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

Singleby Amanda Waterhouse

Marriage is not simply a relationship or tax status in our church. It’s a blessing, a rite of passage, a necessary part of salvation; which leaves single adults in a tricky place. If marriage is a blessing, why haven’t you received it yet? Why don’t you deserve it? What did you do wrong?

Of course, the flip side to the myth that single adults are single because of some worthiness issue is the idea that it’s not your fault at all. You just haven’t been given the opportunity to get married yet. All too often I have been reassured, “I’m sure you’ll be married in the next life!” by well-meaning members who don’t recognize the inherent double blow to self-esteem in a message that implies:

1) you’ll be better (i.e. “fixed”) in the next life, thus reinforcing the idea that something is wrong with you now, and

2) you are not enough. It’s tricky to maintain a strong sense of individual worth when you are constantly reminded that no matter how good you are, you won’t be good enough until you are partnered with somebody else.   I am a child of God, but I’m not worthy of exaltation so long as I’m a single child of God.

Free agency further complicates this idea. When marriage becomes a matter of choice rather than a spiritual achievement or opportunity, it’s a gendered choice – men do the choosing and are failures if they do not choose correctly; women wait to be chosen and are failures if they are not picked.

And it’s just that – waiting. The idea that your life doesn’t actually begin until you’re married and have “a family of your own” traps single adults in a liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. A wedding, particularly a temple wedding, acts as a significant rite of passage in the church; and the church doesn’t know quite when to treat those who have not completed that ritual as full-fledged adults.

Marriage equals maturity; therefore singles must be immature. Singles wards and groups are not only given second-class citizen status in their segregation, but they are assigned married couples to “lead” them. When a newly-married couple in their early 20’s is placed in a leadership position over older single adults, the message is clear – a marriage certificate bestows more life-experience and capabilities than years of living as an independent adult. No wonder many Mormon single adults buy into this myth as much as non-single member do, to damaging effect. All too often single adults embrace a semi-adolescent lifestyle, neglecting critical responsibilities such as creating wills, saving for retirement, or establishing their own homes. We lose sight of the “adult” by focusing too much on the “single.”

Some of the most damaging myths about singles in the church are rooted in some of the most beautiful doctrines of the gospel, which makes it so much harder to untangle the truths from the myths. It’s worth it, though. Free agency, eternal families, celestial progression, and a real understanding of individual worth are worth the struggle to remind my fellow members and the struggle to convince myself over and over again that myths about single adults are indeed just myths.

Amanda Waterhouse teaches theater and a whole lot more in a high school outside of Denver. She loves traveling, Michelin restaurants, Marvel movies, and the Oxford comma.

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5 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Great post! I especially related to this: “The idea that your life doesn’t actually begin until you’re married and have “a family of your own” traps single adults in a liminal space between adolescence and adulthood.” I got married really young and had children right away because of this myth that life would begin once I did. I kept thinking that by doing so, I would finally arrive at adulthood. Didn’t happen. I appreciate your perspective, and I can’t even imagine what kind of gap in logical reason someone might have to think that a young married couple would be a good fit to lead older single adults. That’s insane, but I’ve seen it happen too. I remember when people would “graduate” from my BYU singles ward by getting married. Sometimes these newly married couples would come back to be leaders in the ward and it would always cause social awkwardness because they were once mere peons like us, and now they were crowned with the glory of marriage status.

  2. SilverRain says:

    In some ways, it’s even worse when you have lost a marriage. I was abused, and got out before it was too bad. But it has torn my testimony and sense of worth to shreds. I put on a relatively good face, and I’m not leaving the Church over it. But it’s a very lonely, rotten core at the heart of what was once discipleship.

    You get all the feelings of being a failure because no LDS man will pick you, along with the failure of having had “a marriage” and lost it.

    It’s driven me to realize that I will probably never be able to have a real covenant of marriage. I’m not even looking. And all the “next life” talk in the world only makes it worse, not better.

    The doctrines and policies of the Church mean that, as a single parent, I have to make a choice between covenants. Do I neglect my children in order to find a spouse? (Because my non-custodial ex-husband trolled the singles’ ward until he found someone desperate enough for “a marriage” to be his sugar mama.) Or do I try to be a responsible parent, and be doomed to (at best) visiting a singles’s ward when I have time?

    Right now, I’m choosing the calling that the family ward gave me over any chance of meeting someone and dating. It’s so much cognitive dissonance that many of us just give up in one way or another. Marriage outside of the temple, no marriage at all, getting babysitters in order to date, meeting never-married singles (who have no understanding of your responsibilities and limited time) at endless litanies of time-wasting, entertainment-based singles’ activities, or just leaving the church altogether.

    I won’t give up. But I’ve had to become resigned to the fact that I will never marry. Which means I’m in a permanent state of second-hand status. At least I get to be a servant in the next life, right? By the time I get there, after being a single parent, I’ll have had lots of practice at it.

  3. Thanks Amanda. I wonder if the policy that married couples are put in leadership over all-single congregations is particularly problematic. Could that be changed?

  4. Liz says:

    This is a fantastic post, Amanda. I agree that these things are so tangled together, but worth separating. I am really appreciating the perspectives I’m getting from these posts.

  5. Christopher T. Stacey says:

    It’s no better if you are a single brother, people tell you that you are a menace to society, a latent rapist and pedophile. There is no compassion or support for you, instead all I ever hear, see and read is hate. I have been treated like a roach by LDS sisters for simply being a male, or for being single.
    Now at 34 I have painfully accepted that I am not cutout for marriage. Bro’s and Sisters I beg of you, STOP! Stop this poisonous culture of hate and blame, Amen

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