!)
    Total Stranger: “Really? But you have such a pretty face. Some man out there’s going to be lucky to get you.”
    Me: (Reminding myself that I’m representing my publisher and God at this event.) “I’m actually very happy that God has allowed me to remain single so that I’ve had time to write and to travel. It’s the dream job I always wanted, and I wouldn’t be able to do it if I were married.”
    Total Stranger: (Looking at me with a mix of pity and disdain.) “That’s right. You just stay strong until God sends him to you.”

Then there’s this one from author Abidemi Sanusi:

    The day I signed the contract for my first book, I went to the church that night and screamed in delight to a friend, “I’ve got the most awesome news!”

    “You’re married?” Big grin, arms reaching out to hug me.

    “No. I’ve got my first book contract.”

    Her smile freezes, to be replaced by deep disappointment. “Is that all?”

Thich Truong , a young man who is currently in seminary pursuing an M.Div., had this to share:

    I have two younger siblings that have both married before me and it is the worst when “well-meaning” family and friends ask me why I haven’t married yet. What’s worse, I’ve actually had a member of the church tell me I need to go out and just find a girl and settle for her and get married.

B.K. Jackson shared this little gem:

    “You just wait. One day some man is going to walk into the room and you won’t know what hit you.”

[To which I immediately had the mental response: He can try, but I know self-defense.]

Sarah Salter, who works in the ministry full-time, related this:

    Before I bought my house, I lived with a widow. She was only 60 and so her own kids (all married with kids) are my age. She reminded me several times that my biological clock is ticking. And that I’m getting older. And that if I lost weight or did my hair differently, I might catch more interest. She made me feel pressured to be married, but unworthy of love.

Several people had similar experiences with these zingers:
“Maybe God has called you to a ‘season of singleness’ for a reason.”

“Maybe God just isn’t finished working on your husband/wife.” (Um, it only took Him SEVEN DAYS to create the whole universe.)

“God has blessed you with singleness so you have time to serve Him.” (Usually right before they dump a bunch of work on you that no one else at the church wants to do.)

And one of the things we dread the most about the holidays/family gatherings:
“So, are you seeing anyone yet?”

platformsAs I’ve done the research on this topic and read through posts like the one I linked to in the first line, I’ve started keeping a list of things that made me think: Ooh—I MUST use that in a book someday. And then it brought me right back around to what I’ve been writing about for the past couple of days. Writing books with characters that not only I can identify with, but characters who’re real enough that anyone can identify with them, because there’s enough truth in the fiction that either a single-adult reading it will recognize the things happening to the characters and married adults might recognize some of the things they’ve said and through the character’s honest and emotional reaction to it realize that, while well intentioned, many of these statements are usually more hurtful than helpful.

What are some “stupid things” you’ve heard people say that, while you know they were said with the best intentions, didn’t quite come out that way—which made you think, I’m going to use that in a story someday? (And this can be to anyone/any social group, not just singles.)

  1. Wednesday, September 23, 2009 11:49 am

    Mine was all relatives asking me if I was dating yet…the going out at ten type, while I had decided against useless high school relationships…what’s the use anyway if you’re not old enough to marry is my thinking. Anyway, and then the WEIRD looks I got when I revealed that yes, at the ripe old age of sixteen (at the time) I wasn’t dating. 😉


    • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 12:01 pm

      In one of the articles I read doing research for this “series,” the advice was given that if you couldn’t imagine yourself married to the other person a year down the road, you shouldn’t be dating them. I don’t know that I’d take it that far, but who am I to be questioning someone’s dating advice? 8)


  2. greyfort permalink
    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 1:14 pm

    Heh. That was a great article and most of the comments were hilarious – and oh so true.

    I hadn’t heard before that in some churches unmarried men can’t get leadership roles. Which astounds me.0 The churches I’ve been around usually love to get the unmarried men because there is an assumption they can get more work out of them!

    I had to laugh at one guy’s comment because it was almost verbatim what I wrote to you last night only different, *ahem* terminology.


    • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 5:42 pm

      I’m not sure exactly how prevalent it is in most denominations, but in Baptist churches, it’s basically an unwritten rule that to be considered for employment at a church, a ministerial applicant must be married. And it’s better if they have kids, too, which to me is so ridiculous—especially having gone through the personal experience of basically having to become the youth director at a previous church when the actual YD (you know, the one who got PAID for the job) was never around because his wife was pregnant.

      After all, married men never fall into sexual sin.


  3. Carol Bruce Collett permalink
    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 1:22 pm

    I have many years of experience as a pediatric nurse. One of the most hurtful things of my career was when a mom refused to let me take care of her child because I have never given birth. (Her first question to me was “How many children do you have.”) She actually told me I was not qualified to take care of sick children since I wasn’t a mother. I had to literally bite my tongue to refrain from explaining to her that labor pains do not guarantee pediatric expertise.


    • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 5:44 pm

      It just amazes me how people can be so short-sighted as to let their own prejudices get in the way of understanding that someone who’s not just like them may be even more qualified than they are to do a certain job.


  4. Wednesday, September 23, 2009 2:48 pm

    I have a friend who just has no idea what is appropriate to share in conversation. She has told me many times that seeing me struggle with my children makes her feel better about her struggles with hers.

    I suspect, however, that this bothers me most deeply because somewhere inside, I feel the same about her.

    (When I was pregnant the first time, she was pregnant, too, and she told me she took comfort in seeing me unable to sit through church meetings and knowing that someone else was suffering more than she.)

    Now, I have a story (and a rant): I have a friend who didn’t marry until she was . . . 30? (And that’s considered REALLY late in our church.) When she was 24-25, she had another “friend” tell her, “If you had enough faith, you would be married.”

    My poor friend believed this woman for years. She believed she wasn’t being faithful enough. It wasn’t until she heard a talk called “But If Not” that she finally realized what a poisonous, insidious lie she’d accepted.

    “But If Not” comes from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Facing certain death in the fiery furnace, they refused to deny their testimonies. They testified to the king that their God was able to save them, if he so chose—”But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

    Not that being single is like a fiery furnace 😉 . But these three men were faithful enough to believe that God could change their life situation, and even if He chose not to, they would still remain faithful—and my friend came to understand that faith is not contingent upon a “miracle.” Faith means believing no matter what.


    • Wednesday, September 23, 2009 5:47 pm

      The whole “your faith isn’t strong enough” or “there’s something wrong with you that you need to pray for God to fix” are two very common things that are said to singles—and they’re probably two of the most hurtful and most damaging, especially because those of us who aren’t married but who have had it pounded into our heads all our lives that to be “normal” means to get married by the time we’re 25 (or whatever the age is in that church/family/community) are already filled with self-doubt, self-loathing, and the self-fulfilling fear that something’s wrong with us, otherwise we would already be married.


  5. Emilie permalink
    Wednesday, September 23, 2009 6:39 pm

    My mom has been begging for grandchildren practically since my wedding day, and actually told me that (at age 25), I would soon be too old to have them, especially if I wanted more than one. Umm, hello, she gave birth to my younger brother at age 31, and my mother-in-law had my husband when she was nearly 40! She had a hard time getting pregnant, so of course she mentions that “it doesn’t always happen as fast as you want it to.” Which of course fills me with confidence and makes me so eager to have children.

    Just seems there’s no pleasing some people, whatever your current lifestyle.


    • Thursday, September 24, 2009 1:01 am

      I think the reason there’s no pleasing some people is because some people feel like we should want what they want on the same timetable in which they want it, whether it’s at what age we marry or when/if we have children. It really bothers me whenever I hear at a wedding reception (and I’ve heard it at almost every wedding I’ve been to) someone ask the bride and groom when they think they’re going to have their first baby. No pressure, though!


  6. Thursday, September 24, 2009 5:45 pm

    I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again! It really irks me when people say “…you’re finished with college so now you have time to get a boyfriend!” I thought after college I was supposed to go job hunting, not husband hunting! And the latest thing I’ve had said to me is you should move to a certain place…there are a lot of nice young people there you could meet!! Ahhhh I just want to pull my hair out sometimes!!!!


  7. Mike permalink
    Saturday, September 26, 2009 5:48 am

    To a military family (who has to move about every 2-3 years): “So, how much longer until your next assignment?” Ya, thanks for bringing that one up – again.


  8. Elizabeth permalink
    Thursday, April 4, 2013 11:01 am

    “I know you could have any man you wanted in 24 hours, so obviously you want to be single.” “If you at least tried to be pretty to men….” “If you didn’t insist on short hair, maybe you’d have better luck.” “I personally would never date an overweight woman, because it means she doesn’t respect herself, but I’m sure some men would.” “There’s something God wants to teach you first.” “God apparently knows you’re not ready or mature enough for a relationship.” “You have to be completely content being single.” “Are you dating yet? Um, well, are you into girls?” (That one from my grandmother.) “You need a good job first.” “Congratulations on your master’s degree, but now it’s time to find a husband.” “You must not really care.” “I knew I was called to have a family and God provided, so figure out what career God has called you to.”

    I found your website while trying to find out of there were other singles my age or older out there and whether they were sometimes discontent, too. You were encouraging, unlike the other sites I saw. Then I realized I’d read a couple of your books a couple of years ago. Anyway, I thank you for your honesty and openness.


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