Mormon Woman, Part 1: The Ten Year Plan vs. The Little Wound

The definition of a young single adult in the LDS church is simple. An unmarried person between the ages of 18 and 31. I first joined a YSA ward in September of 2001, a couple months shy of my 18th birthday.

Cuz I’m super sneaky like that.

I will turn 31 in about 8 months.

I have been a YSA member of the church on three continents, in four countries, and held callings in a dozen YSA wards up and down the Mormon corridor. 

Jello Belt

Jello Belt

This makes me as close to expert in the field of Mormon young single adulthood as anyone ever can be, so let me tell you a little about it, with the preface that I do not pretend to represent anyone else’s feeling or the intentions of the church that I love so dearly.

When I left the only home ward I had ever known, to start school at BYU-Idaho, I began a phase of life that believed would be a short but vital blip on my journey to real adulthood. The 10 year plan I had laid out for myself at age 15 looked like this:

BYU

Mission

Marriage

Degree

Motherhood

This was the traditional path, the plain road. The course my mother and three sisters were all in various states of accomplishing. To my mind marriage and parenthood were the two states of being that defined a true adult. That was the plan, the expectation, and desire that I had chosen with the encouragement of my family and the fabulous army of Young Women’s program leaders, Sunday School and Seminary teachers, and priesthood leaders who had loved and guided me so tenderly all my life. I loved this plan. I was SOO EXCITED ABOUT IT!

GO B2 ward! B2 4Eva!

GO B2 ward! B2 4Eva!

 

During my late teens and early twenties, along with acing my way through college as a theatre major, I consciously prepared myself for life as a wife and mother. I bought excellent children’s books and movies. I made a notebook of activities I would do with my kids someday. I read about marriage and relationships. I carefully noted the examples of fantastic wives and mothers who I met. I chose a career path that I thought would be conducive to school hours or part time work. I tried, and I think pretty successfully, to “become the kind of person you want to marry,” as all the wise people had told me.

And yet, despite my efforts, there were no men for me. I had guy friends during high school and college. I had a lot of crushes. I even asked a few of them out here and there, but there was never a second date. I didn’t blame the guys. I knew I was not the prettiest girl. And I frequently reminded myself that those great guy’s I was crushing on had every right to take their pick from the sea of beautiful, intelligent, spiritual women I found myself surrounded by. Though it cut a little every time, I didn’t resent the many times a guy in my ward would befriend me only to quickly reveal their interest in my roommate. After all, my roommate was (usually) pretty awesome.

third-wheel-01

However, there is a little wound that develops one church meeting, game night, linger-longer, and ward family night at time. Every time, you pin hopes to your heart and tell yourself, THIS IS THE DAY. TODAY I WILL MEET THE MAN I’M GOING TO MARRY, and then you return home alone, not having had a real conversation with anyone at the party, and you unpin your hope again along with your earrings, and every time it leaves a little scar.

It becomes a small but constant ache. And you have to fight to keep the infection of bitterness from growing in it. From time to time, that pain put me on my knees, tears streaming, wondering what more I could have done. Didn’t I deserve this righteous desire? Did I need to repent? Had I missed something? Why didn’t anyone teach me how to flirt?!?

thegardenofenid.tumblr.com

thegardenofenid.tumblr.com

Unfortunately, the easy balm of comfort for this pain is commiserating with other singles about what is wrong with YSA culture and the church, or what Peter, who was such a great guy!, could possibly see in Molly!

That was wrong of me, but it usually felt good.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy ability to fight off physical and spiritual infections, and those hours of lonely struggle have made me stronger. I’ve had a solid relationship with my Father in Heaven throughout my 20s. This relationship was aided by my experience as a missionary and by my temple covenants.

In her excellent article this UVU student says “sometimes I feel like I should try harder, to be a good Mormon girl and focus solely on getting married. That sounds exhausting. I think I’ll conquer the world in the meantime.” Like her, I’ve always found taking on the world to be much easier than wrestling with my relationship issues in Zion.

Unlike her experience, no one—not my family, another YSA, or a priesthood leader—has ever made me feel uncomfortable for being an endowed single woman in the church. Like her, I had a strong desire to receive my endowment at an early age. I saw my 18-20 year old girl and guy pals going to the temple to be sealed or serve missions and I knew I wanted that too! And I wanted it now! What could be wrong in that desire? I was also struggling with my own grief over my father’s death and wanted to feel more connected to him and the rest of my endowed family by attending the temple. The very Sunday I made up my mind to speak to my bishop about preparing for the temple was the Sunday he read a letter from the first presidency announcing the ‘raising of the bar’ for missionaries and that no one should be endowed until their mid 20’s unless marriage or mission was imminent. That was ‘a hard saying’ for me, but the spirit comforted me that I could still prepare for the blessings of the endowment on my own. I studied carefully for the temple as I also prepared to serve a mission. When I at last received my mission call, I was more excited to enter the temple than I was to enter the MTC.

Me and Elder Huntsman

Me and Elder Huntsman

I was able to participate in all the temple ordinances multiple times before leaving for the mission field. This was a huge boon to my testimony and my work as a missionary. My love for the temple has remained constant through my life. I have been able to talk confidently with many brides and missionaries who are understandably nervous about the unknowns of the temple ceremonies, garments, and the promises they are making. I have also born witness of the peace and blessings of the temple to those outside my faith. The temple covenants have been an enormous blessing for my life during the struggles of my 20s. I LOVE the temple. I have many single girlfriends who have struggled for years with their own desires, or their priesthood leader’s pushiness or resistance to make the choice about when to enter the temple. In my opinion, it is a choice that the church should allow every young person over 18 to make on their own with the Lord’s guidance.

I needed the strength of the temple and the promises given to me there most especially during the crisis that hit me when I was 26. My first real relationship was a trial of my faith for many reasons, but the climactic moment came when, 13 days before our wedding, the man I had chosen to spend eternity with revealed to me that he was not able to be married in the temple. Our wonderful YSA Stake president, perhaps the most Christ-like man I have ever met, told us plainly that he would marry us outside the temple without hesitation. But I hesitated. I knew cancelling our temple wedding would raise a few eyebrows in my family and community, but that was not my real hesitation. More importantly, I knew immediately that getting married to this man I loved so very much would not help him. His struggle and the very unfortunate treatment that so many good men of the church receive is a topic for another time, perhaps. In any case, he had healing to do that had nothing to do with me. So though I stayed with him for more than a year hoping to be a helper in his healing, eventually the Lord helped me find the courage to give up on what had become my fondest hope and begin to move on. THAT SUCKED. ALOT.

This is an Alot.

This Alot Sucked

And it left me feeling bold and a bit unsteady.

I began to weigh my options more seriously. I started grad school, where I met a world of interesting people with ideas that have challenged me and forced me to take stock of what I really believe. This has not been a test of faith so much as a thinking through of ideas. I have read, and thought, and written a great deal in my quest to refine what one professor has called my Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs. I have felt healthfully stretched. My faith is in the process of being pruned and is springing up in new buds. I’ve also seen the church I love beginning to shift in very exciting ways.

So it was that after much internal debate, and an unexpected invitation that I decided go on my first date with a non-LDS guy. Now, Mom, don’t freak out, it’s not going to go anywhere with him for various reasons, but I spent the whole time pondering if pursing a relationship outside the church could be right for me. This was a good, genuine, humble, and kind man. It gave me pause. If I found a man who loved me and was supportive of my faith and desire to raise children within the teachings of the church, could I form a life with him? Is it time to start looking beyond my church to find some one to share my life with? My fears would be two fold.

One: That as the solo spiritual force in the home, I would fall short of providing my children a strong foundation of faith.

Two: That I would live in false hope that one day my husband would join the church, rather than being able to accept him for who he is and isn’t. I feel like that would be a kind of wedge that could drive a marriage apart quickly.

And yet, I have seen many powerful examples of Mormon men and women with non-member spouses who raise children to love the church. It may be a hard row to hoe, but so is being alone all your life, or never having children at all. The Lord grows his church in unexpected ways, often making do with the tools he has available. And my tool shed is looking a more than a little ill supplied. Does the Lord want to me explore some new horizons? 

My intentions and dreams have not changed in since I was 26, or 14, or… 3. I want a temple marriage and happy children. I love my work. I am passionate about my studies, but what I know will fulfill me spiritually throughout my life is building a family of my own. And here’s the thing, if I am ruling out marrying outside the church, I am cutting myself down to a pool of what I would guess is about one million eligible men in the WHOLE world—and of that million I have a really high standard for the man I will marry. Beyond being worthy of the temple and being willing to marry me,  I need to find someone who I can trust implicitly. I’m not expecting perfection from him, but if I am going to make the promises that temple marriage requires I make to my husband, then I need to find a man who understands and loves God even more than I do, and who I can actually imagine myself enjoying hanging out with FOREVER. And EVER. And EVER.

sandlot

AND EVER.

I’ve still never met a man that I loved that much. And if I never do in this life, then I need to…just be ok with that?

No children?

No husband?

It is a fact that every year the pool of options gets a smaller, and a lot of the time it feels plum dried up. My 10 year plan has failed. The revised five year plan I made at 26? That has failed too. And the one year plan that I made 18 months ago, yeah, that didn’t happen either. Maybe it’s time to stop making those plans.

It can be hard not to remind myself that at my age my mother was expecting me, her fifth and final child. It is hard not to look at some of the leadership of the church and want to tell them, “I DID IT ALL and IT DIDN’T WORK!” It can be very frustrating to go to another YSA activity and feel like I will never be recognized as an adult in this church. It is hard not to punch someone in the face when they use the term ‘graduating’ to describe getting married and leaving the YSA ward. Does that mean I am flunking out?

It is hard when I feel that I am failing at the one thing that has always mattered most to me.

But I am comforted by a thought that I will explore in the next post:

Maybe there is no such thing as a traditional Mormon woman.

And, it could be worse:

This family is a lie

 

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18 thoughts on “Mormon Woman, Part 1: The Ten Year Plan vs. The Little Wound

  1. I just want to thank for several things.

    1) Sharing your excellent testimony and experience.
    2) Being a real and vulnerable human being with an excellent perspective on the world.
    3) Your command of language in general, especially with word choices like “boon.”

    You’re a rad Mormon woman.

  2. Love you so much. And I love the bit about hanging up hope along with earrings. Brilliant.

    I have felt these things and shed these tears. I don’t know why I ended up SO incredibly lucky and blessed in this area when many of my (more worthy, kind, sweet, pretty, you name it) friends have not been. Striking the balance between being happy where you are and still hoping for more is a death-defying tightrope walk. I don’t have answers. I don’t have a plan for you. I have lots of hope because I have seen a miraculous turn of events in my own life, but no guarantees. BUT, I know (and I know you know) that our Heavenly Father (and Mother, I’m throwing that in) are very much aware of you and know you and love you and have a PLAN for your life. You haven’t done anything wrong, and there is nothing you should have done more. Have no regrets. You are becoming exactly what you are meant to be!

  3. I was 33 when I married my wonderful husband. One friend was 34 when she married her husband and another was 35. My aunt was 64 when she married her husband.

    My heart goes out to you. I remember praying to Heavenly Father to just let me know one way or the other – was I going to get marred or not. I just couldn’t stand not knowing any more. He never told me.

    The best you can do is to live your life and enjoy every moment, and from reading your Facebook posts, it sounds like you are doing just that. Every thing you’re doing now, every experience, every trial, every success, will make you that much better of a wife, mother, and person. I look back on my 33 years of singlehood with pride and joy. They were good years and I’m soooo grateful I had them.

  4. I think I’ll have to go read that article now because I am curious what sort of article prompted this type of response. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences.

  5. I related deeply to so much of this–the plan (life is what happens when you make other plans), the preparation for being a wife and a mother, a broken engagement with a man that had issues that were far beyond my ability to help, the prayers and the questions to my Father in Heaven, and why no one had ever taught me to flirt! I actually started going to the family ward at 29 because I realized I’d been in a YSA ward as long as I had been in PUBLIC SCHOOL (k-12) and didn’t want to be asked to leave.

    But my 30’s as a single woman gave me gifts and developed me in ways that I never expected and would never trade. I was given so many ways to serve and bless people’s lives in unique ways–my nieces and nephews, my co-workers, my friends, my callings in Primary and Young Women’s and as a single-adult rep. I came to the conclusion that the Lord was more interested in forming my character than in me having specific set of circumstances and as I looked at my life and the life of my beautiful, amazing friends who weren’t married I realized that the trial of not getting married is often given to those who need to develop patience and trust in the Lord’s timing–and I can speak to the fact that it is a very effective lesson. I am who I am today because of that trial and because of my decision to not be blind to all the Lord has given me because he hadn’t given me one thing (even if that one thing was my heart’s desire.) and to focus on ways I could contribute.

    I will turn 40 in two weeks. Last winter I met a remarkable man. He’d been inactive since he was 16 and was just starting to come back. And you know what? It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to flirt, and had never had a real boyfriend (but I did have a fiance–it’s all a little to bizarre to explain). The Lord comforted me and led me through my anxiety with his background– bathing me in the warmth of the Holy Ghost. We were sealed the Fall and I am expecting my first baby. For all those years, Father assured me that he hadn’t forgotten about me and that he was preparing something wonderful for me–and his promise was sure. I can clearly see now why we couldn’t have met until exactly that time we did. My thoughts to you are to continue to press forward with faith and trust in what God is telling you and that he has unspeakable blessings waiting for if you do.

    • That’s a remarkable story! Congratulations on your baby and husband! I have also been blessed to know that The Lord has watched over me all this time. Truly ‘his hand is stretched out still.’ I am grateful for the many unique experiences I’ve had as a YSA (travel, service, study, etc) and for this time I’ve had to refine myself spiritually, however I think we must always be cautious when making claims about why one person married and another does not. Obviously had you or I married at 19 or 30, we would have been different wives that we are/hope to be, but no better or worse, I hope, than another who married earlier or later than us. I mean that I hesitate to look at the pain of trial as some kind of privilage, as we sometimes do in the church. My beliefs is that there is no Plan A or Plan B in our lives, there is only Plan Me and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I hope that all makes sense.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to tell your story and being brave enough to comment!

  6. Thanks for your honesty and vulnerability here! As a girl who married at 22 to be abused and abandoned, I often reflect on the pressure to get married and how it does seem to equate to our worth. I often wished I’d been single those 3.5 years, but as I re-entered the single scene I found there were more amazing people there than on the married side! I’m not joking! I feel like Heavenly Father saves many to truly help and lift others. I am sure you are one of them my dear!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your terrible experience and thank you for your kindly meant words. I do recognize that I’ve been able to serve my friends and family and fellow saints in unique ways while I’ve been single. However, the thinking that we use in the church for those who experience certain trials-that they were, like Esther, ‘born for such a day’- is a cold kind of comfort. I’d rather believe that The Lord wanted your marriage to be celestial and my fiancé to overcome his demons, but that he loves us enough to leave us and them personal agency, the spirit to guide and comfort, and the power to use our experience to support others who may sadly suffer the same pain.
      I wish you the best as you continue your journey.

      • Camille, I know your intentions were very kind. And I took your words as kind too. It means so much to me that people, sisters especially, that I don’t know personally have taken time to read and find a connection with something I have written. The trouble with e-communication is that it can be a challenge to get feelings across clearly.
        My reply to your excellent and very exceptionally BRAVE comment was only meant to look closely at an idea that I see taught/perpetuated in the church, but that I find troubling sometimes. (I point it out on Sarah’s comment too.) Maybe it wasn’t your intention at all, but I still find it interesting. I think we have a habit in the church–and I have done it too–of making comparisons of our trials. “So and so had this happen because the Lord knew they were strong enough to handle it. She must be so strong because this the Lord allowed that to happen.” That doesn’t sit well with me in church doctrine. My finance’s choices had nothing to do with the will of the Lord. Neither did the abuse you suffered at your husband’s hands. Heavenly Father wants only for us to ‘love one another and choose him'(Mos 7:33-one of my favorites). I know God wants both of us to have the things that will make us happiest. Understanding his will for our lives is one of the great tests of being here.
        I hope that you won’t think that I meant to be unkind or to cut down what you were so kindly reaching out to say. I want my blog to be a place where challenging ideas can be explored deeply and where we can all ‘strengthen and edify’ one another. Not something that I see happening many places on the web, but this is my place and I will try to make it so. Please feel free to respond anytime to what I write that you might have a different view on or a question about. And thank you again for being a strong example of faith!

  7. My life plan was to be a movie star 🙂 — graduate from college – go on a mission – be a social worker – get married by 19 – and to have a dozen children. In a crazy kind of way — not the normal — these have all happened in their own times and seasons. Like for the college part — I kept going until I was the oldest in my college classes — but then formed a women’s group —
    where we have the most fantastic speakers come to educate us. The Lord seems to be the great weaver of the times and places and peoples — to bring the next act on stage. The key is to be happy with his choice of timings. It takes a very special kind of powerful person to walk independently — but — even within marriage — many people often “walk alone” — until they truly find the core of who they really are. It’s hard to have a good relationship with anyone until
    one feels at peace within oneself. That they understand just how truly incredible they are – just as they are.

    I once gave a picture of a vase of lovely red roses — but where one of the flowers
    stuck out — It was a huge white Mum type flower – to an unmarried daughter. Yes — the flower looked out of place — but in a magnificent way. This daughter was a “nun” on stage in the “Sound of Music”. She was not content to just be one of the masses — so made up a whole history of why her character chose to be a nun. She just radiated amongst the many. This
    single daughter became the favorite aunt — remembering each of her 43 nieces and nephews on their birthdays – doing whatever was their heart desired activity. She became a teacher/leader — touching the lives of many teens and children. She became an executive – focusing on relationships. She made life long new friendships – yet kept her old friendships with married friends strong. She made her home a cosy retreat from the world for many. She trained herself in many areas of domesticity and both wrote books and played the actress on stage. Her life has been so rich and so full.

    In hindsight — I know that her life was exactly as it should have been. Yes – she got married late –39 — but she was prepared to wait for the eternities if needed — to find the man she could
    be happily mated with. She never would settle for less than the Lord’s 100% support in her choice. Her husband is very powerful and needed to be balanced by a very secure grounded wife.

    I once was at a gathering where the presenter suggested that only one woman in the group would lead a “normal” life. Even that normality would be a challenge — because often it takes
    challenges in life to become “outstanding” – too often complacency sets in. The rest would be
    afflicted with health issues, unfaithfulness, death, handicapped children, financial problems,
    mental afflictions, spiritual challenges, hard relationships etc. What we focus on grows — in becoming a glorious flower or an incredible monster.

    You are the creator of your life — design one that may both include — or not — a wonderful man.
    But move ahead with power and understanding of who are the most amazing Men in your life already. If asked in the spirit — all good things will be granted. You have an incredibly important life mission. Being an example for those who follow your same path — of how to happily carve out an exquisite life — even while tenderly embracing the sorrows of having to patiently wait your turn at the marriage altar.

    Your picture radiates this goodness already — Keep it up girl !!!

    Jo Anna Stewart

  8. Thank you for your posting. I’m glad to see that women are posting about what it is like to be LDS and unmarried. Your story reminded me a lot of my own experience. I hope that other single sisters will read your post. Keep blogging!

  9. Haha- the ending! Thank you for that. Not that you ended, but the recognition of my not-so-favorite way to spend your life as a single sister. ❤

    I was hoping to sub today but now I'm really glad I didn't so I was able to take my time and read your blog. And I have to ditto what Sal said- I love you babe- so, so much. You are an adult and in every way just as much a sister in Zion as I am. Even if you were to never get married (though I secretly know you will), you can contribute in countless ways and already have. You have the 50 year plan that Heavenly Father has for you. It's hard to not know this plan (I am every bit the planner that you are) and that's where faith comes in. I'm not making a bid against free agency. When I say "has for you" I mean: Heavenly Father knows the choices you will make (and I know is pretty happy about the ones you have made), and what comes next, and will be there along side you.

    My "traditional" plan has worked out for me thus far with a few unappreciated bumps in the road (like not having dad around), so I know I can't fully relate to you. I hope you'll try and be understanding of those like me who might use the wrong term- like "graduating" YSA by getting married. That is annoying now that I think about it, but of course they don't mean it to be.

    Lastly, reading your chronological history as a single sister, I couldn't help but think how just plain wonderful life is. That is YOUR story, YOUR road. It has made you strong. Well YOU (the amazing spirit Heavenly Father created) and all the events and circumstances you've been a part of, and the choices you've made. It's just beautiful when you think about it.

  10. “and of that million I have a really high standard for the man I will marry.”

    Take care, Sweetheart. We have really high standards for you, too.

    • Hi Brad, sorry it took me a while to see your comment.
      I’m not exactly sure if you meant ‘take care’ in warning or warmth, but I’ll take both meanings to heart and am very glad to hear you (all) have high expectations for your eternal companion(s) too.

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