not in Primary anymore

young women and the “i-can’t-be-single” syndrome

by Tinesha

My friend called me up a few days after she taught a Young Women’s lesson a few weeks ago. The lesson started out well – talking about adversity and challenges we face in the world. The Beehives were listening – not as attentively as she had hoped – so she gave them another challenge.

“Write down five of the worst things that could ever happen to you,” she said, desperate to get the Beehives completely engaged, as she handed out pens and paper. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be completely excited, taking a long time to think out the five worst things that could ever happen to them. At the end of this activity, she had wanted to show them that horrible things could happen but even if any of those 5 worst things happened to them, they would still have Christ.

However, my friend didn’t call me to tell me she taught a Young Women’s lesson. She called to let me know that on every single girl’s top five was “not getting married”.

My initial feeling – horror. Pure horror. I mean, I quickly ran through the top five worst things that could happen to me and “not getting married” is not even close. Famine, living in a confined space forever, those hit the list. In fact, “not getting married” isn’t not even on my top one hundred. The more I thought about it, it wasn’t the fact that this was on their list that horrified me the most – it was the fact that these girls were TWELVE. Aren’t twelve year olds supposed to be thinking about – well, I don’t know, not marriage.

After I hung up the phone, it hit me. I mean, I had been frightened because of the girl’s answers, but where had they got the answer from. I thought about what I learned in Young Women’s lessons. Marriage, marriage, homemaking, marriage, marriage, dating, Jesus, more marriage. How can I even be horrified with these girls when that’s all they get to learn week after week? How many lessons did I have that were about “how to prepare for a career” or “how to prepare for college or stuff after graduation”? Um, none.

But being single is like some horrible curse – no one can imagine themselves being single and being LDS. That’s just not supposed to happen! The other day in church someone said, “Well, I don’t want to get married now, but I’m going to get married someday.” Suddenly, I found myself saying, “What if you don’t? Get married?” I didn’t mean for it to be rude, but she looked scared. “Of course I’ll get married!”

In 1990, a study of LDS members showed that 18.7 percent of LDS women in the church had never been married. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact statistic for this year. I do know however that the number of single, never been married women in the church has grown). This statistic is not put here to be cynical. It’s just to say that the “I’m-Going-to-Get-Married-Because-I-Can’t-Be-Single” is a little bit, well, outdated. No, not even that. It’s flat out ridiculous. Those girls in Beehives, they shouldn’t be scared of not being married. If they get married, good for them. If they don’t, good for them. What if we taught lessons about going to college and getting an education (and not for the purpose of finding an eternal companion)? Or about following dreams and making them real?

Not getting married is certainly not the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Of course, many of us can snicker and agree with that statement, but many young LDS females don’t feel that wait. I mostly see a problem within the Young Women’s lessons and parts of the YW program (or maybe it was just my program — there were too many mutual activities about homemaking). We’re talking about six years of get married lessons – only increasing the I-Can’t-Be-Single Syndrome. So maybe I’m putting too much blame in one place. Which makes me wonder – how can we fix this and what else is even causing the problem in the first place?

5 Responses to “young women and the “i-can’t-be-single” syndrome”

  1. Rachel

    Great post.

    I think that the Young Women’s manuals do have great culpability in this. In a “Gendering Mormonism” class I took last year at Claremont Graduate University, we read an article by someone who looked through all of the Young Women and Young Men’s manuals of her time, to see what they talked about. She said how many lessons were on what subjects, and a startling (but probably shouldn’t have been startling) number for the Young Women were on marriage, or talked about marriage. For the Young Men it was almost zero. While the girls their age were preparing for marriage, the young men were preparing for missions. Missions. Missions. Missions. And: how to be like God and how to use their Priesthood.

    But: I don’t think that the manuals are the only thing that is responsible. There are other forces that start in a girl’s life when she is very young. For some it might be Disney and princesses. For some it might be something else. All I know is that when my niece was five and I was dating my then boyfriend, all she wanted to whisper in my ear about was whether we were going to get married. Her own mom isn’t and hasn’t been married, and this was still her main concern.

    • PlainJane

      Wow! This post was fantastic!

      It is also what I have had on my mind lately because I have 2 little girls (they are both under 3 years old, but I already worry about it). I think I am going to have to do a lot more work at home after sending my girls to church on Sundays. If I ever have a boy, then I will have to do the same with him.

  2. Carol

    I think it is in the culture, both inside and outside of the church. Inside, though, it is particularly powerful. It is quite plain from lessons, general conference, and other meetings, starting from the earliest ages of primary, that girls are being groomed to be married. It is the most important thing they could possibly do. It is where their true joy is going to come from.

    As a woman who got married when I was 34, with a bachelors, a masters, and half of a doctorate behind me, I can testify that the pressure never seemed to ease up for me to get married. Sure, people wanted to know what I was writing papers on, or what I was doing for work… but they also wanted to know if I was dating anyone. When I got married, it was like a huge sigh of relief went up from my relatives and friends and people in my ward. Finally I was going to start fitting the mold!

    Of course, now, I can tell that people are wondering when I’m going to start getting to the baby making part of my existence, especially since I am so old. Those eggs aren’t getting any younger, you know.

    So… It makes a ton of sense that those girls think that not getting married might be the worst thing ever. It is what they were raised to do. If that plan doesn’t happen, then what?? It is akin to being the last one chosen in gym class… only you don’t actually get chosen at all, and are doomed to watch from the side-lines. We don’t do YW lessons, or even RS lessons on what to do when that expectation of getting married doesn’t happen. At least for me and those I grew up with, it was that fear of “what if I’m the one that doesn’t get married?”

    The only way it will change is if we as a culture, and those leading the church, decide that sometimes the marriage thing doesn’t happen, and we’d better start teaching girls that it is okay to be something else other than a married stay at home mom. But… that sure would go against the Proclamation on the family and the prescribed roles of women in the church.

  3. Anonymous

    If you are all against things the church and our prophet and God stand for, you are NOT Mormon. I think the name of this blog needs to change. Stop bashing your own religion and start accepting the fact that you are different than men and God made it that way. If you have a problem, take it up with him, not your sympathetic, ignorant Internet buddies.

    • Anonymous

      We are Mormon. Read this article, and relate to the endless marriage lessons. Compare them to the lessons on mission-prep, college-prep, career-prep you had. Marriage by far outweighs the equation. It shouldn’t be that way. Too many girls marry, then ask “now what?” because they feel sincerely lost with regards to their individual person. There is potential within the women’s groups of the church, potential that in not bein reached ona church nor a community level.
      Please, just make a difference!


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