All the Single Ladies

by Naomi Watkins

Like many, I enjoyed the depiction of sister missionaries and the discussion about expanding roles for Mormon women written about in the recent New York Times article—that is until I scrolled to the graphic entitled “The Disappearing Mormon Bachelor.” This interactive graphic shows rather dismal statistics regarding the ratio of unmarried Mormon men to unmarried women in Utah from ages 18 to 66+. As one might expect, the odds are definitely not in favor of us single women, particularly as we age, and from my personal experience, the odds may be even more dismal outside of Utah.  As one of my friends stated on Facebook, “Being an older, single, professional woman in this Church…it’s a tight spot [to be].” And not one that most of us imagined for ourselves.

As single women, we represent the largest proportion of LDS women who work outside of the home. We have to work. And yet, despite our large numbers, it is our narrative that is markedly absent from narratives of working women. Why is this? Is it because we feel that our stories do not have merit? Or we believe that no one cares? Is it too painful to talk or write about? Is it that we think our stories are not as complicated or messy or guilt-ridden as those of our married-with-children counterparts? Are we ashamed that we’ve apparently not figured out this whole marriage deal? Or are we still trying to figure out how we fit within a church that is so marriage and motherhood centered?

While our questions may differ from those of our married counterparts, I would suggest that as single women, our lives are just as complicated, messy, guilt-ridden, and legitimate.

Rather than faced with decisions about juggling motherhood and education and work, we are faced with other no-less simple questions:

If I had focused less on my education and career, would I be married?

If getting married means giving up my education and career, is marriage worth it?

If I choose to date and marry only members, will this mean that I will live a life alone?

Would it be better to marry a good man who is not LDS than to not marry at all?

Is this the work I want to do until I retire? Will I be able to support myself through the rest of my life?

How do I come to terms with the fact that I may never have my own children? Will being an aunt, sister, daughter, and friend really be enough?

How do I deal with the judgment that I feel and hear from others because I am not married? How do I deal with the judgment I place on myself?

And so on and so on.

Recently, I listened to a visiting General Authority share this phrase from the Book of Enos that had stood out to him: “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Enos 1:1). He discussed how it often seems like we do far more admonishing than nurturing in the Church, that we focus far more on the do’s and don’ts than we do on love and care.  This imbalance doesn’t just happen at church; we also do this to ourselves (and others). We berate ourselves (and others) about all of the things that we should and should not be doing far more than we nurture ourselves (and others) and allow God to nurture us.

As singles, I often feel we are admonished rather extensively about dating and marriage–that we should stop being so selfish and immature and career-oriented and intimidating and picky. That we should do more online dating and attend more mega singles’ conferences. In all of this possibly well-intentioned advice, we hear a whole lot of do’s and don’ts–often from people who married young, who never really had to date, and who definitely didn’t date in today’s world. As highly accomplished, successful, smart, educated women, we admonish and berate ourselves for “not figuring it out.”

I listen as we singles have the same dating conversations (over and over) whenever we are together, as we pick apart the other gender, criticizing, as the women complain that the men should date more and that there are no good LDS men left to marry, and the men lament that the women are too picky or aren’t attractive enough or are too ambitious. These conversations have been going on for eons of time; no one really has the magical answer. They need to stop; they are not helpful. And these conversations are (dare I say it?) boring and demeaning to both men and women.

Unworthy people get married every day proving that marriage is not a reward for righteous living. I know this truth. I also know a great many things about what the Lord has in store for me, but sometimes, actually, more times, I am simply in need of nurturing from others and from God.

So today, I ask you, all of my accomplished, successful, smart, educated (and single) sisters, let’s put away the admonishments. Let’s talk and share and buoy each other. What are the questions with which you wrestle? What are you juggling in your lives? What questions worry you? How do you nurture yourself when faced with statistics like these? What were your thoughts when you read those statistics?

*(If you really do need to read some admonishments about how things should be, feel free to go here and here.)

*And, yes, while I realize that “nurture” has often been ascribed to women and mothering, I love that the scripture in Enos ascribes this verb to a male God. Men can be nurturing, too.

57 Comments on “All the Single Ladies

  1. Thank you for your post! I married five years ago just shy of my 37th birthday. I experienced all of the questions and emotions that you list in your post. I agree that there is no magic answer, and being unmarried does not mean you are not worthy and deserving of the blessing of marriage. I encourage single sisters, especially sisters who have never been married, to focus on the upside of being single. Travel. Serve as an ordinance worker in the temple. Build the singles program in your area. Enjoy coming home to a clean residence. Or whatever is important to you. Most importantly, do not neglect your education or career in hopes that you will get married and you will no longer need to support yourself. The career that I built when I was single (and I didn’t have a good plan but I had to figure it out) now supports my family of three. When my son was born, the best financial decision for our family was for me to continue working and for my husband to quit his job to be a stay-at-home parent. Definitely not what I pictured my future to be like, but it works for us. It’s still hard for me to think about my single years, the pain and disappointment didn’t magically go away when I married, but I can say that those years taught me to have a lot of compassion. Let’s please nurture and love and support and embrace each other!!!

  2. I really appreciate this article. I’m one of those that got married young and never really had to date. I don’t know what it feels like to be single but I do know that everyone had struggled and questions. When I look at my single friends I see women who are beautiful, talented, accomplished, intelligent, caring and I know that this is not always how they see themselves. Thank you for this well written essay. We would all do well with more nurturing.

  3. This is so, so good. I married late (to a man who married even later) and have been very happy and blessed in marriage. BUT. It is VERY important to me to teach my daughters that it’s far, far preferable to be unmarried than to be unequally “yoked” to someone who is unworthy of them, or who was chosen based on various types of fear (“settling”). I want them to know that they are worthwhile and wonderful, and that this is not measured by marital status or number of offspring. I want them to know that a man is not a problem-solver. I want them to develop a relationship — a dear, close, loving friendship — with their Savior, who will nurture them when life’s disappointments, whatever they are, move in and stay awhile.

  4. The questions listed in this essay are very familiar to me as I have spent many years single and wondering the same things. You hit it right on the nail when you referred to these smart, educated women who just can’t seem to figure out how to get married. Why is that a question in our heads? It’s like there is some math formula to get the answer. The frustrating thing for me and for many of my talented and inspiring friends is that these questions seem to be circling around in our heads day in and day out. Others put the pressure on us, and yes, we put the pressure on ourselves. Regarding marriage, I came to the conclusion one day that its not going to be right until it is. Acceptance of this simple acknowledgment helped me to let go a little bit and enjoy the adventures of being single rather than focus on the negatives. Though I dated and dated and dated through high school, college, and into my thirties and now forties, I always had a feeling I wouldn’t marry until later in life. Now at 42.5, I’m a newlywed, just passed the 6 month mark. It is wonderful and different and challenging in many ways, just like being single was. I loved being a single lady for many reasons, though there were those times I would feel that sinking feeling of loneliness too. I found that if I focused on being “the architect of my own expansion” I didn’t feel so lonely. I started conversations, met new people, planned trips, took art classes, threw dinner parties, etc. And I always appreciate and remember something my mother (married at age 19) told me a long time ago. She said, “You have to make your own life, single or married.” This has been wonderful encouragement and helps to remind me that individual (or single) experiences are valuable and necessary for our progression.

  5. I am a middle-aged LDS woman who has never married and at this stage, it is very unlikely to happen. I am curious to here from others, who are similarly situated, as to how you keep your self-esteem up. Really. I’m not really interested in feel good statements. I take the Church’s constant emphasis on being a wife and mother as a direct insult to those of us that are not. I am getting to the point where I think we must be second class in God’s eyes as well. Any suggestions?

    • Marriage is under terrible and relentlessly fierce persecusion,I cannot tell you the amount of anguish and pain that I have gone through to be with a woman that I love unvariably,to take her to the temple to cherish her to no avail.I will never give up my hope of finding a woman that will love m the way I can her,I comprehend the greatest blessing of all EXULTATION,I still have some time with vigor,but let me tell you,it has been a bear.So never give up continue to date go to the dances go to the temple,live the covenants to their fullest,take good care of your body.and an will find you.

    • I stopped looking for a Dream Girl, I just wanted one that accept the love i think i am deserve..

    • yes, we are considered as second class. In my former branch, one mom told me I was having mutual -YW- because I had no family to take care…the senior missionaries couple told me they will never visit me because the church message is for families and I’m single with no kids, I was also told I’m a disgrace in the church because I chose a career and not marriage -every single lds guy I dated was a jerk and abusers-, another member in another ward I was visiting on vacation told she would never neither her church sister invite any single lds sister to any of their activities because it is just wrong example for everybody., divorced men have also insulted me in the church for never been married and how unatractive that is for them..and the list goes on. I reduce my attendance to sacrament meeting…it is so annoying to hear just about mothers and their “wonderful” families. I have no family at all -no parents or any other relatives- so I had to take care of myself alone…I was homeless and now I own 3 homes with sacrifice and a lot of studying…so I don’t feel guilty but I feel members want to me to feel disgusted with myself. By the way…Jesus was single that we know of?

  6. Lily, I often felt the way you do. Miraculously, I got married this year (I didn’t expect it would ever happen). I think with me I would flux between focusing on the positive aspects of my situation (ability to travel, have meaningful friendships, freedom, flexibility, etc) between being angry. I even knew that the bitterness was not an attractive quality (nor did it feel good). I do feel like culturally there is a focus on marriage (I remember YW standards nights where leaders would all be wearing wedding dresses), and while eternal families are important, I had to keep reminding myself that the reason we come to earth isn’t solely to get married and have kids (like it sometimes feels at church), but it is to prepare to meet the Lord and become more like Him. What helped me is to realize that not everyone has the same cookie cutter purpose for life, and I searched to find what I felt was my own personal mission. I found something that I was passionate about, where I felt I was in a unique position to help one little corner of the world. Now that I am married, I still remain focused on what I can (and should) do–I didn’t think of these service opportunities as a consolation prize, but more of my purpose in living. It also helped to not live in a super culturally conservative area.

  7. Congratulations on your marriage! You are the kind of person I would have liked to be friends with when I was single!

  8. Oh no! and yet I know that you mean. I have had such thoughts on many occasions. But those thoughts are false and definitely are fueled by the adversary. What has helped me the most is remembering the purpose of this life and that this mortal experience is not the only part of it. I remember that my whole goal is to prepare to live with our Heavenly Father and the actual steps look very different for each of us. Also, this life is not the end and God definitely keeps his promises. I hate LDS rumors but I know for sure that the loved ones of someone who died young but was promised marriage and children in a PB lamented that those promises would no longer be filled. A general authority told the parents that wasn’t necessarily true. We know so little about the hereafter and eternity. We do know and have been told repeatedly in scripture and by the apostles and prophets of all ages that God keeps His promises in His own due time and in His own way. I also know that true faith is the day to day endurance of remaining true to the gospel and covenants you have made so that you can obtain those blessings that we can’t even imagine. Surely, if God requires you to go through this life single, given all He has done and given to us, you can do it and He will help you. You don’t have to do it alone. And there are always blessings, the blessings of not being treated badly by an unrighteous spouse. Certainly when I see the trials of those for whom marriage and there own family life brings bitterness I am eager to thank God for the blessing of not experiencing that in my life right now. I am grateful for the freedom of singlehood. They can feel like consolation prizes, yet they are still prizes. Go to the Temple, pray to Heavenly Father about what you mean to Him, He will let you know and second, class, citizen will not be the answer.
    “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. – 1 Corinthians 2:9”
    I hope this helps.

  9. Lily, I am where you are, though perhaps just a tad younger (I turn 40 this year). I pretty much have just stopped thinking about dating or the possibility of marriage, sex, babies, a life with someone I love, etc. unless absolutely forced to, to be honest. I just can’t think about it all that much or I get annoyed at all the marriage privilege floating around the church that so many just aren’t aware of.

    All I can do is, as Mare suggested, focus on the thing that I am passionate about, that I have spent almost my entire adulthood following promptings toward. I always used to think that those promptings would also naturally lead me to my husband, but it hasn’t happened and it’s unlikely to happen (and if it happens, I don’t want it to change how I treat single friends, because I find the first thing to go when a friend gets single is her ability to remember what it was like to be in my shoes).

    I do not see being single as a trial, or a testing, or a “plight,” or anything other term that so many in the church use to describe single people, particularly those of us who stay single well past 31. I don’t welcome stories that tell me how I’ll be fine because so-and-so got married at X age, so therefore I can too (nowadays, because I look younger than I am, the age is younger than me, so I can’t even see how that’s relevant as something to look forward to as a possibility anyway). I’d much rather focus on what I *am* doing and what I *can* do rather than whether some guy will actually somehow fall in love with me.

    I don’t know how to reconcile, spiritually, the WifeAndMother(TM) role preaching with the existence of so many of us who are not and will never be wives and/or mothers. “We are all mothers” and “you’ll get married when you’re dead” are no comfort! (And the latter has actually made me wonder what the purpose of my life is, if I’m only good for my God-given role once I’m dead.) I think we’re all working on that.

    So, solidarity.

    • I wish I knew where you are I would come and converse with you .I am healthy strong honest clean cut I love my covenants ,can not find a woman that I can love and stay with ,why?so if you are looking for an eternal marriage ,look me up.I will respond.

    • Hello I’m looking for an eternal partner. I’m 48 and have never been married. I’m trying my best to be optamistic about finding my true love and getting married. But I do hope it will happen.

      I’m a convert to the church I’ve been a member for almost twenty years.

      I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there for me.

      Your seem like a vary likeable
      And you seem like someone I would to meet.

      But I don’t have any transportation. So I can’t go anywhere to meet you .

      But I would like to meet you at the

    • There is a parallel situation about marrying among Othodox Jewish singles. In fact, it may be even a worse situation. Read As for non-orthodox Jewish men, we revere and respect women who are accomplished (education, careers, intellect, interests, socialization). Maybe more Mormon women should be getting to know single Jewish men. It is not unusual for a Jewish man to delay marriage until he is into his 30’s in order to finish his education and perhaps to become a doctor, lawyer, CPA, PhD, etc. The Jewish culture emphasizes education and accomplishment, for both men and women. Women are not penalized for achievement. Jewish men want “equals” in marriage. There would be very little domestic violence and “control” issues in a marriage with a Jewish man. Jewish men are not “macho”. As an older single, there also would not be the pressure to marry either. Dating is fine. Jewish men would be more “liberal” and liberating in their thinking about relationships than a Mormon man would be. They are very generous to the women they date (gifts, trips, tickets to shows, jewelry). Jewish men love to discuss and even “argue” about many topics. So a woman who can speak out intelligently is desired. Having children is not the end all to be all with Jewish men. Them being successful, financially secure, and respected is often more important to them. Having children who have gone to good schools, etc. is important however. Since Jewish women often have very materialistic value systems and gossip a lot, Jewish men would rather have a woman who is sweet, optimistic, kind, and loving (not subservient), while still being an equal. An attractive, independent Mormon woman in her 40s would fit this “bill” for an “older” Jewish man (in his 50’s or 60’s). Being “proud” of the woman is very important. Introducing that person to others as “my wife” or “my girl friend” has to stand up to the “scrutiny” of the person being introduced to in the mind of a Jewish man. How do Mormon women regard Jewish men?

    • My dear it is indeed true of what you have said…..but i want you to remember that he who have life have hope….so be calm.

  10. Fabulous post! I have been thinking, reading, and writing deeply about the NYT article since Sunday morning, and you have blown me away. As a single woman in the church, I have always felt the need to excuse my passion for my career. I impose pressure on myself to down play it when talking with men I am interested in, or stay at home mothers. It’s like there is a voice in the back of my head that constantly reminds me that this is just sort of a filler until I can get married and have kids of my own. The problem is that I LOVE my work. I am DANG good at it. And if I were to marry and have children and decide to give it up, I would miss it a lot.
    The immidiate question that I am faced with as I finish my graduate studies and reenter the job market is, do I go all the way? Do I dedicate myself to the work that I love so much? That might mean moving well away from Mormon single population density, and possibly more work on Sundays. Or do I put my eggs in the marriage basket, play it safe and find a less prestigious job in the Phoenix area in hopes that I still might find my special LDS someone here?
    I’m in the middle of exploring these and other ideas on my own blog, if you want to check it out:
    Thanks again for this great post. Great to know that none of us struggle alone.

  11. I kind of feel like I’m being admonished not to admonish. Often as women in the Church, we are told to be happy and agreeable, even if we disagree with what is going on and want to suggest changes, and I don’t think that’s entirely healthy or productive. Also, I’m confused about whether the blogger is suggesting that we stop admonishing our male peers or just the female ones.

    I disagree with this: “These conversations have been going on for eons of time; no one really has the magical answer. They need to stop; they are not helpful. And these conversations are (dare I say it?) boring and demeaning to both men and women.” I don’t think these conversations have been going on for all that long, especially in the LDS context. In the past, I don’t think that many women felt they could fully acknowledge their unhappiness with their situations, let alone voice this and suggest change.

    I don’t think these types of conversations about the problems with LDS dating today are necessarily “not helpful,” “boring,” or “demeaning.” In fact, I think they can be productive tools for consciousness-raising. I have had many conversations with my single LDS peers (especially males), who simply refuse to acknowledge many of the statistics and issues that have been mentioned in this post. Often they dismiss such things as bitter women “complaining” and suggest that if they simply changed their attitudes and tried to be more cheerful, maybe more guys would be interested in them and their problems would disappear.

    I do agree that we should as women do more to buoy each other up, and that kindness to our male peers is important, but cutting out conversations about the problems we see around us related to dating and marriage, in my opinion, is more likely to stifle and delay change than to encourage it. And if we accept the blogger’s premise that no one has the “magical answer” (debatable), wouldn’t the answer more likely be discovered through discussion, suggestion, and assertion of new ideas, among both men and women, than by holding back what we really think?

  12. I was a single (male) LDS until I was 37. To this day, I treasure deeply the two periods in my life when I could devote my time and energy to one goal and one purpose only, not distracted by anything else. Those were my mission and my PhD. Being married and having a family presents an entirely different round of challenges and joys, but I am now constantly pulled in different directions, and have had to learn to spread myself thinly across multiple legitimate claims on my time: work, family, church, callings, “personal time,” etc.

    My point is that those two wonderful opportunities were available to me precisely because I wasn’t married at the time. And they were life-changing, character-forming opportunities. I don’t regret a single moment of my single life. I would be a lesser person today if I hadn’t used those times to experience full commitment to worthy goals and causes. Enjoy it! And if being single lasts longer than you expected (as it certainly did for me), consider yourselves blessed with the increased abilities and opportunities to focus, dive deeply, be still and profound in service and learning, linger, explore, soak up, share. It’s only natural that with a spouse and (possibly) children, those opportunities for single-minded devotion will became rarer, and the juggling act more consuming.

    It’s not necessarily greener on the other side of marriage–just different. I love being married (hi, babe!), but I loved being single, too.

  13. Lindsay,

    I don’t believe that I have condemned EVERY conversation about dating. Yes, there can be constructive, useful, and productive conversations about dating. Those types of conversations can be nurturing and, yes, they should happen. However, I am pinpointing those conversations that are nothing more than complaint sessions and finger pointing and shaming. These types of conversations (with comments like I detailed in the paragraph above the quote you pulled) are the ones that need to stop. Just simply saying, “All the women do is complain” or “All the men are lazy and useless” are refrains we hear often. These are the types of comments that are not helpful and have been echoed for ages. I think we all, both singles and marrieds, can and should have productive, nurturing conversations about improving ALL of our relationships.

    I also think there is a time and a place for admonishments and for nourishment. I have linked to two other essays where I’ve detailed many of the problems and issues implicitly inviting you to have those conversations over there–not to cut them off or prevent them entirely.

  14. Thanks, Jen, for your story and suggestions. And thanks for pointing that marriage is not a magical fix.

  15. WordPress doesn’t seem to be embedding my replies. Grrr. So I’ll just do this in one swoop.

    Thanks, Shannon. I count your sister to be one of these fabulous women you describe.

    Hadley: “I want them to know that they are worthwhile and wonderful, and that this is not measured by marital status or number of offspring. I want them to know that a man is not a problem-solver. I want them to develop a relationship — a dear, close, loving friendship — with their Savior, who will nurture them when life’s disappointments, whatever they are, move in and stay awhile.”

    I feel very strongly that this is what God wants us to know, too.

    Kelli: I really think that Satan wants us to keep that constant question in our heads. If he can cause us to constantly focus on what we lack, it’s difficult to focus on what good we do have and what we can do with it.

    Lily: Thanks for your candidness. And so many had great suggestions. I hope you find something helpful. If anything, know that there are other women just like you.

    Mare: Yes, I agree with you. I find those statements about us all being mothers and being told that I can marry in the next life as little consolation. I might add that being told that, “Sheri Dew must be a great role model for you,” isn’t particularly helpful either.

    Miranda: Those are such good questions (with no simple answers)! I’m looking forward to reading your post, too.

    Luke: Thanks for your thoughts and perspective–always so good and thoughtful.

  16. “Unworthy people get married every day proving that marriage is not a reward for righteous living.”

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Last year when teaching my young Sunday School class a lesson whose focus was basically blessings for righteous living, I emphasized with my kids that the only thing we are ACTUALLY promised is that we will have the Spirit with us as we follow God’s commands and remember the Savior. Any time we imply that there is material gain for tithing or husbands for righteousness or a life free of pain for the same, we are teaching those philosophies of men mingled with scripture. I will never forget the pain and humiliation and unworthiness I felt after being dumped within a couple of months of my mission when I heard an older sister say to another recently engaged sister from my mission, “THIS is the blessing for a righteous mission!” She was wrong, by the way . . . my greatest blessing was getting dumped. It just took me some time to see it.

    Having His Spirit, on the other hand, can lead us to any number of wonderful choices and guidance as we work through our own particular set of trials. This is the true narrative of the gospel. It is this narrative that will lead our young people (men and women) in to lives of goodness and charity and discipleship and worth regardless of their family status.

  17. Interesting post. I too am mid-40s never married. Some of what you wrote resonated with me.

    “And yet, despite our large numbers, it is our narrative that is markedly absent from narratives of working women. Why is this?”

    Response: It is because we are too busy working, making a career, and trying to balance all the demands of life. We are not sitting around having a pitty party about our circumstances.

    “While our questions may differ from those of our married counterparts, I would suggest that as single women, our lives are just as complicated, messy, guilt-ridden, and legitimate.”

    Response: How about our lives are complicated, joyful, full of happiness, challenges—all that mortality was meant to be. Why, I ask, are women so filled with guilt about what they did or didn’t do. Guilt is not productive for anything but to make us feel miserable.

    I wonder why we as women are constantly second-guessing our choices. At some point you have to acknowledge that you have counseled with the Lord and prayerfully decided what path your life should take, and then never look back. We have to be more confident in our ability to be guided by the Spirit. Could have, should have, should I now, are equally not productive. We have to trust that the decision we made, with the guidance of the Spirit was the right one. Continually questioning robs us of joy.

    Lastly, what I dislike more than being single is hanging out with single friends and all they can talk about is how hard it is to be single, all the disadvantages, etc. Get over it. We are middle-aged. We know how to do single. Make the most of the life God has given you. Complaining about it is not going to change a thing. Life is good. Let’s celebrate all the good things in life. Our marital status is not what defines us as women!

  18. Naomi, I know you! I think we went to high school together. A friend (who I met through our local Women in Business group I started in our BYU Management Society chapter) posted this article on her FB wall. Just want to say how exciting it is to see how accomplished you are. I have read this website many times and never made the connection that I know the founder (or knew, way back). Well done!

  19. first off, that picture is amazing, those ladies look like a great time…secondly, i am so grateful for this post. it perfectly articulates so many of my feelings and thoughts about being a certain age, single, professional and a woman in this church. like so many others, i have struggled with my singleness, but not necessarily because i felt any less about myself for not being married by this stage in my life, but because so many other people thought less of me for not being married by this stage of life. not that i’m a bad person per say, or unrighteous or unworthy, but just not complete without a partner and family. i’ve had people i love, people i care about and respect, say those exact words to me before, the “why can’t you figure this out? you’ve figured out the rest of your life” words of which the author writes. the first time i heard someone ask me that (around age 26) i actually called up a married friend and asked her, point blank, if something was wrong with me because I wasn’t married yet. it really shook me up. i had never thought of myself that way before and i had never imagined that other people saw me that way either. it didn’t help me. it didn’t make me feel good about myself. it just hurt.

    and this could be said about so many things we do/say to single young working women in this culture, like the author says herself. i like to believe that this sort of “admonishment” comes from a place of love, i really do, but it doesn’t actually sound all that loving when you say it. it sounds like you think we’re broken and in need of fixing. and we’re not. i am more than my past relationship history and i hope to be more than any future relationship experiences. my life doesn’t begin and end with marriage and i think a lot of young single women feel that way too.

    wonderful post and wonderful discussion.

  20. Naomi, I want to respond to what you wrote to me.

    The problem I still see with what you’ve said about how to discuss these issues is that different people express themselves and interpret the expressions of others in different ways. What may sound like an unproductive complaint in one person’s ear may sound like a legitimate request for change or an honest expression of pain in another’s. Saying that certain types of conversations need to stop and others are OK is in my opinion a judgment originating in the ear of the listener.

    The unfortunate thing about making these well-intentioned judgments is that we are probably going to end up thinking (perhaps inadvertently) that voices that sound unfamiliar, alien, or foreign to us and our experiences are the most strident and unhelpful. Culture, socioeconomic status, gender, etc., play a role in what is considered an appropriate and “positive” contribution to a dialogue.

    I understand the idea of building up instead of tearing down with our discussions about LDS dating and marriage, but I’m worried about how this idea will play out if certain expressions of pain or frustration are deemed inappropriate by the majority’s standards.

    I keep thinking of the scriptures related to mourning in the Bible and Book of Mormon. Acceptance that one may not get the LDS dream of marriage and family probably involves some mourning for most women if they’re being honest with themselves. Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed and shall be comforted. I don’t see how we can mourn with those that mourn if we’re telling them (or even intimating) that they’re doing it wrong.

    This is a subject that is close to my heart because I sometimes feel judged when I try to express how I feel in an honest way that is authentic to who I am. I don’t think very many people set out to judge others, but it tends to happen when there are rigid ideas about what is appropriate in a fairly homogenous culture. I respect the work you are doing, and I am a huge fan of AMW (I visit the site often). I only want to suggest that we use caution when deciding how to handle expressions of frustration that strike us as the “wrong kind.”

    • Lindsay,
      I think there is a time and a place to share with close friends honest feelings of grieving, anger, disappointment, etc. I remember more than one time when I was in tears about my circumstances and needed comfort.
      Looking back on my many single years, I am a little embarrassed at how often get-togethers with other singles turned to the topic of dating. For all those conversations, I am not aware of anything that ever changed as a result of talking about dating (or the lack thereof).
      It would be wonderful if someone came up with some solutions (and I recently read an article by a bishop of a mid-singles ward in DC who is trying).
      Just chiming in!

  21. Thanks for your response, Jen. I agree that looking for solutions is very important, and I have given a lot of thought over the years to what solutions might work. Giving voice to concerns (even in ways that the majority feels uncomfortable with) may not be a concrete solution, but I think it is a legitimate way to start.

    I’m sorry you never thought your conversations about dating led to any changes. My experience has been different, and I’m happy that I have had some friends, family, and leaders that have been willing to listen.

    Also, not being aware of any changes that have resulted from dating conversations doesn’t mean that they’ve had no impact. Change takes time, and I think that it happens by “small and simple things” effected by imperfect people who may never see (at least in this life) the result of their actions.

  22. Lindsay,

    Here is the article I referenced.

    While some of these remarks might be hard to hear, I think this mid-singles bishop has a realistic view of the singles situation and provides some viable solutions.

    I’d be interested to hear some of your thoughts.

  23. I don’t see any solutions in that article, honestly. Just more reinforcing the belief that women must be physically perfect and willing to settle for any guy that will have her, and that we somehow are putting our careers over dating. And the sexist assumption that only men care about physical attraction.

  24. Ranel,

    But are we any less “busy working, making a career, and trying to balance all the demands of life” than our married-with-children counterparts? I don’t believe that we are any more or less busy. I’m not sure why there’s an assumption that sharing our narratives and stories means that they must be filled with a “woe is me” tone and attitude. I would suggest that there need to be more narratives out there about (as you so aptly share) how “our lives are complicated, joyful, full of happiness, challenges.”

  25. Lindsay,

    I’ve been ruminating on your comments, and I think it would really help me if you could explain what you mean by the majority and the minority in this context. Based on my own experiences, the conversations and experiences you have had are in the minority. Like Jen, my conversations with most groups of LDS singles all over the country have frequently fallen within the parameters of what I’ve stated needs to stop. And so my suggestion that we have different (than these) conversations is actually the minority viewpoint in my world.

    There aren’t many narratives (period) about LDS singles’ experiences in public forums. So by all means, if your experience has been different, I’m glad that you’ve shared.

    But we may also just have to agree to disagree. Personally, I have not seen good come from sweeping comments about how all men or all women are the ones who are the problem. I’m not dictating how people mourn. Rather, I am suggesting that we change the dialogue so we can move to conversations like the ones you’ve personally experienced. It seems that you have had nurturing conversations about dating and I think we could all benefit from more of those.

  26. Yes, I remember you, Stephanie! And I would love to hear what you’re doing in your local Women in Business group.

  27. I loved this article. I am single, I recently had someone tell me that I must have been focusing on the wrong things or I would be married. I was speechless. As I hit middle age I was led by the spirit to adopt two beautiful children. There are literally millions of children in orphanages and foster care who have no parents. A ward member recently told me I was selfish to adopt because that would take my attention away from dating, gah! At times I have the same questions as others but mostly I try not to think about it. I love realizing others have the same feelings at times. Thank you

  28. Thank you, Naomi! I can echo your sentiment that, far too often, “it is our narrative that is markedly absent from narratives of working women.“ So here is my story—not for comparison to anyone else’s, simply to lend my voice to conversation. Let me preface this by saying, I love my life and my career. But, I think its important to acknowledge the challenges that are part of the joy….so, I’m gonna share those here 😉

    I just celebrated my 35th birthday and am at the beginning of a major career change that includes moving across the country to a place where I have almost no connections or community. It is exciting, and scary, and fun, and exhausting… all. the. time.

    I struggle when I feel like the Lord has inspired led me towards professional endeavors that create time and lifestyle conflicts with dating and marriage. (if not in reality, at least as perceived by others and our LDS culture.) If I feel like my choices are being led by inspiration, does that mean that fulfilling my mission in life requires me to be alone (for now? for this life?…)? That’s a *VERY COMPLICATED* feeling.

    I am keenly aware that my choices are mine, and mine alone. At the end of the day, I have no one else to lend constraints to my decision making. Yes, sometimes its wonderfully liberating to know that I don’t have to curtail my options to accommodate a partner or children, but it also means that much of my deliberation rests on a lot of extra guesswork and unknowns…. like navigating in the middle of an expansive sea with no landmarks, no anchor points, no wind, no one to tell you where it is you are supposed to be going, and no crew). “Freedom” can often feel a lot more like just being unteathered.

    It also means that my ambitions are that much more constrain by my own well-known weaknesses. When i am exhausted and burned out and overwhelmed, there is no one for whom I am their top priority. As wonderful as friends and family can be, there will always be other obligations in their lives that (when push comes to shove) trump my own needs. Knowing that, I am keenly aware of the fact that, if I can’t do it on my own, it may not actually happen. I know there will be moments in life (because I have experienced them before), where there is no one sitting next to me and telling me that, no matter what, they are on my team. And, I know there will be days when I will fail epically or feel completely lost and my safety net of friends and family will be busy or away or consumed with their own challenges in life and I will have no ultimate claim on their love and support in that moment. It’s just me; there is no “back-up,” there are no shoulders to cry on, there are not even mouths to feed to keep me from several hours of depressive netflix escapism. And there are days an moments when I know (at least in that moment) that I don’t have what it takes and I have to, somehow, be ok with that.

    Finally, it is hard (next to impossible) to find a space where we can talk about being single (the good and the bad) without the conversation ACTUALLY focusing on MARRIAGE. So often, when I talk about being single, well-meaning friends and acquaintances respond almost reflexively with a sympathetic comment about how they or someone they know got married even older than I am now, about how my life is so much better than married life in certain respects, about how I should “live it up while I can” or “count my blessings” in comparison to “married life”. Why must my single-ness always be framed as “Not Married” instead of simply “on my own right now”? Because, quite frankly, the former, rarely leads to a conversation where I feel heard, validated, appreciated or understood. (I’m not saying that we can never talk about marriage or that I don’t recognize the often well-intentioned efforts, I do…but I think this is often the talk that silences our own voices and experiences).

    All of that being said, I am grateful for the life that I have. I am learning, like I think we all are, to find joy in what I have, to hope for what I desire, and to accept that the sorrows and imperfections of life are as much a part of a joyful life as the excitement and success. I’m learning to realize that life is not a battle between wins and losses, sorrow and joy, but about experiencing the whole of it. And, more than anything, I’m learning that what I experience in circumstances may be unique, but what experience in terms of emotions is surprisingly common.

  29. Teri,
    I love that you adopted! I think that is amazing and wonderful and brave and I have no doubt that your children are lucky to have you as mom. As for the ney-sayer… 😛

    • Jennifer, You and Nsomi are both beautiful writers. Please keep writing and talking and sharing this message! It needs to be heard. I remember very well what it felt like to not have anyone as a back up. Everything was up to me. I remarked that my biggest challenge was not having a support system to help me through the trial of not having a support system. Please know that there are people who hear you and who get it. I think we can really help those we care about by just listening instead of trying to say something helpful that really isn’t helpful. I remember when I was in my late 20’s and my bishop told me the story of Harold B. Lee’s second wife who didn’t get married until her 60’s. He has good intentions but that was not helpful. Have you ever considered submitting an article to the Ensign? I would love to see an article about changing the language we use. I admire you for making hard decisions on your own and following the inspiration you receive. I know how hard that was for me.

  30. Thanks for the article. I got married when I was 33, and I remember those single days well. All of the questions listed have swirled around in my mind at one time or another. On occasion my dad or someone else will make a comment indicating that my life didn’t start until I got married or had a kid, a concept which I find offensive. I treasure my single years; that was an important period of time in my life.

    Just a few days ago I was sustained into the YW presidency in my ward. Coincidentally, New Beginnings was held last night, introducing new young women (and the new presidency) to the YW program, including Personal Progress. One of the Mia Maids gave a talk about how Personal Progress has helped her. In her closing statement she said it would help her be a better wife and mother. While I agree that is a worthy goal, all I could think about afterwards was how not everyone will get that opportunity, or it will come later in life than expected. How could I help prepare these young sisters for that possibility? I decided that more than anything I hope I can help the girls understand they are valued by Heavenly Father regardless of their marital or motherhood status.

  31. Naomi-
    I’ve been thinking about your question– “why are our narratives absent?” How do we know they are absent? It isn’t because a blog post or article begins with a declarative statement– I am married or I have children so we know the author’s background. It is because the things women with a spouse and/or children talk about relate, in a large degree, to those things– challenges of child-rearing, balancing work and family, spouse issues, etc.

    So my question is– what should be included in the narrative of single women? What should/can we be talking about that doesn’t end up being a gripe session about the lack of a dating pool or the misery of not having a date for yet another social event, and so forth?

    I definitely agree that our narrative needs to be shared. Few very people, if any, are talking to girls and young women about developing a plan for their life beyond getting married. As Virginia pointed out in her post, too many of the YW teachings are about how these teachings will help you as a wife and mother. Well, what if you never become one of those? Nobody ever talked to me about life if you don’t get married; how you can have a fulfilling and successful life regardless of your marital status. We need more voices and role models of women who are successful, happy, covenant keeping women who are not married.

  32. Wow, this is probably one of the most commented-upon posts of the blog! The dialogue surrounding women and work is largely dominated by discussions about motherhood and/vs work. I’m interested in these discussions because I think the LDS cultural perspective on mothers who work affects the LDS cultural perspective on women in general, but Naomi you’re right in calling for a dialogue that addresses all LDS women, not just wives and mothers.

    Thought 1: I’m currently at a stage where I’m really happy with who and where I am in life. I know that that could all change in a minute; I’ve had periods of deep loneliness and restlessness and unhappiness, but for right now I’m perfectly content. I decided a year or so ago that while I’m going to stay friendly and open to dating opportunities and while I will continue to attend the majority of the activities of our mid-singles group, I’m not going to feel worried about marriage. But the question of “am I doing enough?” keeps popping into my mind. If someone were to ask me, “are you doing everything in your power to find a husband?” I would have to answer no. I haven’t tried online dating and I don’t ask men on dates. The thing is, I feel like turning my attention and effort to dating would make me miserable. It’s been so freeing to just put this into the Lord’s hands and concentrate on being happy, and I don’t want to upset the fragile balance by focusing too much on something that just maybe isn’t in the cards for a while or ever, but then I worry that I’m being too complacent. I am very un-eloquently sharing these thoughts, not because I want someone to answer these questions for me, but just to express one of the dilemmas and I’m currently grappling with. I know that the answer here is to listen to the Spirit. Our lives and situations are so individual that there really is no other answer. I guess at this point I just need to figure out whether I need to have greater trust in myself and the answers I’ve received or if this is the Spirit telling me that my rest is over (for now) and I need to make a little more effort.

    Thought 2: I think part of the reason that single LDS women are sometimes hesitant to talk about their situations is because we’re in this catch-22 situation where we’re judged harshly whatever we do. I recently started compiling a list of all of the contradictory advice/expectations that are out there. For example, if you focus too much on your career, you must not really want to get married, but you can’t sit around doing nothing with your life and expect for a man to come along and save you. Example 2: if you travel too much or if your social life is too active, you must just be prolonging your adolescence, but if you stay at home too much you’re going to become insular and too set in your ways. Example 3: Desperation is really unattractive and you shouldn’t settle, but if you don’t immediately (or eventually) fall in love with your blind date you’re obviously too picky. Example 4: As a single person you’re not yet complete, you’re not fulfilling your highest role, your life must be so sad and lonely, looks of pity, etc. but your life is so easy because you have so much free time and disposable income, you get to sleep through the night, you don’t have to potty train, etc. I could go on, but I won’t.

    Final thought: I agree with Jennifer’s comment about the need to talk about our lives as single women without always defining our status as “not married.” Honestly, I’m still learning how to do that, especially when I speak with married women. Let’s definitely continue to explore this topic.

  33. Hi Ranel,

    I apologize for just now getting back to your questions (life!). You posed: “what should be included in the narrative of single women?” I think the comments on this post show a great many topics that could be shared. If anything, it’s about sharing your individual story that matters, sharing what’s important to you in your life, explaining the questions that you have, etc. And I do think that one can vent frustration or pain without it coming off as a whine session. I’m still trying to figure out that balance myself–that could even be a post! 🙂

  34. I needed this post today. Thank you for reminding this perpetually single older 20 something to stop being so darn hard on herself.

  35. Thanks for the post. Here’s my experience.
    As a naive 20 year old, I married a returned missionary in the temple and very quickly found myself in an abusive situation. I divorced at age 21 (while a BYU student), and heard lots of judgmental comments about it (“you’re leaving your husband? that’s horrible! I hope you weren’t married in the temple!”). But I’m grateful for that experience, because it helped me realize that there were worse things than being single.
    At 21, I put in my mission papers, but the Church rejected me because I was divorced.
    I finished my education, worked for a high-tech company in Silicon Valley for a few years, and then later as a Church employee. I worked with many great men at the Church, but also with a few jerks who make sexist comments and acted as if I didn’t belong there. Sometimes in subtle ways…like having devotionals where we’ll sing “Ye Elders of Israel” and the speakers will say stuff like “Brethren, be good to your wife!” as if the female employees aren’t even in the room. So, I didn’t have a sense of really fitting in among the men at work.
    At Church on Sundays, I’ve had many positive experiences with women in family wards, but also some truly awful ones. One Relief Society presidency came to visit me when I moved into their family ward, and I told them about an upcoming trip I was planning (as a way to cope with a jerk of a boss I had at the time). Three days later, the Relief Society president is giving a lesson on being a virtuous woman, where she defines “virtue” very narrowly….according to her, you have to be married and raising missionary sons to qualify as virtuous. The lady sitting next to me ran out of the room in tears, because although she had raised 5 sons, none of them had chosen to serve a mission. The Relief Society President continues her lesson, looking directly at me and says “Why did God send us here? He didn’t send us here to *take trips*!! He sent us here to raise families!” Ouch….direct hit. Sometimes I wonder if people are *trying* to drive the single professional women out of the Church.
    When I go to Relief Society activities in my family ward, I try to be kind and loving to everyone, but it’s like playing Russian roulette….sometimes I get lucky and meet open minded women who can accept and be friends with a single professional woman, but I often run into women who ooze judgement. I tell myself…they’re just feeling insecure…try to love them and reassure them that they are okay…and sometimes that works. But often I feel like I don’t really fit in among the women at Church on Sunday either.
    I’ve really appreciated the time I’ve spent in mid-singles wards, not just for the dating opportunities, but for the chance I’ve had to receive the support, friendship, and non-judgmental love of other single women who face the same issues.
    As far as dating, I’ve dated guys from the singles ward who I later saw on the evening news getting arrested for criminal activity, were HIV positive, whose former wives had restraining orders against them because the guy held a knife to her throat, and many, many who have done nothing with their life but expect that an accomplished woman would be delighted to marry them.
    Working with men as peers (and leading a team of 6 men), I’ve become accustomed to being respected and treated as an equal, but still find that many guys in my dating pool think that the temple covenants mean that they have a God-given right to have the final say in marital decisions…I get rid of those guys especially quickly.
    I’m getting to the point where I’m wondering if the only way I can achieve a happy marriage (one that’s reciprocal, where I’m *actually* equal and non just equal in lip-service) is to move out of Utah and start dating non-Mormon men. The mixed messages the Church sends…saying wives are equal but the husband presides…are not helpful. And in my experience, being single is WAY better than being married to a domineering guy, even if some Church members shun you for it.

  36. As a Bachelor – I am a guy – I also hate being thought of as a “Second Class Individual” by uninformed jack asses in the Church.
    All of the married that I have encountered, have this tendency to look down on us. And imagine that I am not Married, because I am looking for the perfect woman. I want to have someone that is perfect for me.
    Reverse is also true.

    I might be slightly off-topic.
    But, I have felt this unwanted and unloved for so long.

  37. I post once a month on a blog I created three years ago about one single woman’s narrative in the church. I would love comment and feedback. Please check it out. I’ll get “write” to work on your suggestion for my next post: how to nurture, list my answers to those questions you’ve posed and how I nurture myself from day to day living celibate, alone, but hopelessly addicted to the dream that one day my unrequited love will be returned by a man I’ve yet to meet…

  38. I’m late to the party (saw a link to the page, then noticed this post). But I wanted to say thanks for the post! You articulated very well the questions and judgments we often place on ourselves and others place on us (I’m 41 and never married, so I’m in single category). And I agree whole-heartedly that just loving each other and tossing the do’s and don’ts is important. I think it’s something a girl has to learn to do for herself or she’ll go insane. It’s SUCH a “tight spot” to be in when you’ve been raised in the Church and received the implicit (or explicit) message that your life is “less than” if you don’t marry and have children. It’s unfair and just kind of cruel that so many talks seem to tear down “career” women in order to build up motherhood. I cringe when I hear Sheri Dew qualify her success with a statement about how she really wanted to be a wife and a mother. While it may be relevant in some instances, mostly it feels like she is apologizing for her success and (yet again) setting up the paradigm that a woman is either a mother or a “career” woman.

    I haven’t read all the comments, but I don’t understand the fuss over conversations about dating, etc. My (single) friends and I often will discuss men we’re dating or interested in, but we rarely discuss generalizations about single men and women (unless we’re discussing some ridiculous stereotypes or generalizations made in a talk or article). We’ve lived long enough to know that people are all flawed, married or single. It often feels like single people are held to a higher standard than married people (heaven forbid you want to stay home and read a book on Friday night, or have 5 extra pounds, or have a bad day, or month, or year, and all that negativity prevents you from attracting a mate!). I think we understand that it just isn’t that simple. Sure, we can all improve, and maybe the men don’t ask women out, blah blah blah. But by and large single people are no different than married people, except for the marital status.

    Well I could rattle on about this topic all day. Fun read an discussion. And I love the picture also… those women (married or single) look like a great time.

  39. Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I’m 26 and still single (fairly young by the standards of most who have posted here, but struggling with the dating games and loneliness nonetheless). So much of what you said are exactly the feelings I’ve been having lately, especially feeling like I am no one’s top priority.

    As the Relief Society President in a Young Single Adult ward, this challenge hits very close to home for me. It is so hard to see my sisters struggling with these feelings, too. And despite the fact that I am on public display at many of our church meetings and activities, there are few in the ward who know me on a personal level. The emotional support is simply not there when I need it – so I turn to my Savior, my Rock, when I feel despair and resignation setting in.

    Truly I think there is no adequate replacement for close family relationships, but it is now my challenge (and hopefully my joy) to build a support network of single sisters in my ward. 🙂

    I loved reading your thoughts. It is encouraging to know that my struggles and emotions are not unique and that there are others who understand. I am certainly still marriage-focused (consumed by it sometimes), but I am about to make a huge career choice that will likely launch me into making a comfortable life for myself, with or without a husband. And I’ve taken advantage of my single life, too – a volunteer trip to Ghana, a service mission in Nauvoo, cruises and road trips and trying new outdoor sports. There are definitely blessings that come from the freedom of being young and single, even if they are not the life I pictured for myself. My testimony of the Lord’s plan for me has increased over the years as I learn to be patient and adjust my goals.

  40. Loved this post. A dear friend of mine lives near BYU and is turning 32 this year. This article definitely describes issues and questions she wrestles with. I am sending it to her. Thank you!

  41. My husband turned 30 the month we were married. He endured “menace to society” type comments, but he knew himself and his heart and let it roll off his back. Boy am I glad! I am almost 10 years younger than he is. I needed time to grow up, and I’m grateful he didn’t get married to someone else just to do it. Hang in there. Sorry about the inevitable comments you endure. I hope you find understanding and supportive people, too!

  42. Life is a personal experience, and no two are exactly alike. We are here to learn, to progress, and to love unconditionally. I’ve been single. I’ve been married. And I’ve been divorced. In fact, I’ve been single and divorced four times. Not a pretty picture. Where does someone with multiple marriages fit into the “perfect” LDS life? It doesn’t. However, my life has been the perfect adventure for me to learn unconditional love for myself and for others. I love who I have become…. Not despite, rather because of my challenges. Most importantly, I have learned to allow the Savior’s atonement to change my challenges into blessings. With Him, life circumstances do not matter. Only His unconditional love, which brings peace in any circumstance.

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  44. I recently left the church because of the insensitivity with which I was treated. As a single woman I was regarded with suspicion and disdain. I am really broken and hurting,but I know it is better for me to be out of that toxic environment.

  45. This such an important discussion. I think single life is excellent for me at this time. Marriage has not happened, I have been very determined to understand that the time for marriage is not now, and I have worked hard to establish myself in the world. Life is, indeed, good.

    Then I go to church. For three hours I essentially get taught and socially demonstrated to that I am much less worthy as a single person than the married people. It’s laughable as I work in the temple as one of a number of callings but the ostracism is unpleasant. In my observation, church is less a place to worship than a place for married people to socialize with each other and reinforce to themselves that their lifestyles as temple married people are ideal and all others fall short.

    The story of single Latter-day Saints is not heard very much because it is not very welcome. I have ventured comments in church, nothing controversial at all but from my context as a middle-aged single woman and the result most times has been awkward crickets. This is a small example of what takes place. I have a good friend who is the daughter of a former temple president, who attends the temple very frequently, who is unmarried and is an engineer. She has described her treatment within her ward as ostracism with any perspective other than wife and mother being unwelcome. This ostracism is nasty enough but when it is so pervasive, even seemingly emanating from leaders, it is not a far stretch for single people to believe that Heavenly Father holds them in the same disregard as they are shown most Sundays.

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