Jddaughter’s recent posts have got me to remembering and thinking (as I’m sure they’ve done the same to you), and tonight I felt a little writing bug and a little reminiscent. So, here are my two pennies on just one tiny aspect of this big topic: singledom and dating as a Mormon woman.
My senior year at BYU was pretty darn lame. But, you know, it was only lame because I made it lame with my panic. You see, it was the first time I actually realized that I was going to be graduating…with a humanities degree…and I was still single…
The irony of the whole thing was that I was totally blindsided. I was that girl who would shake her head sadly at those other girls in MFHD-Nursing-Early-Childhood-Development* who came to college to get married. “You go to college to…GO TO COLLEGE,” I would intone philosophically at BBQ’s. But, ya know what? Come September 2005, I was in full scale panic.
Suddenly, and horribly, I realized that I was in denial. That I was, and had always been, that girl. I realized that, regardless of all my pontificating, I truly thought that I would meet a dude, get married my senior year, get my degree, and start a jet-set life as a lawyer/professor/doctor’s wife (like a flippin’ TAMN!). And…that wasn’t happening.
Like I said, full-scale panic. PANIC PANIC PANIC! I was completely unprepared to think about what I actually wanted to do. What >I< wanted. I knew what I had always told people I wanted–but I realized that I had always told people that knowing full well that I didn’t expect it to actually happen.
So, there I was, not knowing what in the world to do with myself, essentially pleading, “Please! Someone! Something! Give my life a purpose!” And no one came.
And I’m so grateful.
Because then I had to take myself seriously for the first time in my life. I couldn’t just give lip service to those grad school dreams–I had to make them come true. And I did–even as I desperately went through 9 quick-fire boyfriends in 6 months. I was even hoping for a light-speed proposal the day before I left for Boston. Clearly, I still had internalized the disturbing concept that, after college, anything I did without a husband was just marking time…wasting time…
You may want me to now say that moving to Boston, beginning a PhD, was the best decision I’d ever made in my life–that I felt validated and strong and happy. Well, nope. Boston was so hard. It was so hard. I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I spent over 8 hours a day reading and writing, on Sunday (even with LDS roommates) I found myself left behind and riding the T 45 minutes by myself to and from church in Harvard Square. When I got there, I didn’t find a family of members, but rather a bloodthirsty and frighteningly smiley to-the-death competition for any male attention. I had thought BYU was competitive…but it was the little league.
After a year, I had few friends. But at least I had those few. And one night, as we sat around the kitchen table, we talked about one of the few things we fell back on–dating and the impossibility of experiencing it in an LDS context. You may think that that’s a pitiful thing, but I ask you to consider the power of loneliness. We few women, ages 23 to 32, had our secular dreams. We were in medical school, library school, family law, and academia. But, we were women too and wanted romance, love, a best friend to hold at night. We knew, perhaps better than most ever realize, how the odds were stacked against us. We knew that, if you wanted an LDS marriage or even a part-LDS marriage, your chances of finding a guy who you loved and who loved you back who also respected your beliefs…well…
I remember a few line-items from that conversation. I still think about them a lot.
First, we all admitted feeling the same frustrations about an inability to control this aspect of our lives. We were women who knew how to get what we wanted–through hard work. But this…but love…no. That is one thing no one can control through hard work or will or practice. You can’t make someone love you. You have to just hope they love you…and they usually won’t. Yes, yes, “it just takes one.” But how many others do you have to hope for before that?
Second, and the title of my post, this was also the night I stopped using the word “blessed.”
I remember how it began. Someone brought up a recently shared testimony–a PhD student at MIT who had recently gotten engaged to an undergrad from BYU he had known for two weeks. The narrative essentially went: “I really wanted to get married, but I couldn’t find anyone. So I thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I realized that I needed to magnify my calling by _________________(spending more time doing family history/studying the scriptures another hour a day/home teaching three times a month/etc.). The day after I made this promise, I met_____________ and I knew she was the one. Now we’re engaged and getting married this summer. I’m so grateful for this blessing.”
Now, I don’t want to disparage this man’s story or experience. I can never know if that is exactly what happened or not. I’m not God, after all. But, the thing is, this wasn’t an isolated experience. After that retelling, everyone around the table could repeat another version. Either they heard it from a friend, or a bishop had suggested that if they work harder in x then they would find a boyfriend. I myself even had a bishop who, in an endorsement interview, advised me to find a boy I liked, smile a lot, and “touch his elbow.” If I did this, then I would surely be married within a year.
Perhaps it’s human nature to try to explain events in a cause-effect way. I can understand that. A man makes a goal to try harder for God, he meets a girl, and they get married. Therefore, the girl was a blessing from God.
But, here’s the thing, what about all those people who make those goals, try for years and years…and never get that blessing? You can’t assume that because you sneezed three times and then it started raining, that the same thing will happen for another person. And what’s more, how dare you try to tell that person that, when the rain doesn’t come, it’s because they need to try harder.
You see, love is just a freak of nature, an accident. Finding a loving spouse is just sheer, dumb luck. No one “deserves” it more than someone else. No one “earns” the right to have it. The problem with these testimony stories is that they implant the assumption that those who are engaged have done something good and those who aren’t have not.
That is an inexcusable lie.
When I got engaged, two months before I left Boston, I didn’t walk into Relief Society like so many others–flashing my ring and bubbling over with loudly-squeeling glee–because I had been there that night around the table, and I knew how it felt to see those rings and smiles. I knew the thoughts of the lonely, “What’s wrong with me? What am I not doing right?”
And I knew that the answer was,
“Absolutely nothing’s wrong with you. We’re all just trying our best. There’s no formula for getting this. There’s no universal answer. It’s not your clothes, your smile, your laugh. It’s not that you’re “too smart” or “too intimidating.” It’s not that you just need to pray just a little bit harder. It’s not that you’re picky, or chubby, or that your hair isn’t cute enough.
It’s just sheer, dumb luck.
No one “deserves” this. I don’t “deserve” this. I know so many more who are kinder, lonelier, smarter, better than me. I didn’t earn this by checking off a list.
It just happened. I don’t know how. And I don’t think there’s a reason why. But I’m so happy. And it hurts me that I am happy…because I don’t understand why I’m wearing this ring and not you–my beautiful friends with breaking hearts.
I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse…but this whole love thing is just a giant crap shoot.”
Being in Boston, single and 23, burned the word “blessing” out of me when it comes to love. And sometimes, when I remember my time there, I pull Atticus to me, pressing him in my arms in the middle of the night and my eyes well up with grateful tears. But he’s never heard me whisper that I feel “blessed.” No. I’ve only ever been able to bring myself to say, “I’m so lucky. How am I so lucky? I don’t know why I’ve been so lucky.”
And I feel that same joy and ache.
* This is, of course, a terrible stereotype that I would have gone to the grave insisting I never believed…but really, in my soul, I actually did.