Poetry and musings of a zany Mormon girl who is very proud of her Erda roots.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thoughts from the Mind of a Dating Failure

Single and Steadfast: Lessons in Hope

By Christine S. Packard and Wendy Ulrich

This article from the 2008 Ensign has been on my mind quite a bit over the last few days. I found the magazine in a pile of forgotten rubble and pulled it out because of this cover story.  In reading the four pages I repeatedly stated, "That's me!" to several of the scenarios and unfortunate realities.

An interesting tid-bit: the most popular posts on this site are the ones in which the word "dating" appears in the title. From that I surmise that my very small group of readers is interested in dating, or at least what pretend to be, so I'll give you all a peek into my head on this topic once again.

LDS singles have been taught to look forward to being married and having a family as the most significant feature of adult life. Progression, happiness, temple blessings, and the very path to exaltation all seem dependent on the attainment of a marriage relationship. When years pass and marriage does not occur, some singles may feel an expanding sense of intangible loss. Family members, friends, Church leaders, and singles themselves may worry that feelings of loss are a reflection of insufficient faith or righteousness. They may also be concerned that adjusting beliefs about roles and life status will challenge testimony or reduce future prospects for marriage.

There really is a sense of loss very similar to the grieving process after losing a loved one, only, the loved one is someone who hasn't been introduced to your life just yet. There are times when I am perfectly happy with the successes in my life until the thought hits me: when my mom was my age she had been married for four years and was pregnant with me, her third child. Although it is an irrational thought, the idea that I should be on the same path should have accomplished so much more on the social front can be very disheartening. It was made worse when spiritual progression was tacked onto social progression by church leaders, friends, and family. One of my BYU stakes refused to talk to any single young lady seeking to receive the temple endowment if she was not A.) engaged, B.) preparing to serve a mission, or C.) over the age of 25. With a strong desire to progress in that way but not meeting any of the arbitrary criteria (there is no such rule within the church in general, it was just in that particular stake) I felt damned in my spiritual progress.

This led to feelings of unworthiness and a lack of righteousness -- feelings that were false and only served to bring me down. I got to the point where I had to seriously consider my testimony of the temple and of church leadership. I asked many questions, prayed, searched church doctrine, and eventually found solace. Most of this testimony building occurred after moving back to my home ward where my bishop was more than happy to discuss the prospect of my attending the temple for myself. 

I had many talks with my father who did not understand why I would want to go through the temple before marriage. He told me out right that he did not support my choice. When I confronted him with this statement he didn't have a good answer for why he felt that way. This was very hard for me to accept and led to many hours of study and prayer to discover if my dad's reasons held any merit and whether I ought to consider postponing my temple preparations for a time that suited the church's social norm.

It wasn't until after I had completely separated temple readiness from all social aspects that I was able to feel confident in my choice to pursue further covenants with my Savior through temple ordinances.
I'm very glad that it happened not in connection to other big events in my life but as a separate action. This is what works for me and may not work for everyone.

The normal sadness with which people acknowledge feelings of loss can lead to appropriate expressions such as praying, journal writing, requesting priesthood blessings, and asking for empathy, validation, and support. When friends or family send messages to singles that they should “try harder,” that they aren’t doing enough to promote dating opportunities, or that they should think about happier things, singles may feel blocked rather than helped in their efforts to move forward to positive goals and interests.

There is a difference between accepting a feeling as legitimate and real and being defined by that feeling. Often, real feelings deepen and expand when they are minimized or ignored. When singles experience feelings of loss, if they and those close to them will acknowledge and accept the feelings as simply real, singles can more readily transcend the pain and avoid defining themselves by their marital status or their feelings. They can then start to feel more confident, get their emotional bearings, and begin to consider healthy questions and options. For instance, singles might ask themselves, “What exactly am I feeling right now?” rather than imagining what they might feel if their singleness persists.

Prayerfully assessing which aspects of being single are particularly difficult at this time can keep the hurt from becoming overpowering. In this process it is important to separate what genuinely hurts at the moment from messages of fear singles may give themselves about the future. For example, when attending her sister’s wedding, a single woman may feel hurt at not having found a husband yet, but she can resist thinking she will never have an eternal marriage. It can be difficult to restrain those feelings, but working to do so is helpful.

When I'm upset about something my habit is to talk it out. Talking gives me a way to sort, express, and validate my ideas and feelings based on the ideas and feelings of another person. I will often change my mind several times before figuring out how I really feel about a particular subject -- and that is given to change based on new information.

I've noticed that nearly every conversation I have with a close friend near my age eventually turns to the dating topic. All of my journals from college are littered with pontifications on the dating topic. When I pray, my discussions with the Lord will almost always contain some reference to the dating topic.

This is a big deal in my life and in the lives of thousands of single members in the church. If you are a YSA and have not had the your dating life thoroughly examined by well-meaning married members of homewards or singles ward bishoprics, then you probably haven't been a YSA for long.

Ever since dating became something attractive to me I have been told that I'm not trying hard enough to make it happen. If I wore more make up, flirted more aggressively, acted like a ditz, or simply chose a boy to actively pursue then it all ought to fall into place. The trouble is: I like the fact that I don't have to wear a lot of make up because my skin is good on its own. Flirting is personal thing and cannot be faked without becoming a fake. Ditzes may get dates, but no one really wants to hang around with someone with a brain the size of a walnut -- pretty only gets you so far. I've tried pursuing guys and have only become jaded and disheartened by the experiences. While it is true that everyone needs to be encouraged in building the foundation for a relationship, one-sided interest always fails.

For my entire student career at BYU I felt as though my lack of dating success singled me out as a failure. During the application process I had to meet with my stake president for ecclesiastical endorsement. We talked about my educational goals and how I wanted to plow on through my undergrad and attend medical school as soon as possible. My stake president told me to reconsider and put more emphasis on dating and searching for a spouse.

I felt as though I had just failed an important exam -- the test of life.

When my parents dropped me off for school my freshman year my date told me two things: There is a fine line between love and hate -- sometimes the people we love most become those we hate most when the relationship is over. And, I wasn't allowed to get engaged the first semester.

My parents and my church leaders expected me to date.

Dating is a huge part of the social scene at BYU. We are encouraged during every stake conference and from ward leadership nearly every week to get out there and date one another.

By the end of my freshman year I had suffered a horrible heartache caused by an attempt to pursue a very nice boy simply wasn't interested. This drama, stretched out over many agonizing months, put me in a slump that affected my physical, mental, and academic health. Of course other factors such as the strenuous university curriculum, being away from home for the first time ever, feelings of loneliness, and unresolved issues of  my past also played a huge role in my mindset and ultimate emotional crash. Unable to identify why I felt so crummy all the time, but with every intention to live up to the standards and expectations of my family, church, and school I continued to press on for the remainder of my time at BYU in a horrible depression that snowballed as each semester brought new stresses and no resolution to any of my worries. It wasn't until after I left school, did something completely on my own for the first time ever, and came to terms with childhood demons that I finally pulled out of my own pit of despair and saw life for what it is: good.

However, while in that slump my attention always seemed to pulled to my lack of dating experience. Dating was the monster I on which I blamed all of my problems.

 During a particularly bad summer I was spending all of my time watching movies rather than studying for my organic chemistry classes. At what felt like an all time low, a book in the bookstore caught my eye. It was written by a BYU professor who taught LDS Marriage and Family -- a class I had taken a few semesters previous. Intrigued by way in which the book targeted single girls at BYU and offered advice specific to this category, I purchased it and poured over the pages until each one had been thoroughly examined.

One chapter suggests an exercise in which the reader takes a few moments to make a list of things she does well and to acknowledge how wonderful she is on her own. I stared at that page in disbelief. How could I do something so impossible as complimenting myself? There was nothing of merit that I could note. That's when I realized that I didn't love myself. If I couldn't love myself, how could I expect someone else?

I wasn't pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough, my boobs were too big, I was too short, awkward, dumb, or unrefined to be attractive. I wasn't worth dating so that's why I could never get dates. Since I could never get dates I was a failure at life and would never amount to anything. Since I would never amount to anything I shouldn't try. If I wasn't trying then I would never get dates and would never amount to anything. . . This mode of thought was an endless cycle of venom that ran my nerves ragged.
I could never pinpoint why I felt so terrible because I was always assessing the wrong thing and putting blame on a related, but less significant aspect of life. The real culprit lay in the fact that I didn't like myself very much. Once I realized this it was much easier to find things that helped me to forgive my shortcomings and find merit in things that may be of little significance over all.

I can honestly say that I do love who I am and I look forward to becoming who I will be.

Prayerfully assessing which aspects of being single are particularly difficult at this time can keep the hurt from becoming overpowering. In this process it is important to separate what genuinely hurts at the moment from messages of fear singles may give themselves about the future. For example, when attending her sister’s wedding, a single woman may feel hurt at not having found a husband yet, but she can resist thinking she will never have an eternal marriage. It can be difficult to restrain those feelings, but working to do so is helpful.

There have been so many times that I have walked campus and noted the googly-eyed couples with disgust. A strong desire to break apart couple's expressions of affection via interdigitation red-rover style would nearly over come me when they were spotted in my path. I'd sneer at love birds engaging in any form of public displays of affection and gleefully hope that it wouldn't work out so that we could all be in the same heartbroken boat together.

When I started getting wedding invitations and then baby announcements for girls younger than myself, feelings of inadequacy would stop me in my tracks. Why is she able to progress in this way? Is she really ready for the commitment of marriage? Will she really make a good mother? What does she have that I lack?

There have been long stretches during which I didn't even try to reign in my cynicism and I would voice critiques of other people's characters, unkindly pointing out their shortcomings to mutual friends and promoting the sharing of similar stories.

This was a poisonous addiction I held. While I could see that dwelling on such things and voicing them over and over again only made me unhappy, I would often note with horror that the word vomit was about to spew and it could not be stopped. Only a masochistic satisfaction resided in the hollowness I felt after such an expectoration.

I never hated the happy couples. I never really wanted them to break up -- that would be sad. I never really understood why one girl who seemed quite naive could get a husband when I couldn't even get a date.

I envied all of them.

It wasn't so much that I wanted that particular guy or that particular situation, in fact, I can honestly say that I never wanted someone else's man or the exact circumstances that led to their relationship for myself. I envied their happiness. I was jealous of everyone else's apparent confidence and love for themselves. This isn't something that can be given to you; it must be learned and earned through hard work, perseverance and positive thinking.

In some cases, singles might make things worse by interpreting what their singleness says about them. For instance, dateless evenings mean only that one is not currently seeing someone. They do not mean one is unlovable, will never have a meaningful life, or must not be very righteous. Singles and their loved ones can acknowledge painful feelings and fears as a genuine experience while moving toward more hopeful and objective thinking.

I worried constantly over what it meant to be single still. How do people see me because I'm 23 and have never been part of a real relationship? What will people think if they find out that I'm nearly 24 and have never been kissed? First kisses are, like, dating 101 -- they ought to happen during the teen years, not mid twenties!

I still worry about these things. I'd hate to disappoint someone by not being good enough at something in which the average teenager is proficient.

Whenever I'm asked about my dating status, I answer, "Oh, I'm not currently seeing anyone in particular," so as to throw them off the scent of my lameness at dating and open the assumption that I may have been dating someone recently.

I used to think that if I prayed hard enough social blessings would come. After praying every day for years and still not getting the hang of interpersonal relationships I began to wonder whether it was my lack of righteousness that prevented the answers I wanted from reaching me.

The truth is: answers to prayers nearly always come about in relation to specific actions on the part of the asker/questioner. God does not simply "make" something happen because we ask for it to be. The truth is: I was getting my answers -- just not in the way I anticipated.

The truth is: The Lord has showed me in many ways that my offerings are acceptable.

The truth is: Connections with other people take time, hard work, and a whole lot of luck paired with an eye fixed to spot every day miracles.

While it is difficult to hear that I'm not working hard enough to progress toward marriage and a family of my own, recent lessons have opened my eyes to just how far I have come already. I need to work on my sense of patience and compassion to play the waiting game.

I'm ready for it whenever things seem right.

I'll get there.


If you are in the same boat, I have full confidence that you can make it too.



  1. This is no coincidence. I am two years younger than you, but I just ''casually'' stumbled upon your blog. I'm 24, and my eyes opened round wide when I read this. You see, for a moment I thought it was a joke. I never imagined I would find someone living through the same thing I am now! Almost, as your story and mine have some differences, but, it's mainly the same thing. A living hell for a 24-year old virgin, in my case, good looking-so they say-, smart and talented. Yet alone. And yes, I damn tried going after boys. The things I did...!

    May I ask, (as I understand this is an old blog post, and I am not going to read two years of your blog right now at almost 2am) how did you progress? I wouldn't mind getting in contact with you and sharing my story as well! And if not, then let me thank you for posting this anyway- you already gave me more help than I asked for or imagined to find.

    1. My dear friend, thank you for reading. I haven't written in some time but just posted something today and came across your comment.

      I am 25 and still single. Still very much a virgin in all ways. The biggest difference between myself now and myself two years ago is a sense of ownership over my life. I can choose to float allong as driftwood or I can choose to grab an oar and actively change my situation. I do intend to revisit this topic -- and have written several posts about it -- but if you would like to contact me in person I'd love to hear from you. My email is zamturtle@gmail.com.