Our Own Little Diaspora: Oh The Drama!

I feel that one of my functions at BCC is to be the voice of the single community within the church.  Not that you all need to know the details of my dating life, which although at times entertaining, are not blog worthy.  But once in a while something so momentous happens that I feel I need to blog about it.  Last time, the momentous occasion was me noticing that dating in a singles ward is like being on a crappy reality t.v. show.  That was marginally big.  This time I’m serious, it’s BIG!  Here’s the news:  I’m old.  I’ve been banished.  I’m on my way to being a cheap Sheri Dew imitation.  The drama and angst is perhaps too much to handle…forgive me while I wipe my tears and daintily blow my nose….

…and we’re back. 

Okay, here’s the thing.  I’ve been going to a haven of a singles ward for the past several years.  The kind that let you grandfather out of the "over 30 and your out" rule with a wink wink and a nod.  I never really appreciated it until I turned 30 last year–then I thought "hey this is great–I’m sure I’ll go to a family ward some day, but it’ll be when I’m ready."  Being clinically socially immature, that time has not yet come, and I really didn’t expect it to come for several years.  (Let’s face it, part of me unrealistically thought I might actually get married and avoid the issue altogether…but life, as it is wont to do, mocks me with a cruel, french-accented laugh.  Hanh hanh!)

A few weeks ago insidious rumors started floating… in the form of a freaked out ward insider "They’re kickin’ us out!!!" (Shout out to the occasionally lurking gossip monger…you know who you are!)  Many hours of anguished talk followed.  "Don’t they realize the median age of our ward is 28?"  "The whole ward leadership is leaving."  "This might be fine for Utah, where everyone gets married young, but we live on the east coast!  We’re not freaks!"  "Do they realize we’re totally going to be marginalized and people will go inactive?"  "My entire social life revolves around this ward, and only a handful of those people will be in my family ward."  "How could they do this to us?"  "I totally wasn’t ready."  We were all about to embark on a rite of passage that no one actually wants to have–aging out of a singles ward.  Akin to a heart attack at age 40, or getting drafted, or getting caught shoplifting.  The kind of thing that happens to other people but not you.  It’s humiliating.  It’s an institutional stamp of failure.  "You’re 30 and not married, and we don’t know what the heck to do with you, but you’re not welcome here."  Looking ahead, we could only see humiliation and marginalization.  Ick.  Ick.  Ick. 

Well, that was a pretty dramatic build up.  And as is normal in life, things usually aren’t as bad as you expect them to be.  After some loving coaching from the singles’ ward bishopric, and some kind eyed calls for obedience, the official diaspora took place last week.  Here’s how it went.  I got totally overstimulated in sacrament meeting by all the children.  (I’m hoping they were hopped up on easter candy, but I fear that perhaps the energy level was not too unusual.)  I really couldn’t concentrate, but the kids were a hoot.  So, at least I probably won’t sleep in church.  That’s good.  Then sacrament meeting was over, and we were all sitting in the gym overflow looking at each other.  Finally I said, "this is weird."  Nervous chuckles.  Then some guy who looks to be about my age walks up with a big smile.  "Welcome–we’re thrilled that you’re here.  I’m the bishop."  (Such an angel faced bishop…wow…I guess he’ll develop the requisite facial crags in a a year or two, as he was only called a couple weeks ago.)  He pulled all 11 of us up to his office and got a little misty eyed, and said the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.  "We really need you.  You’re an answer to my prayers."  And I realized that was exactly what I wanted to hear.  I’m used to being needed at church and I was terrified that I would be the sloppy seconds in a family ward…a problem rather than an asset.   Bless this man who has been listening to the spirit, because he  melted all of us right then and there.  He gave a little speech about the ward, and how excited they all were, and how they were going to put us to work immediately, and we headed off to Sunday School with our hearts a little lighter and our fears quelled.

Since Sunday both the Relief Society Presidency (headed by a single RS President!) and the entire Bishopric have been over to the house to visit us.   We’re getting callings, and they just keep telling us how much they need us and how excited they are.  Plus, and this is a bonus close to my heart, the bishopric could seriously take their routine on the road…they are hilarious.  Nice, funny, warm, and caring.  I think I’m going to like it here. 

I don’t know how representative my experience has been.  I think there are still some (both in the family wards, and those left in the seriously smaller singles ward) who are having a hard time.  These are tough issues.  Is 30 really the age of reintegration?  Is single segregation the answer in the first place?  How do you meet the needs of people who are "different" from the perceived demographic norm?  As a church leader, how do you handle the feelings of those put into this, at times tender, situation?  As a member affected by this policy, how do you handle the transition, especially if your experience is not smoothed by the kindness of others?  Singles in the church–what to do? 

Comments

  1. Silus Grok says:

    What a blessing!

    It’s true: with so much talent concentrated in single’s wards, it’s no wonder that the Church is anxious for singles to re-join reality (and family wards).

    I, too, was recently re-patriated… it’s even harder when you’re gay. Now, all the looks that bely their suspicions that you’re a “confirmed bachelor” are _completely_ founded.

    Hehe.

    ; )

    Now the trick is for me to find a great family ward!

  2. Although it will be a while before I’m kicked out of my YSA ward, the way it seems to work is that the over 30s (significantly over 30, that is, the bishopric seems pretty tolerant up to around 33), while they do attend their respective family wards, tend to “visit” at least once or twice a month. Although 30 seems somewhat arbitrary considering the average age of marriage is being pushed ever upwards, I think my bishopric is doing a good job of easing the transition _out_ of the YSA ward (no idea what the transition is like _into_ a family ward, though.)

  3. Kristine says:

    Silus–Lynnfield needs you! If you show up most weeks, they won’t ask any questions about your politics, marital status, or anything else!!

  4. What a great post, Karen! Thanks. And timely, too — the over-30 singles ward in my stake was just dissolved, and its members divided up geographically between the remaining wards. As a result, we have a lot of new members in our ward, and they’ve been terrific. I must admit, though, that at times I don’t know how to approach them, and I don’t want any hurt feelings — any advice?

  5. Silus Grok says:

    You’re very sweet, Kristine… of course, everyone needs me! Didn’t you know that gay saints are the leavening?

    : P

    Is that Lynnfiend MA? Man… I miss Massachusetts. Most of my clients are in Boston, so I’m out there frequently. The Lord, however, wants me to stick around Provo for a bit… so I have the task of finding a family ward in Happy Valley.

    I bought a home before test-driving the ward. And though the ward is nice, it’s not the least bit stable, which is hard on me. I don’t see myself marrying (at least, not any time soon), and I need my ward to be a family — I want to watch the kids grow up, everything — and I just won’t get that in this ward.

    * sigh *

  6. Karen — My ward just experienced the exact opposite event — a YSA ward — the first in our stake– was just formed about a month or so ago. I watched the outflowing from our with a mixture of feelings, glad to see some of the needs of singles better met, but some sadness over the loss of perspective, enthusiasm, etc.

  7. Steve,

    I have a few suggestions for how to deal with over-30 singles —

    1. Point at them and yell “boo! boo!” in you best Princess Bride imitation.

    2. If they’re male, quote that Brigham Young passage (men over 25 being a menace to society) at every opportunity.

    3. Make far-fetched assumptions about their sex lives and substance addictions, and loudly discuss these assumptions with your friends in the hallway.

    4. Offer to set them up with random losers, old missionary companions, etc.

    5. (Once you have children) Ask them to babysit your kids. Pay them $2 an hour.

  8. Silus Grok says:

    Steve: that same thing just happened in my stake, and most of the over-thirty ward members came into my ward. I’ve actually heard that it’s universal, that the Church is systematically closing SA (over 30, not to be confused with YSA — 18–30) wards and branches. I think it’s a good thing: If you’re 30 and not married, you’re not going to be helped by being ghettoized. Re-joining the family ward structure is a boon to the family ward, and a prophylactic against deepening personality deficits.

    Suggestions?

    Hm.

    The biggest complaint I hear is that we’re often treated as hired-hands. Just because we’re single, doesn’t mean that we have all this extra time that you can fill with callings that no one else is willing to take. This is different than Karen’s comment, because her Bishop was up-front about needing so many worthy saints. It had nothing to do with their being single and more at liberty to take heavier callings.

    Conversely, I also hear folks complain that they aren’t given callings quickly enough.

    I don’t know how to balance those, other than to be vocal about how sensitive you are to folk’s time — regardless of marital or offspring status. And maybe place people in supportive roles to major callings _first_.

    The first day in my new ward, the Bishop called me in and called me to be Sacrament Chorister. Which was good by me: I knew it was inspired.

    Besides that, meet folks, make friends, and include your new, single friends in your life — game nights, dinners, FHE, what have you. If you think you know someone that you’d like to introduce them to (being set-up by married friends is light years ahead of being set-up by single friends), ask them if they mind, and if they have any preferences. And don’t set them up on sympathy dates. We fellowship the marginalized, we don’t date them out of sympathy … Now that you’ve made some single friends, it’s time for you and your single friends to reach out to those who seem marginalized _together_.

    So here’s a little anecdotal support… until recently, I was one of the few older singles in my ward. When folks who hadn’t taken the time to become my friends suddenly asked me over to dinner or to FHE, I had the distinct impression that these were the awkward efforts of members with good intentions, who saw me as a charity project. If they had just spent time with me in church, and had gotten to know me, then those very same invitations would have been the invitations of friends to do friendly things.

    Hope that helps.

  9. Silus Grok says:

    About Kaimi’s #5 : I have loved baby-sitting the children of friends while the parents have gotten away for some much-needed rest — even if it was us just switching places as I watch their children as they used my pool and hot tub. But this was, once again, friends asking me to do friendly things.

    And so help me: if you insist on paying me, I’ll insist on eating your best left-overs and calling long distance on your phone — which is what’s expected of a hired hand.

  10. Julie in Austin says:

    “The biggest complaint I hear is that we’re often treated as hired-hands. Just because we’re single, doesn’t mean that we have all this extra time that you can fill with callings that no one else is willing to take. This is different than Karen’s comment, because her Bishop was up-front about needing so many worthy saints. It had nothing to do with their being single and more at liberty to take heavier callings.”

    I’m probably asking for trouble here, but (assuming that all callings involve some level of inspiration), is it really that unreasonable to give single people more time-consuming callings? We often talk about being a husband/wife and/or father/mother as a calling, so if someone is already engaged in that calling, is it really that unreasonable to limit their other callings (that is, formal Church callings) when they have small kids?

    (Case in point: slightly testy conversation with my husband yesterday over the reasonableness of him missing AN ENTIRE WEEK of work and family life to attend scout camp.)

    (We have a 6yo, 3yo, and 5mo if you didn’t know.)

  11. Silus Grok says:

    Julie, I have three points:

    First: you’re not being the least bit unreasonable. That is, indeed, the prevailing logic. So don’t sweat it. ; )

    Second: if being a spouse or parent is a calling, so is finding a spouse or becoming a parent (at least for those so inclined)… so that doesn’t really fly. Callings are, in my humble opinion, not always extended under inspiration… so I reiterate that we’re not hired-hands. Give us callings that are inspired. If inspiration isn’t forth-coming, give us meaningful callings — but don’t think for one second that our lives are any less busy just because we’re single.

    Lives are like highways: always congested. The well-planned ones just handle the traffic a little better.

    Finally, the problem really isn’t in being given time-consuming callings… it’s in hearing from folks left and right that we’ve got so much time on our hands that it’s somehow more appropriate to extend callings to us based on that assumption.

  12. Yikes! That scout camp sacrifice is really, really brutal. I never really considered that before– and I went on a lot of scout camps with a lot of really great leaders. (Crosses fingers for long tenure in completely invisible Elders’ Quorum post).

  13. cathleen says:

    Julie, I think you may be falling into the mindset Silus is talking about. Nobody is questioning that with three small children, your time is not your own. I’m sometimes amazed by what can be involved in running a home and family, when I see the blend of teacher/psychologist/doctor etc. etc. that’s involved.

    However, I don’t have children, but that doesn’t mean that I have any more free time than anyone else. For instance, I work full time — that doesn’t mean I’m busier than you are, but it does mean that I’m out of the house by 7:15 every morning, and I’m rarely home again before 8:30 or 9. When we have a big project going, I’m at the office until 2 a.m. Sometimes I have to work on weekends, and when I don’t, I spend my Saturdays cleaning, shopping, and doing laundry. It doesn’t give me a whole lot of time to get ready for church; sometimes it’s all I can do to get there. I imagine you probably feel that way certain Sundays too, just for different reasons. My point being simply, you can’t assume that unmarried = free time. Or, as I think Silus is saying, that unmarried = free labor.

  14. Silus Grok says:

    Cathleen put it much better than I did.

  15. Julie in Austin says:

    Cathleen and Silus–

    I hope I didn’t imply that I think single people have nothing better to do than sit on the couch and watch reality TV, so they might as well do all the scut work in the ward! My contention is that when someone with small kids is asked to do something at Church, you are actually taking the time from two people. To wit: if my husband goes to scout camp, I will have to work 29 extra hours that week to care for the children when he normally would be caring for them. This figure does not include the 45 or so hours of vacation time from work that we would normally spend caring for the children together. So, scout camp costs my husband an entire week of time AND me 74 hours of extra working time. This is not to imply that men with small kids should never go to scout camp. It is to imply that it is a huge sacrifice.

    But, Cathleen, your comments do help me to rethink my statement in one way: I am maybe not thinking so much of single-versus-married-with-kids but rather much-discretionary-time versus not-as-much. You sound like someone who does not have much discretionary time. (although, presumably, you did choose your job.) On the other hand, we have a bishop who, although married with a gaggle of kids, has adult kids and is retired and is therefore in a position to dedicate quite a bit of time to the ward.

    That said, I have heard many, many single people say something along the lines of “You married people have no respect for how busy I am!” I have heard many married -with-kids people say, “I had NO IDEA before I had kids how much time they take!” I have never heard someone married with kids say, “Gee, I have about as much free time now as I did when I was single.”

  16. Julie in Austin says:

    Silas wrote, ” if being a spouse or parent is a calling, so is finding a spouse or becoming a parent (at least for those so inclined)”

    This comparison only works if you are spending about 74 hours per week on dates. ;)

  17. Mark Martin says:

    Julie, I like your humor! You may be surprised at how many hours per week many faithful LDS singles spend in pursuit of companionship so that they can eventually re-direct up to 74 hours per week as a spouse and parent.

    The munch & mingle after Sunday church, fretting about dinner and who to invite. Looking up decent community events each week to plan meaningful dates, playing phone tag while seeking a date to attend such activities. Attending singles FHE (with 30-45 minutes transportation each direction), attending an institute class, showing up to people’s spontaneous birthday parties so that you might meet someone you’d otherwise not have met. Actually going out on dates (after all the planning and preparation). Trying to minimize the time “wasted” while agonizing over rejection from a once-promising prospect. Time mutually supporting and encouraging other friends in similar circumstances.

    I’ll grant that it’s still less than 74 hours! I concede already that you can quickly write a much more exhaustive list for a married parent.

    I suppose I’m currently in that blissful season of exclusive dating/courtship when I know exactly who to call or visit, and when I can find her, and we easily agree on productive things to do, but most of dating life is not that way. If things continue to progress, then I’ll be on my way to the 74-hour commitment! ;-)

  18. Kaimi —

    You forgot to say sentence them to a lifetime working in Primary!

  19. Suggestion on how to approach singles:

    Sit by them at church and talk to them like they’re already your friends. Ask about work, where they live, where they’re from and so forth. If you’re chatting with another married member of the ward about your kids, ask the single person if s/he has nieces or nephews, and listen to his/her stories too. And NEVER offer to line them up with someone the first time you meet them; get to know them well before doing that.

  20. D. Fletcher says:

    A family ward is infinitely preferable to a singles ward, I believe, for singles of all ages. When New York organized their singles ward (there are now 4 in Manhattan), I wasn’t originally invited to join it, since I was already over 30. I remained in my old ward as the organist, but I occasionally went to the singles ward to see how I felt about it.

    How I felt was awkward, ugly, old, improperly dressed, and probably smelly. I seemed to be instantly judged as poor partner material, and dismissed. This feeling came from both the women in the ward, and the men.

    But my family ward, made up of couples much younger than I (Columbia law students, their wives, husbands and children), welcomed me and didn’t marginalize me in any way. These people are going to church to worship and raise their families properly. The whole dating thing is considered “been there, done that.”

    I don’t need church to remind me that I am nature’s mistake. I go to church to reassert some vows I took to be faithful to the commandments, and to renew my acquaintances with those people of the same mindset.

  21. This happened at our Stake a couple of years back, and all over-30 singles were told to go and join the family Wards. And my experience has been kinda so-so. Most Ward members seem to assume that I am either gay(which I am not), or that I am unmarried due to some fault on my part. Except for a couple of folks in my Ward, no one has bothered to make friends. So, i would have preferred to stay on in the YSA Ward, and take my chances as far as finding a life partner is concerned. At this rate, I will probably end up with someone I will have met outside of Church circles.

  22. I was victim to what I fear is a new trend – redefining student wards as YSA wards, and telling all YSA they have to go there to get _any_ YSA programs/activities within the stake. I moved to a new state at age 25 and was directed to such a ward. I was the only male member who wasn’t a student. I was one of few ward members who didn’t venture near the institute building at least twice a week. Activities would be announced at a given landmark, and I’d have to raise my hand and ask where it was. People would look at me like, “What’s he doing here if he doesn’t know?”

    I left that ward after five months when I moved. I figured it wasn’t worth driving past the building where the “family” ward met to go to where the student, er, singles ward met. Most members didn’t have a problem with that, but some said I had an obligation to go there and find a wife.

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