As a young boy, I had my entire life planned out. I would serve a mission at age 19. Upon my return I would start my college career and find someone to marry. I would graduate by age 25 with at least one child and live happily ever after.
I’m 31 now, and my life has not turned out exactly the way I imagined. While my mission and education have passed in the time frame I expected, marriage has not. Being an “older” single hasn’t been easy, but I can say that in many ways I am grateful for this experience because I have grown tremendously from it. However, one aspect of being single still perplexes me: the separation I sometimes feel from married members of the Church.
Since most Church members marry at a younger age, they may find it difficult to relate to older single members. While I can’t speak for all single members of the Church, there are some experiences many of us seem to share. In light of this, I would like to offer some suggestions to married members for interacting with singles—at the same time recognizing that we single members also bear responsibility for reaching out to married members of the Church.
Finding Common Ground
My single friends and I lead busy, productive lives. In addition to work, school, and Church responsibilities, many of us are involved in civic activities, charities, hobbies, and other activities. I always appreciate it when others ask me about these activities rather than focusing on my marital status or whether I am dating anyone. It is also much easier to find common ground that way.
I believe the vast majority of single Church members wholeheartedly support the Church’s emphasis on the family. But because we don’t have families of our own, it can be painful when our marital status is frequently the main topic of conversation. I have friends who unfortunately have chosen inactivity in the Church because they feel out of place, even though they have a testimony. They plan on returning to activity when they get married. Some do return—others get lost in the mists of darkness. Of course, these individuals are responsible for their own decisions. But we are much more likely to feel comfortable in Church settings when we are welcomed by members who don’t focus on what we lack but rather accept us and value what we have to contribute.
“Fellowship One with Another”
Some good-natured teasing can be enjoyable in almost any relationship. But I will admit that I groan when I hear the all-too-familiar quote about single men above 25 being “a menace to society.” Even though people who say this are usually well intentioned, such comments send the indirect message that we single men are purposely shirking the responsibility of marriage.
I’ve heard single women say that when they reveal their age and marital status, some people react with pity. My single friends don’t want others to feel sorry for them. We just want to be warmly greeted, as were members of the Church during Helaman’s day: “And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy” (Hel. 6:3).
People often try to give advice to my single friends and me about dating or marriage. I am grateful for their concern, and I know they want me to be happy. However, I am most receptive to advice that I have requested—usually from people I have a close relationship with.
Sometimes people will tell me that I “just need to get married.” But that is like telling a starving person that they “just need to eat.” We truly want to be married but are simply struggling with how to do it. And after all, marriage involves seeking and receiving confirmation that a potential partner is the right person with whom to create a happy and eternal relationship.
Comments such as “quit being so picky” or “you just need to date more” can sting when I am already trying my best. Because many married people found their spouse at an early age, they might not fully appreciate the fact that for others, finding the right partner does not come so soon or so easily. But when someone is guided by the Holy Ghost in offering suggestions and I can feel that influence, I am comfortable following their counsel regardless of their dating expertise. As the scriptures tell us, “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14).
Many of my friends enjoy being lined up with people who have similar interests. But please bear in mind that two people should have more in common than the fact that they are both single and LDS. If I wanted to help a friend find a job, I would not suggest any job opening I happened to come across. Instead, I would learn more about my friend’s background and previous employment, then suggest something he or she might like. The matchmaking process should be similar.
There are many reasons why some people may choose not to accept an offer for a blind date. Please know that we value your interest in us but that we must make our own decisions regarding our personal lives.
Pull, Don’t Push
When someone is struggling with something, we may say that person “needs a little push.” May I suggest that when referring to single adults, the expression could be changed to “needs a little pull”? These two statements seem similar but actually have different meanings.
A bishop once said to me, “What is it going to take to get you married?” On another occasion a different bishop said, “What can I do to help you in your dating?” Both bishops were concerned about my welfare, but the second bishop, rather than pushing me, indicated his desire to be a part of my life and to offer help. He helped pull me along, and he let me decide how much I wanted him to be involved. The push method often causes feelings of resistance, while the pull method most often results in feelings of validation and closeness.
The one who best exemplified the “pull” approach is the Savior. Many scripture stories illustrate this, but two stand out in my mind: the story of Matthew’s call to the ministry (see Matt. 9:9–12; Luke 5:27–32) and the story of the rich man (see Luke 18:18–22). The Savior didn’t just tell these people what to do; He sought to work with them. Christ went with Matthew to his home to dine and teach. He told the rich man to sell all he had and join with Him in His ministry. The Savior knew that if people would journey with Him, He could pull them in the right direction through teaching and example. Likewise, if you will journey with us and help pull us through the challenges we may face, we will be much more successful than if we are pushed.
Being Single Does Not Mean Being Unworthy
Because certain callings in the kingdom are reserved for married men, some people might mistakenly think that being single implies unrighteousness. But while my dating methodology may be imperfect, that does not mean I am unworthy. Single people can be particularly vulnerable to the world’s temptations regarding morality and chastity, so I feel it is a great accomplishment to be worthy to carry a temple recommend.
I have often been told that if I had more faith, I could get married. Yet many faithful people don’t always get what they wish for. Some people long for better health, some people wish for financial stability, some couples are not blessed with children, and so on. The prophet Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah was 90 years old when she bore Isaac (see Gen. 17:17). Surely they were not made to wait because they lacked faith.
Only the Lord knows our time and season for marriage and what we must do to learn and progress. The Bible tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has stated:
“The Lord has His own timetable. … Like other important mortal events that depend on the agency of others or the will and timing of the Lord, marriage cannot be anticipated or planned with certainty.” 1
The Lord knows when it will be our time. Until then, my single friends and I are responsible for trying to align our will with the Lord’s by working to develop our spirituality. We do this by seeking to learn and grow from our trials. As a result, some of the most humble, spiritual people I know are single. I believe they are a great asset to the kingdom of God.
Parents, leaders, family, and friends want us to get married. We want to be married—probably more than you want us to be. We have similar goals and desires. You have the power to be a positive influence to uplift and inspire. If we work together, I know the Lord will bless our efforts.