You’re not married. And you’re in good company. Unmarried adults now outnumber married adults in the US and in many other countries. Whether your relationship status is never married, divorced, widowed, or “it’s complicated,” you still need intimacy. So what does intimacy for singles look like?
The Christian church has not done a very good job of helping singles address this. The early church grew up in a world where the culture at large promoted an “anything goes” sexual ethic. And today’s post-modern culture certainly promotes the same. Faithful followers of Jesus have and still do hold the anti-cultural view that God intended sex to be between one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage.
So, what’s a faithful follower of Jesus who happens to be single supposed to do with all that?
This question is personal to me. I lived single until God brought my husband into my life in my 40s. And I’m living single again since he passed away and went home to be with the Lord. So I get it. Been there, done that, doing that right now.
You’ve probably heard a lot about what you’re not supposed to do. You’re not supposed to have sex (you’re not married, right?), or look at porn. No friends with benefits. No shacking up. Sure, there’s plenty of sex, porn use, and similar stuff going on, but is that really OK? Part of you probably believes it’s not OK, and that’s why you’re reading this.
But what are you supposed to do? Almost nobody talks about that. So here we go.
Intimacy and Sex are Not the Same
If you have a sex drive, it’s real. And culture makes it harder; our hyper-sexualized world promises gratification of your desires if you just do “this.” You have hormones and sex organs.
And so did Jesus. Jesus was fully human, with all the sex hormones and sex drive that you have. And He lived Fully Alive without ever being married or having sex. Would anyone want to say Jesus would have been more Fully Alive if He had had sex? I certainly don’t!
How did He do it? He remained very tight with His heavenly Father.
And He still needed intimacy, just like you and I do.
We minimize Jesus’ humanity too often. The way He’s been portrayed in much of our Christian art, movies, and writing has emphasized His divinity. But He was also completely human. He lived in a very human body. He got tired and dirty. He bled real blood. He experienced real human emotions. He had real human needs.
Including the need for intimacy.
You can’t experience intimacy just by taking the clothes off your body. You experience intimacy by removing the coverings from your heart and mind and soul. Seeing and being seen, knowing and being known.
Intimacy vs. sex? Society and the church have both conflated those two things. Start by differentiating the two in your own soul. When you feel a certain desire, what is it you’re really after? Yes, your body may be experiencing certain sensations. But also look deeper. What are the unfilled holes in your soul that you are seeking to get filled?
You will need to learn to steward well the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy that God built within you and that evil has hijacked. Don’t fall into the belief culture promotes that often says if you have sex you’ll be OK. Or on the other side the church can give the message that as a single your only choice is to bottle up your need for intimacy. That’s no better.
Jesus showed us how to do this. He pursued true authentic intimacy with a few other men and women. He allowed Himself to need them. He opened His heart to them even when it was risky. He got hurt and disappointed, even betrayed by those He sought to connect with. But He did it anyway. (And just ask any of your married friends; a ring on your finger doesn’t guarantee you won’t get hurt or feel lonely!!)
For you, that means looking for a small handful of people you truly connect with, people who you know deeply and they truly know you. You’re up in each other’s business, challenging and encouraging and praying for each other. The cliché “doing life together” fits here.
A small group at church can be a place to start, but it’s not usually adequate. Church rarely provides the framework for the depth of intimacy you need. You’ll need to intentionally look for a few who are “your people” and invest time, energy, and risk in pursuing intimacy together. This can be with other unmarried people or with married people, a small cadre of fellow travelers following Jesus together.
This is hard, my friends! I know! I don’t do this nearly as well as I “should.” You’ll be disappointed and likely hurt. And it will be worth it anyway.
Intimacy with God
One of the dimensions of spiritual life that singleness displays uniquely well is the opportunity to have God as your “plus One.” Your intimacy with Him can be undistracted. Yes, married people can experience this, but you uniquely live out what it means to rely on Him for your deepest needs and desires.
Of course Jesus showed us how to do this also. He often went away alone to spend time in communion with His heavenly Father. If sexual desire is a challenge for you, learn to daily, DAILY, submit your sexuality to Jesus. Make Him the Lord of this part of your life too.
You can learn to talk to God about everything. Let your emotions roll out in His presence. Bring your right brain to the party. Learn how to be still and just BE with Him. If you desire romance, learn to experience how He romances you. If you need validation and adventure, His gaze and His voice is the only one that ultimately matters.
One day at a time, pursuing healthy godly intimacy with others and with God Himself. That’s how you address intimacy for singles.
Your Turn: How have you dealt with your need for intimacy as a single? What has helped you? What would you tell other singles about what intimacy for singles can look like? Leave a comment below.
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