Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another Guest Post from Stella

As a never married single adult in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have seen many changes in my peers, in the efforts of the church and in the general attitude among members. Most of these changes have been very positive as understanding has increased. I can honestly say that my ward loves me and that I am a welcome member but please do not mistake that to mean that I fit or that I belong there. As the sole single (active) member of my ward under the age of 60 I can say without pause that every week the effort that it takes to go to church, slap a smile on my face, and act like it doesn't hurt is a herculean effort. I cry my eyes out on a weekly basis as I drive home from my meetings and remind myself of everything I know to be true - Heavenly Father loves me, He hasn't forgotten me, I am being given these experiences to strengthen me and to make me the woman I need to be. I remind myself of every church talk I have ever heard about patience, about enduring to the end, about the importance of every member and then I cry anyway.

The thing that I see missing is simply this: while the gospel is perfect and following its principles is the ONLY thing on this earth that will make us happy and please our Heavenly Father there is a great disconnect between the principles I learn at church and my life. I support 100% the strengthening of families and the importance of raising children. I support 100% my RS lessons that remind each sister how important her job at home is. I believe these are good and true principles and I fight every day for the family in my work as a social worker. I am convinced that these lessons should be taught and that we all need to take part. But what about me? What do I do with this besides suffer through it and not let others see my heart literally aching in my chest? After 5 years in my ward I'm happy to report that I've learned the skills necessary to keep great suffering (and make no mistake it is SUFFERING) inside so that I don't make others uncomfortable and so I don't give the appearance of faithlessness. I have had the blessing of holding important callings in my ward and (so I'm told) that my fellow sisters admire me. If I can show strength in the face of great trial then I hope that I can inspire others to do the same.

So what do I need? The only time I feel normal and the pain goes away is in the company of fellow singles. Unfortunately in my area most are inactive and the few who are active are so spread out that it's difficult to maintain any type of closeness. As a never married woman with no children I feel especially unique. I have kept my Temple covenants and have continued to go to church and almost as great as the desire for a husband and family of my own is the desire for female friends who are like me. I am tired of meeting only those who have fallen away and are struggling to come back. I simply am not strong enough right now, I need friends who have strong testimonies and who get what I'm going through and have been going through my entire adult life. I need friends who have Temple recommends who go to church and who haven't let the anger and depression overtake them. I am tired of struggling all by myself. I know that I am loved. I know that my church leaders, family and married friends pray for me and hurt for me but unless you've walked this path you don't get it. You don't understand the CONSTANT fight with anger, depression, doubts of value and worth, faith and endurance. It never ends and Sundays are, for me, the worst day of the week. It shouldn't be like this.

I know the Lord has provided us the way to endure this life and has taught us what to do but in the face of heart breaking loneliness and despair where too many women never date, never feel like they have value it is much too easy to fall away when you have no support group. We need each other. We need programs just for us, the mid singles where we don't need to fight off the advances of men older then our fathers. We need a place where the inactive can return, find their place and grow. Activities just don't seem to be cutting it. If I have to go to another dance, or another activity that is just like the ones I went to as a YW and then a YSA - well truthfully I stopped going a long time ago. I am a grown woman and I have no more interest in these weekly activities then any other adult person. My life goals have nothing to do with my social life.

I want a ward full of people like me. I want to stop feeling like a left over. I did not knowingly or willingly choose this path and I honestly don't know what I could have done differently. I want to be treated like an adult of course but I don't want to have activities and services geared towards me and others like me to be fit around everything else. I do not want to go to the 8pm SA Temple session because someone thinks that's when we want to go. I am a woman in her 30's with a full time career, a part time job and I am as tired at 8pm as anyone else. I have heard it said that we shouldn't label ourselves as single - but I don't know how to stop doing that. I am single, in a church that celebrates marriage and family I am SINGLE. I go to Single Adult Activities, my church records list me as single, with a simple N/A under husband and children. I am the sister who is scared to death to sit by herself at church because I am alone. Calling it something different does not change or alter that. In a faith that promotes and encourages happy marriages I am all alone with little prospects because the prospects aren't showing up. I believe, well I have to believe, that if a mid-singles ward were available in my area I would at the very least have an opportunity to have single girlfriends though my hearts desire is and as far as I can tell, will continue to be the hole only filled by my husband and children.

I want to know that the righteous men of the church are being held to a high standard. Are they being asked about their dating habits in their quorums, during their Temple recommends? I want to know that the church is doing what they can to keep our men on the straight and narrow (and though I know free agency will always prevail) I want to know that while my blessings are being withheld those who have the power to bless me are, at the very least, being held accountable for their decisions.

So how do we fix this - I don't know. I don't consider this 'issue' a problem the church has created. I believe that individuals have created this need through their choices. For example I met a truly fantastic guy at an activity a few weeks ago. We spent the entire activity together laughing and talking and shared many similar interests. He is a good man, served a mission, went to college, has a good job and hallelujah! doesn't live with his parents. He invited me on a group date. Well not so much a date as said we should do something and get a bunch of people together. I should take a moment and note that during the course of our day together I learned that he 1) wants a wife desperately, 2) has no interest in ANY of the girls in our area, and when asked what he did want responded 3) "I want her to be hot." I try very hard to see boys in a positive light and not 'man bash' but in my opinion this good brother with his balding head and extended belly has left the running for a 'hot' woman and should have enough maturity to be thankful at finding a good, righteous woman who is quite stunning and who can look past his physical self and see all the wonderful things that he is.

I don't know the right answers to meet these needs. I believe a ward just for mid-singles is a great start. It would encourage those who have left to come back. They aren't alone anymore and they don't need to be lonely. Activities that are different then those we've been doing for 20 years would be wonderful. Something fitting for adults - theatre, travel, small dinner groups. Something that doesn't make us dance. I would even encourage 'planting' men into the group to show the other men how to do it. This is how you ask a girl to dance, this is how you compliment a woman and not be afraid that she's going to interpret this as a marriage proposal, this is how you take the lead with a woman and make her feel special and respected.

Yes, these are the things I want. If anyone has any idea on how to accomplish it I'm listening.


Anonymous said...

Don't discount other women just because they have been married before. Some of them feel the same as you do. There isn't much difference between feeling depressed and unloved because you haven't met someone to marry and feeling filthy, depressed and unloved because you failed despite doing everything "right" to the best of your knowledge.

I, too, try to put on the happy face every Sunday at church. I can't cry on my way home, though, because my daughters will be affected.

I, too, feel like I have no value because I was stupid enough to marry an abuser and drag two precious souls into that situation. I'm afraid to date because my judgment is obviously so poor, even if I had time between being a mom and a full-time employee, it wouldn't be worth it to spend it trying to find out if there is still a decent available man out there.

So take all your emotions and scheduling problems and add two kids into the mix.

I'm not saying this to say I have it worse than you, because I think everyone single in this church has heavy painful baggage to carry, but to beg that you don't categorize a divorced woman as different than you and somehow unable to understand.

Anonymous said...

Wow Annonymous. With all due respect that was a large leap you had to make to get from what I was trying to express and your reaction. At no point did I or have I ever made a caste system type reference to anyone in the singles programs of the church. I can only speak from my point of view. You may have had the nightmarish experience of marrying an abusive man but you received two precious souls from the experience and while I can't even begin to imagine that type of pain I can only imagine the miracle it is to be their mother.

When I make reference to those who have fallen away - I mean that very literally. When I say that I am tired of trying to find a support system within the LDS singles who DESPITE their particular story are CURRENTLY struggling to stay chaste, struggling to break addictions, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc. I mean it. I do not have the strength to carry my own sorrows and pain and be their champion too.

Please do not assume the worst of intentions. By all means you have your own unique experience and a voice we would love to hear it.

Conkit said...

I just had a thought while reading this. Just like the balding man with the protruding belly who wants a "hot" girl. Sometimes we as women want the "hot" man. I don't necessarily mean looks but I mean the cookie cutter definition of what a good LDS man is made of. 1. mission, 2. Temple recommend etc. While these are all very important things, sometimes we look passed men with great potential and good hearts because he failed to serve a mission. Or because he currently doesn't hold a temple recommend but is actively trying to allign his life in a way that would make him worthy to hold one. Up until a few months ago I was a mid single with all these expectations. I met my husband and almost skipped right passed him because he was divorced, had one child, and never served a mission. Turns out that there were circumstances in his life that led to all of these things happening or NOT happening. He is truly the greatest man I've ever dated even when compared to the perfect cookie cutter lds men. He is a wonderful husband, father, and strives to grow in the gospel every day. I didn't see a perfect man. I just saw his potential. That's one thing to think about. Also, I met him on an online LDS site the very first day I signed up. You should consider that if you haven't already. Good luck and thanks for posting

Leah said...

Stella, I love reading your posts - thanks for being a guest writer! As an original poster to this blog I still love reading it. Anyway, your post really got me thinking. Now that I've gone to "the other side" and am married in a family ward I'm more aware of the pain people in all kinds of situations are in. My ward is one of high needs - singles, widows, divorcees, ex-felons, destitute, refugees, young, middle-aged,and older marrieds, pretty much everything except for many teenagers. Anyway, my husband and I have been discussing suffering a lot lately. We've been wondering about it's purpose. All we've come up with so far is that we must look to the resurrection for hope. Yep. That's my great insight. Also, I recently read an excellent talk (article?) by Spencer W. Kimball. He said look for the most perfect you can find for a spouse. All I know is that the longer I'm married the more I realize how perfect my husband is for me. Before marriage I was pretty sure he was an excellent choice, but there was a lot of faith being exercised. He wasn't a return missionary and his past wasn't totally clear - but one thing I told him early on in our relationship was that I was dating the many who he was now, and if his past made him that way then I wasn't one to hold it against him. Anyway, I say keep your standards but keep open to others because some people take a bit of discovery. And by the way, I'm all for crying in public. No need to keep up some super woman face. Everyone struggles horribly - we just have different struggles than each other.

Anonymous said...

I'm SO happy to read this article! I was bobbing my head up and down constantly in agreement. I was recently banished to a family ward and have been struggling immensely. I went from being SO fulfilled spiritually and loving Sundays to Sundays being dreadful. I used to look forward to Sundays...I need to find a new groove. But, boy, is it hard when the activities you're invited to are, "Date Night on Strengthening your Marriages." Glad we're not alone in our feelings....single, widowed, divorced, etc.

Anonymous said...

While I love and agree with your thoughts on a mid-singles ward, I have to disagree with your comment about your blessings being withheld. It is my belief that God does not do that to us. When there are things that are out of our control, he does not withhold blessings. We may hold ourselves back from the blessings we might have because of our hurt about our circumstances, but God doesn't withhold blessings from righteous people. I know it may feel like our blessings are being withheld because we know marriage and a family are blessings but we have other blessings in our life too.

I also have to say that just as much as we are upset by "men" not doing their part, many are just as confused and upset about being single too. I don't feel like it does us as women any good to demand men be held to a high standard and have interviews about their dating habits. What do you hope to accomplish from that? My experience has shown that it increases men's shame about not being married and makes them even more crazy in relationships. What we (as women)should do is be more kind and compassionate and to talk with each other about what might be going on for them. I believe so many times we get so wrapped up in trying to get married, we forget to be friends first.
I do agree though that I wish the men in the church had more guidance about how to date well, which is really about how to be a father and husband. When they know that, many times they date well. I had a friend one time tell me, its no wonder dating in the church sucks and our families are falling apart: we teach the women to be strong wives and mothers with goals and aspirations and we teach the men to play basketball with their buddies (unless there is a good scout leader who does differently).
Sorry to write such a long comment. I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.