Eliza N. is an editor who lives and works in Salt Lake City. She grew up in the Midwest and misses the cornfields. When she’s not working, reading, or watching Netflix, she enjoys running, playing volleyball, and hanging out with her dog.
I am a 31-year-old single Mormon. Upon my 31st birthday at the end of last October, I had until the next general conference to transition to either a family ward or a mid single adult ward. (Mid singles wards, if you didn’t know, are cesspools you wouldn’t wish on anyone.) I’ve had a lot of time to consider how much this transition was going to suck, and suck it did. I attended my new (family) ward last Sunday, and as expected, there were many tears and new-kid jitters.
As someone who spent twelve and a half years attending young single adult wards, I feel qualified to make this statement: The best thing we can do for single adult members of the Church is get rid of the singles wards programs.
“But wait! I met my spouse in a singles ward!” you say. “Singles wards must be wonderful and are doing what they’re meant to do!” Good for you. But newsflash: If you met your spouse in a singles ward, there is a high likelihood that you would have also met in the regular ward that you likely both would have been in. Additional newsflash: This only works for half of us anyway (see here). “But wait! I don’t want to be stuck in a family ward by myself as the only single person! I’d miss my friends!” Newsflash: Your friends in your singles ward would likely all be in the regular ward with you.
Before I am written off as bitter and unenlightened for not seeing the wisdom behind singles wards, let me say that I have no problem with the idea of singles groups—within a mainstream ward, have second-hour or maybe even third-hour classes specifically for singles. That’s fine, but don’t water down sacrament meeting or the whole ward experience. Hold singles activities, both or either at ward or stake levels. All the social needs singles wards currently meet—which seems to be their entire purpose—can easily be met in other ways.
A lot has already been said and written about the weird culture and experiences single adults face in the Church (see my favorite piece here). While the infantilization is definitely one of the worst parts of being a YSA, there are myriad other issues with drawing a boundary based on marital status.
When I think about young single adults, I inevitably think about the barely acknowledged flood of this age group leaving the Church. I have seen so many friends leave. I wonder if it would be any different if this demographic were still included in and embraced by the mainstream membership of the Church, if they were never kicked out and made to feel like they no longer belong in the “real” Church, but were still useful, functional parts of the body of Christ. Any transition stage—whether it is from family ward to singles ward or back again—is an opportunity for members to slip through cracks.
You can see how easy it would be for a 31-year-old single member of the Church who hadn’t attended their singles ward in a while to stave off concern from that ward with “Well, I’m moving to the family ward”—a family ward that doesn’t know they’re supposed to have a new member moving in. I suspect this kind of slipping-through could go on for a long time before anyone noticed that someone had gone missing. Yet keeping track of members transitioning across the wards would be completely unnecessary if all members of the Church were always kept under the same organizational umbrella. Singles wards may have served a beneficial purpose at one point in time, but in this generation when young single adults are holding on to the Church by their fingertips, the time to end the singles wards program has come.
Not only are single adults getting the shaft with the singles wards programs, but mainstream wards are also missing out. There is a significant amount of talent, capability, and spirituality that mainstream wards would benefit from but can’t, because some of the individuals that could bless their wards aren’t married. When singles cannot contribute to the Church beyond the metaphorical kids’ table they are stuck at, they are stunted in their development as disciples of Christ.
Something should also be said about the fact that the transition is often just as difficult for those who move to family wards because of marriage as it is for those who age out of the system. When a newly married couple moves from a singles ward to a family ward, their church experience shifts. Suddenly FHE is actually done at home, with just their spouse, and there is no built-in way for them to stay connected with their friends. This adjustment seems to only accentuate the kids-table nature of the singles wards. Stuck at the kids’ table, these marginalized single adults have no way of making their needs heard, no one knows how to relate to them other than to give them (crappy) dating advice, and the focus of their Church experience becomes their relationship status (or lack thereof) instead of growing closer to Christ.
This last problem is the most troubling to me. Instead of my Church experience over the past twelve and a half years being about the Savior, a significant amount of it has been about dating. Awkward jokes over the pulpit about dating, worrying about being attractive-but-modest enough to compete with all of the other women in the ward vying for dates with too-few men, entire activities and Sunday School classes and firesides and stake conferences about dating and marriage—where was the Savior in all of these? It has sometimes been difficult to discern if I attended church to worship the Savior or to worship the institution of marriage.
Let’s put it this way. The Church can do one of two things: Give our young people a marginally higher chance of getting married, or give our young people a higher chance of growing closer to Christ and staying active and engaged in the Church. The preferable option seems obvious, but until our organizational structure changes, we will continue to have a wide gap through which our Heavenly Parents’ kids slip through the cracks.