single womanIn the excellent recent New York Times article about Mormon sister missionaries, some small facts in an infographic may have escaped readers’ notice:

  • After age thirty, there are ten unmarried Mormon women in Utah for every eight unmarried Mormon men.
  • After age forty-five, there are twice as many single women as men.
  • After retirement, there are five times as many.

I was actually surprised to see that there’s even that much parity in the 31 to 45 age demographic. Anecdotally, I know far more single women who are active in the Church than single men. Most of these “mid-singles” (those who have grown too old for the Young Single Adult wards that boot out all over-30s, Logan’s Run-style) are faithful, active, interesting, beautiful women. And many of them are hurting inside.

I just finished reading the memoir of one such woman, a BYU graduate. Nicole Hardy  has a happy and stable Mormon childhood and always expects to get married. Her patriarchal blessing, in fact, explicitly states it; in addition, her loving mother has a portentous dream in which she sees Hardy as the future mother of four.

But the husband, and therefore the children, do not appear. So Hardy works hard and gamely dates LDS men (who sound frankly awful), even sailing on an LDS singles cruise.

The celibate life is difficult for her, having been blessed or cursed with a healthy sex drive. She takes up hobbies that require her to be fully present in her own body: salsa dancing, scuba diving. She quits her safe, buttoned-up teaching job for an MFA program that will allow her to follow her literary dreams, and she travels. She has flings that stop short of intercourse.

Hardy 3 ConfessionsAnd she begins to feel out of place in a religion that so heavily emphasizes marriage as the end-all of human experience – even tying marital status to eternal worth – and that praises motherhood as the default goal of every human with a uterus.

Hardy has a strong faith in God, but fellow Mormons’ condescension toward single women rankles. She gets the feeling from leaders and members that nothing she’s done with her life so far is worthwhile in itself; it is all just biding time until her “real” life begins at marriage.

People at church are well-meaning. When Hardy lights up with pleasure at a Relief Society party, one sister swoops down with congratulations, thinking that—finally!—this must be The Long-Awaited Engagement. When Hardy reveals instead her delight at having her first poem published, the Relief Society sister is thrown off-kilter, not quite knowing how to respond. “‘How nice,’ she says, with an encouraging smile. ‘It’s good you have something to keep you occupied.’”

Over time, the sense Hardy has of being valued and respected just as she is by her writing colleagues and non-member friends begins to win out over the relentless pastel disparagement she encounters at church.

Stacking chairs with the bishop’s wife one Sunday at the end of Primary (where the bishop has intentionally called Hardy because it will be good for her to be around children, as he explains pointedly), this mother of eight clucks sympathetically that Hardy lacks children of her own. But when Hardy cheerfully admits she’s never particularly desired children or felt she’s missing out by not being a mother, the bishop’s wife recoils in judgment: “If you were truly living the Gospel, God would bless you with a desire for children.”

This is not an angry or bitter book. Hardy loves her goodly parents and her people, but eventually decides she can’t be Mormon anymore. This isn’t due to one major event so much as a long series of microaggressions at church during her twenties and thirties.

All I can say is that it is truly Mormonism’s loss that this funny, smart, talented, caring woman is no longer sitting in our pews and teaching our CTR 5s. At the end of the book, after Hardy has taken the plunge and told some of her story in a New York Times op ed, a sister from her parents’ ward appears on their doorstep. Fearing condemnation, Hardy’s mom almost doesn’t open the door; when she does, however, it is to discover that this woman really needs to talk about the struggles her own adult children are having in the Church.

‘The church needs to serve its singles better,” Hardy’s very orthodox Mormon mother concludes. “It needs to do better.”

107 Comments

  1. Katie McMullin

    I agree that we need to do better by our single brothers and sisters. The question is: how? I feel a little lost trying to understand since I haven’t had this experience myself, but I know many of us care and want to try. The obvious would be not making ridiculous/inappropriate comments, but what beyond that? Does Hardy give any suggestions or ideas? I need to read the book if she does!

    • it would help if they got rid of the age restrictions on the YSA wards and make it a universal singles programs for singles of all ages to worship and socialize together. I stopped going to church after YSA because I feel the family ward is a dead end for me. It would help if they made the YSA experience of worshiping and socializing together available for adults 24 and up. But add in the age restrictions and men like me just stop going.

      • Depending on where you live, there are mid-singles programs officially and sometimes groups organized unofficially. The SA program is one of those programs for the 32 years to dead crowd. I’ve gone to activities where it felt like dinners at a retirement home. I haven’t been back to them. If there isn’t an official mid-singles program in your area, you can usually find the unofficial groups on Facebook. While not a ward, it does help to meet new people and make connections.

      • In my personal experience those age restrictions are there for a reason. Too many middle-aged men hitting on college-aged girls and such. Also, a single in his/her early 20s is in a very different place than a single in his/her late-30’s or golden years.

        I do think we could stand to have more mid-singles wards and programs. I would also like to see some overlap in the age range between young singles and mid-singles and mid-singles and [old] singles, rather than a hard cutoff. This way singles in these age ranges could choose which group they better identify with. A 28 year old single working mother may find more in common with the mid-singles than with the college students and fresh-out-of-high school crowd she’ll find in her YSA ward. Perhaps give local leaders more discretion in defining the age ranges for these groups, depending on the demographics in their regions.

        • A few points: 1. the age segregation/restrictions are unnecessary, I mean we are not children! 2. If a younger “college-age” single isn’t comfortable with middle-age adults then that person isn’t mature enough for the singles scene and should go to his or her family ward. I mean, the founders of our religion married women who were much younger! Age shouldn’t matter if two people are in love, it won’t matter in the eternities either. That’s why I say, start a universal singles program at 24+, which is generally considered post-grad and professional age and go from there. Why should us older single adults be sacrificed for the younger adults? It doesn’t and it should have to be that way. Those “reasons” I believe are not valid, especially not valid enough to hinder adults in their quest for temple marriage. Outside of the church adults of all ages date and marry each other, why should that be different in the church?

  2. Sounds like an amazing book–thanks for the review, Jana. I was so moved by Melissa Ovard’s profile in the New York Times. What would it look like, I wonder, for the Church to become more hospitable to unmarried adult Mormon women?

    • Jana Riess

      Great questions, Katie & Joanna. I wonder this too. I think it would help if we started showcasing single Mormons’ achievements, both in and outside the Church. One thing Hardy talks about is how there was just this relentless focus on marriage and motherhood as the *only* things that were important in life.

      We also could start telling girls the statistical reality that a certain percentage of them won’t get married. Even if ALL of the Mormon men who were active in the Church were heterosexual, looking to get married, etc., the gender balance of the entire church isn’t exactly 50-50, so there would be unmarried women.

      There was an interesting survey of LDS singles here: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12850. The singles themselves had great ideas, and we should listen to them. In my ward, a dynamic woman in her mid-thirties has been lobbying the stake to have our family ward be the place where mid-singles can be together as a cohesive group, but also part of a family ward. Why aren’t we listening to that and doing that, if that is what they need?

      • That survey was a good start, but also problematic in its data collection methods and reporting (she didn’t sort out married vs. single responses, for one–so it’s hard to tell who is saying what).

      • And what your ward member seems to be asking for is for your ward to become a midsingles magnet ward, which has been very successful in many places, including the Seattle 5th Ward where I used to live (it has a new name now, but I can’t remember what it is). It integrates the singles into the family ward, but still gives us a solid number of single people to be friends with, hang out with, and even possibly date, without the pressure and ghettoization of a singles ward.

        • Suggestion one: stop with the labels, and the age designations, and the shuffling and shuttling from ward to ward. Treat members like members, period. Separate but equal? Nope.

          • It works for some people, it doesn’t work for others. Above, I said pretty much the same thing. I am all about calling out marriage privilege, but I was speaking to a specific instance where it actually made a difference in the lives of people who were feeling marginalized (including myself–I pretty much nearly left the church the year I turned 31, after being kicked out of the singles ward).

            I agree that singles’ wards are part of the problem. Hence my referring to singles’ wards as the ghettoization of singles.

        • Stacy–just realized it seemed like my suggestions were directed at you/your post. They were just meant to be a general contribution to the discussion. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, btw.

      • Suggestion #2: Stop using phrases like family ward. We do have families. We are part of families, we make families–they just look different from yours. Call a ward a ward. The language must change to be less exclusionary.

        • This makes me crazy. Language is NEEDED to distinguish for logistical purposes. Telling someone I’m in an SA ward – explains something about my ward reality that saying WARD would not convey.

          Most people only use the term family ward when they are distinguishing for the purpose of hte conversation. Otherwise- they just say ward.

          There is NOTHING wrong with being single or being in a singles’ ward. Trying to avoid the term is a sign of shame. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It is what it is.

          If I’m talking to someone who knows I’m in a family ward or an SA ward- I just say my ward. They understand the context. Or if the context isn’t important- I just say ward.

          But in meaningful converstaions about church experience- context often IS important

  3. Katie, single women aren’t aliens. You don’t have to stretch that far to understand that we just want to be treated as equals, and for married people to look past their marriage privilege just a tiny, tiny bit. We’re not looking for pity about our “pllight” (I for one would like people to stop referring to it as a “plight,” and for people to stop assuming that if someone is single they are therefore second-class).

    Jana, the microaggressions are the thing. I’m turning 40 this year, but I look younger, and I’m really getting sick of people trying to tell me things like “don’t worry! I know so-and-so who got married when she was SO OLD, like, 33!!” to reassure me that I still have time.

    Here’s an amazing revelation: How about just treating women as if we have worth no matter whether we have the chance to get married? I know, it’s hard in Mormon culture, but it might just work.

    In the ward in NYC that I just moved out of, that’s how it worked, and it was a balm for my soul for married people not to talk down to me, to ask me about my life because they were just friendly and wanted to be my friend. I had home teachers who actually came to visit me, who didn’t see me as a threat to someone’s marriage (I’ve known women who were told they *weren’t allowed* home teachers because they were single!).

    • Katie McMullin

      Just to be clear Stacy and Aryn, I agree with you and I’ve always tried to treat all the women I come across as the sisters of great worth that they are no matter what their marital situation. My question was more about what we can do at a ward and stake level, not an individual one. I’ve learned that I while I can interpret and guess based on my own life experience, it’s important to hear from those in a specific situation how we can best meet their needs. In other words, I’m not throwing up my hands and saying that singles are so different from me I can’t possibly imagine how to interact with them, I’m saying maybe there’s something I’m missing because I haven’t experienced your specific situation, help me understand better so I can serve better.

  4. As an ex-member, I can say that I enjoyed Hardy’s book as well. I thought it was extremely well-written and agree that it’s not the least bitter, and could easily have gone that direction. I’d just like to add that aggressive chastity training and too much emphasis on motherhood as a badge of merit hurts more than just young women who may know from a young age that they don’t want to be mothers. There’s nothing wrong with staying chaste if one chooses and certainly promiscuity is not wise. But a bit of sexual exploration before marriage is not a bad or immoral choice for young women and men. Moderation, modesty, honesty, mutual interest… these are the things that matter when it comes to human sexuality. Not complete oppression of urges, but management of urges. Further, the uber emphasis that motherhood is how a female becomes whole and fully recognized by her church peers and God is quite hurtful to anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to be a parent, and to girls who have more to offer and wish to be both parent and professional, perhaps even financially independent. Women have plenty to offer outside of parenting and financial dependence, in some cases, can be crippling. The church could do MUCH better with regard to messaging for girls to help them become confident, well-adjusted, in-control-of-themselves adults. Thanks, Jana, for being open to input from ex-members. Sometimes even bitter ex-members are worth listening to, even if the input sounds shrill.

  5. I was lucky enough to have local leaders who didn’t pressure me to attend singles wards. Though I did eventually spend several years in the LDS singles scene, I really treasure the time I spent as a single adult in a family ward. We need to make sure that singles wards are non-mandatory, while still being options for the people who want them.

  6. This particular issue has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m currently in a community theater production in Utah that features a handful of amazingly talented 25+ very single Mormon ladies who amaze me at every rehearsal. I’m falling in love with them, and I don’t know how anyone couldn’t, and yet that so-called crowning achievement of eternal marriage (or even just getting a boyfriend) stays out of their reach. I don’t really know what’s causing it, but I know it’s our job in the Church to do better with them.

    • Sorry, Brooke, but I have to point out that saying, “They’re amazing! I just can’t understand why they’re not married!” is actually a microaggression. Plenty of non-amazing–even terrible–people get married every day. There is actually no cause-effect relationship between being an amazing/beautiful person and getting married.

      Whether or not someone gets romantically involved with someone who actually likes them back is merely a matter of luck.

      • I have to agree. “You’re so awesome- why are you still single?” That means that the usual reason people don’t get married is they are not awesome.

        Everybody has a different journey. that’s all there is to it.

        • No it doesn’t have to mean anything of the sort supposing that all myriads of potential interpretations of a statement have to come down to one ultimate meaning is akin to interpreting a Picasso and saying that is the only interpretation permitted. That is much of the problem with our culture we are set on finding fault with what one says. We forget that words are not concrete but rather fluid and open to multiple interpretations depending on humor perspective knowledge and desire. It is true that a speaker should learn to articulate and share as close to possible the inner ideas they’re having in a concise and meaningful way. It is also true that only a fool looks for offense at the words of a fool. And if you suppose we are not all fools then there’s your sign! No one communicates their thoughts or feelings perfectly because words are an not an exact representation of all that occurs in our minds. We are journeying along to a better understanding but we will never get there if we attempt to tell another what it is they really meant to say. We and I need to focus more on the beam in our and my eye and worry less about the mote we and I see in our neighbor’s eye. After all if we take a’fence all the cows will get out and we’ll have no milk to spill to cry over. Choosing offense misses the bigger picture.

          • Dave- it’s not a matter of taking offense. It’s a matter of considering our language because it reveals our deeper assumptions.

            Why are you not married? You are SO beautiful!

            That clearly reveals we think if someone wasn’t beautiful then it would totally make sense why they aren’t married.

            I don’t take offense when people ask it. And I occasionally say things that reflect the same ideas. I told a guy recently- HOW ARE YOU STILL SINGLE?? You are amazing.

            It was light hearted and to make him feel good. But it kind of pricked me a little and I realized it revealed a subtle belief I’ve picked up.

          • I’m just saying it can reveal to you what you were thinking and feeling but just because someone else used the same words does not mean they have the same emotional or even intellectual connotations or connections with them. We can not assume or dictate the motives of another. There are so many nuances going on in communicating or expressing an idea that language is simply inadequate at capturing presently. Also I meant this as a general statement and not a direct attack to your comment specifically I as you noticed earlier was having technical difficulties with my comments haha. I really like the ideas you have expressed. And I appreciate your honesty and openness with your discovery. And i suppose I am seeing the view I see because of a similar experience with 2 of my really good friends that are in their early 30’s that are absolutely stunning and I made the same comment to them and I felt it fall flat and I knew that what I was trying to communicate and what was being received didn’t line up. One of the few times my words failed me. And while I can’t control how my words are interpreted it gave me insight into being a little kinder and more empathetic for the words others share with me- obviously not perfect at it but something I try to remember after I forget. Anyhow communication is a two way street and it is more common than not that those participating in it assume well beyond the measures of reason as to supposing they know what the other is saying literally. It is very much an interactive evolving puzzle where the pieces change with each new addition of an idea both to the empowering or destroying of the puzzle. Thank you for your sincere thoughts I love the connection that comes when people sincerely and openly share their thoughts feelings and perspectives. It adds to my understanding of me and gives me glimpses into others.

          • Yes. I agree that people can use the same words with different emotional intention.

            It is very good though to teach each other to think carefully about language to see what it reveals so we can be given the chance to learn new ways to say things that reflect a higher level of truth.

          • Language is not the revealer of our thoughts our thoughts are the creators of our words but words are too limited in their scope to ensconce all that goes into a thought. What we are saying and what is being heard are dependent on all the variables of life that go into the development of the identity of the individual and how one individual attempts to express their internal experiences and then how the other individual chooses to internalize the audible and physiological cues and representations of the other individual. One sees a portion of the inadequacy in language speaking multiple languages. As words do not directly translate from one language to another. They hold subtle nuances that one language misses when compared to another. While it is true that our thoughts create our words the words of another may give a slight insight into the possible motives of another but more accurately we are seeing ourselves if those had been our words and not who they actually are. An interesting phenomena that occurs with language and other areas is that upon reviewing our words we can become aware of alternate meanings and then convince ourselves that the alternate meanings must have been a part of our psyche or unconscious or subconscious all along when in reality it may not have been.
            Anyhow to your point of needing to learn better language skills so that we can get closer to the truth of our thoughts and feelings I absolutely agree. It is better that we do that. It however is not a realistic expectation to place on others not because others are incapable but rather whether they do or don’t do is out of our sphere of control and thus not worth the time expecting something to happen where I have no control.

          • In reply to your latest comment on this thread- teaching is not placing an expectation on anyone.

            Often it is simply giving them a chance to see there might be more to it or to see there might be a better way. They will do what they want with it. But it’s good to offer people chances to see things in a new way.

  7. Sorry, I do believe the church is struggling with mid singles and the growing mid singles are struggling too. But where this article goes wrong is assuming that Nicole is some perfect amazing woman and it’s the Mormon guys she has dated that were the problem.

    The reality is she is more than likely the reason she didn’t marry. Maybe she is commitment phobic or has unrealistic expectations or has become resentful and therefore not open to a relationship, etc.

    I have dated many LDS women, some of them approaching this age group, but most of them approaching it. Time after time I see the same pattern. An older, yet attractive, intelligent woman who is bitter due to unmet expectations. What they don’t seem to understand is there expectations are increasing while their opportunities are decreasing. Somewhere in their lives whether because of Disney movies or the LDS culture they began mixing up standards with expectations. Oh they’ll go on dates and they’ll smile but after a while you can see they are not really aware of their situation. They think time is standing still so they can find a perfect guy, blowing opportunities with great LDS guys for the chance of something better, which is a false hope at that point in their lives. I have many girl friends who will blame their failure on something the guy didn’t have. ‘Oh he was a nice guy but I just wasn’t feeling it’. Or ‘I think we’re too different’, or something judgmental. I ask how many dates they went on and it’s almost always zero or one. How can you truly measure lifelong compatibility in a short date? You can’t. The ones that succeed in that environment have been fortunate, but the rest need to really give people a shot. You don’t really want to date yourself I promise so be willing to date someone that doesn’t seem to have the exact same likes and dislikes and interests. People change anyway. You can’t predict if you’ll divorce on one date.

    So to summarize; what a crock. She is blaming the system and others and not taking any accountability. I agree there are cultural issues in the church. But if anything she had more opportunities with good, compatible guys than a woman like her outside of the church. Just because someone can get a book published doesn’t mean they’re right.

    • Infinite power and YET still wanting more

      I can’t begin to put into words…. HOW …. poorly you understood and understand the Perfect LOVE… and compassion…that radiates from the Lamb of God on this issue….
      May you RE consider your well worded…. and nearly zero compassion filled response.

    • Joseph, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you just misread or misunderstood much of what’s here. Since there are more women than men in the Church, what do you think we should do to help women who just statistically CAN’T get married–through no fault of their own–feel welcome in our meetings and in our peculiar culture?

    • I think if you read the book you’d discover that she kinda decided she didn’t *want* to get married. She actually doesn’t blame the LDS church at all, though if she wanted to she could have claimed that the church holds some accountability for making her feel so obligated to find a lifelong partner before she could be a sexually active adult. *She* doesn’t place that blame, but I’m not shy to do so.

      • To clarify: I always wanted love, partnership, and marriage. I still do. But I never identified as a mother, have never felt the urge to be one. And there doesn’t seem to be a place of value or respect in the church for a woman who chooses not to have kids.

        • And realizing I didn’t *need* marriage–that my worth or salvation or sense of purpose and fulfillment no longer had to depend on the having or not-having of a husband was a life-altering relief. There’s no longer anyone in my life who’d think to judge my worth by my marital status. I literally thank God for that.

          • =)

            Enjoyed your book, sorry to have presumed what you wanted or didn’t want but thank you for clarifying. I, having been raised LDS, was *desperate* for marriage, *desperate* for the validation. The man I fell in love with was not desperate. And so we took a long time to get married. Now we’ve been married for 25 years. He’s a good man, but he does not complete me. We’re not partners, not dependents. I don’t thank God for that, but not because I’m ungrateful. Because the God I was taught love would not approve of something that turned out to be best for me. I haven’t discovered a different God to love.

            Best, Nicole. Keep writing! Good stuff.

    • Emily Elizabeth

      Joseph, it’s hard to know what to say to this. You clearly think that these LDS single women you’ve dated need to wake up from the “false hope” that they can eventually find the right person. You accuse them of being bitter, but you sound pretty bitter yourself. And then you close by accusing a woman you have never met and whose book you haven’t even bothered to read of not taking any responsibility for her own single state. You say her complaints (which, again, you haven’t actually read for yourself) are “a crock.”

      Which all makes me wonder if, in fact, those LDS single women who did not seize upon your fabulousness after a date or two actually recognized something you don’t see about yourself: that you may be a judgmental man who doesn’t listen to women.

    • Joseph – I’m sorry for your cynical view of women like myself (single, smart, attractive, working professional, mid-age…) You’re right most of my single Mormon women friends (and myself) have some high expectations for those whom we would choose to join our great lives with.

      In my experience, the men in my mid-singles ward are good hearted people who want to do the right thing, however many (not all) are lacking in social skills, have financial problems, aren’t physically active and lack career aspirations. So many times when I have tried to connect with, or draw an LDS man’s attention in my ward, generally he talks to me for a minute until the next pretty girl comes along. Seems there is a lack of competition and that the few men can’t quite choose from the overload of fine women – I have left church and church activities more than once feeling rejected, unattractive, less-than and I’m done with that…

      I love the men with whom I am friends and respect that getting married might be as scary and difficult for them as crossing the grand canyon on a rope. But I have an amazing life that is fulfilling, fun, interesting and filled with love of family and friends — why would I give that up for someone that I had to coddle, teach how to be an adult, support financially and work really hard with to break down all his fears? I’ve gone to a lot of therapy and worked hard on the relationships in my life (family / friends) in order to have healthy relationships with anyone – including a spouse. We are all responsible for our part in relationship issues.

      There are two sides to this story — I’m on the female side of it.

      • JP, BOOM. I think you express perfectly the dynamic that exists in some LDS singles wards and communities. Those difficulties, the bad women-to-men ratios, and the constant pressure to find a mate had me thinking (at the super advanced age of 28) that clearly I would never find anyone. My shy husband was living in his parents’ basement without a full-time job or much professional motivation when we met in our late 20s. By the time we got married he was in a better situation but he was absolutely not the only guy in our peer group like that.

    • What I think we need to understand is that Joseph is speaking from his own experience and probably is projecting a little.

      But there ARE sisters like that. We DO exist. :) Why pretend otherwise?

    • Joseph – What a double standard. Why is it acceptable for men to behave in the way you describe, yet women are criticized when they do the same thing? Men who aren’t into certain types of women are not criticized for not giving some gal a chance to get to know her better if he doesn’t find her attractive. Men look to physical cues first. Why can’t women? What you are saying is something many women make the mistake if saying, which is that if she were to get to know you better, she would see your value as a mate. Unfortunately, just as it is for men, many women with smarts and accomplishments can sum man up in a few seconds in over a dozen ways, and don’t want to waste their time on dating someone who doesn’t pique their curiosity.

    • i am in my sixties and i am single and considering how much trouble and work men are with little rewards, notwithstanding the fact that no woman can be sure that a man wil take proper care of her, be respectful and faithful till the end, i can understand why many women do not want to marry.

      And no we do not have expectations that are too high … we want a happy and healthy life where we are not abused, cheated upon, exploited and left to rot because the man we married has his eyes on much younger flesh.

      Choosing to be single is for many women protecting themselves from the harm that men can do… and not a no choice option

  8. Infinite power and YET still wanting more

    The FACT is simple.
    We don’t but nibble from the fruit of the tree of LIFE….
    IF we were feasting the fruits would be: Total acceptance and she would never feel as she has.
    And If she was feasting she could live at another level.
    But because we don’t… We shouldn’t expect anyone to live above us…

    Wonderful opportunity for US all to seek the “depths of humility”……………

  9. We’ve got to shift the rhetoric from “the most important thing a woman will ever do is be a wife and mother” to “the most important thing a woman will ever do is discover God’s unique path for her life and embrace it.” The emphasis on marriage/motherhood is painful and difficult not just for single women, but infertile women. I was nearly suicidal after my hysterectomy, as I couldn’t fathom what point my life could ever have, or where I would fit into this church I love, if I would never be able to do that “most” important thing. I still struggle, weekly, to have peace about my ancillary role at church.

  10. And, by the way, this image is all over Pinterest/Facebook the past few days. Makes me feel so out of place, and well, just plain sad. http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/f0/e6/8e/f0e68eed723715ba30ca388df5d08852.jpg

      • That picture is ADORABLE!!! And I believe it to be true.

        When I see something like that I just feel so happy for that mom that has that cute little baby. And so happy for the rest of who get to see that cute, little baby. I don’t understand why we can’t be happy for the joys that others have – even if it’s not our OWN joy? If we love them their joy IS our joy.

        I think this is a learned behavior that we pick up somehow. If someone says something about motherhood or posts a pic like that we are conditioned to have a negative response to it. Why? What is the result of our negative response? We feel bad.

        The other option is to be like- oh my gosh! That baby is SO freaking cute! I just can’t stand it! Thank you HF for sending us cute babies! Thank you for sending my sister who I don’t even know something that is bringing her great happiness.

        When we do THAT- we can feel JOY.

        I truly believe it’s a matter of opening our minds to OTHER possibilities of how to react to things we’ve been conditioned to respond to negatively.

      • Just curious- do you not agree because you’ve found a different role to be more essential and eternal in your life?

        It makes sense to me that being a mother would be the role that is most like how we are eternally.

    • Feeling sad and out of place comes because of something you are thinking looking at that pic. What you are thinking is not true! I know it’s not or you would have different feelings.

      But there are OTHER ways to look at it. You can learn to! If you desire to see things in a different way so that your feelings will change- the Lord will totally help you to do it! And sometimes friends who can help you find new ways to see things help, too.

  11. I’m a very mid-single, professional woman and I spent most of my 30s painfully working through so much of what it means to be an out-lier ‘freaky’ type in my beloved church. (as described in this book). I’m glad to see that someone wrote a memoir on this. I’m sure it’s not much different than mine, and my friend’s, experience.

    How should we treat single people in the church? How about we drop the word ‘single’ and just refer to all of us as “people” – Just as Jesus does. I’ve learned so much compassion for others who really want to be a part of the church but do not have a place. We have a long way to go on dissolving the ‘marriage and family club’ mindset and welcome all into our fold.

    • JP. I have to say as someone in the same basic situation you are I completely disagree. My ward leadership went through a period of trying to pretend that there was no such thing as single. They wanted us to feel valued and “normal” and to know that we weren’t seen any differently than married people.

      The problem?

      Our lives are DIFFERENT. Our daily realities are VERY different. That is TRUTH. There is no point pretending it’s not. Our needs as people are the same- to be loved, understood, needed, appreciated. But we have needs that married people do not have- in the same way.

      I passionately advocated for the needs of the singles in my ward. Pretending they we didn’t have very different needs was not helping any of us. We NEEDED organized events every single week. We NEEDED our own Sunday School class. Not to be separate. But to be united to each OTHER. We didn’t even KNOW other. The leadership wanted us to be integrated but we weren’t even integrated with each other- the result was – we were SCATTERED. Not integrated.

      There is a difference.

      ALSO- by saying let’s not call you guys “singles” it is reinforcing the idea that being “single” is something to be ashamed of. It’s a label we don’t want to use- because somehow it’s bad.

      Is it? I was like- we need to EMBRACE that we are the mid-singles in this ward and we are a team and we are awesome and GO TEAM! I am PROUD of my little team. I love my little team.

      • e. – I don’t want separate, but equal classes and activities on our ward. The SA program is so diverse and they tend to lump all singles into one group. I am fed up with some of the older, neurotic SA women in our ward and I don’t want to be lumped into the loopy category they occupy. In fact, I’ve asked them to stop calling me about ward SA activities or hosting them. But I will go to stake or regional activities.

        Half of our ward of 735 are SA’s. Only about 30 of these are active, and most of those are women aged 50-90. The two active single men are mentally disabled or gay. What really needs to happen are activities for the ward that are appropriate for all demographics, and helping members of the ward with their heads up their rear understand and see that propagating a sense of belonging isn’t just for the married with kids crowds. For the singles programs, they should be about ACTIVITIES (not Sunday School classes) so that people can meet and mingle, do missionary work, and perhaps find someone to marry.

  12. I think my biggest issue with being single in the church (I’m 35) is the sense that I’m not really taken all that seriously. I think that marriage-and-family are really the ultimate markers of adulthood in LDS culture, and I get the sense that many people see us singles as being stuck in some kind of prolonged adolescence. I get this even from well-meaning members. There’s just a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) feeling that everything I say is being filtered through a lens and evaluated differently than if I were a married mother. I’m not just an adult, in other words, I’m a SINGLE adult. The “single” qualifier is always present in people’s minds, and it’s often accompanied by pity, sympathy, suspicion, helplessness at not knowing how to treat me (or some combination of those).

    And that’s frustrating, because at the end of the day, I’m just a person who is living a life that is equally joyful and complicated as anyone else’s. I don’t want to be categorized. I just want to be me.

    • Thinking of being a “single” as a negative thing can only be changed in one way.

      Start to love it. Show that you are no ashamed of your life and your situation by being truly happy and having a sense of humor about it. Give those narrow minded sisters an EXAMPLE so their imagination what it means to be single can be widely expanded beyond what it is now. TEACH them what you experience is so they understand. SHOW THEM how your struggles are the same and how they are different.

  13. This was an interesting article. I was 33 when I got married, so I understand the point of view of much of what was said here. Almost 20 years later, what I find is that I often feel essentially invisible within my religious community as far as the leaders are concerned: I am a wife and a mother, and so there is no need for anyone on an official basis to look any deeper. And they don’t. That’s a different problem than being pigeonholed as single, but it is still a problem.

    All of us need and want to be understood, valued, and in loving relationships. All of us. Our job is to lift and strengthen each other. Some people are good at this, but more often we fall far short of what we ought to be doing. We can do more.

    Sex is particularly difficult because there is such a difference between what the LDS church teaches on the subject and what U.S. culture has decided is acceptable. I can’t think of very many things that can affect a person more profoundly than having a loving relationship that includes sex. Equally, I can think of few things with more power to really damage a person’s core identity and feelings of worth than a relationship that doesn’t value who you are on the deepest and most profound levels. Casual sex, therefore, strikes me as a particularly bad and damaging thing. But not all nonmarital sex is casual.

    I will not pretend to know what the answers are for other people. Since the glory of God is intelligence (something I believe with all my heart, mind, and soul) then I would also believe God can see and understand everything I can see and understand, and then some, with love and compassion. There is enormous variety in relationships, in life choices, in all kinds of things. People have to make their own decisions about what they need to do in this life, and I am not qualified to speak about someone else’s situation or decisions. It really is hard to be single and not having sex. And yes, there are more church-attending single women than there are church-attending single men. These things are reality.

    What I do know is this: we all could improve when it comes to being loving and compassionate. There is also a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to valuing anyone and everyone in our lives, especially including those we say we love.

    It can be hard to talk to someone you don’t know well. It’s easy to focus on the one thing you do know. When I was pregnant with my son, I was working in an office and there was a man there who could only see the pregnancy. Every comment he made to me before I left that company had to do with the fact that I was pregnant. He meant no harm, but he also did not extend himself at all to anything beyond that one extremely obvious fact. I didn’t know whether to be more amused or more irritated. All of us, sometimes, are like that man.

    We can do better.

    • Some people are just AWKWARD but they mean well! He probably just didn’t know how else to relate to you in that situation. Maybe he woudl have said NOTHING if you weren’t pregnant because he wouldn’t have known what to talk about.

      Let’s be gentle with people are just trying to connect in their own awkward ways.:)

      • The political climate in that office at that time was actually fairly complicated. If it hadn’t been so complicated and if I’d been planning to stay after I left to have my baby then I could have helped him out more, but as it was, it was better to be quiet as much as possible (not something I am good at). I hope I wasn’t hard on him. I tried to treat him as well as I could, and I responded politely to his comment as many times as he made it. But it did seem to me he could have done better than he did. There’s awkward, and then there’s also not really trying too hard.

  14. The Church is the greatest organization for womens rights that has ever existed on the face of the earth and I think that rather than calling the Church out for how its members handle single women, the writer of the article should take a step back and start blaming government for its overreach and wicked use of law against the Church’s past marriage practice of polygamy. After temples and property were threatened with seizure, the Lord said that He would fight the churches battles.

    The blame placed on the Church for it’s inability to effectively help single women (that want marriage) when it was the governments actions of limiting mariages to one man and one woman is just another example of blaming the victims yet again. The above article is a great example of the “blame the victim” culture of which it came out of.

    I seek to persuade the writer of the article that rather than spending time blaming the Church and its’ people in any form, find a solution to get government out of the Church’s way.

    Church=victim. Women=victim. Church members=victim. Government=bad laws.

    • Jana Riess

      Stunned.

      So the solution to the “problem” of unmarried single women is polygamy. But of course. Because that will certainly resolve the underlying issue of women being made to feel theologically and culturally worthless if they don’t have a husband. Why in the world didn’t we think of that before?

      • That’s an interesting perspective actually. I don’t relate to all of it but I do agree that “blaming” the church isn’t the solution.

        Teaching single and married women that being single can be AWESOME by SHOWING them is I think the single most important thing we can do in this matter. Being in tune to the needs of singles when you don’t understand their situation is difficult- but it’s not impossible.

        As a single sister I feel it is MY duty to help my married sisters understand our reality as singles by sharing experiences with them and by getting to know them. How else can they learn if someone doesn’t SHOW them?

      • A problem that lies in the feelings of a sister can only be solved by showing her another way to look at it.

        No one can “MAKE” you feel anything. If you don’t believe a lie- it doesn’t affect you. If you DO believe it- that is the problem.

        Lies are going to exist. They are part of reality. All we can do is learn the truth and not be affected by them. No matter WHO tells them

    • I think this is a polygamy troll. I was approached by a missionary I served with back in the day with words and arguments that are similar. In fact, his name was Rob. Same person???

      Well, anyhoo… His apostate stuff was crap, and full of misogyny. For example, he (the husband) is the sun, and his wives are like the planets orbiting his awesome righteousness. Seriously. He said that.

      This particular Rob used the Internet and social media to look for future wives. Didn’t matter to him whether they were married or single. God would open a path to make a woman his wife – if she she was submissive to God’s will and not be too “stubborn.” His words, again. To him a woman was a commodity. A sign of God’s favor upon him.

      He connected with me via Facebook while he was finalizing his divorce from the wife who left him for his new faith and new religion. The telltale signs of rhetoric like this is a criticism of the church, the brethren, and the soft focus view of polygamy.

  15. I think it would help if we stopped fetishizing the family as THE UNIT of exaltation and started viewing it, like the Church, as one of many vehicles for exaltation–that what biological/blended/adoptive families and communities teach us is that an important aspect of salvation or exaltation or whatever you want to call it is somehow communal. If we had a more expansive view of this communal aspect, the Church wouldn’t be as alienating for those who don’t have the narrowly defined eternal family. It might even remove some of the pressure on those who do. In early Mormonism, lots of people were sealed together–not just husbands and wives–into a few priestly lines. Part of that was male kingdom-building. Gag. But aside from all the patriarchal nonsense, perhaps the broadly communitarian impulses in Mormonism should be emphasized more. Any thoughts?

    • Interesting. My question is though- ISn’t it the “unit” of exaltation?

      We are exalted together. As a family. Our families here on earth are little symbols of the big eternal one. So we can practice.

      Our society DESPERATELY needs the stability that comes from stable families. I think we NEED to maintain our emphasis on this.

      We do need to recognize that everyone’s journey is different and consistently aknowledge the various circumstances we are all in and how it might all work together. We need to remember the single people, the widows, the blended families, the various special needs around us so that our language reflects that they are part of us. But the family as a unit IS a very important concept.

  16. Lorie — I like the way you frame it as the family being just one (of the many) vehicles that can move us toward exaltation. If seeking out the will of God/embracing our own unique divine plan doesn’t qualify us for eternal progression, I’m not sure what will.

  17. Mormons would do well to recognize the validity of choosing to marry outside the church. For a lot of LDS women it’s either temple marriage or a life of singleness/loneliness/celibacy, not a really attractive option. I realized at 28 that I was not going to find a Mormon husband which forced me to recalibrate my beliefs. I wanted marriage and children, full stop – so I went out into the world and got it. It made it easier for me that I had left the church, but I know quite a few lovely and eligible active LDS women who could certainly find honest upstanding non-LDS men of character to marry if they weren’t so obsessed with the notion of temple marriage. It’s cruel to deny women the opportunity for love, intimacy and babies (if they want them).

    PS – If you’re still following this thread Nicole, I loved your book so much…

    • I have given this thought lately. If we were culturally more open to this- would that improve the lives of some who might then feel more free to explore other options?

      I’m not sure there is AN answer- but I decided that what I really, truly desire to be married to someone who is my equal in faith and intellect and to raise a family TOGETHER in the Lord. There is no point going for something else because I dont’ think I’ll get what I truly want.

      The only answer for me is to go forward and know that I’ll never be held back by choosing what I TRULY desire- even if that choice isn’t for something I can see right now.

      Other people might have other desires. They might be perfectly content to not share faith with their spouse. I guess they have to make their own choice on that.

    • My sister attended a Worldwide Leadership Training meeting in 1997 or 1998 where she said that President Hinckley stated that the only options for marriage that some women in the church may have will be to marry someone not of the faith. And that some of the most stalwart and stable men who come to conversion and join the church do so because the influence of their wives, and that they are the best converts.

      All marriage is ordained of God. Not just temple marriage…

    • Kate Z.

      Your response was very insightful. I am a 36/M, who married at age 26, my wife was 27. I’ve been thinking over the “Stay righteous, and a spouse will be provided in the next life” doctrine or line that is regularly given in Talks or in Bishop counseling (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1988/10/to-the-single-adult-sisters-of-the-church?lang=eng)
      and I have to say, as a student of religion, and one that questions many Church teachings, I find this doctrine extremely cruel and inhumane as it robs many worthy sisters the change for the inarguable experience and eternal blessing of not only child raising but also living in love with a spouse.

      We still attend, but admittedly, I feel like a heretic in the pews and singing the hymns. My wife has roughly 6-8 close friends between her mission, BYU roommates and general friends who are women in their thirties, not married and miserable and cling to this idea that a spouse will be provided as long as they maintain their standards.

      In short, I beleive the doctrine of ‘stay temple worthy, and a spouse will be provided in the next life” is catagorically without any scriptural basis, and an extremely damaging message/doctrine that essentially encourages a false idea for the mere sake of maintaining a wholeness in church membership.

      God forbid, there were more part member families to manage, and children raised in part member households.

      • M says: “I find this doctrine extremely cruel and inhumane as it robs many worthy sisters…”

        What about us men? Doesn’t it rob us men too? Its not like we are to blame and they get a free pass.

  18. Jana, your quip in response to my comment is a strawman argument and it is overflowing with sarcasm too… As you know, I didn’t say polygamy was the solution. I said if you can get government out of the Churches way that the Church can find a solution.

  19. I think it’s an all of us problem. Heaven knows I’ve played my roll in the problem but heaven also knows I’m an active energetic talented intelligent attractive funny witty confident successful man that’s been shut down by like women. I’ve also felt the stares of sympathy that almost feel like the the marine recruiter trying to sell the glory of world travel and adventure but hide the gory truth of the trenches from married attempted “sympathizers” I think we all of us get caught up from time to time in misinterpreting the gospel and we make the gospel about one of the supporting branches…. ie marriage children etc. but the gospel is that fallen man/woman can be returned to an at one state with God and our Savior because of our Savior. Everything else is nice fluff to help us practice or progress and develop in that one arena. So if they say you’re not living the true gospel because you don’t desire children they in essence are placing themselves as an antichrist attempting to judge a personal relationship they have no insight or authority into. Whether or not we marry in this life is not going to bring us into that at one state with Our Heavenly Father- though I do believe it gives us extra proximate practice. One thing that will bring us into that relationship of at one-ment is an acknowledged fall and an acknowledged need for a Savior. Many will mourn for their supposition that because they have done all that the church has asked yet they are not invited to enter into the feast because it is not what we do that saves us but to whom we draw that brings us salvation. Primary necessity is a relationship with Our Savior everything else is secondary tertiary etc… That relationship requires an acknowledged fall so blessed is the prodigal that spent his/ her time with harlots or giggolos over the married person that assumes by doing all the right that they are saved. The lost that seek to be found will be those that suppose they are not lost can not be found.

  20. I had to laugh at the “something to keep you occupied” comment. I’ve had simllar experiences and you really have to have a sense of humor about it. Though I can TOTALLY see why that would sting. I learned to just tell that story for years to come in a humorous way. It’s a teaching tool.

    Jana- the tone of this post seemed to blame the “religion” for a sister taking offense that she seems to be surrounded by people who culturally aren’t used to knowing a lot of people in her situation.

    This doesn’t resonate with me and as a convert and someone who didn’t get married until 34 and THEN got divorced shortly after- I have had MANY occasions to take offense at people who don’t know how to place me and the logistics of my life in their worldview.

    We didn’t “lose” that sister because our members were imperfect. We “lost” her because she wasn’t willing or able to let go of her feelings towards those who were different than SHE was.

    I know that is bold and people will protest. But think about it.

    The times when I am full of love I just laugh at comments like that. When I’m stressed, or feeling sorry for myself, or lonely- they hurt. They may even make me angry and to see those sisters as my enemy. Who is ULTIMATELY responsible for my inner reality that responds completely differently to very similar stimuli depending on my current state?? I am.

    When we teach people this- we liberate them. If we suggest by subtle means that they are at the mercy of how other people see and treat them they might believe it. And then they don’t realize they are FREE to choose their response. If we do this- we are not helping them.

    She had her experiences. She chose her response. She’ll keep looking until she either finds what she is looking for or decides to look for something else.

    • As of late, I feel that some people use the bretheren’s counsel to not be offended as a measuring stick that others can use to self-righteously judge another’s experience and offense.

      I don’t know how often I have heard other people tell someone in a Pollyanna sort of way to snap out of it and just not be offended, and then quote Elder Bednar’s talk profusely. Elder Bednar was giving is counsel as individuals. He wasn’t giving anyone permission to lecture, belittle, or shame another because of their struggle with people in the church. From experience, I know that those feelings are deep, with many layers. With the help of the Atonement and an understanding and non-judgemental friend, the layers of pain can be healed.

      What we really should be doing is to look within ourselves to see if there is anything that we can do to improve our church, our wards, and ourselves to prevent other from feeling ostracized – for whatever reason.

    • Hi Michelle :) After reading this article and the comments, my advice for awesome women who happen to be single and want to get married – is to consider marrying outside of the church. You can still live the Gospel in your own way.

  21. Well, thanks for that long book review. This post should’ve been titled “Where does ONE smart, sexy,single Mormon…” you left out the most important point of Nicole’s book, she never desired motherhood, just the sex and while God may love a healthy sex drive, single women outnumber men in the church because we do a better job of controlling ourselves. You never answered your own question because I’m 39 and still don’t understand where I fit in as a woman who desires both temple marriage and motherhood but must wait until the next life while Ordain Women and the Mormon gay marriage movements continue to hog the spotlight. I’m feeling more marginalized and ignored than ever. Any advice? I need an idea for my next blog post. Thanks

    • Yeah, I understand. I’m posting this comment six weeks after yours, and after the church’s “Motherhood” social media campaign. After one FB post, and the lame meme associated with it, I really have been thinking about how I move forward in the church. I believe it to be a cultural issue, not a doctrinal issue. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    • Hi Michelle :) After reading this article and the comments, my advice for awesome women who happen to be single and want to get married – is to consider marrying outside of the church. You can still live the Gospel in your own way.

  22. I’m amazed I’m even responding to this as I didn’t think I really felt so deeply about this issue but I guess it’s there.

    I can totally relate to this article. I agree. As a single 30 plus year old, I’ve been bridesmaid to 4 of my girlfriends, 2 marriages of which ended in divorce. It would have been nice to have gotten married but since it wasn’t panning out for me, my life never stopped because of it. I never contemplated my own singleness until comments starting cropping up that made me think about it. To have jammed down your throat, that “we value you”, “you are still of worth even if you haven’t married or born children”. “Don’t worry, you single sisters are part of our lives because it takes a village to raise our children”. Comments like these make you feel even more isolated. It’s like a person with a facial scar knows that it’s there but you don’t need to have people point it out to you. If you married women didn’t treat us like aliens and accepted us as equals then there wouldn’t be such a glaringly widening gap between us. A gap which is made more apparent when my I find out my married visiting teaching companion had a get together with one of our visiting teaching sisters without me because couples want to be around other couples, you are in essence a third wheel and don’t belong. Or the time I got shifted from my teaching calling after being told that because I was single I wasn’t fit to teach lessons around motherhood and family, and believe me, it was told to me that way, no sugar coating, that I quit my calling. Or the time when flyers were circulating Relief Society class for mothers to attend young women’s fireside with their daughters, without thinking I grabbed a flyer, when I read it I gave it back at the end of the class, I said “Sorry, but I don’t need this” and the sister replied to me “Yeah, I was thinking, what are you doing with that?, you don’t need that” and she laughed it off flippantly. These experiences are hurtful and they add up. You want to relate to us, just let us be ourselves. Don’t try so hard. Just try to make conversation that extends to a multitude of subjects that doesn’t just revolve around your children. We make an effort, we talk about your kids, your husband, your family stuff, so why not talk to us about things that are relevant to us? Remember, you were all single once, you are not a different race, we are all human beings. How about reading current events and conversing about things in the world that affect us all, not just stuff that goes on in your home. I’m sorry but I don’t need to hear about your teething baby, I can’t help you or give you advice and my conversation contribution will only hit a wall. Let’s be honest, no mother is going to care what I have to say about your children anyway. You’ll never listen to my advice because I’m not a mother, plain and simple. So please don’t widen the gap between us by reminding us of our singleness, we know it, we don’t need you to tell us. And we are single for goodness sakes, not dead diseased. Just treat us the way you’d like to be treated.

  23. Through full-time missions the Lord is giving his daughters expanded roles in the Church and stretching them spiritually to hear and have the faith and courage to follow His promptings. When praying for deliverance from their single state they should not be terribly jolted if they are prompted to relocate to the Mormon diaspora (mission field) and live within a community of non members to serve, get acquainted and date. (See http://goo.gl/oGI7Bz)

  24. I too am a middle age single woman in the Church and agree with most of what it was said here. I became single when I was only 30 years old and my husband and I separated. It was amazing how the members’, in particular the sisters’, attitude toward me changed . When I had a husband it was “sister X here and sister X there” but when the ring came off they pushed my out of the circle almost overnight. I figured that happened because I was a fairly attractive woman with a bubbling personality and the women feared that I would be on the hunt for their husbands soon. The husbands on their part, avoided talking to me and visiting me at home fearing their wife’s wrath. I remember that on one occasion my bishop came to my house (with another man) but they refused to come in as if I were a known prostitute. It was awful! I felt as if I had been shunned by the Amish. I had no callings, I was never asked to give a talk, I was not invited to anything, the sisters looked at me with suspicion and only patronized me with fake smiles. There were no activities that I could participate in as a single woman, the YSA of course, was off limit to me; I ever argued with my bishop to allow me to attend it but he said that I had to “find my own way to fit within the Church.” The family that should have embraced me in my time of need, put me out the door instead. I felt invisible and like a plant left without water, I slowly began to weather away spiritually. As a consequence of this treatment I have been inactive for twenty years; my children were also all inactive (no one ever came to look for them) and I became a worldly woman. Today, thanks to the prayers of a few people who love me, I have come closer to the Church. It is a long process of repentance and healing but I see God’s hand in all of it. I told you my story because is is indicative of a huge problem within the Church, there are too many brothers and sisters in the same shoes and the Church MUST do better to nurture them too. These man and women are intelligent, educated professional who have a lot to offer. I am not asking for special treatment but to be included and respected like any married member.

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