Extended adolescence

silhouette lead 203x152In last week's Washington City Paper, Huan Hsu profiled single, middle-aged members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. What's so special about single, middle-aged Mormons? Well, there aren't very many of them.

Life for singles over 30 isn't always easy. Life for singles over 30 who also happen to be LDS can be truly stressful. The church's doctrine not only emphasizes marriage and family but practically demands them: It's not uncommon for young members to go from first date to marriage in less than a year or for 22-year-old couples to be working on their second child.

While I find articles like these -- on the mating habits of devoutly religious folk -- humorous, I believe the author misses part of the story. He has that typical attitude writers have when examining customs, traditions and beliefs dissimilar to the mainstream. It's partly because the reporter often will write with this "I can't believe these people believe and act like this" attitude and because, well, dating/courting/marriage rituals are funny if looked at objectively.

The challenges and problems faced by these young Mormons -- the pressure to marry, settle down and bear offspring -- seem quite similar, in varying degrees, to those that I've seen around me in various settings, such as Catholic college communities and evangelical Protestant groups. The author should have found some way to expound on this, because pressure to marry is not particular to young Mormons.

What is different though, is that marriage and child producing is a fundamental tenet of the Mormon religion. Leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints do not see single young people very positively, according to the article, and this aspect is something I have not seen before. Protestant and Catholic leaders I have encountered do not see singleness as a problem but rather as an opportunity. Certainly marriage is looked upon quite favorably in my experience, but single people are not seen as misguided.

"You'd get hugs from the bishop who'd say, 'These men don't know what they're missing.' They don't know how else to feel. You're a leftover, and they don't know why. So you end up with a different kind of pressure, from both sides, to be flawless. You have to be thin and pretty and smart, and you're not allowed to be sad that you're not with someone, because that makes you feel like you messed up, but you're not allowed to be happy about not being with someone, either, because that's wrong. It's a hard church to be single in."

Overall this article provides a rare, intriguing glimpse into the lives of single, young Mormons who are struggling with the idiosyncrasies of their beliefs.

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