Single Experiences: I, Me, Who is That? Identity and Emancipation as a Single Mormon

[Note: This is one of a series of posts about being single in the Mormon church.  Here's a link to the guest post invitation  Here's a link to the archive for this series.]

We all learn the words, we all learn the blocking, we all practice the staging. We drill this growing up–they are things affirmed as truth to establish homogenization and get a nice creamy consistency. They are not who I am, they are how you see me.

I am single, and the single girl needs to stand aside. “Your rights aren’t required. Your interests need not be represented. You are empowered only through secondary attachment. Alone you have considerably less value.” Not a great message for young women? The one shoved down the throats of the single men is even worse.  It sounds something like this: “Your entire being is corrupt. Every thing that you desire is evil. Pluck out those eyes, and blindly ask a girl out. You are a menace to society.”

How funny that all attempts to rehabilitate me back to polite Mormon society feel like the YW leader who publicly shamed me as a 12 year old for not knowing the appropriate formula and phrases to create a “powerful testimony.” Truth isn’t important, conformity is. Commitment isn’t important, performance is.  Time and time again, in every lesson I hear a familiar melody.  With the cold detachment of a physician I am told: “Know your role.”

I learned this well as a child. Is it any wonder that my career is performative? I was a good girl, and I worked hard to “know my role.”  I worked hard to perform that role– fake it till you make it. But I didn’t make it. None of us did. So, I’m here in after school YSA detention hall, waiting to find someone to crawl out a window and elope with.

In two minutes when Peter Priesthood comes through that door, I need to be the very image of the Virtuous Slut. It is my singular purpose in life to catch some man’s eye. Mascara, don’t fail me now.  Heels, click a little more loudly, if folks on the last pew of the chapel can’t hear them, they might forget I’m here and waiting “to be noticed.”

Waiting desperately for the chance to be under-appreciated, objectified, and treated like garbage? Wait a minute, I can have that being single, and get paid for it. Okay. As an informed consumer, I’m happy taking my bat and ball and going home. Wait a minute, do I still “know my role” if I’m refusing to play the part?

Sunday mornings in a YSA ward are like a horror movie on the set of project runway. More hairspray and lipstick or the girls in Relief Society will think you are slipping in your faith.  Better get back on the treadmill, because your responsibility is to improve the aesthetic in the kingdom. Maybe we should sit passively by as another girl with an eating disorder is told that “Straight is the Gate and Narrow the Way” to eternal life. Maybe we should accept the CES broadcast adage, “Every old barn could use a new coat of paint now and again.” Because, honestly, as a woman, your only potential use is to temporarily house your future husband’s equipment when he’s not at the office.

Single members were never supposed to exist.  Occasionally older married folks attempt to throw lifesavers, but their attempts at rescue simply don’t work, because the reality is, we are not drowning.  We are not invalids.  You think we are crazy, desperate, unhappy people.  You are wrong.  We have been told we are a thing to be pitied-we are not.  This was a lie, this was manipulation, this is pressure to conform, we don’t need or want it.  We are independent, we are strong, we have/continue to survive without your love and affection, we make our own choices.

I am 28.  I have a graduate degree and four jobs.  In every sphere except this I am treated with dignity and respect.  I perform in multiple languages for multiple audiences all over the world.  I am known and respected by so many people.  When I walk through these chapel doors, I’m supposed to be stripped of who I actually am, you know, those pesky “natural man” worldly things that make up my very identity.

Walking into a singles ward means I need to be told:

  • what to wear
  • how to speak and when
  • what to do, and
  • how to do it.

Rules, rules, clearly those are the key to happiness. Give me more rules; adults still trying to impersonate teenagers LOVE rules.  Make vague abstract threats about the consequences of breaking these rules. Motivate me with fear. That is exactly what the Savior would do to preview the eternal bliss to come if I make the cut. The more my Sunday school teachers talks, the more it sounds like their “cut,” and I get a sneaking suspicion I’m among the damned.

When you are 8, you jump for joy to hear rules, ‘cause all you wanna be is good.  When you are 18, you don’t really pay attention because there is a cute boy sitting in front of you with an incredibly resonant voice and sparkly eyes. When you are 28, you take off your high heel and chuck it at the pulpit during testimony meeting calling for public execution.  How did we get there?  How did I get there?  We woke up.  I grew up.  We are the adult children of Heavenly Father, we are our hopes/dreams, not yours.  We don’t need M&Ms and hand holding; we are emotionally self-sufficient, and we deserve respect.

We are entitled brats, and we expect perfection.  We have been told to expect perfection.  We were constantly reminded that we are elite, chosen, and better than past generations. We have been flattered and misled.  God doesn’t love some children more than others.  God is not concerned with their procreative utility or attractiveness.  God loves us all.  We know this not because you told us, we know this because we asked him, and he told us.

Kick us out of your wards, un-invite us to ward functions, we are a different kind of Mormon.  We are pioneers crossing the plains of relevance.  We are motivated by real faith and actual conviction.

Shortly before being hung, drawn, and quartered, Robert Emmet said:

I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world — it is the charity of its silence! Let no man write my epitaph: for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them. let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them and me repose in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character; when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.

Seem a little extreme, like a “Life or death” situation? It is.  When we talk about other people and how they fit or do not fit in a community, we are talking about entitlement.  When we call into question a person’s right to belong or exist in a religious context, we are talking in some degree about foreordination and manifest destiny in the very worst potential way.  By doing so, we call into question any other assumed rights/privileges the “other” might have.  How did the Holocaust start? How did Japanese internment camps come about?  Because someone decided the “they” were not like the “us.”  Perfecting Christ-like love?  Pretty sure it didn’t start with the story of the righteous man who kicked an abused Samaritan and left him to die on his way home to his wife.

We are people. We have desires, and we struggle for self-expression.  Who the heck wouldn’t?  We are single Mormons, and if we decline from giving a conclusive answer to the question “How do you fit?” does anyone have the right to demand one?  In being fundamentally outside the “norm,” we become the other.  I wager we have the ongoing right for radical self-reinvention and definition.  When you are married, you have a role to fill; when you are single, you fill a role that you decide. Don’t act like you know me. If you knew me 5 minutes ago, I’ve already become a different person.  Proximity doesn’t entitle someone to un-earned intimacy.  Nobody puts a “Babe” of any age/gender in a corner.

–Z

[Previous post in this series: Single Experiences: A Little House Just for Me]