Extended adolescence

silhouette lead 203x152In last week’s Washington City Paper, Huan Hsu profiled single, middle-aged members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. What’s so special about single, middle-aged Mormons? Well, there aren’t very many of them.

Life for singles over 30 isn’t always easy. Life for singles over 30 who also happen to be LDS can be truly stressful. The church’s doctrine not only emphasizes marriage and family but practically demands them: It’s not uncommon for young members to go from first date to marriage in less than a year or for 22-year-old couples to be working on their second child.

While I find articles like these — on the mating habits of devoutly religious folk — humorous, I believe the author misses part of the story. He has that typical attitude writers have when examining customs, traditions and beliefs dissimilar to the mainstream. It’s partly because the reporter often will write with this “I can’t believe these people believe and act like this” attitude and because, well, dating/courting/marriage rituals are funny if looked at objectively.

The challenges and problems faced by these young Mormons — the pressure to marry, settle down and bear offspring — seem quite similar, in varying degrees, to those that I’ve seen around me in various settings, such as Catholic college communities and evangelical Protestant groups. The author should have found some way to expound on this, because pressure to marry is not particular to young Mormons.

What is different though, is that marriage and child producing is a fundamental tenet of the Mormon religion. Leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints do not see single young people very positively, according to the article, and this aspect is something I have not seen before. Protestant and Catholic leaders I have encountered do not see singleness as a problem but rather as an opportunity. Certainly marriage is looked upon quite favorably in my experience, but single people are not seen as misguided.

“You’d get hugs from the bishop who’d say, ‘These men don’t know what they’re missing.’ They don’t know how else to feel. You’re a leftover, and they don’t know why. So you end up with a different kind of pressure, from both sides, to be flawless. You have to be thin and pretty and smart, and you’re not allowed to be sad that you’re not with someone, because that makes you feel like you messed up, but you’re not allowed to be happy about not being with someone, either, because that’s wrong. It’s a hard church to be single in.”

Overall this article provides a rare, intriguing glimpse into the lives of single, young Mormons who are struggling with the idiosyncrasies of their beliefs.

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  • Lola

    One thing that irritates me about this article is how they went out of their way to find someone to profile for the article who hates Bush and then throws that in at the end of the article. Arrggghh!!!

  • Michael

    In a metropolitan area that is probably 65-70 percent Democrats, finding a Mormon who disliked Bush was probably not that hard and the writer probaby did not have to go out of their way to finding someone to profile.

  • Linda

    In my experience, any church is hard to be single in. Single people go to church for the sole reason of worshipping, because they aren’t going to find much support nor are there going to be many other single people there. For example, church social gatherings revolve around the family. A single person is supposed to act as a family of one. The cost to bring a dish to a potluck is the same as eating a dinner in an expensive restaurant. The time given to church events takes away from time needed at home to do the many chores that are divided among family members in other households. Expectations of family church members do not reflect any empathy for single life.

  • Tom R

    > “A single person is supposed to act as a family of one. The cost to bring a dish to a potluck is the same as eating a dinner in an expensive restaurant…”

    True, but look on the bright sight: a single person can divide his/her money and time by one. A married couple with N children must divide their money and time by (N+2) or something close to it. There’s not much time left to cook a potluck dish after bathing children, reading them bedtime stories, and cleaning up their mess.

    I’ve been through the “poor me, a single Christian, the church overlooks us” phase myself, but now I look back on it from “both sides now” with a certain degree of cynicism. It’s true that numerically most adult members of Christian congregations of whatever stripe will be married and/or with children. But, otoh, the movers and shakers among the laity who have any time and energy left to volunteer to keep the church running, will be singles. Thus the common situation I’ve seen (I’ve moved cities 4 times since 1996) where the Worship leader is a single person in his/her 30s who wants the service to revolve around loud contemporary hymns, 4 or 5 of them in a row, everyone standing and clapping or waving. The parents in the pews find this inconvenient, but they don’t get a vote — it’s the 30-something singles who turn up to rehearsals during the week, so it’s them who have a say on the service format.

  • SS

    The Orthodox Christian Church has a tradition (with a little “t”) that if you aren’t married by the age of 30 you should become a monastic.

  • Maureen

    Well, that’s one way to keep from dying alone, your corpse stinking up your apartment as the messages pile up on your answering machine.

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  • Scriptfox

    Yep, I know the feeling. The worst time I had was at my cousin’s wedding. I was wandering through the rest of the church and came across the Sunday School rooms. They had the various signs for different age groups, and when it came to the ‘young adults’ age it was labeled as:

    “Pairs and Spares”

    …I believe I walked out of the church about then. A pretty good way to make someone feel unwanted, I thought. Of course, considering the occasion, my sensitivities were no doubt raw at that point.