Staking my claim/Claiming my stake: Mid-Singles

A few months ago, I was reading an essay by Mary Lythgoe Bradford*, and was struck by her comments on being single again. As I read further and further, I found myself thinking, “Right on sister!” more times than I’d care to recount. One point that particularly spoke to me is that singlehood is not a punishment, a condemnation or a cruel joke. It’s just a fact of some lives, and mine in particular at this point in time. And when I review my life, I can honestly say that I’ve chosen it over the marriage opportunities I’ve been presented with. I don’t view this as being selfish, or too career-minded, or noncommittal, just realistic about my capacity to love and be loved by, and to be happy with and foster happiness in certain people.

So, I’m single. And invested in living the best life I can. And I like to think that I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it so far. But there is always room for improvement, and the area that seems to have the most potential so far is my church experience. Not that I hate church. Far from it. But I have noticed that there are certain organizational quirks that could stand to be looked at again.

In my stake, the records of all singles over 31 years of age are moved out of the YSA ward into their geographic family ward. Frankly, I agree that YSA wards are no place for mid-singles. I think that being in multigenerational wards is a good thing for people who have attended their fair share of Linger-longers and Flick ‘n’ Floats. However, reactions to the transition seem to be one of three varieties. Some people transition easily enough, faithfully attending the new wards that they’re planted in, even though they may feel lonely as one of only a few mid-singles in their ward. Others seem to retreat into denial, and continue going to the YSA ward despite time’s relentless forward march. I can understand the rationales … that’s where most of their friends are, who wants to be stuck in a family ward to molder away your thirties, and the fact that sometimes mid-singles can be a scary bunch. Still others just seem to “slip through the cracks,” giving new incentive to overeager visiting teachers, home teachers and ward clerks.

A couple of months ago, the second counselor in my bishopric (who happens to be single and in his mid-forties) took a few of us mid-singles out to dinner to discuss how the ward/stake could better serve our needs. There was a lot said about having more activities, especially of the non-dance type, or segregating activities by age decades (ie: 30’s, 40’s, 50’s), but I think my idea was the best. However, before I can amaze you with my brilliance, let me provide a little background info.

My stake is very diverse. It encapsulates two very affluent wards, three rather impoverished (both financially and leadership-wise) wards, two university wards, a YSA ward, and one non-English-speaking ward. The stake leaders have had to farm out YSA’s and older couples to help with leadership and missionary work in the smaller wards that have many non-English speaking members, or a lack of active adult members of both genders. As a stake missionary, I was assigned to one of these “growing” wards, and attended Sunday services there for six months to help out.

So, back to my brilliant idea. I told Counsellor II that I would love for the stake to designate one of the growing wards as the place where the mid-singles should attend, which would fulfill the two major needs of members of the church: fellowship and service.

Fellowshipping is such a huge part of the gospel. What is visiting teaching and home teaching if not a formal take on fellowshipping? I believe that, important as VT/HT can be, the best type of fellowshipping is the informal and spontaneous kind, especially when entering a new ward. After having attended a vibrant YSA ward, sometimes it’s just depressing to go to a family ward and be one of only a few mid-singles. We all have a need to be with our peers. Young mothers commiserate with each other about babies, and older ladies share menopause stories. Not that I won’t benefit from their experience, but I do feel a need to share my own stories with those who will understand me best. On the other side of the gender divide, one of my guy buddies said that attending high priest group meeting in the family ward the first week was like feeling the prison bars slam shut on his dating years. Not that he didn’t like the other HP’s, but he suddenly felt as if he had aged thirty years, since the next oldest HP was in his 60’s.

Members need callings to help feel invested in the ward, and to reap the blessings of service. Without a calling, it’s just too easy to slip into inactivity. When my bishop asked me what calling I would like, I asked to be the RS pianist. Not only because I wanted more incentive to practice piano, and because the old pianist was moving away, but because it would give me a reason to go to Relief Society that I couldn’t shrug away because I didn’t feel benefited by it. I admit that my current bishop does a better job than most, but it is bothersome that most of us mid-singles have been conveniently called to the activities committee, which also seems to be the catch-all place for in/less-actives. This one-size-fits-all calling can be particularly frustrating since the families in the ward are so busy with FHE, youth activities, boy scouts, sports and enrichment that they don’t support other ward activities.

My last request of the stake leaders, assuming that they recognize the genius of my idea, would be to call as bishop someone who has some experience with mid-singles … either as having been one, having children or friends who have been in the situation, or just someone who is very empathetic. Sometimes, bishops just doesn’t know what to do with mid-singles. When my roommate (who transitioned into the family ward a year ahead of me) had an interview with the bishop, he asked her what her plan was.
P: Plan?
B: Yes, what is your plan?
P: For my career?
B: Hmmm, no. What is your plan for getting married?
P: (Thinks to herself: Well yes, I planned on it about six years ago, thank you very much! Says: ) I’m not sure what you mean.
B: I think you need a plan. How are you going to get married without a plan? Maybe you should go on-line. It worked wonderfully for Jane. I think it would work for you.

And really, the bishop was very well-meaning and earnest, but blanket solutions don’t work for everyone. BTW, P was subsequently wooed by a prior home teacher, and they’ve been happily married for almost two years, sans internet hook-up.

So, if you are still reading this interminable post, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Have you had similar experiences, or better, or worse? What is happening in your stake, and how does it serve the needs of the members? Do you too have a brilliant idea you’d like to have implemented?

* The quote I mentioned at the top is Mary Lythgoe Bradford (“Suddenly Single” from Proving Contraries) quoting from Our Lady of the Lost and Found (which is out of print, so I haven’t read the original. Also, thanks to my roommate R, who read the quote to me on the phone since I forgot my book at home!

“I try no longer to think of my singleness as something that has happened to me; something like a car accident, something unfortunate and unfair, something that I have suffered through no fault of my own … I am not always successful in this endeavor … but I can think of my singleness as something that I have chosen.”

She adds that although
she doesn’t know why or how she chose it, she feels good about taking responsibility for her state, for her own life.

“It is not asceticism or abnegation or martyrdom. It is not a punishment, a condemnation, an abomination, an embarrassment, an inversion of the natural order, or a cruel joke played upon me by God.”

She decides that simply having a relationship with a man is not the answer, nor is any relationship or any one event.

Like marrieds, singles can choose to live authentic, fulfilling, adventurous lives, even though it may be more challenging for them to do so.

Dora

Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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21 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    Wonderful post, Dora. As one-half of an interfaith marriage, I attend church alone — and it makes me more cognizant of other members of this “family” ward who are sitting sans spouse for whatever reason. I’m in a big, strong, affluent ward. Folding chairs fill almost half the gym — and I’m struck that this is where almost all of the single adults sit. Me, too. I almost feel awkward sitting in the cushy pews — as if I am taking someone else’s space. I wonder if other wards experience a similar phenomenon. Hmm. . .

    I’m intrigued by your idea about one ward as a “magnet ward” for mid-singles — especially if it’s a ward that needs leadership. Families in our ward are often “called” to struggling units(one or two families per unit). But recently I have heard a couple of these families express their own feelings of social isolation (especially for their kids if it’s a tiny YW, etc.) — and the stress of fulfilling the multiple demanding callings while raising a family. They would *love* an influx of strong members who could give liven up the place and provide needed leadership.

    (Kudos to your bishopric for soliciting this feedback!)

  2. Caroline says:

    Dora, this is a great post. I love hearing about your experience as a mid-single. It makes me so much more aware of what some in my ward are dealing with.

    I love your idea of having a magnet ward for mid-singles. I hope your counselor guy really listened to you on that one.

    As for other ideas on how to include singles more, I don’t personally have any brilliant ideas. But I do know that my friend Amy stood up in stake conference when they were having a question-answer period and asked the stake presidency what they were doing to make singles feel like they have a place in this church/stake.

    I think the leaders fumbled a bit, but some have since talked to her more about it. She suggests that they alter their rhetoric. Start treating females as humans and not future wives and mothers. I hope i’m not putting words in her mouth, but if I understand correctly, she feels like motherhood and wifehood were so pounded into her and her sense of identity her whole church life that now she is a single 30 year old, she feels like she has no place in this gospel/church.

  3. stacer says:

    I can relate to Amy about that, Caroline. Even in a midsingles magnet ward up here (we have one in the North Seattle stake, but not one in the stake I just moved into–but then, they don’t have a YSA ward, either)–even within that ward, I didn’t feel really welcomed or put to work. Nor did I feel taken care of, and I was in that ward for four months and sick for four months. I did have one friend in the singles group who brought me food, and that was so welcomed.

    Part of it wasn’t that people weren’t reaching out to me–it was more that *I* felt out of place and groundless (and being sick for six months didn’t help my morale). Like Amy, I feel like I’ve placed my idea of my own worth so much into the basket of wifehood and motherhood that as I find myself 31 and still single, with absolutely no dating prospects–and since getting kicked out of the singles’ ward, hardly any friends, either–I’ve had to reevaluate how I feel about myself, and find a way to recognize that what *I* do has worth, even if it isn’t in a family.

    We’re told so many, many times that the greatest thing a woman will ever do will be to raise a family. It’s even in my patriarchal blessing. Which makes everything else I do pale in comparison, and frustrates me that I have no control over whether anyone likes me or wants to marry me, and even pushes me in the direction of settling, if someone would be willing to settle for me.

    I don’t like that. At all. What it does to me, or what it implies about me. And I’m constantly fighting against letting myself feel that way–an almost impossible battle for my personality type.

    I’m trying to get to the point that Dora’s at, though–being able to recognize what a great life I have even without those things. Despite the great loneliness–and I mean, I live alone with 2 cats, and I have no really close friends who live within a few states away–I’m at a great job that I love, and living in a place that, though it’s trying to kill me with allergies, I need to learn to be able to enjoy somehow. And that means still trying to reach out.

    My current ward has only one other single my age, which is kind of frustrating, because she’s very very busy and doesn’t have time for hanging out. But the bishop knows what it feels like to be in my situation–at 31 he was also kicked out of his singles ward, and the first thing he told me in my intro interview was that I was prayed to be in that ward (it’s one of those struggling wards) and that I’m welcome, with all their hearts. He also made sure to emphasize that being 31 is not the end of the world, and never mentioned a thing about marriage except to say that he did get married in his mid-thirties, and he probably had zero prospects when he was 31. Not terribly comforting to someone who sees no prospects for years to come, but the spirit of it was meant to comfort, and I took the comfort for what it was.

    This has gotten kind of long–sorry!

  4. narife says:

    Not to long after they forced a large group of 32 year olds out of my singels ward, our Bishop gave a talk to the RS on “Dealing With Dissapointment.” He reminded all of us that we would be able to have families in the next life. I know his intentions were good, but I know it made the group feel hopeless and worthless.

    So it’s WONDERFUL to read that “singlehood is not a punishment, a condemnation or a cruel joke.”

  5. Mike says:

    So, back to my brilliant idea. I told Counsellor II that I would love for the stake to designate one of the growing wards as the place where the mid-singles should attend, which would fulfill the two major needs of members of the church: fellowship and service.

    An excellent idea. I’ve heard of this being done for older singles, so I think it could be pulled off.

  6. Dora says:

    Deborah ~ I love the term magent ward. Makes me feel likewhen I transferred schools in elementary! As for isolation, and multiple demands … my father was the Korean Branch president for a while after I went away to college. My father was one of the few Korean-English bilingual speakers in the stake who had the leadership ability to take the calling, but the rest of my family does not speak Korean, and thus attended the geographic family ward. Eventhough I know my family was blessed for it, I do know that it was a strain on my mother and younger siblings. Not quite the same scenario, but difficult nonetheless.

    Caroline, Amy, and Stacer ~ I hope the idea takes root with my new stake presidency. I think that it has more substance to them, as stake leaders’ children are now at the point of becoming mid-singles.

    I was very lucky to some key interactions that shifted my central belief of self-worth away from externals like marriage and motherhood. When I was in college, and involved in leadership at the Institute level, the Elaine Jack RS presidency visited my stake and held focus groups with select women in the stake. I wanted desperately to be in Sister Okazaki’s group, but instead met with Sr. Clyde. In a word, Sr. Clyde was marvelous. One of the things I distinctly remember is that the were urging women to prepare themselves for a career, especially with education. The statistic that was given at that time (circa 1993) was that onely one in ten women will not have to work outside the home at some point. Between never being married, divorce, widowhood, and supplementing a husband’s income, only one women in ten will “have the luxury” of not having to work. This was astounding to me. Not only because it flew in the face of what I’d heard from stake (not ward) leaders about marriage being the end-all-be-all, but because I was glad to hear the church reiterating the importance for women to get an education and be able to work.

    Not that I don’t sometimes struggle with loneliness … I do. But I *do* believe that my purpose is to attain joy, and I can do something about that.

    Narife ~ By the time people reach their thirties, everyone has wracked up a few issues. I figure that the thing is to find someone whose issues I can deal with, who can deal with mine. As was commented on in Caroline’s last post, some just got lucky and found that type of capable person.

    Mike ~ I visited a Huntington Beach stake where this successful experiment in in full swing. Had a talk with the Bishop’s wife and forwarded the Bishop’s info to Counsellor II. Keeping my fingers crossed and trying to think of what else I can do that would yield the best results.

  7. sarah says:

    “…reminded all of us that we would be able to have families in the next life…”

    That is one thing I just don’t get; why Mormons (your bishop included) assume motherhood is limited to married women. I wasn’t married at age 31 but wanted to be a mother, so I adopted a beautiful 5-year-old from Bulgaria. We are celebrating our 7th year of familyhood this year, and though single parenthood is really hard, it is doable and an option that so many women nowadays are choosing. I hope to get a second daughter someday, whether or not I ever get married. My ward in Massachusetts had another single mom with two adopted children, and my stake in DC has a single mom with 5 adopted children. We aren’t the norm, but I hope single Mormon women realize they can indeed be mothers in this life, whether or not they get married, and that church leaders will stop discouraging single women from adopting (I’ve had a few friends in Utah who were told they should not consider adoption because there wasn’t a father in the home…I figure it’s always better to have a loving mother than no family at all, which is the plight of orphans the world over). So, there’s my plug for adoption ;).

  8. Caroline says:

    Sarah, I think that’s awesome. If I were single, I would definitely consider adopting. You’re right that it makes no sense for leaders to discourage single women from adopting because of the lack of a father, when the other option is children growing up without even one loving parent. Ridiculous. I was raised by a single mom, and she did a fabulous job.

  9. Stephen says:

    (Thinks to herself: Well yes, I planned on it about six years ago, thank you very much! Says: )

    No kidding. I felt the same way when I was single and 28.

  10. Lynnette says:

    I don’t have anything to add at the moment, but I appreciate this thread. I’m 31 and single, and just hitting that stage of hmm, where do I go next.

  11. AmyB says:

    I appreciated this post. I’m not single, but I liked the message about being active. I often wonder about how much of a voice I could possibly have when my needs are not met, or when I think things are not right. In such a rigidly controlled patriarchy, I cling to instances in which women feel they have some voice. I’d be interested to know if they take your feedback, Dora. It sounds like a great idea to me.

  12. Melinda says:

    I love the idea of a magnet ward. That social network is so important for mid-singles. I left my YSA ward just before my 31st birthday. My first family ward was used to mid-singles because they had a condo complex in the ward boundaries. I was warmly welcomed and put to work. There were several other mid-singles and I quickly made friends.

    Then I moved into an exclusively family ward. And it was exclusive. The bishopric counselor who extended a calling to me mentioned that he’d never talked to an active single Mormon before, and I was the only active unmarried woman in the ward. After a year in the ward, I could see why. It was so married and focused on marriage that Church felt like a marriage and parenting seminar. Divorced and unmarried people were, without exception, inactive.

    I too had internalized the message that I could do nothing better than marriage and motherhood, so my other efforts were a nie stopgap, but nothing admirable.

    I don’t have a happy ending as a single. I was on my way into full-blown inactivity when I met and married at age 33. Now I’m fine with being a Mormon, but I wasn’t going to make it as a mid-single. I admire people who could come to terms with it because I was failing miserably. Kudos to the bishops who reach out to the mid-singles.

  13. Anonymous says:

    As much as I believe and have a testimony, I’ve really been struggling with wanting to go to church, to be honest. I feel adrift, even when welcomed–and I’m sure that has as much or more to do with me and how I view myself and others as how welcomed/not welcomed I am.

    I’ve even thought about breaking my 10-year ban on not dating nonmembers. I guess it’s been longer than that, actually–a good 13 or 14 years. The last nonmember I dated was my high school sweetheart (4 years of dating).

    I signed up for a dating site–not an LDS one–and have gotten a huge number of winks and emails from non-LDS guys. But I’m still on the fence as to what to do about that, because even though they may be great guys, it’s completely against anything I’ve ever decided for myself since choosing to live this way.

    My point–I’m floundering. Ever since I turned 31, it’s kind of felt like there’s no hope for me. It probably didn’t help that I was majorly rejected about that time by a guy who seemed to be doing everything right, who went and got engaged right away and is getting married this weekend. So I guess I’m feeling sorry for myself and just trying to figure out how I could ever be attractive to any good LDS guy when there are so many more attractive, younger girls who aren’t struggling with my issues.

    And through all of this, I’ve had to deal with it alone. I’ve never had to do that before. And I just don’t know how to not feel this way anymore.

  14. Dora says:

    Thanks for all the great comments.

    Sarah ~ I think it’s marvelous that through adoption, you have created your own family, finding a way to fulfill your dreams *and* help others. I feel heartglad when I think of your family. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes we need to think outside of the box to attain our dreams.

    Anonymous ~ Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The fact is, you’re not alone in being lonely. Many of us struggle with feelings of disconnection, inadequacy and rejection. Even in the YSA wards. I’ve noticed that the people who tend to transition to the family wards in the beginning tend to be women, who are tired of “contending for dates” against younger women; while the ones who keep on attending YSA wards after their records are transferred are guys who still hope to date those same younger women. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but just a trend I’ve noticed.

    As for dating neighbors (see Us vs Them post)? I’m not opposed. I’ve done it. As with Sarah, sometimes workable personal solutions require a little extra creativity. I’ve always thought of dating in general as nibbling on appetizers while waiting for the main course. A certain godly, “I know you’re hungry, but just try these amazing stuffed mushrooms. It’ll keep you from starving while you wait for the good stuff.”

    Melinda ~ Yes, ours is a marriage-minded culture. As if it were the cure for all that ails us. One of my roommates used to be a RS teacher, and bemoaned the fact that she had several consecutive months when all her topics were on marriage or family … and this was in the YSA ward!

    I find it so sad that there are people who cannot think beyond someone’s differences in order to see how to interact with and serve them. Especially at the local level, this type of smug insularity blinds us to opportunities to learn and grow. It seems as if your second family ward was edging out the very people who may have needed the most help. That said, should bishops and ward leaders be given (more) training on how to be more compassionate and sensitive ecclesiastical leaders? What type of training do they currently receive?

  15. Caroline says:

    Anonymous,
    My personal opinion: (Whatever it’s worth.) Date those neighbor (non-member) guys.

    I’m a product of an interfaith marriage. My mom was a Mormon who was getting older, and she went out on a blind date with a straight-laced Presbyterian. Ended up getting married a couple of years later. She would have preferred a Mormon, but my dad was a super nice, responsible, full of integrity kind of guy, who agreed to let her raise the kids Mormon. The seven years she was married to him before he died unexpectedly were the happiest of her life.

    Anyway, like Dora said, I think sometimes it’s good to think outside the box and look for happiness in places we hadn’t previously expected to look.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Very thoughtful post. I see how your proposal could work well in your stake. However, I think the married sisters in the family wards would be the losers in the arrangement. (Not that married sisters should be considered over single sisters, just a mention that there could be some losers.) As a married new mom, I would be really sad to see it implemented in my stake. The single sisters in my ward are amazing – they have fantastic jobs and are very well educated. Many of the major callings are held by single sisters. Our ward would really suffer without them. My closest friends at church are single. I think married sisters really benefit from hearing the single sisters’ perspectives and experiences. This is esp. true for me right now because my world is somewhat limited w/ a new baby. I think about baby stuff all week long – it’s refreshing to hear about the business trip a sister just went on. I think that we foster understanding and love with repeated, respectful interactions. Those interactions cease if the mid-singles were not part of the ward. Plus, I want my dd to have strong, accomplished single women as mentors!!! 😉

    I agree 100% that something needs to be done change how the church relates to mid-singles. Glad to hear that the leadership in your ward is taking this seriously.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m newly single again, divorced and with kids. The most frustrating thing to me is the shift from being considered a contributor to being considered a needy, pathetic charity case. A month before I got divorced (when my life was really much more difficult than it is now!) I was a very active member of the ward with 4 callings and a heavy visiting teaching load. The day my husband left, I was released from all my callings, even visiting teaching, as if I were suddenly a completely different person with nothing to contribute. I wish the leadership in my ward could understand that being or becoming single is not the same as having all of your limbs and your brain amputated!!

  18. Dora says:

    Anon #1 ~ I think it’s wonderful that you derive so much satisfaction from your single female friends. However, I would be very sad if that were used as a reason not to create magnet wards. Maybe you could speak with the RS presidency in your ward to create activities that focus more on the needs of women as individuals, rather than as wives or mothers. Book clubs, walking groups, girls’ night out. THat might give the sisters in your ward new subjects to discourse on?

    Anon #2 ~ I’m glad that you brought this up. I know a few divorced people with children, and attending a purely single ward (either YSA or mid-singles) is not appropriate. I believe that a magnet ward, set within a family ward, would create socializing opportunities for divorced people, while allowing for the spiritual/social development of children within the ward.

  19. Eric says:

    Great post, Dora. To offer a male perspective, I remember when I moved out of the 1st ward and down to a family ward in the OC burbs, the transition was tough. (Though I never had an interview like our good friend P did, thank goodness!) Socially, I wasn’t really able make any friends in the ward until 9 or 10 months later — after I married Jen. It was really weird, but as soon as I had a spouse, all the sudden I was “in the club,” and people started being much more outgoing and friendly than when I was just that single guy. There was never any malicious cold-shoulder behavior, just more of a benign neglect. Once I was “in the club,” however, I (with Jen, of course) started getting invited to get-togethers at ward members’ houses or other non-official social events. The rapid change in how people related to me before and after I got married was pretty remarkable. I chalk it up to the fundamenal divergence in experiences between members who got married as young BYU undergrads (the overwhelming majority of families in our age group in SoCal, it seems), and members who are still single into their 30s.

    Jen had a totally different experience being single. Because she was divorced with a couple of young kids, she felt much more comfortable in a family ward than she ever did on those occasions when she tried attending a singles’ ward.

    I really like your idea of a “magnet ward” (great term), which can bridge the gap between the experience I had and the experience Jen had.

  20. Matt says:

    Here in Huntington Beach, CA we have a program where all midsingles (ages 31-40) who recently graduated from the HB YSA Wards all attend the same family ward in the stake (Huntington Beach 1st Ward). The family ward we choose to attend was the smallest ward at the time, but now with the midsingles we are the largest. We have over 120 midsingles in the ward, so our ward is half midsingles/half families. At first the families treated us as 18 year olds, but now the midsingles practically “run” the ward being in the RS Pres, EQ Pres, YM, YM, Family History, etc. In addition we midsingles have our own FHE, fireside, midsingles institute, activites and we are planning the first ever SoCal Midsingles Conference http://www.myspace.com/socalmidsinglesconference.

    The Stake Leadership and Bishopric are in full support of the midsingles program and we have our own budget comparable to the YSAs.

    I know Salt Lake is looking at our ward very closely to see if our program can be implemented throughout the Church.

  1. February 24, 2016

    […] “Staking my claim/Claiming my stake: Mid-Singles” by Dora: “When I review my life, I can honestly say that I’ve chosen it over the marriage opportunities I’ve been presented with. I don’t view this as being selfish, or too career-minded, or noncommittal, just realistic about my capacity to love and be loved by, and to be happy with and foster happiness in certain people.” […]

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