I am now officially not young

March 30, 2006 | 58 comments
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It happened not long ago. I started getting emails from something called the Cambridge Stake MSA. As is my habit with all mass mailings, I deleted the first few without reading them, but after a while I noticed them and realized that I didn’t know what MSA stood for. Turns out MSA is the “Middle Singles,” which is everyone 30-50 years old who isn’t married. In the eyes of the church, I am no longer a “Young Single Adult.” I’m just a “Single Adult.” I am now officially old.

Man, that’s depressing. I know other people have gone through this and survived and lived full and happy lives (sounds like I’m describing an amputation or something, doesn’t it?) , but I have to say that contemplating my new membership in this group made for a pretty bleak afternoon.

I wonder if I would feel worse or better, if I were a woman in this position? On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to tell myself that it’s not my fault. I don’t know if any women actually do this, but having heard what they tell the unmarried sisters (“Don’t worry. In this life or the next, you will find someone.”) and the unmarried brethren (“What is wrong with you? Get on the ball, you cretins!”), I would not be surprised if some sisters tell themselves this when they are in a funk.

On the other hand, statistically speaking, Mormon men like me stand a better chance of getting married than Mormon women, not to mention Maureen Dowd. And let me tell you, this hardly seems fair, since the women in my ward are better catches than the men.

(How much better? Well, recently I played a question-and-answer game with some friends at my apartment. One of the questions was to name one person in the ward who you just could not believe was not married. All of the answers named women, with no repeats. And all of us agreed with everyone else’s choices. We noted that none of us had chosen a male, but even upon further reflection, we could not come up with a man who fit the criteria. There are better and worse catches, but no one whose continuing singleness is both a mystery and an affront to the justice of the cosmos, as was the case with the women we had chosen. I love going to Elders’ Quorum, and those guys are my friends, but it’s not hard to come up with reasons why we’re still single, myself most definitely included.)

So anyway, maybe I should just shut my big fat mouth and count my blessings.

I go to a singles ward which has no age requirements of which I am aware. We have members whose age I would guess is forty-ish, and I know we have women as young as 21 and men as young as 23. The average age is probably 27 or 28. Most everyone is a college graduate, and a returned missionary (Relief Society included). Personally, I love it.

In most stakes, I would be getting kicked out of the singles ward right about the time I ceased being young single adult. I’m glad that’s not happening. I’m glad that the only change for me is that I get invited to extra activities. But it must be pretty traumatic for folks who aren’t lucky enough to be in a stake like mine. As the median marriage age creeps upward, is it time for the church to think about a policy change? Kicking people out at 30 makes more sense if most Mormons got married at age 20, but this isn’t where we are any more.

Or am I just rationalizing that this change is necessary for the church because it would suit me?

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58 Responses to I am now officially not young

  1. Frank McIntyre on March 30, 2006 at 11:59 am

    It is an interesting question, though, about the disparity between the single men and women at age 30. If true, I suppose there are several places where the two might seperate:

    1. Low-option women might be more willing to marry outside the Church than low-option men, thus changing the ratios.

    2. High option men (or low option women) might leave the Church disproportionately.

    3. Women may simply be better than men across the distribution.

    4. Women may have marriage expectations that are higher than men (relative to the pool from which they are drawing companions) and so reject offers that they should take, because they (unrealistically) expect better offers to come.

    5. Perhaps men don’t think they are up to the high-option women’s standards (true or not) and so don’t bother incurring the costs (financial and otherwise) of courting her.

    6. High option women may have a higher opportunity cost of marrying because (for example) it often entails curtailing a career, which they are not as willing to do as low-option women. Men don’t have the same tradeoff and so this would not affect them.

    There’s 6 off the top of my head, I imagine there at least half a dozen more possibilities. Great scriptures, by the way!

  2. John David Payne on March 30, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks, Frankel.

    The Dowd answer is that high-option men prefer to marry low-option women. Not sure that this is true, but not sure that this is false.

    And the high-option men always snub me at parties so I can’t ask them and find out for sure.

  3. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 30, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    “Women may simply be better than men across the distribution.”

    *MAY*, Frank?? **MAY**??!!??

  4. laura w on March 30, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    As someone who got (lovingly) kicked out of my singles ward when I turned 30, I can attest to the trauma of the event.

    On the other hand, I now go to a regular family ward and find it much less distressing than the weekly trauma of trying to find things in common with a bunch of 22 year old girls who have 4 dates a week. While there are definitely disadvantages, overall, its much nicer to have friends my age.

    I think it helps that I am very involved with my young nephews, so that I can contribute to discussions on things like best brand of diapers, should you let young children watch TV, etc. But overall the short term trauma of being booted from a singles ward was well worth the long term benefits.

    Although, I have to admit, I’m curious about the idea of a MSA ward. This I could get into…

  5. laura w on March 30, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    Part two of my thoughts…

    While I like the idea of having events especially for older singles, I would not want to see MSA ward become entrenched. I think segregating singles from the rest of the church does more harm than good.

    For me, the worst part of being an older single was feeling like I did not belong, either in a YSA ward or a regular ward. I think if we had all been together from the beginning (or right out of college), it would have been easier to have been integrated into the fabric of the ward. This way, when you turn 30 and are sent to a family ward you are not just another new face with no relationships in the ward. Instead you have been friends with these people for years, and while those friendships may naturally evolve over time, you are already a part of each others lives- married, single, with kids, without kids, widowed, etc.

  6. Wacky Hermit on March 30, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    I’ve never been in a singles ward, but I was in a married student ward once. The age difference between me (a graduate student) and the bulk of the ward (20-year-old undergrads or wives of undergrads) was palpable. There were no steady older people to whom young parents could turn for advice, no older married couples to show you the way to keep a marriage together, and no teenagers to babysit for you. Heck, they didn’t even have any kids over the age of 8 in the ward, unless you count the 18-year-old brides. So I have my doubts about whether these homogeneous wards are a good idea. Insofar as they provide support for people in a particular situation, I suppose they are a good thing; but I would never join one of those kinds of wards again. I just really feel I need the diversity of having single mothers and senior citizens and nursery children and all that in a ward, because we really do need people with different focuses (foci?) and at different stages of life to show us how to live.

  7. Kevin Barney on March 30, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    We have a couple of singles branches in our area northwest of Chicago. They just created a brand new one that meets in our building. I’m pretty sure they’re the under-30 kind, and that they boot them out after that.

    I had assumed that that was a universal church policy, not something subject to SP discretion. I’m glad you’ve been able to stick somewhere that works for you.

    (To Kristine in no. 3: touche!)

  8. Frank McIntyre on March 30, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    John,

    Yeah, I’ve heard that too, in which case we should see, what? Excess low ability men and high ability women (which would be a redistribution of husbands away from the high end towards the middle)? I don’t see much empirically to support Dowd’s story. There is a huge literature documenting the strong assortative mating trend, such that the correlation between ability is positive across couples. But that could still in theory leave room for some weird thing going on at the top end.

    Also, one needs to figure out why middle range guys don’t jump in and grab the high end women. Is it because they _really_ don’t like them (which I kind of doubt) or because the high end women would rather be single than marry someone “beneath them”? At that point you’re mixing in a story about the woman’s opportunity costs and expectations about future marital offers.

    Kristine,

    Ask me no follow-up questions and I’ll tell you no lies.

  9. Cyril on March 30, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    If polygamy were reinstituted, would the high option women become second wives to high option men? Or, would we see more high end single women and more middle to low option single men with an ever-increasing gulf between the two groups because second wives would necessarily be middle to low option women?

  10. John David Payne on March 30, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Frank,

    I was not endorsing the Dowd hypothesis. When I first read it, it struck me as a very convenient thing for an unmarried high-end woman of a certain age to believe. Since that is a very cynical thought, I refrained from making the comment. But since I would rather look like a cynical jerk in front of a large number of people (including single high-end women) than appear for a moment to be admitting that you were right and I was wrong, I am commenting now.

    Moving to a completely unrelated topic, How come I don’t have a girlfriend? Man, what’s wrong with these chicks?

  11. Kirsten M. Christensen on March 30, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    I’m intrigued by the idea of the church maybe rethinking the age of 30 as some kind of boundary defining “middle” or “old” in the single scene. Are Mormons, in fact, marrying older on average these days? I’m not convinced that it’s a major trend, if the zillions of wedding announcements of YOUNG friends and relatives that continuously cover my parents’ fridge are any indication. But that’s just anecdotal. Is anyone aware of any studies of average marriage age in the church?

    I married when I was 32 (and 1/2), after having had the very positive experience of attending several singles/student wards in three states, all of which had no upper age limit. The ward in which my husband and I met (which Julie in Austin knows well) was a student ward that also included young married students, a few of whom had babies, but there was no primary, so they always moved on by then. If memory serves, that ward became a single student-only ward (as opposed to all singles from the area and as opposed to married _and_ single students) shortly after we married and left. I remember thinking when I heard about the change that I would have been traumatized on some level, to have been pushed out. On the other hand, I think I also could have enjoyed a family ward as a single person, and did, for a few short stints. I never did, though, live in a place where there wasn’t a pretty large LDS population. I think I might have felt more worried if I’d lived in places where my opportunities for interacting with other LDS singles had been truly limited. Of course they did become more limited, statistically, the older I got, even in places with lots of LDS. And I did at one point seriously consider marrying a Unitarian, but that was because I loved him, not because I thought all of my LDS options were over.

  12. Kirsten M. Christensen on March 30, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    OK – one more thing.

    When I taught at BYU as an instructor for a year in the early 90s between MA and PhD, I had to have a GA interview. He didn’t initially come right out and ask me if I was married, but he kept asking me about “my family,” so I could tell he was curious and I found a way to work it in. At the end of the interview he told me that he was travelling that weekend to a singles conference, and he asked me (honestly!) if there was anything I thought he should say to the singles. For better or for worse, I seized the opportunity and told him, in so many words, that I thought there should be more compassion directed toward single men in the church. I told him of many faithful single LDS male friends of mine (all well over the “menace to society” age) who did not appear to be any more ‘responsible’ for their singleness than I was, and yet they were routinely chastised, while my fellow single sisters and I were routinely told, essentially, not to worry and that we would be blessed for our faithfulness, if not here, then in the next life.

    I was not trying to be insolent. I really thought it a topic worth discussing, and he had asked. But the interview did not go particularly well after that–no hostility, just a clear difference of opinion. He cited 9-1 sister-to-brother statistics in the church, among other things, and finally pulled himself up to his full, large stature and said, “I am man enough to know that a man [in the church] can get married if he wants to!” It was quite stunning. I’ve certainly never forgotten it.

    Can it really be all about statistics? He seemed to imply that. But that was just one GA. There may be other approaches from other GAs. I just don’t quite get the burden put on men for marriage — they can’t do it without someone agreeing. I also don’t see — at least not in a culture where both can arguably (and socially acceptably) pursue relationships – why there isn’t more of a balanced (or at least kinder-to-men) approach to this. Anyone been single more recently than I have who knows of other ways single-hood is being approached by our leaders right now? I’d be interested.

  13. Blain on March 30, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Interesting post. I’m a long-term separated man who is intentionally not getting romantically involved until my last child is “up and out) which isn’t going to happen for another three and a half years. A divorce will happen before I am romantically involved again. I have not always had both of those points as committed as I wish I had, and learned very clearly that both are what I need to do.

    I’ve had a great deal of contact with single-again Mormons, through moderating three mail lists for divorced LDS folks, and spent several years (back around being 30) involved in the local Institute program as well. Just a little background for context.

    I think the Mormon Culture needs to adjust substantially by repudiating Brigham Young’s “menace to society” comment and the notion that any faithful Mormon man can marry if he wants to. We are no longer (if we ever were) a society where any two faithful latter-day saints can make a marriage work — the expectations of what a marriage is to be are too high for that to be the case.

    It would also be well if we could begin to accept the actual level of righteousness in the Church — the Apostles and Prophets aren’t talking so often or bluntly about the evils of pornography because it’s not a serious problem in the Church. It’s nice to see that the Church is beginning to roll out an Addiction Recovery Program to address this reality, but it’s been a long time coming and rather slow, since they’re largely making it up as they go along. Pretending that we’re all Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood is a lie, and that lie has quit serving our interest a long, long time ago. Increasing our level of honesty, within ourselves individually and collectively, as well as with the greater society would be hard, but the pay-offs of no longer having to pretend that we’re perfect people (in contradiction to our doctrine) would be well worth the price.

    I’ll probably have more offensive things to say later on, but this’ll do for now.

  14. John David Payne on March 30, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    Kirsten said: “Are Mormons, in fact, marrying older on average these days? I’m not convinced that it’s a major trend, if the zillions of wedding announcements of YOUNG friends and relatives that continuously cover my parents’ fridge are any indication. But that’s just anecdotal. Is anyone aware of any studies of average marriage age in the church?”

    I am not aware of any studies, but in 2005, two apostles talked about this trend in CES firesides: Elder Nelson in February, and Elder Oaks in May. Here’s a quote from Elder Oaks:

    “This tendency to postpone adult responsibilities, including marriage and family, is surely visible among our LDS young adults. The average age at marriage has increased in the last few decades, and the number of children born to LDS married couples has decreased.”

    Elder Nelson footnotes a couple of studies, but they are studies of the US population as a whole. I presume that the brethren have more specific statistics for the church population, but I haven’t seen them anywhere.

  15. Bookslinger on March 30, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    JDP: Welcome to the club! You’re one of _us_ now!

    By the way…

    An audiobook by Dan C. Peterson, and read by himself, is being auctioned on Ebay.

  16. Bookslinger on March 30, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    My favorite scripture for keeping my mouth shut is Prov 17:28. Which advice I seldom heed.

  17. Melissa Proctor on March 30, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    You’re not old, JDP. You’re an adult. That’s a good thing. In fact, you should be filled with joy and rejoicing not bleak depression. I’ve loved, Loved, LOVED my thirties so far.

    See Frank’s #6 above . . .

  18. John David Payne on March 30, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Yeah, I probably should be…

  19. Kaimi Wenger on March 30, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    JDP,

    Yes, but you’re a single _blogger_. You can solicit (and apparently receive!) dates via the blog medium. Others may have excuses, but _you_ clearly have no excuse! :P

  20. D. Fletcher on March 30, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    When they started a singles ward in Manhattan in about 1991, I was already 33 — not invited to the ward. I was old before I even got started.

  21. Bookslinger on March 30, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Isn’t at least one of the singles wards in Manhattan an over-30 singles ward?

  22. D. Fletcher on March 30, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Nope.

  23. Bill on March 30, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    In 1995, when I came to Manhattan, there were plenty of over-30s in the singles ward. The next year they split by age with the dividing line at 27. Since then more singles wards were created. At the end of 2004 they disbanded the older singles wards and sent anyone over thirty to “traditional” wards. During the entire period of 1995-2004 (and probably in the few years before that) there were numerous people over 30 attending a singles ward in Manhattan. Not sure why you never got an invitation, D., or thought one was necessary.

  24. Bill on March 30, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    “disbanded the older singles wards and sent”

    should have said “older singles ward”

  25. Bookslinger on March 30, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    Bill. Thanks for explaining. Yes, it was 2003 or early 2004 when I heard there was an over-30 singles ward in Manhattan.

  26. D. Fletcher on March 30, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    I would never have gone to the singles ward. Some months after it was started, they offered to allow over-30s into the ward. Many went. I stayed in the family ward where I belonged.

    Just pointing out, singles wards are… not very worshipful, from my way of thinking.

  27. Melissa Proctor on March 30, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    I’m with you, D. Attending a family ward has been the right choice for me. I should have made the move years ago. I think student wards can work wonderfully well (my experience in the New Haven student ward, which unfortunately no longer exists, was unequivocally the best church experience of my life), but I think organizing a ward around marital status sends all the wrong messages and interferes with worship and perhaps even spiritual growth. I’m actually for banning single’s wards. There’s just no reason for people to take on made-up callings when the regular ward down the street so often desperately needs the leadership, experience, service, love, and time of all those single men and women standing around staring at each other during munch’n mingles.

    As for the objection that single’s wards help single people meet, date and marry, I don’t buy it. Not even a little bit. In my dating experience I’ve found that men and women are more likely NOT to date someone from their ward given all the potentialities of gossip, jealousy, embarrasing or hurtful public break-ups, and so forth. At least, I was never, ever interested in dating anyone from my single’s wards. I usually dated LDS men I’d met places other than church. There’s only been one exception to this and within a few months of our dating he decided to attend another ward so we could pursue our relationship more privately.

    As things stand now, I prefer not to date Mormon men at all. Dating more widely has been an incredibly positive experience for me. There’s something very adolescent about Mormon dating at older ages that I can’t quite put my finger on (probably the game-playing and/ or the sexual hangups), but I don’t have any patience for it now. If you’re a single woman in your late twenties or early thirties and you keep showing up to FHE and Instititute hoping that one of these days Mr. Right will walk in, you might consider thinking a little more broadly. There’s a whole wide world of engaging, attractive, and intelligent men who are waiting to take you out, but you’ve got to think outside the box to see them. I can’t believe the number of amazing people I just never *saw* before.

  28. Sarah on March 30, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    If you’re a single woman in your late twenties or early thirties and you keep showing up to FHE and Instititute hoping that one of these days Mr. Right will walk in, you might consider thinking a little more broadly. There’s a whole wide world of engaging, attractive, and intelligent men who are waiting to take you out, but you’ve got to think outside the box to see them. I can’t believe the number of amazing people I just never *saw* before.

    Maybe in places that have a large number of LDS actives in the population you can find dozens of engaging, attractive, and intelligent LDS men… but I’m quite certain that if I intend to marry one who’s all of the first three, and I don’t meet him at a sponsored activity, then either a) he won’t be LDS or b) there will be divine intervention involved.

    Which is sad for me, because I’d really like a husband who wants to bless his own children and show up to Priesthood Preview and go camping with the scouts and so forth. We have around 400 YSAs living in my stake (I think less than 10% are showing up; I suspect we can account for about 25% total, including ones going to other wards, ones who’ve gotten married and haven’t been taken off the rolls, and ones in college;) you’d think that this wouldn’t be a problem for any YSAs who were motivated to marry. So far I know of just one couple getting married who met at YSA events (they were called to be our stake YSA reps.)

    Why don’t singles’ programs work very well? Should we be doing speed dating activities at FHE?

  29. Melissa Proctor on March 31, 2006 at 12:13 am

    Sarah,

    I was apparently unclear. My point was precisely that I’ve found lots of engaging, attractive, and intelligent men outside of the church that are good, kind, honorable, generous, hardworking, honest . . . and definitely marriageable material. When I said to think outside the box, I meant to think outside the church. But, it’s very likely that we are seeking quite different sorts of men so you may not be comfortable with that.

    I think single’s programs don’t work very well for the reasons I’ve already stated. Putting the marriage question front and center in everyone’s mind is the surest way to make sure it’s not going to happen. I know they’ve started doing speed dating activities in my old ward in Cambridge and I think that’s even worse than FHE. These people are (or should be) your friends already, for crying out loud. If they are, then speed dating is a little ridiculous since it allows for 3 minute getting to know you conversations that you’ve probably already had. If they are in your ward and you’re not already friends it’s probably for a very good reason that a speed date is not going to resolve.

  30. Ben H on March 31, 2006 at 1:21 am

    Well, I like singles wards. I’ve been on lots of dates with women I met in a singles ward. I’ve gone for years where most of my dates were with women in my ward because it was almost the only place I routinely encountered single LDS women my age, in a context where we could casually get to know each other. It helps that the ward was pretty big. Sure, when I was an undergraduate I never dated within my ward because I mostly met people elsewhere, in classes, through other friends, etc. But after that my other options for meeting women have diminished dramatically, particularly since I haven’t been a student at BYU anymore.

    If you think dating within a singles ward is difficult because it’s a small world, try dating within a ward where there are lots of families and just a few singles! It is much more daunting on that score! And the likelihood of meeting people you want to date at church is much less, just because for any given person, most people aren’t a great match.

    Sure, there are places where the singles are in high demand for callings in other wards. I won’t argue singles wards are always the way to go. And being involved with grownups can be really good for one’s spiritual growth. But they have some real advantages. In some areas, like the Wasatch Front for example, I would bet young singles would not be able to serve in such interesting callings in a family ward as they can in a singles ward. And that is really good for spiritual growth. It is not insignificant, either, that for single people the prospect of meeting someone to date can be a nice boost for one’s interest in going to church.

    If I haven’t already been obnoxious enough, I’ll add that I like having marriage be on the table from the start because frankly building a relationship that is ready for marriage takes a lot of work, and I don’t want to dance around the issue for six months and then find out she was never interested in that possibility. I have little choice but to invest a lot more time in my profession now than I did when I was at BYU. If you want dating to be easy and fun, sure, take marriage off the table. If you want to get married . . . immature people (of whom there are many) have a tough time dealing gracefully with the higher stakes, I’ll grant, but with reasonably mature people I think it can be really nice to have that understanding from the start.

    I do worry a bit about the rhetoric about women’s not being responsible for getting married. Nowadays a relationship has to be a two-way street. If the woman doesn’t want to stay, no law or social convention is going to keep her. I don’t usually have trouble getting dates, but I have seen women who I think were making it very difficult for a guy to ask them out, without really realizing it, because hey, it’s not their responsibility. Or worse, women who even took no responsibility to help maintain a relationship in full swing! For women to be able to take more responsibility for their relationships, though, of course requires that men be willing to respond to and welcome women’s decisions and initiatives, which doesn’t always happen.

  31. Sarah on March 31, 2006 at 3:07 am

    Having been raised in a lovely “you can’t have our daughter baptized into your evil soul-killing organized religion until I send her to a shrink to make sure you haven’t had her brainwashed” dual-faith family (admittedly, my parents had been divorced for five years by the time we got to that point,) I’m more or less committed to marrying inside the church if at all possible. ^_^ Nonetheless, so far I’ve only dated non-members. If it weren’t for the fact that I have about fifty other things I need to be doing, I’d be more concerned about this contradiction, in that I’ve never dated a Mormon but I won’t marry a non-member, but there’s only so much a girl can worry about at once.

    Ben H.,

    How exactly ought LDS women go about making it easy for guys to ask them out? Should I begin wearing a “I’m free on Tuesdays and Saturdays between 6pm and 11pm, and if you like watching Battlestar Galactica and/or Lost, on Wednesdays and Fridays as well, just ask me any time, preferably with 3 to 8 days’ notice” t-shirt? Should I slip notes to the cute RMs in our FHE group as I’m passing out the hymnals? Seriously, constructive criticism and suggestions are appreciated. I think I’m pretty good about keeping relationships going, but then again, I’ve never dated a Mormon. Are LDS men on a completely separate wavelength from non-member men?

    (as to single’s wards, I’ve never enjoyed them; give me my calling in Primary or maybe one in YW, but please, don’t send me back to the wolves, aka the women my age… the only women under 30 that I can really talk to are the ones who are married and have kids, which is very odd and yet still true.)

  32. Eric Russell on March 31, 2006 at 4:16 am

    I agree with pretty much everything Ben says and disagree with just about everything Melissa says. I guess it just goes to show that singles’ experiences in the church can vary widely. But I think the church is doing the best it can for its SAs.

  33. John David Payne on March 31, 2006 at 7:41 am

    D.,

    I must admit that there are times I find myself thinking along the same lines. And not just about singles wards, but about all the language wards, too. Dividing congregations up like this can hardly lead us to one heart, and one mind. Separate is inherently unequal. Integrate the singles!

  34. John David Payne on March 31, 2006 at 7:58 am

    Melissa,

    I do think you’re on to something with the made-up calling thing. I’m one of two assistants to the Elder’s Quorum secretary. I can’t remember the last time they asked me to do anything besides attend presidency meetings. (Then again, I’m not particularly good at remembering details like that, which is why it’s probably a good thing that I’m not the only secretary.)

    I disagree with you on singles wards helping people to meet, date, and marry. I think it works pretty well, although not for me yet. Every year, I watch my friends get married and pass on from this world of sorrow to a happier place, a higher plane of existence. It’s nice for them, but I do get tired of my friends disappearing all the time, leaving me to make new ones. But the relevant question here is whethere single people would meet, date, and marry at a higher rate if they were in family wards. And that I don’t know.

    There is something adolescent about Mormon dating at older ages, and I think I know what it is. It’s sex. Or not sex. Or thinking about sex but not having it, or having experienced it. My gentile friends reach their upper twenties or lower thirties after having some amount of sexual experience and concluding, to varying degrees, that sex is not quite as big a deal as they thought at 17. Not only have they experienced it, but they’ve experienced it during the years when they and their partners are in the full bloom of youthful beauty, and thus most like the pretty people they see on the TV. And, again, they’ve concluded that the TV screen is really not all that good a guide to the way things really work, or should work. They grow up, and they grow out of a lot of the adolescent thinking about sex and love and relationships.

    Then there’s me, and people like me. We’ve never experienced anything. And although intellectually we (by which I mean me) have come to accept the things that our married friends tell us (see above paragraph), in our viscera, we’re mostly where we were at 17. And we are past (or passing) the point of youthful beauty where we can even pretend that we are like the people on TV. We can only have grown-up relationships, but we’ve never experienced the thing that led everyone else to grow up. So we stay juvenile. (Again, by we I mean myself.) This is why I don’t really believe it when people say (as you did, Melissa) that I am an adult now. I’m not. I’m a teenager who’s lost his hair.

    Maybe this is why you find yourself more interested in men outside the church. Of course, that means you have to marry a person outside the church, which some of us don’t want to do, even though we sometimes fall in love with people who aren’t Mormon and don’t want to become Mormon. But that’s another story.

  35. Melissa Proctor on March 31, 2006 at 8:06 am

    Eric,

    You didn’t mention what it was specifically you disagreed with about what I said so I’ll just have to guess.

    I do think that the single’s ward experience is very different for men than it is for women for a variety of reasons the most obvious being the ratio of men to women. Student wards, which differ dramatically from single’s wards, were simply delightful. Single’s wards, however, are quite another animal. In all honestly, I can’t fathom why a woman over 30 would attend.

  36. John David Payne on March 31, 2006 at 8:10 am

    Melissa again,

    About the speed dating. I went to their inaugural event. It was weird. The problem was not the time (8 minutes) but the non-anonymity. The 1st ward threw it, so I thought I would see fewer 2nd ward people like me there, but I knew most of the women I talked to already. So at the end of the night when I am supposed to mark down who I am interested in and who I am not, so that we can get matched up, what am I supposed to do? I know these women! Most of them are my friends!

    Gentile speed dating lends itself at least to honesty about who you want to see again, because you don’t know these people and have no incentive to lie to protect people’s feelings. I knew that I would see pretty much every one of these women on Sunday, and many Sundays thereafter. So I rationalized. I had a good time talking with all of them, so I just marked them all down as people I would like to see again.

    Hey, I’m not picky. (Although my life history gives the lie to these words.) So now I have my matches back. I am matched with three women, out of the 13 who I listed on my little index card. So now when I go to church, I know 10 women who don’t want to go out with me. As a man, I mostly am glad to know this. It’s useful. But it’s also a little sad. I suspect that the balance of feelings tips a little more toward the latter for the sisters. (Although, like George Costanza, I can truthfully say that I know less about women than anyone alive. So I may be totally wrong.)

    I think speed dating can’t really work if you do it with people you already know, and whom you will see again.

  37. Eric Russell on March 31, 2006 at 8:32 am

    Good point Melissa. I must admit that the difference between the two types of wards hadn’t even occurred to me. I’ve now been in six different singles wards and every one of them was a student ward. So I really can’t speak for non-student singles wards.

  38. Former LPWer on March 31, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I entirely agree with John’s post #34, and would go even a few steps further.

    1 It doesn’t help that in many singles’ wards, the bishop is seen as the “dad” of the ward, and his wife wants to be “mom”–even when they’re our own age!

    2. Having relationships with other ward members under the gaze of “mom” and “dad” (and crying to bishop/dad when things go wrong or confessing to improprieties) makes things a bit icky. At one point I remarked to myself that it felt a bit incestuous.

    3. Being in teenage-limbo land well into one’s 30s can be mitigated by befriending and/or dating non-LDS folk, and learning their perspectives. In one of those Cambridge wards, a bishop said during a “chastity talk” that if possible, we should (as he did) wait to kiss our beloved over the altar of the temple and not before. Well, spluh, bishop–you were 21 when you got married!!!

  39. Melissa Proctor on March 31, 2006 at 10:02 am

    John,

    Re: speed dating. My point exactly. Dating in a single ward is comedic. It’s so easy to hurt people’s feelings or, in the effort not to hurt their feelings, to send the wrong message. Better to avoid dating in your own ward if you plan to be there for awhile. Date girls from the other ward or from New York or even non-members (I know one marries whom ones date, but I’m not at all convinced that marrying inside the church is better than marrying outside the church)

    As for sex being the adolescent factor in dating Mormon men, I think you’re exactly right (although I think there’s more to it than that as well–i.e. the “let’s get married tomorrow” agenda that I’ve already mentioned. However, the marriage agenda might not be altogether disconnected from the pre-marital chastity requirement ;)) I do have a rather involved theory about the damaging results of longterm sexual prudishness (and I would know), but that’s for another day. I’m off to class.

  40. Ben H on March 31, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Sure, singles wards beyond the undergrad years are somewhat different for men than for women. But the women I went on dates with were (obviously) going on dates. And I have dated several women over thirty. It really depends a lot on the particulars of the ward and who is there. Different wards have different demographics and social dynamics.

    Huh? Maybe sex-on-the-brain contributes to the emotional adolescence of many older Mormon singles, but I think lack of experience in committed relationships is probably more important. And lack of responsibilities to anyone but oneself (okay, roughly another angle on the same thing). I’ve known plenty of people with sexual experience who are still emotional adolescents. In some cases, that is part of why they are, say, divorced, or still unmarried into their thirties as they hop from one shallow fling to another, as so many Gentiles do.

    Growing up is not easy. Some people who are free of the anxiety of growing up have grown up. Others are just not trying to grow up.

    Also, don’t mistake sampling for causality. People who are emotionally mature are more likely to get married, I think, especially if they are Mormons over 22, and so the longer you wait, the fewer of them there are likely to be in a singles ward. Sarah, I bet that has something to do with why you don’t like the single women your age.

  41. Whut the on March 31, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    One could easily say that–especially among Mormons–people who are emotionally immature tend to marry early, and are more likely to marry. Thus you find children in their late teens who don’t want to be alone engaged to boys just off a mission, again scared to grow up.

    In a single’s ward there are people who are well into their thirties working on dissertations or theses, having lived their personal and academic lives by themselves; learned how to grow up themselves without the luxury of emotional and physical comforts. The drawback is that the absence of an emotional and sexual life at the prime of one’s life can be damaging. At least they didn’t go out and find the first person who asked/agreed to marry. It’s not a race, folks, and singleness does not equal immaturity. Geez.

  42. Tony Loyal on March 31, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Did the word “spinster” suddenly become a profanity around here?

  43. Blain on March 31, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    34 — I think you’re overstating the “I’m over that” aspect that comes from having been sexually active. My experience has been that they seem less obsessed with sex because they are going ahead and having sex as an understood part of the dating experience. Not on a first date, necessarily, but usually by a third or fourth date.

    Mormon Culture is sexually obsessed, but American Culture is at least as sexually obsessed. We deal with it by pushing a lot of young kids into first marriages quite early so they are getting their sex within marriages, but a disturbing proportion of those practice marriages crash and burn.

    Personally, I have no problem with you being 30 and never married. I don’t think it makes you bad or evil or lazy or any of those other things GAs have described you as. 30 is a good age to be single until — I recommend it, in fact, to non-Mormons. To Mormons, I suggest 25, and, at that, they look at me like I’ve accused the Prophet of cross-dressing. Nobody likes my guidelines about marriage, although those who have had a marriage fall apart understand where they come from.

    Living the Law of Chastity is not easy, and that’s no joke. Many singles fail in their efforts to obey it, and some don’t make all that much effort. For that matter, many married folks fail as well — again, we don’t get buried in lessons about the LoC because we’re living it perfectly, and the lessons aren’t only there for the youth. It’s very difficult in a time of cable tv, dvd rentals, and the internet to avoid all sexualized media, and it’s not really possible to undo the physiological wiring we’ve got that responds to any exposure to sexualized media. And it’s hard to find safe places to honestly discuss these kinds of matters — very difficult indeed.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I will say that I respect you being where you are, that you’re a lot more okay than Mormon Culture might tell you that you are, and that there’s definitely reason for hope that things will work out in a good way for you. Trust God — he’s smarter than you are, and he can find you better stuff than you can find for yourself, so do the (sometimes crazy sounding) things he tells you to do (especially the ones that go outside your comfort zone) and you’ll find things going better.

  44. The Practical Mormon on April 1, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Followed your link, and discovered that Maureen Dowd plagiarized her own column! See Googling/Bikramming references here and in your link, here.

    Huh!

    –The Practical Mormon

  45. John David Payne on April 1, 2006 at 8:12 am

    The later NYT piece, which I linked, is an excerpt from a book which she recently published. I guess I am not surprised to find that the book plunders her earlier columns. Kind of funny to think of the many layers of unoriginality there. There’s a guy in Ukrainian studies who does the same thing. Writes a dozen articles a year, puts out a new book every year, and they all say the same things, over and over. Man, I wish I was famous so I could do that.

  46. annegb on April 1, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Is it possible to plagarize your own words? If so, I do it all the time. Explain how it is done so I won’t get sued.

  47. Christmas on April 2, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    Welcome to old-dom John. It only gets worse from there! (Sorry, but you should know the truth. ;) )

    You are SUPER LUCKY to be in a Stake that doesn’t kick everyone out of the ward at 30. When I turned that age the policy suddenly changed in my stake and I got kicked out along with half the singles. From that point on it became sheer misery and about 4/5ths of them became inactive. (I think we have one of the higher singles inactive rates.)

    It seems all but impossible to meet anyone for marriage now that those of us who still go are dispersed in different family wards as units of one. If they ever do have an activity it is bird watching from lawn chairs with age 80 and above singles. Any dances will be waltzes or VERY OLD, out of date music. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is nice to spend time with those people, but it does not come close to filling the social and emotional needs that were met when we had a singles group of active people reasonably close to our age.

    Worse than not having the chance to meet people for dating is the complete loss of the social support of the single group, and the loss of a bishopric who is understanding of and knowledgable about the issues singles face. As far as church goes you are now an official oddity and misfit.

    Welcome to the club. :) Membership meets alone, one on one with yourself. Well, maybe it will be better for you since you are a guy. I hope so!

  48. D. Fletcher on April 2, 2006 at 11:05 pm

    I’ve known for a long time that my views about the singles wards are… contrary. Still, somebody should voice them.

    I think the young singles wards are necessary, particularly for students. But if single but working/living, the singles should go (as early as 25) to the family wards.

    The family wards have an air of “been there/done that” about dating, and the dynamic of the dance of sex simply isn’t present in the family wards. The families come to worship, and to bring their children to learn about God and the way of the Church. Though very separate in a family ward, I still feel more comfortable there, and welcome.

    Whenever I attended the singles ward, I always felt awkward (am I dressed poorly? Is my hair ugly? What’s wrong with me?) and I was always chastized over the pulpit for activity — that I wasn’t doing.

    One particular talk was very irksome. The talk was about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and being chaste (2 birds with one talk, I guess). This speaker, a single male himself over the age of 30, suggested that several members of the ward were eating in restaurants on Sunday with their friends, and he called this “selling your birthright for a mess of potage.” Where we live, in NYC, one’s friend in the ward is one’s family, and I have no shame in spending some time with my family eating a nice dinner. Then he suggested, we should refrain from all the rampant sexual relations. Well, I don’t know what he was doing, but he was completely miserable, and making the rest of the congregation miserable too. You see, connecting with others is exactly the problem with the older singles — these are people who can’t get any, and he chastizing them.

    That’s the tenor of the ward as I felt it, again and again. Long before they disbanded the older singles ward, quite a number of singles left that ward to attend the family ward of their own accord.

  49. Christmas on April 3, 2006 at 1:45 am

    I know some areas must have singles wards that are not very spiritual. For whatever reason I haven’t run into that. Not only have they been incredibly positive, spiritual, and uplifting, but I also have had some exceptionally knowledgable Gospel Doctrine teachers in singles’ wards.

    It’s great to allow singles who don’t like the ward freedom to choose to attend a family one. It’s a shame though to punish all singles by forcing them to lose the family closeness of their singles’ group. The only place I can go to feel accepted and normal now is activities with non-church members.

    As for dating, I sit home alone every night even though I constantly get asked out by normal, fun, attractive non-members. At some point I wonder if I should just start accepting. But then I think where can that lead. I have no reason to expect those people would ever accept the gospel. I didn’t have this conflict when I had a group of LDS single peers.

  50. John David Payne on April 3, 2006 at 10:28 am

    D.,

    I think you’re right that the unique environment of a singles ward has some spiritual disadvantages, but it has advantages as well. I have had many people say to me that they find it easier to have a reverent sacrament experience without the hustle and bustle of children in a family ward. And in a singles ward, I have the opportunity to meet and get to know all the women in the ward during Sunday School, because they are not confined to the primary ghetto.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like children, and I ENVY those who have primary callings. (Although there is a new church policy which would make it impossible for me as a man to be called as a primary teacher anyway, unless I was chaperoned by a woman.) I also like old people, and I have wanted to attend High Priests’ group for years. (I guess I was born a curmudgeon.)

    But singles wards aren’t all bad. I for one, have had some very moving spiritual experiences worshipping in a singles ward. I have also had some crappy experiences, like the one you describe with the idiot spouting meanness from the pulpit. This, however, is not a unique part of the singles ward experience. It’s part of the church experience, and not just this church, either. It’s part of the human experience, for better or for worse.

  51. D. Fletcher on April 3, 2006 at 10:39 am

    I was mostly commenting on the overall tone of the ward meetings. Every community has its advantages and disadvantages, and also, some people will respond favorably to a community, others, not so favorably. I myself have never enjoyed being labeled as a single, which you’d think would happen more often in a family ward, but it isn’t so. In the singles ward, I was old, ugly and unwanted. In the family ward, I’m was just the organist or the high priest group teacher, or both.

  52. Kevin Barney on April 3, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Re #35, I saw a notice in our ward bulletin for a singles activity that would include speed dating. I hoped that if they did this they would dispense with the last part where people check the numbers of the people they want to date. I don’t see how this would work in a limited universe LDS community, even if it is done at an area conference. The LDS context lacks the anonymity that makes speed dating possible elsewhere.

  53. Melinda on April 3, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    I attended singles wards up until I was 30. By and large, I really liked them. I was too clueless to be part of the dating games. Singles ward lessons are first-rate, as the teachers actually talk about the lesson material. The second family ward I attended never worshipped Christ at all – there was the 15-minute sacrament ordinance and then a 2 hour 45 minute family and parenting seminar. And since I didn’t have husband or kids, I had no way to connect with the women in the ward and make friends. After a while, I figured out why there were no other single people in that ward and I quit going too.

    As far as getting Mormon guys to ask you out (Sarah #31), I can actually give some advice because I started doing something radical and four months later I was dating somebody wonderful. Here it is: tell every guy you meet (except the scary ones) that you’d say yes if they asked you to dinner. Even the geeks.

    That’s it. Tell them they do not need to fear rejection from you and they will ask you out. My hubby (we’ve been married five months now) is painfully shy and was terrified about asking anyone out. I cheerfully threatened to twist his arm until he took me to dinner and he finally caved in. I twisted his arm for a second date, and after that he picked it up and I didn’t have to do any more arm-twisting. I did have to tell the other guys I was dating that I didn’t want to go out anymore, but hey, easy come easy go.

    I went from having one or two dates a year to having one or two dates a week by telling guys they should ask me out. Most of them I met on an LDS singles site. Flirting online is much easier than flirting in person. I know some people would rather have their teeth pulled than sign up to date online, but it avoids all the problems about dating in the singles ward that have been mentioned, and the dating pool is *huge*.

  54. Julie M. Smith on April 3, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    “And since I didn’t have husband or kids, I had no way to connect with the women in the ward and make friends.”

    Melinda, I am sure you didn’t mean this to be offensive to mothers, but I don’t know how to read it except to conclude that you think that mothers have no interests or abilities outside of their children and/or no ability to connect with another woman unless she has the same.

    BTW, I like your “ask me out and I’ll say yes” approach. Brilliant.

  55. Beijing on April 3, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    54. It was clear to me that Melinda was talking about one particular ward in which marriage and kids were almost the exclusive topic of discussion during the block meetings. I can see how that might create a situation where those particular mothers were so busy connecting with each other in wife/motherhood-specific ways that they were not bringing up their other interests and abilities during that time, and perhaps not even having their own non-wife/motherhood-specific needs addressed during that time. They probably heard somewhere that it’s perfectly fine to talk solely in generalities that don’t address the exceptional needs of one person in the room.

  56. Thomas on April 5, 2006 at 2:48 am

    Regarding earlier posts (comments 27, 28, and 29) in which women were seeking “engaging, attractive, and intelligent” men, and were finding them outside the Church: hey, why not settle for a worthy Priesthood holding man? The fact is, most women I talk with who are lamenting the paucity of marriageable men already have worthy men interested in them, just not “engaging, attractive, and intelligent” men. But men who might make good husbands and fathers of their children. But I’m not judging, just pointing out the fact in the interest of being truthful and complete. Why should anyone “settle” for someone anyway?

  57. Christmas on April 8, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    “The fact is, most women I talk with who are lamenting the paucity of marriageable men already have worthy men interested in them, just not “engaging, attractive, and intelligentâ€? men. But men who might make good husbands and fathers of their children. But I’m not judging, just pointing out the fact in the interest of being truthful and complete. Why should anyone “settleâ€? for someone anyway? ”

    There are only 3 single LDS men I know. I seriously believe we have nothing in common that would make a good match. I do not think they are appropriate candidates for me, and vice versa.

    On the other hand, I am always willing to casually get to know a guy and become friends. I have hoped many times that maybe if the guy will be friends with me first I can grow to love him. Most LDS guys I knew are not that patient. But more to the point, I simply do not see or meet any LDS men anywhere anymore with whom I would have the CHANCE to learn to love.

    It is easy to meet single non-LDS men, but for some reason, not so for single LDS men. After a certain age,and with the lack of a single’s ward I think it becomes a challenge.

  58. Thomas on April 11, 2006 at 1:24 am

    Regarding #57. I’m sorry that 2 of the 3 LDS guys you know aren’t very patient. Your problem, however, seems to be more basic than most. Joseph Smith, Sr. was forced by crop failures to move from Vermont to Palmyra because he was in the wrong place. Maybe someone is trying to tell you something.