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.