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?!?
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.
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.
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