Are you single and constantly feeling the pressure of "not seeming good enough"? Then you may enjoy the following guest post by my friend and fellow blogger Malcolm Hong.
❤ : Ari
In an era where there are more
single adults now than any time in history, there’s a surprisingly large amount
of misperceptions and stereotypes about single adults that still persist. One
of the most common myths about single adults is the general belief that because
someone is single, there must be something
wrong with that person. In this article, I’ll address how this perception
is emphasized among single adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) and explain
why this attitude is misplaced, inaccurate, and damaging.
There are few other religions in which marriage and family life are as highly prized as the LDS church. Consequently, the church is supportive of its single adults and wants them to reach their full potential. There are many church programs that are designed to help single adults make progress in their lives, which naturally includes finding a spouse and starting a family. These programs are to be commended, however, because of the heavy focus on marriage, it's easy for unhealthy stereotypes of single adults to grow within the church culture.
For instance, I once had a friend tell me that when she was attending college, one of the church leaders in her congregation said over the pulpit, “If you’re still single when you graduate, ask someone you trust what’s wrong with you.” This tactless statement doesn't represent church doctrine and certainly doesn't represent the general attitude from church leaders to single adults. However, because it came from one of my friend's local leaders, she took those words to heart and when she graduated from school as a singleton, she slipped into depression for a time.
Thankfully, her story has a happy ending: She stayed faithful in the gospel, married one of my best friends, and I was one of the groomsmen at her wedding. Nonetheless, her story is hardly an isolated experience. Through my role as a blogger and administrator of the Facebook Page LDS Single Friends, I've spoken with many other LDS single adults who have similar stories to tell about how single adults are perceived in the church culture.
I know far too many righteous single men and women who needlessly beat themselves up attempting to narrow down the reason they have yet to find their eternal companion. These are not the mythical stereotype of unemployed basement dwellers or crazy cat ladies. These are righteous, productive, temple-worthy single adults who contribute to both the church and society as a whole. Yet despite their accomplishments, their faith, and the good works they’ve demonstrated, they often feel "broken" or "defective" – for no other reason than their single status.
Why does this perception exist in
To help put this issue into perspective, I’ve noticed that this perception is
fueled by two main issues: 1) Something I call the “Mormon marriage narrative”
and 2) The need for social validation in the Mormon culture.
1) The “Mormon marriage narrative.” Marriage and family life is highly prized in the LDS church.
From an early age, members of the LDS church have their life planned out. The
typical Mormon life plan usually involves graduating from seminary, college, a
mission, with marriage usually happening in one’s early 20’s. Members of the
church are taught that obedience and righteous living brings blessings that the
Lord is eager to grant. Therefore, when a LDS young man or women stays single
longer than what is considered to be culturally appropriate, there are many who
assume that person must be doing something “wrong” to not receive the blessing
of an eternal marriage. While this perception isn’t fair, it explains why some
people find it easy to make unkind and inaccurate assumptions about the reasons
why a man or women is still single.
2) The need for social validation in the Mormon culture. In a church that highly prizes marriage and family life,
marriage is widely viewed as a mark of adulthood and a critical milestone in
reaching exaltation. Consequently, when single Mormons are unsuccessful in
making progress towards marriage, it’s understandable for them to develop feelings
of inadequacy and self-doubt. Additionally, in today’s social media age, single
Mormons are constantly reminded of how they’re not meeting the expectations of
their culture. In an era when singletons are often bombarded by engagement,
wedding, or baby pictures from their peers on Facebook or Instagram, it’s easy
to think something along the lines of, “Am
I single because there really is
something wrong with me?”
As an LDS single
adult, I can personally testify how damaging it is for people to feel or be
treated like something’s wrong with them just for being single. No single adult
should feel defective, broken, or a failure based on his or her relationship
status. For many single adults, feeling like there’s something wrong with them
cuts into their self-confidence and often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s particularly heartbreaking when some singles incorrectly assume that their
personal worth is dependent on their potential value as a future husband or
wife. Through the core teachings of the gospel, we know that our personal worth
is not dependent on a wedding ring; it is based on our divine heritage as sons
and daughters of God. With this in mind, I’d like to share a few points that
prove, using gospel principles, that
being single doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
Heavenly Father doesn’t put a
specific age on marriage or family life
Gordon B. Hinckley once said, "Marry the right person, in
the right place, at the right time." He never gave counsel beyond this because the specific
details might play out differently in each individual life. The right time
could be 19 years old, 22 years old, 30 years old, or even in the next life.
Personal agency and the agency of other people affect the timing of each
individual. What’s more important than the specific age is making sure you’re
living your life in a way that prepares you for eternal marriage at the right
The timing of receiving a blessing isn’t always dependent on
your level of faith or personal worthiness
Some people mistakenly assume that
if a blessing hasn’t come within a certain timeframe, it reflects poorly on
their personal level of faith or righteousness. This is not the case. There are many people throughout the
scriptures and modern-day church history who exercised faith, were living
worthily, and doing everything right,
yet had to wait for years to receive promised blessings. For example:
and Sarah were promised many descendants who would bless all families of the
earth with the Gospel. Despite this, they didn’t have their first son until
Sarah was well into old age.
The Prophet Alma and his wife pleaded with the
Lord to soften the heart of their rebellious son. Their efforts took place for
an undisclosed amount of time – it may have taken place over the course of many
years. Alma was the leader of the Church and he still had to patiently wait for
his own personal miracle.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration,
for the Lord to deliver the suffering Latter-day Saints, but he was told that
promised blessings to members of the church would come in the Lord’s timing.
The list goes on, but it’s clear
that the Lord is aware of the desires of our heart and has His own timetable in
helping us progress. If that divine timetable doesn’t align with the timing we
hoped for, it shouldn’t be assumed that a blessing is being withheld because of
a lack of faith or worthiness on our part.
Heavenly Father has a unique road map for the life of each
Elder John Carmack spoke to single
adults in his address, To My Single
Friends, explaining about how each single adult needs to prayerfully
discover and follow their own road map through life. Regarding the challenges
of finding the right spouse, Elder Carmack said, “Challenges in life do not usually come equipped with a set of neat and
orderly answers…Your own inspiration and intuition, as parts of a prayerful, temple-centered,
service-oriented life, are
probably more helpful than the well-meaning advice, criticism, and solutions
offered by some who try to help you toward your goal of temple marriage.”
Being single in a family-oriented religion isn’t easy and there are rarely simple
solutions in the path towards eternal marriage. However, we can take comfort in
the knowledge that God has a plan for each individual that’s as unique as his
or her fingerprints. Because we have agency to act for ourselves, it’s our responsibility
to seek personal revelation and receive confirmation that our life path is
acceptable to God. If that path is different from the typical married-at-21
Mormon bride and groom, so be it. In the eyes of God, it’s far more important for
our lives to be right with him, rather than right in the eyes of people who
criticize us because our lives don’t fit a perceived mold.
It’s also noteworthy that there have
been many righteous leaders in the church whose lives were different from the
traditional Mormon narrative. For
example, President Henry B. Eyring, the First Counselor in the First
Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wasn’t married until he was 29. By today’s Mormon
standards, that would be considered a late marriage. In the early 1960’s, when
the average marriage age was younger than it is today, being 29 and still
single must have carried even more of a stigma. I had the opportunity to read
his biography and I was fascinated by reading
about his dating experiences and how he was prepared to meet his wife. Elder
Eyring’s single adult experiences and courtship story may resonate with LDS single
adults who feel that their life paths are different from most of their peers.
Eyring made good choices in his early single adult years. He graduated from the
University of Utah with a degree in Physics. The Korean War was taking place
when President Eyring was completing his education and because of restrictions
on the number of Mormon missionaries that could serve, he was not able to serve
a full-time mission. The war ended when President Eyring graduated, but he was
still unable to serve a mission because he had already been commissioned by the
U.S. Air Force. Amazingly, the Lord still gave him an opportunity to have
missionary experiences. The Air Force sent him to New Mexico and when he
arrived, he was called as a district missionary and served for almost exactly
two full years.
President Eyring completed a Master's and PhD in
Business Administration at Harvard Graduate School of Business. During his
single adult years, President Eyring’s biography discusses his experiences of dating many
young women, but ultimately, those relationships did not progress because he
felt the lack of a deep emotional connection. This changed when he met his future
wife, Kathleen Johnson. An article in the Ensign, Elder Henry B. Eyring: Molded
by Defining Influences, describes
President Eyring’s courtship story:
The decision to continue his studies at
Harvard proved to be significant for another reason. It meant he was still in
Boston during the summer of 1961, when Kathleen Johnson, daughter of J. Cyril
and LaPrele Lindsay Johnson, of Palo Alto, California, came to Boston to attend
summer school. Hal, who was serving as a counselor in the Boston district
presidency at the time, was assigned to preside at a sunrise service for young
After that sunrise service, he saw a young woman coming out
of a grove of trees. Not only was he struck by her beauty, but at that moment
the words of President David O. McKay came to his mind: “If you meet a girl in
whose presence you feel a desire … to do your best, … such a young woman is
worthy of your love” (Gospel Ideals, Salt
Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 459). “That was exactly how I felt as I
saw Kathleen for the first time,” says Elder Eyring.
Hal and Kathleen were introduced at church the following
Sunday. “I knew Hal was someone special,” Kathy remembers. “He thought deeply
about important things.”
The courtship continued throughout the rest of the summer
and then by mail and phone after Kathleen returned to California. They were
married in July 1962 in the Logan Temple by Elder Spencer W. Kimball.
After I learned about President Eyring’s story, I felt a newfound sense of
respect and admiration for him. It isn’t easy being different or feeling out of
place in the Mormon culture. Not only was President Eyring unable to serve a
traditional mission, but he was also an older single adult in a time period
when it was even more unusual to be almost 30 and still unmarried. Despite
these challenges, he persevered and served faithfully in the church.
President Eyring was being prepared to meet his wife, I’m sure that he had to
endure unkind remarks and shallow judgments from others. Perhaps he was accused
of being too selfish, too picky, or being too career-focused. From what I’ve
read about President Eyring, I believe he was none of those things.
Eyring wanted a companion and he was doing everything possible that would allow
him to receive this blessing. He was serving faithfully in the church, completing
his education that would allow him to provide for his future family, and was
active in dating. I believe that President Eyring married at a later age
because the Lord was still preparing President or Sister Eyring for each other.
Eyring is an exceptional woman who faithfully supported her husband through decades
of church service. If President Eyring had to relive his life again, I believe
that he would have gladly waited to marry the right person, even if it meant
dealing with stigmas and pressure to marry from the church culture. Clearly,
the Lord had a plan for President Eyring that was different from the typical
Mormon marriage narrative – and that’s
Eyring’s story demonstrates how God has a plan for all of us. Sometimes, His
plan for our lives won’t match the timetable we’d prefer or the timetable that
our church culture believes is socially acceptable. But if we know our desires
and life is right with God, we shouldn’t allow others to label us or make us
feel that something’s wrong with us.
Singles have a place in the church
There are many single adults in the
LDS church who are not active and enjoying the full blessings of the gospel.
Many of them have fallen away because they feel inadequate about their single
status and believe they have no place in such a family-oriented religion. We
need to avoid harmful stereotypes and reach out to singles with compassion and
understanding because we need everyone,
singles and married, to build the Kingdom of God.
God needs us to act as His hands here on earth. Instead of being consumed with anxiety about being single, we need to forget ourselves and get to work. The next time you feel discouraged about your single status,
instead of asking, “What’s wrong with
me?” ask questions like, “What can I
learn from this situation? How can I grow
into the person God wants me to become during this time in my life?”
God has a plan for all of us, singles
included. Allowing others to label us will only harm our self-esteem and make
it more difficult for us to achieve what God sent us here to do. Ultimately, it
is more productive for singles to
define ourselves as sons and daughters of God, rather than allowing others to
define us based on our relationship status.
Malcolm “Ravenclaw” Hong is a blogger, a photographer, and a renaissance man. He graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree in English from BYU-Idaho and a Master’s Degree in Communication from Boise State University. He loves hosting game nights, doing photo shoots with his friends, and going on dates.
Labels: guest writer, Mormon, relationships