Q: I notice that organized religion is aimed at families and married couples. It seems as if children are an integral part of the church, and people with children are provided with many more opportunities to interact with each other than childless people.
I'm in my 50s and have had several serious relationships, but they've all fallen apart before marriage. The older I get, the harder it seems to be to meet potential partners. I've met two of my partners through church, but I don't see many single men attending at this point.
I have friends, a good job and family nearby, and I'm active in my community, but I feel empty without a partner to share my life. I know I'm not the only person finding life difficult to navigate alone. Many of my friends are also single. We grew up hearing Matthew 19:5 about leaving our father and mother and uniting with a spouse. I assumed this was God's plan for all of us. If so, why are there so many single people looking for someone special, and why can't we seem to find each other?
I know I don't fully understand God's plan for me and can't always see the big picture, but why would he want me to go through life alone? — An Old Maid (please do not use my name or initials)
A: I'm deeply saddened but not surprised by your painful but spiritually insightful agony. You're absolutely right that organized religion and its institutions are primarily constructed to care for the spiritual needs of married couples and their children. Single people are often overlooked.
The historical reason for this spiritual lacuna is obvious. Religions were formed long before adolescence became a large social force. By adolescence, I don't mean the teenage years, although quite often a person's drift away from organized religion begins then. I mean the period of time between puberty and marriage.
Until the modern era, that period of time in a person's life was brief or nonexistent. People began learning a trade and working, and were often married off in their early teenage years. Most died before reaching what we now call middle age. The major faiths developed rituals and institutions to meet the needs of the only people they knew — adults and children.
Look at all the holiday celebrations and you'll see they have rich and varied roles for married adults and children, but little or nothing for single adults.
Easter and Passover come to mind. Family dinners and children's activities festoon these holidays and give both parents and children much to do and much to anticipate. Alas, Easter egg hunts and searching for the hidden matzah are not big draws for people who don't have families of their own and don't want to elbow out the kids on their way to finding the chocolate eggs.
With the advent of extended training for adult work and romantic love as the reason for marriage, it's not unusual today for people to still be completing their education well into their 30s. These days, the period between puberty and marriage can last two decades or more.
Of course, churches, synagogues and other religious institutions have tried to create new ways to cover the adolescence gap. Singles services and social events help, but they can seem artificial and contrived to many people seeking to connect to each other and to God. Religious-based online dating sites work for some.
The Jewish community has had success sending Jewish adolescents on group trips to Israel through the Birthright program. I would also mention for praise the Mormon year of service, which provides both spiritual connection and service uniquely suited to those who are not children and not married.
As to your frustration at not finding a soul mate, let me urge you to have patience and devote your free time to social service. The best way to find a mate with good values and spiritual roots is to go to places where people like that are doing good things. They find each other by finding God in the eyes of a hungry child or a homeless veteran. You are surely one of them.
(Send QUESTIONS ONLY to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)