If you’re a single woman in the church (late 20s or older), people are kind to you (likely more kind than they are to your male counterparts). However, you have also been an object of pity more times than you can count. The problem is that most of this pity is not direct–instead, it’s usually manifest through attempts to comfort you (because of your poor, pitiful, single status). I call this pity-disguised-at-attempts-to-comfort-the-sad-women-who-are-struggling-to-find-meaning-in-their-lives.
We can see examples of pity-disguised-as-comfort in official discourse, primarily in those comments made for single sisters when motherhood is discussed. Since motherhood is generally the only path towards fulfillment offered to women, leaders feel the need to comfort single sisters.
This “comfort” comes in a few different flavors. First, there is the “you will be a mother someday, even if you have to wait until the next life” message. Or, as I label it, it’s the we-pity-you-because-you-cannot-find-meaning-in-this-life-but-you-should-have-hope-that-someday-you’ll-find-meaning message. I know our leaders mean well, but I don’t find this message comforting. Vague references to an afterlife we don’t fully understand don’t give me much hope, and they don’t give me much guidance for my life in the here and now. And I refuse to spend my life waiting–it’s a sucky way to live (believe me, I’ve tried it).
Second, there is the “you can be a mother now because all women are mothers” message. I think this does a disservice to the women who are actual mothers (for example, me “mothering” my nephews is in no way comparable to the hours and hours of work my sisters put in raising their boys). Also, it sends the message of here’s-a-way-to-find-meaning-in-this-life-with-the-only-role-open-to-you-because-there-is-no-other-way-for-us-to-recognize-women-finding-meaning-in-life. But in the end, it’s a small comfort because single women are not actually mothers; I end up feeling empty after comments like these because I’m just being thrown a bone that doesn’t really address the realities of my life.
If that isn’t enough, when you’re a single woman in the church, you also get a lot of pity-disguised-as-comfort in your one-on-one interactions with fellow church members. Here are some of the most common:
First, there is the I’m-baffled-you’re-not-married response. It usually goes something like this: “You’re not married? I’m surprised. [insert praise of beauty, intelligence, etc.] Why don’t more guys recognize how wonderful you are?”
I realize that responses like this are other people’s attempts to try and reassure me that I am a great person, and that I shouldn’t see my marital status as a commentary on my worth as a person. However, comfort phrased in this way is typically not comforting because it typically gets me wondering about why I am not married. And there are two general conclusions that can be drawn from these remarks:
Conclusion #1: there’s something wrong with all the guys that don’t want to date you
Conclusion #2: even though you’re smart and beautiful, there’s something wrong with you because guys don’t want to date you.
And while people who make this remark might be trying to imply that conclusion #1 is the correct conclusion, it becomes pretty easy to believe conclusion #2 because it involves fewer people (surely, there can’t be something wrong with *all* guys).
Second, is the “I know there’s someone out there for you” response. While I know people who say this have the best of intentions, they don’t actually know that there’s someone out there–they cannot receive personal revelation for my life. And let’s be 100% honest: not everyone gets married in this life, and I would guess that most 30-somethings in the church (especially 30-something women) have begun to face this issue. And random people telling you that they know there’s someone out there just feels disingenuous.
I’m going to conclude this post by telling you a story that my dad told me because single people often get similar attempts at comfort, often from their family and friends. Though let me preface this story by saying that my father is a wonderful, wonderful man who loves me and is a good father, and also that he has stopped telling stories like the ones that I am sharing. (I love you, dad!)
As I started coming out as a feminist, my parents who were already worried about how little I was dating (and whether or not I would ever get married) began to worry even more. Their socially awkward daughter was *liberal* and a *feminist*, and no good, Mormon boy would want to date her now. So, in order to reassure me, my dad told me a story. Here is my paraphrased version:
“There was this guy I knew in college. He was the smartest guy I knew–just really bright–and nice too, but none of the girls wanted to date him. He was pretty socially inadept, and no one wanted to date him because he was just too awkward. But he was really smart and nice. I think that this is someone you could have dated because he would have been so grateful someone was dating him that he wouldn’t have cared about your politics!”
I laugh about this story because it’s funny, and it was well-intentioned. I know that my dad was trying to say something like “there’s someone out there for everyone, even if you’re outside of the norm.” But that’s not really the implicit message of the story. The (accidental) implicit message of the story is something like “you’re so out of the norm that the only people who will want to date you is guys who would be willing to date anyone.” Again, hardly a comfort.
So, I guess the moral of this post is: I totally understand the impulse to comfort people who are struggling with a particular issue, but please understand that attempts at comfort where you aim for reassurance often don’t have the effect you intend (at least, such is the case with me and my single status). And honestly, while being a 30-something single in the church has its challenges, I’m not in need of pity–even though dating has proven challenging and even though I’m currently not fulfilling my divine gender role, my life is full of meaning.