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Singles Ward

junctbldg1by Zenaida

Ten years in a singles ward is a long time. I’ve endured the gentle prodding, persistent nudging, and outright insistence on finding my eternal companion. I don’t want to start a rant on the pressure singles feel to get married, but I do want to explore the singles ward as an entity. It is by it’s nature ephemeral. It is not meant to be a destination, but a transition.

Now, admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve  been in a family ward as a full anxiously engaged (or not so engaged) member, so my standard for comparison comes largely from childhood memories, but it seems like the singles ward experience varies greatly depending on who is the bishop and his agenda. In the bigger wards, it’s easier to disappear and keep an outward orbit around the community. In the smaller wards it’s impossible to avoid at least being known. This is not unique, but determines somewhat the exposure to the courtship rhetoric, which varies by bishop. Some have been hands off, and some have been pushy. Many have been very genuine, and exhibited great concern for the members in their jurisdiction.

It doesn’t feel like a real place. Perhaps it’s the transience of the members. The vibe can change weekly, and is almost guaranteed to change every semester. It is silent during the sacrament because there are no small children to make noise (which I love, btw, although I remember the first time I attended, and was quite shocked at the stillness). There are no older folks to dispense their wisdom. Service opportunities almost always involve community service outside the church members. The only dynamic in a singles ward seems to be the eternal flirting game. So what happens when you get stuck in the monoculture of young adults all on the hunt for a spouse? (Even if they say they’re not, they really are somewhere in their psyche.) There are only three ways out: marriage, reaching the age of “menace to society,” or decapitation.

You feel the transience and are never settled. Members often ‘ward hop,’ to search for that perfect EC. Often, weekly assignments are thrown together on site at the last moment, simply because you never know who is going to show up. I think singles wards near educational institutions are easier to manage because you can follow the school schedule almost exactly and plan accordingly. There always seems to be the core regulars that are extremely active, and the orbitals who might show up once in a while, but again, I don’t think this is unique. It’s just that investment in the specific community is much more shallow and short-lived, even for the regulars. Also, once again the boon and bane of lay leadership is manifest with young people leading themselves, but also being inexperienced, and sometimes, just wrong.

Moving into the singles ward grants you the title of young adult, but when do you shed that title and become an adult? I have often heard members who marry and move out of the ward referred to as graduating from the ward. So, does moving on to the family ward without a spouse imply a failed graduation? It is difficult to feel like an adult until married status is achieved, and as women, I sometimes wonder if we are truly be granted that title lacking a male counterpart. A woman is always someone to be taken care of by the Priesthood. Although, I do think men are denied adult status until they have “taken a wife.”

I have considered making the jump to the family ward even though I have not yet reached the graduation mark, and I wonder about feeling comfortable there either. Instead of living as one of many, I wonder if I would stand out far more as an oddity. I should say that I have definitely had some wonderful experiences and leaders, and currently feel the freedom to be myself. I think it’s meant to be a safe space for mixing to acheive the end-goal of exhaltation. I know there is a time and a season for everything, but I yearn for the time when I can feel more connected to a fuller spectrum of humanity.

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  1. elizabeth-w says:

    Loved this post. Didn’t get married until the 27 so I spent a few years doing the singles ward scene. I think you are spot-on regarding the un-adult-ness one feels until marriage. But I don’t think that is unique to LDS culture. There is a great book titled Single in a Married World: A Lifecycle Framework for working with the Unmarried Adult by Schwartzberg, Berliner, and Jacob.
    It’s a book for therapists (which I am). I think it should be required reading for for bishops/branch presidents of singles wards. Not that singles need therapy-don’t get me wrong. It just addresses the issues you’re talking about, and follows it throughout life–the single in his/her 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. The issues change as we age.

  2. G says:

    ah… like elisabeth, I love this. good memories (well, the good and the bad all blending towards nostalgia or whatever) thanks zenaida.
    good luck deciding and negotiating the next step.

  3. Bree says:

    I spent a solid 13 years in several different singles wards before I got married and my experiences were mixed. For the most part, I had wonderful bishops (once I left BYU) who recognized us as adults and left most of the patronizing “For the strength of Youth”-type talks to visiting high council or stake authorities. Most of my time was spent in two large urban singles wards where, yes, the flirting, fashion show and transience got very old, but the lessons were always well-prepared, there was deep doctrinal discussion, and a real sense of community. We were each other’s family. The average age in those wards was probably 26-27, which I think also makes a big difference when compared to experiences in much younger wards. There was also an appreciation for the diversity of peoples’ life experiences and a recognition that there is more than one way to live a good life. Those are the things I miss most. Those are the things I wish I had now in my suburban family ward.

  4. This was a fun post for me to read because I am an “Old Married Lady” serving in a YA Branch along side my husband. I believe you have described our Branch to the T! lol I also have four YA children who range from 20-29 that are single and active in the branch, so consequently have a house full of YA’s ALL the time!
    I love it… I hope that I never have to go back to the family ward…
    Your concerns about the future are probably the thought on the minds of everyone of my single YA friends. As one who passed through the experience and can look back with fond memories, I simply advise that you enjoy the ride now. Your experiences in your YA years is but a blink in the spectrum of things.
    Yep, sounds like an “Old Married Lady” advice right?

  5. Natalie says:

    I spent 10 years in Single’s Wards before voluntarily switching back to a family ward, because I felt silly attending with all those kids.

    I think you made some good points, but I think that the claim that “only dynamic” is flirtation. In my experience, Single’s Wards were a breeding ground for some of my most touching and enduring friendships. Some were male, but most were women, and we felt a closeness and bond that I think you are more likely to feel in a situation where you don’t have husbands and families, but the primary relationships DO tend to be friendships.

  6. Alisa says:

    I agree that the “For the Strength of Youth” stuff you encounter in singles wards is somewhat problematic, as you’re dealing with full adults. Even more so in the (older) single adult wards.

  7. D'Arcy says:

    I have way too much to say about this. I am 31
    and still in the singles ward. I don’t date
    members anymore for some specific reasons that
    I won’t get into here.

    After 30, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I rarely
    go to church anymore. I won’t pray or talk or
    do anything more than an occasional comment in
    GD or RS.

    As a GD teacher from 28-30 (and on and off in
    between there too) it was so hard to deal with the
    newly 18 year olds flirting during a lesson
    and speaking and talking. It was hard to see
    how much make up the girls wore and how low
    they could get their dresses to go before being
    immodest.

    It was hard to hear testimonies geared at showing
    what an excellent spouse this person or that person
    would make.

    It was hard all around.

    I think as far as singles and the LDS church
    have to go….we’ve got a lot of ways to improve
    and I keep trying to have hope that it will happen.

  8. Mellina says:

    My personal experiences in the single wards I’ve attended have varied greatly. I’ve been in university centered wards/stakes, big wards, small wards, etc. One thing I can’t escape is the feeling of the ‘meat market’. In the ever elusive search for one’s eternal companion, I felt constantly compared to my sisters in the ward. There seemed to be this unspoken contest on who could look the most beautiful, or who is the most spiritual.

  9. Saral says:

    This topic is near and dear to me, as I spent almost 12 years in singles’ wards before marrying. I have to agree with the comment about the quality of female friendships there. The best friends I have ever made at church come from my experiences in singles’ wards. The intimacy and supportive bonds forged there have yet to be matched in my friendships in family wards. Unfortunately, I also relate to the comments about dating and flirting and this perennial “meat market” mentality. While my experiences in singles’ wards brought some of the happiest times of my life, I also frequently felt a spirit of competition with dating. Of course, some of this was about me and where I was at developmentally, but I think there were a lot of unhealthy dynamics going on. Such dynamics are hard to avoid, of course, especially when there are imbalanced sex ratios and so many people judge their self worth by how successful they are with friendships and dating. That aside, a good amount of my female friends have made successful transitions to family wards, but I have seen the happiest transitions take place with friends who already have a solid network of single friends who they can still hang out with. I think it helps them to remain connected. In a few cases, I’ve noticed that being out of the singles’ ward has inspired said friends to “think outside of the box” in terms of their activities and dating opportunities. Many have met great guys online or through other channels. Overall, I think the transition to a family ward has been a positive one for most of my friends, but I would say you have to go with what feels right for you at this time.

    Also, another thought I have about single’s wards is that it makes a HUGE difference who the bishop is. When I was younger, I felt very secure and comforted by bishops who would get very involved with me, offer to give me blessings and regularly doled out dating advice. Looking back though, I appreciate more and more the ones who helped me focus on my own worth as a woman, encouraged me to develop my own spirituality and to find my own answers. Although I was comforted by the more directive leaders in some ways, by placing so much stock in their advice, I sometimes went in directions that I now wish I had not. I really wish that more singles’ wards bishops would be the less directive type. I think it would have more effectively fostered my growth and development and helped me to feel more comfortable in the singles’ ward setting.

  10. rachel says:

    make the jump! i too spent many years in different types of singles wards. then one day i couldn’t take it anymore and i switched to a family ward. best decision i ever made. i was treated like an adult instead of a young adult. plus i loved having real gospel discussions in classes instead of “one my mission” comments. and all those little annoying things you mentioned….went away.

  11. EmilyCC says:

    Zenaida, this is one of the best critiques I’ve read of a singles ward! I was only in a singles ward for 4 years, but they have been by far my hardest years in terms of my relationship in the Church.

    Our stake has recently made a lot of older singles leave the singles ward. It has been great to have all of this talent come into our ward, but I worry that we’re not integrating them in very well (we’ve put most in the activities committee). Any singles have advice about how we can help with that transition?

  12. Tanya Sue says:

    EmilyCC-My stake did that about 5 years ago. All of the over 30 singles attended the same family ward together. It basically created a ward within a ward. The main “long time” ward member referred to the singles as the youth. The created a separate Sunday school class, separate temple night, singles only VT singles, etc. It was the weirdest experience I have ever had at church. I don’t have numbers, but I would say the bulk of the people who were asked to leave the singles ward no longer participate. There is nothing like being treated like you are 12 when you have a college degree and a full-time job to make you feel uncomfortable. Also, the bishop catered to the singles so much that the families went and complained to the SP because they felt like primary was second to singles program.

    I think the best thing you can do is treat them as an equal. They are capable of “real” callings. Some of them have far more time and energy to put into their calling than any married person with kids does. I always putting the singles in separate classes made it feel like we were not really part of the world. It also made it feel like the time there was temporary. Lots of people owned their own homes, and this would be their ward as long as they lived there, but it always felt like they were permanent guests to the married ward members-just staying until they got married-and not having real life until the got married.

  13. Roger says:

    I thank God for singles wards! For me, meeting my wife was the best experience of my life so far. I attended two of the gigantic singles wards in Boston/ Cambridge. I will never forget Bishop Haight (yes pronounced “hate” — the most beautiful man I have ever known) charging the priesthood to date at least one sister every week, “because they deserve to be treated and feel like the beautiful eternal godesses they are.” I was dating a non-member (a wonderful spiritual girl) and the bishop forcefully charged all the priesthood to stop dating outside the church. I obeyed and was BLESSED! There is something to be said for being in the right place!

    For the sisters, the experience is very different I’m afriad. There were some 5 women to every man! I cried openly in fast and testimony meetings when some of these beautiful, grounded, educated, wonderful sisters spoke of going a year or more without being asked out. I’m talking about amazing people! Take this as you will, but I found myself wishing I could date and mary multiple partners. I don’t claim to be up to the task, but the sisters in Cambridge are amazing, and it really hurts my heart to see such sadness.

    I dated alot, following my bishop, and made many hopefully life-long friends. Often the dates were predictable as these pragmatic sisters ran down their check lists. Temple-worthy men were a rare commodity, and time couldn’t be wasted dating outside the list, ie. recomend holder, active in a calling, honorable mission served, etc.. Sometimes I would have to ask my date if we could just have fun and order something yummy before running down my pedigree. I converted later in life and did not serve a mission, so it was always interesting to see how the mood changed when that came out. Some sisters appologized, “I was doing that?” Others just said, “You understand.”

    I’ll tell you, When Elder Oaks spoke about some never finding a mate here in this life, but to not be discouraged, I felt such deep sadness for the pain some of these sisters will most likely go through! God bless them!!

    I still have many friends in my old ward, and I am told they are trying something new. The singles wards are still in place, but the members also belong to a family ward from their areas as well. I believe the way it works is that you can go to both or either but that you are a full member in both. I love that idea and hope it works.

  14. Saral says:

    Roger,
    Your comment brought back some fond memories. Bishop Haight was my bishop for a time when I met my husband and married him. I was one of those many single women facing depressing odds in the ward. I’m glad to hear that your story worked out well. Even though he definitely felt that people shouldn’t generally date or marry outside of the church, Bishop Haight was actually very instrumental in helping me decide to marry my husband, who is not a member, but who was involved with the ward and very supportive of my church activity. He even performed our wedding ceremony. I appreciate when singles ward leaders do try and understand how difficult the odds are for women to find those “checklist” “ideal” Mormon men and are supportive of the reality that sometimes life is complicated and you just have to go forward, embrace happiness and do the best you can. I was pushing 30 at the time and was really sick of the whole singles ward scene. I did have apprehension entering into an interfaith marriage, but it has turned out pretty well and I’m grateful I had the support I did when making my decision. I’m glad to hear that the Cambridge stake is being innovative allowing people to be in two wards. I’ve never liked the approach of forcing people to exit singles wards. People have networks and friendships built up and it can be hard to transition to a family ward. I’m glad singles ward members in Cambridge are being supported and offered the choice.

  15. Caroline says:

    It’s great to hear your singles ward story, saral. How awesome of your bishop to see the big picture and not put pressure on you to only marry a member.

  16. Zenaida says:

    elizabeth-w, thanks for the reference. I think we all need a little therapy now and then. 🙂

    Thank you all for sharing your personal experiences! It helps to hear how others have navigated this path. It’s nice to have empathetic ears.

    I’m somewhat conflicted about the way relationships are built in singles wards. Each one is different, which means a different dynamic for each one. Now, I very much appreciate the crowd 25+.

    Saral, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’ve also recently had a bishop who was open and understanding, and supportive. I think it must be a different world for men and women. I think men hear “marry a good Mormon girl” more often or more forcefully than the women hear “marry a good Mormon boy,” especially as they get older because of the ratio. I am curious to know how many women manage to remain single and celibate versus the number who chose to marry outside the church.

    Tanya Sue, your experience sounds like the epitome of infantilised treatment of “young adults.” I think when you separate the community like that, it achieves the opposite of your intentions to bring people together.

  17. Zenaida says:

    Saral and Roger, I meant to add that your different experiences with Bishop Haight seem to emphasize my point of different handling of men and women.

  18. Kiri Close says:

    Zen, it’s so cool u posted this.

    MY SUCCESS IN LOCATING EC’s IN SINGLES WARDS/LDS SINGLES GROUPS/UNIVERSITY LDS WARDS: 0.

    zero, zilch, nada, egg.

    I really tried, but I was almost always confused by the guys there & other places where LDS testosterone lurks.

    I felt like the single LDS men (hmm–men…are they even that?) sought after the sweet, smaller-framed, smaller nosed, lighter skinned & younger girls who didn’t read a lot of books or have big, independent dreams of their own. Heaven forbid that they seek women who actually like to eat more than 1 serving of supper!

    It’s funny, because now these girls are the wives of these very men, & guess who’s received a few emails from these guys that state how bored they are with the gal? Some of them divorced. I don’t even respond – serves them right.

    Since I attended multi-cultura/multi-racial singles wards, LDS singles groups, & University LDS wards, I would say that my experience with single LDS men seeking these kinda women was the same across the cultural spectrum: I was never a 1st pick, & neither were other ‘marginalized’ LDS gals.

    None of us loud, wide hipped, book-a-holic, independent, non-caucasian fat girls was the amongst 1st pick. At least, I didn’t feel we were.

    I then met, dated, & eloped (we had no money) with a fabulous nonmember–who had always seen me as priceless, forever his #1–sounds too good to be true, but it’s TRUE!!! REMINDER: I did NOT find this guy in an LDS singles ward. Yes, I can finally say I ended up with a true MAN, not a wishy-washy boy.

    I have been interested in how pedaphilia may have something to do with many LDS men’s choices in what is attractive.

  19. Mellina says:

    Kiri- I very much feel for what you went through in those singles wards. It sounds so similar to my experiences. I always felt looked over by the ‘men’ in singles wards because I didn’t fit that ideal look you described. I am interested in what you may have found in your looking into the possible connections this has with pedaphilia, and it make me think about how pornography may lead to this distorted view.

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