It’s my own fault.
Any distress I felt during the recent devotional from President Dallin H. Oaks was not caused by the words he said, but because those words weren’t meant for me.
As a single, almost-35-year-old woman still serving in the young single adult sphere, I know I don’t fit where I am. The dissonance between the activities and devotionals presented and my stage of life is clear. However, because the Lord has kept me in my place through callings, I try to keep a positive attitude and engage with the spiritual content placed before me.
So, when President Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, began to speak on marriage, I kept my heart open. After all, if anyone cares about figuring out how to get married it’s a mid-single woman like me. It’s hard for me not to reek of desperation and despair sometimes.
As the devotional went on, my heart quickly began to feel the squeeze.
“Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ are uniquely concerned about recent changes in the nature and extent of marriage in the United States. This includes the increasing tendency of U.S. citizens, including some worthy young Latter-day Saint men and women, to postpone marriage,” President Oaks said.
He then showed a graph detailing how the average age of marriage for both men of women has increased since 1970 by five years. The average age of first marriage amongst members of the Church is now 28.5 years old for men and 26.8 years old for women. Those statistics don’t make a 35-year-old feel very good.
I squirmed, feeling forgotten and ashamed. If these mid-20-somethings were cause for alarm, what was I? A lost cause? I felt like a failure, someone who wasn’t good enough to avoid the statistics.
The floodgates broke when Sister Oaks began to speak. “If you find yourself marking time waiting for a marriage prospect,” she added for women in the audience, “stop waiting and start preparing. Prepare yourself for life — by education, experience, and planning. Don’t wait for happiness to be thrust upon you. Seek out opportunities for service and learning. Most importantly, trust in the Lord.”
Her words are wise and true—but no one talks about what comes after all of that. I got an education and have a career. I serve in multiple callings, foster dear relationships with friends, and continually strive to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I’ve built a beautiful life and sought out all the happiness I can manage.
And it’s not enough. The pain of singlehood still shreds my soul on more occasions than I care to admit. I know part of the agony is of my own doing, some failing in myself to find peace in the Lord and trust more deeply in His timing. I often wonder if my feelings are simply the by-product of being in a faith that promotes marriage with such fervor; would I be happier if I didn’t care so much about this doctrine or what I believe are the eternal consequences surrounding it?
But the simple truth of it all is that I don’t want to be single. If I’m being completely honest, I feel like I was made to be a help-meet and a mother. Though I find much gratitude and awe at the other fulfilling things in my life, the gaping wound left by the absence of a husband and family is a never-healing one.
I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. As I’ve pondered on this devotional and tried to find a faithful view forward, I was reminded of some important gospel principles. I believe that living these principles will not only draw us closer to Jesus Christ but re-inspire confidence and faith in dating and marriage in weary singles.
What we do matters, but I’d argue that why we do what we do is even more important. If we seek relationships without clear motivations and purpose, we not only lack spiritual momentum but can cause confusion and heartache. Brother Jason S. Carroll, a professor of marriage and family studies at Brigham Young University, said, “How can we use an agency-based approach to love to actually create and produce love in our relationships? The answers to this question point us to the true roots of marriage, which individuals and couples can foster with their intentional choices and actions.”
It’s easy to be exhausted by the dating game and eventually lose hope, which fuels righteous intentions. When I have felt the most hopeless, I don’t give the potential dating prospects in my life real intent. This means I don’t see the point of what I’m doing and am more likely to act carelessly with others. If your hope and intention feel low, turn to the Lord in prayer and ask if there are some specific things you can do to rekindle your faith.
We can build friendships, date, and marry with intention. This doesn’t mean our intentions need to be overly serious. It does mean our intentions and expectations need to be clear and honestly communicated. We show our intentions through action, such as being reliable, responding quickly, sharing our feelings even when they are uncomfortable or hard, and not settling for lesser loves that fill us as a drug might, but leave us short of covenantal bonds.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught, “True love is a process. True love requires personal action. Love must be continuing to be real. Love takes time. Too often expediency, infatuation, stimulation, persuasion, or lust are mistaken for love. How hollow, how empty if our love is no deeper than the arousal of momentary feeling or the expression in words of what is no more lasting than the time it takes to speak them. We must at regular and appropriate intervals speak and reassure others of our love and the long time it takes to prove it by our actions. Real love does take time.”
Ultimately, you can increase your intention by making choices. Just as Christ’s love inspired Him to choose us; likewise, God will never force a relationship or even a marriage upon us. We must show we understand the preciousness of it by seeking it and choosing it with intention.
We are all likely aware of the abundant counsel from Church leaders not to look for perfection in a help-meet. Here are just a few of the examples from over the years:
“I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife.” – Richard G. Scott
“None of us marry perfection; we marry potential.” – Robert D. Hales
“My beloved brethren, may I remind you, if there were a perfect woman, do you really think she would be that interested in you? In God’s plan of happiness, we are not so much looking for someone perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
“An ideal marriage is a true partnership between two imperfect people, each striving to complement the other, to keep the commandments, and to do the will of the Lord.” – Russell M. Nelson
What I’ve realized is that these quotes are implying something that we’re missing: God’s abundant grace. Instead of looking at such counsel and feeling like we need to settle, we should instead focus on grace.
Sheri Dew described grace like this: “When we talk about the grace of Jesus Christ, we are talking about His power—power that enables us to do things we simply could not do on our own. Grace is divine power that enables us to handle things we can’t figure out, can’t do, can’t overcome, or can’t manage on our own. It is this power that ultimately enables us to do what we came to earth to do. Grace is divine enabling power.”
What does this mean in dating? How do we turn it from a deeply personal principle relating to our own need for a Savior to loving someone else? I think it means that because God believes the best in us, we should believe the best in others. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.”
If you’re like me, you are painfully aware of your shortcomings and how they might be holding you back from marriage. Believe that God’s grace qualifies you for everlasting love and He will help you find it. Because of past traumas and mental illnesses, I face some executive functioning problems. This mostly manifests in difficulty keeping a clean home. There have been times when I was certain my perceived disgustingness was the reason God wouldn’t ever let me date one of His sons. Through prayer and wrestling with the Spirit, I discovered I was doing the best I could and God didn’t care as much about my house as He did about my heart. When I calmed down and allowed Him to guide me, He showed me ways to improve—and why it was important for myself and my relationship with Him.
Believe that others deserve this type of love and grace as well. We all fall short of the glory of God. This doesn’t mean that we allow ourselves to be with those that mistreat us. Elder Holland also taught, “In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you lead the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”
Rather, I believe we should let God surprise us with who he places in our path and what those relationships can look like. I once had an exiting stake president tell us that if he could give us one piece of advice, it would be to “not make such quick and hasty judgments about who you can fall in love with.” No person in our life is there by accident. By offering more grace to others, we may find ourselves with more inspired and beautiful options than we ever realized. Our relationships will deepen and together we will make our way closer to Christ.
I’ve written about how to find and foster celestial love before. One principle that has changed everything for me is the idea of paying attention to who I get excited to love. So much of the time, we focus on who is good at loving us. We focus on ourselves and having our needs met. We should never dismiss our needs completely, but if we turn outward and see who we find supreme joy in serving, we may discover unexpected opportunities. Who has the Lord prepared for us to care for? Is it possible that by looking for those we were designed to love, we will actually have a better chance of finding the one perfectly suited to love us in return?
To put another’s needs first, to love without expectation, to delight in giving lover rather than receiving, requires sacrifice. Selflessness is rarely comfortable or easy, especially when important decisions and high emotions are on the line.
Elder H. Burke Peterson taught that “a selfless person is one who is more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort, one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated, or one who is willing to serve even those whom he or she dislikes. A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to purge from his or her mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings. Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for himself, or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others.”
Elder Holland echoed this sentiment when he said, “True love blooms when we care more about another person than we care about ourselves. That is Christ’s great atoning example for us, and it ought to be more evident in the kindness we show, the respect we give, and the selflessness and courtesy we employ in our personal relationships.”
We live in a world that praises independence. While we should strive to be whole in Christ, our need to remain solitary creatures capable of doing everything on our own has led to loneliness and disconnection.
Sister Jenet Jacob Erickson, an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, taught, “We are deeply relational beings. Our individual agency endows us with the responsibility and privilege of becoming beings who can experience the deepest forms of connection. We are not designed to be autonomous, self-actualized individuals. We are deeply relational beings, designed not for independence but for radical dependence and connection.”
By embracing our relational nature, we will form better connections with all those around us. This requires vulnerability and hard work. We have to carefully risk our hearts until we discover those who will treat our most exposed parts with tender care. The problem is when we’ve been hurt we start locking our hearts away.
C.S. Lewis spoke to this when he said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Sister Erickson continues, “[Love] means intimacy—with all of its attendant fear of self-exposure, of being seen and known in all that we are and all that we are not. It means responsibility and profound trustworthiness so that others will be safe in our care.”
We can begin by becoming fully dependent on Jesus Christ—making covenants with Him, offering ourselves wholly to Him, and loving Him with all our hearts. When we do so, our transformation begins and so does the path towards the eternal relationships we yearn for.