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