I’ve spent a fair share of time dissecting my experience as a single person—trying to figure it out, thinking and talking through the details, cautiously navigating a life that has come with this unexpected length of not being married and starting a family (that years ago I assumed would happen so easily). I’m grateful to have been able to ask some hard questions, but I’ve come to a really peaceful place inside and now I’m kind of wondering what exactly I’ve spent so many years trying to figure out.
As a Mormon single person (especially past the age of 30) I think it’s easy to start believing that you are in the midst of a very unique trial, that all the married people misunderstand your experience, that life is more difficult because you’re doing it alone, and that you constantly have to reconfigure how to be happy and find meaning in life because life is naturally more happy and meaningful if you have a family.
Let me tell you about the married people I know who feel like they are in the midst of a unique trial, who feel misunderstood by their spouse, who feel like life is more difficult because they are navigating it with another person and several children who all have their own opinions, and who constantly have to reconfigure how to be happy and find meaning in life because being a mom is hard and sometimes lonely and often leaves you feeling like a failure.
I want to not ever feel like my challenges are more difficult or more exhausting because I’m single. I think everyone trying to be a good person is going to feel very similar highs and lows. Even so, we somehow come to believe that we are so different from each other…that the mom with four kids could never understand a 35-year-old single woman like me. Well, in reality that has sometimes been the case and at other times it hasn’t been the case at all.
I believe the difference lies in whether or not we have created expectations for one another. The married mom of four who asks me, “Why aren’t you married?” is probably not going to get me just like the married and childless woman is going to feel judged and misunderstood if I ask her why she doesn’t have any children. We do this to each other! Even if it doesn't come out in words, I fully confess that I have found myself silently judging couples and families for decisions that are none of my business, as well as wondering to myself “why that guy isn’t married.”
So we create these expectations that we place upon other people and upon ourselves, which is why I have wondered at times if something is wrong with me because I’m not married yet. I have struggled to understand where these expectations originate. I assume in a large way we have taken what the leaders of the church have taught as “general counsel” and created a checklist by which we measure righteousness for everyone. Yes, the family is central to our doctrine. However, making homemade bread, sewing our children’s clothing, and posting lovely pictures of it on a blog every day is not central to our doctrine—yet we still expect this of ourselves. Following a certain type of career path, marrying at a certain age, and having a certain number of children is not laid out in our doctrine—yet we still expect this of each other. Here is what I know to be very central to our doctrine: understand the scriptures, follow the spirit, and love each other. Know what the spirit feels like, study how it speaks to you, act on its promptings, let it guide your life in accordance with Christ’s teachings, and encourage others to do the same.
I wish we could figure out how to stop asking each other the wrong questions like, “Why aren’t you doing (fill in the blank)?” and instead ask, “Are you doing what you should be doing?” And then follow that up with a lot of love and support. If I’m not doing what I should be doing, or if there are changes to be made, it’s my experimenting with the spirit that will help me figure that out. And the love offered by God and by my community gives me the courage to act on the changes and promptings that I feel. The example of mentors in my community helps me know how to discern the spirit with wisdom so that I don’t turn into a mystical fool. Oh how we need each other.
I remember one Christmas I was surrounded by all of my married brothers and sisters and feeling a little bit of grief over my loneliness in the moment (I think it’s helpful to grieve what we don’t understand…just get it out, let God compensate with His love, and then move on). In a private moment I expressed this grief to one of my sisters and with no judgment at all, with no expectations as to how I might buck up, so to speak, she said, “It is hard. And I’m sorry.” I have always appreciated that response…that she allowed me to just be me and then she gave me her love. It buoyed me up far more than any other response that could have included something like, “Well, have you tried online dating?” I do trust that God will let us know if we need to offer counsel that may be difficult for someone to hear, but only the spirit can prompt that kind of conversation. It shouldn't be prompted by our own ideas of what is best for the other person.
I don’t know if how I’m ending this super long post even relates to how it began. I think I’ve just realized that I’ve spent too much time trying to figure what it means to be single when the answer is no different than what it means to just be a human being. The answer is the same for all of us, right? Just follow the Spirit, feel God’s love, and offer that love to others. For me following the spirit means being single right now, with all its beauty and bumps and bruises. It’s an experience that certainly does not preclude me from feeling God’s love and offering that love to others. For someone else following the spirit means learning how to be a mom to a rebellious teenager. For someone else it means dealing with a terminal illness. Progression means all sorts of bumps and bruises meant to teach us the same lesson of loving our Heavenly Father and loving our neighbor...all more beautiful, of course, because of the atonement of His Son.
It really is so simple.
So should I move to Africa and build wells even though there are seemingly no dating prospects there? Well, yeah…if that’s what makes sense by the spirit. Should I become a single parent foster mom? If that is what I feel prompted to do—then absolutely. Let’s not pass up incredible learning experiences because people expect differently from us. And let’s certainly not expect others to pass up experiences because of what we expect from them. How about we just allow everyone their freedom and love each other for trying to make our way through life?
ANYWAYS...should I quit my stable full-time job and travel through California for a month visiting family, friends, and farms and then come home to a part-time job so that I can study permaculture? ABSOLUTELY!!! Done and done.
I leave in ten days.