While I was in Chicago last week I went to an SA ( LDS Single Adults over 30) Ward with a friend who is over 30 but not single. It was a testimony meeting, so a variety of different ward members (and leaders) spoke. After the meeting my friend commented on how great she thought the meeting was, and how she admired the people there, and since I mostly felt discouraged, I was surprised how different our experiences were. This Ward (branch actually, too small to be a Ward) was a great example of the single adult environment not just over 30, but probably over 25. It offered perfect examples of the 3 hashtags which most effectively describe SA Wards:
1 - #HumbleBrag
Every testimony meeting in every Ward includes a humble brag or two; however, with SAs the problem becomes more pronounced, and not just at testimony meeting. At a certain point in every single person's life, you suddenly realize that you don't have built-in story recipients anymore. You don't come home at the end of the day and have your family to talk to about the little things that happen on an average day. Your close friends get married, have kids, move away, and people just get spread out. You might have roommates, but even then they're all busy professionals or students with independent lives and you don't generally sit down together for a meal or to rehash the day. So, single people can sometimes get backed up with conversation without an outlet. Of course for the big stuff we can call or get together with friends and family, but the little things that might be nice to share (I got a 98 on my term paper and the professor used it as an example in class) or even just interesting thoughts (Doesn't it seem as though, anatomically speaking, it would make more sense for women to wear pants and men to wear skirts?) get kind of stifled and tucked away. But things start to leak out.
I was once given an analogy for this sort of phenomenon. Think of an old wood burning stove. There will be smoke in the stove, but if the chimney pipe is closed off, the smoke will find a way out anyway, just not where you want it to get out.
Specifically, I've observed that most (though not all) single people above 25 tend to talk about themselves and their thoughts a lot. They bring up stories when they aren't completely relevant to the current topic of conversation or they passive aggressively try to elicit questions for which they have answers they want to give. It's not a purposefully selfish thing in most cases, in fact it's completely understandable. I sometimes feel that I am constantly trying to plug leaking holes of over-sharing (example of leaking hole - this blog, clearly not plugging this one right now). It's tricky and I understand that, but it's not endearing or appealing. And when SAs are given a platform for sharing AND an opportunity to strut their stuff in front of potential dates (testimony meeting) - it tends to get ugly.
This Ward was no exception, started out with bang. The newly called 2nd counselor (only single member of the branch presidency) spent 15 minutes humble-bragging about the process of getting his calling: how many other people could have gotten it - but that he did, how he knows the Lord thinks he (the speaker) can help all of us (congregation), etc. Another one said he wanted to talk about honoring women but mostly just talked about all the things that make him a great son, and as a bonus - his "testimony" included a little bit of creepy discussion about wombs. And it went on from there....
2 - #WhereAreTheNormalAndCoolPeople?
There are three types of LDS SAs - those who don't come to church at all, those who come and leave after one meeting, and the types who come to church, stay all 3 hours, serve in at least one calling, and go to almost every random activity. Personally I have been part of both the first and second groups, and will probably never be in the third. But I aspire to be a three hour church attendee and occasional activity attendee. The problem is...it's really hard to find other middle people! When looking to be part of the ward community I am unlikely to find very compatible people in the third group. There are a few nuggets, but they're also considered the most normal in that group and the most pursued...and the competition is just way too much work. The second group has potential. They obviously don't come for the social connection, and they're old enough that no one is making them come, and it would be easy not to go at all, so I appreciate the apparent level of commitment to coming to church. The problem is how to get to know the people that leave!
I propose a secret linger longer/much n' mingle in the parking lot after sacrament meeting where the leavers can really just be seen as grabbing some food on their way out and sometimes happen to meet other people, not because they're trying or need anyone or anything, but just without making any effort and without being one of "those" single ward weirdos they end up chatting with some chill people. In Chicago there were at least 3 (out of the total 15-20 people there) leavers. They were there before the sacrament was passed and were gone before the closing prayer.
3 - #TimeToLowerYourStandards
My friend could look at this Ward with a degree of detachment because she wasn't and won't be dependent on them. I, of course, am not attached to that particular group in Chicago, but it doesn't inspire hope for the future. When I expressed dismay at the fact that this was my pool of options, she of course brought up the fact that I'm not 30 so my pool is bigger, and that we were in inner city Chicago. She also made a good point that I may not find someone as smart or thoughtful or ambitious or grounded as I would like, and I need to be open to that possibility. In other words she was telling me I need to face the realization all SAs ultimately reach: I might just have to settle.
You know those standards you set? The "musts" in potential friends? The "husband list" you made with roommates in college and that you basically add to all the time when you see attractive, kind or interesting men? Might be time to give those up.
- You can be just fine with friends who don't know who is running for president (other than Mitt Romney who should DEFINITELY have won last time), and love nothing more than 80's and country dancing in Provo, followed by froyo and movie night with whichever boys in the area will have them. Definitely, right?
- You can date someone who wants to take you to nickel cade and agrees to split the tickets earned from the games (acting as though this is a chivalrous thing to do, despite the fact that you won most of them). Sure, better than nothing right?
- You can be friends with people who only listen to classical music, make their own clothes, and want to stay late after Sunday School, asking you to hold their New Testament while they refer to it to finish writing margin notes in their Book of Mormon. No problem, right?
- You can date someone who knows almost nothing about sports in general, literally will ONLY ever talk about Philosophical topics such as Kant's Categorical Imperative, insists on pointing out logical fallacies in everyone's everyday speech (the Philosophy version of a grammar nazi, but much worse), and shaves every visible portion of his body because he thinks complete hairlessness is really attractive. You could be very happy together, right?
- You can be friends with someone who constantly talks about her rugby team, dreams of being a US Marshall, and offers to "beat up" every guy that comes up in a negative way during any conversation. Loyalty is a really rare quality, right?
- You can date a guy who casually mentions the number of women he slept with after his divorce but before his conversion to Mormonism (in a repentant, "I didn't realize how lost I was but also I want you to know how cool I am" kind of way) and who is also closer to your mom's age than yours. It's all ok...right?You could be very happy together, right?
FYI - All of these represent real, mostly nice people whom I have encountered and who I was friends with (at some level) or dated (at some level). Are my standards too high?
I suppose the lesson is that to appreciate and survive the SA world I've got to laugh at the quirks and be more open-minded about the different types of people there. After all, the only ways out are death or marriage.