Zelophehad’s Daughters

Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part IV, Family Wards

Posted by Seraphine

Since a lot of the discussion on my previous post focused on reasons singles feel alienated at church (as well as things that the church and members can do to make singles feel a bit less alienated), I thought I’d put up my first post directly on that topic–how to make singles feel more welcome in family wards.

To make a long story short, in one of my singles wards I almost went inactive (I’ll tell this story at a later date), and I was nervous about switching to a family ward because I was afraid I would feel even more alienated and out of place. Luckily, the opposite was the case–I attended the most amazing family ward I have ever been in, and I can’t even begin to enumerate the blessings that came into my life because of being in that ward.

However, as I’ve gotten older, even though I’ve primarily been in good, supportive, loving wards, being in a family ward has gotten increasingly more difficult. My post on marriage primarily addresses the reasons why, and a lot of the comments echo my own feelings (see especially comments #5 and #26 by Ardis) but I’d also like to reference thoughts by Karen H and Lynnette from a recent post by Kevin Barney at BCC. In the comments of Kevin’s post, there was a discussion about why church attendance is difficult for singles. Karen H. commented,

Trust me when I say that single members understand that they are an exception. For faithful single members it is a gut wrenching, frequent tear inducing, constant heartache of understanding. Not only do they deal with the loneliness of being single, they accurately see the lack of potential dating partners, and they are literally told that this life experience that they would do anything to change, will also keep them out of the highest level of heaven. What is the most often “comforting” phrase that they hear? “You’ll find someone in the next life.” That’s right–they are told the spiritual equivalent of “this life’s pretty much a wash for you. Then you’ll die.” Then, based not on scripture, but on an oft repeated cliche, they’re told “don’t worry, then you’ll get to marry a dead guy.”

And Lynnette wrote,

LDS singles are well aware that they’re supposed to get married, regardless of how well (or not) they’re treated at church. Really. I promise….Much of the time, I feel like I’m holding on by my fingernails when it comes to maintaining activity in the church. My ward is fabulous, and yet it still feels just brutal some weeks to go and deal with the implicit message that I’ve failed at the most important thing in life. I have to admit that for me, this is less an incentive to redouble my efforts to get married than an incentive to simply not go to church anymore. I wish I had something more constructive to say, but honestly, I’m at a loss.

By it’s very nature, church-going is often painful for singles, and I’m not sure that this is entirely avoidable, unless the church is going to stop teaching family as one of the core principles of the gospel, which they’re not going to do; I’m not sure that most singles would even want this. However, there are ways of making family wards a more inclusive and supportive environment for singles. Let me talk about my experience in the family ward I was in after leaving the singles ward–I think this will convey ways that church can be a friendlier place for singles.

*The first week I was in my ward, three or four people came up to me to introduce themselves, ask me if I was new to the ward, etc. As I spent more time in the ward, this changed–people got to know me, and then they would come up and ask questions about my life and how I was doing.

*I had a calling within a few weeks, and the entire time I was in the ward, I had callings that felt meaningful to me.

*A month or two after I started attending the ward, they had a panel discussion in a joint RS/Priesthood meeting about teaching and raising children. They asked me to participate on the panel because they genuinely wanted to hear my perspective on this issue. After being on this panel, I was called as a primary teacher because the primary president valued the thoughts I had shared.

*People in the ward took an active interest in my life. They would ask me about how school or teaching was going, and they would talk to me about their own lives. These interactions were not motivated by pity, but by a genuine desire to get to know me and develop a meaningful relationship with me. I did not get intrusive inquiries into my dating life.

*Multiple families regularly invited me to their homes to spend time with them, since they knew that my family (parents, siblings, etc.) were far away. (Incidentally, this is something I welcome as a single in the church–my family is far away, and hanging out with other people’s families that I feel comfortable with makes me less homesick for my parents, siblings, and nephews.)

*Men in the ward weren’t afraid to speak with me at church, ward activities, or when I visited their homes. Quite a few men in my ward had been in the graduate program I was in, and so I had some great conversations about the program, professors we enjoyed, the stresses of graduate school life, etc. These men’s wives did not freak out that I was getting to know their husbands because they understood I needed friends and people to talk to (and they also developed friendships with me based around our shared interests).

*The members and leadership of the ward treated me like a mature, intelligent person. I was treated like an adult, rather than someone still in young men or young women’s (which, honestly, is how singles are sometimes treated). No one ever told me that I would understand “X” gospel principle when I got married, had children, etc. Ward members recognized that because I had unique experiences, I had unique insights to share, and they valued my insights.

*I was given home and visiting teachers that I feel were inspired choices. At the time I moved into the ward, I did not have a car, and I was assigned home teachers who could drive me to and from church. And my visiting teacher took me to the grocery store about once a month to do my major shopping and counted that as her monthly visit, which was a fabulous arrangement by me. (One piece of advice: do not assign singles to solely home- and visit-teach one another–they should not be segregated from the rest of the ward members.)

Overall, this ward was a place that embraced people for who they were and made sure that everyone felt welcome. Honestly, I don’t think singles are the only people who can feel out of place at church, and I think a lot of these strategies can be used to make a church more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone (in whatever life circumstances they may find themselves). Also, I recognize that each of us has limitations and challenges (i.e. my sister Vada has a difficult time reaching out because she is chasing her small children around all the time). These are meant as broadly applicable recommendations and not as judgments of individuals or leaders, all of whom are dealing with a myriad of challenges. Also, I am fully aware that singles can and should be part of this effort to reach out and and make wards a more inclusive place. Still, these suggestions are a place to start.

The social issues I think are easier to figure out than the doctrinal issues. Returning to the initial comments by Karen H. and Lynnette, what makes church especially difficult for singles is not necessarily how they’re treated by individual members (though this can make something that is by it’s nature difficult even more difficult). However, church is primarily difficult because of the unrelenting emphasis on marriage and family.

Like I said, no one is asking for the family to be downplayed at church, but trying to figure out how to maintain an ideal without completely alienating those that don’t fit it is challenging. Here are a few suggestions I have (though I acknowledge these are incomplete and insufficient):

*As Katya said on my previous thread, don’t resort to platitudes or false comfort when talking about marriage to singles (i.e. “you’ll get married in the next life”). It’s much easier to hear empathetic comments like “I’m not sure why you haven’t had the chance to be married and have a family yet, but I’m sure that must be really hard. How do you deal with it?”

*If you’re a teacher, be aware that many people do not fit family ideals. if you’re teaching a lesson on service in the family, for example, ask at least one question that applies to people who don’t fit the ideal: you could say something like “not all of us have family members that we can serve on a regular basis. What challenges does this situation present, and how can we overcome them?” Ask questions about dealing with the real challenges of the here and now rather than saying something like “here’s how this lesson will apply to you singles in the future.” Incidentally, this suggestion is more broadly applicable and can be adapted to approach other people in non-ideal situations like divorce, infertility, etc.

*If you’re a leader with some control over talks, lessons, etc., don’t focus on the family at the expense of other basic gospel principles. All members, both married and single, need to hear more about the Atonement, faith, repentance, listening to the spirit, etc.

So, there are my list of suggestions. Any other suggestions, stories, insights? I’d especially be appreciative of comments from singles who have found ways of dealing with hearing about families and marriage at church week after week after week while still maintaining their emotional sanity. For me, I find the best practices are to focus on feeling the spirit, to connect with friends in the ward (even if we’re naughty and talk in the halls during Sunday School), and to give myself permission to leave if church is not aiding my spiritual growth that week.

39 Responses to “Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part IV, Family Wards”

  1. 1.

    Wow, Seraphine, these are terrific, constructive suggestions. My impression is that my ward does pretty well on this sort of thing; I think our singles in general feel valued and woven into the fabric of the ward. But reading all of these suggestions in one place is inspiring to me and helps me to see things from the perspective of single members and to be sensitive to their needs and concerns.

    This has been a great series.

  2. 2.

    I admire how you have put this entire post in positive terms, rather than the negative ones that might come so easily — each of your illustrations could have been framed as what NOT to do, and I recognize most of the negatives through personal experience!

    Sometimes the teacher of a marriage-and-family lesson will make an effort to be inclusive by saying something like “… and this applies to you singles, as well.” When someone is going to turn the spotlight on us that way, I would appreciate it if they’d go one step more and suggest HOW this lesson on, say, building a better marriage applies to me as a single. Otherwise it rings false.

    You’ve already commented on not resorting to platitudes, but I can’t resist reporting what a Relief Society president, a single woman, said after the very same lesson where her counselor assured us that “this applies to you singles, as well.” She said in her wrap-up, “I’m so glad to hear lessons like this because I need to learn how to be married in the next life.” It isn’t always our married ward members — sometimes we do it to ourselves!

  3. 3.

    Interesting post and I too like the positive spin. I would like to make a comment on the continuing focus on the family. A very interesting author to read is Stephanie Coonz. She is a teacher and researcher on families. She does a lot on the history of families.

    I believe it was from her I read that the focus on families as sort of the center of our lives is a more of a new thing. Community was once the main focus. It would be interesting to do some sort of analysis on LDS sermons and teachings Pre WWII and Post WWII to see if there is any difference in the frequency of this topic.

  4. 4.

    I have a family member who has the ability to see a cloud behind every silver lining. No matter what the situation, she can find the miserable aspects of it. She’s trying to be sympathetic and understanding, but what she really does is convince people that they’re unhappier than they really are.

    Along those same lines, I appreciate those who are making an attempt to understand the situations of those whose lives don’t fit the Mormon ideal, but if you constantly remind them that it must be SO HARD to be single / infertile / divorced / in a part-member family, etc., you’ll end up making them feel worse.

    So, in addition to asking other members of the Church to “mourn with those that mourn,” I would caution them against “mourning with those that mourn not.”

  5. 5.

    Sometimes I feel like it helps to follow the lead of little children. They are so quick to flash a smile and extend their love. I rarely see them judging others. Just about everyone is a potential friend in their eyes. They have a way of making people of all ages feel accepted and needed.

  6. 6.

    Thanks, Kevin!

    Ardis, good point. For me, I think sometimes we resort to platitudes in relation to our own experience because we feel the need to reassure others. And sometimes platitudes are the easiest way to change the conversation to something we may prefer to discuss (our passions, work, schooling, etc.)

    cyclingred, I’m not sure that I’ve read Coonz, but when I taught women’s studies, we read a number of articles that touched on changing notions of marriage and family. I’m sure that the meaning of the word “family” has changed in a church context, though it would be interesting to look at the specifics. If nothing else, I’m sure that that the way “family” was talked about when there were polygamous families was much different

  7. 7.

    Katya, that’s a great suggestion. I think, generally, it’s best to establish friendships and relationships based on shared interests and commonalities, and then as you get to know someone and their sorrows, mourn with them when it’s appropriate.

    Sterling, that’s a great observation about children, and I think being more open and less judging is a great overall suggestion.

  8. 8.

    Sadly my experience wasn’t anything like yours in the married wards I was in prior to being married. The one thing I can say is the ward I was in just prior to being married had a great EQ – very laid back, open and wiling to help each other.

    One thing I’ve noticed in my life though is that if you sit back waiting for someone else to make Church be what you want it’ll never happen. Over the years I’ve seen the change – especially social change – a few people can make. The gregarious outgoing person who tries to get to know others tends to spread that openness to others. Likewise a few negative backbiting people can really destroy a ward. The less I take from that is that it’s our duty to get to know others and not wait for them to get to know us. Likewise in lessons if we speak up and try to help the teacher (not just control the lesson) will improve teaching. (Since that’s the topic at so many blogs at the moment)

    I think we as singles (or former singles) often expect a bit more structure as there was in single wards. Likewise much of my single life was spent with roommates. The times I didn’t have them (or had bad ones) it seemed like a lot else was harder. Realistically, looking back, that just meant I had to get out of my comfort zone.

  9. 9.

    Seraphine, I haven’t commented before, but I’ve REALLY enjoyed this series. It’s given me a lot to think about.

    Our area recently changed the singles’ wards by enforcing boundaries (um, just geographic boundaries :) ) and age limits. So, our family ward got an influx of singles with these changes.

    I have to say, our ward feels like a better place since this has happened. Many of these singles are in leadership positions, which I think has helped us all to be more thoughtful as we teach, and I’ve enjoyed making these new friends.

    But, I’ll admit, I completely need to be better about inviting them over to my house. I guess I figure my kids can drive me crazy so often, why would I inflict that on someone else? :)

  10. 10.

    One way to incorporate single individuals in family oriented lessons is to extend them beyond the nuclear family to the extended family by discussing applications to parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, grandparents, etc. Another is to discuss how to apply the principles to the ward “family” or in friendships.

  11. 11.

    I found it interesting that you enjoyed the primary calling (not that you shouldn’t).

    It’s just been in my experience that some singles in married wards turn down primary teacher callings because it takes them away from RS and SS, and they feel that the ward is just using them for cheap labor.

  12. 12.

    The church uses everyone for cheap labor. Why should singles get to opt out?

  13. 13.

    12 – Agreed. But it’s my experience that some singles just want to sit in RS and GD like they are entitled to the higher learning there. To which I say, you want higher learning, spend some quality time with the 7-year-olds preparing for baptism.

    I hated singles wards, because I feel that they infantilize, to some extent, the members.

  14. 14.

    ex-Primary Pres, I would not want to serve in the Primary now (nor would I particularly want to serve on the activities committee or in the Relief Society presidency or in any musical calling), but that has nothing to do with “cheap labor” — such an idea has never occurred to me before. You completely misinterpret the motives of any singles I know, and probably of those in your own ward. If you and I were in the same ward, I’m pretty sure I would sense your resentment and rejection, which wouldn’t do much to help with the positive inclusion we have been talking about here.

  15. 15.

    … and your use of the label “married wards” doesn’t go far toward making me feel warm and fuzzy, either.

  16. 16.

    I love the positive slant of the post, Seraphine. A few years ago I moved to a country outside North America where there weren’t enough singles to warrant a separate branch. At first I was nervous about how I’d fit in, but soon found I absolutely loved it. There were a few adjustments – I was initially leery about carrying on conversations with some of the married men because I assumed it would be viewed as inappropriate, but not the case. People were genuinely interested in me and what I was doing. I also found the members very flexible and inclusive. Married? Great. No kids? Fine. Single? Excellent. Inactive? Lovely to see you. It wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never felt so at ease in church.

    One surprising thing I realized – after many years in single’s wards I’d picked up the habit of only viewing people in my age demographic as ‘friend material’, but because there wasn’t a large singles pool in that ward, if I wanted friends I was going to have to expand my narrow scope of what was ‘acceptable’. And thank heavens I did – I became friends with a variety of people, elderly folks, couples, single moms, and even some of the kids – a completely new and incredibly beneficial church experience for me.

    Now that I’m back and heading to a family ward again, I’m optimistic about the transition, but we’ll see how it goes…I like your rule about allowing yourself to leave. :-)

  17. 17.

    ex Primary Pres, ‘higher learning’ in SS & RS? Hmmm…maybe I need to come to your ward.

  18. 18.

    I am sorry if I’ve rubbed people the wrong way, but this is what my family ward has dealt with when we get an influx of early-thirties members who come from singles wards.
    I recognize that this post is on what the family wards need to do. I was merely attempting to present a perspective from someone in a family ward itself. Maybe my choice of terms could have been improved, but I do not apologize for the sentiment.

    I personally never considered singles as “cheap labor”; but that’s what many singles thought they were being treated as when we tried to call them to the primary. If it is OK for a fifty year old married man to serve in the primary or the Scouts or teach the twelve year olds, it’s OK for a thirty year old single man as well.

  19. 19.

    To be fair, a lot of people don’t want to serve in the Primary (or on the activities committee, or as the 12- and 13-year-old Sunday-school instructor) for all kinds of good and bad reasons.

    The last time I got called to nursery I was told that four couples in a row had turned the calling down. A lot of married people evidently don’t want to serve in the Primary, either.

  20. 20.

    >11.

    I’ve been in primary callings (primary pianist and now primary chorister) since I moved into my current ward, 2 1/2 years ago. I sympathize with those who don’t want to be in primary because it’s a ton of work and you tend to end up isolated from the other adults in the ward. However, it’s worked out well for me, probably because I tend to get really bored in church, so it’s good for me to have a calling where I have to think on my feet. I’m also enough of an introvert not to care much that 80% of the ward has no clue who I am. And I’ve felt very valued in primary, not pitied or overlooked as I might have been elsewhere, which has probably made the biggest difference.

  21. 21.

    I can tell you from individual experience that people turn down callings for many ridiculous reasons (one said last week that they had to spend more time with thier yard) so it’s not that “single’s” turn down callings (nursery or otherwise) for a particular reason and granted “cheap labor” is a poor reason and will tend to irritate a primary president. “Mother’s” turn down callings, “Married’s” turn down callings. etc…
    It just doesn’t help the stereotype that we are trying to rid ourselves of. It’s really people, who turn down callings. And I also suspect that the feeling of being used, ignored and not reciprically served is a factor here in the use of the words “cheap labor”. We constantly have meals going to new mothers in our ward and rarely do the single sisters/men get any help cooking, cleaning or otherwise tended. They are rarely on any compassionate service list that I have (unique situation again), but family members have sick kids, births, hospitalized spouses etc.) The food flows, the cleaning crew is constantly on the move to do laundry and dishes, childcare etc… but almost never for single’s in our ward. (little more for single mom’s but way more for married mom’s)

    While a mother-to-be is expected to identify how many meals she might need during the week after birth, we don’t culturally expect single’s to notify us of meals needed immediatley after returning from a week long vacation so as to allow time to unpack or some such situation. While not every ward will accomodate meals that can be preplanned (Don’t threadjack on this point) my point is that it’s common to expect a new mother will get some kind of support here and it might do us good to be on the lookout for the extra support we could offer (non-necessary support) to single members of our ward. Random acts of cookery!

    I think I’m so trying that next week.

    In my current ward, women who give birth are immediately released bc the bishop is sympathetic to his wife and the 6 weeks of no sleep with a new infant. Since I don’t know anyone who gets plenty of sleep in our ward, and the babies make the population of calling eligible women smaller by the day (by individual Bishop decree-not church policy), I’ve had to say some very “custom” prayers to accomodate submitting names for RS callings.

    I can tell you that it’s a little frustrating to have to accomodate a particular class of people knowing that my own class get no recognizable accomodation regardless of single-parentship, double jobs or other kinds of life experiences. It’s just the easily recognizable life experiences that are getting considered in this one unique ward experience.

    I have, however, been in wards that, for whatever reason, were open, easily accepting and interested in each individual, not mothers, youth, single males, marrieds, widows etc, but each individual. I don’t know how or why that happens in some places and not others but if there were a pixy dust, I’d sure buy it and sprinkle it around.

    I’m going to check amazon, just in case it’s there and I missed it.

  22. 22.

    “Random acts of cookery” — I like that!

    It reminds me that my ward threw me a “missionary shower” fully the equal of the parties and gifts they had offered for my cohort’s bridal and baby showers. Now that was inclusion!

    A single man in my ward recently broke his leg just below the hip and was laid up in bed for several weeks. The Relief Society took meals in to him for a while. The compassionate service committee didn’t happen to call on me that time so I didn’t hear about it until he was back to church and mentioned it in a testimony (he said he had enjoyed it so much that he was thinking about breaking his other leg). I wonder how many times wards offer service like that and we don’t hear about it — because we really *don’t* hear about it, do we?

  23. 23.

    I did turn down a calling to serve in the nursery when I moved from the singles ward to my home ward. I was brand new to the ward, single, and wanted to be of service, but I was concerned that people would only know me as one of the “single sisters” serving in primary. (At the time ALL of the single sisters served in primary. They didn’t know anyone who wasn’t single or serving in primary although they had been in the ward for years.)

    My desire to be a single in a family ward was not strong and I needed to feel as though someone knew who I was and was looking out for me. I told the bishopric member of my concern and asked him to make sure I had home teachers and visiting teachers who would visit, get to know me and help me feel like a part of the ward.

    Needless to say they didn’t extend the primary calling and a few weeks later I was asked to be a visiting teaching supervisor instead. I’m grateful that it turned out that way. I had a chance to get to know the sisters in the ward and establish friendships with ward members. It also made it easier when I was called to serve in the YW for three years because although I was in YW, I still knew people in Relief Society.

    I love my ward. I have been blessed with friends who love and care for me. I have been invited to dinner, FHE, baptisms, baby blessings, family events, and included in numerous other things because of the friendships I have made.

    I also think it is important that as “single” ward members, we extend ourselves to those who are struggling or may need help. Every ward has the mom with five kids whose husband is in the bishopric; the sister whose husband is inactive and dreads sitting alone in sacrament meeting or sunday school just as much as you do. There are plenty of opportunities to serve and look out for the “married” members of our wards just as they serve and look out for the “singles”.

  24. 24.

    I used to feel like a terrible failure every time anyone mentioned children. Bury three of them and you just feel as if you’ve failed at life. Interesting how I’ve adjusted as time has gone on. I really believe everyone has reasons to feel included and reasons to feel excluded in a ward. We are all strangers, lost in a strange land.

    On the other hand, we had a single sister as Relief Society President in my last ward (she teaches Gospel Doctrine now, she’s my mom’s favorite ever Gospel Doctrine teacher) who our entire ward loved.

    I like the “” you used to illustrate what you want to have people be able to say about their experiences in a ward, that is extremely well done.

  25. 25.

    This has been a great series. My wife and I have been married for 10+ years, but haven’t been able to have kids, so we’re in a similar boat. In terms of ward socialization, the effect of the lack of kidlets and my wife pursuing a PhD means no playdates, playgroup, etc. and some of the people we get along with best are the similarly-childless empty-nesters, 25 years older than us.

  26. 26.

    Personally I fully understand the “release the new mother” because frankly they won’t be doing a good job anyway.

  27. 27.

    Actually let me append that – there are probably some women who don’t take time to recover from the surgery and total sleep deprivation and who have an easy time. But I think child birth is a bit more of a challenge than most other situations.

  28. 28.

    Two observations offered:

    In a ward council meeting or other group meeting, multiple peopled families might have the RS pres, EQ pres, YW/YM pres, primary presidencies all aware and commenting, interactions that also create awareness/comments – scouts, upcoming ordinations, baptisms, medallions, new beginnings etc. Multiple-peopled families naturally generate contacts and awareness to some degree or another, even if they are inactive.

    Single peopled families generate two of those contacts/awareness on a second or third degree removed level – VT/HT and that’s if they get visited and/or mentioned. Annual 15 sec. tith settlement maybe or every other year a t recommend.

    How do some wards cure that? What is it they are doing?

    You have to make it happen on purpose. I think???

    Or is it a natural consequence of everyone being well involved with each other and each individual?

    7 Highly effective habits of inclusive wards…..

    Sensitivity trailings?

    Is it more the individual and that Seraphine would do great in any ward? Is it more the ward? Or the time phase of singleness? (If there is one?) Probably a mixture but what is the description of a good fit? How do we teach this kind of compatibility and inclusion so we get more people genuinely singing Seraphine’s song of praise and contentment?

  29. 29.

    This occurred yesterday and made me think a little deeper about some things. The class teacher reg include me in many of their fam activities and treats me as an individual. Very loving, a mainstay for me in the ward. Real strength in that relationship and the fact that they know so much about me and my situation. Teacher says this “Like lj, I’m the only member of the church in my family (family of origin) and some of us are alone waiting for our fam to hear the gospel.” Teacher waited for me to nod my head and I did.
    Then
    It hit me.
    I really am the only mem in my fam (origin or otherwise). Teacher has spouse, children and g-children all members, RM’s etc, one offspring of whom is a bishop in the ward next to us. Teacher is lovingly identifying with me and one of my alone-ness and in that identification, obscuring my situation. No mal intent, NONE. It was a loving gesture to include me. It just left out my story.
    I’m a little grateful for it and a little more alone bc of it.

  30. 30.

    I know I’m late to this series, but I just got through all 4 posts, and I wanted to comment. First, thanks Seraphine for articulating my own feelings so well. Your posts and the comments have had a lot of great suggestions and insights and remind me that this is not just me :)

    I, too, have had a great, supportive family ward. So many of your points resonated with me – people seeking out friendship for friendships sake, not to “fellowship” me, both men and women and families, meaningful callings and assignments to serve others in special cases where appropriate.

    In a different ward I had a great bishop that asked to meet with me. I was relatively new to the ward (several months) and assumed I’d be changing callings or something. After talking to me for about 30 minutes I asked what he wanted to meet with me about. He said he just wanted to get to know me so that he could better help me fit into the ward, and also better know how I could help the ward, too. It was a great experience, and one that meant a lot to me.

    A couple of funny anecdotes:

    A sister I introduced myself to asked me who my husband was. When I told her I was single she looked surprised and said, “But you don’t seem bitter at all!”

    An older gentleman that was my home teacher told me that I shouldn’t feel bad about being single (I wasn’t aware that I did…) because there had to be righteous sisters in the Celestial Kingdom to fulfill the law of plural marriage in the eternities.

    Sometimes I find that the two things that help me best as a single woman is 1) a healthy sense of humor and 2) working at getting to know people as hard as I want others to work at getting to know me.

  31. 31.

    A sister I introduced myself to asked me who my husband was. When I told her I was single she looked surprised and said, “But you don’t seem bitter at all!”

    Oh, my. I’ve gotten stuff like that, too. My best one was one time when a brother in my ward asked me if I had a husband. When I said no, he said, “Then what are you doing here?” I was too stunned to respond, and his wife promptly called him out on how rude his question was. (My ward is actually really great to me. This was a fluke.)

    I just ran across a new blog about LDS Mid-Singles. The first blog post is up, with a discussion on mid-singles magnet wards. The concept is to have the 30-something singles in a stake all attend one family ward together, along with the families that geographically reside in the ward.

  32. 32.

    I’ve been reading this with interest, but not sure what to say. Many of the reasons that I find church so difficult–as in the comment of mine that Seraphine included in the post–don’t have that much to do with my particular ward, but with the experience of being single in a church in which marriage is the highest ordinance. You can tell yourself things about different people having different timelines and needing different life experiences, but it’s still just hard. Church is by far the place in my life where I feel most like a failure. I know that’s not particularly constructive thinking, but it still creeps up on me in bleak moments. And that doesn’t have anything to do with the people in my ward; it has to do with the situation (and probably also my own temperament).

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t think that wards can make a difference, certainly, and I like a lot of the suggestions here. We had an RS lesson a few months ago on this question of making singles feel more welcome. One of the first questions they asked was, why might singles find it difficult to come to church? In retrospect, I think a more interesting question–given that the majority of singles don’t actually come, and I think possible reasons for that aren’t too difficult to discern–would be, for those few who do, what brings you here? Such reasons vary, of course, but I do think Seraphine hits on a number of things that can make it easier.

    The point about being treated as an adult is one that definitely hits home. I was in a ward several years ago in which we had to fill out forms for something or other–and on the form, those who were married were automatically classified as adults, while those who were single were categorized as “young adults”. My single roommate and I were kind of blown away–you think you’re maybe being paranoid about this tendency, and then there it is in black and white. Someone in RS in this same ward told us that she remembered her undergrad days of partying, and that must be so fun for us to be doing that. We were somewhat taken aback, given that we were both stressed-out grad students.

    I suspect that one the reason for that kind of thing is that married people have all at one point been single, have some experience with it, and of course they draw on that in thinking about what it’s like to be single. But especially if they got married fairly early, I’ve noticed that some people automatically–and likely unconsciously– associate being single with being young, with an early-adult phase of life. So I think it’s worth remembering that knowing what it was like to be single at 20 doesn’t mean you know what it’s like at 30. (Perhaps a loose analogy would be me thinking that I know what it’s like to be a parent because I’ve had the experience of being an aunt. It gives me a window into that world, but in the end I’m looking at an experience that is foreign to me.)

    Something that I find particularly challenging has to do with wondering whether anything I say is going to be heard as credible, or taken seriously. Because anyone can trump me by saying, well, once you have a spouse/kids you understand x. After all, I’ve heard all my life that the Really Important Lessons of life are learned through marriage and raising a family. Since I’m clearly not learning those Really Important Lessons, it makes me doubt that I have anything to say to those who are in that more spiritually advanced category. (One of my younger sisters is currently cursed with an insane bishopric member who bears his testimony–to her singles ward–about how married people are more spiritual than singles.) Teaching RS in a family ward, which is what I currently do, is far more intimidating than it was in a singles ward.

    But for that reason, I think it’s a really good thing when family wards have singles doing things like teaching (despite the fact that I find it difficult), because it sends a message that perspectives from singles are valued.

    There’s another more practical issue that I was recently discussing with my brother. He and his wife frequently invite people from the ward whom they want to get to know better over for dinner. For a variety of logistical reasons, related to both to the fact that families tend to have larger living spaces, and the question of what to do with the kids, it’s often a lot harder for a single to invite married people over than the reverse. But it’s awkward to not be able to reciprocate that kind of thing. I’m wondering what ways there might be to negotiate that difficulty.

  33. 33.

    I have to say, my favorite line — which I have heard more than once from others in conversation, and which I have thankfully never uttered — is:

    “You’re single? But you’re so pretty!” (Variations: “But you’re so smart/spiritual/nice)

    I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be a comfort. If that’s the intent, it never works that I’ve seen, and it always makes the person being discussed want to crawl away.

  34. 34.

    I second what Lynette said.

    I feel better at church when I have callings that keep me busy during the block meetings. Then I can focus on serving and contributing to the ward instead of feeling unhappy while listening to lesson after lesson about how to raise a good family. My favorite arrangement was when I played the organ in sacrament meeting and then went to nursery. I like nursery because the lessons are simple. I enjoyed celebrating with my young friends how grateful we were for flowers and ears and singing. I also liked nursery because it was so easy to love the children and be loved by them. The children did not care that I did not have any of my own children or that I spent my week translating poetry in dead languages or taught college students. I loved them, and they loved me, and it was so nourishing to feel loved at church instead of an object of suspicion and pity.

  35. 35.

    “After all, I’ve heard all my life that the Really Important Lessons of life are learned through marriage and raising a family.”

    I like to think I’m a pretty easy going person, but there was one thing that really offended me. I was discussing the Atonement with my visiting teaching companion and a sister we taught, and made the comment about how the Atonement is difficult to comprehend. My VT comp turned and said, “well, it’s really hard to understand the doctrine of the Atonement until you marry and have children. Those relationships are what teach you about your relationship with Christ and HF.”

    Great, so now I’m missing both vital gospel-related issues. Celestial marriage and a relationship with my Savior. Thank you for just discounting my entire experience with God.

    I think the worst was when I shared my hurt and outrage with a friend (married) and she agreed… After knowing my experiences and what I’ve gone through, she still feels like it’s not enough…

  36. 36.

    You might wonder why a married, 50-something, atheist, non-Mormon woman (that would be me) would be reading your blog and commenting . Well, I recently had an experience with a 30-something single Mormon woman in a group therapy situation. I wanted to understand more about her situation and since we are not supposed to have friendships outside of the group sessions and group really wasn’t a place to go much into religion anway, I googled.

    Your posts have helped to understand much more about what “Ann” was going through but it also made me wonder why the Church does not do more to help singles find mates (or at least I didn’t see anything about that on your blog).

    And then I remembered a conversation I had with a female friend (Mormon, as a matter of fact) at our neighborhood swim club many years ago. I had mentioned a study I’d seen that found that arranged marriages and “love” matches had very, very similar success rates (can’t remember the details but they studied couples from a South Asian background). And we both agreed that the results of the study were not surprising because the “falling in love” part of marriage is, really, the easy part, it is the building a successful marriage that is the hard work and takes a long time. We also discussed how one reason for the success of arranged marriages among South Asians may be the role that the whole community plays in seeing that a couple succeeds. (Of course, that can have its downside where the match is a truly awful one and community norms force the couple to stay together.) Indeed, traditionally, communities have always had a vested interest in success of marriages within the community. And thought that arranged marriage might not be such a horrible thing — especially the more modern version where prospective partners have the right to refuse the match.

    Now, I know that in the West, especially in America, we (especially women) have a strong aversion to the idea of arranged marriage. And, for good reason I suppose. As my friend and I discussed though we thought that maybe we could see how one could think about arranged marriage in a more positive light. The reason I thought about it (especially as I read the post on 30-something single woman’s experience in a family ward) is that part of Mormonism is very strong community support system. So, I do wonder if some positive, non-coercive, modern version of arranged marriage could be incorporated into the Church.

    And, in closing I am linking to the duet between Tevye and Golde (who of course had an arranged marriage!) from the movie of Fiddler on the Roof (hopefully I did the linking correctly, my son just taught me how this a.m.) —

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_Y3180ZXRE

    Call me a hopeless romantic but this is so lovely:

    (Golde)
    Do I love him?
    For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
    Fought him, starved with him
    Twenty-five years my bed is his
    If that’s not love, what is?

    (Tevye)
    Then you love me?

    (Golde)
    I suppose I do

    (Tevye)
    And I suppose I love you too

    (Both)
    It doesn’t change a thing
    But even so
    After twenty-five years
    It’s nice to know

  37. 37.

    Good question, CeeCee. I’m married, and a man to boot, so I’m not the most in touch with the issues Seraphine is raising. But one major difficulty for women trying to marry in the (LDS) Church that may not have come up explicitly in this discussion is that there are more women active in the Church than there are men. So it’s not even so much a problem of finding the right match as it is of the numbers being uneven. I blogged once about this issue here.

    I believe this is a pretty common thing in churches–American ones, at least. Most have more female than male members. The issue might be more salient for Mormons, though, because we place so much emphasis on marrying someone of the same faith.

  38. 38.

    A couple of years prior to me getting married the singles ward I was in merged with a local family ward with dwindling membership. It was a wonderful experience for both wards! The family members consistently talked about how they were blessed by the influx of the single members. The singles brought a unique perspective, spiritual strength, fulfilled callings and were able to serve in ways that a busy parent couldn’t. In return the singles received service, love, support and friendship and above all gratitude! It was wonderful and my husband and I both miss that ward greatly.

    Your suggestions are spot on! The family ward that we merged with did those things that you mentioned and it made all the difference! I think an article in the Ensign with those suggestions would be valuable and is needed. Some people just need a little guidance.

    Ziff, you are correct about the numbers being uneven. In my single days my friends and I recognized and valued all of the active males in our singles ward. While we women dealt with the frustrations of single life, we still knew that these were quality men and treated them as such. The last thing we wanted was to let our frustrations lead us to bitterness and male bashing which would only serve to drive them away. They have a hard time with singleness too.

  39. 39.

    […] Enna, commenting on Seraphine’s post “Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part IV, Family Wards” at ZD: A sister I introduced myself to asked me who my husband was. When I told her I was single she looked surprised and said, “But you don’t seem bitter at all!” […]

Leave a Reply