Monday, December 7, 2009

The Singles' Ward: An Amateur's Quasi-Field Study of a Most Curious Culture

The roommate and I tried sneaking into church rather late yesterday. Sneaking anywhere in two-inch wedges (2" = my limit; 3" seems downright cruel) with two large bags in tow (my purse is big--my church bag is ridiculous) always proves interesting. Sneaking through the entire congregation to the only seats available "up front" lends its own special form of embarrassment. Anyway, the point here is that I was late. And when I'm that late I find it difficult to focus on the messages shared. And when I'm lacking focus in a room with folks to observe (say the airport, or, in this scenario, church) I tend to people watch. More than I ought. And, as a woman of some education with a brain trained for analysis, I sometimes consider that which I notice.

In the airport I make up stories about where strangers are going, who they are meeting, what they are running away from. Church-People Watching, however, is vastly different from Airport-People Watching. Because, in theory, one already knows these people at church. Or, at the very least, one knows of them: their names (if you can keep them straight), where they work (because what else do you talk about with people you share few commonalities with?), their clique (oh yes, singles' wards are nothing if not clique-ish). And one has to be careful about being caught because, well, one knows these subjects. And staring might make them think one has some message to relay. Or, even worse, if caught staring too frequently at someone of the opposite sex, it can very easily translate into one becoming the (insert any physical characteristic here--hot, fat, skinny, sweet-spirited, tall, short, handsome, old, young, blonde, ugly, pretty) girl/guy with a crush.

You see, women in the singles' ward far outnumber the men. And this disproportionate ratio thoroughly destroys all acknowledgement of male fault or folly while simultaneously accentuating every female flaw and blemish. Likewise, this numbers game (along with attitudes to be discussed later ) has ellicited a heightened competition amongst many of the females (go here if you don't believe me).

So if one looks and looks again, it surely must mean something more than the innocent curiosity that typically motivates people watching. Here you were pondering the stained athletic socks they chose to pair with their suit (Out of clean laundry? Fashionably clueless?) and the next thing you know they're trying to awkwardly flirt in the hallway as if you're both in on some little lovers' secret. You can see the danger here. More commonly, the "victim" of innocent Church-People Watching has mysteriously dropped off the "perpetrator's" facebook friends list and if said "perpetrator" so much as shares a friendly hello the "victim's" eyes get a little shifty as they duck into the nearest restroom. The "kinder" variety will simply blather on about someone from work they are interested in taking to the lights at Temple Square as a means of hinting that you're-not-that-someone-you-thought-you-might-be-based-on-the-staring-you-were-clearly-involved-in-during-sacrament-wink-wink.

To simplify that: one's innocent people watching clearly indicates attraction. Because, beyond a shared religious belief, if there is a primary commonality amongst those in the singles' ward it is this: delusion.

The delusion is palpable. Apparently happily-ish married church leaders believe that placing all single adults with a pulse in the same building together for three hours a week, and then encouraging them to come to various "fun-filled" (read: painful) activities throughout the week will automatically result in more happily-ish married couples. And the semi-young lad with the stained athletic socks and bad haircut who is, bless him, proudly employed in the telemarketing industry thinks himself the matrimonial equal of a young Marie Osmond with hints of Stepford woven in. And well-educated, career-driven, relatively feminist women in two-inch wedges (I said "relatively" feminist) such as myself actually think they will find compatibility within their own sect. Delusion is the name of the game.

Which isn't to say that coupling in one form or another doesn't occur. Hands are held, flirtations are flaunted, backs are scratched, closed-eyed swan dances are danced. The singles' ward and adolescents (yes, some in the singles' ward are adolescents) have this in common: yack-worthy levels of physical affection instigated by an abnormal spike in unsatiated hormonal activity.

Beyond shared religious belief and delusion, there is a third phenomenon particularly intriguing: pressure. Though slightly less palpable than the aforementioned delusion to the outside observer, most members of a singles' ward congregation recognize within a fairly short amount of time that there is a subliminal message much like microscopic mold spores circulating in the air. Pressure. Communication between religious and familial leaders and the single congregation is laced with this pressure: marry and be made whole. Lessons are taught, meetings are made, activities are designed all with one purpose: to get the relatively feminist career woman in two-inch wedges and the telemarketer in athletic socks to notice one another's "potential" (read: ignore all warning signs that your fiancee is really a creeper in disguise) and eventually wed.

I suppose any issues of incompatibility after pressed nuptials take place are technically no longer the responsibility of the singles' ward religious leadership. And, after all, shared religious belief and delusion have many happy-ish marriages made.

Also, lest you think I'm entirely pessimistic on the singles' ward front, let it be known that free food that I didn't have to cook often shows up with the delusion, pressure, and general sense of awkwardness. And, might I add, I looked damn good in those two-inch wedges.


Jen said...

Ehehehehexcellent post.

Terresa said...

An off-campus newspaper should print this! (if you know what I mean by "off-campus" -- as in probably not the Ensign. :))

You wrote it very well and it captures many of the same feelings I had as a young LDS single adult.

I was 2 months away from being 25 when I got married and felt "old." But anymore nowadays, I think the mindset/culture is something we need to try and rip ourselves out of, still being believers in Christ, and reframe however it works for us. (does that make sense?)

PS: I agree, too, that Church-People Watching, however, is vastly different from Airport-People Watching. Very!

Stephanie said...

I adore you. I really do. Thank you for that. I find myself more and more grateful that I have "aged out" of the singles' ward scene...

Bravo on the wedges by the way; 2" = very fierce!

Libby said...

Oh, yes. We've all been there. I was once busted staring at the weirdest guy in the ward. He followed me around for a month after that! Maybe not, but maybe!

Rie Pie said...

I always loved Airport-People Watching, also Wal-Mart-People Watching. Whenever I am Church-People Watching, I am scared that other's are watching me and wondering why I'm staring at a random guy. Trust me...I'm not crushing at a singles ward. I know better.

ps. I looked dang good in my
5 1/2" stilettos on Sunday. I think they looked rather nice with my fishnets... ;)

The Rookie said...

I adore you right back, Steph.

Eeks! What a creeper, Libby.

Holy jeepers, Rie! 5 1/2"? I bow down to the master!

Yes, I did just use Jeepers & Creepers in the comments section.

Lisa S said...

Enjoyed this post so much. I was a singles ward graduate in 1989 at 34 years old. Yes our stake pres. gave permission for thirty somethings to belong to the singles ward. I tended to look younger than my real age. I remember bearing my testimony the Sunday before my Tuesday wedding in the temple, saying something like blah blah blah...I'm getting married...blah blah blah...some of you need to lighten up. There was also lots of drama in my ward. I couldn't have been happier to leave. By the way I met my husband at a singles dance. So hang in there.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I have never experienced the "singles ward" scene. I do enjoy all of your entertaining stories though. Maybe to be safe, you should wear sun glasses?

The Boob Nazi said...

I have to enter my church late from the FRONT OF THE CHAPEL. IT IS SO AWKWARD. It almost makes me get there on time.