by Amanda Waterhouse
Marriage is not simply a relationship or tax status in our church. It’s a blessing, a rite of passage, a necessary part of salvation; which leaves single adults in a tricky place. If marriage is a blessing, why haven’t you received it yet? Why don’t you deserve it? What did you do wrong?
Of course, the flip side to the myth that single adults are single because of some worthiness issue is the idea that it’s not your fault at all. You just haven’t been given the opportunity to get married yet. All too often I have been reassured, “I’m sure you’ll be married in the next life!” by well-meaning members who don’t recognize the inherent double blow to self-esteem in a message that implies:
1) you’ll be better (i.e. “fixed”) in the next life, thus reinforcing the idea that something is wrong with you now, and
2) you are not enough. It’s tricky to maintain a strong sense of individual worth when you are constantly reminded that no matter how good you are, you won’t be good enough until you are partnered with somebody else. I am a child of God, but I’m not worthy of exaltation so long as I’m a single child of God.
Free agency further complicates this idea. When marriage becomes a matter of choice rather than a spiritual achievement or opportunity, it’s a gendered choice – men do the choosing and are failures if they do not choose correctly; women wait to be chosen and are failures if they are not picked.
And it’s just that – waiting. The idea that your life doesn’t actually begin until you’re married and have “a family of your own” traps single adults in a liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. A wedding, particularly a temple wedding, acts as a significant rite of passage in the church; and the church doesn’t know quite when to treat those who have not completed that ritual as full-fledged adults.
Marriage equals maturity; therefore singles must be immature. Singles wards and groups are not only given second-class citizen status in their segregation, but they are assigned married couples to “lead” them. When a newly-married couple in their early 20’s is placed in a leadership position over older single adults, the message is clear – a marriage certificate bestows more life-experience and capabilities than years of living as an independent adult. No wonder many Mormon single adults buy into this myth as much as non-single member do, to damaging effect. All too often single adults embrace a semi-adolescent lifestyle, neglecting critical responsibilities such as creating wills, saving for retirement, or establishing their own homes. We lose sight of the “adult” by focusing too much on the “single.”
Some of the most damaging myths about singles in the church are rooted in some of the most beautiful doctrines of the gospel, which makes it so much harder to untangle the truths from the myths. It’s worth it, though. Free agency, eternal families, celestial progression, and a real understanding of individual worth are worth the struggle to remind my fellow members and the struggle to convince myself over and over again that myths about single adults are indeed just myths.
Amanda Waterhouse teaches theater and a whole lot more in a high school outside of Denver. She loves traveling, Michelin restaurants, Marvel movies, and the Oxford comma.