Ever since her essay “Single, Female, Mormon, Alone” ran as a New York Times Modern Love column in 2011, Seattle writer Nicole Hardy has become a wise (and wisecracking) voice for women trying to reconcile the rules of their religion—no sex before marriage, stay at home, raise a family—with twenty-first-century desires. Her story was honest: I’m single, happily childless, and still a virgin at 35. “My phone blew up immediately after—agents wanting to represent me, editors wanting to work with me on a book, notes of empathy from LDS members, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Christians, gay people, straight people, Planned Parenthood employees, atheists, and -agnostics,” she told Seattle Met shortly after the article was published. Now, this excerpt of Hardy’s memoir, Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin (Hyperion, August 20), goes back to the eve of her 30th birthday—the point of no return for single Mormon women.
I’ll be thirty next week. After my birthday, I’ll be considered a single adult, rather than a young single adult. Ironic that I feel young, look young, am young everywhere else in the world. But at church, I’ll no longer lay claim to that adjective. And since single adults aren’t allowed to attend wards designed for young single adults, I’ll be evicted from my congregation.
Leila, who’s younger than I am, will stay, and I’ll begin attending the family ward whose boundaries include my address. Ward boundaries, worldwide, work like school districts. Depending on where we live, members are assigned a specific time and place to worship: this way it’s easy for people to build close communities, and to help each other when needed. It also means that the ward where my membership records will be transferred is made up entirely of strangers. I’ll likely be the only adult in the congregation who’s never been married.
The separation of young single adults from (plain old) single adults is supposedly a precaution against older men courting girls as young as eighteen. I’m not sure why said girls can’t be taught to simply say no to men they’re not interested in dating. Truthfully, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to separate singles at all. Because we’re absent from regular congregations, we singles—and our concerns—aren’t often considered. Our absence reinforces the fact that a single life cannot be respected the way a
married life can; it certainly can’t be admired—unless as an example of how to bear a trial.
Singlehood is a problem to be solved. Even the bishops in singles wards are impatient with us, frustrated with the amount of time they spend away from their families, dealing with violations of the law of chastity. There’s an easy solution, we’re often reminded. “Just choose one,” said one bishop to a male friend of mine, and indicated, like a game show host, the array of available women before him.
Men, in particular, are often faulted for their singlehood. Our leaders will stand at the pulpit and say, “If you are a young man of appropriate age and are not married, don’t waste time in idle pursuits. Get on with life and focus on getting married…make your highest priority finding a worthy, eternal companion.” The implication is always the same: life is married life, when you’re LDS.
Single women, rather than being chastised, are reassured that since we’re not at fault for not having been chosen, we’ll be rewarded after death with marriage and children. Every time someone offers up this platitude, I bristle. I wonder if it helps anyone—the earnest assurance that everything will be better, once we’re dead.
Singles wards often feel less like a place of worship than a three-hour speed date, or an up-close example of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection—wherein individuals of the same sex ostracize or kill their rivals in order to excite or charm potential mates. Any given Sunday, I could lose an eye to one of the fifty or so sweet-seeming, cutthroat girls who will trample one another, bash each other over the heads with the trays of freshly baked cookies they’ve made, the care packages they’ve assembled, the coolers packed full of snacks for the guys, for the big game. These women will take out the kneecaps of their sisters in Christ, do anything to get access to the gene pool of the ward’s two or three most eligible bachelors.
Even so, singles wards have at least provided tangible evidence that I am not alone in the strange and difficult quest for love in the Mormon world.
Published: August 2013