not in Primary anymore

adventures in a singles ward

A guest post by Justin Anfinsen

Singles Wards. Am I right?

That one statement says a lot unfortunately, and if you have ever had any experience in a Singles Ward, you probably carry a treasure trove of stories in your brain. Some make you cringe with the uncomfortable memories they bring, others are probably unintentionally hilarious, or some may be downright shameful.

I waded through my singles ward experience with a hint of irony, like the whole thing was a big inside joke that was only meant to be laughed at, at its worst, and shrugged off at its best. I felt I was being treated this way as a member of the ward anyways. We are always being shuffled around like a deck of cards, never staying in the same place for too long as wards rapidly expand, divide, and expand. It’s hard to put your feet down and let your roots grow.

My first experience with a singles ward was what I would call “normal,” or perhaps a better word would be uneventful. That is until we got a new Sunday school class, “Preparing For Eternal Marriage.” It instantly became popular- the wives of the Bishopric would all take turns teaching, and there seemed to be no one attending the other classes anymore.  What can I say; the young kids want to know all about how great marriage is going to be. Oh to be young.

So like so many other ward activities, I attended ironically (This was the incorrect attitude, I am aware). What the class really was, was a warm glowing gift that kept on giving, but only in a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. Like watching a movie that’s so terrible you can’t turn it off; “How can they have gotten everything so wrong?” you ask yourself, but it’s too late, the movie is in control.

During one lesson the instructor drew a picture of two dressers and told us that each dresser represented the mind of a guy and a girl, and we were supposed to fill in the drawers with what we thought the opposite sex thought about. A college course called “Stereotypes 101” could not have set the stage better. The next hour proceeded as you might expect: the boy’s drawers were filled up with guns, cars, hard work, girls, and sports (I don’t like any of this stuff…am I gay?). Girls apparently thought about love, nurturing, having kids (Is anybody going to say anything?) and affection. Now that that was out of the way, the stage was set for what would be the crescendo of mind numbing awfulness.

At the end of the lesson we were given a questionnaire to fill out that included questions like, “What do you like girls/guys to do on dates?” (Too easy, I know) or “What behavior do guys/girls do that is off putting on dates?” We were also asked to list the top 10 qualities we want from the opposite sex. The results would be gathered and talked about next week. I presumed a team of scientists from NASA would break down the responses and quantify the results. It was serious business (I assume).

As I sat on the bench as people were leaving the room, I was amazed people were acting like everything was normal. Did they sit through the same class I just did? Why didn’t anyone say anything? Why didn’t I say anything? I filled out my questionnaire completely sarcastically, I wanted a girl “Who doesn’t talk, the date should be all about me and stuff. I don’t like dem talkie girls and junk.”

The next week when NASA transported the results via satellite (I assume) we sat down to talk about the results. Oh, we were also separated by gender and sat in rows of chairs facing each other so we could be uncomfortable the entire time. It’s like having someone give you the finger before they punch you and take your lunch money. After we got a lesson about how guys should not ask girls to first dates where a swim suit is required (I guess this was a “thing”), we got into the meaty details.

Let’s start with what the guys wanted most in a girl. Go ahead and guess. Spirituality? Ha, fat chance. Personality? Pfft, keep dreaming. Did you guess sense of humor? Because that’s wrong as well. When the word was written on the board half of me was giddy in excitement- I felt like the child on Christmas Day that opens the gift he really wanted but didn’t tell Santa he wanted it, yet, inexplicably, it was right there in from of him- my other half simultaneously vomited into my mouth. It was strange. Healthy. Guys wanted a girl who was, above all things, healthy. “Well that’s not so bad, those guys just want someone cancer free.” I’m afraid not gallant reader; guys apparently want a girl who is not fat. We were then treated to a lecture on why it is important to be healthy- wait, I thought youalready gave us the finger before punching us?!?

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Girls I’m afraid, were not any better. Security is what girls decided to go with. “Well that’s ok, you need a guy to protect you from getting jumped in the park by street hoods” If the threat of physical violence is strong enough to warrant the constant companionship of a man, you may consider changing neighborhoods. But security we know, is the “polite” way of saying money: sweet, sweet cash money.

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What did all this teach me? Never trust women? All men are pigs? Sunday school is God’s cosmic joke? Maybe…but really what I learned is that I need to be more proactive in participating. What if a non-member witnessed this? Or someone who was struggling with the ideas of gender roles inside the church? People need to know we are not cut from the same mold. Hillary Clinton said that “What we have to do… is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.” This is as true in politics as it is on life. We can be different without inviting contention.

I know that the singles wards can be the punch line of the joke, and an open invitation for the ironic only participation, I would never want someone to think that I was a gun carrying, sports enthusiast who is only into skinny women. Yet that is the picture I let be painted of men in the church. I can’t be responsible over what other people say, but I can be responsible over how people see me.

If you have an article or just a compilation of thoughts that you would like to contribute to the Young Mormon Feminists blog, feel free to write to us at youngmormonfeminists AT gmail DOT com!

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10 Responses to “adventures in a singles ward”

  1. C.

    Once after listening to them whine about it for a while, I had to sit my then-boyfriends roommates down and give them a nice long rant about “security” when they went off about how all girls cared about at in LDS dating culture was money. It went along the lines of, “Well, if you expect a girl to stay at home, raise your children, potentially forfeit her own education, and not contribute financially to the income of the family leaving the burden of provision entirely on her husband’s shoulder you can BET she’s going to worry about money and men who do/don’t have it. She’s put herself and her family entirely on the mercy of a future husband’s success. Don’t blame girls for being obsessed with money when it’s something that directly affects them but they aren’t taught, encouraged, or even allowed to proactively control.”

    “But!” I continued, “If you encourage girls to get educations, USE THEM in the workforce, come up with a plan specific to your future family about how the two of you will balance competing desires for family and career…you may be surprised to find that girls stop caring about money in men so much and start going out and earning it on their own.”

    The response from all but my then-boyfriend, “Yeah, but if they work, where does that leave us?”
    His response, “You’ll have to rely on your personalities and charm to find a partner instead of falling back on ‘I can feed you!'”
    “Girls are supposed to stay home, though!” they wailed.
    “Point missed,” he returned.

    One reason out of many why I married him.

    Reply
    • justinanfinsen

      So you are saying “I can feed you and our beautiful babies!” is not a valid pick up line?

      This changes everything. 😛

      Reply
  2. Mungagungadin

    For what it’s worth, it doesn’t get any better with age or ward-type, and it goes from topic to topic, most of them very poorly reasoned. Sitting in my Relief Society is just kinda awful. I will give your conclusion some thought.

    Reply
  3. Beatrice

    I was in a singles’ ward that had a Marriage Class for a while. The Bishopric called a ward member to teach it who had of course never been married (for the record, I believe that single people can teach about marriage if they have had, you know, some professional training). Anyway, as I got to know him more, I realized he was one of the creepiest guys in the ward. He always hit on the youngest and newest girls as soon as the joined the ward, and one ward prayer he was bragging to everyone about how he liked to go hang out in random apartment complex hot tubs in Provo in order to pick up on girls. Anyway, the lesson on “intimacy” was the shining example of a series of lessons with serious problems . He explained that you should never used sex as a weapon and explained to all of us that that meant not withholding sex from your spouse. So if you were mad or frustrated or tired or whatever, you should just put those feeling aside and have sex with your spouse. If you were unable to do that, then you were using sex as a weapon. Yeah.

    Reply
  4. Roseanna

    Thanks for sharing this; I had a terribly similar experience. The Bishopric wives teaching in my singles ward didn’t give the exact same lessons, but they often lined up the chairs like that or made us basically speed date during the lesson and taught horrifying things on a regular basis. And though I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t participate and though it was more sad than ironically funny, I couldn’t resist.

    My Mormon upbringing of never challenging the teachers of Sunday school lessons was part of the reason I never pointed out how awful it was.I just made faces at my roommates occasionally, or took angry notes on the handouts they gave us. Once my mother came with me to the class, and it was validating that she was similarly horrified. (The “Strengthening Marriage” Sunday school class that I attended with her and my father in my home ward was actually sooooo much better, btw. Individuals do make a huge difference.)

    Reply
  5. gwendolynivie

    this is truly amazing. i wish the whole thing had been recorded. it is tales like these that prevented me from going to byu, although i’m aware this ridiculousness happens in other places as well.

    part of me just feels sad about this whole thing. it is not really surprising. mormon boys want arm candy and mormon girls want a sugar daddy. what about a best friend? eternity is a long time. you should at least like the person you are married to. i would like to believe our culture is not this shallow, despite the evidence.

    your point that we need to speak up is precisely correct. we must start the change, because there is no one else to do it.

    ps if you ever end up in the boston/cambridge area, there are many like minded people here! i’d be happy to introduce you to them.

    Reply

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