When I sign my name at the end of an e-mail, I put a little dash after it. It looks like this, Ben-, and it reads, “Ben with a dash,” or just “Ben.” I never thought much about this habit of mine. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when my friend Ben Barber sent me an e-mail and signed it, Ben Barber+. It took me a moment to realize what he was insinuating. Then I laughed. And scowled. How dare he! It had never occurred to me that my little dash was also known as a “minus sign.” That I had been signing my name, “Ben minus sign,” for years. Oblivious.
Sometimes I feel this is how society sees me—as Ben Minus Sign. To society, I’m lonely little Ben, with no wife, no girlfriend. I’ve got no one. Hence, my minus sign. While Ben, he’s got Ashley, and a plus sign to prove it. He’s Ben Barber+.
The expectations of Adventist society place marriage right there next to graduation from college. In fact, many parents see sending their kids to college as a way of guaranteeing marriage. Stephanie Swilley wrote about this in the Adventist Review. She said, “My dad once jokingly commented that his daughters’ education at Southern Adventist University had been a failure. . . . He wasn’t talking about grades. He was referring to the glaring fact that my sister and I had both managed to leave what’s been dubbed ‘Southern Matrimony College’ without a husband, fiancé, or even a boyfriend.”
Failure. It’s a minus sign that society tags on us single people. And why? Because “seeing someone living alone, without the prospect of marriage in the immediate future, is uncomfortable for a lot of people” (Froese). We singles embody their fear of being alone.
If society had its way, I’d be telling you today that for every 100 single women in America, there are only 86 single men. So, ladies, to increase your odds of finding someone, you really should move to New York where 50 percent of adults are unmarried—the highest rate of any state. Or, for far better odds, move to Alaska, where there are 114 single men for every hundred of you single ladies.
That’s what society would want you to know, because society wants to trade your minus sign in for a good spouse and a plus sign. It’s safer. For all of us.
But the truth is, there are 95.7 million single men and women age fifteen and older in America. That’s 43 percent. Just 7 percent shy of half of America is living alone and doing just fine, thank you very much. Is it possible that we singles don’t need to be fixed?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like my minus sign. I’d much rather trade it in for a good wife and a happy little plus sign. Being single is hard. Being alone is lonely.
For seven years, my friend Ashley’s father Daryl Bohlender worked as an independent consultant in the health care industry. It was the ideal situation, really. The Bohlender home became his office. He got to be his own boss. Sure, there was noticeable loss of professionalism and support in the workplace, but that could be easily remedied.
Daryl made some business cards. They read, “Bohlender & Associates.”
When the Bohlender family would go out to a restaurant for dinner, and as the server was handing out menus and filling water glasses, Daryl would often say, “Let us discuss some business matters so that Bohlender & Associates will take care of dinner.”
Now, Daryl Bohlender was the only consultant that worked for Bohlender & Associates. The other members of the company were not so much consultants, or even associates, as much as they were Daryl’s family. His lovely wife Vickie. His three adoring children—Ashley, Chris, and Heather.
Why did Daryl Bohlender make these business cards? Was it for a laugh? To give his kids something fun? It might have been. But I think he did it because it’s hard to face life’s challenges when you’re facing them alone. It’s hard being single.
That’s why I’ve decided to become Ben Yancer, inc. It lets me picture myself surrounded by a team of paid professionals. And this puts me at ease.
Whatever we may face, whether it be a major merger or a high profile lawsuit, we will be okay. I’ve got the best executives in the world in my office. They’re competent. Able. Ready and willing to face the day.
Unlike me. Some days it’s all I can do just to talk myself into rolling out of bed. Which leads to another reason Ben Yancer, inc. is and will always be far superior to Ben Yancer. While Ben Yancer is just me, Ben Yancer, inc. is a we.
We is community. We is together.
We is like the hyphen in a phrasal adjectival. It connects the words in the phrase. When you diagram a sentence with a phrasal adjectival, the hyphen-like we helps the words stick together. For example, examine the following sentence: My out-of-this-world team of paid professionals puts me at ease. Look at all those helpful little hyphens. Look how they help the phrase “out of this world” bond together as one collective unit. That’s what we does.
We is community. We is together. We is strength. We has got your back.
Last week my dog Teddy came upstairs and lay down next to me on my bed. Slowly he scooted his way closer to me, until he was lying with the length of him pushed up against my side. I could feel his warmth. It was very cute. And endearing.
Some days I’m struck by how needy he can be. I wanna say, “Suck it up, man. Show some pride. Dignity.” And yet, he still shoves his little head under my palm, demanding a thorough petting.
Imagine with me, what if I waddled into Ben or Ashley’s room—they’re sitting on their bed typing on their laptop, and I lie down next to them. Then, ever so slowly, so as not to be noticed, I edge my way closer and closer, until my butt is pressed up against their side. I just don’t see how this could come across in a non-weirdo way. Granted, I could be lonely. I could even be cold. But there are just some things that dogs can pull off, and we humans will never be able to.
Unless you’re married, I suppose. Then all the rules fly out the window. But if I were married, the psycho-happy-face blanket that’s on my bed right now would prolly also have to fly out the window. Lots of things would have to change.
I might be willing to make that sacrifice.
Why do people get married?
A few weekends ago, while I was at my friend Amy Barber’s wedding, I got to thinking about my minus sign and society’s expectations. During the service, another friend of mine, John Rivera, recited a text that Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes.
He said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
That’s why people get married. For strength. Because on our own, we’re more likely to be broken.
A few days after Amy’s wedding, I got out my Bible and found those words by Solomon. And when I did, I was intrigued by the verse that comes right before what John had shared.
“There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (Ecclesiastes 4:8)
To me, Solomon is saying, “Relationships give purpose to our living.”
However, when society tags those minus signs on us single people, it fills our minds with a misconception. It tells us that marriage gives purpose to living. We begin to believe that life without marriage is not life.
A 27-year-old woman named Connie was on Dr. Phil’s TV show recently. She told him, “When I pass by the bridal store, I just want to put my foot through the window. I wonder when it’s going to be my turn. All my friends are getting married, and my family and friends constantly ask when I’m going to get married. I look in the mirror and wonder if there’s something wrong with me. When I see a nice-looking couple, I envy that. That’s what I want. I have this feeling I’m going to be an old maid and live with 100 cats. I’m obsessed with the thought of never finding the one. Being unmarried at 27 makes me feel unaccomplished, like a loser! Dr. Phil, how do I get over feeling like I’m an old maid?”
“What is it about getting married that’s going to fix your life?” asked Dr. Phil. “Do you feel like that will complete you?”
“It does,” said Connie, explaining that she hopes to have children one day and wants to do it with a lifetime partner. “I want to get married but feel that I’m destined to be alone: Aunt Connie with 100 cats.”
“Is it possible that from a very young age you were taught that this is a rite of passage?” asked Dr. Phil. “That you don’t become an adult or a woman until you get married?”
“That’s just it,” agreed Connie. “Everybody says it.”
“But that doesn’t make it true,” explained Dr. Phil. “There is a big difference between saying, ‘I want to be married, and ‘I have to be married.’
The tricksy thing about society is that it leaves us with a half truth. It says that life without marriage is not life. And really, this is almost true. Life without what marriage offers is not life. And what does marriage offer? Strength. Relationship. Companionship.
However, marriage is not the only place to find these things.
So let’s go to the source. Where do they come from?
They come from God. God made them.
God is the ultimate strength, the ultimate relationship, the ultimate companion.
I want to get married. I believe in marriage. But it’s hard for me to believe, from where I am now, that there will ever be a time for marriage in my life. I look ahead with longing, and I get so sad and depressed and lonely. And I start to hate being single. I turn myself into a minus sign.
There are love songs on the radio. And all my friends are in happy fulfilling, plus-sign relationships. But I look around myself, and I see no one. And it makes me want to cry.
And on those days, when I’m alone—if I ask Him, if I let Him, God will come in me. He’ll take over.
God will be my team of paid professionals. And He’ll be yours. He’ll work better hours. He won’t ask for benefits, but instead, He’ll give them to us.
Whatever we may face, whatever problems may come our way, we will be okay. We’ve got the best Executive in the universe in our office. He’s competent. Able. Ready and willing to face all of our days, single or otherwise.