In our culture, some experiences are awarded more social credit than others. For example, my parents love to remind me that those without children cannot offer robust opinions on rearing them. Since others (such as my aunt and uncle) have not experienced parenting, their opinions are less valid–regardless of what other experiences they may have had while living extensively overseas or participating in children-oriented church communities. The idea that one particular experience is necessary in order to be fully informed is severely lacking in nuance. I believe that personal experience serves to develop empathy, but it does little to nothing to develop a logical, coherent worldview. I might go so far as to argue that personal experience clouds rational judgement. Any rounded conversation should include people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Using the experience of one particular event as a metric of a speaker’s validity prevents dissenting opinions from being heard.
In my own life, I have not experienced a romantic relationship. I have gone on a few dates, but I have never had a boyfriend. In both religious and secular contexts, this means that my voice is excluded from some conversations, as I “clearly” cannot understand the full complexity of dating. While it is true that my lack of dating experience can make it hard for me to empathize with people who make questionable decisions for the sake of love, I believe that my experience of long-term singleness gives me a unique, needed perspective on romance.
Because I am experiencing singleness, I know first-hand that it is possible to live a happy, meaningful, community-filled life without that one special person. I am not interested in a relationship for the sake of a relationship; I only want to date if the person I’d be dating would help me stay on the path I’m committed to follow. Because I am experiencing singleness, I have deeply and personally considered a future life without marriage–thus giving me empathy for same-sex-attracted and divorced individuals who consider life-long celibacy as God’s call for them. Because I am experiencing singleness, I first turn to God for emotional support when I am feeling broken; I have no close relationship that is competing for that place of honor. I agree with Paul; my worries are more for the things of God as I am not distracted by the concerns I would have for a boyfriend or husband. My singleness is not defined by the absence of experiencing dating–just as dating is not defined by the absence of experiencing singleness.
I’d like to see a world where people with a wide variety of experiences – from well-to-do, white, straight-laced families to poor, minority, free-spirited individuals–all had an equal place at the table of community conversation.
Lord, may the church be one.