I turned 21 this week. The occasion marked a few milestones: I can drink alcohol now (but I won’t). I can smoke weed in my home state!! (But I won’t). I can gamble wherever, however I want (but I won’t). Surprise, surprise – turning 21 isn’t exactly a huge game-changer when you’re a practicing Mormon.
But there is something weird about my turning 21 that has nothing to do with potentially-addictive behaviors. Something that isn’t exactly a milestone, but more of a comparative look at my progress in life: I’ve finally approached that special age that my own mother got married! Yikes.
Now this isn’t a HUGE deal to me. I know a lot of young LDS women whose moms nag them about dating/marrying/child-producing the second they approach “the age.” My mom is quite the opposite. She doesn’t mind my single-status, and would happily support my life choices if I were to continue my education and travel the world and do all those exciting, expensive, life-affirming, independent-woman type things indefinitely.
But it wouldn’t be honest of me to say that’s all I want in life.
I know I could be perfectly happy moving to England and getting a masters degree a few years down the line. I could finally decide on a career and become established and make money and actually have health insurance, which would be nice. I could travel to the East Coast or Puerto Rico or Croatia and it would be relatively affordable since I’d be solo hostel-hopping. Maybe I’d write a book, or start a non-profit, or invest in stocks. I DON’T REALLY KNOW.
Regardless of where this hypothetical perpetually-single life might bring me, I know I would be missing something. As a Mormon woman, I have been taught my whole life to prepare for marriage and babies, and unlike a lot of my progressive-leaning LDS lady friends, I’ve always been 100% okay with that. I’m truly a get-married-and-have-babies, stay-at-home-mom kind of girl, and while I completely understand that not everyone is quite so enthusiastic, I have no reservations about shouting to the world, loud and proud, that I’m just waiting for the day to come that I take a new last name and start producing adorable tiny humans.
The security and intimacy that comes with a husband sounds great, too. Just in the past year or so, I’ve started feeling this weird loneliness from being single that’s tugging at me in that obnoxious way only biological clocks can tug. Even when I’m surrounded by friends, roommates, classmates, and coworkers all day long, I want a person whom I can love and claim as my own. And I want to be loved in that way only mutually-attracted people can be loved, even just on the emotional level. At the risk of sounding completely mushy and ridiculous, I want a man in my life who means more to me than anyone else, and I have come to that age where I’m beginning to feel the void despite any worldly ambitions I might have once had. And it’s a little terrifying.
Why, you might ask, is it terrifying?
Let me try and explain to you how terribly single I am.
At 21, I’ve been on more-than-five-but-less-than-ten dates. Among the first dates, only two of them resulted in second dates, and only one of those two resulted in a third. To put it simply, things don’t typically work out.
I’ve never held hands with a boy, let alone kissed one. I’m partial to end-of-date hugs, but beyond that my experience level with physical intimacy is zero.
In my desperation I tried the Tinder/OkCupid thing. Tinder was a bust because LITERALLY every time I messaged my matches, they’d never respond. So much for swiping right. Some guys responded on OkCupid, and by some guys I’d say maybe ten percent? I met up with some of them for activities spanning varying levels of date-ness and the conversation covered the range from awkward small talk to superhero movies I’ve never seen to video games I’ve never played. Also, a lot of Star Wars and Pokemon.
The last date I “went on” was watching a movie in the fellow’s dorm room. We sat close, it was okay enough, and we texted a few days later about going on a second date, to an actual outside location. I got excited about it. The next morning he informed me that he’d been on another first date the night before that “went really, really well!” and he was considering asking this girl to be his girlfriend, so we “probably shouldn’t go on a second date. I hope you understand.” He texted about a month later telling me that things didn’t work out with his potential-girlfriend, so we could go out again if I wanted. For what should be obvious reasons, I didn’t respond, and never will. I WILL BE SECOND TO NONE, DANGIT.
I’m not trying to throw a pity party by sharing ridiculous stories of my failed romantic endeavors. I find them more funny than tragic. I’m mainly trying to demonstrate that even when you’re trying really, really hard to find “the one,” there are absolutely no guarantees in the world of modern dating (especially as a socially-reserved English major who works in a kitchen and talks to single, eligible men maybe a few times in an average week). I live with women, study in a woman-dominated field, and work in an environment that tends to scare a lot of men away. Women ARE super fun, and I AM glad I get to constantly associate with them. But I don’t really feel like dating them for what should also be obvious reasons.
I know singles wards are made for people like me to associate with potential future husbands but that just doesn’t really happen. I wish it did. But it doesn’t.
And I’m not completely ignorant of my situation. I understand why things are so difficult. The ratio of men to women in Provo and in the church itself is not in my favor. On top of all that, I have a lot of traits that make me completely unattractive to the average regular-Mormon-Joe when compared to the competition.
I’m pretty fat even at my thinnest, and I never served a mission. I think Sunday school is REALLY, REALLY boring, and don’t usually discuss church things outside of church. I’m emotionally guarded with everyone but the closest of friends. I’m about as far from submissive as they come. I’m stubborn, headstrong, judgmental, snarky, and don’t shirk at the word “feminism.” I think traditional notions of masculinity are mostly crap, and I’m not a die-hard sci-fi or superhero fan. Pop culture means almost nothing to me. I sometimes watch select R-rated movies. I’m a total snob. I become pretty freaking melancholy come February. I know more about poetry and politics than fashion or makeup. I find hipsters annoying. I care way too much about a lot of things. I don’t care enough about others. I’m hopelessly introverted. I won’t consider long-term dating someone unless they prove themselves intelligent and challenging in the way I find attractive. I’m pickier than I probably deserve to be.
I obviously understand why there aren’t men lining up at the door to grace my presence. I know I have plenty to work on, all while those skinny, brilliant, athletic, accepting, culturally-literate girls out there are getting most of the dates.
It also didn’t take me long to realize that plenty of gorgeous women will date less-attractive men if they have good personalities, whereas most men (conventionally-beautiful or not) won’t even give women a chance unless they’re physically attracted from the outset. I try to not let this piss me off.
I have been blessed growing up surrounded with all kinds of LDS women in varying degrees of marriage or lack thereof. Some never marry, and they’re okay with that. Some aren’t as okay with that. Others marry young, divorce, and never remarry. Some do remarry. I know many who thought themselves hopeless, only to get married at thirty or forty or fifty and live perfectly-happy lives with or without children. Because of these role models, I don’t feel hopeless. I know that, no matter what, things will likely turn out okay and that I can live a fulfilled life in any number of ways.
But I still feel pangs of envy when I see relationship updates, proposals, and pregnancy announcements on Facebook. I’m sure my fellow singles know that feeling when you pass a couple holding hands in public and think “Really?!? Those weirdos found someone and I’m still single? How?!?” It sucks. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t suck.
To those single Mormon ladies out there who feel hopeless, ugly, too-reserved, or male-repelling in any way, I’m not going to tell you to stop feeling that way. I want you to know that there are countless women out there, like me, who feel that piercing longing and feel like they have nowhere to turn in their search for eternal companionship. Your feelings are real, and are to be expected in a culture that values family above everything else.
I’m not going to tell you that you can still hold leadership positions in the church, lead a Christlike life, and be a mother to neighborhood children, nieces and nephews as a single woman, though all of those things are true. They’re also things single sisters hear ALL THE TIME, and I don’t feel the need to repeat them, because they sort of ignore the real problem.
I want you to know that your feelings are valid, and that your suffering is real. Even as a young person well within the acceptable Mormon-marriage age range, I know how much it hurts to want somebody to love, and to be loved, without ever feeling like you have a reasonable chance. There’s nothing worse than feeling like an outsider, and being a single Mormon woman usually implies loneliness in the relationship game and outsider status within a family ward. That’s a lot to deal with.
What I will say is this: you are great, and your relationship status in no way affects your greatness. Your singleness doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. You are great and good and worthy, husband or not.
Maybe single men don’t see it. Maybe you are doing everything you can to put yourself out there, and maybe it’s not working. It’s probably not your fault. What those men not dating you don’t realize is that you have an incredible ability to love and serve the people around you. They don’t realize that you would make a fantastic wife and mother. They don’t know that you bake really good cupcakes, or that your sense of humor is on point, or that you will be there for them through some of life’s greatest struggles. They have no idea what they’re missing.
That guy who stood me up for his make-believe dream girl? He will never know that I love unicorns, or that my mac and cheese recipe is delicious. He’ll never know how much I love a good conversation about the deep subjects in life, and he’ll never know how much I’d appreciate the chance to kiss his face just because I can. He’ll never know how badly I want motherhood, or how I earnestly look forward to a long, happy life with a faithful companion. And maybe, even if he did know all those things, he still wouldn’t like me. Maybe I would’ve decided against him on our second date. Such is life; At least I’d get the chance to try.
The time has come that we single ladies delete the dating apps that make us feel sad and rejected; they don’t help much. I think we should learn to love and respect our bodies even if the men around us don’t. I think we should openly talk about how much it sucks to be single when it’s not our preferred lifestyle. We shouldn’t feel guilty calling out certain men for being stupid and superficial. We shouldn’t feel inadequate because we don’t have immediate marriage prospects.
Feel sad. Feel disappointed in the life you didn’t think you would be living at this age. Fear the day you can no longer have children. Continue doing everything you can to find that guy you want to spend the rest of your life with. Stay motivated. Don’t give up if it’s something you really want.
21 is still young. I could get married next year, five years from now, even twenty years from now. Maybe I’ll never get married. Maybe that shouldn’t bother me so much.
But it does, and you know what? I’ll never try to hide it. No one should.