On LDS Singlehood

I feel like there are a lot of directions I could take this post. I have many thoughts because it’s directly pertinent to my current experiences in the church. I am a young, unmarried BYU graduate. I have faced and am currently facing the woes of dating within the LDS culture. I’ve seen roommates and friends get married, all while remaining very single. I’ve gotten really upset about how my dating life is playing out. I could write a novel about this topic and still not discuss everything worth discussing.

I do want to preface that my experience is my own. I have, of course, discussed dating with other single LDS members, but my perspectives really are personal. They may not apply to everyone, especially since I am not what I would describe as a typical young Mormon (whatever that may even be). And especially because my experience is limited due to my age. I cannot speak for individuals who have been in the dating game longer than me, especially those of whom have “aged out” of the YSA program. I also don’t have the perspective of divorced members. In case you were wondering about the nuances of this topic, there are many. 

It is not uncommon to hear, especially as of the past decade or so, about how single LDS people are marrying later or not getting married at all. It is often, if not always, looked at as a problem to fix. We hear talks from general authorities about how we should be dating instead of hanging out or how we should not be postponing this step in our lives. We have the YSA program that can seem more like a marriage factory than the ward system for young people it should be. Within that YSA program, we even have activities and callings with the direct intent of promoting dating (these callings may be something more prominent at church schools, much of my YSA experience has been at BYU).

This hyperfocus on marriage puts a lot of pressure on young members to date, marry quickly, and start pushing out babies. However, for me it has had more adverse effects. Maybe this is due to my own stubbornness or perhaps it’s just my unwillingness to put effort into things I am not super excited about. But the more we talk about marriage and dating, the less inclined I am to participate.

A few years ago, while attending BYU, I was in a ward with this type of hyperfocus. We had a dating committee that organized giant group dates for the whole ward. If you were single, they would match you up with another member of the ward and you would attend some planned activity together. And my ward wasn’t the only one to instate such a program. Many wards, especially at church schools, are devoting callings to promote dating within the ward. And for the most part, at least from my own observation, this does not excite young people about dating. In fact, it tends to make people more opposed to the idea. Like I said earlier, I am stubborn. The more you tell me to date, the less I want to. And I don’t seem to be alone in this ideology.

Yet, sometimes, not wanting to date isn’t just a state of aversion to dating itself, but a true enjoyment of singlehood. That is, a lot of LDS singles are content where they are. They are living full lives with focus and drive, with fulfilling friendships, and with rich experiences. There are many LDS singles that do desire to get married and many that wish to do so soon. Often, those with marriage as their focus are working towards that goal. And yes, they can be unsuccessful, and it is valid to want to discuss that lack of success. However, I have noticed that married members and leaders are more worried about the ones that aren’t focused on marriage. And this seems to be because they believe that if you are not focused on marriage, there is something wrong with you or your priorities.

Marriage and family is at the forefront of LDS doctrine. Among other things, one of the chief goals of the primary and youth programs are to prepare young people for marriage. The reason YSA wards even exist is to get people married. Even Pres. Oaks mentioned in the recent press conference that marriage can be used as a way to maintain millennial membership. It’s the end game, the final frontier, the peak ordinance. So if you aren’t doing it or, worse, if you don’t really want to, something isn’t right. Is the YSA program failing? (Maybe). Are millennials less faithful? (Why are we tying faithfulness to marital status?). Is everyone dating wrong? (Is there a right way to date? Who decides these things?).

But this brings me back to the ever-pressing question (which is mostly being pressed by married members), why aren’t LDS singles getting married? And here is my all-encompassing answer: It’s different for every single one of us. We all have our own hang-ups. We all have our own desires. Some of us are underwhelmed by our options. Some of us are focusing on our education and careers. Some of us are working on our mental health. Some of us have decided that marriage and marital status aren’t as important to us. Some of us are figuring out our sexuality. A lot of us are really just unlucky. Though we might have some shared experience, our individual answers to the posed question will never be identical. It just isn’t that cut and dry.

There is no “cure” to the LDS marriage crisis. That’s because it isn’t a disease. Maybe we’re getting married later. Maybe we’re not getting married at all. But when or if someone should get married isn’t really a decision for church leadership or other members to make. We know that marriage is important. We understand what is means eternally. Trust me, we’ll get around to it when and if we want. Or even more accurately, it’ll happen when it happens. There is a lot out of our control. But at the end of the day, if you really want LDS singles to get married, I think the best way is to just let us do it on our own.

Comments

  1. You hit the nail on the head—and not just for millennial. We are all different and it will happen when it happens. Thanks for saying it like it is.

  2. Well, I’m just an old married person now, but if my YSA Ward had had committees setting up giant group dates or matching individual members, I absolutely would have stopped going to church.

    Anyway, this post should be required reading for anyone who’s concerned about millennials not getting married. The problem isn’t that people aren’t getting married. It’s that the church doesn’t know what to do with people who aren’t married.

  3. Hey, thanks for this. The majority of my closest friends are mormon and single and I know they would appreciate what you have to say here.

  4. Beautiful. It’s not just millennials. We have plenty of “singles” in our church. Let’s drop the barriers and enjoy people’s talents, input, and love.
    Heck – Mary, Martha and Lazarus were single and they weren’t millennials. I can’t recall reading any “get married/sealed” exhortation to them.

  5. Thank you one million times for that last paragraph. A great summation of so much of what I feel.

  6. Dating pools are all about female to male ratios. If you want an informative read on the subject, read Date-Onomics. One of the little tid bits of information is that pretty much everywhere in the US the dating pool favors the men. Except for in the Seattle, San Francisco and Denver metro area’s, where it favors to women.
    So, if you want to improve your dating pool, move to one of those three metro areas.

  7. There is no “cure” to the LDS marriage crisis. That’s because it isn’t a disease.

    On the other hand, we are members of a church that has determined that only those relationships that have been sealed in the temple and by the Holy Spirit of Promise will persist beyond death, which means that not only bachelors and spinsters are in trouble but also all who have “settled” for some other arrangement in this life. If one believes that eternal loneliness necessarily results from a failure to marry correctly in this life, well, it figures that one would worry about the stragglers in the flock.

  8. we are members of a church that has determined that only those relationships that have been sealed in the temple and by the Holy Spirit of Promise will persist beyond death

    Fortunately, that is not true.

  9. Fortunately, that is not true.

    I’m not saying I like it or believe it, but what else has the church taught regarding marriage?

  10. Peter,

    I suppose I wrote “that is not true” primarily because 1) I think it’s a silly thing to believe, and not a thing which is compatible with the what I hold to be the plain meaning of the Christian teachings to be found in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon. Is it true that the church teaches, as the commenter wrote, “eternal loneliness necessarily results from a failure to marry correctly in this life”? Well, if “the church” means statements which have come from the mouths of individuals that have been formally sustained as latter-day prophets, then that is also not true, because 2) you have, by now, decades worth of all sorts of aspirational “fear not; you will not be alone; God will work it all out in the end” comments. Does any of that resolve the problem presented by what appear to be the broadly accepted (but, in my experience, rarely examined closely) theological foundations laid down regarding temple marriage by D&C 132, etc.? No, not fundamentally, but then, see my comment 1).

  11. That makes sense, RAF. I suppose I shouldn’t have dismissed the assurances that those who “failed to do certain things when opportunities were not furnished him or her” will have a chance to fulfill the measure of their creation, as it were, in the next life. (One notes that marriage is still the ultimate aim, of course.) As for the “eternal loneliness necessarily results from a failure to marry correctly in this life” bit, that’s my gloss of a lifetime of Sunday School discussions and the legacy of teachings like these:

    They had lived the majority of their lifetime on the earth and still had not had this ordinance performed. This accident left them separated. The statement “till death do you part” left them single and their children orphans.

    The marriages then which are made only “so long as you both shall live” or “until death do you part” are sadly terminated when the last mortal breath is gasped.

    The Lord is merciful, but mercy cannot rob justice.

  12. Of course, there are teachings like that out there; they were almost certainly the norm for many decades, and probably still are the norm in some places. I say, simply, don’t believe them, whether they come from parents or prophets or whomever. If you believe in a loving God–or, more centrally, if you believe in a God who is sufficiently competent to bring salvation to His children, and thus presumably is not one capable of getting Himself legally or liturgically trapped into not extending His grace simply because of some ritual box that wasn’t checked off or was checked off wrong–then that stuff is just plain wrong. All the “God will make it all work out in the end” folks, general authorities and compassionate visiting teachers alike, all know this is true, even if they lack the historical or doctrinal language to express it; believe them, rather than D&C 132 or Elder Bednar on a bad day or whatever.

  13. It does not surprise that so much emphasis is placed on trying to encourage/help people to get married in the temple. We spend huge amounts of time, money and manpower trying to encourage/help people to get baptized. In LDS theology, the sealing ordinance is just as essential to eternal life as baptism. Thus, it makes sense that there would be a large focus on temple marriage. Yes, it is uncomfortable and people often don’t want to hear it. But that is true for most people of our efforts to share the gospel with them so they can get baptized.

  14. On the dating pool and odds comments:
    Another place with favorable ratios of men to women is Alaska. I’ve lived there and know this is true.

    However, they have a saying up there about the ratio of men to women:

    “Come to Alaska to meet men. The odds are good, but the goods are odd”. :-)

  15. Dog Spirit says:

    Thanks for the OP, and for your comments, RAF. A few thoughts, at random:

    I’m not saying that people didn’t marry for love and compatibility a few generations ago, but I don’t think they had as much of an expectation of that as present generations. It makes a big difference in the dating world if you’re looking for someone to fulfill a role in your life (stable priesthood holding breadwinner/nice spiritual homemaker) versus a companion with whom you legitimately enjoy spending your free time and with whom you have compatible views re: expectations of one another. I believe a lot of the dating advice coming from the top is predicated on the spouse-as-role worldview, and thus they’re rather understandably puzzled that younger people may have a harder time finding a partner or may take more time to find a partner than in previous generations.

    I also think it has become increasingly obvious, based on statements made in those leaked videos about a year or so ago, as well as comments in the recent press conference, that church leaders see marriage as a means to keep people in the church. They’ve somehow managed to notice the correlation between young marriage and higher activity levels and declare it the solution to all our problems without stopping to wonder what it is about our teachings and culture that makes remaining active while single difficult. There’s a massive blind spot there.

    I realize this is such a tall, tall, order, but I think the discourse around marriage in the church needs to change. The hyper-focus on marriage isn’t healthy, and it’s not scriptural, save for D&C 132. Frankly, in my book, the New Testament and the Book of Mormon weigh more. We’ve taken one revelation, the origin of which is steeped in deception and heartache, and made it the centerpiece of our faith, completely overshadowing and even contradicting the teachings of Christ in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon in regards to what is pertinent to our salvation. If we put the atonement and becoming one with Christ back where they belong at the center of our teachings and worship experiences, suddenly there is room in the church and on the path to Christ for interfaith marriage, for remaining single, for being divorced. No need for either the threat of eternal loneliness or the empty comfort of “you’ll be married in the next life” when the entire human family is sealed together in Christ.

  16. Dog Spirit: “They’ve somehow managed to notice the correlation between young marriage and higher activity levels and declare it the solution to all our problems without stopping to wonder what it is about our teachings and culture that makes remaining active while single difficult.”

    I don’t think this can be emphasized strongly enough. It seems that church leadership noticed “young marriage leads to greater church activity” and then was faced with two possible tacks to take: Either try to make the church less alienating for single people, or try to make more church members get married young. Given the choice between “change the people” or “change the church,” they have opted wholesale for “change the people.” The same thing happens in the cases of women (Change church practices and culture to be less sexist, or just try harder to force young women to accept their subordinate role? Change the people, not the church!), LGBT people (change church practices and culture to be more accepting of stable, healthy gay relationships, or just convince gay members to be celibate for life? Change the people, not the church!), and those with historical issues (be more open and honest about our history, or tell the members to “doubt your doubts”? Change the people, not the church!). Probably the same for POC, people in part-member families, etc. Right now the LDS church “works” for a vanishingly small subset of the population, and the official church response to that fact is to try to force everyone into that mold, rather than try to make the Gospel of Christ work for everyone.

    A separate question, tangential to this post but sincere: A lot of the horrors of Mormon corridor dating stem from the massive demographic issue. Is it different dating non-Mormons in Mormon territory? Do atheist women have their pick of ex-Mormon men in Utah? Or does the same sexist horror show (ridiculous appearance requirements for women, men dating women only 10+ years younger than themselves, etc) persist because Mormon dating sets the cultural norms?

  17. Mark L Bigelow says:

    There you go being reasonable and compassionate, RAF. Keep it up old friend.

  18. Russell, you brought me to tears, happy tears.

  19. Eric Russell says:

    This is a difficult situation for the church because for every single who feels the church should leave them alone, there are two who feel the church is not doing nearly enough – that they should be providing more activities, more opportunities, more telling the men to ask out more, etc.
    For every LDS single who feels marriage will happen when it happens, there are two (and this ratio increases with every year of age) who desperately want to be married and who are in their Bishop’s office in tears because of their singleness.

    Singleness in the church isn’t a disease, but it is a problem. And while it’s a problem in part because the Church says it is, it’s also in large part because single members themselves say it is. As such, its natural that leadership feels the desire to be of assistance, although there’s really so little they can do even when they want to.

    I recall a Bishop from a mid-singles ward, and the poor guy got beat up in every direction all the time. Everyone in the ward, it seems, had strong opinions about what he should be saying and doing and what he shouldn’t be saying and doing. And everyone had a different, conflicting opinion. And people weren’t afraid to tell him!

  20. Amen!! The hardest part of going to a YSA ward for me is that it’s rarely a place where we come to worship God and focus on the sacrament and atonement anymore. I can’t remember the last time I went to church and didn’t hear about dating and marriage and how we need to be doing more. It’s hard to keep going back each week.

  21. Eric, where are you getting your stats from? Not disagreeing with them, just wondering….

  22. I agree with your last sentence: Let them do it in their own time and way (paraphrased). I’m not sure why such emphasis is placed on marriage and children, particularly with young (under 25) people except that perhaps the very real danger of unsanctified sex is a worry or that the young person will start living too worldly a life (placing career and material things above temple ordinances and family). The problems with getting married so young is that people change. The 30 year old usually bears little resemblance to his/her 20 year old self and this change continues for our lifetimes. So you may wake up one day and find that your eternal companion is not someone who is now worthy nor suitable for that role. I suppose that’s where faith and adherence to our religion comes in, but it seems a lot of LDS are getting divorced too. I married at 34 years of age to a non-member. We had no children at all. And I struggle with the mantra of “home and children and family” every single day. I’m widowed now and I have no desire to marry again to anyone. So if I’m single in the next life and my non-existent children are orphans? I guess that’s in God’s hands to help me overcome. Stay true to your principles and I suspect God will work in your case too.

  23. Eric has honestly hit the nail on the head. When I sat as a leader in MANY one-on-one meetings with members the issues so common to the blogersphere and the critics of the church came up maybe 1 in 10 times. That doesn’t make them less important but I think we are all biased to our own experiences (as the author points out very well.)

    For me, most of the single people I counseled with felt lonely. The did fill their lives with friends and activities, but in private interviews would talk about loneliness and some despair. This ranged from 18 years old to 80 years old and were mostly women. Companionship is a deep human need.

    I also agree with Jasmine in that Sunday services should be about worship and drawing closer to Christ. Members can pick and choose any additional activities that would be more appropriate for dating and marriage advice.

  24. Eric Russell says:

    Cate, I perhaps should have been more clear, but I was never intending to convey actual statistics. Those are just my accumulated impressions after twelve years in singles wards.

  25. Amber, I really value that you took the time to write this. Posts like this are an important contribution to the community and the body of Christ. We can do so much better, and this is a starting point. Thank you.

  26. Why don’t we ever talk about the fact that marriage appears to suck? For every talk admonishing the single to marry, there’s probably 2 or 3 admonishing the married to be good spouses and parents. I look at most of my married friends and only a fraction of them are in a relationship that I would want to emulate. Loneliness, frankly, seems preferable to what many of them have. After burying half of my relatives, we sit around eating funeral potatoes and say, “Sheesh, they never should have gotten married.” Maybe marriage isn’t panacea for what ails religion?

  27. “If you believe in a loving God–or, more centrally, if you believe in a God who is sufficiently competent to bring salvation to His children, and thus presumably is not one capable of getting Himself legally or liturgically trapped into not extending His grace simply because of some ritual box that wasn’t checked off or was checked off wrong–then that stuff is just plain wrong.”

    Do we also throw out John 3:5 then? And temple work as a whole? What’s the point of these things if we’re only needlessly checking irrelevant boxes with them?

  28. Long time BCC reader, first time commenter. As a single, 29-year old LDS guy, I really relate to this, especially the last two paragraphs. Thank you very much for this post.

  29. jimbob, is this the first time you’ve noticed the logical contradiction inherent to religion(s)?

  30. Jimbob,

    Do we also throw out John 3:5 then? And temple work as a whole?

    For me and my house, you absolutely do not throw out John 3:5. Nor “temple work as a whole.” Baptism for the dead is, I think, a true and necessary Christian teaching, one of the most important accomplishments of Joseph Smith’s ministry. But the rest of what supposedly happens in the temple? Eh, I don’t think much of it, but your mileage may vary. In any case though, neither John 3:5 nor baptism for the dead = “a doctrinal emphasis of a very specific form of marriage which is increasing difficult for many individuals to obtain for a large number of demographic and sociological reasons,” and this whole discussion, as I’ve understood it, has been about the latter, rather than the former.

  31. JV re: the way marriage is sold to singles is spot on

  32. Uh, I actually don’t care if you are single or married.

    One reason people care is because they know you (not you, the writer…you, as in people).

    If you really don’t care, you wouldn’t write about how much you don’t care.

    When you stop caring, you realize everyone else isn’t actually bugging you.

  33. Sorry. That sounded heartless. My point–I know singledom…it has been tumultuous and painful. But when the pain showed me that chasing marriage was destroying me, I freed myself from all the expectation. Only then did I realize how little marriage actually matters in the church. You can be more whole, closer to God in a marriage…or the opposite…out of one. That is why church leaders push marriage for young adults…they are trying to encourage a path that does make many people feel more whole…but for those of us who are on our own path…we don’t keep resenting the attention placed on a more traditional one. Eventually, you’re so happy that God let you carve out your own.

  34. Reading both this post and the prior one (I’m generally a KB fan, but that was… not great), I feel like there is an important conversation about LDS singles that I don’t ever really hear.

    I think it is really hard to develop a relationship in your late twenties/early thirties while still adhering to Mormon dating standards and I wish we talked more about that. Or maybe we don’t because there aren’t any good answers?

    I look at people who got married in college after dating for a few months (or even a few weeks). While they certainly didn’t know each other very well, they almost certainly got to spend more time together in just those few months than I would get to spend with someone if I were to date them for an entire year. These young couples have so much flexibility to spend time together. As you get older and have more responsibility at work and more relationships to maintain, it is actually harder to get to know someone well. Add increased sexual frustration into that mix, and I feel like at this point I don’t even know exactly how I would develop a relationship serious enough to lead to marriage without it becoming a sexual relationship.

  35. Just posted the following as a fb status. Do delete if it’s too long. For context I’m gay, converted as an adult, and not very active in the Church at all.

    Good stuff here. “It is often, if not always, looked at as a problem to fix.” Usually when you hear the world ‘singleness’ it means that awful unbearable period before you’re not single, but in fact the single life, or celibacy or whatever you call it, can be meaningful and completely valid. It’s more possible still if you don’t buy the rom-com idea that’s made its way into most churches, that your spouse ought to be your best friend. It often is the case and that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be this way for all marriages. David knew about this (2 Samuel 1:26). And Paul even says that, if you can exercise the right restraint, it’s good to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:1-2).
    “Yet, sometimes, not wanting to date isn’t just a state of aversion to dating itself, but a true enjoyment of singlehood. That is, a lot of LDS singles are content where they are. They are living full lives with focus and drive, with fulfilling friendships, and with rich experiences.”

    Whilst I hope this is a common experience, it’s not mine. I’m not dating averse and would prefer to not be single. In my new job I work alone, which I’m not coping with well. (No one who’s happy makes Facebook statuses this long.) Quite obviously I’d be happier if I had a boyfriend I could see a couple of times a week, or even a husband. And maybe things will change one day but I can’t obsess over it now and bring more grief. For now I need to remember that God asks difficult things of us, even for self-denial (Matthew 16:24).

    One of the many hundreds of reasons I’d never make a good missionary is that I don’t care if I get to the Celestial Kingdom or not, let alone its upper regions. I’m not bothered about ascending to Godhood, let alone Eternal Marriage. Speculation about this doctrine suggests that if I don’t marry, I will be paired with a righteous woman when I’m dead (lucky lady), and we’ll be sealed through Temple work. Maybe that’s true or maybe Jesus contradicted this (Matthew 22:23-33).

    In any case, what keeps me encouraged is a marriage much greater than any other. So that our limited minds can comprehend who Jesus and God the Father are, they are often described in terms of some very human relationship to us. One of these is Christ as our spiritual husband, with the church as the bride.

    You can take the metaphor further, imagining God finally speaking to His people at Sinai as the wedding proposal, and all of human existence from then to the end of the earth as a courting period before marriage. In human relationships the purpose of this might be to work out if the two love each other and can stand that much of one another’s company. It’s no wonder the courting period with Jesus Christ is taking so long: we said Yes at Sinai and have so often been unfaithful ever since. The scriptures even say repeatedly we are very much capable of hating Jesus.

    The metaphor doesn’t stretch any more, because Jesus doesn’t need this time to figure us out: He already knows how perfectly He loves us. The last chapters of Revelation talk a lot about this marriage. “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” With that as the object of our hope, the single life is so easily a plausible one.

  36. ^Seems I can’t edit/delete comments. Just need to clarify, I mixed up courting with being engaged. (Not things I have to worry about usually so I got confused)

  37. NameGoesHere says:

    My biggest worry about my singledom is whether I’m unmarried because I’m unrighteous. Most of the time I can trust that God has a plan for me and that being his disciple is enough, and I enjoy my single life, but the fear lingers.

  38. I was talking to a single female church member in her 50s. She told me that there are plenty of men to marry. That want to be married. But they are looking for a woman to take care of them. They can’t or won’t support themselves. Essentially she said she cannot find someone that is an equal. In my ward we have a lot of single older women. Some divorced, some widowed. We also have several divorced or never-married men in their 40s or older. From what I can tell most of them are not dating at all. The couple I can think of that were dating are now married.

  39. Mike R Harris says:

    Many are most grateful for the Church’s “hyperfocus” efforts. Without them they wouldn’t be married or have children.

    The Church’s sincere motive doesn’t always match its awkward methods. We’re all improving, right?

  40. I found it interesting that BYU does or did give extra weight to applicants who were male. If they didn’t the student ratio would favor women. As one gets older in the church, the ratio becomes even more pronounced. Many more women than men. I guess you can’t really say this here without getting people upset.

  41. If we do need to start settling, we need to stop telling and exalting stories about finding The One.

    I don’t want to settle and now I feel like a failure for not “putting myself out there.”