Monday, August 11, 2008

The Jane Austen Guide to the LDS Singles Ward


I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. Like most devout to their faith, mine means a great deal to me. But I'm not talking so much about the doctrines and beliefs I hold. Today I'm talking about culture. Like any religion, we have our own quirks which we'll simply call our subculture. Green Jell-o with carrots aside, the most intriguing phenomenon of this subculture consists of three magic words: The Singles Ward. As in, a congregation of young single adults. I am uncertain why it is, exactly, that we have these little side-groups. I think the philosophy has something to do with getting we singletons OUT of the singles ward. Preferably through marriage.

Imagine, if you will, a congregation of law-of-chastity-keeping adults in a religion that values marriage and family above most else and you'll soon see that carnage might easily ensue at any regional dance. Take that even further--the female to male ratio is often 2:1. It is dog eat dog in some wards. I have the good fortune of being in a ward where most of the males are "tolerable, I suppose...though not handsome enough to tempt me." Because of this blessing, petty competition doesn't plague my Sundays.

And here is the thesis of my post today: I think Jane Austen understood too well the social complexities of the Singles Ward, though she wrote of life and courting rituals and annual income and social status and other such cultural observations as a Protestant minister's daughter in early 19th century Great Britain. I think this is the appeal of dear Janey to most Mormon women around my age. Because, ask just about any of them (except Alice, NOT Alice...Alice hates Jane...and Anne Shirley, for that matter--so she's no judge!) and they'll tell you Pride and Prejudice holds a special place in their heart...or at least Mr. Darcy does. While Austen is appreciated by more than just we single Mormon girls, I think we are hard-wired to connect to Austen in a manner that most cannot. Because, apparently, a good man is hard to find in early 19th century England as well. And lucky for Austen's heroines, they usually find one. Which gives we Mormon girls a false sense of hope for our current conditions.

Take, for example, the scene that played out after church yesterday. Alice, Sephalo, and I were exiting the building discussing the following: were we or were we not going to attend a boating activity this coming Saturday at a local reservoir because it all depended on who was in attendance. And then, conversation drifted into the ever-important who was dating whom, who had stopped dating whom, and who was engaged to whom after only three short weeks of knowing one another (yes, this is a recent development in my ward--and it wouldn't be the first time one of these deprived singletons jumped the gun a wee bit too early). I laughed to myself because it all smacked of Jane Austen so completely--the gossip outside the parish church, the debated attendance at local events. But my plot thickens.

As we gossiped away a certain older "gentleman" (we'll call him this, though I'm not too certain whether this is the case or not) who has, if observation serves me correctly, been staring at my every move during the past several months, also exited the building and stopped just outside our gossiping circle. Fumbling with his cell phone, acting nonchalant, trying, I suspect, to edge into our clearly all-girl conversation. And I wondered to myself, is this guy a Mr. Collins? Or is he more like Marianne's Colonel Brandon? Important side note--my singles ward, rebel that our bishop is, doesn't follow the typical turn-31-and-you're-on-to-bigger-and-brighter-things rule. So this certain "gentleman" is rather old for a girl of 27. Late 30's, possibly 40, I'm guessing. Anyway, back to the story...I've never really had a conversation with the guy beyond when he pipes in and makes a comment during my Sunday School lesson. So, frankly, I'm leaning toward the Mr. Collins camp. And I'm also suspecting that his pitiful shyness explains most of why the guy is still single.

Which brings me to his eavesdropping. In an Austen novel, the story develops through instances of eavesdropping. Think about it: "She is tolerable, I suppose...but not handsome enough to tempt me." One of the most famous lines in an Austen novel--unknowingly overheard by the eavesdropping skills of one Elizabeth Bennett. But have you ever tried to have a good gossip conversation while someone eavesdropped in an unskilled manner? It makes a girl uncomfortable. I felt bad for him, but I couldn't help but think "Run along, little buddy, run along. It is better for you that way."

After the conversation died out, I simply sauntered away with the girls, walking home with my roommate, dear Alice. My conclusion that this guy is of the Collins-variety convinced me that throwing him a bone would only make matters worse. That, and the fact that I am an awkward flirt feeling even more awkward after this guy's eavesdropping. An escape seemed to be my best option.

Which leads me back to my thesis. Jane Austen understood too well the social complexities of the Singles Ward, though she wrote of life and cultural observations as a Protestant minister's daughter in early 19th century Great Britain. Yes, it is too true. Janey has seen me through my fair share of singles ward havoc and has given me the ability to laugh at it all.

And most importantly, my red-blooded, law-of-chastity-keeping self can't get enough of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy exiting the ponds at Pemberley. Am I alone here?

Oh, and Sephalo, if you are reading this, you know who I am speaking of, I believe, so please do keep this a bit hush-hush so as to not embarrass the parties involved.

9 comments:

Alice said...

hehehehe you are too funny. I totally appreciate the similarities between our reality of a singles ward and your constant love affair with Jane Austin. I would agree, she gets it. But only because you said so.

Because you see, you already plainly pointed out, that I am not a fan and frankly have no experience with her prose. Should I be offended? Unless Kira Knightly counts, I paid attention for the most part, but also thoroughly enjoyed the people watching :).

So my burning question... remind me of who Mr. Collins happens to be and is that a good thing or a bad thing? Something tells me he isn't the pick of the litter. If you were into this, there would be some mention of Mr. Darcy? He isn't jerk enough for that :)

Wemdu said...

Definitely of the Collins persuasion that poor boy! :)

As I enter my Miss Bateshood I can say that you are spot on in regards to singles ward life mimicking the lovely prose of our dear Ms. Austin. :) My singles ward days would not have been half as fun without the constant gossip! Keep it up my dear sis...you are making me proud!!!

Kimmy said...

You're hilarious! I've often thought that Jane Austen is still so popular because she hit social interactions amongst single people right on. I'm curious as to who the Mr. Collins is that you described now. I can think of a few people it could be....

Jen said...

Tee hee. I love Mr. Darcy. I taught my daughter to kiss the screen when he comes on. I hope she doesn't get some sort of complex. At least if she does, she won't be alone. . .

Rie Pie said...

I am thouroghly intrigued on who this Mr. Collins could be!? lol

But I wouldn't judge too quickly. Mr. Collins married. Jane Austen did not. I think this shows us the double side of happiness.

But really, that can't be our only choice, aye? I don't believe that we have to choose a passionless marriage or a spinster lifestyle full of passion. Maybe this man is a Colonel Brandon... I guess we'll see how your plot unfolds.

post script. I love the Colin Firth, but I have to say, I by far would choose a Matthew Mcfadyen "Mr. Darcy" first. I admit, I have rewound the rain scene many a time. There is nothing wrong with that...sigh...

AzĂșcar said...

So...did you see the LDS Pride & Prejudice? If not, it seems that you are not alone.

Jana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne Elliot said...

I just found your blog and loved this post! It is SO true - one more comparison - Mrs. Bennett = our poor Bishops - trying desperately to get us all married off.

Katie H said...

I LOVE this!
Yes, I am blog-stalking you, but at least it's openly, right?
I just got married last year & still am surprised at it, so I very much identify with - and love - the singles.