Dear Single Members (from the series: Single and Married in the LDS Church)

Suzette Smith 2013

Dear Single Members

As I have put together this series on singles, a theme has emerged. This theme has run through all articles and all experiences; it is the same theme I hear in conversation with single friends: condescension. Single members feel a sense of pity, shunning, and lower status in the church. Leaders and married members may or may not feel disregard for or disappointment in their single brothers and sisters, but they do communicate the message.

The feeling of being weak, bad, or less-than is not new for any of us. From the very beginning – when Satan told Adam and Eve “they were naked” – the great deceiver whispers that we are naked, wrong, un-lovable. Single members receive this message in double portion from a church that values family and sealed couples above all else.

A single friend of my often tells an entertaining story of how the single members of her family “ruled the day” one year at Thanksgiving. My friend is the middle child of a large LDS family; one year in her young adulthood, the siblings were fairly evenly split – married and single. The single siblings were unceremoniously sent to eat dinner in an adjoining room at the “kids table”.  Embracing their lot, they began to tell stories and laugh and sing and enjoy themselves over dinner. Because of their merriment, two married siblings came into the room in hopes of joining in the fun. At this intrusion from the married siblings (who had annexed them in the first place), my friend and her single siblings yelled, “Married people, get out; this is the single room.”  Then, began to chant “Singles Rule Singles Rule”.

This story always amuses me.  While I certainly would not want to throw all the married members out of the church, I do appreciate the way this group of single members claimed their space – and validated themselves.

Educating the majority population (the married members) about single members will do great good in opening spaces to integrate us, but I also believe that much of the integration work needs to come from the single side.

Tell a New Story

One way we can change the attitudes about single members is to change attitudes we hold about ourselves. As a never-married-always-active LDS member, I am no stranger to inward attitudes about my singleness (reinforced by the condescending remarks and attitudes of others). When I heard Kristine Haglund speak about singles over a year ago, I began to work on changing that story for myself.

Kristine says: “We, as singles, can stop being limited by [false] theories [about] ourselves. Clean from every corner of your psyche the cobwebs of “not enough,” “broken,” “unworthy,” “defective,” and “incomplete.” Do the work it takes to tell yourself a different story. And then really believe it.” 

How am I doing the work to believe a new story? In a variety of ways, as I best think suits my situation and resources: deeper discussions with family and friends, self-reflection, therapy, more meaningful prayer and worship, meditation, exercise, – and continually practicing the rejection of false or harmful messages.

Once we have a new story, we can tell the story to our church leaders and friends – through our service, our callings, our comments and our conversations.  We can reach out in mature, age-appropriate service projects. We can show up to ward family activities and act like we belong. We can receive invitations with grace and extend invite to our married friends, as we would our single friends. We can push back (thoughtfully) in conversations when single members are spoken of in critical or judgmental ways. And we can model the ways we would like to be treated.

Of course, some of the problems in telling a new story come directly from curriculum, where it is suggested that single members will not receive a fullness of glory or are doomed to eternal servitude as “administering angels”.  When we comment in class or speak from the pulpit, we can use inclusive language and expanded views. We can speak with confidence that we, too, share in God’s grace – and we, too, will inherit as God’s children.

Expand the Image of Family 

Another way to incorporate the single and married separation is to expand the image of family. It is natural (even, engrained) for Mormons to speak of family in terms of small sealed units: parents and children. Singles can raise the consciousness of this habitual behavior.  We can speak up – and talk openly of our inclusion in all kinds of families: our biological family, our ward family, our chosen clan as family, our human family, and, most of all, God’s Family!

Be the Adult You Are

Single members are sometimes accused of living forever in Neverland, entertaining an endless string of games, parties, and trips. While I think this accusation is harsher than deserved, I do think there are ways in which we, as single members, can keep ourselves in a state of arrested development. If we can resolve some immature behaviors, I believe it will alleviate the constant infantilizing we receive from others.  Things we can consider as we examine ourselves: unneeded drama in relationships, stunted familial bonds, youthful living arrangements, inappropriate help sought from Bishops (when a therapist, an attorney, or a mentors would be better suited to the situation), under-employment, whining, exaggerated reactions to life’s usual circumstances, the resisting service opportunities.

Teach Gospel Principles through your own Experience 

Reaching again into the Kristine playbook, I quote: “Simply by existing within the body of Christ, unmarried Saints open space for a richer and deeper understanding of God and the nature of God’s gifts to their children.”

We know from the scriptures that the gifts of God are many.  As church members we often rely on easy role definitions to guide our gifts and our service: mother, father, spouse, leader.  Single members have fewer roles to guide us, so we learn from inward searching about our gifts. We are forced (being barred from a multitude of callings) to find original ways to use these gifts in service. As quoted above, simply by existing in our unique way, can be an example to others of finding individuality, embracing divine gifts, and reaching beyond comfort zones.

“[Singles] are also in a unique position to both practice and teach patience and endurance [to all members of the church].  Our experience, both comfortable and not, has tutored us in these virtues. We can, in turn, be effective teachers. When we bring our experience to the Body of Christ, we teach others in distinctive ways and this  binds us to the Body and makes us an essential piece.

Model Holiness

“[Singles often live in the borderlands] – the places where we can feel loneliest. And these places are exactly the places where we learn to be whole. I believe that single people know a lot about loneliness. And I think that’s a good thing— [as] there is wisdom [to be found there]. If you have put in some time being lonely, you know that the opposite of loneliness is wholeness, and that you have to be whole before you can belong.”

Singleness can be both lonely and holy. While anyone can be lonely, the single member cannot hide loneliness in the crowd or in the children. In lonely places, we reach out to God and come to know more intimately the love and peace and virtues of our Heavenly Parents. We are made whole by this close connection.   And when we are connected to God, we model peaceful holiness – a stabilizing gift to our wards and our friendships.  

In Isaiah and in the Doctrine and Covenants, there are injunctions that “Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged”.

 

My single friends, I dislike the sense of condescension that many of us feel crushed beneath. I hope that leaders and married members will grow in their empathy and understanding of our situation – but it may be slow and painful. I know we can aid the process of healthy integration by stepping outside this condescension and carving out our own place in a church where WE DO BELONG.  I want to claim this place – and I hope you will join me.

Suzette

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents – and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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16 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    You are always so thoughtful and wise. Thank you.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for this, Suzette. I agree that much of the work needs to come from our side rather than merely waiting for the culture to change. I appreciate your suggestions and insights.

  3. EFH says:

    I really like these suggestions Suzette. I couldn’t agree more with every single point. Especially the part about ‘Being an Adult’, it is very applicable to married people too. Your suggestions are so universal and thoughtful. Thanks. I look forward to the day I will hear from my teachers, who happen to be single, lessons from their valuable experience and not undervalue them just because of their social status.

    • Suzette says:

      Thanks! 🙂
      I think that “being an adult” can apply to all adults. And I look forward to the day with no one (including singles) are crushed under a social status.

  4. Lily says:

    “Of course, some of the problems in telling a new story come directly from curriculum, where it is suggested that single members will not receive a fullness of glory or are doomed to eternal servitude as “administering angels”.

    I worry that this in fact may be the case. Other than people repeatedly saying “if you don’t have the chance in this life. . . ” what evidence do we have? I have actually lowered my sights – terrestrial is good enough for me.

    I would love for the leaders to understand my perspective: “I get it. I am second class and can’t really hope for much more. Do you need to repeat it over and over?”

    • Suzette says:

      Yes, I’d love for them to stop repeating this message. And, I actually reject this message. I think the “afterlife” will be just fine for singles.

  5. Pippa says:

    It is a nice article, but I am afraid Mormonism is and will remain a ‘religion for married people’, for whole families in the church. I never hear or see leaders making decisions to help single adults, especially in the older age groups. Local leaders dig their heads in the sand as they do not even recognise the many issues single adults have to face. You wrote about singles being accused of being in Neverland, entertaining games, trips and parties…well, that may be true for the USA, but believe you me when I say that in Europe – and some parts of Europe especially – singles no longer know what a party is for the simple reason there ain’t any fun or games! Everything evolves married couples: – primary lessons, relief society, priesthood, activities… I spent 30 years in the church and i have now left. I owe it to mormonism that neither my sister and I married. The mormon community where I come from is so small that it is no wonder we both ended up single at the tender age of 50 years old, the only 2 out of our extended family – none of whom are mormons! I realised that I no longer want to sit for 3 hours in church amongst strangers and be reminded that I am less than everybody else. I realised that mormonism only suits a ‘certain kind of person’. I also realise that the church has no clue that women outnumber men in great numbers and it will only get worse. I see so many desperate single women on facebook lds groups looking for a guy. Every facebook group I looked into had 5-7 women to 1 guy! … Women and church leaders have to face the fact that this idea of ‘eternal marriage’ is unachievable in many mormon communities due to a very small membership. When they can’t sell you the ‘eternal bliss of an eternal family’ card anymore because you are either ‘over the hill’ or simply you live in a very small mormon community, they advise you to get involved in charity work and not to worry because there is the next life. No thank you, no more such nonsense….no more will I want to live the secluded life of a single mormon – which is how older generation of singles sometimes end up like when they try and stay active in the church….no more! p.s. will you even post this ? I doubt it. It does not exactly put the church (or the current state of things) in a good light.

  6. Pip says:

    It is a nice article, but I am afraid Mormonism is and will remain a ‘religion for married people’, for whole families in the church. I never hear or see leaders making decisions to help single adults, especially in the older age groups. Local leaders dig their heads in the sand as they do not even recognise the many issues single adults have to face. You wrote about singles being accused of being in Neverland, entertaining games, trips and parties…well, that may be true for the USA, but believe you me when I say that in Europe – and some parts of Europe especially – singles no longer know what a party is for the simple reason there ain’t any fun or games! Everything evolves married couples: – primary lessons, relief society, priesthood, activities… I spent 30 years in the church and i have now left. I owe it to mormonism that neither my sister and I married. The mormon community where I come from is so small that it is no wonder we both ended up single at the tender age of 50 years old, the only 2 out of our extended family – none of whom are mormons! I realised that I no longer want to sit for 3 hours in church amongst strangers and be reminded that I am less than everybody else. I realised that mormonism only suits a ‘certain kind of person’. I also realise that the church has no clue that women outnumber men in great numbers and it will only get worse. I see so many desperate single women on facebook lds groups looking for a guy. Every facebook group I looked into had 5-7 women to 1 guy! … Women and church leaders have to face the fact that this idea of ‘eternal marriage’ is unachievable in many mormon communities due to a very small membership. When they can’t sell you the ‘eternal bliss of an eternal family’ card anymore because you are either ‘over the hill’ or simply you live in a very small mormon community, they advise you to get involved in charity work and not to worry because there is the next life. No thank you, no more such nonsense….no more will I want to live the secluded life of a single mormon – which is how older generation of singles sometimes end up like when they try and stay active in the church….no more!

    • Tabby says:

      I can relate to your comment. I was 31 when I left two years ago. Even in Utah, with a large LDS community, I could see the writing on the wall for my life in my late 20s. The years of painful rejections and months or years on end without a date really damaged my confidence. I’m still in therapy, trying to work through my feelings of grief and the sense that I was robbed of important life experiences … for what? I’m truly glad for those singles who find comfort in the Church. For me, however, I was in a constant state of aching despair and isolation. It wasn’t until I took a psychology of love/sex class that I realized how wired we are for those things and that there are many different kinds of happy, fulfilling sexual and romantic relationships, in and out of marriage. I look forward to experiencing love/sex in a new context and with a different worldview than the one the Church gave me.

      I wish the Church cared more for its single members (and don’t get me started on LGBTQ members). When I saw Dallin Oaks at a meeting saying that single women need to “get over it” and “get on with their lives and quit feeling sorry for themselves” (no, I am not making that up), I had already left but that segment confirmed my decision. Still, I respect those who stay and I hope for a broader, more inclusive perspective for them (as well as some institutional self-awareness so real changes can be made).

      Good luck to you, Pip.

    • Rachel says:

      Pip, I’m still active in the church, but I totally hear you on why you left. Somehow we miss teaching the real gospel and instead preach the culture as doctrine and it drives people away. I love the gospel, but its still hard for me. You’re right. The gospel is completely inclusive (I don’t mean the messages we hear in church that come from the culture, I mean the message we would hear from Jesus Christ if He sat down with us and taught us). But I think you’re right that “Mormonism is and will remain a ‘religion for married people.’ ” I hope now that you’ve left you’ll find someone and have the dreams you’ve hoped for fulfilled. It’s not too late!

  7. Joseph Wisniewski says:

    The ONLY thing that matters is our view of ourselves. Anyone’s self-value is determined solely by our own outlook, not the opinions of others (good or bad). No attention whatsoever should be paid to “educating” others about “us”. There is no “us” really. We must each individually take ownership of our own outcomes. Stop the whining, stop waiting for Heavenly Father to fix our problems. Point of comparison .. how would singles react if there was a fireside by married couples, looking to “educate” us about them?

  8. Carol says:

    For years I was very active in the single adult activities and programs, and while they were usually fun I couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy. When I realized it was the single activities (because it was a constant reminder), I quit single activities. Best decision of my life. Some enjoyed them and were happy with attending, but not me. And that is ok. I’m active, have had several leadership callings, go to the temple as often as possible, etc. Is everything perfect? No. I still have moments of “I wish” and sorrow, but I realized being single does not define who I am. I’ve seen the leaders speak a little more on the subject, but I realize that if you haven’t walked this road you really don’t understand. I just know if I do all I can do God will make it right.

  9. JennVan says:

    Can you post a link to where the information in the quote below is found in the doctrine, manuals or handbooks of the church?

    “come directly from curriculum, where it is suggested that single members will not receive a fullness of glory or are doomed to eternal servitude as “administering angels””

  10. Michelle says:

    A good idea to encourage single, active, members to Tell a New Story, but we have no doctrine to back it up. Men are now included along with the women in the promise of marriage in the next life, while President Nelson stated in the last general conference one of the responsibilities of a priesthood holder is not to put his own desires first but others (like his future spouse?) and to not be lazy or procrastinate that responsibility.
    If you watched Elder Holland’s Face to Face with single adults, I felt patronized not condescended. No matter which way you look at this problem of single adults leaving the church in vast numbers it all comes down to we have no claim to an eternal marriage of our own which leaves us doomed to the borderlands until we die. We are not treated like adults yet we must be patient with the marrieds and endure their pep talks about how wonderful marriage is if we’d only give it a try: “We’re married, and so can you!”
    I’ve been trying to Tell my Story and share my own unique experiences on my blog for years http://www.oldmaidmormon.blogspot.com
    You’ve given me some good ideas for a future post. Thanks.

  11. Lisa says:

    I am a single member of the church. I do NOT have the feelings of inadequacy or that I am not good enough for this family church. I have never felt shunned or any of the other feelings that you list in this article. Please do not group all singles together. There are many who don’t feel this way. Sure, I want to be married, don’t get me wrong. But apparently it’s not in the cards for me at this time. I am good with that! Every ward that I have been in from a singles ward to a family ward have all treated me as equal and with just as much love and respect as the married folks.
    I have never felt or had the feeling of being weak, bad, or less-than is not new for any of us. if those feelings creep in, it is because of something I have done, not anyone else. No one can make me feel that way. I choose. I choose.
    Don’t tell me or assume to think that everyone who is single feels as you describe. Because I am certainly one who doesn’t. I cannot relate to what you have written.

  12. Liz says:

    This is fantastic, Suzette. What a terrific rallying cry – I especially love the call to tell a new story. This series has been so fantastic to read all of the new stories and to expand my vision of what it means to be a member in this church.

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