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One is the Loneliest Number

May 30, 2007

by HP 

I know of two sisters, both of whom are dear to me, who entered into ill-advised relationships because of a fear of being alone.  Actually, that is unfair; they continued in ill-advised relationships because of a fear of being alone.

In one case, she was a sister who joined the church in her thirties (after the great marriage free-for-all period).  She was a beautiful eccentric; an artist who loved her art enough to travel the world to perfect it.  I don’t understand exactly why she never found anyone, but I think it has to do with the slim pickings in her area.  The male singles her age in her area were doing one (or a combination) of three things: looking for a younger hausfrau for baby-producing and husband pampering; not at all interested in the arts beyond what it took to go on dates with her; too involved with day to day living to care about what interested her.  In any case, when she did find love, it was unexpected.  On a trip to Italy, she met an Italian who professed his love for her.  After a whirlwind romance, in which he was baptized, they were quickly married.  Unfortunately, he was more interested in a green card than a marriage.  He denigrated her, hurt her, and left her.

In the other case, the sister suddenly lost a lot of weight in her late forties.  She was skinnier than she had been since her early twenties.  Well-meaning family members encouraged her to use online dating services, geared toward members of the church.  She dated a couple of clods (most men her age who are unmarried are unmarried for a good reason).  She also met a man who was an ex-Navy officer.  He travelled a lot and came out to see her.  He was dashing, funny, and handsome.  Frankly, he was interested in her in ways that men had not been for a long time.  They fell into dating and he recommended a business venture to her.  Her family grew concerned when she began to approach them for loans to her boyfriend.  A little investigating turned up a series of failed relationships and cons perpetrated by this man on LDS women.  Suddenly, this sister was the subject of a scenario out of a Lifetime movie.  She denied the facts for a time, but eventually she was presented with sufficient proof to convince her of his ill-intent.  She’d been conned.

These were both intelligent, quick, witty, capable, and confident women.  Exactly the kind of woman who you would never expect to be taken in by con-men.

I don’t want to lay the blame for this at the feet of the church.  Certainly anybody can be lonely and anybody can be taken in by someone looking to prey on the lonely (look at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).  But I know both of these women and I know that in both cases they felt incomplete, like they weren’t living to their highest potential if they weren’t married and caring for a family.  I also know that they no longer feel that way; or rather they don’t feel that way as poignantly.

Perhaps we all need a bad love affair, to teach us the value of good ones.  I wish nothing more for these sisters than that they be happy.  I think that they should be now and that they will be forever, if there is a just God in Heaven.

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12 comments

  1. No matter their age or life circumstance, women and men often make bad choices in love and lust. For some reason, single women in the Church are often expected to hold out until the next life if need be, if they do not find the perfect Peter Priesthood husband as soon as possible. Our leaders only add to this problem when they teach that “no blessing will be denied…” Well, frankly, who wants to wait until after death to have sex?

    It’s amazing how judgemental and uncompassionate some LDS folks can be when they see their daughter’s 40 year old spinster YW teacher Sister Pious date and marry someone they would never have chosen for themselves. Let Sister Pious make that choice! So many people make equally bad choices at 18, 20, 25…and because they’re embroiled in family ties, lazy, or scared, they just don’t leave. There are many worse things one could do than be brave enough to finally choose someone, then realize he is not a good find after all, and leave while one still has the chance. I call that brave, not lamentable.


  2. mary alice,
    Good point. I was happy for both of these women initially. As I said, I would be happy for them should they find love again. I am not worried about them finding suitable matches per se.

    That said, I believe that both of these situations are lamentable in that these men used the loneliness of these women to their own personal advantage. The conned one is still slowly recovering from the massive financial losses brought about by her relationship. Those men used these women, took advantage of their bravery. That, I believe, is lamentable.


  3. HP, I would agree that the abuses are deplorable. I see more clearly your point: that the age and situation of these women rendered them particularly vulnerable and the risk/loss far greater than it might have been had they been younger.

    That said, single women in the Church suffer from a variety of challenges that are sometimes easily alleviated even by ill-fated and ill-gotten matches; that’s why they take these risks. Some of these challenges are:

    1. Loneliness, as you say. Many people in this world feel lonley, whether or not they are partnered or in families. Single women in the Church face an even more dire sense of loneliness that is underscored by the “Families are Forever” doctrine and the visible “lack of priesthood holder in the home.”

    2. Sexual frustration. This can be particularly challenging for convert singles, but is common to all singles. Common “wisdom” insists that “if you don’t use it, ya lose it”, but that is not true in most cases. Along comes any kind of dashing, intelligent, interesting, available man, different from the 40-year old pizza delivery man or the five-time divorced guy (the only single men in your ward), and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, which sometimes leads to

    3. Guilt. Many older singles engage in private sexual behavior, and marry quickly out of guilt or fear. This behavior could be solitary or partnered, but becomes graver when attraction and love enter the equation.

    (BTW–I speak from the position of being a near-40 LDS single, interviewing hundreds of LDS singles in North and South America, and having authored a manuscript on singles in the Church).


  4. HP, I would agree that the abuses are deplorable. I see more clearly your point: that the age and situation of these women rendered them particularly vulnerable and the risk/loss far greater than it might have been had they been younger.

    That said, single women in the Church suffer from a variety of challenges that are sometimes easily alleviated even by ill-fated and ill-gotten matches; that’s why they take these risks. Some of these challenges are:

    1. Loneliness, as you say. Many people in this world feel lonely, whether or not they are partnered or in families. Single women in the Church face an even more dire sense of loneliness that is underscored by the “Families are Forever” doctrine and the visible “lack of priesthood holder in the home.”

    2. Sexual frustration. This can be particularly challenging for convert singles, but is common to all singles. Common “wisdom” insists that “if you don’t use it, ya lose it”, but that is not true in most cases. Along comes any kind of dashing, intelligent, interesting, available man, different from the 40-year old pizza delivery man or the five-time divorced guy (the only single men in your ward), and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, which sometimes leads to

    3. Guilt. Many older singles engage in private sexual behavior, and marry quickly out of guilt or fear. This behavior could be solitary or partnered, but becomes graver when attraction and love enter the equation.

    (BTW–I speak from the position of being a near-40 LDS single, interviewing hundreds of LDS singles in North and South America, and having authored a manuscript on singles in the Church).


  5. “single women in the Church suffer from a variety of challenges that are sometimes easily alleviated even by ill-fated and ill-gotten matches; that’s why they take these risks.”

    I don’t know how I feel about the idea that the only way out of loneliness and sexual frustration is bad relationships. There are all sorts of reasons why that seems wrong-headed. That said, people don’t usually enter bad relationships because they are thinking clearly.


  6. I also don’t believe that “the only way out of loneliness and sexual frustration is bad relationships”; I never said that. What I did say was that sometimes loneliness and frustration are relieved by going into relationships quickly and blindly, which in turn could turn into a bad relationship.

    Young people in their late teens and early twenties do this sort of thing all the time. Older singles sometimes have more to lose: more money, more pride, more status.

    We all make mistakes, and we all sin. If there were less stigma for disobeying the law of Chastity as older singles, and if the Law of Chastity were more clearly and universally defined, we would probably see fewer situations like the two you mention.


  7. I guess I should clarify before I get in too much trouble!

    As an example, an acquaintance of mine felt pressured by her bishop to become engaged very quickly because she and the man she was dating both lived alone in separate apartments, but had been sleeping on the other’s couches once in a while. Although they had not become more romantically involved than deep kissing, the bishop counseled them to marry before temptations became too overwhelming.

    This woman and her boyfriend were both converts to the Church and were led to believe that a line had been already crossed. For members who do not grow up with Standards Night, chewing gum lessons and The Miracle of Forgiveness, their standards expectations are at the mercy of well-meaning, often ancient bishops and their personal theories.

    As the membership of the Church at large grows and sees in an increase in older singles, there should be a way to educate older singles in appropriate dating and courtship behaviors–either that, or as long as no-one gets pregnant, it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.”


  8. As an active LDS single in her 30’s I have a few comments on Mary Alice’s statement:

    “We all make mistakes, and we all sin. If there were less stigma for disobeying the law of Chastity as older singles, and if the Law of Chastity were more clearly and universally defined, we would probably see fewer situations like the two you mention.”

    I agree we all make mistakes and we all sin. I personally have found it easier to keep the law of chastity as I have gotten older for several reasons a few of which are, I am wiser – not wise but wiser. I am not as likely to yield to social pressures as I was in my college days. I refuse to settle, and frankly I have held out this long I am not going to throw it all away now.

    As for more clearly defining the Law of Chastity – my first thought at reading this was PLEASE! Anyone who is asking for a better definition of the Law of Chastity is looking for an excuse to or justification for breaking it. But for those who are in question I offer these rules of thumb – Keep your clothes on and your hands off! – When in doubt don’t! – If you have to ask if it’s okay it probably isn’t!

    As for this statement:

    “As the membership of the Church at large grows and sees in an increase in older singles, there should be a way to educate older singles in appropriate dating and courtship behaviors–either that, or as long as no-one gets pregnant, it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

    This deserves an OH PLEASE!!! Are you kidding me! Come on! I will grant you that the bishop you mentioned probably should have recommended that they not spend the night however innocently at each others houses, possibly suggesting a neighbor or a friend if the distance was great and explained why as opposed to pressuring them in to getting engaged – but you didn’t mention if they got married, if they are miserable etc – but that point aside. I refer back to my previous statement – keep your clothes on and your hands off. If you don’t know as an “older single” what is appropriate dating and courtship behavior by now then you have bigger problems then keeping the law of chastity.

    While I feel sorry for the two sisters and their unfortunate circumstances at the hands of these men I would still comment that being older, lonely and possibly horny is not an excuse to break the law of chastity or justification to loose all common sense. I am sure in a quite moment of honest reflection both of these women would admit that they had a feeling, dare I say a prompting, that these men were not worthy of them, that they should run away and never look back.

    They didn’t run and therefore they like everyone else in the world married or single, Mormon or not get to live with the consequences of their actions. Does it suck yeah, it sucks. But there will not be fewer situations like this by better defining the law of chastity or by removing the stigma of breaking it. There will only be fewer situations like this when women stop letting men or society for that matter define who they are and what their worth is.

    I would also like to add that none of this the fault of the church for teaching ‘Families are Forever’ and the thought that “Single women in the Church face an even more dire sense of loneliness” because of this is silly to me. Do I want to have a husband and children some day? Yes I do. Is my family already forever yes it is. I have a family! I have parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, excellent friends – I have a family! There is a saying in Portuguese – “Amigos nao sao Selados mas sao Eternas!” “Friends aren’t sealed but they are Eternal!” Just because I don’t change diapers and pick up my husband’s socks doesn’t mean I don’t have a family – a real family – an eternal family.

    Do I have pangs of jealousy at times as I watch my friends getting married, having kids, ‘moving on with their lives’, sure. But I also have many married friends who are equally as jealous of me and my life, my freedom, my adventures and my ability to pick up and go to DC, NYC, Chicago, Nauvoo, Utah, Brazil (a few of the places I have been in the last year) without coordinating schedules, getting babysitters etc.

    Sorry I have written so much – I will end this novel now by simply saying the grass is always greener, but to blame the church or the law of chastity for loneliness as a single is just silly.


  9. Hi AA,

    Let me first address your comment about having a forever family, particularly the thought you express about already having a family even though you are not married and have no children.

    It sounds as though your family of origin is LDS: is this correct? You have traveled–as you indicate, most recently to Brazil, among other places, and to the Northeast USA. Have you noticed that many new converts are islands to themselves? Without roots or branches? Or, in other words, that the single converts to the Church do not have anyone to whom they are sealed, or could be sealed? This poses a big problem to them, especially if tghey understand an take these principles seriously. Some of them want the blessings of “forever family” so much that they make the next logical leap and marry in order to secure those blessings. It sounds like you do not have this conundrum in your life, and that you have supportive family and friends. Do you live in Utah, by any chance?

    Also, regarding the definition of the Law of Chastity, this is also a big issue for new converts, reactivated singles, and the newly divorced. If you are in your early 30s, you may have grown up under President Kimball’s or President Benson’s tenure. President Kimball, especially, was notoriously strict in his interpretation of the Law of Chastity.

    Prophets, apostles and other leaders mentioned the following as being against the Law of Chastity. Before I list them all, I just want to say that I know NO ONE who has successfully kept it while single, if we are to go by this list. This is why it needs overall clarification, especially for singles who did not grow up near the center of the Church (Utah, Idaho, Arizona, So. Cal.) and who are newly single, having heard mixed messages from the time they were teens until now.

    The Law of Chastity prohibits:

    Prolonged (longer than a second? minute?) thoughts about sex
    Kissing someone who is not your spouse in a “lustful” way (gee, thanks, Pres. Kimball!)
    Kissing someone who is not your spouse longer than you would kiss your mother (thanks again, Pres. Kimball!)
    “Soul” (French) kissing
    Necking (prolonged kissing of any kind)
    Masturbation

    Some bishops and stake presidents of the 10-15 singles wards I have belonged to have interpreted the Law of Chastity further to include holding hands, reading Sports Ilustrated and Cosmopolitan, watching Friends, and lying next to your significant other on the couch.

    It’s been a while since(or, actually, it’s never happened that) adults were schooled on the Law of Chastity in General Conference or some other global setting. The Law of Chastity for 13 year olds cannot be the same for grown people, some of whom have been married and divorced (and married and divorced, and married and divorced).

    In my studies and friendships I certainly have come across many single members of the Church who believed that they were breaking or had broken the law of Chastity when they were not, or who actually didn’t know at all that the law of Chastity existed! Some missionaries are glad enough to get a convert that they don’t spell it out. Some converts think that (particularly because very few other churches are so strict about it) the prohibition on premarital sex is only for the period before baptism!

    So, yes, YOU might not need it spelled out for you, but a lot of people do. Some do not have the gargantuan self-control you may have. Some fear becoming asexual if they do not attend to their body. Some become depressed as they repress their urges.


  10. One thing more:

    I also never said–or never intented to say–that the Law of Chastity should be done away with.

    I do think, however, that adult singles should repent of any such transgressions in private, without a bishop’s intervention or counsel. There have been too many abuses, misunderstandings, breaches of confidence and idle punishments. I think single adult transgressors should go straight to the Source for forgiveness, if sought.


  11. No I do not live in Utah nor was I raised in Utah. I currently work in Iowa and spend as many weekends as possible in Wisconsin. I was raised by a single mom in Wisconsin who joined the church when she was 23 – I was 4. She married my step dad when I was 19 in the Chicago temple. My grandma and 1 aunt have since joined the church but tend to be more holiday Mormons shall we say.

    I have been sealed to my mom and step-dad and consider myself to have an eternal family for that reason and because I will eventually have the ability to do the temple work for the rest of my family who don’t for many reasons join the church in this life.

    I totally understand what you are saying about being a single convert and about missionaries occasionally glossing over the finer points of some doctrine. Believe me being single in Iowa is not easy by any stretch of the imagination – people ask me what I do here for fun and I say ‘leave Iowa’. I have dated plenty of looser and made plenty of mistakes. As for gargantuan self-control – I wish – but I do have a testimony and I do have access to the blessings of the Spirit and that more then anything else has helped me in my weak moments and Melbo could attest to many of my weak moments.

    So I guess my thought is instead of focusing on a ‘to do list’ or rather a ‘don’t do list’ what really needs to be taught and emphasized and re-taught is how do we each personally, individually feel and recognize the Spirit and how we can use the Spirit to help us to discern right from wrong – chaste from un-chaste. Then it won’t matter what well meaning mixed messages are out there we will have our answers straight from the source. Idealistic? Maybe but isn’t that the point.


  12. I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the value of talking to a bishop or stake president. Yes, there are mis-guided brethren out there who give cockeyed counsel. I have 2 friends who both had husbands who had homosexual tendencies prior to marriage and received nearly identical counsel from 2 different bishops 5 years apart, that they should just get married, once they had sex with a woman they would never look at a man the same way again. Both marriages ended in divorce. Both men have also subsequently chosen to have little or no contact with there children. But that is a topic for another time. My point is yes, some bishops are idiots. Some cars are lemons, that doesn’t mean we stop driving.

    You are absolutely right that “single adult transgressors should go straight to the Source for forgiveness, if sought.” I would add that all people, man, woman, child – married, divorced, widowed or single should go to the Source for forgivness. But I know from personal experience that I tend to punish myself much more severely then my bishops ever would – in fact I had a bishop tell me that very thing. Am I scared on some level each time I talk to my bishop about an issue I am having – yeah, as irrational as it is I am. However – every single time I do speak to my bishop to resolve a concern or clear up a transgression I feel lighter. I feel better. I feel cleansed. I feel relieved. And I wonder what I was afraid of.

    Are there “abuses, misunderstandings, breaches of confidence and idle punishments”? – Yes, as I said before some bishops are idiots, human and falable. Have I just been lucky to draw the few good bishops that exist in the world? – No, I think there are far more good bishops then there are bad, and to discount their role and importance in the repentance process because of a few or more then a few, less then stellar men is unwise.

    For that reason I and because of my personal experience I am grateful for the opportunity to cast my burdens at the feet of my priesthood leader for comfort, counsel and healing. Just because we aren’t 13 anymore doesn’t mean we don’t need our bishops.



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