The Great Divide

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I’m 25. I’m not married. And I’m a Mormon. (Wouldn’t that make a great ad?) There are very few of my LDS friends who are my age and still unmarried. In fact, I did a quick review of my Facebook friends and found that all of my friends from high school are married, and about half have at least one baby.

As a young-but-old-enough-you-should-be-married-by-now lady, I would like to ask my fellow humans who are married to be aware. The following are all things that have been said to me at some point:

“It’s ok, if you don’t marry someone in this life, the Stripling Warriors are going to need ladies!”

(You do remember there are only 2,000 of them, right?)

“You can be my sister-wife.”

(Uh…thanks?)

“So…you do like guys, right?”

(Yes, but why is it a problem if I don’t?)

“It’s because you have too many opinions/are too educated!”

(If that’s true than I’d rather be alone)

“There’s this guy in my ward who you would be great with! Well, I don’t actually know anything about him, but he’s single…you’re single…”

(So we must have a lot in common, clearly.)

“Don’t you want a family?”

(I have a family; I have a mom and brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and grandparents…you get the idea.)

While most of these comments were well intentioned, some were not; some were annoying, most were hurtful. It has been my experience that there is a disconnect between married and unmarried people in the church, especially women. A lot of this goes back to single’s wards.

I know the argument for singles units is to better meet the specific needs of unmarried members. However in my experience the cons have far outweighed the pros. The YSA wards and branches I have been in have underfunded and under-manned (once, literally; we did not have enough priesthood holders to fill all the callings where priesthood was necessary – another argument in favor of female ordination, but that’s another post). Often we were excluded from Stake activities. Again, this was usually the result an unintentional oversight or miscommunication, but I think that helps the case for integrating YSA women more; it’s easier to ignore someone when you don’t see them.

The disconnect between family and YSA wards and branches also makes the transition in to married life more difficult. Friends of mine who have gotten married and left the single’s branch for a family ward have told me they felt isolated; they lose a big part of their support system just as they are beginning the tricky process of navigating married life. In addition, because they don’t know the sisters in their new wards, they miss out on some potentially really helpful mentoring from more experienced women who have been where they are.

Most importantly, by separating single people, it is easy for other church members, and most importantly leaders, to loose touch with what the needs of the YSA members actually are. And because there are more single LDS women than men, this also means that Sister’s concerns get pushed even further out of the forefront.We should be taking every opportunity to strengthen women’s voices. Inadvertently (I hope), YSA women are all to often left out of conversations.

Even with the existence of separate YSA branches, we should be doing more to integrate unmarried women in to the church. I’m lucky to live in an area now where this is happening. The stake Relief Society presidency meets with my branch Relief Society presidency regularly. There are members of my YSA branch on the stake high council, and in auxiliary presidencies. The Stake Presidency comes to our meetings on a regular basis. A book club in another ward makes it a point to invite women from my branch to participate. It has been a blessing to be able to learn from and serve with all the women in my stake.

Having seen the possibilities, my hope that it is possible for these things to happen has been restored. YSA women have a lot to learn and a lot to offer, and there are so many ways to help them do both outside their singles’ units. These sisters need help learning how to use their voices. Separating them from potential mentors does no one any good. So it is my further hope that, especially as we celebrate the founding of Relief Society, we can remember all our sisters who need a voice, and help them claim it.

 

 

 

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16 Responses

  1. spunky says:

    This is excellent, JessR. I heard all of those statements when I was sinlge, too…. And when I announced I was engaged to a non-member, many of these same people tried to talk me out of getting married!

    I love your suggestions and the example that is being set in your stake for including YSA women. I wish I had that support when I was a YSA, though I also agree with you that there is significant room for improvement.

    Thank you so much for sharing this important post!

  2. Ziff says:

    Ouch! I’m sorry about all the insensitive things people say to you.

    Great points on the importance of better integrating single people into the Church. It had never occurred to me quite like this before, but the way you’ve explained it, I wonder if a problem with having YSA units is that for most Church leaders (other than those immediately over such units), it a case of out of sight, out of mind. I’m glad to hear things are going better in your area, though!

  3. Rachel says:

    Such an important post, with such important points. Thank you.

  4. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this post, JessR. Great points about the problematic aspects of isolating YSA into their own wards.

  5. Liz says:

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that we tend to infantilize YSA wards/branches rather than letting them operate as their own. I’ve never seen a YSA ward that didn’t have a bishop (or entire bishopric) called in from a married ward – I assume that’s because bishops are required to be married (which has never made any sense to me, but is probably another post altogether). I’ve seen YSA wards that are required to have “adult” supervision at their activities, which usually means “married” supervision, as though they can’t be trusted to operate on their own. I’ve also seen lots of YSA activities – planned by married stake/local leaders – that are similar to the ones that are done with the youth. I’m thinking of mall scavenger hunts, or human board games, or whatever. And while I’m sure those can be fun with adults, too, it seems as though we often treat single Mormons like teenagers instead of the adults that they really are.

    • Anarene Holt Yim says:

      I was in a YSA branch 25 years ago. We had one married older adult: the branch president. All other callings were filled by us. We had Sunday classes that were the way we wanted them to be, and we had great activities that we planned for ourselves. We loved our branch president, and I think most of us enjoyed getting to know people in the family wards in the city, but we didn’t feel the need or desire for constant supervision.

      It was much more empowering than the way it is now, with 3 older married couples running the show and making decisions and generally taking things over. The kids (sorry, showing my age) are capable of doing their own classes and their own activities if we’d only let them do it. I wonder if this being treated as children could have anything to do with how many YSA are going inactive now.

  6. Rachel says:

    My YSA ward was also dreadfully understaffed with worthy priesthood holders. Those who could hold callings held several at a time and for longer amounts of time. In such situations it is particularly frustrating that callings that once could be held by women (ward clerk, executive secretary, sunday school president) have been arbitrarily assigned only to men.

    As someone fresh out of YSA life, I have been lucky enough to land in a ward with a lot of young married adults. Many are still in grad school and without kids which definitely helped the transition.

  7. Amelia says:

    I attended a YSA ward or branch for 13 years (18-31), though two of those years were mixed where part of the year I was in a singles unit and the other part I was in a family ward with a strong singles group. I never had the kinds of problems you mention here (being forgotten for stake activities, being understaffed as a ward unit, etc.). And frankly, I actively liked being away from family wards, especially as I got older–my experience was that I felt more needed and welcome and spoken to in singles wards, than in family wards. Maybe this is because I started my adult life at BYU in a singles ward, so it felt normal to me as an adult. Also, maybe it never bugged me because I didn’t transition as a married woman to another ward (I was no longer practicing by the time I got married). I also know that, for the most part, I lived in areas where the church was very strong so there were enough people and enough structure to avoid these problems.

    I absolutely agree that the church does a pretty abysmal job of integrating singles. (Single men, too, which I think it’s important not be overlooked) But I am unpersuaded that the answer necessarily requires doing away with strong singles units. I think a case could be made for magnet wards where it’s a family ward with the single population attending (this was how the mid-singles ward I attended worked; it was a family ward, but many of the mid-singles in the stake attended that ward). I liked having opportunities to socialize with other single Mormons. When I was invested in meeting and (hopefully) marrying a Mormon man, it gave me opportunities that I otherwise would not have had.

    I see a couple of deeper problems that need to be addressed to deal with the ways in which the church isolates and fails to integrate singles:

    1. Marriage must no longer be worshiped in the church. Fat chance that this will happen. But it should. We have turned marriage and the heterosexual nuclear family into an idol that we worship as fully as we worship God. It’s wrong. And it’s insanely destructive (for singles, but also for married people in my opinion). I don’t think that disbanding singles units will change this, even if it does force more married people to interact with singles. Frankly, my experience is that the segregation just continues within family ward. Except now it’s a significantly smaller group of singles who get segregated. And the singles also have to put up with a lot more rhetoric and lessons targeting families than if they’re in a singles unit. Until we can get back to centering our worship on Jesus Christ and his gospel (which I personally believe is agnostic on the question of the centrality of marriage), and stop centering it on the family/marriage, I don’t think this problem will be one we can address.

    2. Geographically defined wards create problems, too. If we let people self-select wards, they would be able to build and maintain support networks. At that point, if we did away with singles wards, I think some of the challenges you point to could be mitigated. Singles would likely, I think, still tend to congregate in a ward. Simply because most single Mormons who do want to date and marry Mormons want to worship together and socialize together in order to increase the chances of that happening. So they would probably still congregate in a given ward. But when they married, they could continue to attend that ward where they had friends and a support network, even if they don’t live in a designated area. As their situation shifted they could more organically move to other wards (e.g., they have kids that are school age, they move to a ward where more kids from their schools attend; they move for work purposes; etc.).

    Anyway. In the big picture, I think the problems within the LDS church that result in segregating and silencing singles (both male and female) are much deeper than singles wards. And I think that disbanding singles wards would perhaps exacerbate some of those problems. The real problem is so much bigger, and so much more ingrained into Mormon culture, that I don’t think it would actually help. And I think that, in the areas where there is a big enough population to sustain singles wards, it would do more harm than good. I do think that the middle ground of designating a magnet ward that hosts the singles for the stake might be a good middle ground solution.

    Sorry to get on my soapbox. 🙂

    • Jess R says:

      No, don’t apologize Amelia, I totally agree with you. Like I said in the OP, a lot of the things my Stake is doing has revived my faith in Singles’ units. But, even with the continued existence of Singles’ units, there are a lot more things that can be done to help single members feel welcomed in the broader context, and to help with the transition between YSA and family wards.

      I also agree that it’s a deeper cultural problem. I just think that the separation of YSA and married members make those deeper issues easier to ignore.

      Finally, I also agree that we shouldn’t ignore the effects this has on men, too. It just seemed like a lot of ground to cover in one post. And I wanted to focus on women in this space. Maybe a follow-up post…hmm…

      Anyway, thank you for you comment; it made me think, which is always a good thing 🙂

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Amen to not making an idol of the family. Sometimes I feel like I’m at the meeting of a fertility cult instead of a Christian church.
      I enjoyed my time in a mid-singles magnet ward. I was able to interact with singles and also have relationships with children, youth, married couples and senior citizens.
      Singles wards composed of just singles feel to me like a quarantine zone for the marriage flunkies. To me the unspoken message is: “You can come back to the true church when you repent of being single and get married. Until then, stay in outer darkness in training for your life as a ministering angel.”

      • That’s pretty funny. Having been divorced in my late twenties, I spent half a decade in the singles’/midsingles’ wards. It totally felt like a downgrade in religious experience. Your comparison was spot on.

      • X2 Dora says:

        Sadly, the church has decided to dispose of the concept of (mid)single magnet wards. It’s either all or nothing now.

  8. Patty says:

    My daughter is transitioning to a family ward from a singles ward. I really emphasized when she was growing up that being single was much better than being unhappily married. I was proud of her when she dumped her dysfunctional boyfriend. Her experience with the YSA ward was okay, but not exciting. The magnet ward idea sure sounds good! People with similar interests/concerns to hang with! I agree that the emphasis on families makes life very hard for singles.
    Also, we had a ward Valentine’s Day activity recently that involved dancing. It was planned by the YW and several of them pointed out that not all their moms/leaders would have someone to dance with. We did line dances and circle dances instead. And there were kids’ activities, no babysitter needed! Great idea!

  9. Great article. I used it as a launching point for some additional comments on YSA wards here:
    https://alotlikelaman.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/ysa-wards-single-segregation-syndrome/

    Excerpt:
    “I would argue the Church is responsible for Peter Pan Syndrome, or, to be fair to the ladies, Single Segregation Syndrome. By segregating the YSA, we buy them a one-way ticket to Never Never Land to live among the Lost Boys. Then we blame them when they don’t want to return to real life. YSA need spiritual guides in life, adults to help shape and challenge their view, and instruction that you don’t find at YSA ward.”

  10. Jenny says:

    Great points. When I was at BYU, I had a bishopric that believed that YSA wards aren’t really wards. They are simply a place to meet your spouse and move on. Everything in that ward focused on hooking people up and getting them married so that they could move on to a “real” family ward. It was not a good environment for feeling the spirit or finding God. We definitely need a mentality shift when it comes to thinking about marriage and being single.

  1. March 19, 2015

    […] I read The Great Divide on The Exponent, many memories of young single adult (YSA) wards came to mind. I found the […]

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