Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Being a 50-Something Single in the Church

Being a 50-Something Single in the Church

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 19, 2011

A waaay over-long navel-gazer of a post:

Seraphine at Zelophehad’s Daughters has had a long-running series of (to me) fascinating posts on what it is like to be a 30-something single in the church (current post here). With apologies for poaching on her idea, I’d like to jump forward a couple of decades and explore what it’s like to be a 50-something single in the Church.

The good news is that it’s almost – almost – always easier and better to be a 50-something single than a 30-something single. Most of that has to do with your own maturity; virtually nothing has to do with improvements in the situation at Church.

Church Programs for Singles

Those of us in our 50s have come to realize that we were born too early for the Church to know what to do with us as a group.

When I was in my 20s, a returned missionary, there was a young adult Sunday School class for those who had graduated from high school on up to who knows what age. The only single adult wards I was aware of were student wards at BYU. Most of my non-student singles cohort dropped out of the Church entirely after a few years of this. Singles wards may have been around somewhere, but the first time I heard of a singles ward for non-students was just after I turned 30 and moved to a new ward …

… where I was the only young single working woman (i.e., not single by virtue of having been widowed) in the ward. There was no ward singles program of any kind for people in my circumstances. I’d call the regional singles hotline once in a while hoping for something, but the only events I ever heard announced there were the monthly dances (which interested me not at all), and the single parent discussion group (which was not relevant to me).

I never heard the term “midsingle” until I had aged out of that group.

Now I’m in a ward with a large singles population, so large that we’re divided into groups by age. At 52, I find myself one of the youngest, with nothing socially in common with the other end of the group, retired people – mostly widows and widowers – approaching 70. I suppose they’ll come up with a name and a program for us about the time I turn 70 and age out of that into the most senior singles group, and they’ll come up with a program addressing the needs of that age the week after I’m buried.

I wish it were otherwise – I wish there had been something appropriate to my peculiar needs as a single woman all through my life – but I don’t really blame the Church for there not being such a program. I came of age at the end of a wave of a generation that still took it for granted that virtually every woman would become a wife and mother – it’s what I expected for myself. It wasn’t until the swelling numbers of single Church members had grown large enough to attract attention that the Church began addressing our needs. I’m just ahead of the curve – the aging single population, and consequent Church attention to our changing needs, lags behind me by five or ten years. Too bad for me.

Awkward Social Moments at Church

By and large the awkward, prying, inappropriate comments about marital status have run their course by the time a single woman reaches her 50s.

The inappropriate question for a 20-something single was “Who are you dating?”

The inappropriate question for a 30-something single was “Are you dating?”

The inappropriate question for a 40-something single was “Why aren’t you married? It’s not too late – a lot of men are getting divorced at your age.”

Generally, the inappropriate remarks directed to 50-something singles have ceased, beyond the occasional updating to “a lot of men are being widowed at your age.” Some people thought it appropriate to offer the unsolicited advice to a 30-something single to shed 30 pounds; even the densest of them realize that it won’t help to advise a 50-something to shed 30 years.

A Single Among Marrieds

It’s still awkward, and sometimes embarrassing, sometimes even humiliating, to be treated as though my single status is a sexual threat, either to me or to others. My home teachers arrive in separate cars, and whoever gets here first sits in his car waiting for the other, even if it’s 20 minutes or more, even if it’s in the middle of winter. Neither one will come in and visit me alone. Still, this is better than it was when I was in my 30s and 40s and couldn’t have home teachers at all; according to the bishops of my ward during those years, men are not allowed to call on single women. (And in a double bind, as the only single working woman, I couldn’t have visiting teachers, either – when I asked for them, I was told that “ladies” – not sisters, not women, but “ladies” – like to be at home with their families during the evening, so they had no one they could send to me.) (I do realize that this behavior is not uniform throughout the Church; it was the practice in the ward where I lived, though, through most of my 30s and 40s.)

Where the situation has really gotten better as I age is in my opportunities to socialize publicly and briefly with married men, with whom I often have far more in common, as a working professional, than I do with stay at home mothers. It used to be that if I stopped to say a few words with a male teacher about a class discussion, or with a male whom I might have known professionally, in a few seconds flat the man’s wife would be hanging on his arm, making herself a part of the conversation. In my 50s, other women finally seem willing to accept that I’m no threat (really, I never have been a threat, both because of my physical appearance and because I would never have chosen to intrude into someone’s marriage), so I can actually have satisfying conversations, even go to lunch with colleagues, without jealousy and suspicion.

Relevance of Church Lessons

With the Mormon Cult of the Family, lessons have often been irrelevant to my life, even when the topic is ostensibly something that any individual needed to understand and practice. Lessons on the atonement, or prayer, or enduring to the end have been routinely presented as “how you can teach this principle to your children” or “how my husband and I can support each other in practicing this virtue.”

An added dimension of irrelevance has grown as I age, though, and become older than many of my teachers. Our Relief Society lesson a few weeks ago about the Holy Ghost, for instance, was illustrated by the young teacher with her personal testimony of her most moving experience with the Spirit: Had she listened to his promptings when she was a sophomore in high school, she would not have been in the hallway to be sprayed by a can of soda by a rowdy student. Last week’s lesson on obedience drew the tearful example from the teacher of how she and her boyfriend, after dating for two months, wanted to get married; her father said no; the couple dated for another month before marrying, and, she said, this lesson on obedience to her father has made all the difference in her brand new marriage because she knew her husband soooooo much better after that additional month of dating. I just don’t know how to be inspired by life experiences that are so far behind me, so disconnected from the real life challenges that I am facing.

On the other hand, I have matured enough in my knowledge of the gospel and my teaching experience that I can conduct Gospel Doctrine classes that engage my own interest and that meet my own needs as well as, it seems, the needs of my class members. I know enough to define a purpose for the class session, and to make selections from the material in the manual, and to bulk up those selections to meet the needs of adults rather than generic members.

Acceptance as an Adult in the Church

This was tough for me as a 30-something and 40-something. Despite being a returned missionary, despite having supported myself for decades, despite being a home owner at one time, despite everything I could do, short of marriage, I was not seen as fully adult. This was reflected in the mistrust that denied me home teachers. It was mostly reflected in wards’ failure to use my talents or meet my needs by extending callings. In the first 28 years after coming home from my mission, I taught a few Relief Society lessons one year, and taught the 5-year-olds in Primary for a few months. Otherwise, my most challenging calling was as third assistant Primary librarian, where there were far too many of us tripping over each other in the library to have the privilege of passing out chalk and erasers.

Most of the time, for years on end, I didn’t have even that much of a calling. And begging your pardon, but I wasn’t the only one who was the loser for that situation – I had something to offer, but it didn’t occur to anyone to call on me, solely, I believe, because I was single and not seen as fully adult.

It’s better now. I love teaching Gospel Doctrine. I no longer feel ignored or unneeded. Although there’s no objective proof, I think the willingness of recent bishops to extend callings to me is due in large part to my age; I was capable, smart, willing, and faithful enough to have done as much in my 30s and 40s, but no bishop noticed me.

(You may notice that I don’t talk much about the current singles program or my activity in it. I don’t participate, and that largely belongs in this category of recognizing me as an adult despite my singleness. Singles programs are always administered by a married couple, which I resent, because it implies that we are incapable of directing our own activities. The couple “in charge” of my age group in my current ward don’t see us as adults; they see us as overgrown children. This is reflected partly by the fact that they don’t want us to call them “John” and “Mary,” but “Brother and Sister Smith” as if we were children who owed that particular courtesy to our elders. It is most egregiously seen in the types of activities that are planned for us, the same things we might have done as 20-somethings. I have no desire, for instance, to sit around someone’s living room and listen to a very old couple reminisce about how their daughter won a silly beauty pageant a full generation ago. I do not want to listen to lectures based on “For the Strength of Youth.” I do not want to play silly games, or be expected to put on a bathing suit for a pool party, or go roller skating, or lie on blankets next to strange men as we look at the stars in the canyon. Service projects that require some commitment and some use of our individual skills? Yes. Classes on gospel topics that are relevant to us as adults? Yes. But none of this overgrown Boy Scout and MIA Maid nonsense.)

What I Wish the Church Would Do for Singles That It Does Not

Today’s Relief Society/Priesthood Meeting is on eternal families. Someone is sure to state, or to read a quotation from some general conference talk, about how no blessing of which we are worthy but which we are denied in this life will be withheld from us in the eternities. This statement will come up in the context of singles, although it is relevant to married people as well.

I believe this principle. I have hope in the religious sense that it is true. I know it is offered for comfort and inspiration.

I hate it.

What I hear when the statement comes from a general authority is, “We have nothing for you – you’ll be better off dead.”

What I hear when the statement comes from a ward member is, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you singles and I don’t really care. This is my nod to your existence. I don’t have to say anything that is relevant to your life – having made this obligatory nod, I can ignore you and go on with talking about how wonderful marriage is.”

Occasionally this statement is “discussed” to the point where, as one member said in Sunday School two months ago, “after all, everybody is related to somebody.” Yeah, that’s true. But when is the last time you heard anybody bearing a testimony and saying something like, “Heaven won’t be heaven if my second cousins are not there with me”? Hmm?

What I wish the Church would do is address the peculiar needs of singles in a practical, doctrinal way. Rather than telling us to bake cookies for the neighborhood kids as a substitute for motherhood – or, in the case of a current Ensign article, as a substitute for real integration into the ward – I wish the Church would get specific about why marriage and family are so great. I am told all the time that marriage is awesome. I want to know why it is awesome.

If we could tick off a few points about what eternal principles married people are enabled to learn and practice by virtue of their being married, and tick off a few other points about how learning such things enables a soul to progress on its eternal journey, then we could go on to the next step of thinking about how singles could, in part at least, work on those same principles, make that same progress, despite our singleness. It’s got to be about more than sex, right? But I have yet to have it made clear to me what marriage teaches that I will have to learn after I die when suddenly everything is supposed to get all better for me.

That’s the one thing I need from the Church – far more than a social program  – that I’m not getting. The absence of such teaching hasn’t changed since I was a 20-something, and I don’t see any signs of it changing now.

Maybe when I’m an 80-something.



  1. This is a very useful reflection. I hope the PTB see it and that it has some influence.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 19, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  2. Your “Acceptance as an Adult in the Church” section really resonated with me, even though I am in my 20s. I can’t imagine finding icebreaker games more asinine than I do now, until I imagine playing them in 30 years… My own theory is that singles wards contribute to this mindset. I understand the reason for singles wards, and people seem to like them, but I find them to be ghettoizing. I feel like I’m being babysat until I “graduate” and can be taken seriously.

    Unrelatedly, as a random data point, the newly-minted midsingles ward in my stake encompasses ages 31-55. Perhaps the age range is being expanded.

    Comment by E. Wallace — June 19, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Thanks, Ardis. I wish I knew what to say or do. It is good for you to express this to help us understand. And we’ll all keep trying to do better.

    Comment by Grant — June 19, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  4. Sincere thanks for this, Ardis. This is a keeper, and I expect to refer back to, reference, and share this often.

    Comment by Ben Park — June 19, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m particularly intrigued by the ending–the idea that we need to talk about what it is we are supposed to be learning from marriage (and maybe parenthood, too?).

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — June 19, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  6. Thank you so much for expressing your perspective.

    Comment by HokieKate — June 19, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  7. I’m really glad you wrote this, Ardis. But I almost decided to respond to it privately rather than here because your post took me back emotionally to the anger and fury I felt as a teenager still attending church: I didn’t think I still had those emotions in me.

    While I might long for various aspects of my youthful body, I would never trade my 55-year old brain for any previous iteration. Perspective and distance are things you do only acquire with age (if then), and my orientation towards all things related to Mormonism has changed radically over the course of my life and all to the better. I can acknowledge and appreciate positive and inspiring aspects of Mormon history and culture, while my critique of other aspects is sharpened and focused by this perspective.

    I think the issues you raise here, Adris, evoke such a strong emotional response in me not just because I’m still “mormon” enough to know them deeply, but also because they are so unjust and pig-headed and dumb and stupid.

    And they could be changed relatively easily. By that I mean, unlike other issues related to gender and sexuality, what you’ve described are practices whose change would not threaten or even touch doctrine. They are the result of a cultural blind spot and a big one at that.

    (Yes, I know they aren’t completely unrelated to the bigger issues, but I’m trying to write a short response here.)

    I could say more, but right now I’ve got to find some equivalent to leaving the classroom and kicking rocks around the church parking lot.

    Comment by Mina — June 19, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  8. Being a 50-something single means cutting out of Church early, too, sometimes. I planned on going to Relief Society, but when I went into the chapel where our super humongous ginormous Relief Society has to meet, and saw that they had roped off the side sections, forcing us to sit packed in the center section, where I’d have to be pressed against the flesh of strangers on both sides for the next 50 minutes, and knowing that the lesson was going to be on the awesomeness of the eternal nature of the husband/wife/child unit, and knowing how utterly irrelevant any of it would be to me … I left.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 19, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  9. Ardis,
    As a newly-minted 50-something single, I find this post reflects some of my new fears. It isn’t that my bishop won’t know what to do with me now I am widowed–he never really knew what to do with me before. I suspect I will still be the organist and primary pianist. I had already decided weeks ago that, because of the topic in priesthood today, I wasn’t going to attend the last hour. What I didn’t know earlier was that Father’s Day was going to keep me from attending church altogether today.

    My problem with staying at the organ and piano is this: I no longer have real opportunities to socialize at all in church or church-related activities. I didn’t have many before, now those few I had have all gone away.
    Several weeks ago, I was having a difficult time falling asleep, so I tried one thing that usually works–I put on last April’s conference talks on my iPod. The familar drone of monotones first put me to sleep, then kept me asleep most of the night. Unfortunately, in the morning when my dogs woke me up, the playback was to Elder Scott’s talk just as he was telling the young single men to get to work and find a wife. That did not bother me at the time the sermon was originally given; I had done my part and married in the temple. Now I feel like a slacker all over again. I don’t know how I fit in any more. It was an uneasy fit anyway that we couldn’t have kids, so we were outside the main stream already. Now I don’t even have a wife anymore. And it seems like the messages I get offered up for comfort are much the same as the ones you hear–things will all be better once I am dead too.

    Comment by CS Eric — June 19, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  10. Fascinating, and disturbing, Ardis. This is the kind of post I want to keep in mind whenever I give a talk or a lesson so that I can approach my topic in a way that’s relevant to everyone in the room.

    Comment by ZD Eve — June 19, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  11. The reality is that not everyone will or is married, nor can everyone have or will have children.

    Yet, our leaders and many of us members act like everyone will marry and have a family with a large number of children.

    Failure to recognize these facts mean that many talks, articles and events really hurt many of our fellow saints.

    Today, I heard a talk by a returned missionary. He claimed that every young man should serve a mission because it is such a good experience. I was sitting by two kids, both who have autism. Now, neither has the ability to serve one. One had tears in his eyes through the talk. Was the RM insensitive? Yes, but unknowingly.

    Many of us act the same way towards our single brothers and sisters. The key is recognition — including at the highest level — that not all can do everything nor have all experiences.

    Comment by Steve — June 19, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

  12. Thanks for your post. To be honest, it stirred up feeling I had as a single (and as a graduate student)–i.e. not a true adult, full-fledged member and so forth. Your comments have once again given me cause to stop and think. Certainly in a small unit like mine we utilize everyone regardless of their martial status. (If you moved here you’d have a calling right off the bat where we’d utilize your talents and skills. 🙂 ) But I wonder and have wondered about comments we make–like the ones you described above. Do we make exclusionary (though unintended) comments? When I began sacrament meeting by wishing the fathers a happy fathers day, did I exclude my friend and former home teaching companion who is a 40-something single? I am grateful to this friend (and his divorced mother) who brought to our attention the fact that we didn’t address the midsingles/older singles. Your post is yet another reminder that the Church is for all. Thanks once again for your comments.

    Comment by Steve C. — June 19, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  13. Loved this. Thanks.

    Comment by Amy — June 19, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  14. I want to stand up on my chair and applaud, Arids! This is marvelous. Thank you for sharing such a personal, valid and vital perspective. As a thrity-something single now, I can related to so much of what you said, particularly the inability to have a conversation with a man without his wife appearing in three-seconds flat. I want to wear a sign around my neck “not interested in your husband!” some Sundays.

    Also, I know having been married, my perspective isn’t the same, but I also wonder what it is about the Mormon Cult of Marriage (awesome!) that we are supposed to learn. No way is it about sex. It’s got to be about more. Cooperation? Subjugation of self? Putting others first? Service? All of these are things I can work on a single woman too.

    Thank you, Ardis. I’ll be rereading this many times.

    Comment by Tracy M — June 19, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  15. Thanks, Ardis. This is a discussion that needs to be had by all, openly and honestly – and there simply has to be a way to accept single adults as equal adults in our wards. I don’t think it would be difficult, if we just stopped insisting that we teach nothing but “the ideal” – and realizing that “the ideal” for many is not “ideal” for others.

    We are much more complex as a people than a single situation, and we simply have to start accepting and honoring and sustaining everyone in their own, personal “ideal”.

    Comment by Ray — June 19, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  16. This is an excellent post, Ardis. I’d never thought about how the status of being single changes as you age, and your thoughts are really revealing.

    Comment by Natalie B. — June 19, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  17. a) I think Ardis is cool
    b) I’m sorry we have such trouble with singles in the church
    c) I think that using a much more Smithian approach (sans polygamy) could be useful here. I feel that my deep commitment to my closest friends is a powerful parallel to my experience with married life. I see marriage (and family) as a commitment beyond selfishness and the vagaries of pleasure/satisfaction. There are people I stick by unconditionally, and that experience grows me, both inside marriage with my partner and outside marriage with my closest friends.

    Comment by smb — June 19, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  18. A hearty hear, hear from me on this! Especially the part about not being interested in the married men! In my work I have mostly men as colleagues, and even as a child I was a tomboy and played with the guys in the neighborhood. I make friends most easily with guys, though I have a few dear friends who are female as well. I just feel very uncomfortable in all female groups. But I have no romantic interest in anyone who is married! Why would anyone think that? That’s so creepy!

    Things are better now that I’m old enough to seem grandmotherly. People respond well to grandmothers.

    But secondly, there’s no need to break people up by gender and age. The people one hits it off best with are often not in one’s same demographic cohort. I have good friends of many different ages, from 20s to 80s, at the moment. The people who are most different from me have the most interesting viewpoints, the most to teach me, and I like to learn.

    So there’s no need to have separate programs for my particular demographic group, just teach all the lessons as though they apply to everyone. Conflict resolution, for instance, instead of Spouse Conflict resolution, or whatever. We all can find the applicability in our own lives, whether it be with a spouse, a grown child, an aging parent, a boss or coworker, or even a cranky neighbor. Gospel principles are universal. There’s no need to go out the way to make the lesson exclusive, as it seems people sometimes do.

    So those are my two main wishes as a 50s single in the church:
    1. Don’t treat me like a pariah, and don’t act like I’m a threat to married males or missionaries. Assume people socialize simply to be friendly and without ugly motives.
    2. Focus on what’s universally applicable in the lessons. Don’t make it so specific that you leave lots of people out. The Gospel is universal in its applications.

    Lastly, I think it’s a great idea to try to identify the things one learns as a spouse and parent, and teach those things to everyone. We can all learn from each other no matter what our situations. We have enough imagination and empathy to feel what it might feel like to be someone in a different situation than we’re in, and to absorb the lessons they’ve gained from that situation.

    Comment by Tatiana — June 19, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

  19. Eye opening. I hope that in the past I’ve been sensitive, in my little sphere. Some of the people I most admire most in my ward are single having never married 30’s, 40’s, 50’s women, I can only speak to the last 15 years or so since I’ve been in this ward but it seems in that time their talents have, as far as I can see, been heartily utilized, in a church setting. Gospel doctrine teacher, primary presidencies, RS presidencies, stake young women’s president, assistant camp director, choir director (our ward choir is amazing), super, special secret, ok not secret, curriculum development calling from the GA’s that precluded other callings. I don’t know what they would say of their experience but it seems they have had callings that required real work, talent and experience.

    I love people’s stories, even the frustrating ones. Thanks for sharing this part of you story with us.

    Comment by Dovie — June 19, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

  20. Ardis, you won’t hear lessons like you describe. Everyone wants marriage to be magical, some kind of potion that can make you better. But it isn’t. It CAN be, but it’s not that much different from being single except you have two people’s opinions and schedules. It’s kind of like being on a mission with someone you picked, but it will ostensibly never end. It can be great or awful, eternal or eternally selfish.

    The problem is no one wants to admit it, because they themselves don’t really know what marriage is for, and with nothing to replace the magic, they fear there is no reason to marry.

    There is reason, but I’m not going to type it out on my phone. My thumbs hurt.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 19, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

  21. I think it is important and wonderful that you are sharing these stories. I have to say, your faithfulness to your covenants in the face of near-relentless social exclusion in the church is inspiring and even heroic.

    Comment by E — June 19, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  22. Ardis: The Catholic church does not allow married men to be leaders (from Pope to local priests); the LDS church does not allow single men to be leaders (from First Presidency to local bishops). I wish both churches would allow both single and married men as leaders (and we’re not even getting into the woman/priesthood issue here). If the LDS church allowed singles to be leaders, singles would have more dignity (and those leaders would have more insight into the single experience, obviously). I speak, of course, as someone who was a single in the LDS church through my forties, and I know how difficult it is.

    Comment by Todd C — June 19, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

  23. Ardis, when I was asked to speak for Mother’s Day I spent weeks considering how to speak on motherhood without alienating the single or the otherwise-childless. I think it worked out pretty well, but this essay is super valuable for one such as I. It’s also very personal. Thank you.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — June 19, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

  24. I like the idea of having singles more prominent in the Church. I do recall one data point of possible relevance, however. Cambridge First Ward had a single bishop a few decades ago. He spoke about it later and said that he wished he had been with a partner at the time to be able to absorb better the staggering emotional stress of being a bishop. An occasional apostle resists the call to remarry after widowerhood, but that is probably not terribly helpful.

    Comment by smb — June 20, 2011 @ 3:53 am

  25. This has been bothering me a lot. And feeling somewhat guilty for being married and fairly successfully so (it is a constant challenge – and as a former bishop I know how very rare that is even among LDS couples).

    And in specific response to your question, Ardis:

    “If we could tick off a few points about what eternal principles married people are enabled to learn and practice by virtue of their being married, and tick off a few other points about how learning such things enables a soul to progress on its eternal journey, then we could go on to the next step of thinking about how singles could, in part at least, work on those same principles, make that same progress, despite our singleness. It’s got to be about more than sex, right? But I have yet to have it made clear to me what marriage teaches that I will have to learn after I die when suddenly everything is supposed to get all better for me.”

    I’m not sure there are things that you have to learn being married that you can’t learn Single. Maybe the point of marriage is that it’s a necessary ordinance like baptism as part of the new and everlasting covenant. And just like those who don’t get the chance for baptism in this life, yet can still exercise faith in Christ or whatever God they know, repentance, seeking for the Spirit, living the law that they know the best they can, missing only the actual ordinance, a Single Latter-day Saint can learn everything about true charity, self-sacrifice, caring for others, and receiving love that can be(but not always is) learned in marriage. The principles are learned and the ordinance follows instead of the other way around.

    Does that help any? We certainly do need to do a lot better with this and other aspects of Mormon culture. And I do appreciate the honesty of your expression.

    Comment by Grant — June 20, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  26. Wow. This is an eye-opening post.

    On this topic:

    If we could tick off a few points about what eternal principles married people are enabled to learn and practice by virtue of their being married

    I think some practical insight on the joy of children is useful as well. From my vantage point, with 4 young kids all under “the age of accountability,” it often seems the costs outweigh the benefits. Maybe the level of exhaustion decreases and satisfaction increases as the children get older?

    I dunno. But I find myself wanting more than generic platitudes on both topics (marriage and kids).

    Comment by Clark — June 20, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  27. Brilliant post, Ardis! I especially appreciate your question of what exactly married people are supposed to learn from marriage. You’ve articulated perfectly what I’ve wondered, too. I also second the feeling that platitudes about how we’ll get what we want in the afterlife sounds so much like “things will be better when you’re dead.”

    Comment by Keri Brooks — June 20, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  28. I was going to elaborate on what I wrote earlier, but Grant got to the core of what I was trying to say.

    Marriage DOES teach you things, but they are things you can learn in other ways. Just like any opportunity and challenge in life. Most LDS want to believe there is something magical about marriage itself, when in reality it is just a concentrated source of opportunities. It is the ORDINANCE that is important, not what marriage teaches you that you can’t learn any other way.

    Same thing goes for kids. They are just concentrated sources of opportunity to learn, not exclusive sources.

    Clark: while mine are still young, I have already seen my joy increase as they become more autonomous. (Though I do miss new baby smell . . . the good one, not the vomit/poop one.) The key is not to let the exhaustion overshadow the rest of it.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 20, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  29. I decided early on not to respond to individual comments but just to let the conversation develop on its own. I do appreciate everything that’s been said, and have very much enjoyed the conversation that did develop.

    One thing I do want to say is that apparently I wasn’t as clear as I had hoped to be about one key aspect of being a 50-something single in the Church. That is, that being 50-something and in the Church is a very good thing. It is much, much, MUCH easier now than it was as a 30-something. I suppose that is because other Church members have fewer stereotypical expectations of me, and I am mature enough to know my own mind and my own goals and not feel like a failure for not meeting other people’s expectations. That was much harder in my 30s.

    Where I have noted irrelevancies, insufficiencies, or whatever, I meant only to be realistic and give concrete descriptions of Church life for 50-somethings. I truly was not intending to complain, or to plead for sympathy, or to dictate what the Church must do to suit me. Where Church life falls short, *my* life and maturity have expanded to be able to cope, for the most part. That’s one of the benefits of maturity.

    Thanks for every one of your comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 20, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  30. I know a 30-something single who was once asked a couple years ago by some ward members if he were gay, because he wasn’t dating or married, etc. And they asked this loudly in the middle of a Church event. Everyone looked as he answered, ‘no’, then left the building.

    That sent the young man into inactivity for a few months. He’s very introverted and shy. He is now dating a wonderful LDS woman, but I’m thinking such a response pushed him away from looking, rather than encouraged him.

    Comment by Rameumptom — June 20, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  31. Ardis, Thank you for all you do, for the time and effort of putting this blog together, to getting dunderheads like me to think outside the box a bit, to bring issues that affected us as a “peculiar people” in the past as well as the present.

    Comment by Cliff — June 20, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  32. Ardis,
    Even your navel gazing is more interesting and articulate than many popularly published works. Thank you for exposing such tender places with the hope that the result will be good.
    I came to my belief about why and how marriage is important when examining why my marriage failed. Marriage is an environment for humans to learn and practice godly attributes of unconditional love and unselfishness. It’s a way to polish off the rough edges and make gems out of potentialities. I believe that each individual is responsible for her or his own growth, exaltation and relationship with God, but it can really help to have someone else intimately invested in your success. Of course, these are the ideals, and I’ve seen very few who meet or even aspire to that ideal.
    I have less hope that I will gain these godly attributes as a single person. Yes, I have wonderful friends and family and I work at having good relationships. But no matter how close, these don’t bring me out of myself the way a marriage requires. It’s truly god-like to be our best and want the best for someone else when we know all of their limitations and the pain they’ve caused and errors they may continue to choose. The hard part is that there is no anticipation that this work will end. You have to keep working with this same person over and over and over. And then I realized I was the same burden for someone else.
    I think the Church can modify the message without diluting the ideal. And, from my vantage point, I think it may be more helpful to us less-than-perfect humans. Ardis, I hope you now have a venue for widening a few narrow visions and enriching vocabularies so we can talk about life more completely. I’m rarely brave enough to do it.

    Comment by charlene — June 20, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  33. Thank you, Ardis. That’s actually a point I’ve come to as a 30-something single. A year ago, I was deeply frustrated by the way the Church deals with my demographic, but now I’ve reached more copacetic attitude.

    I do have to say part of me wishes I could skip forward 20 years, so I could at least get the “having children” part over with. It’s hard to grieve a loss completely when there is no closure.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 20, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  34. One more vote for “Down with generic platitudes!” Also a vote for “We need to preach more useful, applicable gospel doctrine/principles.”

    So far (and aside from sex), marriage has taught me to be a part of a team (not a natural strong point for me, but a lesson one could certainly learn elsewhere), to compromise productively, (ditto the above comment) and to adjust my expectations.

    Comment by Jessica — June 20, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  35. Ardis,

    Thanks for the insight and honesty. We need more of these kinds of narratives being told in the church for those of us who usually don’t have a clue. I married early, and have never been in the single situation as an adult. I have been exposed to the issues, though, while serving in various leadership positions, and often with very pointed examples. Here’s one that sticks with me:

    I was a young HP group leader in the early 90’s in a very young Utah ward where being 36 put you in the upper 20% in terms of age (hence my calling as HPGL). Our ward was assigned to help with a regional over 30’s singles dance. My wife and I were already home teaching three or four divorced single sisters with young children, so we were somewhat more tuned into some of the feelings you expressed here. We actually got a lot of our singles out to the dance (for better or worse) through a lot of encouragement and by offering babysitting.

    My wife got asked to dance by several men in their sixties and seventies, which made her feel awkward, and more inclined to either hang out in the kitchen, or cling to me like a life preserver. And then I got asked to dance by one of the divorced sisters that my wife and I home taught. I accepted, but with my wife sitting there watching, I don’t know that I ever had a more uncomfortable 3 minutes in my entire life. After the dance was over, this sister asked me point blank, “How did that make you feel?” I said it was very awkward and uncomfortable, and apologized for that. She said that’s how uncomfortable and awkward she felt at every church meeting and activity that she ever attended as a single, and wanted me to feel the same way.

    We’d been good home teachers, and tried very hard to be empathetic and supportive, but I think that showed me how far we all still have to go. One of the great lessons in my life. It made be a little more sensitive to the issues of the singles in our later ward when I served as bishop, but I suspect that I still didn’t really get it then, or even now. We need to do better, and I cringed at a couple of the comments in yesterday’s Gospel Principles lesson on eternal families.

    Comment by kevinf — June 20, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  36. Definitely the best post in my reader today. Thanks so much. I feel like I already relate to the older singles. Yes, I’m jaded. No, I don’t want to go to amusement parks or stay up until all hours of the night in order to meet more people in the same situation who bore me just so I don’t feel like I’m avoiding my duty as a single member, especially when married friends seem to be more at my level. And yet I occasionally drag myself to announced activities and allow members to line me up with people who “have a lot in common with me” just because “they’re single.” Sigh. I guess what I’m trying to say is that though I’m younger, I feel for you, Ardis.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — June 20, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  37. Incredible post. As a mid-20s single, I wish things could be different for all singles. While I do great socially in a singles ward, I dislike the fact that the only callings available for me are random committee callings. It’s not that I want to do something more important: it’s that I am frankly an awesome primary teacher. But because our wards are divided such that all under 30s who are single basically have to be in the singles ward, I only get to exercise my sweet awesome child whispering skills when I’m home on vacation. Yes, I could choose to go to a “family ward” (isn’t that a terrible name? It implies that it’s only for people with families. I have a family, they just don’t live near me), but then I would be going to a ward full of married student couples, who probably don’t want to socialize with single girls all that much. So instead I get to spend my first 10 years as an adult member being the 10th member of the FHE committee. Why can’t each ward serve EVERYONE, married, single, divorced, widowed, young, middle aged, old. I would love to be in a ward where I could listen to Ardis teach Sunday School, with her vast knowledge gained from years of study, instead of being in a ward where every lesson is based off of something someone’s beloved stake president father said at FHE 15 years ago.

    I can’t imagine if I had to spend the rest of my life shunted to the side, unable to be accepted for what I can bring because no one ever put a ring on it. Ardis, you are incredible for putting up with it. I would have been long gone by now. Thank you for sharing your story so that when I think that things are bad, I can remember your incredible faith. Seriously. You are awesome.

    Comment by LAT — June 20, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

  38. The thing i always wonder about people asking inappropriate questions of single members is: How do they know?

    I mean, i’m in a calling right now where i have ready access to knowing whether ward members are married or single—or divorced or widow(er)ed, in fact—and i know at least the names of more members of the ward than, i suspect, most of the people in the ward do, and i can’t keep straight in my head who’s currently married or not.

    Am i just missing some particular neural connection in my brain that helps me track the coupling status of those around me? I mean, i can’t be alone in this, can i?

    Comment by David B — June 20, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

  39. coming late to this, but I wanted to thank you for such a powerful post, Ardis. I come to the table as a 50 year old divorced single of 9 years’ singledom, in an area where SA programmes just don’t exist, let alone singles wards or classes.

    I find the entire ‘married men can’t be alone with single women’ issue utterly humiliating. And so prideful on the part of the men- who says any of them are worth crossing the road for, let alone at risk in my home?! I had the ridiculous situation recently where I needed a very large picture put up in my living room, and my visiting teacher set about finding someone to do the task with her usual gusto. She found a priesthood holder willing to come over, the husband of the RS Pres, I have known the couple well for over 12 years, taught many of their children in YW and Primary. At the appointed hour, he turned up with 3 children age 14 downwards- all home from school, sick- and then the VT also suddenly appeared without prior announcement, even though she is going through chemo just now and was evidently poorly. I felt like asking them all to leave. Anyhow, the job was done. I don’t think ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ are) have a clue how offensive this attitude is. Next time the issue arises I’m going to say something cheeky like ‘well if you can’t trust yourself alone with me then maybe it’s best you don’t come’.and thus leads the way to further social exclusion…

    Comment by Anne (UK) — June 21, 2011 @ 3:10 am

  40. I have to think that the apostles have some idea of the problems of being a mature single member – at least three of them are married to women who remained single until later in life (until they married the apostle that is).

    Comment by Dustin — June 21, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  41. I dunno, Dustin. Do you think that marrying their apostle husbands gives these older brides sufficient insight into the apostolic charge and the administrative needs of the church that these sisters can now counsel the Quorum or reorganize an area in Asia?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  42. As one 50-something single to another, you said that you wanted to know what eternal principles marrieds are able to learn by virtue of being married. That seems to me to be obvious. They have practice being loving and kind with someone who is right there, every day, even when they aren’t feeling loving and kind, or the person right there next to them isn’t being lovable. And we get other lessons, how to deal with loneliness, and how to reach out when it isn’t comfortable. Every situation has its trials and its blessings.

    Sometimes when we are hurting, it’s best to just say we are hurting, rather than try and affix blame, either internally or externally.

    When people act in less than rational ways, we can be offended, or we can be amused. Amused is usually better.

    Comment by Patty — June 21, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

  43. clarification, it’s best to just say to ourselves we are hurting, rather than try to affix blame. I have no opinion on what we should say to others.

    Comment by Patty — June 21, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  44. Excellent post. I’ll just parrot KevinF and say
    “We need more of these kinds of narratives being told in the church for those of us who usually don’t have a clue.”

    As to home-teaching, I recall occasionally waiting in my car for my companion to arrive, but mostly because unless asked about pet topics, I feel like an awkward conversationalist.

    Comment by Ben S — June 21, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  45. Thank you for this post. I can recall being almost 30 and attending the temple to do baptisms for the dead. I hadn’t yet received my endowment and the Brother at the recommend desk told the “youth” to stand aside while he took care of the “adults.” By that time in my life, I was graduated from law school and the “adult” that I had to step aside for was a pregnant 21 year old. It was at that point I realized that no matter how much I accomplished, I wouldn’t fully be an adult to many members of the church until I found a husband. It hurt a lot at the time and is still a sore spot. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in those feelings.

    Comment by Jess — June 21, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  46. @Jess (#45): That sort of thing isn’t limited to the church, though—those who haven’t gone through significant cultural life milestones or rites of passage (which includes things like marriage and having children, but also stuff like buying a house and such) are generally considered socially “junior” to those who have.

    Comment by David B — June 21, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  47. Thank you for your frank and thoughtful post. Now I’ll go back and read the comments to see if they run to the civil or “tetchy” side 😉

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — June 21, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  48. A lot of what I describe isn’t limited to church; it’s just cast here in a church framework — businesses planning the Christmas party or the corporate picnic can also make the assumption that all its employees come equipped with a partner (or that the male part of a couple is the employee and the woman is the guest spouse who would be more comfortable with the other guest wives in the kitchen), resulting in awkward social moments.

    What Jess describes is very much in tune with my experiences. While it is obviously far more common for teens to be doing temple baptisms than for nearly 30-year-olds, it isn’t at all unknown for adults of any age — even married ones — to do baptisms. Directing an adult to stand aside because she was there for “child’s work” in order to show respect to a much younger woman who was there for “adult’s work” is exactly the same failure to recognize an adult’s adulthood that has sometimes made me feel invisible and more of a nuisance than a full-fledged contributor to my church.

    Sorry, Jess. You and I perfectly understand each other on this point.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

  49. No, i understand Jess’s point entirely. I just wanted to point out that it’s a bigger issue than the focus here has been.

    Comment by David B — June 21, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

  50. My experience of marriage hasn’t been that it is awesome. My experience is that marriage is a grinding crucible of anguish. Anyone who can survive a lifetime of it surely deserves any reward they get. In the meantime, God’s love is for the individual.

    If marriage enables you down the road towards the glorious end, good for marriage. If your marriage packs you down into a tuna can of crippled incapacity, bad for marriage. Since marriage is capable of doing both things, marriage itself must be neutral, and some other principles must act the side of goodness.

    But we can’t be honest about these things because we have fetishized particular forms.

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — June 21, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

  51. Ardis, mainly I just think the brides likely talk occasionally to their apostle husbands about their past experiences, which would naturally include the problems and concerns of a mature, single member of the church.

    Comment by Dustin — June 21, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

  52. Dear Ardis,

    Thanks for your pertinent and honest reflections.

    Arthur King once said, “One purpose of the family is to allow one to learn about the evil that is in the world on a scope one can comprehend.” I expect that his implication was that one cannot understand the Atonement (and forgiveness, love, repentence and humility) without sufficient context. Marriage gives such a context, as do other institutions, each in its own way, including wards, as well as experience with individuals,such as ourselves.

    Just watched “The Hiding Place, a film adapted from the book. As Corrie Ten Boom’s sister said, “No pit is so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.”

    Can’t imagine life without Him, and am glad I don’t need to live it without you.

    Comment by Steve — June 21, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

  53. I can relate somewhat to many of your points. I am 69, have been through a divorce after a 40-year marriage, and been happily married to a dear, lovely man for nearly 5 years. This sweet man died 7 months ago. He was 20 years older than me but what a difference he made in my life. I felt more love from him in 5 years than from my first husband in 40. My first husband left the family several times. The first time he left was after 20 years of marriage and he was in the bishopric. The married folks in the ward were lost to know what to say to me. The singles were coming forward to give me support. After six months went by and he chose to clean up his life, we reunited. But, then the married members didn’t know what to say and the singles didn’t either – so I felt very alone except for my immediate family and my children. You need to realize that nearly everyone in the Church will be single at some point in their life. When I read of the sadness and sorrow that President Hinckley expressed after his precious wife Marjorie passed away, I know that they (the Brethren) understand the pain of feeling lonely and alone. The most important thing to ask ourselves is – am I doing everything I can to help myself in this situation? I know that miracles can happen at any age. I am so grateful I did not give up on the idea of marriage after my divorce because I would have missed out on five wonderful, joyful years. Yes, there are many “tender mercies” waiting for us and the Lord certainly does his part to help us when the desire is there. We must stay hopeful and happy in whatsoever state we are in….is my advice to marrieds and singles. Life is good. The church is true!! Remember all members of the Church are human beings. We all make mistakes and are trying to make it through our trials in one piece. Thanks for listening.

    Comment by Dawnette — June 22, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  54. I loved your comments ! Being a 50 something myself, I have had many of these thoughts myself. I love the LDS church and won’t leave just because they don’t know what to do with singles no matter the age or professional standing, but it would be nice if they were in the middle of coming up with a solution to the problem and not at the beginning of recognizing there is one.
    You mentioned different sayings you are told about being single and that everything will be better when we are dead! If we can’t make it now we will then. Yet when I question where that statement is in writing, because I haven’t seen it yet, they just look at me with a blank look !!
    I too would like something while I am alive and at an age I can enjoy and appreciate it.
    Good Luck to you and the rest of us!!

    Comment by Sue — June 24, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  55. Ardis,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a 50 something single I feel the same way. Unlike you, I am a divorced woman and have been single for 20 years. During those 20 years it has been like I have had a disease which no one wants to catch and so they stay away. My girlfriends and I just want to stand up and scream ” We don’t want your husbands, we just want Home Teachers”. Even with kids, a divorced woman is treated like all she wants to do is jump any male she sees, which must explain the distinct lack of Home teachers, or help, over the last 20 years. It hasn’t been until the last 3 years that I have had a job at church which used any of my many talents. I have watched over the years as many huge productions have been put on, large events planned, and even a Temple opened, and I have yet to have been asked to help, despite volunteering. I have many talents which could have been of great help and I would have loved to have the friendship of those I would have worked with, but I have been denied that pleasure, I think, because of my divorced, hence a little evil status. I wholeheartedly agree with your view of the Singles program. In our area we have a mid-singles and then “my” group of which I am one of the youngest. Neither group works for me so my social life is entirely outside of the church.
    It is my hope that someday things will get better, that single and divorced women will be looked on as normal, talented and very useful people.

    Comment by Holly — July 14, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  56. Thank you so much for a sensitive and constructive piece of criticism. While kids can provide an intensive workshop for learning many of the virtues taught by the church, parenting can only make one a better person if one really works at being a better person. That kind of progress is not reserved for people with children in their homes. Single people often struggle with loneliness, self-esteem, and finding sources of joy in life; much more rarely do they struggle with character development. And man is truly not meant to be alone – being single (at any time of life) can be extremely challenging, and should be met with sympathy and understanding. There’s no failure in being single. Striving to progress and remaining faithful in the face of trials shows great strength of character, and I admire your honesty and commitment in continuing to prove faithful, despite the challenges of your mortality. Everybody struggles with something! I pray that I am meeting my challenges as well as you’ve met yours.

    Comment by Karinna — November 1, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  57. Read this and remember the talk Ardis gave at Sunstone “Pillars of My Faith” (Keepa, August 7,2011), then read the above and you know the depth of this woman’s belief.

    But if you read & reread Keepa as well, you see a testament to an incredible woman who had every excuse to take all her toys and go home. Instead she pounded (maybe even bushwhacked) her own path to share her amazing talents – gratis. This is a journey of enduring to the end.

    Excuse me while I go wipe my eyes & blow my nose.

    Comment by Diane Peel — November 1, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

  58. Thank you for this post. I know this is slightly different, but I think the same principle applies: In the lonely years when I was a newly married woman (well, girl) in a ward composed of mostly young families with children, I vowed that when I had children I would do my best to include the sisters who didn’t have children yet. I knew what it felt like to see all the other women in the ward having fabulous social lives centered around playdates with their kids while I stayed at home, knowing it would just be awkward if I showed up since I didn’t have any kids. But I haven’t really lived up to my promise. Once my son started to walk I suddenly got to see friends all the time at the park. My life is so consumed by my children that I often feel like I don’t have much to say to the sisters in my ward who don’t have kids yet, even though they seem to be very kind and talented people who I could really learn a lot from. So I appreciate finding this post because it has helped me to realize that I need to stop avoiding those sisters and I need to read more books and get more involved so that I have something besides my kids to talk about.

    Comment by Marcelaine — December 27, 2011 @ 11:22 am

  59. Ardis, thanks for your insightful essay. I’m 10 years older than you are, divorced with grown children. Thinking over the last 20 years of single parenthood, I want to ask you: How have you handled loneliness, and the longing for human closeness? I feel so heartsick sometimes I don’t know what to do. The best distraction for me is work, so I have a full-time job and two part-time jobs, plus a fairly demanding church calling. I find them satisfying and engaging, but the sadness and loneliness are there waiting for me when I get home every night. I’d appreciate your insights. You seem like an upbeat, thinking, and faithful person. Whether or not you’re able to respond, thank you for your posts.

    Comment by Pearl — June 12, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  60. Pearl, it’s not easy, and I don’t pretend it is. I can’t be quite as candid as I’d like to here — you’re mostly anonymous, but I’m not, and there are people who take personal remarks I’ve made here and try to use them to hurt me — but even knowing what they’ll do with this can’t keep me from admitting publicly that it’s not easy. I’ve spent my share of nights crying, not just from loneliness (although that’s the worst) but also from being sick and not having anyone to check on me, or from being overwhelmed with burdens and not having anyone to lean on for even a moment. Holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are the worst days of the year — there are lots of kind people who wouldn’t mind having an extra person around on those days, but knowing that there is nobody who actively wants me there, whose holiday won’t be complete because I am not there, is almost more than I can take some years. Even the temple where so many people find solace is hard for me, because there never has been and never will be anybody waiting for me when I’ve gone through the ordinance; more than a promise of a blessed future it’s a reminder of a failed now, for me. So no amount of being upbeat or faithful gets me through unscathed. Life is lonely.

    Work gets me through, too — it’s why I’ve been up working since 3:00 a.m. and will work steadily through the day until I’m tired enough to fall asleep. Maybe that would be only a distraction for me if I were only earning money or only keeping busy, but I’ve found something to do, something to devote (in the real sense of devotion) my hours to, work that lets me hope that I’m making a difference, helping in a way that only I could do, or at least that I am doing even if lots of others could theoretically do the same but do not. I suppose most of us want to be useful, make a difference somewhere, leave a legacy of some kind. Everything I do, short of vacuuming and writing the rent check, perhaps, feels to me like a part of that self-appointed task of making a difference. Even blogging, which I got into on a whim, has come to be a part of that, and has led to other opportunities to make a difference.

    You say that your work and calling are satisfying and engaging, which sounds as though they’re filling something of the same role in your life. I’m glad of that — suggesting that you find something meaningful if you hadn’t already done so would be the only practical advice I could offer, because that’s all I know to do myself. When I’m hit by the sadness and loneliness, all I know to do is to get back to work until it’s so late or my eyes are so tired that I have to close down for the night. I don’t know anything that makes up for the lack of human closeness, only work that adds another bit to the good I’m trying to do, and that keeps some of those lonely hours from being a complete waste of life.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 13, 2012 @ 5:09 am

  61. Thanks for your response, Ardis. One of my part-time jobs, tutoring disadvantaged students, makes me quite happy and that’s a good thing. Reading our posts, above, makes me realize that we sound kind of sad and even desperate at times. But maybe that’s true for everyone, married or single, and as you say, life is lonely.

    Another thing that makes me happy is meeting with a local Sunstone discussion group. Being with like-minded souls is good.

    Comment by Pearl — June 15, 2012 @ 9:06 am

  62. Yeah, we do run the risk of sounding sad, even pathetic, when we acknowledge these parts of our lives. But anyone listening in who is ready to write us off as sad needs to realize that we’re only talking about those low moments that, as you note, everybody has. Most of the time my life is no more sad or desperate than anybody else — and I’d be willing to bet that my high moments are higher and more sustained than most!

    I thought about this just yesterday while I was talking with a single man in his 40s. He has found a niche for himself in an unconventional kind of work that he’s good at, that makes a difference in the world, and that he loves to do. When he told me about how he had spent the previous evening doing even more of this work than usual, we both laughed at what our lives might look like to people with conventional 9-5 jobs that are not especially fulfilling emotionally. We’d look pitiful and sad, we agreed — yet in reality we are both very happy with our lives, most of the time.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  63. I am in my 50’s as well and am married to a nonmember. I too am weary of the taboo of not having home teachers my own age. It’s like I know who the women are but the men I don’t know. It’s like not knowing half your ward. It’s
    ridiculous to think I or any other woman will fall in love with someone else’s husband. Most human beings just don’t
    have the right chemistry with most members of the opposite sex in order for them to even be remotely considered as
    marriage material. I’ve actually never even met a Mormon fellow I felt that way about and I been a member since I was 17 years old. I wish people would get a clue that it’s really insulting to have your home teacher or any other male from church, sitting in their car waiting for another male to arrive before they can come inside. People of both sexes interact everyday in the outside world and they are quite normal about it.

    Comment by meg — June 21, 2012 @ 1:20 am

  64. p.s. BTW==I actually was sitting in the pew with my young
    daughter for Sacrament meeting when our home teacher who was an older man anyway, sat in front of us not along side of us. He turned around to us and explained that he didn’t feel comfortable sitting with us because of what the people
    “back behind the pews” might think. It was hurtful and
    I just tried to laugh it off because it would be silly to think this man and I were attracted to one another.

    Comment by meg — June 21, 2012 @ 1:24 am

  65. Your PS makes me laugh, Meg (in a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry sort of way, you know), partly because it’s so ludicrous and partly because no matter how ludicrous it is some people will misread it that way. A former home teacher — a single man, somewhat older than me — gave me a ride a couple of years ago to our stake conference. This was in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a space so vast and filled that I didn’t see many people I knew in the crowd of several thousand. But while I didn’t see them, they saw us. The next few Sundays I had to fend off the kindly-meant but oh-so-mistaken congratulations from the gossips in my ward who were thrilled that I was dating said home teacher!

    I don’t understand the phenomenon, but I recognize your story as a real one. Like you, I try to laugh it off although I certainly don’t feel like laughing. Until the unfounded, hurtful reality changes (as if it ever would!), we singles will have to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and know that we know the truth about each other.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2012 @ 1:54 am

  66. Meg, in a perfect world, you would be right. However, we aren’t in a perfect world. As Ardis noted, gossip abounds. I’ve seen good people ruined over the gossip of others.

    It is for this purpose we are encouraged to be so careful in our example. I’ve also known a few instances where a home teacher, missionary, or other was alone with a woman (such as in a baptism interview, or driving somewhere), and then accused later of sexual contact.

    When there are two men present, the chance of a bad encounter or gossiping going on is greatly lessened. You wouldn’t want your home teacher or your character maligned for something innocently done, would you?

    It has happened before, and your home teacher is just ensuring it doesn’t happen in his case. It has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with gossip, etc. So don’t be so offended by it.

    Comment by Rameumptom — June 21, 2012 @ 5:34 am

  67. Rameumptom, while I know you mean well and hope you won’t be offended by this any more than you advise women like meg and me not to be offended: this is absolutely the wrong counsel to give. What you have stated here is precisely the problem itself, and not the solution:

    Gossip is gossip, and not reality. You are telling single women (or women perceived to be single, as meg is when she is not accompanied to Sacrament Meeting by her husband) to be content with our pariah-like status, with the institutionalized practice that we may not talk to men, or associate with men, or be visited by men, not because of anything we have done, but because of what OTHER PEOPLE might ASSUME we have done. How wrong-headed is that? (Answer: Enormously wrong-headed.)

    This practice systematically shames women: we’re treated as if we were such wanton creatures that we can’t regulate our behavior in the presence of a man (or else that men cannot regulate their own behavior, which is no more flattering). It leaves single women without the right to invite missionaries (even two deep) into the home, and without typical home teacher-like services (can’t get a ride to stake conference, can’t get a hand with any home maintenance or other typical appeals unless both men are available at the same time, or can find someone, even a child, to “chaperone”), and even without simple public, proper, social interaction (as meg’s example shows, and as I can testify from my occasional inability to find a seat in Sunday School and at ward social functions because the only chair available is next to a man seated by other men and not his wife — men have actually stood up and moved when I sat down in such circumstances. Apparently even in such a public setting I am too wanton to be trusted unless such a man has his wife’s hand to squeeze on the other side. How humiliating do you suppose that is? Answer: Intolerably humiliating; when I am faced with such a situation now, I leave the room and miss the class/activity).

    My acknowledging the reality of the existence of gossip was a show of solidarity with meg. It is not an approval of the status quo. Don’t shame meg and me and countless other women with the spectre of potential gossip: Gossip is a sin that is laid on the head of the gossiper — not a club to swing at the head of the innocent party who is its victim!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2012 @ 6:49 am

  68. I have long been amazed at the degree to which sex, and particularly the fear of sex, consumes us in Mormon culture—and these stories are simply a manifestation of that fear, i think. (Not saying that’s the only thing going on here, but i do think it’s a pretty big chunk of it.)

    Basically, many (maybe most, but even i’m not that cynical most days) faithful Mormons seem to believe that nonmarital sex is something that human beings have no ability to resist, and therefore we have to build fences around the law by not allowing full-time missionaries into the homes of single women, by not allowing mixed-gender married-but-not-to-each-other folk or even a married and a single pair in the same car, by encouraging our young folk to have incredibly short engagements before getting married (preferably rather young), by having conniptions at the sight of a bare shoulder on woman (or even prepubescent girl!), and so on.

    I don’t really get it, myself, but it’s there—and i find it remarkably unhealthy. Not sure what to do about it, though.

    Comment by David B — June 21, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  69. Ardis, perhaps I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t stating the status quo is something good. I was stating it is the reality. I don’t like that Meg, you or others have to attend Sacrament meeting or other functions alone. I look forward to the perfect world when we can all sit down as brothers and sisters, without gossip or innuendo or actual issues arise because of such things.

    I know several sisters who would love to have the missionaries over for dinner, but cannot, unless there is an adult priesthood holder also present. It is sad that a sister that is 65 years old cannot cook for the 2 missionaries, but it is reality of the world. The Church has to deal with perceptions, and the perception of evil is a sad part of that reality.

    I wasn’t trying to shame any of you. In fact, in my experience, the gossip is often more against the man, rather than the woman. I just realize that good people, men and women, end up having their names unfairly dragged in the mud because of innocent actions that give the perception of evil to others.

    Comment by Rameumptom — June 21, 2012 @ 10:24 am

  70. Rameumptom, you are quite clear — and your statement of what you see as reality IS THE PROBLEM, which you are not understanding. You may not intend to shame women with your endorsement of the segregation, but that is in fact the effect your endorsement creates.

    In the case of reality, as you describe it, who is the bad guy? It’s the gossiper, isn’t it? The gossiper is the only one who has assumed anything unholy, where no misbehavior has occurred.

    In the case of reality, who is being protected? “More often,” as you acknowledge, it’s the reputation of the man.

    And in the case of reality, who is being punished? The woman, who can have no association with men unless an elaborate set of protocols is followed. The woman, who can not participate fully in church programs, because she is treated like a pariah (i.e., suffers the consequences — ostracism — for the “perception of evil by others” who are guilty of seeing evil where there is none).

    You shame us by expecting that we’re going to make false accusations against innocent men. You shame us by assuming that we can’t keep our hands off the men. You shame us by treating as something less than full members of the society. And you shame us by defending all of this as necessary, right, and appropriate.

    Please stop. If you can’t stop in real life, at least stop defending evil practices on this thread. I know you mean well, but you don’t understand how and why you are the problem, not the solution.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  71. I’ve avoided using this analogy, but here it comes now:

    Circumstance: Unaccompanied woman speaks to unaccompanied man in church or in her home. Nothing untoward happens, because they are both adults interacting on a moral plane; neither makes false charges against the other.
    Problem: Gossip sees unaccompanied woman speaking to unaccompanied man, imagines evil, and whispers that evil to other ears who eagerly believe and spread it.
    Current solution: Unaccompanied woman is looked on as inevitable source of trouble, no matter how virtuous she is in reality; she is barred from speaking to unaccompanied man under any circumstances; she goes without adequate home teaching, ward socialization, ride to stake conference, etc. Gossip is praised for having spared the Church from evil by a timely warning.

    Circumstance: Woman goes out into public.
    Problem: Woman is raped.
    Current solution: Women are barred from going into public after certain hours; from dressing suitably for appearances in public; from making themselves “too” attractive through careful grooming; from engaging in activities or visiting places that, while perfectly moral and appropriate, are viewed as too dangerous for women, not because of anything inherent in her behavior but because of the evil behavior of others. I.e., all women are punished — in the guise of physical and reputational protection — because of the actions of a few evil men, who likely have not been apprehended and punished for their bad behavior anyway.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  72. Just a casual observation. I happened to drive by our chapel on my way somewhere else a couple of weeks back, and noticed that the two missionaries assigned to our ward were there teaching a female investigator. She was sitting just inside the foyer with the doors open, and the missionaries were sitting on the walk in front of the foyer door, obviously teaching a discussion. I would have stopped, but that would only have compounded the problem for the missionaries, and I had to be elsewhere anyway. I just shook my head, and kept going. Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Comment by kevinf — June 21, 2012 @ 10:49 am

  73. That’s how we did Thanksgiving as missionaries, kevinf: table in the doorway of the sisters’ apartment; the sisters seated inside, the elders seated in the hall. We could laugh at the absurdity then. It’s a lot harder to laugh when you’re 50-something.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2012 @ 11:12 am

  74. David, I so agree with your observation. In the Ensign a few months back a story appeared in the “voices” section about a young man who ran — literally — to catch the last train out of the city rather than stay the night on the couch of a woman friend. He wrote that he was so grateful to have “avoided temptation.” I laughed out loud at that, and then I felt sorry for the woman, especially if she saw him out her 2nd-floor window tearing along full-speed to get away from her. Why are Mormons so odd about sex? As a convert, I really don’t get it. There’s rabid jealousy — the woman who is angry if you sit near her husband, for example — and then there’s this weird discomfort about anything to do with sex, and they’re different phenomena I think.

    Comment by Pearl — June 22, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

  75. Hi Ardis,

    I read your post with some interest, especially your comments about what we are supposed to learn from marriage. As a widower (I was 38) I have come to the realization from being both married and single that men possess certain capacities and women others and that by bringing the two together a completeness results which refines both. Like so many of life’s lessons you have to live it yourself to fully comprehend it. It is not something you can be taught in a church classroom. Personally I laud the Church for focusing on the importance of marriage even though I am single. God knows it is not easy, so do many church leaders and so do I. But that’s why we have the gospel, each other and our sense of humor.

    I sincerely wish you well my darling Sister.

    Comment by Brian — June 12, 2015 @ 5:16 am

  76. Thank you, Brian, but my question still stands: How can singles learn the lessons and develop the attributes, even in part, that come from marriage? Because if you say that those life lessons are necessary to eternal development, but are available exclusively to married couples, then you are saying that singles have little hope and little purpose in life: having failed to marry, we cannot progress and mortality is pointless.

    I refuse to believe that. It’s fine for the Church to preach marriage day in and day out. But that does not mean the Church is off the hook when it fails to address the very real needs of its single members. A sense of humor does not compensate for a sense of eternal worth.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 12, 2015 @ 7:42 am

  77. Brian,

    Which of life’s lessons has being a patronizing jerk taught you?

    Comment by Anon for this — June 12, 2015 @ 8:39 am

  78. It has suddenly hit me how many times I have sent my husband off unaccompanied to deal with people facing serious challenges in the areas of plumbing, electricity, drywall, heavy lifting, or horrible sounding pianos without looking carefully at their marital status. And since all that he has ever done was repaired, lifted, replaced, and tuned, I don’t think I’m going to spend a lot of time worrying about it.

    Comment by LauraN — June 12, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

  79. Like you, I am in my fifties and single. My wife passed away while I was in my 30s leaving me with the six children to raise. I stay single because they require all of my time and energy. What they don’t teach is that men and women are different and those differences compliment one another. When equally respected and fostered they produce the most powerful force in this universe, a couple who together exercise every attribute possessed by both men and women. That is the big secret, why we are different, because men and women possess attributes not possessed by the other and only when they come together in a harmonious relationship can those additional attributes which spring from the creation and nurturing of new life be developed and perfected.I have come to understand that growth both through its attainment and its loss. What advice would I give? If a man or a woman is single and they meet someone who they are compatible with they should marry and have a family regardless if one is a member of the church or not. Your spouse cannot keep you from developing all of the character traits required to make you worthy to return into the presence of God. Those who opine that you will somehow be denied the opportunity to enter into the Celestial Kingdom some day because your spouse was unworthy are on no surer a doctrinal footing than those who suggest that a faithful Latter-Day Saint will be denied entry because his or her LDS spouse is unworthy. Would it be easier to marry someone of your own faith if you have the opportunity? Of course. But it is not the only way and I suggest that there is more to be gained from marriage and raising a family than there is to be gained by remaining single. Live together in love and raise your children after the manner of happiness. You have the power to do that no matter who you chose to marry. If the gospel can be lived in the deepest and darkest of dungeons, and it can, it can certainly be lived in an interfaith marriage. Your job is to live the gospel no matter what circumstances you are in and if you do that your spouse and your children will be blessed because you are a part of their lives. And here it comes – because this is where it is appropriate – every blessing of the gospel will come to you if you live it. Your salvation is not dependent on the choices of others. Suggesting that people who marry outside the faith will somehow forfeit future blessings is opinion and not backed up by anything in scripture. If you live the gospel, married or single, every blessing of the gospel will come to you.

    Comment by Brian — December 14, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

  80. No one is suggesting that you cannot progress and that life is pointless if you are single. All I am saying is that like just about everything else in mortality, you can’t expect to understand something completely that you have not experienced no matter how unfair you think that is. As for being a patronizing jerk – I’m sorry if you have chosen to take offense. None was intended.

    Comment by Brian — December 14, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

  81. Life is full of unintended consequences, Brian.

    The question (comment 26) you are responding to was “How can singles learn the lessons and develop the attributes, even in part, that come from marriage?”

    Your answer is, “Marry outside the faith.”

    You’ll have to pardon me for finding that remarkably … unresponsive.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 15, 2015 @ 6:30 am

  82. Hi,
    Thank you so much for this.

    You have summed up exactly what I am going through at the moment.

    To those of you who are in your 50’s & are widows/widowers/divorced, it’s still not the same for you. At least you have experienced what it’s like to have someone special in your life, something that I’ve never had.

    I detest the millennium lecture about being a wife & Mum in the next life. I also don’t like it when others tell me that I can teach other people’s children until then. I don’t want their children, I want my own.

    I am really struggling to stay active in the church at the moment as I just don’t fit in – or anywhere in this world.

    If you comment on this please don’t quote scriptures or other quotes, I’ve heard them all!

    Comment by Julie — January 19, 2016 @ 12:09 am

  83. I’m glad you found this, Julie, and hope it helps knowing that you aren’t alone. You won’t have any “answers” thrown at you from me, either — even though I’ve probably heard the same ones you have!

    You might enjoy another, more recent post: This one attempts to outline what single women and single men need at Church to address our singleness in relation to the gospel — just as the Church focuses on certain aspects of the gospel to help couples and families achieve the purpises of earth life, there are aspects that singles need but generakky don’t find addressed. In other words, I’m trying to move beyond enumerating singles’ problems and toward potential solutions.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 19, 2016 @ 8:28 am

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