Saturday, February 11, 2012

Single Mormon Woman Shares All



Earlier this week I wrote a piece for Meridian Magazine entitled "Where are the Role Models for Single Women?" Today I read a great piece in the Washington Post, "Some people never find the love of their lives. And live to tell about it." It is accompanied by the results of a fascinating survey about single life.
As a Single Mormon Woman I found that I could relate to much of the article, but less so to the survey results. Very rarely were my answers the same as the majority of answers. I believe this is partially due to my Mormon background, as well as my discomfort with my current financial and professional situations (which, yes, are improving, but are far from perfect). It is possible that if those two areas of my life were more stable and secure that I may have different answers.

Yesterday something very interesting happened to me. I have lived in Roanoke for nearly two years, and for the first time since moving here I was invited to a social event [that wasn't with my family members]. Yes, for the first time in nearly two years, I got invited out to play. At first I was just happy to be invited and to attend. It wasn't until a few hours before the party that it hit me- I'm the only single in this town. I'm going to a party that will undoubtedly be all married couples- and me. I've been in these situations before and they can be downright miserable when you are the third wheel. However, I thought about it, and knew that it was very likely that the other guests would all be couples I am friends with. I went to the party, and I had a good time. I was very grateful that someone would think to invite me, rather than exclude me just because it might be strange to have that one single girl there in a room full of couples. Because heaven knows, we singles do get left out often enough because we don't have a spouse.

With all of that in mind, I'd like to expand a little bit on what I read in Meridian, and reference the Washington Post article, as I make a few more points. I have inserted more thoughts throughout the piece below than just what originally ran on Meridian. I have not indicated when I have not done that.


What the Young Woman Lesson Manual Said
“Invite an exemplary sister (preferably one who has married in the temple and has a family), who has been approved by priesthood advisers, to speak to the young women about the joy of being a woman. Ask her to relate some joys and challenges she has experienced, including some when she was the age of the young women in the class. She might tell about specific experiences and choices that helped her stay close to Heavenly Father and the blessings and joy that resulted. She should emphasize the joy of being a woman at every age. Suggest that she take about twenty minutes. Ask her to allow time for the young women to ask her questions and express their feelings.
“OR
“You may invite a grandmother, mother, and young married woman, who have been approved by priesthood advisers, to briefly express the joys of womanhood they are presently experiencing. You might suggest that they also mention joys they experienced when they were the age of the young women. Stress to each that she is allowed only five or six minutes. You might offer to time them and signal when their time is up.”

What I (the single, never married, young woman adviser) Heard-
Single women are not impressive. And we don’t want girls to think single women are role models. Oh and apparently a man is needed to determine what a good woman is, women can't figure that out for themselves.


This is copied, verbatim, from the Young Women Manual, Lesson 5: Finding Joy in Our Divine Potential. And it was the lesson taught this past Sunday to young women around the world. It even included a sub-heading “We Can Experience Joy at Every Stage of Life.” I’m just curious, did anyone remember to include the “stage” of being single? Did anyone explain to the young women how this stage is not the same as your college years? Didn’t anyone mention that while we hope and pray they get married, and have a family, that statistically speaking that for 50% of them “single” wouldn’t be a “stage” of life, it would be how she will spend her entire life?

No? No one. I’m not surprised.

Who Will Be My Role Model?
For the past few years I have used the following description in my professional writing biography, "Erin Ann is equal parts Mother Teresa, Anne Shirley and Carrie Bradshaw.” This description has been met by a few to great criticism. What was an LDS woman doing describing herself with a Catholic nun and as the fictional character from “Sex and the City?” Let me explain- they were single women I could relate to. Carrie Bradshaw was a single woman in her thirties, a writer, and looking for love. In that respect I had a lot in common with her. Of course if someone were to make a sitcom about my life it would probably have the less than tantalizing title "No Sex in the Suburbs.” I may not be Carrie Bradshaw in many respects, but I can definitely relate to her.


Mother Teresa and I have only a little in common as well. She balances out the Carrie Bradshaw in me with a desire to do good and stay involved in humanitarian work. And sometimes I do feel like the equivalent of a Mormon nun.

And Anne Shirley? The imaginative freckled lass in search of romance that loves to pen a good tale, and gets in unbelievable scrapes? I just wish I wore puffed sleeves better and could find my Gilbert.

If I could find a well-loved, well-known, LDS single woman that I have heard about my whole life to use in my description, I would. But I have struggled for years to find a good LDS role model for single women. We don’t have lessons on what makes a good single woman. We act like a woman's "single years" are a mere stepping stone, a brief moment in time, and there’s no reason to define it or set expectations for it, except that maybe it should involve a lot of chocolate and roses. But the truth is, that is completely unrealistic, isn’t it?

But we do teach lessons over and over again that validate and reinforce the choices of the married women and mothers. For crying out loud, we've created entire industries to validate women's choices. Half of the blogosphere is mommies trying in vain to make it sound like they are so happy with their lives, and pretending like they aren't jotting down quotes about how great their lives are supposed to be, watching Oprah for motivation, and making Pinterest boards full of quotes defending their choices. (If you have to defend it, we don't believe you are actually happy.)

I have no problem with most church lessons being about family when the Gospel is very family-centric. But I do struggle with not preparing the young women for real life. I was not prepared for real life. I see far too many single women struggle deeply with depression because they were not prepared for life alone, and each week they are taught over and over again that a woman needs to be a good wife and mother. The only lessons we are taught tell us we need to be something we are not. Believe me, there is nothing I would like more than to be a good wife and mother. But until that day happens, I need to be making the most of my life. I’ve been “single” for twenty years now and the problem is, I don’t know what a good single woman looks like. 

Six Actresses, Three Dead Women, and One Secretary of State
From the Washington Post, "Just 51 percent of the adult population is married, down from 72 percent in 1960. So we talk about swinging, “Sex and the City” singles and extended adolescences. We talk about the delay of marriage or the rise of cohabitation and single motherhood. Depending on our perspective, we cheer the broadening definitions of family or bemoan the breakdown of the nuclear unit.
But the cousin or neighbor or co-worker who always seems to be on his or her own? We don’t give them much thought."


As I prepared to write this I searched online for “role models for single women.” The results were incredibly disheartening. In a list of “women redefining spinsterhood,” I found six actresses/models/singers, Condoleezza Rice, Mother Teresa, Jane Austen, and Susan B. Anthony. More than half the list are women who are respected for their looks. Is that how we want a “good single woman” to be defined? Her looks? (And we wonder why so many single women struggle with depression.) 

I’ve turned to fiction and entertainment for a good role model as well. The examples of single, professional women are completely unrealistic. We’re portrayed as having very expensive shoes and purses, fabulous hair, and spending a lot of money on mani/pedis, and we don’t know how to change a baby’s diaper or cook dinner. Ironically, I know more “stay at home mothers” with weekly manicures than I do women with paychecks. The women with paychecks are too busy going to work to get weekly mani/pedis. 

Working single women are just as busy as any married working professional. We go to work all day, come home, and handle the household issues. If anything, we have more to deal with. There is no wife waiting with dinner, plus we're on our own for house work, paying the bills, etc. There isn't a second person to balance out the work out. (I will gladly, and without reservation, add in here that single parents are the busiest, most overworked people on the planet. And I respect you all for juggling so much.) We don't lead fabulous amazing lives most days. Families go on family vacations. Singles don't. If you think our vacations are more fabulous than yours, it is your perception. We're just doing something different.
 
From Her Father’s House to the Sorority House to Her Husband’s House (and everything in between)
Let’s back up to Sunday and the YW lesson.
Earlier in that same day one of my dear sweet high school seniors had come to me asking for advice on preparing for college. I am the only woman she knows who has gone away to college. She is nervous about living on her own, and isn’t sure she is ready or prepared for that next step. This is a brilliant and talented young woman who absolutely belongs in a university where she can grow and learn more. She has so much to offer the world.But she is right, she has not been prepared for life alone. But she can change diapers, balance a checkbook, play the piano, lead music, and is excellent at crafts. While I am happy she came to me for advice, I mostly feel like the YW program has failed her. We’ve encouraged her to learn to cook meals for her family, do good deeds, and taught her a number of crafts. But in just a few months from now, will she need any of those skills when she leaves for school? How many more years will it be until she does need those skills? And have we taught her anything that will help her “in the meantime?” (My “meantime” has lasted 20 years now.)

I think back to the dozens of times I was encouraged over and over again to get an education so that I could get a job in case “anything ever happened to my husband,” or so I could “teach my children.” Or my favorite, to pursue a field that would work well with having a family (like teaching or nursing). I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that I didn’t take any of that advice. How miserable would I have been if I had pursued not what I enjoyed and was good at, but what would have worked well for a life I’ve never found?

Again, from the Post, "Things would almost certainly be tougher for a single person with fewer friends or financial resources. But even for Braitman, it can be a struggle. Family reunions are fraught. Baby showers can be intensely awkward. And at weddings, she feels acutely alone. “Sometimes,” she says, “the only thing left is to know that it’s okay to be uncomfortable." 
 
How many times have I heard a family pray that their children would grow up to get married in the Temple? Or how many prayers are sent up asking for help for an older child who has not yet found a spouse? But has anyone ever thought to pray to help a single person not feel alone (leaving out the spouse part)? Or to help a single person find a balance between work, being alone, and being in a family-centric church?

I am in my late thirties and I have never heard one lesson that would help me know what a good single woman looks like. But I can give you volumes of information on the importance of family prayer, date nights with my imaginary husband, and how a good mother behaves. I truly do hope and pray to use that information someday. But until then, I could use a role model and a handbook on how to be an LDS single woman that isn’t about dating. 

"After several hours in Braitman’s comfortable home, with Rose curled up on the couch, it’s striking to think about how much of the distress surrounding her singleness stems not from her actual existence, but the reactions of others, whether real or perceived."

So much of being single, the perceptions, the assumptions, the well-meaning comments that sting, the thoughtless questions, all come down to that doesn't it? "HOW MUCH OF THE DISTRESS SURROUNDING HER SINGLENESS STEMS NOT FROM HER ACTUAL EXISTENCE, BUT THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS, WHETHER REAL OR PERCEIVED." If people actually believed and accepted that a single woman was a good woman, a good role model, and not "she's a good [insert anything here], even though she's never been married," how different would our lives be, our social acceptance be? 

How often are we (singles) good at something either in spite of our marital status, or because of our marital status? We're good at our jobs because never got married. Or we're good with children in spite of the fact that we never got married. 

Someday I hope to be good at something because I was good at it, and that no one adds on a disclaimer, "because she never got married." I'd like to think that with or without someone sleeping on the right side of the bed, I am still a good writer, a humanitarian, and good person. I hope that I will get invited to a party again  because someone liked me, and not left out because there is an unused pillow on my bed. 

I hope that someday we'll hold up a woman and say, "This is the face of a good single woman," so I can have that measuring stick. I want to define what makes a single woman a good woman. But I want it both ways. I also want us to stop holding up a woman and saying, "This is a good woman, even though she never got married." And more than anything, I want more people to understand the difference and why it matters. 

11 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Daaaang. Knocked it out of the park with this one.

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  2. Eleanor1:48 AM

    Jane Thompson

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  3. Thank you so much for this! Exactly what is in my head, but I can't ever seem to get the words to come out right.

    I think Kristen Oaks is a great example (even if she isn't single anymore). I have to read her book at least once every six months! And, for what it's worth, I think you are a great example of a single woman, your blog has inspired and helped me.

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  4. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Every time someone brings up Sheri Dew I want to punch them in the face. No offense, and she's a great woman, but it's just a gut reaction.

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  5. Anonymous3:47 PM

    Single vs Married: I have dear friends that I don’t understand why they’re not married. The only thing I can come up with is they’re too awesome. Men have low expectations for themselves and don’t want to be too outdone. In fact, I often wish I could switch place with those lovely single women who are better fit for motherhood and marriage than I am after 12 years. Perhaps those that need the growth/ challenges get married while those that can grow without those experiences are left single to face that challenge.
    Why is it, that if you’re married, singles assume you fit in, are happy, and well adjusted, with time to spare? I didn’t fit in w/ my in-laws and I don’t even feel like I fit in with my kids and spouse. When I share my woes w/ my friends, they look at me like a heathen for not coloring everything rosy and blissful. I have entered into a commitment for which I was unaware of the consequence. What makes you think that women who are married feel beautiful, it’s okay they have an excuse w/ children or they have ample time for manicures. My body is hideous and I never get a man’s attention, not even my husband’s. What a nice theory that men share the load! Mine takes out the trash and mows the lawn, The End. My bosses are critical and never acknowledge my hard work. I never get time off. ESPECIALLY vacations!!! Family vacations consist of pilgrimage to Utah, we are in debt in part to this travel to see family, I’ve never gone anywhere else. I deal with the fallout of my husband’s career choices. My husband made bad personal choices at the outset, and although he’s changed and is perceived as he NOW is, I have changed to cope with life and I am told often how HE is the better 1/2.
    I admit I made my choice. Perhaps I was lucky I was unwise, perhaps not. No one stage of life has the corner on misery. No woman is safe from feeling abnormal, underappreciated and mercilessly misunderstood. We all feel lonely. So, my suggestion, stop assuming the grass is greener. Do what we can to help others, regardless of their circumstance. Be sensitive to the unseen pains. Be patient with those that cannot empathize with your situation and find the best you can in your life. "HOW MUCH OF THE DISTRESS SURROUNDING HER [LIFE] STEMS NOT FROM HER ACTUAL EXISTENCE, BUT THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS, WHETHER REAL OR PERCEIVED."

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  6. Anonymous9:29 PM

    I think we as a church need to stop with the label "single" and "married." If we did that and focused less on our differences and remembered the fact that we are all children of God and working toward the same goal of exaltation, more good things would happen. Serving would increase. Love would increase toward one another.

    What I mean here is that stop thinking of yourself as a single woman. Stop thinking in terms of people being single and married. It doesn't matter. I work in a Relief Society presidency where all are single (except me. But don't stop reading just because I'm married and you may think that whatever i have to say in terms of this is invalid). They are AMAZING women. In fact, most of my ward are composed of single or widowed women. But I never think in terms of that. I serve them as best I can and love them with all that I have. And they do the same. It's incredible. I wish it were like that everywhere. I acknowledge that it does not and it is saddening. But the label doesn't matter and we can't ignore the fact that this gospel is one of exaltation where the way to be exalted is through a celestial marriage. When we put faith in that plan and have hope in it, we can have an eternal perspective. Yes, I'm sure this is trite and easy to say for me, but for all of us, it is work and it is hard, no matter what stage of life we are in.

    But let us change the way we view ourselves. Whether single, married, homeless, jobless, childless, attracted to the same sex, etc, we are all in this together and are working toward the same goal and are HELPING EACH OTHER along the way, regardless of circumstance.

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  7. First off, I think your article in today's Meridian is really nice. Also, I agree with the fact that we as Church members should stop using the labels "Single" and "Married" as president Hinckley put it so well in this Ensign article: http://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/06/to-single-adults?lang=eng
    Before I was married, I was constantly bothered by some very insensitive comments from my bishop and stake president, who even went as far as to say, "Obviously, you must have done something wrong since you've been home from your mission for almost 3 years and still not married". Let me mention here that I was serving as an elders quorum president and teaching part-time Institute at the time. So there were times when I just sat there thinking to myself, "So nothing that I've done or am currently doing is any good? Just because I'm not married?" And then I read that talk by President Hinckley. What a great prophet and leader.
    Now, as a bishop, I try to be VERY sensitive about single members and never "push or rush" them to get married - I just echo Pres. Hinckley's words: "Don’t rush it unduly and don’t delay it unduly".
    Now, about what you said "...apparently a man is needed to determine what a good woman is, women can't figure that out for themselves...", meaning the bishop has to approve a sister that is suggested by the YW presidency before she gets to speak to the YW as suggested in the Manual, it's because the bishop (not just "a man") might know of some things that could make someone unfit (due to present worthiness conditions other people aren't -and shouldn't be- aware of) to speak to the YW or anyone else for that matter. In other words, the bishop -please take note that it doesn't say "or one of his counselors or the elders quorum president"- as judge in Israel must determine as to the worthiness of a certain individual before that person is allowed to teach others during a Church meeting of the ward over which he presides.

    PS: Right before being home for 3 years from my mission, I met a wonderful girl on July 20th. We became sweethearts the next day and got engaged on the 23rd. And we got married December 2nd in the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple. The result? I got married much earlier than many young adults that were dating steady much earlier than I was. 2 years later we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl who is now 3 1/2. And we're expecting our second baby girl due in April 2012. So... you never know when that special someone is going to come your way.

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  8. I believe the reason why you never hear about the spectacular single women is because most people are intimidated by them. Seriously, if you have a girl who can earn a decent enough wage to support herself, balance her budget and resources to the extent that she does not have to rely on anyone for anything, and maintain said lifestyle for any length of time...instant intimidation! I grew up being raised LDS, married in the temple, divorced after almost 10 years, and was a single mom with 3 kids for almost 5 years before remarrying. If anyone has news-worthy stories of rotten dates or miserable valentine's days, I could at least tie for second place. But what I realized was that men, ESPECIALLY "good, LDS men," are extremely intimidated by a person who wants to be with them merely because she WANTS to, not because she NEEDS to. I didn't need a second income, someone to maintain the home (I have a blog I am exceptionally proud of that I devoted entirely to being able to fix a vacuum cleaner), or a second parent to raise my kids. I already did all of that on my own. But all these great men had been raised to be the providers, the protectors, etc. Just as soon as there is a calling for a "YW Self-Reliance Advisor" sign me up. In my opinion it is a phenomenal skill that is going by the wayside in a world with a growing demand for it.

    P.S. I realized a LONG time ago that it was just as exciting waiting for a delivery of flowers that I had sent to myself as it was waiting for a delivery from an unknown admirer that never actually came. And I liked the end result a whole lot better!!

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  9. Anonymous12:31 PM

    Wow! I appreciate the perspective of a woman who doesn't fit comfortably into the ideal. I don't either, even though I'm married and a mother and grandmother. My family converted when I was 10 years old and I never got over the feeling that I wasn't in the same league with girls who were born into the Church. At least not until I realized that it was God's love that was available to me, and other considerations were of secondary importance. We (in the Church) are not very helpful when it comes to reassuring teenage girls of this reality. The fact is, there are not enough men, and especially worthy men, to marry all the LDS girls who would like to be married. And that's just the first consideration! What if no one ever asks you? What if the proposals you do get are repugnant to you? What if you really like a nonmember and the only reason he isn't your one-and-only is because he ISN'T A MEMBER? Had I turned my back on my husband for that reason, I'd have died of a broken heart, he wouldn't be a member today, and we wouldn't have our 5 kids and our 13 grandchildren. My daughter had two proposals from young LDS men before she met and married her husband, a non-member(at the time) who has come a long way since they married 15 years ago. I should add that the LDS boys who first asked her were a couple of losers, while her husband is AMAZING! I never gave married or single a thought when I was a girl until my mother, who really should have kept silent, told me one day when I brought up a lesson I had had in Seminary about Temple Marriage, "Don't count on having a chance to be married; I just want you to be happy." I knew my Mother, and I knew what she was trying to tell me: that she didn't believe that ANYONE, LDS or not, would ever want me. Imagine her surprise, her astonishment, when I found someone-and a really great someone. But before I did, I spent years suffering from feelings of worthlessness, and it's a miracle that I was able to seek the help of the Spirit and allow the Lord to bless me. I think the main problem could be parents who don't like their children as they are (and I'm not talking about "sin" here, or "bad" kids, just maybe a kid who"s fat or has acne, or is shy or isn't quite the perfect "Molly Mormon" they wanted.} To those parents I say, if your child embarrasses you, repent. You're the one with the problem! Single, married, divorced, widowed, or whatever, we are all valuable to God, and when He says He wants us to be happy, He really means it, and if you trust Him, He'll help you make it happen.

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  10. Nice! I love that you're thinking about this. Single women are so important, and I'm so grateful for all the single women who do great things!

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