One Woman’s Single Experience (from the series: Single and Married in the LDS Church)

 

 

young african woman thinking isolated on white background

by East River Lady

Note from Suzette: The experiences shared here (about single’s wards, fitting in, and marriage) are common among singles; ERL’s voice reflects many of ours. 

It is a sad truth: you can be stigmatized in the Mormon faith for a lot of reasons: a feminist, a homosexual, a intellectual, or a doubter. If you don’t fit the mold Mormonism provides for you, becoming an outsider is to be expected.

There’s also a more obvious, more visible, way to be listed as “other” in the LDS faith–– being single. In a church where exaltation–– receiving the fullness of the Gospel and living among God as a god–– is primarily dependent on your marital status, not being married could definitely be considered as “less-than”.

For college, I attended Brigham Young University in Provo. It was arguably the capital of LDS marriage culture. While not saying it explicitly, it was clear that the main objective of YSA bishops was to get us all married. Almost three years ago, I posted this status retelling a meeting I had with my YSA bishop during my senior year at BYU:

Bishop: So, East River Lady. I feel inspired to talk to you about this. Are you dating anyone seriously?

ERL: Nope.
Bishop: Well, you should be!
ERL: It’s totally out of my control.
Bishop: Well, not necessarily. You just need to set your eyes on someone you like and write him a note or something. Boys are shy, nowadays. But you need to find someone. You graduate in April. Now is the time to find a worthy priesthood holder to marry! Where are you going after you graduate?
ERL: Ideally, back to New York City.
Bishop: I take it you want to raise your family back there?
ERL: Oh, yes.
Bishop: Hmmm. Well, okay. My counsel has changed. Wait until you’re back in New York to find a husband, but you need to start going on dates, just in case you find someone here. You need to start dating seriously and find a husband!

I get it. As my ecclesiastical leader in a church where marriage is your ticket to heaven, of course my marital status was one of his concerns.

But, to be honest, I’m kind of over the whole marriage deal. I’m a feminist liberal black Mormon convert living in NYC where the Mormon population is low and the male Mormon population is lower. Frankly, my odds just aren’t that good, even if I wanted to get married right this second!

When I was at BYU and I was in the midst of the marriage culture, I did feel pressure and that imminent desire to get married. Mostly, I felt stressed. And sad. What if I never get married, I would think. What if I’m single my entire life? Compounded with that, I am only child and I am not close with my family. Essentially, it’s just me (at least emotionally and mentally). And I won’t lie; the thought of who’s going to look after me when I’m old has crossed my mind many times. Probably as many times as will anyone still care about me as I get older and will anyone even remember me when I’m gone.

Selfish self-pitying aside, I also worry immensely about where I’ll end up in the afterlife and with whom. I have no desire to be sealed eternally to my family. I want to visit them and stay in contact, definitely, but to be sealed to them? That’s not something I want considering the troubled and damaging history I have with them.

Will I want to be with my ancestors further back in my genealogy? And which ancestors? Won’t they be busy with their own immediate families? Who’s to say we’ll even like each other, family or not? It’s too much of a gamble to count on that. Or will I like anyone up in the Spirit World enough to marry? Or could I just be a ministering angel doing the work of God and stay amongst my friends–– people with whom I already have an established relationship? Surely, they’ll have a guest mansion on their plane of Celestial glory and allow me to participate in their godly activities.

It’s funny how the Church’s comforting belief in Forever Families is actually more of a source of discomfort, confusion, and pain to some of us members.

Those thoughts aside, now that I’m back in New York City and figuring out how to live my life, marriage has become less of a priority for me.

While still worrying about my future (in this life and the next), I value my life now. I have better than amazing friends; my relationship with my biological family is not as terse or tense as it used to be; and my life situation is mostly positive, all things considered. And I feel I should figure out my own life right now before I add another person to it. I don’t feel the need to be married when I’m still living at home without a fulltime job. My priorities are just so different from what the Church would have them.

So where does that leave me as a young woman who doesn’t really care for marriage at this point in her life? Unfortunately, the Church still has no real place for me as someone with no immediate desire to get married. Everything in the LDS faith leads to a temple marriage and serving within a family ward while creating and building up the next generation of families.

And frankly, I wish I wasn’t separated into an YSA congregation, making my status as “other” more obvious. YSA wards and branches do nothing more than emphasize the otherness of members and continue to infantilize single adults. There should just be wards or branches, no qualifier based on marital status. Family and singles wards truly lose out on the talents and experiences of each other when we’re separated. It also just makes the other group seem foreign and as people who share no common interests. For me, I don’t belong in a YSA ward because I currently don’t want to get married (the purpose of YSA congregations), but I also don’t belong in a family ward because I’m not married. And I lose out on being with the friends I have in both wards here in my area when I attend one over the other.

To be in my shoes–– a woman with no current plans or opportunities to seek out marriage, and who is happy in that situation–– is a complicated Mormon mess. It makes me feel more out of place than I already do. I am not normal or weird, simply because my life plan doesn’t happen to align with the life plan the Church would have me follow. The Church constantly prides itself as being a “family church”. And as a member without a Mormon family, where do I fit in? Why can’t we be just a church–– a place where we gather to worship Christ? We can glorify families and their eternal nature without losing focus of what the Church of Jesus Christ is really about: Jesus Christ.

I can only look forward to the day when the LDS Church will look at me as a Follower of Christ who happens to be single, instead of as a single person who happens to be a Follower of Christ.

May that day come soon!

 

East River Lady

24 years old. LDS Convert. New York Native. Mormon Feminist.

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11 Responses

  1. These conversations with priesthood leaders are bizarre! How do they think that will work? You can’t just get married if you don’t have a partner, and partners don’t grow on trees!

    I was at a funeral once of a priesthood leader, and the person next to me told the deceased’s wife that her husband had told him, when he was at the wee age of 21, to get married within the year. The person talking actually did end up married that soon, and seemed happy about it, and thought that was great advice, but the deceased’s wife seemed horrified to hear that her husband had done that.

  2. Kirsten says:

    I agree with you about getting rid of YSA wards. They really only exist in areas with a critical mass of YSAs. Where I grew up, we barely had enough people to fill a traditional branch, let alone single out the singles! Some of my best teachers/leaders were single women who taught me how to be strong and to see what could be possible. I would have missed out on those amazing women if they had been moved off into a Singles’ ward…

  3. Lily says:

    “It’s funny how the Church’s comforting belief in Forever Families is actually more of a source of discomfort, confusion, and pain to some of us members.” I agree totally. I too worry about what will happen to me after I am dead. I actually cannot imagine a scenario where I am happy in the next life: single and surrounded my married people? Polygamy? Great. I think I’d rather go terrestrial.

  4. Violadiva says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!
    It made me think about the possibility of “logical families” in the afterlife in addition to families of origin. No reason why we must be sealed to those with whom we shared blood in a previous life, or that we couldn’t be sealed to someone else if we chose it. This is eternity we’re talking about! Anything’s possible!

  5. Ziff says:

    “I can only look forward to the day when the LDS Church will look at me as a Follower of Christ who happens to be single, instead of as a single person who happens to be a Follower of Christ.”

    Spot on. This is such an excellent point. It bizarre that we are so hung up on marital status that we consider it as more central than discipleship or Church membership.

  6. Julie says:

    Today in a combined 3rd hour meeting, this was said: “The doctrine of families is the sole purpose of Christ’s mission. Families are the doctrine of Christ.”

    I am finally at peace that I will not marry or have children, peace that came directly from God; I’m less at peace some weeks at church, today included.

    Thank you, Exponent staff and guest writers, for this entire series–I’ve enjoyed the posts very much.

    • Karen says:

      “The doctrine of families is the sole purpose of Christ’s mission.” Whoa. False doctrine much? My understanding is that his mission was to save us from sin and death. I wonder what the context of the statement was?

  7. Maegan says:

    Loved this post. I was asked by two different bishops, two years in a row, if I was dating someone when I went in for tithing settlement. Aside from the fact that my dating life has NOTHING to do with tithing, I don’t think these kinds of personal questions should be standard practice for bishops’ interviews. I wish the powers that be would catch on to how inappropriate it is. But I’m glad to know I don’t have to suffer this weirdness alone!

  8. Liz says:

    Love, love, love this, ERL. I think of our current obsession with The Family as our modern-day golden calf – for are we not all one? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to add “neither married nor single,” too.

  9. Michelle says:

    How easy to brush off eternal marriage as over-revered and exaggerated in its importance yet ERL’s bishop pressured her about DATING, not about being husbandless. The root of this whole article is about lack of dating. ERL is shamed that because she remains left on the shelf, unwanted, of less value because she was never called, let alone chosen, for a simple date over which we single women have absolutely no control over and we are to blame. This is the message the church drums into our head since we were Beehives. Where is the outrage?

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