Singleness: Australian Stats and Refelctions

In preparation for the upcoming Christ Centred Singleness workshop I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading into singleness in today’s culture.

I read an interesting quote a while back that suggested that the hardest impact of being single hits around the age of 35. This is when the majority of one’s peers are either married or in de facto relationships.

relationships by age

After having a quick look at the 2006 Australian census data the quote was backed up. The ages of 35 and 74 are where the greatest number of people are living in committed relationships.

It seems that ages 18-24 are a period where singleness is prevalent, and those who are looking for their life companion are amongst others of a similar mind-set. This means that peer support is at its peak for singles in this age group.

From 25-30 years of age is the biggest jump into marriage. The marriage and de facto statistics triple from ~20% to ~60%. Suddenly the cultural norm for those in this age bracket is to be in committed relationships.

Then from ages 35 through to 74, at any given time more than 1 in 5 Australians are not living in committed relationships. This means they are in the minority and are travelling through a significant period of time alone. This is a time where people are raising families and accumulating wealth. Think especially of the single parents who invest all their resources into their children.

Then later in life the rate of singleness significantly increases. This is obviously because of an aging population. The number of widows and widowers increases dramatically. For some of these people, they will be learning how to live a life of singleness for the first time in 40 or 50 years.

If singleness is such a prominent issue within our culture why is it never talked about? The answer is quite simple, because our culture has built up marriage to be the epitome of significance. We’re told that we aren’t really whole until we find our ‘other half’. The media suggests that if you’re single there’s likely something wrong with you; you’re likely not attractive enough, don’t have enough money, too old or are socially awkward.

Australians have become convinced that singleness is a period of transition. It’s a time of reconnaissance, as we find our life long partner. It’s a time to be free from commitment, until you’re fulfilled by that same commitment. As Australians we typically want to have our cake and it too.

It’s time we had a long hard look at the place of marriage in our culture. Marriage shouldn’t be about determining one’s value or significance.

Our culture needs to look at how we can edify those who aren’t married or in committed relationships. Singles can add value and meaning to our communities. The goal of a single person shouldn’t be primarily to get married. Maybe it’s time our culture started to value singleness as a real authentic means of contributing to society.

Whether you’re single, married, divorced or widowed, you are important to those around you. You have every right to love and be loved in a community. Everyone is single at the beginning of their lives, some people move into relationships, and the vast majority of people are single again at the end of their lives. If anything, relationships are the time of transition between the state of singleness.

Just Another Reality Dating Show… Married At First Sight

What do you think of the idea of getting married to someone who you’ve never laid eyes on? What do you think of the concept of doing it in front of the nation, on TV for entertainment purposes? Is it just another cultural version of arranged-marriage? Or is it something more? More than 21,000 Australians have voiced their opinion at change.org in a petition to axe the show “Married at First Sight”. What are your thoughts?

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Now let’s be clear, they aren’t getting married on the show, at least not in a legal sense. They are partaking in a ‘commitment ceremony’ behind the façade of marriage. Which is all good and well, apart from the fact that the show is called “Married at First Sight”. Adding to the confusion is the fact that participants have the option to ‘divorce’ after a 30 day ‘try before you buy’ period. Of course, it’s not a legal divorce it’s just an opt-out as there was no actually legal marriage in the first place.

So what’s the problem with it all?

In a day and age where the word and concept of ‘marriage’ is being torn apart like a rabbit in a wolves den, a show like this is hardly helpful. Everyone, including Christians, the LGBT community and the Australian governments are fighting to define what is and isn’t regarded as marriage. A show like this belittles marriage to a meaningless event that has zero gravity in a world that demands stable footing. Even those who are currently fighting that marriage should be open to same-gender partners should be outraged at the concept of a social experiment that reduces life long commitment to a try before you buy entertainment package.

For the majority of Australians, marriage is a sacred union that symbolises the love and commitment of two people who intend to be united as family for the remainder of their lives.

For Christians, it is much more. Marriage is a gift from God. It is a blessed union where two people declare their love for each other, and their unified love for God in front of their community. It is a symbol of God’s unending love between himself and his people. It should not be entered into lightly, but rather with reverent and serious consideration. Marriage is a gift from God, for the benefit of all mankind. In the confines of marriage men and women can express their love and sexuality with one another in a safe and nurturing environment. It is intended to be a life-long union in which a new family is created. A family in which cares for and nurtures all its members in a secure and loving environment. It’s for these reasons that the gift of marriage was given, and it’s for reasons akin to these that one might consider entering into a vow of marriage.

Then there is the entertaining social experiment that “Married at First Sight” offers TV viewers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a massive fan of the process of statistical dating and/or marriage preparation. That is, using gathered data to identify one’s romantic prospects with another. In fact, I would go as far to say that every couple planning on getting married should take a close look at the data that flows between themselves and their partner. Influences such as family and cultural backgrounds, finances, ambitions, leisure activities and personality types are but a few of the things that play into our daily relationships. Christians have a strong history of using this method in pre-marriage counselling. Being able to identify strengths and weaknesses between couples in these areas is absolutely key to having a successful relationship. And this is one thing that ‘Married at First Sight’ offers. A statistical analysis of the couples potential. And we should be all for that. I earnestly hope that the ‘couples’ on this show can develop long-lasting meaningful relationships that transcend statistical data. I pray that they can have the opportunity to reflect on the concept of marriage and have the opportunity to commit to one another, in a real wedding, before all their family and friends, and before the Lord.

But what we should despise, is the idea that a statistically positive couple can and should enter into a marriage based on those stats without even knowing each other. The show doesn’t offer marriage, and it shouldn’t pretend to. The problem for the script writers is, if they remove ‘marriage’ from the TV show all their left with is another dating show, and no one would be interested in watching it. They are trying to raise the stakes to buy viewers, but the cost is further diluting the already diminished ideology of marriage.

Further, they are tainting the perception of arranged-marriage. They (being the experts on the show) are correct in saying that in some places the divorce rate for arranged marriages are lower than in western cultures. However there are many unmentioned factors that play into this. On the positive, arranged marriages that are successful are conducted by the families of those to be wed. They know and love them in such a way that a suitable partner is found with the genuine care for the wedded couple in mind. They don’t have an entertainment and a statistical social experiment motive. On the negative, the social stigma for divorce in many of these cultures is so horrific that dysfunctional marriages that contain abuse and neglect are seen as a better option than divorce.

Whichever way you slice the pie, “Marriage at First Sight” is an appalling concept. Having pretend weddings should be reserved for little children and their doll collections, not industry leading entertainers and mental health professionals. The one thing that we can all agree on is a ~50% divorce rate is completely unacceptable and something needs to be done about it. In my humble opinion unless reality TV starts to reflect reality it’s not the way to go about fixing the problem. It’s time Australia took a stand on what marriage is, and isn’t, and then defended it.