Thoughts From A Mid-Single Mormon

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.

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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.

Comments

  1. Peggy Johnson says:

    The only thing worse than being a mid-single and being asked why you’re not married, is being over 45 when they stop asking the question…

  2. I would’ve done the adult thing in the homeward and calmly said, “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

  3. I am one who is definitely prone to stick with routines, but my goodness I would never ask someone to move if they were in “my” spot. I can confidently say I wouldn’t move if someone asked me either.

    Since returning to the Beehive State for good I have actually not been to Church yet. A combination of being sick and honestly being afraid has kept me away. There are parts about a mid-singles ward that appeal to me (no primary, etc…) and then there are parts like you describe from your conference; a constant state of infancy and a hyper focus on getting married. I have no interest in getting married again at least not at this time so it has helped keep me at bay.

    This coming Sunday will be my first time going and already I am pretty nervous about it. I think if we are asked to sit boy/girl/boy/girl I might just get up and leave.

  4. We sow the family and reap obnoxious norm enforcement. I married “late” (30+), and although no one at church hassled me about it, I had a job interview with an employer from a country with a strong Confucian influence where I was asked directly why I wasn’t married despite being more than old enough. Mormons are not unique in viewing marriage as a sign of great significance that communicates more than just marital status, though of course that should not serve as an excuse for the poor treatment you describe.

  5. You never should have been asked to leave your seat. That’s just plain rude.

  6. It is indeed just rude, and, I hope, more of an outlier than the norm. As half of a childless couple that just celebrated 15 years together, I can empathize.

  7. I’m a single in my early 50’s. I used to sit in the chapel, but found that no one would sit on the same row. In a few cases, if I sat on the end of a row partially occupied by a family, they would get up and move. And I shower every day! Now I sit in the foyer, and it’s a lot quieter than the chapel.
    I have noticed that when being greeted in a group of other adults, it goes like this, “Hello Brother Smith, Sister Jones, Mark, Brother Brown”. I’m referred to as though I was still a little boy.
    A couple of weeks ago one of the older men in my ward (he’s known me for several years) asked why I never brought my wife to church. It was easier for him to assume I had a non-member spouse than that I had never married.

  8. Thanks for your perspective, Jennifer. I wish we were better at fellowshipping everyone- if we could model ourselves on being more welcoming, like you experience at the church down the street, it would get us far. I attended the mid-singles ward a few times, and left wishing we knew how to stop treating grown adults like children simply because of their marital status. Being married doesn’t automatically impart wisdom or maturity, but as a church we unfortunately tent to treat it as the sole marker of adulthood.

  9. I’m sorry you were treated this way at church. I’m an older male midsingle and have had my share of awkward moments and questions in family wards. I’ve also had wonderful interactions with fellow members and feel the spirit when I worship and serve with them. And as I’ve gotten to know them, they’ve become my friends. I now attend a midsingles ward and have enjoyed my association with other midsingles (even though we can be rude and distancing ourselves–I’ve experienced that too).

    For me, no matter how I’ve felt at church, going to another denomination wouldn’t make any sense. I’ve never really understood that decision, especially if someone has a testimony of the restored gospel. I think rather than jumping ship, we midsingles need to stay, get involved in our wards, and build our faith and those of others.

  10. Welcome to BCC, Jennifer. So glad to have your story on the blog.

    I’ll admit to being pretty angry about how we treat people who don’t fit our perfect little nuclear family mold. This stuff makes me long to hear the gospel of Jesus soundly preached among us, because even though people are going to go on being stupid and insensitive (sometimes we just can’t help ourselves), maybe consistent exposure to Jesus would at least help us to recognize when it happens, feel bad, and try to be better next time.

    So God bless you, Jennifer, for sharing your story with us. May it serve as a call to repentance.

  11. Aaron, while that may be true…sometimes, you just want to hear about Jesus. You need that balm.

    We’re not always so good at that part.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Like others, I was stunned that people asked you to move. In my ward many of us have our “spots,” me included. But for us it’s more of a running joke. If someone sits in our spot, whether knowingly or not, we just sort of chuckle and find another place to sit. If I get bumped from my usual seat, I usually sit in a pew on the side against the wall so there is room for a family still on that pew. When I do this I have never, ever been asked to move, but rather people seem grateful that I’ve left room for others to sit without having to climb over me.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Being single in the Church is not easy.

  13. As for the family who got up and left when Mark sat down, I think that’s deplorable, but I can say that my kids are just horrible throughout sacrament meeting, and I would think twice before sharing a bench with anyone else if I could avoid it. Otherwise, said person–single or not–would have to watch me slowly but quietly blow my top by the middle of the third speaker, and I’d rather no one saw that.

  14. As a mid-single divorcee with infinitesimal chance of remarriage, I’ve decided the Lord has called me by my very existence to be a thorn in the side of the comfortable, “stirring [them] up to repentance.”

    Not something I’d wish on anyone, but if someone has to do it, might as well be me.

  15. Thanks for this post. It’s an incredibly important issue to face in the Church.

    I wrote the following back in October 2010:

    “Single Adults: Some Thorns Are Harder to Soften Than Others”

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/10/single-adults-some-thorns-are-harder-to.html

  16. bookslinger says:

    To borrow the platitude “X is what you make of it,” sIngle life in the church is what you make of it too. If the official singles’ programs in the area don’t meet one’s social needs, one can still cultivate their own social circles among single members. It just takes a bit more effort. It may take multiple visits to the singles activities to find a few single members (of either sex) with whom you feel comfortable enough to add to your private social network. One can also peruse the (usually many) single members on the ward roster by inviting them to, or merely informing them of, the singles activities. One can also visit other wards in the area which are on the opposite morning/afternoon schedule to find fellow active singles who are not going to the singles activities.

  17. bookslinger–the one thing one cannot do, apparently, is make it clear that single members would like to be included like normal people, rather than be told how to find single friends, since clearly being single is the defining feature of their existence.

  18. I’m all for people making a greater effort, but in addition to single people making the effort to cultivate their own social circles, married people should make the effort to expand their own social circles to include singles. I would never kick anyone out of “my” pew, but I don’t even know who the single people are in my ward. (In fairness, I probably don’t know who half the married people are, either.) I try to introduce myself to people I don’t know, but beyond that I tend to assume that people don’t need or want my company, nor the company of my four sometimes-obnoxious kids. Thanks for reminding me that I should make a greater effort to be sociable with other people.

  19. When my mother was the mother of young children, she was assigned a visiting teacher who was about 20 years older and in a completely different stage of life. At first my mother assumed they had nothing in common and didn’t think much about her outside of her monthly visits. But one Sunday after a particularly trying time in Junior Sunday School, my mother was by herself crying and her visiting teacher walked up to her, gave her a hug and said, “I just want you to know that I love you.” This woman became her best, dearest friend. I remember going over to her house all the time as a little kid. Their friendship lasted for years, despite my mother moving away–they continued to write letters and call each other on the phone–until the other woman died. People naturally gravitate toward people who are in their same demographic, but we miss out on some potentially wonderful relationships when we don’t make the effort to get to know people we may not, on the surface, have much in common with. People are so much more than their marital or parental status or what they do for a living. Ideally, church would be a natural place for us to cultivate friendships with people we might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with.

  20. Thanks Kristine, your response to bookslinger was more to the point than mine would have been. Most of my friends at church are married. It’s been a long time since I attended with the purpose of meeting other singles.

  21. Great Basin says:

    madhousewife, I loved your last comment. Thanks for sharing that lovely story about your mother and her visiting teacher. I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. Sure, limiting our circle of friends to people who are just like us is comfortable and natural, but I firmly believe that we miss out on many enriching and meaningful relationships when we dismiss other people because of a category we placed them in. As the OP stated, I hope we can learn to interact with people based on their interests and personalities rather than their marital status.

    I’m single and I have some really wonderful relationships with people who are married or older than I am, but these relationships are mostly outside of church. For some reason, I find my non-LDS friends much more willing than my LDS friends to carry on our friendships after they get married or to be friends with me despite the fact that they were already married when we met. I’m grateful for them. It’s been my fear for many years that as I get older in the church as a single I will gradually become more and more alone. The common prescriptions of dogged extroversion are not viable for every soul.

  22. When I was a young mother with several small children, I loved having single friends from the ward or neighborhood because they could come over to my house for dinner or games without the stress of having to arrange a sitter. Those evenings,after the kids were in bed, were some of the only chances I had for adult conversation during the week and I treasure those memories. Now that I have several more children, and live far enough from neighbors that I don’t see them unless I intend to I wish for friends that could fill that space in my soul again. However, there is so much busy-ness in my home that I have to be content with the social company of my immediate family for now.

    Reading your experience with the mid-singles demographic hits home because I could so easily see myself in those pews, had life taken a slightly different turn. I have learned,though, even married people can feel socially isolated at church when they feel apart from their peers because their lives are in different places mentally and emotionally. I would be happy to share my pew with you. I even hope you would stay around long enough after the meeting for me to send the kids to class so I can get better acquainted.

  23. One of the few graces I have had since my wife died is that I haven’t yet had anybody at church ask me why I haven’t remarried yet. Although I hope it is out of respect for my loss, and not because they are conviced that nobody else would have me.

  24. bookslinger says:

    Kristine, Jennifer’s most positive paragraph was about her time at a mid-single adult ward. Being around other positive, uplifting singles seems to be what makes her happy. i mentioned some ways I thought that single members could bring that about, ways in which one could search for such single people.

    ‘Sides, she can’t easily change the prejudices of the married people in her home ward, but she can change and manage her own private social circles. She recounted physically avoiding the married members who made her feel uncomforatble, getting up, moving to another seat, leaving the chapel. Sounds to me like she doesn’t like those prejudiced, mean, married Mormons in her ward, and wants to avoid them.

    What would _you_ suggest she and other singles say and do to righteously affect/correct the improper attitudes that many married members seem to have towards single members? Those particular mean married Mormons, the ones who Jennifer is talking about, the ones who need the attitude adjustment, and many more with less-than-perfect attitudes toward singles, probably aren’t reading this post. What should Jennifer and other singles who are subjected to such prejudices do and say?

    There are those passages in Matthew18 and DC 42 “if your brother or sister offend you…” but other than that, what would you recommend a slighted single person do if they find themselves in a ward where the married folk treat the singles as children or second class members?

    I agree with you — things _should_ be different than they are now. Ok, how do we go about making it happen? What should the single members who are reading this go and do/say in order to righteously bring about the change we want to happen?

  25. I married late at 36 and got divorced 12 years later. So most of my adult life i have been single, and even though I have two children and we really are a family, we’re still marginalised. My conclusion: The LDS church is not for single people. period.

  26. Loneliness is the enemy of solitude???

  27. When someone asks someone to move because they are sitting in “their” pew, I recommend a few options:

    1) Look them directly in the eyes and ask politely where the name placards are, so you don’t sit in anyone else’s pew.
    2) Laugh. Then when they look confused, mention that you thought they were joking since the Mormon Church doesn’t have the practice of buying pew seats.
    3) Look them directly in the eyes and politely invite them to sit in *your* pew with you.
    4) Give them WTMI about your back problems until they get embarrassed and go away.
    5) Get up, apologize to them, tell them you are an investigator and that you meant no offense by trying to attend a meeting to see what “the Mormon Church” was all about. Then walk out.
    6) Sweetly and politely tell them that by asking you to move, they are offending you and making you feel unwelcome in the Lord’s house.
    7) Pretend you are deaf/mute and can’t read lips. Smile vacantly at them and shrug your shoulders, nodding energetically, and pointing to different empty rows or seats next to you.
    8) After several families have asked you to move, and you can’t find any more seats, sit up on the stand. Then when the leadership come up to find out what is going on, explain your back problem and tell them that the families in their ward (point them out) repeatedly made you move from the soft seats you came early to get due to your injured back. Therefore, seeing as how the stand had the only seats that are acceptable for your back, you intend on sitting there until after the sacrament is passed, at which time you’d be happy to remove your uncomfortable presence from their meeting.

    By the last one, you can tell I’m kind of over the passive-aggressive rudeness.

  28. “What would _you_ suggest she and other singles say and do to righteously affect/correct the improper attitudes that many married members seem to have towards single members?”

    I wouldn’t suggest anything. I don’t think she was asking for advice.

  29. Eric,

    I think the author is saying that people are so afraid of being lonely we forget to enjoy solitude, which can truly be rewarding and is something everybody needs. In particular, we can be so afraid of being lonely we might attempt to live our lives with the wrong person and be truly miserable as a result.

  30. “people are so afraid of being lonely we forget to enjoy solitude, which can truly be rewarding and is something everybody needs”

    Well said, Rachel.

    From July 2011: “Be Still, and Let the Butterflies Come to You”

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/07/be-still-and-let-butterflies-come-to.html

  31. I live in a small city,. I am blessed by having many LDS relatives who attend same ward…with their families…some of them younger than me and already married or getting married… and the questions you all have been asked, I have too, twice as much!!! What’s one to do but to just smile and nod…lol

  32. “most articles I read on singleness in the church sound so negative. Let’s celebrate it! . . . We can be single and live a rich and fulfilling life; those two things are not mutually exclusive as so many people think.”

    Yep. I know it’s not the same, but I can identify with the sentiment. My wife and I do not have kids. Want a buzzkill? Read church articles on infertility.

    We lead fulfilling lives and are happy. We serve. Still, it would be nice if some type of celebration (or even acknowledgement) of our family situation would come from leadership other than “how sad” or “have faith like Sara.”

  33. I have struggled with this since i was a kid. Why the division? I would love to see us stop dividing up into labeled groups. Single, mid single, married, why? Why reduce somebody or a group of people to a label based on their relationship status? I would much rather see us all worship together, and share with each other our strengths and perspectives unique and shared across age and life experience. When it really comes down to it the whole thing is a bit ridiculous and perpetuates the problem us Mormons already have with categories and labels….single, married, mid single, divorced, active, inactive, less active, endowed, unendowed, modest, immodest, and on and on! For
    Crying out loud, when can we all just simply be people trying to make our way through life and enrich and help each other in the process? All together, in the same congregation.