Communicating with Singles
I’m taking a big chance here using a reprehensible quote by an erstwhile political figure, one that got him in considerable trouble and led to his resignation. I’m speaking of the former United States Secretary of Agriculture under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Earl L. Butz.
Known for his insensitivity and objectionable statements, he made a lot of his comments in what he thought were private settings, but the one I’m about to use he said right into a microphone at a World Food Conference. Speaking in regard to Pope Paul VI’s opposition to population control, Butz put on a fake Italian accent and said, “He no playa the game. He no make-a the rules.”
And now, I’m going to use a paraphrase of that comment as a disclaimer for myself. I haven’t been single but for three years of my adulthood. I recently celebrated my 36th wedding anniversary. I got married when I was 21. And so, I humbly mention that when it comes to being single, I don’t play that game, so I don’t make the rules. Anything I have to say about this is based purely on observation and very close relationships with lots of single members of the Church. I sincerely hope I can treat the subject sensitively and accurately.
It feels like I’m taking a big risk even talking about it. For me to be a single adult between the ages of 18 and 21 in the Church hardly qualifies me as an expert on singleness. Those are the ages where a lot of young Latter-day Saints are preparing for or serving missions. It’s probably relatively easy to be single then. I could be wrong.
It’s after the mission that things get dicey for young people. Yet, singleness isn’t just the condition of young, unmarried people. There are those who have never married, those who are divorced, and those who are widowed. These categories no doubt have some big differences in their challenges, but they have a lot of similarities.
Since this blog is about sexuality and sexual recovery, it tends to address issues related to fidelity in marriage. Since I’m the main author here and I’m solidly married, I tend to write about marriage, fidelity, and dealing with addictions. I don’t see a lot of things I’ve written over the years that specifically addresses the concerns of singles.
We Latter-day Saints believe so much in marriage that there is a great deal of cultural pressure applied to single people to get married. Many of my friends in singles wards find that marriage and dating is consistently the main focus of talks and activities. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but it makes for a very difficult environment for young people who deal with same-sex attraction and don’t have any inclination to date or marry someone of the opposite sex.
Similarly, some of my divorced or older same-sex attracted friends feel a great deal of pressure to marry. They often have members of their wards try to set them up on dates or try to find them a spouse. Such people may not feel like they can come right out and say that they don’t want to date and don’t want to marry right now.
Divorce can be such an awful experience that the thought of marrying again can be overwhelming for someone. Don’t tell me that it’s like riding a horse and when you fall off, you have to get right back on it again. Most wounds of falling off of a horse can’t compare to the emotional damage done by verbal, physical, financial, and emotional abuse.
For me, marriage, children, and grandchildren is like heaven itself. For many divorced people, it was a living hell. They don’t want some shadchen trying to set them up with a new spouse.
So, I have a piece of advice for people. Before you pressure, cajole, trick, set up, or matchmake, be certain that you have the permission of the single person to do so. Otherwise, mind your own business.
Let’s not forget, however, that some single people would dearly love to get married. They have a few obstacles to overcome and for some, it may not ever happen. Sometimes, the obstacles seem too much. I have the same advice for people wanting to hook them up with a new spouse as I did above. Unless invited, stay out of it.
Whether a person wants to get married or not, most will still deal with the frustrations of sexual attraction but be constrained by the Law of Chastity to not indulge those feelings. As a man who deals with same-sex attraction, this is something I understand. As easy as I may seem to make it look, I assure you it isn’t.
The choice is pretty clear. Either keep your testimony and obey the commandments or believe something else and do as your feelings lead. I have chosen the former. There’s no magic formula, but I think there are some things that I do that I think can help anyone be faithful to the teachings of the Church in spite of powerful feelings that may lead to sin.
- Accept your feelings as something that you have to deal with. I don’t think it is healthy to pretend or even root out perfectly normal attractions. I know that some people will take issue with me saying that same-sex attraction is normal, but I don’t apologize.
- Stay close to the Lord through prayer, scripture study, church attendance, and keeping the commandments.
- Fellowship with the Saints. I know it’s hard to go into the lion’s den when it feels like everyone is trying to fix your “problem,” but isolating isn’t the answer.
- Stand up for yourself. This is your life. The Lord has given you stewardship over your own life. Don’t be afraid to tell people to mind their own business.
- Be like Mary Poppins, who said, “I never explain anything.” Well, obviously, I’m not following my own counsel here, but I do often decline to defend myself and my choices to people. They aren’t playing my game. They don’t get to make my rules.
- Find people you can trust and talk to. Set firm boundaries with them, but open up.
- Add to your prayers the Savior’s own plea, “Thy will be done!” and what Elder Neal A. Maxwell suggested, “Thy timing be done!”
- Be open-minded. We who work in the human services field know that it is the natural reaction to being pushed to push back, to entrench our thinking, and to just get downright stubborn. Just because people are pushing you doesn’t mean you have to stop your progression. Stay open to whatever the Lord may bring your way. Remember that if you dig in when people push you, it’s pretty much giving them the same power as when you give in. Don’t give in or dig in. Just do what you believe is right.
Every married person was once a single person and is likely to be again. It’s rare that a married couple die together. Remember the golden rule. If you suddenly find yourself single, would you want to feel like you aren’t part of the Church, like everyone is trying to push you into getting married faster than you want, or judging you if you aren’t getting with the program? Of course you wouldn’t. Remember that the next time you feel like doing that to a single person.
Now, a final bit of advice to those who want to matchmake single people. Take a lesson from what happened to Earl L. Butz and watch your tongue. You might not end up having to resign from a cabinet position, but ruin a good friendship or two.