Marriage is Not the Only Reason

by Naomi Watkins

A week after I submitted my mission papers, I somewhat reluctantly pulled them back despite an earnest desire to serve.  The reasons for this change-of-plans were complicated but could be quickly summed up in one statement: God said no. My then 20-year-old self had never really received a “no” answer to a righteous desire or pursuit, and so, I determined that the only plausible reason why God didn’t want me to serve the people of Russia* as a missionary of God was because He must instead have plans for me to marry in the next 18-20 months.  I reasoned that either I was to marry one of the two guys I was then currently dating (it was a year of plenty) or this soon-to-be husband would show up, and I’d be deciding wedding colors and cake flavors rather than purchasing ankle-length jumpers, fur-lined boots, and layers of long underwear.

This well-reasoned conclusion was bolstered through the validation of others. “Not going on a mission must mean you’ll get married soon,” they said.   They told me stories of so-and-so who had a similar experience, who had decided not to go on a mission, and six months later, poof!  She was married.  With each supporting statement, with each exemplary story, I grew more hopeful. However, eight months later, I was 0-2 in the relationship department, and I was devastated and angry with God.  As I viewed it, I had done as He asked.  I had stayed home.  I had made myself available.  I had dated.  But where was my reward?  I couldn’t fathom that there could be a path other than a mission or marriage at age 21.

To my credit, the next several years became a period of intense study, of preparing myself for my endowment (sans mission or marriage), of figuring out the Lord’s will for me.  I graduated from BYU.  I moved to a different state.  I started my first real job.  I went to the temple.  I enrolled myself in a Master’s program.  I moved forward. But still, there were times when I hesitated, questioning whether I should do ____ or go on a trip to _____ or move to _____ because I might miss an opportunity to marry.

I know I am not alone in this thinking and reasoning.  I have watched others hold back from or limit opportunity for because they were afraid they would miss the one opportunity. They elected not to attend graduate school or to change jobs or to move to that city with few Mormons because what if? They delayed buying a house or the furniture they really wanted or venturing off on an extended trip because they always envisioned doing those things when married.  The pursuit of marriage can underscore and become the sole motivation for all action—every activity attended, every friendship formed, every conversation held, every change to one’s life course—all of it funneled through a getting-married lens.

But here’s the thing. Marriage is not the only opportunity or the only reason for being.

And before the Internet yells at me for being a marriage-hater (which I am not), let me explain.  Yes, marriage is ordained of God.  And, yes, I would like to marry.  But I also believe that there are other reasons for God directing our lives in the way that He does. When we place limits on God, we place limits on our own opportunities and capabilities. We may miss the very reasons for God directing us as He does.

So, yes, that answer to a prayer, that activity attended, that friendship formed, that conversation held may be the one that leads to marriage.  But these things or that trip you take or the job that you accept or the degree program in which you enroll, all have the potential to broaden your view of the world, to introduce you to more of God’s children, to show you the beauty of the Earth, to enlarge your sphere of influence, to build your self-confidence, to connect you to people who may change your life for the better, to make you ready. Ultimately though, the only reason, one of the main reasons for marriage even, is that God’s path for us will lead us back to Him and shape us to become like Him.

“You may plan on marriage, and hope for it, but you are not certain that it will come. And even though you marry, education will be of great benefit to you. Don’t just drift along, letting the days come and go without improvement in your lives. The Lord will bless you as you make the effort. Your lives will be enriched and your outlook broadened as your minds are opened to new vistas and knowledge.” [1]

As we follow His will for us—not placing limits on His reasons or opportunities—He blesses us, He girds us with power, He showers us with love, He continues to show us the way.


[1] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly,” April 2007. 

*While a mission call was never actually sent to me, I accidentally received the visa and travel information for the mission to which I would have served had I gone.

11 Comments on “Marriage is Not the Only Reason

  1. I definitely suffered from thinking this way. And now being married I really regret that I let myself be so limited in my thinking when single. I wish I’d just lived my life to the fullest, welcoming marriage when it came, rather than making conditional choices based on marital possibility.

  2. Thank you for this post!! I remember apartment shopping at BYU and being anxious because my apt would determine my ward and thus my dating pool. Little did I know that I wouldn’t get married until 12 years after I left BYU!

    I eventually accepted my singlehood and spent those years building my career, traveling and working in the temple. Looking back, I still ask myself “what more could I have done with those years?” before my time became occupied with the responsibilities of motherhood.

    God has work for us to do. For many that work is being a wife and mother. But that is not the plan for everyone. After I left BYU and was considering graduate school, I didn’t want graduate school to be the right answer because I thought that meant “sorry you won’t be getting married any time soon.” Graduate school still might not have been the right decision for me, but I was clinging to the hope that marriage could be right around the corner and using that as an excuse to not progress in other areas of my life.

    Single ladies, be prayerful about your decisions but I encourage you to not hold back!

  3. Thanks for this. I went to graduate school rather than on a mission. My family members joined forces with ward members to question my decision, and I felt guilty about it off and on for many years. Now I’m at the tailend of my PhD program, I know that this was my path. The Lord has been merciful in giving me hints about my own destiny on this earth, which very clearly includes a career. I have developed so much during my graduate experience–which has been far from ideal–and I have met so many people that I have touched and that have touched me. Even though I have some regrets, I wouldn’t trade the last seven years for anything–even a mission.

    Sometimes I think as a Church culture we get too “wedded” to the roles that men and women have in the family, limiting the potential and possibilities of women, in particular, but also men. I’m grateful for the missionary age change because it changes the sense of “requirement” for women, if single, to go on a mission at 21, which is what my experience was (even though missionary service has never been mandatory for women!).

    I’ve also been frustrated by the surprise people express when I tell them I haven’t been on a mission. It’s as if they think women cannot develop spiritually (or learn what Preach My Gospel says) without going on a mission. I wonder where that perception comes from. I have developed spiritually because of my life experiences, and it’s not only a mission that can cause that development.

    Anyways, I am determined to make the most of my life, whether I’m single or married. Both “conditions” in life have their ups and downs, opportunities and restrictions, and it’s up to me to make the most of what life brings me. When I’m asked about dating and marriage, my response is now “I’ll get married when I get married.” It’s true. I will.

  4. Great quote by Pres Hinckley. I had the opposite experience with a mission. I wasn’t any where near marriage at 21. I received strong confirmation I should go on a mission. And I didn’t. And I didn’t get married 18 months later. It was interesting to read your experience, thanks for sharing.

  5. And really, isn’t that great advice for everyone (married or not): “be prayerful about your decisions but I encourage you to not hold back!”

  6. “I’ve also been frustrated by the surprise people express when I tell them I haven’t been on a mission. It’s as if they think women cannot develop spiritually (or learn what Preach My Gospel says) without going on a mission. I wonder where that perception comes from. I have developed spiritually because of my life experiences, and it’s not only a mission that can cause that development.”

    I think that part of this stems from the fact that a mission is where this spiritual development has happened for many people and/or because this is one of the main reasons for missions (“A mission will prepare you spiritually.”) After I pulled my mission papers, I was specifically concerned that I would miss out on that spiritual preparation until I realized that I could still study my scriptures, I could still talk to people about the Gospel, I could still go to the temple. True, a mission structure provides time allotted for these specific purposes, but there was also something tremendously fulfilling to know that I did these things on my own, without that provided structure. If anything, when it’s assumed that I did serve a mission by others, I take that as a tremendous compliment.

  7. Kellyanne — You are very wise! Your single years will be much easier because you realize that you’ll get married when you get married and the best thing you can do is make the most of life, whatever your situation. Having been both single and married, I can attest that they both have their advantages and disadvantages. I now live vicariously through my single friends who travel, sleep, and eat in adult-only restaurants!

  8. Kay I just loved this post! I spent so much of my undergraduate years worrying about if/when/who I was going to marry! I ended up getting married my senior year and I was almost the LAST of my roommates to tie the knot. I remember feeling so anxious not to leave BYU unmarried or else…what? While I love my husband and I’d marry him all over again, I wish I hadn’t been so young when we married. I know he feels the same. I still wonder how my life would have been different had I gone on a mission. Or simply let life take me other places as I developed myself personally, spiritually, and professionally! Thank you for writing these words. I think they are so important for youth to hear as I think culturally they are entrained, like I was, to focus solely or at least MOSTLY on getting married instead of developing themselves in other realms.

  9. Yes! If there were one message I could give to all young women, especially LDS young women it would be “Don’t hold back.” Heavenly Father wants us to use our talents, our intellect, our capacity to do good. I’m pretty certain that if we’re being prayerful and doing our best to follow the Spirit, He won’t allow us to “miss” opportunities for marriage.

    Also, I really love Mara Kofoed’s thoughts on A Blog About Love. Her thoughts about accepting her infertility are very similar to my mindset about being single. Obviously there are some huge differences between not being able to give birth and not being married, but her determination to accept her circumstances for what they are, find opportunities to reach out to others, and live with joy and hope really resonate with me.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. I wish every young woman in the church could be exposed to thoughts like these. I would have greatly benefitted from hearing them at a younger age. As a still single 40 year old, I can really relate to this. I am glad to know I am not alone in this!

  11. I’m at that exact spot in my life: that awkward, second-middle-school experience where I’m growing in ways I never thought possible. I left BYU to come home for some pretty serious health reasons but could not for the life of me get over the feeling that I was becoming ‘less spiritual’ because I was 1) not going on a mission post lowered age, 2) not engaged to the guy I was dating, or even 3) continuing school or work or study abroad. Almost a year later I have never felt so sure that I was being led by God in one of the most difficult time of my life. I’ve been on a 5 year mission since my diagnosis, complete with the ups and downs, and solid coming to Jesus moments. My answers for marriage, mission, even school or work are all “NO” from Heavenly Father. My duty to God is serving my family and the people in my life who are in need of me (for some bizarre reason or another, it has to be me). My duty to God is learning more about the different ways people experience their trials and growing pains in life so that I may be able to help my future family. I have no doubt that I’ll have one…just in God’s own time and honestly, I’m not too stressed about it. Because of my choices, I feel empowered, guided by God, and simply at peace.

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