Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
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.
They say that most people have dealt with unrequited love at least once in their lifetime, at least 98% according to an estimate in this article in Psychology Today . I think most of us who are single are nodding our heads sadly in agreement.
How to deal with it
Where do I go from here?
I hate getting over crushes or unrequited love: call it what fits you best. You have to go through the pain of realizing that something you’d hoped for, something important to you, may never be. At certain times in my life this has been harder than others. I had someone writing me when I was on my mission. Towards the end he was still writing. I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure what I thought, but in theory (because of the letters he was writing), he was still there.
Only he wasn’t. I got home to find out that he was engaged to someone else. It was a heartbreaking time for me. I had at least hoped I’d come home to have him as my friend, there, to talk about my mission with, as we’d corresponded nearly the whole time. Even though I wasn’t sure that I wanted more than that, the loss of the friendship was the most difficult.
Another time period in my life I really liked someone and just wanted to get to go out with him. What I didn’t know what that he was dating someone else on the sly (heard of “stealth dating?”) and so when I told him how I felt he turned me down. Even though I felt embarrassed, I tried again a few months later. I got the same response and was mortified when I decided what a fool I’d made out of myself. To this day I still wonder if the girl he was dating (who became his wife) was bugged by me, or if she realizes that I’m long over it and that I saw almost immediately that they were a much better match, once they finally “came out” as a couple.
Getting over both these situations was painful, but tools our Heavenly Father has given us ultimately brought peace and healing for those times and others. In Isaiah 49:16 the Lord reminds us that he’s always there for us:
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Heavenly Father does want us to be happy and if we pray for his help, He will help us move on and he will help us through the pain. The pain can be a bittersweet opportunity to look at ourselves and say, “Why am I hurting? What was I expecting?” and we can use these answers for future goals and expectations. Sometimes some of the greatest things we do come on the heals of painful experiences.
This was a conversation between Young Singles Adults throughout the world and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Carole M. Stephens from the Relief Society General Presidency , and Elder Donald Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy. The questions and answers throughout the evening were all just as applicable to singles of any age as they were to the YSA. I give it Five Stars. Give it a listen.
I invite you to reflect on the last time you experienced the feeling of fear. Was it wondering if you’d be accepted into one of the many competitive degree programs here at Brigham Young University? Or waiting to see if the girl you asked out wants to go out again? Or worse yet, wondering what to do if she does? For me the feeling is as recent as sitting on this stand, looking into the faces of so many, and knowing that, through the miracle of technology, thousands more are watching this message.
Like you, I can testify that the feeling of fear is real. Indeed, of this powerful emotion, Elder Bednar taught in last April’s General Conference:
Notably, One of the first effects of the fall was for Adam and Eve to experience fear. This potent emotion is an important element of our mortal existence.
Today I want to visit with you about overcoming the fears that are an essential part of our experience in this Earth life.
One of my favorite classes to teach here on campus is the Doctrine and Covenants, because I find it highly relevant in my own life and in the lives of my students. In a well-known episode from the text, Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, was offered the opportunity of the lifetime: to join Joseph Smith as a translator of that sacred book of scripture. Oliver was instructed,
“Ask that ye may know the mysteries of God, and that ye may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up according to your faith, and it shall it be done unto you.”
(unsure on source, text of talk still unavailable)
Shortly thereafter, when Oliver failed in his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, the Lord explained the reasons for his failure, outlining several causes:
5 And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Doctrine & Covenants 9:11
I’ve long wondered what it was that Oliver feared that he did not continue as he had commenced. Knowing that the project was of eternal importance, did he fear making a mistake, and thus marring the sacred publication?
I was the age of most of you when this scriptural episode came to have special meaning to me. I was in grad school here at BYU, and began asking out a particular girl. And, as things progressed, I became scared. Fear caused me to not continue as I had commenced. I was afraid of making the wrong decision; one that I knew was important and, ideally, eternal. My poorly thought out solution to this fear was to stop asking the girl out. As weeks turned into months, I buried myself in other things, all the while praying if I should pursue the relationship that I clearly wasn’t doing anything to nurture.
Finally one Sunday I was in church here on campus when I finally made up my mind: I would pursue the relationship. What would be the worst that could happen? “Maybe I would get married,” I thought. I called her apartment, only to learn that she had gone home that weekend. I left a message for her to call me when she returned, which, incidentally, is ideal for someone gripped by dating paralysis. The last thing a young man really wants to do is talk.
That afternoon my dad called. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. The girl was engaged.
She returned my call later that night. “Scott, I heard you called.” “Yes, I was just calling to congratulate you on your engagement” was my response. Fear of the future had kept me from continuing what I had commenced, and the time had passed. I thought often about that experience, and the Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery concerning fear, the next six years of my single life.
So how do we overcome fears, act in faith, and move forward towards an uncertain future? Eleven years ago last fall I was dating my wife Janice. The week before Thanksgiving I invited her to come home with me to Southern Utah for the holiday weekend. She accepted. And then, once again, I became really scared. I’d taken girls home on road trips before. And for those familiar with Interstate 15 between Provo and Southern Utah, usually by about the town of Nephi, they became the longest weekends of my life.
I started to think of the ways I could uninvite Janice. With fear swirling in my head, I came to campus on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Preparing to teach my class that day, I stumbled across these words at the beginning of Doctrine and Covenants Section 67.
1 Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
As a 30 year old Elder, I had a desire, and had been praying for a long time that I might find a spouse and begin an eternal companionship. I could relate to these early saints. The Lord continues:
2 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
In my office at the Joseph Smith Building that morning, the thought struck me: maybe marriage is one of the riches of eternity, and maybe it is God’s to give. The revelation then warns:
3 Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.
I realized if I didn’t face my fear of an uncertain future, I might never receive the blessings the Lord had in store for me.
I took Janice home for Thanksgiving, and the weekend went wonderfully. Returning to Provo, however, my worst fears of carrying on an extended conversation with a girl were realized: a snowstorm forced the closure of Interstate 15 and the two of us were stranded together in the car between the Utah towns of Beaver and Fillmore for several hours with no choice but to simply talk to each other. As our three hour road trip turned into seven, I realized that if we could survive this time together, maybe we could also face my fears of eternal marriage.
From these experiences I learned a valuable lesson: as you experience faith to overcome future fears and uncertainty, you will see God’s hand in your life. In fact, just a few short verses later in the Doctrine and Covenants, in Section 67, the Lord promises:
10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
I now look back on those years of post-mission single life, and like the saints in the Doctrine and Covenants, realize that God was in my midst, and I couldn’t see him. There were lessons I needed to learn, primarily about overcoming fear, coupled with experiences both my wife and I needed to have, that eventually prepared us for each other and our future together. As I stripped myself of fear, the day came that I could see God’s hand, and receive the riches of eternity, but they only came as I exercised faith.
Facing fear in our life isn’t limited to dramatic experiences involving unknown future events like relocating at the command of the Lord or finding an eternal companion. Indeed, the happiness of some is crippled by fears of past failures and the foreboding worry that the present and future can never become bright again.
This “Conversation” between Sheri Dew and Elder and Sister Oaks on the Mormon Channel had so much good stuff for singles in it that I thought it a great idea to share it. I’ve had some extra down time while not feeling well this week, so I was also able to give a rough outline of what the broadcast contains. Content that is particularly applicable to singles is italicized and in bold. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing if you can.
If you weren’t already aware, Sister Kristen McMain Oaks is Elder Oaks’ second wife (his first wife passed away) and Kristen was single until she was in her 50’s, so she has a lot to say about being single. She also has her own blog called “My Home Can Be a Holy Place.”
4:30 Elder Oaks on his mother
8:50 Kristen on her early days: convert to the church, going to primary with her friends
11:15 Elder Oaks on “work first, play later” and his work ethic; what he does in his free time
Kristen on Elder Oaks’ “projects” and togetherness
Elder Oaks’ mother again, on what he learned from her about women and motherhood. “Women can do anything that men can do.”
14:35 Kristen Oaks on marrying Elder Oaks and becoming a part of his large family, and what she’s learned in the ten years of being married to an apostle.
15:35 Kristen on remaining single longer than “normal.” Also, advice to people who are in circumstances not of their choosing.
“The waiting is really sanctifying.”
Challenges are sanctifying (Sister Dew)
17:50 Elder Oaks on losing a spouse and healing
1. sure knowledge of resurrection
2. I had peace that I had done everything I could for my wife (in a medical way, Priesthood blessings etc.)
3. I had been true to my covenants
Also, he wrote a history of his wife’s life. Took him about a year. Helped him process his grief and helped him heal. Helped bring the family together more.
20:00 comments on Elder Oaks’ address on divorce and marriage
How to avoid marrying the wrong person, time in courtship, time seeing them in different situations
Kristen and Elder Oaks on marriage and their courtship
23:00 increasing challenges of getting married
Excerpt and comments on Classic CES fireside from Elder Oaks on hanging out
Simple, inexpensive, and frequent dates
Women: don’t encourage “freeloaders”
To go on a date is not implying a continuing commitment
Letters Elder Oaks has received since that address
27:25 more on dating
Men frightened of young women’s accomplishments
Shy young men
Advice to Jenny Oaks Baker from Marjorie Hinckley
32:15 Elder Oaks’ law school days and what drew him to the law
Foundation the law has given him
34:00 Sister Dew on Elder Oaks’ ability to speak with boldness
Kristen Oaks: he’s very exact in his speech but he’s also tender; she’s also grateful for how he follows the Savior. Elder Oaks: worried to do what is right and not to please other people, and to do it as well as it could be done by me.
39:00 on Elder Oaks becoming President of BYU at age 38, what he learned from the experience, learning from Belle Spafford and other church leaders at the time
42:10 address in 2009 at BYU Idaho on Religious Liberty
45:25 Kristen on some of the criticism received because of that address, and what she learned from it about the Lord wanting us to be truthful, how criticism is hard for her (she was very honest about this)
47:00 the global nature of communication and how it affects Elder Oaks’ remarks
48:50 pervasive nature of pornography, address in General Conference in April 2005;
Counsel for parents, “soft” pornography, counsel for everyone in general, comparison of viewing pornography to smashing a compass while on a ship, love your kids and talk with them, having family dinner together and other “simple” solutions
56:00 “Good, better, best” in terms of family relationships
Bear your testimony to your kids/grandkids. Give kids of yourself.
1:02:20 Marriage and counsel for couples when there are rough spots on the road
Same goals, totally united on where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. Able to tolerate each other on different styles of doing things. They have separate bank accounts and their own toothpaste tubes. Fought about how to rake the leaves, but never fought on the Word of Wisdom. Pray on their knees morning and night. Heavenly Father same foundation, same direction, be flexible about other things than aren’t important.
1:04:58 Advice for those who have busy spouses; on looking past busyness and finding the joy
1:07:00 Advice on studying the Gospel
1:08:45 Moments, experiences, patterns that helped them in the development of their testimony
Testimony and tithing
1:10:50 Elder Oaks: what does it mean to speak for the Lord? (and immense responsibility, the single greatest worry he has, heavy burden, very intense process)
1:14:30 On the time the Oaks spent in the Philippines; how it changed their thinking on the Church in the developing world, which is half the world
1:23:00 The role that women play in the Church
1:26:15 What it means to be an Apostle to the Lord Jesus Christ
1:27:46 On members of the LDS Church being Christian, and how to respond when someone thinks we’re not
1:29:30 What is the one thing you would like to be sure everyone knows about your husband (Elder Oaks), and for Elder Oaks, about your wife Kristen
1:31:00 Parting feelings about the Lord and His Gospel