The same week that this individual relayed his story, I was buried under a mountain of essay grading and was dealing with an engine light that kept coming back like the proverbial bad penny. Because I did not have a husband who could transport me to work while the car was at the mechanic’s (and back to the mechanic’s from work), I had to figure out alternate means of transportation. The garage offers a shuttle anywhere in a 5 mile radius, but does not open until 7. I typically arrive at work somewhere between 6:30-6:45. So by the time they opened and shuttled me through the traffic jam of school arrivals, it meant that I showed up to work just as the bell rang, feeling completely frazzled by my lack of ability to settle in before the students arrived. This happened thrice. In all, I had to make four trips in one week before my car was finally fixed.
I am a clean person and do not leave food out, nor do I let dirty dishes languish in my sink for days. So, you can imagine my chagrin when one day as I watched TV in my living room (during the same time period I was dealing with my car), I caught movement from the corner of my eye and turned to see a mouse frolicking about on my kitchen floor. Great, I thought, now I have to make sure I get home from work in time to sign up for the exterminator in the main office. I did this, but the exterminator proved to be ineffective. Because I signed up for him four times all told (four seems to be my number for these things, I guess.) One time it was after I sat at my dining room table, eating breakfast before church and witnessed the mouse pop up through the burners on my stove and run across my kitchen counter. Twice. I finally ended up catching the mouse myself with a sticky trap, which is a pretty inhumane thing to do and a soul-crushing thing to witness. But at least I am reasonably assured I’m no longer in danger of contracting the plague from Mr. Rampant Rodent.
I had only a few weeks before taken care of an ant infestation, and there are the occasional cockroaches that make their way up through my drains despite my best efforts to close them all up. I kill my own spiders and change my own tires not out of a need to assert my feminist ideology, but out of necessity. The problem with the smug married’s claim that single people “don’t know busy,” is that singleness by its very nature means being busy. It is always my turn to cook dinner, always my turn to do the dishes afterward. It is always my turn to do laundry, clean the bathroom, sweep the floors, dust, vacuum, water the plants, take out the trash, get the oil changed, pay the bills, change the light bulbs, do the grocery shopping, set the clocks back. On top of working a full time job teaching teenagers, which is exhausting, all of the domestic responsibilities that most couples split between them fall to me alone. Furthermore, when I come home from work, no one is there to ask me how my day was. There is no one to vent to about a student who was openly defiant and rude to me. I don’t have someone who will stroke my hair as I sob about a kid, who despite my going above and beyond to help him, refuses to do the work he is more than capable of doing. I do not have someone who will recognize that I spent the whole day on my feet, spending all of my introvert energy reserves engaging 70 teens and navigating staff politics. If I want or need to be pampered after a long day, it is up to me to figure out how to do that for myself. That is, after I have taken care of all the household responsibilities.
The truth is, these smug marrieds have never really been single. They went from living with their parents, to living with a roommate in college, to living with their spouse. They really have no clue what life is like when you must navigate it alone. They don’t fully understand the sometimes heart-breaking reality of
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I do not have a good return for my labor. I don’t have a second income going toward rent and utilities, or tax benefits that come with being married. I don’t have the security of knowing that if I lose my job, I can survive for a short time on my spouse’s income. I don’t have the security of knowing that if something were to happen to me during the night, there would be someone there to call 911. I don’t have the medical benefits (like lower risk of heart disease and stroke), and as verse 11 expounds, I don’t have someone to keep me warm in the igloo that is my bedroom during the winter. The best I can do is the tiny space heater the front office checked out to me.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that single people are absolutely miserable, because that’s a stereotype that smug marrieds really need to let go of. Normally, I do okay with all of the aforementioned stresses because I can also tell you about the glorious advantages of being single, like the fact that since it is always my turn to cook, I have exactly what I want for dinner with no compromise. And because I’m in charge of the house, everything is decorated the way I like with camels everywhere and nary a Jabba the Hutt figurine in sight. However, every once in a while, I encounter a smug married and become annoyed by their, well, smugness. They act as though they have solved life by virtue of having entered matrimony and offer unsolicited advice to those of us who haven’t. They view single people as incomplete, like we are half people waiting for an organ donor of sorts to make life bearable. Or worse, they view us as being in a state of arrested development. There is still a vein of thinking in our society that a person does not truly enter adulthood until they get hitched and/or have children. This is beyond insulting and demonstrates a complete disconnect from reality.
After a month in which I dealt with a broken car, a rodent in my kitchen, extra work at work, a bout of food poisoning I could have used a soda crackers and Sprite runner for, and a few other stressors that would have been greatly ameliorated by having a spouse, I felt like life was dumping on me. As though God were trying to teach me how sucky being single can be, and I thought, Really, God? Because I kind of already knew all this. And then smug married said his thing in Sunday school and that was it. I had to vent. So here it is. Again, I’m not really complaining about being single because I do enjoy being able to decide on Friday night that I’m going to take a road trip Saturday morning and not have to clear it with anyone, for example.
But it would be nice if people recognized that life favors the coupled. Not just in the ways I’ve already outlined but in myriad other ways as well, from simple things like buy one get one half off entrees at restaurants to bigger things like getting “family rates” on insurance and more nebulous things like societal attitudes (ask yourself if your church would be likely to hire a single pastor, for example, or if they would strongly prefer one who is married). And it would be nice if this recognition resulted in a change of behavior and attitude so that single adults are not given the added burden of dealing with the kind of patronization that Mr. Sunday School showed the woman he was talking to.
*Please note that smug marrieds are a subgroup. Most married people I know are very pleasant, non-patronizing people. I am in no way attacking married people as an entire group.