- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jennifer Marshall’s first book, “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century,” published this month, aims to help single women claim direction and purpose in their lives now, rather than waiting for the “not yet” of marriage. She offers practical advice on career, finances, relationships and holding out for Mr. Right.

Almost one in three women has not married by age 30, and in the past four decades, the most common age of first marriage has increased four years to 25, said Miss Marshall, who lives in Arlington.

“Life is about more than marital status, and singleness is more than a holding pattern. This book is about redeeming the time between now and the not yet for which we hope,” she writes in the book’s introduction.

Miss Marshall is the director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, where she oversees research in several areas, including education, welfare, marriage and family. She manages familyfacts.org, an online catalog of social science relating to family and religious practice. The following are excerpts from an interview with Miss Marshall:

Question: Why did you write this book? What message do you hope to get across to your readers?

Answer: Many women are single longer than they expect to be these days. The average age of marriage has risen four years in my lifetime, and yet expectations about getting married and having a family haven’t shifted that much, so a number of women are finding themselves in this unexpected in between and that can lead to a sense of disillusionment. “Now and Not Yet” is intended to help women feel equipped for this unexpected in between. Young women should feel a sense of purpose and contentment now even as they hope for marriage and family in the future. Single life may be the unexpected in between, but it shouldn’t be a holding pattern — the idea that this is somehow throwaway time. This is purposeful time.

Q: How did you go about writing your book?

A: “Now and Not Yet” combines individual women’s experience with cultural observations. I got input from 50 women in their early 20s to early 40s through interviews and focus groups, and I also ran an informal online survey in spring 2006 to which 650 women responded. And while the book is mostly about women’s experiences and perspectives, I did want to get some male input on these issues, so I interviewed a dozen single men between their early 20s and early 40s.

Q: What does the title “Now and Not Yet” mean?

A: It’s meant to be a reference to the idea of not yet, something in the future we’re hoping for and a goal not reached. And the now is today, and there’s a tension between those two things. There’s a purpose in the now while we seek for the not yet that we hope for.

Q: What is “Destination Marriage”?

A: We tend to treat marriage like a destination and forget the journey there and the journey beyond the wedding day is purposeful and has significance. Seeking Destination Marriage leaves women who haven’t reached it feeling unfulfilled.

Q: How have feminism and cultural changes in the past few decades affected the chances for women to marry?

A: Feminists who went before us were talking about the fact that they didn’t have the career opportunities that they wanted, but today women have all kinds of career opportunities, but obstacles seem to be in the way of finding lasting love. Feminism has complicated relations between the sexes and created more confusion about singleness.

Q: Why is singleness on the rise in America?

A: There are a number of factors contributing. One of the major ones is that women are spending more years in education, and there are certainly many cultural dynamics that have made the road less clear than it was for generations past. Sexual revolution, the divorce culture, feminism, increased mobility and higher education levels, these have all changed the dynamics between the sexes.

Q: What’s become of romance, a title of one of the chapters in your book? Why has the dating process become ambiguous?

A: A number of cultural observers are describing today’s romantic scene as characterized by hooking up and hanging out. On the one hand, we live in a very sexualized culture, and on the other hand, male-female relationships are ultra casual. Either way, it’s hard to find the path leading to a happy, healthy marriage.

Q: What are the major spiritual and practical struggles that single women commonly face today?

A: For young women who grow up hoping to be married, it’s disorienting when that doesn’t come along on the timeline expected. A number of women that I interviewed said that extended singleness has caused them spiritual doubts. Some also said that they found churches to be very family-oriented and didn’t know what to do with them as singles. So they found it hard to fit into the spiritual community at their church. Practical young women will have to make a number of decisions about their education, jobs and housing, and sometimes in those decision-making processes, it’s tempting to gamble on the timeline to marriage, rather than making a choice on the basis of our purpose in life right now.

Q: How do you encourage women to live in the present purposefully? What is having “a call from now to not yet”?

A: Ultimately, finding a sense of purpose and direction now and not yet from which we hope is based on finding our purpose before God and the things He’s given us to do at the moment.

Q: You say that everyone has multiple callings in life. What do you mean by that?

A: The idea of being called by God means that a relationship with God will shape the purpose and direction of our lives on a daily basis. The responsibility, relationships, gifts and opportunities we’ve been given are our calling for today. And these give meaning to the time between now and not yet.

Q: Why does the topic of singleness demand greater theological and sociological attention?

A: The fact that the average age of marriage has risen four years in one generation is a fairly significant demographic change that we need to be talking about. The extended singleness will have implications for fertility trends. For religious communities encouraging marriage and family formation, it’s important to recognize the challenges that these trends present and to include singles and to give them support.

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