Note: Whew, this drew a lot more consternation than I was expecting (considering the last one I wrote about how prophets don’t necessarily fulfill the standard role as oracles in our Church drew barely a peep!). This is hastily written, overly dramatic, and can come off as totally mean. I wrote it with two hours of sleep and while trying to study for a cognitive psychology quiz. I didn’t mean to say you cannot have good experiences in the singles ward system, but I do stand by my argument that singles wards are redundant and unnecessary. So if you haven’t read this and you’re faint of heart, you might consider skipping this one out.
I have no love for singles wards. My experience in the singles ward circuit was humiliating, demoralizing, and nearly cost me my faith. I know of some people who thrive in the singles ward atmosphere. Let me say this loud and clear:
The vast majority of people I know don’t really like singles wards, and there’s a lot of reasons why, and I’m going to detail them right now, this very instant, so that you will know why singles wards are just really bad ideas that need to be dismantled.
1. Singles wards are artificial
Why do most Mormon geographical wards work so well? Because they’re geographical, and not left up to choice. I’ve seen the effects of church shopping on a community. The entire area devolves into a giant popularity contest as church leaders try to woo members away from other churches and cannibalize each other. It’s not pretty. Mormon wards, however, are divided up geographically, so that you’re forced to rub shoulders with people you normally wouldn’t hang out with. Most wards tend to have a pretty even spread of lifestyles and demographics. You have older people, young people, youth, teens, young couples, well-established couples, all learning from each other and working with each other for a greater cause. We exercise charity, we have opportunity to practice it every day, and it prevents the kind of clique-ish behavior humans so easily display. If you think cliques in a ward are bad, I had friends in high school who lost friends because they didn’t go to the “cool” church. It can get bad, and geographical wards eliminate a lot of those problems. That’s why we strongly encourage people to go to their geographical wards.
Except singles wards are not geographical. They are artificial in their construct. You have a very Stepford-esque situation where everyone is roughly the same age as you. Most are going to school or working for themselves. None (usually) have any children. There are no older people to give you advice, sans the frazzled bishopric who works overtime to work with a transient ward of people who don’t know what to do with their life. There are also no younger people to serve and give you a new perspective. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of learning going on. A group of 20-somethings can only contribute so much before they just…run out of perspective. This creates an incredibly spiritually deficient atmosphere.
2. Singles wards have agendas
Singles wards are about getting married. Full stop. You can get out of the never ending circus only by getting married or turning 30. They are completely designed to help you find your spouse and that’s that.
This is wrong. Worship is not about finding the man or woman of your dreams. When we partake the Sacrament, you should not be scoping out the crowd. Every time someone speaks, you shouldn’t be judging whether they could be a potential mate/rival. Worship should be about God, not hormones. Unfortunately, in a singles ward, it is inescapable. People may deny it, but when the entire system is rigged to force you think about your unmarried state and changing it, how could you escape? It’s like when people tell you to not think of purple elephants – you can’t help but think about them now. When the entire system is designed to remind you that you need to get married, it’s impossible not to think about, when you should be thinking about God and service.
3. Because of the agenda, singles wards are ripe with all kinds of weird, creepy forms of compromised authority and stewardship
While I was single, my then girlfriend (soon wife)’s brother was also my roommate and and the elders quroum president. He struggled to rectify a really annoying trend in his hometeaching statistics.
Home teachers almost never visited their male charges. However, they did visit their female charges without fail every month. Sometimes several times a month.
Wait, let me add one more twist to the numbers.
Only the pretty ones had home teacher visits.
I do not think this kind of behavior was endemic to just our singles ward. I would imagine that this is the case for many singles wards. And it opens itself up to some really weird priesthood issues. One should not be using callings to score dates or chase skirts. Ever. This is just a really bad thing. But, again, with the agenda enforced so thoroughly within the very structure of the singles wards, how could you not run into this kind of situation?
I know of men who try to capture wives by manipulating spiritual events and feelings to their favor. These stories are not uncommon, and they are dispicable. We should not endorse or encourage any structure which only facilitates this kind of spiritual abuse.
4. The “younger” singles wards are too transient; the “older” singles wards are too stale
Because of the nature of young people, the singles ward demographic is constantly changing. Nowhere is this more apparent than BYU, where entire swaths of the ward leave every six months, only to be replaced by the “new crop.” This transient nature prevents the ward from providing a very important function that congregations should provide – they cannot act as an anchor for your family or your worship practice.
In my current ward, one of the counselors of the bishopric go out of his way to greet us every Sunday, to ask us how we’re doing. He encourages us every Sunday to think about staying in Redmond (with a twinkle in his eye, of course). He’s been in the ward for over 30 years. He’s seen the comings and goings, and for some reason, it provides a type of stability. We can learn everyone in ward and then become established ourselves, helping new people in. The entire ward isn’t changing overnight every six months. It’s nice, stable, and helps provide an anchor to an otherwise frenzied pace of life at that age.
Unfortunately, the “young” singles wards (usually localized around colleges) cannot provide that kind of anchor. They shift constantly. There’s no anchoring, no familiarity, no “old guard” to help you learn the ropes of the ward’s particular culture. Nor do you even care, because let’s face it – if you’re still there in a year, you’re surprised yourself. Nobody really tries to get to know each other because what’s the point? You just have to start the process over.
Sadly, the absolute opposite happens to the “older” singles wards (usually localized in cities and rural areas). They’ve been there for a while. Everyone has probably already dated everyone else – multiple times. And no marriage candidates. They go to church, but there’s no spiritual nourishment because there’s limited chances to serve in a meaningful way or to learn from the lifestyles of others around you. No matronly grandmothers to give you advice, no teenagers to joke with. Everyone is single, working (or in higher education), and completely burnt out in dating (after all, that’s the entire purpose of the singles ward). They’re just waiting to turn 30 so they can move on. The prospects of new people moving in are slim, definitely nowhere close to the singles wards they experienced in college. Everyone goes to church one Sabbath at a time, slowly marching through time until they can finally, bitterly leave the ward. And this is if they had the inexhaustible stores of spiritual stamina to endure such horror every week. Most have just stopped going to church by now. They’ve been shut out from the community they once loved simply because they’re unmarried. I’ve been in one of those singles wards. It’s like going to church with Dementors every Sunday.
We often say that for young single adults, this is the most critical point of their lives. So why, when they enter this most critical point of their lives, do we isolate them from the rest of the religious community, away from the good advice, the good role models, the good perspectives, the age and the wisdom that comes with it, and instead shut them up inside an echo chamber of angst and limited perspective? If this is the most critical point of their lives, we should surround them with all the love and support a geographical ward can muster (answer: a heck of a lot). Instead, we deprive them of one of the most beautiful expressions of Mormon culture when they need it most.
And explain to me why this whole set-up isn’t completely messed up.
5. We have a vast body of young single adults who want to serve but we refuse to let them
This is where the real damage of the singles wards come in. We have a vast army of young adults who want to serve the Church, who are begging to serve the Church, but we don’t let them. Think about it. These people have jobs, maybe some schooling, and have very little attachments. They have no spouse or kids. Unleash them into the wards!
A friend of mine lived in an area with no singles wards. He went to the family ward out of necessity instead. The elders quorum president called him to be a counselor. He worked intimately with many of the families of the ward. He grew in the leadership position. He was surrounded by good, honorable, older men who tutored and mentored him and became role models for his future. In turn, the ward got a counselor with little worldly attachment or obligation, who spent most of his evenings after work zealously in the service of God, visiting less actives and the sick and afflicted, spreading the gospel to those who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks.
I have friends who are tired of the singles ward. They want to move onto the family wards but they can’t because they’re nowhere close to 30 yet. They’re graduated from college, they work, and they don’t have much obligations outside of that. Imagine if we could channel all of that energy into young adults serving in the primary, Relief Society, the respective quorums and young women groups. What if we could turn all of that desire of service into effective home teachers who served families of all types and sizes, giving and receiving service in return? Imagine if we could have these people surrounded by wonderful, strong role models, people who have weathered the storms in life and still firmly believe in their faith, and who can in turn provide wonderful experiences for our single adults? But we don’t. We deny them of the very opporunities they are begging to have in order to progress in their faith and find spiritual nourishment. And you know what happens? Most of them don’t have patience for this malicious tomfoolery and shinanigans (that’s right, I called both of them). They drop out. And the funny thing is, aside from their lack of church attendance, they are Mormon through and through. They talk like Mormons. They live like Mormons. They think like Mormons. They believe like Mormons. And they’re proud of their Mormon heritage. They just don’t understand why the community the love so much would shut them out and act like they don’t exist or are worth nothing. How painful this is for them! It wounds them to the core. This is incredibly depressing for me to watch.
They want so desperately to serve and live the gospel. Instead, what do we do? Insist in corraling them into their respective singles wards where they eventually become bitter or simply stop coming. What a loss.
6. Singles wards don’t really help you to get married
Now, I can hear all of you saying, Brother Ted! There is a third option! You can just get married. But let me tell you something, you young whippersnappers. Singles wards won’t really help you get married.
Wait a second, I hear you chiming. I met my spouse at a singles ward! Darn it all to heck, you met your wife at a singles ward! And I will say, no, I really didn’t, and probably neither did you.
I met my wife because my roommate happened to have a really hot sister that would come over to visit and I would cover her with blankets when she fell asleep on the couch and walk her home every night for curfew.
Sure, we went to the same ward. We even talked on occasion in said ward. But both of us took our worship seriously. We didn’t really think that Sunday School class or fast and testimony meeting was a super appropriate opportunity to hit on someone. And neither should you.
Let’s say we dissolve all of the singles wards and incorporate all of them into the family wards. You will have singles meeting other singles in the context of the family wards! Except this time, they’re not super pressured to omg date right now and get married and pop out the babies because they are meeting in the context of community worship and not the meat packing plants that are today’s singles wards.
Let’s say your singles ward dissolves and you end up in a family ward that doesn’t have another single person of the opposite gender. That’s okay; you’re not going to church to hook up anyway, and besides, it’s not like we don’t already have multi-stake singles events anyway. Because we totally do, you guys. Asking a girl out during Gospel Doctrine? Not cool, man. Asking a girl out during a singles dance because man, you two have just really been grooving well all night long? Niiiiiiiiiiiice.
That’s the thing. I can guarantee you that you will find other Mormon singles, and you will hang out (I am, of course, dealing with places where there are enough members. If you live in Eastern Europe, that’s a whole ‘nother story and singles wards themselves don’t even exist so problem solved I guess?). And it will be in these interactions outside of church that you will fall in love with and find your potential spouse and partner-for-life. I did not fall in love with my wife because she batted her eyelashes at me while Brother so-and-so droned on about faith at the pulpit. I fell in love with her when I showed her Katamari Damacy and she squealed in delight. I fell in love with her because we would take walks and she would hold my hand and snuggle up close. I fell in love because she would come over in cute hats and bake cookies and then tell me seriously how accounting is super-awesome. The fact that she was a strong member only solidified my love for her, and I didn’t have to meet her in the singles ward to find her. In fact, I really didn’t.
Looking for a spouse is like looking for a job – most likely, you will not get a job cold-calling all of the establishments you want to work with. Most likely, you will run into potential employers by word-of-mouth. Your friend will tell you about a sweet job you should look into, and you do. And most likely, you will find your job that way, not by purusing the classifieds. It’s the exact same thing when looking for a spouse. In fact, if you go into super-spouse-hunting mode, you really just end up scaring them all away.
We are taught to believe that the singles wards will help us find spouses, but it’s not true. People have been finding spouses long before singles wards existed. It’s true, they did! Ask, you know, every person who got married in the church before the relatively recent invention of singles wards! Unless you’re saying how they met didn’t count. Don’t tell them that. They’ll get mad. Have a little faith for the future, instead.
Singles wards won’t help you find a spouse. Single young adult activities? Sure, go to those absolutely. But when you go to church every Sunday, you should not feel like you’re being judged for spousal qualities or judge others for the same. You come to church for God. You come to church for Jesus. And if you’re coming to church for anything else, you’re doing it wrong.
So let us recap:
1. Singles wards are spiritually deficient by design.
2. Singles wards put marriage, dating, and hormones before God for Sunday worship.
3. Singles wards provide channels of really creepy spiritual manipulation, which should not be tolerated ever.
4. Singles wards deny opportunities for service and strong role models in the church and deprive people at the time they need it most the best Mormonism has to offer.
5. There are many singles dissatisfied with singles wards begging to be let into family wards, ready to serve with gusto and zeal, and we refuse to let them in because apparently not having a spouse is the equivalent of leprosy.
6. Singles wards don’t even really accomplish their designed purpose; singles activities do, and we already have both, so we might as well get rid of the former system that is sloughing unmarried young single adults over the age of 23 out of the church like a leper does limbs, right?