Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Singles of a Certain Age, or What I Wish Church Leadership Would Understand

Since I can't write headquarters, and my local leadership either doesn't have the power to do anything, or doesn't listen, I'm going to vent my feelings here. Not that it does any good, but at least I got my thoughts out, eh? Blogging at its best.

As someone newly into the midsingles scene, I am finding a ever-flowing source of irritation at the current setup.

As they "graduate" from a YSA ward, most active LDS singles have a lamentable choice to make. They can join a singles ward, fade into a family ward or if they live in the right area, they can attend a midsingles ward.

The first choice, going to a regular 30+ singles ward, is Creepy with a capital "C", especially for women. What 30-year old wants to be hit on by 50+ men, unless they're gold diggers? And, quite frankly, most 50+ year old men in the LDS church aren't really the typical target of your average gold digger, get what I'm saying?

The second choice is lonely. Activities are family-oriented. Comments in church are inevitably unconsciously hurtful and condescending. And you are definitely cut off from chances to meet other LDS mid-singles in a real-life environment.

The last choice has its own plethora of issues. Firstly, midsingles wards and activities tend to be older versions of YSA activities. Well-adjusted midsingles, those with careers, houses, and possibly children of their own, are not as likely to be interested in a wash of dances and volleyball games. They have responsibilities, things that need doing. Being involved in thinly-clad excuses for flirtation games is not really that fun, once you've grown up. Would you, a married adult, like to have all your activities structured that way? Well neither do we.

The sort of midsingles who ARE attracted to those types of activities are not the type of people that well-adjusted midsingles are interested in dating or marrying, particularly those who have been in a serious relationship before. Qualities that make good marriage partners do not include playing volleyball or the ability to act like a fool on the dance floor. Those activities aren't bad, but they should not make up 99% of available activities. If I'm going to spend precious time away from my responsibilities to try to meet other singles, I want to be doing something real and productive, or at the very least interesting.

Secondly, a typical midsingle who attends these childish midsingles wards tends to see people of the opposite sex as a list to check on or off. Like internet dating, the focus is on quantity and speed. Are they active/financially stable/slender/unattached to children/tall enough/etc, etc, etc? Rather than getting to know a person for themselves, potential dates are all too easily checked off the desirable list by some quality they often can't help. (To be honest, I suspect this plays into why some LDS marriages fail, but that is a topic for another day.)

Treat us like people, not like marriageable objects. Do activities that married people would do. Set up kid-friendly potlucks or game nights. Coordinate community service projects. Hold mini-classes on various interesting topics like gardening, home improvement or gospel discussions. Throw in some fun and creative ideas to throw people together who wouldn't otherwise get to know each other, like occasionally offering babysitting for stake couples functions or organizing dating auctions for families in need. And schedule some things for earlier in the evening, or on Saturdays. Many of us have real jobs and have to get up early in the morning on weekdays.

And for our sakes, STOP telling us we need to be married. We know that. We know that more deeply and personally than you do. But we are people, outside of our unmarried state.

As President Hinckley said nearly 15 years ago, "Though you are so diverse in your backgrounds, we have put a badge on you as if you were all alike. That badge reads S-I-N-G-L-E-S. I do not like that. I do not like to categorize people. We are all individuals living together, hopefully with respect for one another, notwithstanding some of our personal situations."

Help us become worthy, contributing people regardless if we find a marriage partner. And know that for some, there are good reasons not to marry again, from same-sex attraction to emotional issues. Marriage is not an answer for life's problems. For some of us, not being married any more is an IMPROVEMENT on our previously married state.

And if we're going to marry, it will be because it is right, not because it is dutiful or convenient, and it will be to someone who is well-adjusted enough to have a life beyond flirting.


  1. I didn't even know there were singles wards outside of YSA. IS this a Utah thing?

  2. You completely hit the nail on the head. I couldn't agree more.

    I think this is the best quote right here: "But we are people, outside of our unmarried state." I want to trumpet that from the rooftops.

  3. There isn't one easy answer. Our family ward is diverse enough that I think singles with kids feel comfortable and possibly even the singles feel comfortable.

  4. @Matt- it is definitely not a Utah thing, but it does tend to depend on the population density of the singles in your area. Here in So. Cal, there are several Mid-singles wards. Mine is a combination of a mid-singles and a family ward. As a non-single whose younger brother was a single father for a few years (before marrying a single mother from my ward), it looks to me as though it works. I have no direct personal experience beyond that.

    You have my sympathy, SilverRain. If I get a chance to voice your concerns to the appropriate people, I will be sure to do so.

  5. What a great post. I know in our midwestern stake we've been quite concerned about single members and how they fit. We do not have a YSA ward in our stake, but share one with a neighboring stake -- primarily associated with the large university there.

    But the "mid-singles" (I'd never heard that term) issue is significant. Fortunately, many of our members in that demographic do find a home in family wards where they are accepted and useful for who they are (because we need every hand we can get!). Still, leaders wonder how to help (and what "help" looks like). Posts like this one are terrific in that regard.

    I remember one single sister with children (four teens at the time) said, "I have a family to raise. I don't have time for singles' activities!" Yet she was quite active in her own calling in the ward and her kids were a vital part of our YM/YW programs.

    Yet another single sister with slightly different aged kids felt a real need to explore opportunities for remarriage, and she eventually left our area for Utah where she thought she'd have a larger pool of candidates.

    My sister, who didn't marry until her mid-thirties, observed that there's a good reason some men are single. She settled quite well into our family ward at the time and went about her professional and church life.

    Each individual in her needs and in the solution that would work for her.

    I especially liked the quotation from President Hinckley.

  6. The problem is that we are so totally focused on family that we have made it the only truly acceptable form of membership. Everything is based on marriage and family. If you are not married, for whatever reason, you are told in a not-so-subtle way that you simply do not fit in. And this does not just hit young people who haven't married or perhaps will not marry, it also hits older people. How many widows, for example, stop coming to church after their husbands die? I suspect many more than we might think. With sadness, I have to say I do not see this changing at any time in the future.

  7. Thank you, everyone, for your comments.

    I do want to say one thing, however. I do not believe in blaming leadership or church culture for inactivity. If the reason you're going to church is because you feel like you fit in, you are not going for the right reasons.

    I am not advocating the activities discussed in the original post as a reactivation, nor am I saying that anyone is justified in not coming to church because things aren't comfy.

    The truth is that few people really feel like they belong, and changing the environment doesn't make you feel any differently. As a military brat, I know this for a fact. Feelings of belonging are yours, internal, not an effect of others' actions. (Except in cases of deliberate shunning or persecution, of course.)

    Also, focus on family is as it should be. Almost everyone has a family. We shouldn't lessen the focus on eternal principles just because they don't work out for some people.

    All that being said, however, my original point still holds, that singles can also be grown-ups. Granted, there are different solutions for different people, but that is part of the point. As it stands, there is limited variety of church opportunities for midsingles who want to remain open for marriage, but not obsessed with it.

  8. Amen, SR. I will be linking to this post at some point on my blog.

    Preaching an ideal but allowing for those outside it is a tricky business, but acknowledging publicly that those outside the ideal often are just fine there is a start.

  9. I appreciate your thoughts, SilverRain. Over time, I have come to realize that "the Church" cannot meet everyone's needs. Rather, it is for individuals to meet the needs of other individuals, perhaps in a Church setting. There is no reason that a person trying to organize activities for singles of a certain age couldn't "[d]o activities that married people would do," such as "kid-friendly potlucks or game nights," "community service projects," "mini-classes on various interesting topics like gardening, home improvement or gospel discussions," and so forth as you suggested. It probably does happen somewhere. All it takes is the right person to put it together. Waiting for the "the Church" to do it won't work.

    It is regrettable that no one in your stake is interested in listening -- maybe they're focusing on other matters of more importance to them. As one who was a single of a certain age (I married at 46), I understand your thoughts. Maybe one day, if I'm in a position to do something wherever I am living, I'll remember these thoughts.

  10. Thanks for that point, ji. That is the "Church Leadership" that I meant. I can see why it might have sounded like I was talking about high-level prophet/apostle/general authority level, but I was speaking to the bishops/stake presidents/activity coordinators in my mind.

  11. Here's a good talk about being single in the church, given by a 30-something single sister at the Saturday night session of our stake conference a few years ago.


  12. Silver (and others),

    In regards to those older dysfunctional single brethren, for whom it is obvious why they're still single: Many of us know why we're still single. For many of us older guys, and sisters too, the singles events (firesides, family-home-evenings, conferences, dances, etc.) are our social outlet, not a place where we hit on the younger women.

    Although you've "graduated" from the younger singles scene, your post and comments show me that you still haven't fully caught the vision of the dynamics and possibilities of the older singles scene. Most of those guys who look like they're "hitting on" women are likely just trying to socialize, and, perhaps in their inept way, are trying to be uplifting to fellow singles.

    You make some accurate observations, but the other side of that coin is that many 30-something men and women go to the 30+ singles events and don't "get it", and incorrectly think that the whole thing is solely about spouse-hunting.

    Singles events are also about being uplifting to each other. There are a lot of "poor in spirit" people, divorcees and widows/widowers (of all ages) among the singles, and the singles program is their only social outlet in church. Although they'd be welcome at "family events", they don't go because those events are advertised as "family" events, so they mistakenly think that as a _single_ they can't go.

    I've always understood "family event" to mean that kids are allowed in addition to grownups, not that singles are excluded.

    But if the bishopric calls the ward picnic the "ward family picnic" they are implying that singles aren't welcome.

    People who go to singles events thinking it's only about spouse-hunting, or who think you can only talk to/socialize with people who are within 5 years + or - of you, are missing out on one of the main purposes.

    My last FHE group included some lovely 70+ widows and divorcees in it who were both uplifting, and who needed socialization. But every once in a while a 30-something man or woman would show up and say "too many old people" and they'd never be back.

    I'll accept your assessment that you saw older guys "hit on" 30-something age women. But what I've also seen is people reaching out in friendship to all people, and then the younger women responded with a false charge of being "hit on."

    I've seen people show up, sit by themselves in their own group not making any effort to mingle, and then they complained that others didn't welcome them. That was sad that none of the "regular cast of characters" reached out to them, but socialization goes both ways. There's always two sides to the coin. (That group of visitors also probably unintentionally gave off "leave us alone" vibes.)

    Your original post kind of struck a raw nerve with me. You're attitude still seems like "what's in it for me?". Whereas if you went to those things and concentrated on what you could _contribute_ (by being uplifting to people who are poor in spirit, even if it's just towards the sisters) you'd get more out of it.

  13. Another way you could contribute is to recruit other positive lifter-upper type singles to go to the events so that the lifters outnumber the leaners in the group dynamic, and so none of the lifter-types feel overburdened by the poor-in-spirit types.

    Too often, a lifter-type goes to a singles event, sees that it's dominated by the "poor in spirit" folks, and gives up. Yet the likely fact is that there are usually plenty of lifter-types among the singles in a given stake, but the trick is getting them to the singles events at the same time. But... they can rarely make it, as you well point out, because they have lives, careers, and/or kids.

    But if you could just recruit the right ones, the lifter-types who could otherwise make it out, but have merely given up, _you_ could multiply your effectiveness.

    There's a limited amount of what stake leadership can do. They can't order the "cool" "with it" or "lifter types" to go.

    From my limited observation, in our stake at least, most marriages among the singles in the 35+ age group are people who met through the LDS dating websites. Even if it's to meet _local_ people, they do it online rather than go to the singles events.

  14. Bookslinger—You have very good points. I agree with pretty much everything you've said.

    However, my point still remains. I'd like to have activities that are interesting and productive on their own outside of who is there. If what you say is true, that the activities are there for support outside of hunting relationship partners, wouldn't that be better facilitated by organizing activities with substance?

  15. Years ago I was an elders quorum president and one of my counselors what a single profession guy in his late 20's who worked at the same company I did. He described two events:

    On Friday he went out with his work mates to a symphony concert and dinner downtown; they dressed up and had a sophistocated evening.

    The next night he went to a stake singles event -- they went to one of those ice cream places where everyone eats out of the same huge bowl of ice cream.

    Having had assignments to work with single on either side of 30, my observation is that the group doing the planning can only do what the group who does the planning can do. And they make sincere efforts to attract as many people as they can, however they can.

    Bookslinger, your comments are fair, and I apologize for my insensitive quip earlier in the comments.


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