Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Letter to Singles Ward Bishops



Photo attribution here.

I remember one Sunday I was at BYU in Provo. I was standing in some line with a few kids I had just met in my ward, pretending to be excited about the ever enticing "free food!" gimmick we Mormons are awfully fond of.  I was making chit chat with a reasonably attractive, nice young man when one of the counselors of the bishopric walked by and said, "Now remember, enjoy the food, but don't forget to look for your eternal companion!" The kid and I smiled at each other awkwardly, made some joke about how we should get married, made it through the lunch line, then never spoke again.
Elder Boyd K. Packer once taught a lesson to a group of missionaries at a zone conference. (Full account  here.) The true story goes like this: Sister Packer bakes a beautiful cake. Elder Packer asks if anyone would like a piece. An Elder volunteers. He serves the slice of cake to the Elder on a crystal plate in a dignified manner and asks for another volunteer. While the next Elder is anxiously awaiting his slice Elder Packer rips the top off the cake with his bare hand and hurls it at the unsuspecting Elder, memorably proving the point that it's not what we do but how we do it.
There seems to be a great sense of concern over my demographic in the church of 18-30 and unmarried, and rightly so. We are tragically turning away from God at an alarming rate. Somewhere along the line, however, someone decided the way to fix this issue is to get us all married off. My feeling is that this direction comes from high up in the chain. I say this because most of the "get married" talks I've sat through come across to me as inauthentic and contrived, as if they were mandated by someone in authority. Even as a divorcee of 8 months I can say without hesitation, I believe in marriage. I believe it's Godly, I believe it's necessary and I believe it would help our inactivity rates in many instances. The doctrine of marriage and I are cool, but if I get one more piece of cake thrown at me when I didn't even volunteer for the object lesson, I'm going to become a lesbian and marry a woman, just to spite you.
Speaking generally for the body of LDS young single adults today (I've attended 11 singles wards over the course of 10 years, so I feel I can do so with some degree of authority) there are a couple things you should know.


1. Most of us want to get married. It's not because of, but in spite of the pressure put on us.
From what I can gather from the myriad of "get married" comments, talks, looks, jokes and jabs, the idea that my generation would rather play video games or travel or buy something unnecessarily shiny than get married seems to inhabit the consciousness of those in leadership. This is not true. We may enjoy video games or traveling or be pursuing school or career, but this is not why we aren't married. The majority of us want to be married because for most it's a natural part of the human experience to seek companionship. Also, we know it's one of God's greatest tools for cultivating divinity in His people. If we're attending church in this day and age as full grown adults we have our hearts set on Godly things. Give us a little credit. The pressure you're adding is doing nothing for us. Between the age appropriate, God given, biological drive for sex and the nearly palpable social pressure to take the plunge, not one of us will ever benefit from your, "Cowboy up and get 'er done" rhetoric. I don't need a Sunday school lesson to remind me that I'm behind in the race to familyhood, I have Facebook. As for those of us who aren't interested in marriage, no public pep talk is going to change that, and the reasons we have are pretty much never as shallow as you seem to think. 

2. There was a caveat in that infamous Kimball quote.
It was 1976 when President Kimball said, "...it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price." (Ensign, March 1977, First Presidency Message.) This got a lot of play wherein it was paraphrased as, "You can be happily married to anyone, so stop being so picky." If you read the article in its entirety, that's actually exactly the opposite of what he was saying. My generation has the internet, so we can read the full quote that talks about being willing to, "pay the price", and we are all too familiar with the price of a poorly chosen mate, which brings me to my next point. 

3. We are traumatized by divorce.
Our parents are divorced, our siblings are divorced, our friends are divorced, and some of us are divorced, so you can't tell us, "Marriage is the most beautiful, celestial, Godly blessing that can be known to man," without reviving in at least 50% of us sharp edged memories that fly in the face of that statement, even if it is true in some cases. Even if we desperately want it to be true for us.

4. You're giving us all a complex.
"Are you dating anyone? Why not? That's really something you should be thinking about," is a direct quote from my singles ward bishop's counselor in a private interview in Provo. I was 19 at the time. There are two possible reactions to this kind of intrusion in our lives. We either walk away thinking, "I hate that guy" or "He's right. What's wrong with me?" Either way the thought is most certainly not, "Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that!"  In one of my more recent singles wards there was a girl who we called the, "27 and not married girl" because it was like her catchphrase, always worked into conversation somehow, always spoken like it was one, long, burdensome word. I don't know how things are on the male end of this, but I have extensive, first hand experience as to what this kind of overt pressure is doing to the beautiful, faithful, humble, dying of frustration single women of the church. It's making us doubt ourselves, dis ourselves and decrease our lists of marital "must haves" 'till we settle for sub par.  

5. We are isolated, lonely and insecure. 
We need the refuge of church. In America we believe in being fine. Don't believe me? Next time a cashier asks how you are, tell them the truth. Let me know how that works out for you. Church is designed to be a home away form home. Singles wards especially are designed to be families. When the three hours set apart that week for God are riddled with comments like, "Are you dating? Why not? You really should be." or, "Cowboy up and get 'er done!" or, "Make sure you've got your priorities straight, " we start thinking about our hair and stop thinking about our neighbor. It's about as helpful as a glass of water for a man who is drowning. Please, please, please, stop it. 
In keeping with Abraham Lincoln's counsel, "He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help," I have some suggestions to help this problem. Actually, President Kimball has some suggestions for you, straight from that massively misinterpreted talk from the 70s. I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the best straight shooter advice I've received regarding marriage in the text as I reviewed it tonight. It's worth the full read, but the one point I'd like to highlight is from his "never failing formula" for a happy marriage, and it's exactly what we need. Are you ready for this?

Teach us to be unselfish, to forget ourselves, and to focus on the good of the family, our ward family. 

What we, the endangered demographic have been taught is to take care of ourselves. We need to be taught to receive kindness graciously and look out for our brother. We've been conditioned to approach church as a soiree. We need to be taught to commune with God intimately for three sacred hours on Sunday and then spend our week days and nights with those who uplift us. We've been taught that we need to be sexy and/or rich if we want to be worth anything. We need to be taught how to find the beauty and value in every person we interact with at church. This does not happen when we are perpetually being counseled, "Don't forget to look for your eternal companion." 


I can personally and emphatically attest that the effect that a righteous bishop who listens can have on his congregation is profound. What if every Sunday instead of, "Get married" we heard our ward father say, "In this ward, we're a family, and in this family we don't leave anyone out." What if, instead of wondering how we look in our jeans and if he will notice, we were taught to pick up the ward list and call every name on it to make sure they'd gotten the invitation. What if we were encouraged to look at each other as sources of support and security instead of someone who will ultimately accept or reject us for the remainder of mortal existence and beyond? 
Help us. Teach us. Show us the way to break free from the vicious voices of the world who relentlessly, infectiously declare, "You are not good enough. You are not strong enough. You are alone." Show us how to love ourselves for who we are. Then, teach us to love something and someone more than we love ourselves, because I want to be someone who loves selflessly, and I want to marry someone who lives in selfless love. 

57 comments:

  1. i completely agree with you. For myself i fell away from the church because thats all we were getting was marriage this and marriage that. i had an appointment with the bishop who told me if i would take better care of myself and lose a bit of weight i would be married. little did he know i had lost almost 100 pounds and was sick at the time. I'm glad though i'm not the only one who feels like this.

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    1. To my unknown friend,
      You most certainly are NOT alone in this! We have all had out run-ins with misinformed, off base, arrogant or downright rude leaders. What I have to say to you today is please, come back! We desperately need people who are thinking and feeling and wanting to be close to God in the church. Somehow the people who feel the way you and I do have gotten the message that we need to be quiet, suck it up and walk on, but I say SPEAK OUT! Don't let confused people separate you from the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter what their position in the church. It is the one and only place to get the guidance, reassurance and healing we all need to terribly. The church needs people like you in it. Please, come back! Come back! And when you do, stand tall in who you are and what you know, because God loves you.

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    2. Great article. I wish that more leaders would emphasize our true calling as members of the church rather than finding our mate. It seems like 5th Sunday combined meetings always focus on an aspect of dating, and I think it makes us paranoid. I think we need to talk less about dating and more about developing into a Christ-like person. Doctrine can teach us confidence whereas talking about dating makes us feel less confident.

      Just a sidenote: this font is extremely difficult to read. I had to paste the article into a Word doc to read it. Which was worth the read, but still.

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  2. Let me just say first off that I am so glad I did not attend BYU. I'm pretty sure if someone had said that to me would have found a new place to earn my degree. Good for you for sticking it out. Second, it amazes me that people cannot figure out the simple truth you have laid out here. The simple truth that people, all people, wish to be spiritually fed. And that is why we attend church, is it not? This whole rhetoric about "finding your eternal companion" is damaging. It is so incredibly damaging and not at all what I think the Lord would have us laser beam focused on. He would have us focus on being a good person, helping our neighbor, administering to the sick. Not primping our hair, losing weight, or making a scrumptious meal so as to attract a mate. Those notions are SO incredibly driven by society it begs the question if those in authority actually knows what the Gospel is about. It is so incredibly worldly to tell a girl she should lose some weight so she can find a man. And no one realizes this?! It's disappointing, in the least, and enormously confusing to someone just trying to be a good person. Thank you for writing this. I think it should be rewired reading for ALL Church leaders.

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    1. Trina,
      Glad to know we're on the same page. The church and the world needs more voices like yours. Whenever you get the chance, speak out! You never know how deeply you could be helping someone who feels like you do, but has less support, strength or testimony. You are awesome and I love you!

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  3. *required... but, rewired might be a good thing, too.

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  4. Preach, girl. I'm not divorced, but this is good advice for all leaders. And ward members.

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  5. I am in your beyond 30 and unmarried group. I am now attending a family ward and have been told to attend to single adult activities. I can't bring myself to do it. So many of the people who attend are my parents age and then those in the young single adult branch are people I used to babysit. Setting the marriage pressure aside, I feel alone. Like no one here really knows what it is like to be in my skin. Going to church is struggle because I don't feel like I fit in. The people who are around my age in my ward are married and the common ground we may share feels shaky and small. Then you add the marriage pressure on top of that and I feel like I am drowning. How can I meet my eternal companion. Things feel hopeless and unfair. I try to rely on the Lord and the gospel, but sometimes it is harder than I even want to admit to myself. I went to BYU-I and I once had a Bishop say over the pulpit that if the women of our ward would to take better care of ourselves we wouldn't even need an education. He said if you paint the side of a barn to make it look nice why couldn't we wear nicer make-up. I didn't go to that ward much and the Bishop even called my parents in California to ask my parents why. They came up for a random visit to check on me, attended my ward and had the answer. Sometimes it feels like all I set up for is failure. I am overweight and I can't seem to get passed that. My head says I am a good person, but my heart says look in the mirror and you will know why you are 32 and lacking a partner. I can't believe I wrote all this here, but thank you for the opportunity to be heard and the feeling that someone understands. I just wish my ward and stake leaders did. The problem is they are all men who married young.

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    1. Fitz,
      Thanks for being so brave to share your story. I know there are many, many, many people in your exact situation. It's a dangerous place to be spiritually, having little support and feeling misunderstood, even judged. This is the time where way too many fall away, so now is the time to fortify yourself! The world will keep on telling us the same lies over and over and over. We can count on that. But when we loosen our grip on God's hand, that's when the walls really start to close in. Dig deep within yourself and latch on to that place in your soul that refuses to be told it is anything less than God's kid and should be treated as such. It's okay to be alone for a time. (Watch the video in the blog post with that title for an inspiring short film about how to do this excellently.) You have value as a single entity, regardless of your marital status. There are a lot of things I wish people around me understood about me. Bishops, stake leaders, Institute and Sunday School teachers etc. The very best way to help them understand is to walk tall, unapologetic for who you are and what your life looks like. This is your moment on earth. Let your light so shine!

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    2. Fitz, reading your comment was like reading my own. I feel the exact same way. I believe this gospel with all my heart, but at the same time, being single and over 30 makes it SO hard to fit in. However, I have to give props to my first singles branch, and the branch presidency of it. We were never pressured to get married. We were encouraged to come to FHE, we were encouraged to go to the temple every month, but talk about marriage was taboo...it simply happened naturally as a result of the caring relationships that grew as a result of the fellowship people felt there.

      Imogen, THANK YOU for this post. I've never read your blog before today - I guess because I'm not divorced and I don't spend a lot of time reading Mormon blogs because many of them are just annoying - but it was exactly what I needed to hear. :)

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    3. Becky,
      So glad to hear about your positive experience in your ward. In the last ward I attended got a new bishop soon after I moved in. In one of our interviews I laid this out on the line for him as my perspective and life experience and he was totally on the same page. I never once heard him say a word about getting married or hurrying on to another phase of life. He's a deeply good man who just wants to please God and I will always, always love him

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    4. Fitz, if I've learned anything from life, I've learned that being yourself is all that really matters. And I've learned that sometimes leaders say things that you should just put in your brain's trash can, especially if it's more hurtful than helpful. I have a disorder that makes life a bit difficult, and I've heard a few insensitive comments from church leaders who thought they were saying the right thing. A couple therapists I interviewed for an article basically told me that you have to sort through what leaders say and decide what's true for you--when it isn't doctrine-based, of course.
      It may not seem like it, but there are so many people who look at you for who you are and not for how you look or how old you are. If anything, I think being older makes you wiser and more beautiful. You aren't the number of your age or the number on a scale. I think you're beautiful for being able to bear your soul like that!

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    5. Oh, Fitz. Where do I even start? I loved my singles wards (most anyway), but I was lucky enough to not have too many leaders telling us to get married. Although, I actually had one counselor in a bishopric tell the guys that they shouldn't assume the girls were going to expect a proposal after one date, and to stop being so afraid to ask us out. My last singles ward, however, was not a good experience. I put my age on my new member form (I was 31 at the time) and 3 or 4 months later a counselor tells me to make an appointment with the bishop. I thought I was getting a calling. When I met with the bishop, he asked "What can I do for you?" Huh? I told him I was told to make the appointment. (How does the bishop not know why I'm there, when I was told to come?) He starts looking over my records and notices my age. Then he tells me I need to go to the family ward. I broke down in tears and told him I couldn't go to church every Sunday and see what I didn't have: a family. He said sometimes the Lord requires us to do things that are difficult. I get that, and I told him it's not that I wouldn't ever go, but I needed time. My roommate had decided to attend the family ward on her own (she was a few years younger than me), and text me two weeks later to tell me that my records had just been read in to the family ward. The singles ward bishop had kicked me out. The total lack of compassion aside, that bishop was letting all the guys who were past the age limit stay. How is that fair? The girls are single because the guys don't ask us out, and yet WE get the boot? Several other girls I knew had the same problem with that bishop. Another roommateof mine said he had been telling her for a couple months he was working on getting the nnecessary papers/channels worked out for her to be a temple worker (something she really was looking forward to doing) and he still didn't even know her name. My point is, we can't waste our time with anger over other people's actions and poor social skills. Easier said than done, I know. Luckily for me, the family ward I ended up in could not have been more awesome. But I still struggled with my single-ness. I wasn't in school, I had tried online dating (can you say disaster?) and I work in a place with few single men, and even fewer Mormons. I wasn't going to church to find a husband, but I had little chance of finding one elsewhere. And not that I recommend going to clubs, but after several months of going to karaoke with some friends who are amazing singers, I met my husband. He had just started going back to church when we met, and he is perfect for me. I was 37 when we got married. Way older than I ever thought I would be, and I pray you don't have to wait that long, but know that God does have a plan for you. I will pray He doesn't keep you in the dark much longer. Hang in there, Sister!

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    6. It is such a relief to know that I am not alone in my singleness! I have read so many stories of those who are in my same situation and I am grateful for those shared. I decided on my own to attend a family ward (I was 28 at the time) and yes it was hard to attend church however I was able to better focus on why I go to church. I could actually feel like I was feasting on the words of Christ and I was receiving help in making it through the following week. I was surprised at the amount of sisters in the ward who were divorced yet it helped me to be able to sit by one of them as I was surrounded by those who were married; I could swallow my disappointment and heartache for at least those 3 hours; I learned that God knew me and He loved me ~ I am still learning that. Someone said it earlier but I want to echo those words,

      God has a plan for you and He IS seeking for your happiness!

      I am the middle child of 6; my 2 older sisters are married and at one point both my younger sisters were married (one got a divorce) but she is now dating someone and my little brother just got engaged a month ago. I can't tell you the number of times I have wondered and worried, have I been forgotten? What is wrong with me? I have found great solace in drawing nearer to God; I still have my moments of breakdowns and tears but I feel that I am building a reliance on Heavenly Father that perhaps I otherwise would not have known. On my hard days, something that has helped me is listening to past BYU devotionals; some of them are from the 50's! It is a joy to hear President Hinckley's voice and I see how his life was shaped to become who he was. He even started one of his devotional addresses as saying something to the affect of, "After today, you will probably never hear from me again." How little we know of our own future but God does know! Let us press on and become whom He would have us to become ~ single, divorced, or married :)

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    7. I have to say thank you to all of you! The love, kindness, and especially the feeling that I am not alone has been overwhelming! I am grateful for the dialog started by Imogen! I wish we could all get together and have a hug fest! Sometimes I feel like we get forgotten, but you wonderful sisters (I mean that in the church sense and the kinship one) have helped me see we are not, especially the most important ones, our Heavenly Father and Savior. He does have a plan for me and I know He loves me more than I can possibly fathom, just as He loves all of us.

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  6. Thank you for this insightful post. I'm not divorced, but your words ring true. You have the makings of a great mother, wife, and all-around leader. THANK YOU.

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  7. Thank you so much for this! I'm a single adult who is just about to turn 30. They just opened a mid-singles ward in my area, and I attended this last weekend and the first words out of the Bishops mouth was "I'm glad to see so many of you here, but lets hope you don't stay long" or something along those lines.

    Now I know he means well, but I really agree with you that in this ward that just started we need to focus on our family, and gathering more of us back home! I am going to show this article to the ward leaders and hope we can brainstorm positive ways to get this ward started and formed in the right way. Thank you for your very inspired timing of this article!

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    1. I'm so glad it resonated with you! Feel free to share anything you'd like. Also feel free to edit out the line about me turning lesbian if you want. It had the potential to derail the conversation ; ) Oh, and if you like this post you'll probably also like "You're a part of Mormon culture too", FYI. Thanks for reading, commenting, and helping to further the cause!

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  8. Listen to Sheri Dew and her story- she never fell away because of being single or the pressure that brings from well meaning members

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    1. Haha! I knew someone would bring her up ;). Forgive my sarcasm but Sheri Dew is like the Jesus of single women in the church. We can all try to be like her but not many will be. I rather think we can support one another without comparing ourselves to others. Each experience is different. Not every story of single sisterhood is the same. Comparing just makes us feel more inadequate.

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    2. What would Shari Dew? ;)

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  9. My ward at BYU-Idaho was very much like what you are describing. It's also probably why I got my hopes up so much while I was there and then had to go home for several years. I went through a physical break down my first couple of months my second year(stress seizure, broken bone from sledding and the inability to work). That was the start and then during the summer semester, I went through an emotional break down and because of that, I pretty much failed. There was a guy I really liked and I kept getting the feeling he liked me and everyone was pushing me to stay with him and to "seal the deal" sort of thing. I got my hopes up too high and then one day he took the words out of my mouth and said he just wanted to be friends and doesn't like me the way I seem to like him. He was nice and a cool guy, but he wasn't for me and he knew it. I didn't because of what others were telling me. When I got home, things were totally different. My Branch President of the singles told me that getting married is just a bonus to the Branch's purpose and that the real focus is being a family rather than finding to make one. I love where I live because the Singles ward out here said the same thing when it was first put together. My bishop says to our ward that we are a large family already and need to be closer together and not worry about anything else except our own salvation and that marriage will come in time. He is more concerned with making sure everyone is happy rather than getting married off by a long shot. Just recently we had a Con, sort of like ComicCon, and to unify us even more, we have a ward retreat soon and other activities. When I hear of single wards now that are trying to "graduate" singles as quickly as possible, I think those bishops need to talk to mine and get a few lessons on what single wards are all about.
    (sorry this is so long)

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    1. Isn't it amazing the stark contrast and how much something so simple can effect you? Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  10. So much of what you said (and from the comments) has resonated with me as well. I just turned 41 and have never been married. I served a mission and attended both Ricks and BYU-Provo. I used to joke that I should get a tuition refund for graduating single. Even though I never felt like any of my leaders didn't care about me, it didn't change the frustration. I let those years of frustration turn into bitterness and before I realized it I was coming up with excuses not to go to church. This turns into a drifting away. I'm just glad I've yet to go "Full Laman" and harden my heart. I still have those righteous desires and its that anchor I cling onto. I agree with the article and appreciate your insights.

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    1. I.T. Hardin, Thanks for weighing in. The bitterness at cultural elements of the church leading to inactivity is something hugely concerning to me. Hold strong! Know that you're not alone in feeling the way you do and that every time you show up to church as your authentic self you are doing the body of the church a great service. We need people like you to be present, invested, involved and vocal.

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  11. Imogen, Thank you for writing this! I'm a new bishop of a YSA ward, and I was just discussing with my wife this week that I want to just do what I feel bishops should do, and that is help people come to Christ, and stay out of the silly activities, entertainment and dating stuff. I've been pondering about it for a few weeks now and you have identified and articulated my thoughts better than I could! I'm going to print this out and read it to the bishopric this Sunday! And probably the ward council next week.

    I also appreciate the comments added by Keiko; I would love to sit down with her bishop and learn a few things! And there are so many good comments from others as well.

    And may I apologize for my fellow leaders as well. Thank you for recognizing that most of them are well-meaning, even if they are sometimes off the mark. Perhaps they, too, should stick to helping people come to Christ and leave the dress/appearance/dating stuff to someone else. The purpose of the church is to bring us to Christ, and for each of us to help in that work. For most of us, getting married will be part of that process, but I'm not aware of anything that says the purpose of our meetings is to get people married! In the meantime, since all leaders are soooo human, I plead with anyone who is struggling with a leader to please turn to the Lord and don't leave His church. I'm so sorry for the mistakes we make and the hurt we cause, but it would only be another mistake to decide to leave the safety of the covenants and ordinances that are between you and your Heavenly Father, just because another fallible human is making it less pleasant to participate for a while.

    Thank you all for your comments. While it is true that I have been called to serve God and to follow the instructions and work within the structure and organization of the church, which I believe is directed by men who are inspired and called of God, I also believe that I can't do God's work and help people come to Him if I make too many mistakes along the way! Your honest and heartfelt comments have helped to expand my understanding so I will be more sensitive to life situations that I've never experienced. And I pray I will not harm anyone, as some here have been hurt by other leaders in the past. Oh, but I'm so human, I guess it's inevitable, isn't it? Sigh...

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    1. Alright for weighing in for the Bishops! I'm so glad to hear this is actually reaching its potentially maximally beneficial audience!! Thank you for your comments here, thank you for listening, and thank you for being the kind of man that loves God enough to do what feels right in his soul. For all the examples I have listed in this entry of unfortunate run ins, there are life alteringly positive experiences I've had in the counsel of good bishops, singles ward and otherwise.

      This post is certainly making the rounds! It's two days after I wrote it and I've had a jump of about 2,000 page views (this blog averages 100-200 page views per new entry), so know there are many more people who feel the way those who have spoken out feel, and you have immense capacity to make a change for the better. Thank you for stepping up to the plate.

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  12. Link is broken to Spencer W. Kimball article. :(

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  13. I totally get that article. It's true. If you're not married, you're never going to be good enough to be in the church. Not only the singles get harassed with "when are you getting married?", others like 19 year olds get "when are you going to go on a mission?" or the newlyweds get this "when are you going to have a baby?"... When you are a Mormon and you cannot answer those question with a positive response, then those people at church will make sure you feel like there is something wrong with you if you don't go on a mission, if you don't get married, or if you don't have babies. Please. Just. Stop. I was experiencing the oppression way before I gave the church the boot. I am so happy I am not being a member of the church as of my parents' 40th anniversary. Yes, I asked the headquarters to take my name and records out on that day just to spite my hateful, Beck-Limbaugh-loving parents and to set myself free. I never felt this great before! I will always have the relationship I have with Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost and Jesus with me and the church can't take that from me. As for the cake, I am eating a big-ass piece right now while the rest at church are eating nothing or tiny portions of cake. If you are going to start making me feel bad for what I just wrote, Don't. Try. It. Or I'll be happily eating that cake while I punch you in the I-just-got-home-from-a-mission-and-got-married-a-month-later baby maker.

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    1. Hey Deaf258,
      Thanks for chiming in here. I think you represent a large body of LDS folks who have gotten so fed up with good intentions gone wrong (sometimes horribly wrong)that they search for peace elsewhere. I'm happy for you that you've found what works for you and am glad to hear you are still in touch with The Big Guy. While I would never try to make you feel bad for the amazing feat of happily eating cake while punching (me?) in the I-just-got-home-from-the-mission-baby-maker I don't have, I would like to state that, while I can't speak authoritatively for the church at large, I am pretty happy with my cake overall, aforementioned irritants notwithstanding. To each her own, I suppose. Here's to us each enjoying our own slice ; )

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  14. Please use a darker font. I can't read this no matter how much I magnify it.

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  15. Hey there I loved this post! You make some really good points and I'd love to follow you. I just can't seem to find the place to add you. This is set up differently from my blog so please add me or at lease stop by. Thanks for the wisdom. :) http://stevenhatch.blogspot.com

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  16. I had a similarish experience as a 19 year old. I was at a family reunion on my "we have a heritage with pioneers and have ancestors who probably spoke to Joseph Smith at some point" side of the family. I had just started up at BYU. For once, all the old (micromanaging) ladies wanted to talk to me this time around. I guess I was old enough to be interesting. Even though each lady came up to me by herself independent of all the others, the conversation we all had was basically the same:

    "Hi, aren't you Jennifer's daughter?"
    "Yeah, that's me."
    "You're going to BYU now, aren't you?"
    "Yup."
    "[Some statement about how I'm a righteous daughter of God for going to BYU which I guess means I'd be a total heathen if I went anywhere else]"
    "Eheh...uh, yeah, I like BYU."
    "So, are you dating anyone?"
    "Uh, no, I-"
    "Oh, so you're planning on going on a mission!"

    ....WHAT? This was about four years ago and I am STILL baffled by it. I mean, I was a friggun freshman, no one is going to be dating me yet!

    Somewhere in the middle of that family reunion (we went up for a few weeks and the reunion was a weekend long) I actually did realize that I had feelings for someone, a dear friend who was a week away from going on a mission. When I brought up that I might be waiting for a missionary, that was a totally unsatisfactory answer.

    It was to everyone who told me that I should look elsewhere.
    "How many months does he have left?"
    "Twenty!"
    "[Laughs] You'll never marry him!"

    So, I agree with pretty much everything you've said here and would like to add, there are apparently some methods of finding a spouse that are stigmatized too. I'm just lucky I never had a bishop who pressured us to marry - just to be careful about dating and to respect ourselves and others in doing so.

    And I DID marry my missionary, so there!

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    1. I have totally been there. Way to stick it to the man ; )

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  17. I have been married for 29 years and have seven children, and marriage is definitely wonderful, but your post brought back many memories of my single days. (I married at the "old" age of 26. My husband was 31. We were definitely considered anomolies.) Marriage is only wonderful if you have learned to forget yourself (or learn it while you go, which is probably more realistic). I have four children in that "marriageable" age bracket (two on missions). They all want to be married. They all want to be close to Christ. They all want to be active in the Church, but, I agree, the pressure is enormous, and for my girls, especially damaging as they try to be "attractive." (They are both gorgeous but often struggle to accept how they look--a phenomenon not limited to Church members.) Your comments have helped me rethink my role as their mother. Thank you so much.

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  18. P.S. In saying that marriage is only successful if you learn to forget yourself, I do not mean to imply that single people have not learned this lesson, only that all of us must learn it, married or single. And we have to learn it over and over again. Our quest to become Christlike can and must take place in any and all circumstances--married, single, divorced, widowed. I fully expect to be learning this all my life. Any thoughts that take me closer to that goal are much appreciated. Your post was one of those steps.

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    1. What a wonderful example you are of humility and kindness. We are lucky to have your wisdom and influence in our church community.

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  19. Since you kinda asked about the male perspective of all the pressure put on the men, I thought I'd share my point of view. In my experience the damage done is similar, if still different. Like you called out the pressure makes the women doubt themselves, and especially focus overly on their personal appearance. There is some of this aimed at the men as well, however for some stupid reason I've also heard repeatedly not only that I'm somehow less because I'm not married yet, but that I'm actively sinful, need to repent, and start dating the girls in the ward. If I'm not married, then all those single women in the Church suffering without a husband are at least partly my fault.

    I've had two long term relationships that may have progressed to marriage. Both were ended by the woman shortly after I brought up marriage. I also fully admit that they may have ended the relationship because I brought it up too soon and scared them off. But at least part of that is due to the vast amount of pressure put on us to "get married already".

    Now I certainly haven't given up on getting married despite my "advanced age" of 29, and I've stayed active and held leadership callings in every ward or branch I've been a part of, but I will readily admit that I've thought about skipping Church just to avoid the pressure. Gotten pretty close to doing it too. I honestly don't know how long I'll be able to hold on. I guess it depends on what the family ward is like once I turn 31, should something not happen before then of course.

    (I guess there's an inadvertent example of some of the damage I've got from this culture. By writing that I've just discovered that I subconsciously believe that I'm never getting married. That I'm not good enough. And that I've also subconsciously tied my sense of worth at least in part to my marital status. Looks like I've got some soul searching to do. Thanks for the post.)

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    1. jhvdh - Thank you so much for weighing in here. I suspected that the damage done on the male end of this issue was similar but hadn't fully realized the sinful element. I can see how that could be so discouraging. I feel like the pressure to marry makes the threat of eternity loom creating an environment where it is nearly impossible for anything to progress naturally. I've spent years of my life not even aware of if I was actually attracted to a person or not because the fear of being rejected and what that would mean about my appearance, self worth and eternal destiny was just shouting way too loud. It's nice to grow up a bit and learn to push back on those voices inside my head. I think the best thing you and I both can do is let it roll off our backs when we can and find the ways to say something polite but direct in the moments when it's necessary. Hang in there. This part of the ride has unique challenges, but just remember why you do what you do. God is amazing. <3

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  20. A gal spoke in Sacrament yesterday and said a few things that made me cringe, not for myself but for others who might not be strong enough to NOT take offense. I love this gal, I taught her in Beehives 27 years ago, she held my oldest when he was a newborn! Anyway, she is divorced with 2 kids maybe 7 and 9 years old. She is getting married later this month to a guy who seems decent, but I have my fears about that from my own 'delightful' experiences with men. (I've been divorced for 15 years, 4 kids from 16 to 26 years old.) She said she was glad she had been found 'worthy' to be a mother. (I fear for the sweet righteous women who were not able to be mothers... :-{) She also said that she was glad Heavenly Father loved her enough to bless her with the opportunity to be a wife again. (Last I heard He loved all His children... me included.) I know she meant absolutely no harm, but dang it hurts and it hurts more to think of those without a strong enough testimony to take this for what she was trying to say.

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    1. So much of the issue is this incredibly enforced rhetoric, I agree. Just broadening our general consciousness of the feelings of others does amazing things for cultivating love. This comment does just that. Thanks!

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  21. This is very insightful. I'm glad you wrote this. I am 27 and divorced. I am a new convert to the church (almost 2 years now). I was married when I was 19 and divorced by age 21. I was shocked by the way marriage is treated in the singles ward. I am glad that when I was investigating I worked really hard to separate the doctrine of the church and the culture. As I'm sure you know, thats nearly impossible in the YSA. Never in my life at age 27 would I feel so old. I have this running joke that in "mormon years" I'm really 90. I think this past month, every Sunday, we have had talks about marriage. I never felt so exhausted on the topic. Its literally becoming aversive. Not to mention, you have to love the folks that do get engaged and decide to grill everyone else about what they need to do to get their eternal companion like they have. Its enough to make anyone want to go inactive. Thanks for posting this. Its nice to know there are others pondering these things as well.

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    1. Sometimes laughter is the only way through it. Kudos for keeping a sense of humor about it all! Here's to hoping things get better, thought by thought by thought...

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  22. Some of the worst advice I have ever received was from my well-meaning stake president during my initial ecclesiastic endorsement interview for BYU. He said, "Working hard and doing well in school comes second to finding an eternal companion. Socialize and date while you are at school." I'm paraphrasing, but looking back eight years, I can see how damaging this sentiment was for me. I forever felt the failure for not doing enough to ensure my eternal happiness while I was working on accomplishing my temporal goals. I developed a complex about not being able to get a date which led to depression which made it impossible to date and that fed the complex. It took years to break out of the cycle. Although I'm a single adult in the church, I'm not so young anymore and I couldn't be happier with myself. As I've broken free from my mental hang ups about dating and focused on being the best I can be alone, a miraculous thing has happened: I've had more dates in the last year than any other time of my life combined. While I don't feel ready for marriage, I might be ready for a committed relationship that may one day turn toward marriage.

    In short: I agree completely that the focus of YSA wards should be taken away from the end goal of marriage and settle at the feet of individual members who are experiencing the most formative years of their social and spiritual lives. Let's find the good in others and recognize marriage as the happy coincidence that it invariably is.

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    1. I relate to this completely! Yes! Yes! Yes!! Sometimes I think God sends a wacky comment our way to teach us that, while it's important to align our will with His doctrine, the other end of that amazing system He's got in place is personal revelation and common sense. We've got to rely on both. No matter what anyone says to you, if it feels off, it's off. God is there to help us work the rest out from there.

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  23. Wonderful article and comments that point to a common church failing - accepting us all as Heavenly Father's children the way we are, and being careful how we project our own contexts on others. May I share a view from another group who also feels on the margins of the church - couples who are childless. My wife and I were childless for the first several years of our marriages, and we knew several others in the same boat. In some wards, we were accepted just as we were, while in others we were suspected of practicing birth control for some selfish reason or other, perhaps until we got PhDs or big houses or 'successful' jobs. I remember one ward that had a 'young marrieds' group, where we got together for activities. But that was only one ward of the many as we moved around. Some of the most cutting comments came to my wife from her Relief Society sisters - "Well, you just don't understand because you are not a mother." My wife would come home questioning whether a church with such loving sisters could really have the Saviour's gospel. Ten years after we were married, we adopted our first of three, and now we have grandchildren. We enjoy attending church with our family members - both those in our traditional family and those in our ward family. We enjoy inviting other ward members over for dinner. We try to include those who are single, childless, or widowed. We have lived around the world, and for many years we've invited those who are separated from families or have no one else who is a member over for special dinners at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Now that we are back in America, we see similar situations with single parents with children. I hope that we all work to make every member feel welcome and loved so that no one feels that the Church's portrayal of ideal families does not make them feel abnormal, left out, or unaccepted. Christ's gospel is for everyone and none need feel that either the gospel or the Church is exclusive.

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    1. I have a deep sense of respect and gratitude for your story and the thousands of others in the church who have had similar experiences. When hard things like this come we either look to God or look away. Thank you for hanging in there and remembering what those hard times were like. Thank you for making the church and the world a little better place for those who cross your path. We need more people like you! I hope I can live up to that example. Thanks for sharing this.

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  24. My therapist has taught me this: develop emotional greater intimacy with BOTH genders, which will continue even after marriage. If marriage is the goal, and we reach it, then we're bound to get depressed.

    Whereas continuing to find support and being supportive continues on no matter what your relationship status. If we work on greater support and friendships, then that will aid us in all of our relationships.

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  25. I feel honored to call you my friend, girl! I love your perspective, and willingness to share your experiences and insights. As a single woman who finally found her mate at the "old age" of 29 (he was 28), I felt the loneliness that many singles feel. I spent WAY too much time comparing myself to every other girl. I was lucky to have a very supportive bishop, here in AZ, who had a ward full of older members. He encouraged getting to know each other, but approached the delicate subject of dating and marriage with humor instead of pressure. After my husband and I married, we came to the conclusion that yes, we married when we were older, but there was nothing wrong with us... we just hadn't found the right one for us yet. All we can do is be the best we can be, love ourselves, and continue to live the principles of the gospel. Happiness will follow, no matter our marital status.

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    1. This reminds me of a couple years back when I met one of my close friend's fiance. He was in his early thirties with a PHD and a myriad of musical talents. Still, I was skeptical about if anyone could ever be good enough for my amazing friend. The woman is incredible. When I met him I asked him how he knew he wanted to marry her and he said, "I don't know, I mean, I had never been in love before, so when I met her I thought, this must be what love feels like." They are happily married and just had their first baby. He held out for the right one and man did he ever do the right thing!

      Love you, Allison. Thanks for reading and chiming in!

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  26. Hi! I found your blog from a friend's Facebook and I just wanted to say how much I loved this post! I am not divorced but I am one of "those" members who navigated their way through the perils that come with the intensity, and sometimes insanity of a singles ward. I had a bishop for several years that would lecture about dating and marriage pretty much every sunday. I was an older gal in the ward which meant that I didn't date much since the guys in my stake liked to date girls younger than them. I tried not to let it get to me, but it's hard when people who've just graduated high school are getting engaged and you're almost done with your bachelor's. Then you add the pressure of competition, getting harped on about dating by everyone and having guys you were interested in tell you that they're just not ready for a serious relationship, only to turn around and get engaged to the next girl they see. All the while being chastised for not getting married in a timely manner. I actually ended up moving to Provo and met my now husband six months after. Surprise, he's three years younger than me! I look back in my life and see the Lord's hand in it. I certainly have a testimony of His guidance and love. If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self not to worry as much and not to let the pressure get to me, I would be okay. Just trust in the Lord and let the beauty of life unfold before you. Sorry for the novel, It's just lovely to find out that someone has gone through similar experiences and has shared the thoughts I've had for years:)

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