A few months ago, I was reading an essay by Mary Lythgoe Bradford*, and was struck by her comments on being single again. As I read further and further, I found myself thinking, “Right on sister!” more times than I’d care to recount. One point that particularly spoke to me is that singlehood is not a punishment, a condemnation or a cruel joke. It’s just a fact of some lives, and mine in particular at this point in time. And when I review my life, I can honestly say that I’ve chosen it over the marriage opportunities I’ve been presented with. I don’t view this as being selfish, or too career-minded, or noncommittal, just realistic about my capacity to love and be loved by, and to be happy with and foster happiness in certain people.
So, I’m single. And invested in living the best life I can. And I like to think that I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it so far. But there is always room for improvement, and the area that seems to have the most potential so far is my church experience. Not that I hate church. Far from it. But I have noticed that there are certain organizational quirks that could stand to be looked at again.
In my stake, the records of all singles over 31 years of age are moved out of the YSA ward into their geographic family ward. Frankly, I agree that YSA wards are no place for mid-singles. I think that being in multigenerational wards is a good thing for people who have attended their fair share of Linger-longers and Flick ‘n’ Floats. However, reactions to the transition seem to be one of three varieties. Some people transition easily enough, faithfully attending the new wards that they’re planted in, even though they may feel lonely as one of only a few mid-singles in their ward. Others seem to retreat into denial, and continue going to the YSA ward despite time’s relentless forward march. I can understand the rationales … that’s where most of their friends are, who wants to be stuck in a family ward to molder away your thirties, and the fact that sometimes mid-singles can be a scary bunch. Still others just seem to “slip through the cracks,” giving new incentive to overeager visiting teachers, home teachers and ward clerks.
A couple of months ago, the second counselor in my bishopric (who happens to be single and in his mid-forties) took a few of us mid-singles out to dinner to discuss how the ward/stake could better serve our needs. There was a lot said about having more activities, especially of the non-dance type, or segregating activities by age decades (ie: 30’s, 40’s, 50’s), but I think my idea was the best. However, before I can amaze you with my brilliance, let me provide a little background info.
My stake is very diverse. It encapsulates two very affluent wards, three rather impoverished (both financially and leadership-wise) wards, two university wards, a YSA ward, and one non-English-speaking ward. The stake leaders have had to farm out YSA’s and older couples to help with leadership and missionary work in the smaller wards that have many non-English speaking members, or a lack of active adult members of both genders. As a stake missionary, I was assigned to one of these “growing” wards, and attended Sunday services there for six months to help out.
So, back to my brilliant idea. I told Counsellor II that I would love for the stake to designate one of the growing wards as the place where the mid-singles should attend, which would fulfill the two major needs of members of the church: fellowship and service.
Fellowshipping is such a huge part of the gospel. What is visiting teaching and home teaching if not a formal take on fellowshipping? I believe that, important as VT/HT can be, the best type of fellowshipping is the informal and spontaneous kind, especially when entering a new ward. After having attended a vibrant YSA ward, sometimes it’s just depressing to go to a family ward and be one of only a few mid-singles. We all have a need to be with our peers. Young mothers commiserate with each other about babies, and older ladies share menopause stories. Not that I won’t benefit from their experience, but I do feel a need to share my own stories with those who will understand me best. On the other side of the gender divide, one of my guy buddies said that attending high priest group meeting in the family ward the first week was like feeling the prison bars slam shut on his dating years. Not that he didn’t like the other HP’s, but he suddenly felt as if he had aged thirty years, since the next oldest HP was in his 60’s.
Members need callings to help feel invested in the ward, and to reap the blessings of service. Without a calling, it’s just too easy to slip into inactivity. When my bishop asked me what calling I would like, I asked to be the RS pianist. Not only because I wanted more incentive to practice piano, and because the old pianist was moving away, but because it would give me a reason to go to Relief Society that I couldn’t shrug away because I didn’t feel benefited by it. I admit that my current bishop does a better job than most, but it is bothersome that most of us mid-singles have been conveniently called to the activities committee, which also seems to be the catch-all place for in/less-actives. This one-size-fits-all calling can be particularly frustrating since the families in the ward are so busy with FHE, youth activities, boy scouts, sports and enrichment that they don’t support other ward activities.
My last request of the stake leaders, assuming that they recognize the genius of my idea, would be to call as bishop someone who has some experience with mid-singles … either as having been one, having children or friends who have been in the situation, or just someone who is very empathetic. Sometimes, bishops just doesn’t know what to do with mid-singles. When my roommate (who transitioned into the family ward a year ahead of me) had an interview with the bishop, he asked her what her plan was.
B: Yes, what is your plan?
P: For my career?
B: Hmmm, no. What is your plan for getting married?
P: (Thinks to herself: Well yes, I planned on it about six years ago, thank you very much! Says: ) I’m not sure what you mean.
B: I think you need a plan. How are you going to get married without a plan? Maybe you should go on-line. It worked wonderfully for Jane. I think it would work for you.
And really, the bishop was very well-meaning and earnest, but blanket solutions don’t work for everyone. BTW, P was subsequently wooed by a prior home teacher, and they’ve been happily married for almost two years, sans internet hook-up.
So, if you are still reading this interminable post, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Have you had similar experiences, or better, or worse? What is happening in your stake, and how does it serve the needs of the members? Do you too have a brilliant idea you’d like to have implemented?
* The quote I mentioned at the top is Mary Lythgoe Bradford (“Suddenly Single” from Proving Contraries) quoting from Our Lady of the Lost and Found (which is out of print, so I haven’t read the original. Also, thanks to my roommate R, who read the quote to me on the phone since I forgot my book at home!
“I try no longer to think of my singleness as something that has happened to me; something like a car accident, something unfortunate and unfair, something that I have suffered through no fault of my own … I am not always successful in this endeavor … but I can think of my singleness as something that I have chosen.”
She adds that although
she doesn’t know why or how she chose it, she feels good about taking responsibility for her state, for her own life.
“It is not asceticism or abnegation or martyrdom. It is not a punishment, a condemnation, an abomination, an embarrassment, an inversion of the natural order, or a cruel joke played upon me by God.”
She decides that simply having a relationship with a man is not the answer, nor is any relationship or any one event.
Like marrieds, singles can choose to live authentic, fulfilling, adventurous lives, even though it may be more challenging for them to do so.