Singlehood in Mormon culture can be a, well, singular experience. As a young adult approaching her mid-twenties a religion that emphasizes marriage and family (and rightly so), sometimes I feel like I’m in this strange in-between place that people don’t talk about much—that post-graduation, before-marriage limbo where I’m trying to figure out what to do next. Not where I expected to be.
I was one of those people who thought I would be married before I finished college, and then I would go with my husband off to grad school and we would start our family and life would be great. I freely admit that I had that expectation, and I don’t really feel bad about it. It wasn’t as if I was sitting on my hope chest waiting for Prince Charming to appear and sweep me off my feet; I was moving forward with my life, working hard for my education, and I just kind of assumed that this next step would happen naturally, just as many of my life milestones had up to that point. It almost did happen, actually, but when it didn’t work out I knew my life would end up looking much different than I expected.
Yeah, being single can be hard, especially when you are nearing the age where culturally (NOT doctrinally—there’s a difference) you “should” be out of that stage. It has been difficult sometimes not to wonder if I’m defective somehow because I’m not married—or even dating anyone—when I see my friends (…and younger friends…and the much-younger siblings of friends…) getting married and having families when there’s no prospects of the same in sight for me. Is it my body shape? My more reserved personality? My at-times-unhealthy obsession with wordplay? I have friends that have more opportunities to date than they know what to do with, and sometimes I feel like I have to bend over backward to get a guy to even look at me. Why doesn’t it seem like people care to get to know me? I’m not saying that’s true, but it’s how I’ve felt sometimes, and I know others have felt the same.
It’s really easy to get discouraged. It’s really easy to become apathetic and fall into a kind of holding pattern, biding time and waiting for the next stage to come.
But you know what I’ve realized? This stage of life is not a placeholder. Neither is it a time to be idle and to waste time pursuing a life of excess, laziness, and apathy. No. This, like all stages of life, is a valuable season of growth, preparation, and change.
I went to a presentation that was part of the Utah Women in Leadership Speaker and Dialogue Series (Utah friends—the next one is coming up November 3 at UVU. Totally free, definitely worth it. Be there), and it was titled “¢ents and $ensibility.” Not only was my English major side completely enamored with the wordsmithing of the title, but I also loved the down-to-earth, practical perspective I heard from four women in a break-out session entitled “A Man is Not a Financial Plan.” One was single, never married; one, divorced; one widowed; and one’s husband had become disabled. Their point was that life is unpredictable, and it is critical for women to have the skills to be self-reliant and be prepared to support themselves and their loved ones.
As I sat in that presentation and listened to those women talk about their life experiences, I had the strongest impression that this is my time to learn. This stage of life, where I am only responsible to take care of myself, is a gift for me to learn important life skills, figure out what I really want, and cultivate my interests. It’s not just about focusing on myself and having a little fun before settling down; it’s about learning critical lessons about myself and about life that will prepare me to have a strong, successful family now and in the future. SO GUESS WHAT. BEING SINGLE IS STILL ALL ABOUT FAMILY. My decisions in this stage of my life will have lasting impact on my present and future family. What I do now will shape the way I view family relationships, family culture, family finances, everything. I’m learning who I am and what’s really important to me, and these decisions will shape the rest of my life.
I love what Jane Clayson Johnson, CBS-foreign-correspondent-turned-wife-and-mother, has to say about this in her book called I Am a Mother. She writes,
There are seasons in life. Don’t ever let anyone deny you the blessings and joy of one season because they believe you should be in—or stay in—another season (Johnson 38, emphasis original).
Just because I love summer mornings doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a walk on a winter evening too. Every stage of life is a season, and with each transition we trade one set of joys and struggles for another. The trick is to develop the habit of choosing happiness—to find purpose and joy and love—in whatever stage of life we’re in, and to have the courage to move on when it’s time for the season to change.
And what if I never marry? Well, that will be hard. And I don’t think I will ever stop wanting it. And I will be lonely sometimes. But I go back to an impression I had years ago that still comes to my mind in times of doubt: “Ariel, you will yet have to do many things on your own. But fear not, for I am with thee.” If God is with me, I may be single, but I’m never alone.
Marriage may come later, or it may not. Or it might, but it may not turn out the way I hoped. But guess what? None of that matters, because I have God’s promise that if I keep my covenants, I will have the blessing of an eternal family. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS LIFE. God’s promises are SURE. Certain. Sealed. Done. I don’t know how, but everything will turn out all right in the end. And, as someone once said, “If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.” And I’m banking on that.
So why am I single? Honestly, I don’t know all the reasons. (It’s the puns, isn’t it? Knew it.) But I don’t feel like I’m just making the best of a bad or less-than-ideal situation. I mean to do all I can to make this opportunity-rich stage of life fulfill the measure of its creation by learning, doing, exploring, growing, loving, laughing, and LIVING, with everything I do now (and in the future) single to the glory of God and the goal of eternal life with Him and the people I love. Because that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?
So there you have it. Marriage will come later, but happiness starts now. So let’s act like it.