Three Things

 

[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.]

Three things:

  1. I never expected to be 30 and attending the singles ward.
  2. I never expected to marry at 21 and be divorced at 29.
  3. I had no idea the military would mess me up as much as it did.

My husband and I met on an Army base in 2001 and married some months later.  He was a convert and I was born and raised Mormon.  We were sealed in the temple a year and 6 days after our civil union.  We have two children together, ages 4 and 7, and they spend most of their time with me.  Except for when I was attending the singles ward.

When my husband left in 2009, I had no other option but to get out of military housing as fast as possible, as other families were waiting for a house.  I fled to Utah because my parents had retired there, and frankly, I needed a place to fall apart.  I’ve been living in Utah County for the past 3 years.

  1. Utah County is just as zealous as the military is, but expresses it in different ways.
  2. Being a single mom in Utah County is highly preferable to being a single dad.
  3. Being a single mom in Utah County is not preferable at all.

For about 18 months, I attended my parents’ family ward (my kids and I lived in the ward boundaries) and I received much support.  My ex-husband was slandered often, and I was told on a frequent basis that the kids were where they needed to be: with their mother.  Motherhood was glorified in church meetings, and even though I was sometimes judged for being a single mom, I felt fairly accepted by my ward.  The only thing is, I kept running into communication problems.

  1. The military culture will immediately confront what it feels constitutes a “problem” and pursue confrontation until the problem is resolved.  I did this constantly.
  2. The Mormon culture will immediately ignore what it feels constitutes a “problem” and pursue silence until the problem is forgotten.  Everyone else around me did this constantly.
  3. If there’s anything that will trigger a soldier mentality and the need to relentlessly pursue a “problem,” it’s silence.

I would say that I was tolerated in Utah County.  Working at the church’s equivalent of Vocational Rehab (Deseret Industries) didn’t hurt, as I was among criminals and drug addicts and single parents alike, but I kept losing friends.  I would say that people called me confrontational, but the truth is, they weren’t even that straight with me. 

If I were a man, I believe things would have been different.  It wasn’t until I wrote an essay on the differences between the military culture (which I spent 28 of my 30 years in, having been raised an “Army Brat”) and the Mormons of Utah Valley that I really understood how different our cultures were.

  1. Having a mindset that was so foreign to my surroundings meant that I either had to change my surroundings or change my mindset.
  2. I had no option of changing my surroundings, so I could decide to keep losing friends (and teach my kids a mode of communication that would only hinder them in this environment) or change my mindset.
  3. Changing my mindset, one that had been so deeply engrained with the notion of life and death, of survival, of war, was so intimidating that I experienced serious suicidal ideations for the first time in 17 years.

My ex-husband had been living with his girlfriend for the past 7 months when I gave him a call.  He had been expressing a desire for sole custody since I moved to Utah, and I informally transferred stewardship of my kids to him, citing an unsafe environment for them (suicidal mother).  I told him I didn’t know how long it would take me un-learn the culture of the military and to learn the culture of Utah, but that I had to in order to parent the kids successfully.  The transfer was made 3 months later, during my ex-husband’s allotted summer time with our children.

  1. Extending my ex-husband’s summer with my kids into an undetermined amount of time with them because I recognized that I was not mentally fit to care for them properly was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made; I hoped my kids would someday understand.
  2. My reasoning went largely misunderstood by my community.  I was mother; I was divinely endowed with gifts to be able to care for my children; I wasn’t praying hard enough or being righteous enough.
  3. The reception I got from the gay Mormon community saved my sanity.

I attended a college singles ward beginning in the summer of 2011.  No one asked me out, but I’m not surprised by that, nor am I surprised that romance would be the first thing I would note about a singles ward.  The air was thick with it; being single was not the way it was supposed to be, and members of the congregation went to great lengths to try and “work out their salvation” to somehow discover where and when they had apparently missed the bus.  When my fellow ward members learned that I was a mother, they asked me why I wasn’t attending a family ward.  When I answered that they were living with their dad, the conversation was over.  Blessedly, they didn’t ask me why.

  1. I spent 6 months in the singles ward until my ex-husband told me he was breaking up with his girlfriend and I told him I was well enough to take them back while he took his turn to fall apart.  That was 11 months ago.
  2. I was not the only parent attending the singles ward, but none of us wanted to talk about it.
  3. Be kind to singles, please; their situation might be more complex than you realize.

–Guest