I was single until I was 30. During that time, when I spent time with my married peers, there were some things they said that really bugged me. Now that I’m married, I realize that part of my irritation was due to interpretation. On the single side, I understood the things they said in a way that was less than accurate.
If you’re single like I was, maybe I can enlighten you with the real meaning behind some of those annoying phrases. Here are four of them:
1. “I married up.” When I was single, I often heard this from the married guys at my church. It always made me feel bad about myself, because the concept of “marrying up” implies that it’s possible to either marry laterally or, if you’re super unlucky, marry down.
As a single woman, when I heard a married guy say that he had “married up,” I felt like he was saying that all of the single ladies who were left (like me) would have been a step down. The phrase also seemed to reinforce a commodity-based view of people and maybe even encouraged single guys to feel entitled to “marry up” themselves, even if that meant holding out for a fantasy woman who didn’t exist.
While I’m still not crazy about the phrase (I encourage my husband to not use it), if someone tells Kevin that he “married up,” I feel flattered, understanding that they are acknowledging my value. I also realize that husbands who say this are not demeaning other women but are praising their wives in a Proverbs 31:28 kind of way, giving them a special place of honor.
2. “When you find the right one, you’ll just know.” Married friends often like to gush about that “special feeling” that swept over them when they met their spouse. When I was single, this type of “click” with another person was a concept that was unfathomable to me.
Here’s the thing: This phrase does not apply to every person’s journey to marriage. I have several friends who agonized over their choice of a marriage partner and have splendid marriages today. This tells me that “just knowing” is not a prerequisite to finding a spouse. Still, this romantic ideal, which is similar to “love at first sight,” has its basis in reality … for some people.
All of my relationships before I met my husband, Kevin, simply were not a good fit. When I first began getting to know Kevin, our dynamic was different — and more effortless — than anything I had previously experienced. That doesn’t mean we’ve never had friction in our relationship. But unlike former relationships, with Kevin, I trusted the strength of our connection and had very little hesitancy moving forward toward marriage. You could say “I just knew” the relationship was right.
3. “Marriage is hard work.” Boundless writer Joshua Rogers recently told me that when he was single and heard this phrase, he “felt like all those people were just toxic and didn’t really love their spouses.” When you’re patiently waiting for what you imagine will be the best thing to happen to you ever, it’s a real bummer to hear people complain when they have what you want.
The thing is, you can’t understand the work involved in any endeavor until you’re doing it. When you start a new job, for example, you can guess what it will be like. But until you’re sitting at that job from 9:00 to 5:00 (or much later), you really have no idea how demanding or rewarding it will be.
The same is true of marriage: The challenges — as well as the very great joys — of married life are only fully known on the other side of the altar. Rogers puts it this way: “As it turns out, marriage is hard work — but we still need to make a point to let people know that it’s a lot of fun too.”
4. “Better to be single and wish you were married than married and wish you were single.” This one goes out to Lisa Anderson, who noted this annoying phrase in her article, “What Not to Say to Single Women in the Church.” In a similar vein to “marriage is hard work,” this statement can be downright hurtful when spoken to someone who desperately desires what you have.
Hindsight is 20/20, and unfortunately some women (and men) who made unwise choices in their marriage partners come to live this phrase. They wish they were single because the reality of marriage is so painful. What this saying fails to capture is that sometimes the reality of singleness, when you wish for a partner and companion, is equally painful to a struggling marriage. So until you’ve walked in the shoes of someone who’s been waiting for marriage for several years, you can’t truly say that one existence is better than the other.
Still, I see on a daily basis the gravity of my choice to marry a godly man. And I can truly say that my singleness was preferable to marrying someone who was not committed to the Lord or did not share my values. I would rather be single than be bound to a dysfunctional man.
Something for Everyone to Learn
I think something everyone can learn from phrases like these is that single and married folks need to have greater sensitivity toward one another. A statement that makes perfect sense to you may be hurtful to someone else. If you ever take offense to a statement, ask the person who said it their intended meaning. Likewise, if something you say seems to make someone bristle, investigate how your words are coming across. It’s a little more work either way, but it’s a valuable part of our God-given responsibility to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV).