“Single—in a Family Ward,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, 32
Most single adults in the church attend wards where families—a husband, wife, and children—are the norm. In this setting, what can singles do to avoid feeling different or isolated—to feel, instead, that they are truly at home in their ward?
To find out, the Ensign asked me to talk with single adults. I interviewed men and women of all ages throughout the United States and Canada. Some have never married; others are divorced or widowed. Some have children; others do not.
A few said they find the issue irrelevant because they don’t feel ward members make a distinction between them and married adults. The majority, however, said the problem—and the pain—of feeling isolated and segregated because of marital status is real, but not without remedy if one is willing to work at it. Following are sample responses:
Don’t Exclude Yourself—Jim Talerico, Atlanta, Georgia: “I’ve been a youth leader for many years, and I’ve always found that when you work with the youth and you enjoy being with people’s kids, you get to know people. Through the kids, I’ve gotten to know the families well, which has always brought me into the mainstream of the ward.
“The answer for me is participation, participation, participation. Don’t feel that because you’re single or because everyone’s been in the ward for years you should be excluded, because then you’re excluding yourself. The people who brought me into the Church were participators. They were actively engaged. That rubbed off on me as a way to do things in the Church, and it’s never failed me as a way to feel at home in a ward.”
Go to Every Ward Activity—Beth Haynes, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: “When I first moved here, I made an effort for several months to go to every ward activity. We had just built a new chapel, and I helped put in the bushes. That helped people accept me very quickly as a part of the ward.
“When you feel the stigma of being single, you’re less likely to feel you belong. If you can go beyond that and reach out to others, then they’re more willing to accept you. If you wait for them to come to you, you’re more likely to feel alone.
“You also have to realize that most ward members are in families, and they do have some different concerns than you do. That’s part of life. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be the same.”
Feel the Spirit of Worship—Ray McAfferty, Las Vegas, Nevada: “Ultimately, any discomfort over being single has to be replaced simply by the spirit of worship, of being there for a particular reason no matter what one’s marital status. It’s hard sometimes not to focus on the social awkwardness, especially for those who may have been married and now are single in the same ward. There is no way out of that for a time, I think.”
Don’t Sit Back and Wait—Gayle Sanders, Redmond, Washington: “Participating in everything you can is very important. I make sure that I attend all my meetings, and I try to go to the ward temple night each month. Recently my daughter and I went to our ward camp-out.
“I think too many singles feel that they get lost in the shuffle. They lose interest and feel as though nobody cares. Rather than waiting for my ward to do something for me, I let them know what I need. You can’t just sit back and wait for them. People can’t read your mind, and they’re busy doing their own things. You just have to say, ‘Hey, I need help.’ And then they’re usually there to help you.”
Start Making Friends—Nicki Kocherhans, Provo, Utah: “The hard part is breaking in. My life is just so different from theirs. One Sunday I was trying to find some place to sit down, and three different people said, ‘We’re saving this for our kids.’ Everyone belongs somewhere in that chapel. Everyone else has someone to sit by with whom they belong. I left in tears a few times because I felt I didn’t belong anywhere.
“But what I did was just start making friends. I made friends with a widow, and I sit by her every week. Sometimes I have sat by a young mother who needs help with her baby. It was hard, and it took some time, but it was just a matter of finding a niche.”
Don’t Isolate Yourself—Connie Pynes, Salt Lake City, Utah: “When I moved to Salt Lake City from St. Louis, I noticed that the singles approached me and wanted me to come sit with them, which was lovely. But if you isolate yourself only with the singles, you never get to know anyone else. All of a sudden the differences become very important, and they isolate you.
“So I started sitting where I could introduce myself to people in front of me, in back of me, all around me. I got to know just about everyone in the ward that way. When I go to a social event, I make sure that I don’t sit with the same people every time so I can get to know different people. I feel very much a part of things in my ward.
“I have been a ward Relief Society president and a stake Relief Society president as a single, and I never did find that there was a problem in my interactions with the married or single, men or women. I didn’t approach things from my marital status, but from my role as a daughter of Heavenly Father. That’s what has to be stressed—we are born individually, and we die individually, and our salvation is between us and the Lord, whether we’re married or single.”
Take Part in Relief Society and Quorum Activities—Stacy Burton, Ithaca, New York: “In our ward, the singles tend not to go to ward activities sponsored by the Relief Society or the priesthood quorums, and I think part of that has to do with the kind of activities they sponsor. But when I’ve gone I’ve been really glad because that’s when I’ve gotten to know people. Singles need to be willing to participate in things even though they might feel they would be alone.
“I’ve been the LDSSA president the last three years at Cornell, and the Institute director is a counselor in the bishopric. Both he and the bishop have asked several times what I thought about how singles were treated in the ward and what I saw as ways to make things different. By asking my opinion and by sincerely having respect for it, they’ve demonstrated that they have a real concern and that they don’t see singles as a group they can just ignore.”
Look beyond the Church as a Social Institution—Paul Peterson, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: “People have to look beyond the Church as a social institution. If they’re really interested in the gospel and in remaining active in the Church, though they might feel ignored in a family ward, they just have to overcome that and look at church as meeting other than social needs—like taking the sacrament and worshipping.”
Go Tell Them You Want a Job—Alice May Cutler, Salt Lake City, Utah: “I just think you dive in and get acquainted with the people and get a job right away. If they don’t give you one, then you go tell them, ‘I’m here and I want a job in the Church.’ Right away, that gives you a whole host of friends.
“I also think you need to participate in the whole program—not just sacrament meeting. When people talk about the family and marriage, I’m right in there discussing it with them because I believe in it. My goal is, of course, to be married eventually, but I know it’s not going to be in this life. That doesn’t matter to me because that’s an eternal goal.”
Contribute Something—Eileen Jones, Calgary, Alberta: “Church jobs are the best thing to make me feel part of a ward. For several years I came and went and nobody spoke to me and I sat alone; I felt as though nobody noticed when I didn’t go. But when I got a Primary job, it was easier to go because there were kids that looked forward to seeing me. The parents got to know me, too, because their children talked about what I’d done with them.
“I think it’s also important to get involved in service projects. It’s really easy to feel alienated if you’re not contributing something.
“A lot of singles think, ‘Woe is me; they’re not filling my needs,’ but they don’t tell anybody. When I first arrived in my ward, I was given visiting teachers who were much younger than I; they would bring their babies and gurgle at them the whole time. We had little in common. I asked for a change, and it made a big difference. I think you have to speak up sometimes.”
Write Notes, Double-date with Marrieds, Give Parties—Victoria Laney, Atlanta, Georgia: “When I moved from New York to Florida, my New York bishop and Relief Society president called my new bishop. They made it clear that I was a unique individual, and they talked about my talents and contributions. If you just show up, people tend to see you as a stereotype and you have to work and work to get them to see you as an individual. I really recommend that church leaders call ahead, particularly on a single person.
“Another thing I did was write notes complimenting speakers on their talks. I really did not like going to church for a while, but writing those notes made me look for the good in the people and in the meeting so it wasn’t so hard to go, and it helped people know who I was.
“When I found a friend in the ward whom I could date, I approached different couples about double-dating. A lot of them were astonished at the idea of double-dating with a couple of singles, but it worked really well in getting to know people. I even asked the stake president and his wife.
“I also give parties. I bought a house, which makes an impression on people because it says that you’re not transient and that you’re like they are—you have the same interests they have, like a garden and a mortgage. I’ve given a couple of going-away parties for work colleagues who were in my ward, and I gave a surprise birthday party for the stake president’s wife, who by then I knew from the double-dating.”
Assume They Want to Know You—Sandy Gagon, Alhambra, California: “The thing that has worked best for me over the years is that I have been the one to make the effort to get to know members in my various family wards. I have taken it upon myself to assume that they would want to know me, and I haven’t expected them to make the overtures. I also don’t assume that they don’t like me if they don’t make those overtures. That has worked for me every time, and I have felt very accepted. At no time in my entire life have I ever felt I was not a full-fledged member of any family ward I’ve belonged to. I’ve never felt that they ostracized me or looked down on me in any way because I was single. Whatever love and fellowship I extend to them, they have returned to me even more.”
Be Friendly, Mingle—Nolan Denton, Anaheim, California: “When I first moved into the family ward, I met as many people as I could. I went to the functions and mingled and got to know them. I volunteered to help set up chairs, played church softball, helped in the cook line. That participation has helped more than anything. The second thing that made me feel a part of things was giving a talk in sacrament meeting. After that, people seemed more open to me.
“I feel that the best thing for single adults to do is just be friendly, meet as many people as you can, and don’t bring the subject up. It’s the old thing: if you are concerned about your acne, everybody else is; but if you’re not bothered by it, no one else will be. It will be easier for people in your ward to deal with you if you don’t let it bother you.”
Get Over the Feeling That Being Single Is a Big Problem—Rita Peterman, Las Vegas, Nevada: “I’ve been a member of the Church for four years, and at the very beginning I had the feeling that my ward was all families and that there weren’t many singles, at least not my age. But I’ve had a calling right from the beginning, which really makes me feel part of things, and I really haven’t found it hard to fit in.
“I think singles need to get over the feeling that being single is a big problem. When I used to go to some of the singles functions some of the people seemed to really resent being single. They have a very bad personal attitude about it. They really feel almost as if it’s a crime to be single. I’ve never had that feeling. I’m single, and I may be single all my life; I don’t think it’s that awful. I think you can feel happy in yourself.”