Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Dark Dance of Dating

I have called off "dating." This doesn't mean that I don't go out on dates any more (though it might, since I'm no longer going to as many singles events,) but that I'm rejecting the entire Dating Game. You all know what I'm talking about. If you don't, go watch reruns of Bachelor/ette and walk away sadder, wiser, and disgusted.

I'm not blaming anyone for creating the morass that dating, especially LDS-Singles-of-a-Certain-Age dating, has become. I think it is a byproduct of overachievement, advertising, and the detachment of social skills. But that's a whole 'nother diatribe.

Let me outline the problem, and see if I can't offer an unrealistic solution. (Why else blog about it, after all?)

The Problem:

Let's take a woman, Sally. Sally is an average LDS woman. She went to college, we'll even say BYU, got a decent degree that landed her a job that can support her and maybe a bit extra. She's not a supermodel or athlete, but she's not terribly overweight and she takes care of herself. She served a mission, studies the scriptures, and has dedicated herself to the discipleship of Christ. But for whatever reason, she has found herself in her thirties and still single.

So Sally decides to participate in Church singles' activities in order to meet other people in her life situation, make friends, and hopefully someday meet a man she can build a life with. She meets with her bishop and finds out (happily!) that there is a mid-singles' ward in her area.

The first time Sally walks into the singles' ward, her first impression is of a sea of people. The chatter is a dull roar that makes it difficult to hear any one conversation. Anyone trying to move anywhere has to navigate the ocean of 6-700 people crammed into an average church building.

Sally is relatively outgoing, but it is impossible to know where to start. Even if she could find a conversation to join, she wouldn't be able to hear it. So she pushes through the mass to find a seat. When services start, most people find a chair and almost total silence settles over the massive congregation. Throughout Church, "Being Single" is referred to several times in the talk or lesson, usually as a self-deprecating joke on the part of the speaker, or in a way that makes it clear that if only the right things were done by the right people, the "single" problem could be solved. It is the elephant in the room that everyone talks about.

As time goes on, and Sally begins to get to know people by attending various events, she can't shake the uncomfortable realization that every encounter is an evaluation. Whenever she speaks to another single, man or woman, questions are asked that delicately pry out details of her life; married before? kids? roommates? education? (If she were a man it would be; job? salary? hobbies? education?) She is immediately categorized into a "dateable" or "not dateable" category, often before she even opens her mouth. And who can blame them? With so many people to process, they need a way of quickly filtering out those with the greatest statistical probability of compatibility.

Or do they?

Because that's the problem I see. The very nature of singles' mega-wards and online dating makes it sooooo easy to make the opposite sex into a commodity. Rather than seeing everyone as PEOPLE, you see them as objects that may or may not fit into your life. And it is a tragedy. It blocks the very process that makes marriage (or more importantly, ANY healthy relationship such as friendship) possible. Sure, some people manage to power through it. But I don't think I have the time or energy for that. I'm tired of feeling like one person when my children are around, and morphing into a totally different version of me when I'm not being a mommy. It's exhausting.

The Solution:

So, I'm stepping out. Out of the ward, pretty much out of the singles scene. That is my new resolution that happens to coincide with the New Year. Part of me fears it a little. I tend to think that if I work my hardest at fulfilling the will of the Lord, the opportunities will come. There is little room in my paradigm for NOT working on something I know the Lord wants for me. But in a sense, I have to. I can't be continually frustrated with the myopia of singles. It's not helping me in my goals to be more charitable, for one thing. And as much as it satisfies me on one level to say, "See, Lord? I'm doing all I can do, now it's up to Thee," I think it's keeping me from being His disciple, which is more important than marrying, even though it IS what He wants for me.

It would be nice if the Church leadership would realize all the many problems the mid-singles wards are creating (despite those few singles who threaten to leave the Church if the singles wards are disbanded.) It would be great if they could see how such a mass of people all "broken" inside (their words, not mine) mixing together is filtering against qualities that would make them great spouses. It would be nice if the Church restructured to allow more people like me, with happy lives, maybe children and a dollop of wisdom under their belt, to also participate in singles events, if it allowed for singles to do things worthwhile rather than just entertain themselves.

But I don't have control over Church leadership. I don't even have a voice. It has been made clear to me that they have bigger fish to fry, let the aging singles mingle in the large stewpot and hope some of them will stick to each other. (I call it the Brownian Notion of Matchmaking.)

But I also don't have any obligation to play that game. How much better for me is it to leave the notion of remarrying on the back burner right now? It would be easy enough for me to marry, if that's all I wanted. The singles wards, sadly, are well stocked with people who need rescuing. All you have to do is meet their needs, and the "relationship" would blossom. But I want more. I want someone who will be a good male role model for my girls, someone who can look beyond himself and his needs. I am pretty sure that won't be found by watching movies with singles or playing volleyball. If the Church won't provide a venue for me to engage in worthwhile activities—to serve—while meeting other singles, than I choose to serve OVER meeting other singles.

And that decision, for me, has been a huge relief. Now I can start focusing on the things that matter, and let the Lord worry about the rest. I can start seeing People and not Potential Mates. It's just too hard to keep perspective when you are surrounded by such unconscious lack of perspective. And, contrary to what all those men who bemoan "the Friend Zone" think, I'm not getting married to anyone who can't handle being my friend first anyways.

Besides, I have plenty of other work in the Lord's Kingdom to keep me busy.


  1. No better witness than from one who has been there.

    Your post reminded me of a friend who was a single mom in our ward. She was asked what the stake could do to support her needs, and she answered just as she would have had she been married: help me teach my kids; give me a good HT and VT; let me serve. And don't force me to go to a bunch of "singles" activities that will get in the way of my first responsibility of being a mom to my kids. Once her youngest was out of high school, she pretty quickly developed a friendship with an LDS guy in another state, and eventually married him.

    For her there was no singles "problem" to be solved, despite the fact that she divorced under very difficult and abusive circumstances. She was confident that if she followed what she believed to be the Lord's timetable, things would work out for her, and they seem to have. Her kids were not perfect; some bore some deep scars from the divorce despite her efforts to help them heal. But she had a pretty clear sense of what she could and could not do (or maybe would and would not do) about all of that.

    Thanks for this post and insight.

  2. I think you are very wise. Not only that, but I'm glad you've found a way to relieve some of your burden. What you describe (your experience with the singles' ward) does not sound fun at all. So, I will only add: Good for you! And good luck. I have no doubt you're going about this the right way.

  3. When I decided finally to divorce, I had 6 children under the age of 14. Priorities were my main concern. It came down to God (for me, though activity in the church) my kids(innocent) victims of adults poor use of agency and then myself. On my knees I told the Lord I would not ever attend a singles meeting of any kind and I also would not date unless He sent the man he had chosen down my long driveway and witnessed to me that this man was the answer to my prayers. I came to realize how important putting 1st things 1st is.

  4. Thank you, honey. I have to admit, I have a hard time leaving the dirty work up to anyone, even God. I'm a big believer in rolling up my sleeves. But right now, that seems to be the best answer, however repugnant I find it.

  5. You might be surprised by this, but I agree completely with your approach - and I admire you greatly for taking charge of your own faith and not settling for something just to conform to an expected norm.


  6. SliverRain! You are brilliant! I felt this way as an older single. I didn't have kids, nor had I been married before, but I felt examined, picked apart and just judged by everyone in the ward. About 6 months before I met my now husband, I made the decision to leave the singles' ward and to be happy, no matter what. I felt a HUGE burden lift from my shoulders and felt like myself again, after so many years. Recently, in my hometown they dissolved all of the mid-singles wards (quite suddenly too), and it was a big deal. I had several girlfriends who took it very personanally. Now they are serving in family wards and learning to like it. I wish the church would have a better activty program and not necessairly a singles ward program. I know being a regular ward has given me, and did give me as a single person so many good opportunities. Great, great, post!

  7. Do you live in Utah? Your descriptions of SA wards sounds like Utah. They cannot be found in Idaho or Washington. Maybe California. I have to agree that those wards do not get the job done on any level, even ministering to people's needs.

  8. This is how it's handled in Western WA. Why everything is not the same around the world is frustrating to me. It is with all the other programs!

  9. Thank you, AM. I appreciate it. Part of me hopes they will do the same here, but part of me knows that others' needs don't necessarily match mine.

    Yes, Becky Rose, this sort of singles' ward is most prevalent in Utah. It's too bad, really, because they have the numbers to support a more integrated program while still allowing people to meet.


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