Why Self-Discovery isn't Enough for Your Single Life

In Sunday's sermon I mentioned that the dominant narrative around the purpose of singleness is self-discovery. People think of singleness as a time to discover their sexuality, personality, and preferences. This in turn helps them to pick a partner they are compatible with, which in turn will help them to stay married. I also mentioned that I think this is inadequate for 3 reasons (but I only told you one of those reasons). So here are all three reasons I think the self-discovery narrative is inadequate.

[Just a quick note that the sermon itself makes clear that I do not believe the purpose of singleness is marriage-preparation, but this post engages that cultural idea directly, thus is concerned with that one aspect of singleness.]

First, the absolute worst way to prepare to spend the rest of your life confined in a small space with another sinner you have vowed never to leave is to spend a decade focusing on yourself. The exact opposite is true; the best way to prepare for marriage is to spend your life in an others-focused way, considering their wants, needs, and desires as more significant than your own. Self-discovery is a good thing, it's just a wholly inadequate way to prepare you for the kind of radically other-focused existence that marriage requires.

Second, I reject that knowing yourself translates to your ability to pick a healthy partner. The logic goes that when you know yourself you are able to pick someone who is "right" for you, but I don't think you can know another person well enough to make that kind of decision with any sort of accuracy. Knowing yourself may increase your odds of picking a healthy partner, but I maintain that marriage partner picking is fundamentally a crap-shoot. 

Finally, I reject that picking a mate with whom you are compatible will lead to a healthy marriage. I believe that compatibility is a myth that we tell ourselves to buttress our increasingly selfish notions that we will find someone who will not require us to change. So if we can find the "perfectly compatible" person then marriage will require nothing of us but to just be ourselves. Sound too good to be true? It is. 

Marriage requires you to change, it requires you to be radically other-focused, and it requires you to adjust to the fact that you picked the wrong person because eventually we are all the wrong person. The success of your marriage might be beyond your control if your spouse decides to leave, but so far as it depends on you, marriage succeeds to the degree that you spend your singleness learning commitment to difficult ideals, faithfulness in little things, self-sacrifice, and self-knowledge (to the degree that self-knowledge pushes you to change and grow). Self-discovery is a good thing, it just can't deliver everything it promises in our modern age of singleness.