Single + Mormon: it's only as uncomfortable as you make it
In less than a month, I'll turn 25 years old, which is the age I always assumed I'd get married. And I very well may; a lot can happen in a year. But it could also very well not happen, and I've been thinking about that lately as well.
I'm not saying being single at 25 is the same as being single at 29, just as being single at 25 is not the same as being single at 21. But I don't think 29-year-olds have cornered the market on loneliness either, so I feel like I can write with some authority on this topic.
In a lot of ways, I like being single at 25 much better than I did at 21. Back then, I often got the impression that people assumed my life hadn't started yet, and that it would begin the day I got married. Now, four years later, I don't feel so patronized-- either because a) people are more generous to recognize my unwed life contains value and purpose, b) I care less what people think, or c) I have unconsciously changed the type of people I surround myself with. Maybe a little of all of the above.
In any case, here are some things that, as a single woman, I've come to believe about marriage:
1.) I do not wish I had gotten married earlier in my life. I would not trade the experiences I've had--eating disorder and recovery, a summer in DC, missionary service, law school, or the friendships I developed as a result-- for the hypothetical experiences I would have had if I'd married some nice boy at 21.
Of course, I'm not saying marriage deprives anyone of valuable life experiences. Marriage expands your life opportunities--if you marry the right kind of person. But I do not think I would have chosen especially well, or someone particularly feminist, when I was a sophomore or junior in college. I didn't know myself well enough; I just wasn't there yet. If I had gotten married, I would have chosen a nice, clean-cut BYU boy with a ten-year plan and right now I'd be putting him through grad school instead of me getting to go. I used to be terrified that a few years after getting married, my world would consist of nothing but Disney Junior, babbled conversations, and mommy politics. That fear still lurks down there, a little bit. But it's okay, because at this point the guys who want that aren't into me anymore (I think), and vice versa. Law school really is a lovely crucible, in that way.
Presently, I feel like I've really warmed up to the idea of marriage-- but I know I won't marry someone unless he 'gets' me and wants me, specifically. Helps nurture my interests, and encourages my dumb pipe dreams. I won't marry someone who expects me to melt into a convenient wife-hole he's carved into his life; I'll marry someone who wants to build something, together, with me.
2.) I am very confident that one day I will get married. I carry this confidence because statistically, I just do not find it probable that out of all the people I know, I will be the exception who dies alone. Plus, I really like who I am as a person. I can appreciate good music and good books, I have the face of an adorable chipmunk, and I'm too funny to waste a lifetime's worth of bon mots on a cat. I think it's going to happen for me, and I don't think it's going to take ten years, either. But even if it does, I hope I will play the best hand I can with the cards I've been dealt.
3.) Marriage does not mean: you have it figured out. Marriage is not an indicator of maturity, nor will it make you any smarter or wiser than you were before. Marriage doesn't mean you graduated to adulthood, or are any more of a woman or man than you were before. Marriage doesn't mean you are inherently more selfless, or better with money, or happier, or more emotionally stable. It just means... well, that you're married. But marriage relationships vary so widely, and I have seen enough different types to know marriage is not a guarantee of happiness.
4.) Marriage does mean: you got very lucky and found someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with. Marriage means you get to play life as a team sport--which is, I believe, how it is supposed to be played--and you get to take care of someone else who is taking care of you. When you get married, it will be because you are in a relationship that is stable, and warm, and abundant. Marriage means you get to have someone to make big life decisions with, and you can stay in and watch Planet Earth every Saturday night if you want. Marriage is (or at least, can and should be) a really happy change that comes to many, if not most, people who want it.
5.) If I got married, it wouldn't change anything about who I am. There are a lot of different ways to read that, so indulge me a long explanation.
The past seven years of my life have been spent mainly in Utah, and mostly without family nearby. Any holes from feeling isolated or disconnected I have filled with a lot of solid friends and religious observance. Once, on a hot desert evening in June when I felt unbearably lonely, I went to the temple. I stayed in the Celestial room for what must have been a long time, because it was the last group of the day and almost everyone had left. I sat on the white couch and looked up at the painting of Jesus, which seemed particularly accessible to me that night.
"If you got married right now, it would change nothing about your relationship with Jesus Christ," the thought came as if from a good friend unwilling to coddle. Whaaaa. That immediately registered as true.
And then I really felt it: Jesus Christ does not see me as single. Even if that's how everyone else sees me, and even if that's how I occasionally see myself. He does not see me in terms of married or single, and if I got married the next morning it wouldn't have changed the way He feels about me.
When you get married, (or leave on a mission, or go through the temple, or do anything else that registers as a big deal in Mormonism), you don't automatically gain 500 Righteous Points for taking An Important Step. You're still the same person. And the Lord cares about you, as a person, so He doesn't see you as lacking when your path is different from everybody else's path. In the words of a priesthood blessing I received last October, Your experiences and trials and triumphs are your own, and they are valid, and they are seen.
The thing is, I know the Lord cares about me because He helps me out pretty frequently with little things that don't matter at all long term, but matter to me at the time. So if He cares about my micro happiness, there's no way He is indifferent to my macro, long-term happiness. If there's a train I need to catch, I feel like Heavenly Father loves me enough to not let me miss it. It's too important; my happiness is too important to Him. So one day, I'll get married--and it won't be the start of my life, because my life has already begun--but it will be a really happy new chapter in my life with a person who I plan to keep as a constant throughout the rest of it.
And until then, I'll have just as much access to that divine love and concern. So this fall I'm going to move into a cute condo with a friend who makes good conversation. I'm going to hang up the map of the U.S. I painted on barn wood. I'm going to eat dinner off dishes that no friend of my parents gifted to me for free. And that's okay. Because if I got married, it wouldn't change anything.
To me, being a child of God means that married or single, kids or no kids, we are already connected to Heavenly Parents and the rest of humanity as part of an eternal family. And the more I tap into that identity, the more I feel like everything is going to work out.
. . . . .