Not long ago I suffered from a back injury and decided to arrive at church early to assure myself a seat in the more comfortable pews. I attended a family ward and always sat by myself. After sitting down, a woman with her family in tow asked me to move because this was their spot. I moved. The same thing happened with a different family and I moved again. After being displaced a third time, I looked around and found the chapel already filled up. The only seats available were the stiff chairs in the back for the latecomers.
Instead of sitting down, I left and drove down the street to another denomination’s church.
Within minutes of arriving, a man asked me if I was by myself. I said yes and he offered me a seat near the front and personally escorted me to it, sitting me between two very lovely elderly women. They both complimented me on my outfit, asked me questions about where I lived and praised my singing abilities (of which I have none, but I appreciated the words).
That was the second time I left church. The first time was during a singles stake conference in which the stake president had everyone stand up and move to new seats to sit boy/girl/boy/girl, a way to encourage us to meet someone of the opposite sex. I say “boy/girl” because I felt that was how I was treated, as if I were in Kindergarten.
I go to church to renew my relationship with God, feel spiritual and reverent, and sing hymns with moving lyrics—not to play musical chairs and have my singleness make me feel less than who I really am in this world. I know I am not alone in feeling it a challenge to be single in a family-oriented church.
As a mid-single adult, I can’t even count how many times over the many years I heard, “Why are you still single?” and “Don’t you think it’s time for you to settle down?” To answer the first question, I can’t tell you why and to the latter, you’re assuming my singleness is a choice and if it were, that’s completely my prerogative. You don’t know my struggles and I don’t know yours either.
Personally, I think single life suits me. I travel the world, complete marathons and triathlons, salsa dance, own properties in multiple states, have a career and a graduate degree, and take the time to try out new hobbies such as surfing and beach volleyball. It’s awesome. But I come to church and no one asks me about those things. They ask me if I’ve started seeing anyone and then it’s followed by the obligatory, “Why are you still single?”
I once attended a mid-singles adult ward and the women astounded me with their philosophical, thoughtful conversations. I felt as though I were in a class at any university. We had a judge, pediatrician, triage nurse, college professor, among many other impressive professions all sitting in one room together. These women were intelligent, physically attractive and made numerous positive contributions to society.
Yet every single person I know has more often than not felt stigmatized because he or she is not married, and most articles I read on singleness in the church sound so negative. Let’s celebrate it! Loneliness is the enemy of solitude. We can be single and live a rich and fulfilling life; those two things are not mutually exclusive as so many people think.
Jennifer Purdie is a California-based freelance writer. She earned a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Washington and Master’s in Education from the University of Phoenix. In her free time, she travels internationally and participates in endurance races.