Being a single lady, I have a thing for reading books about the history of single ladies, and think pieces about the state of the single lady. So I was kind of all over this book, which is a combination of the two — demonstrating precedent for how unmarried women have brought about social change in the past, and the state of unmarried women in contemporary life. The author interviewed dozens of unmarried women from a variety of backgrounds for the book, and provides ample statistics on marriage ages and divorce rates and the participation of single women in civic life — there’s a lot to digest. I found myself highlighting A LOT of passages in my Kindle with audible, “Oh yeah! That’s me!” commentary.
Reading this, I figured there’s two very good reason women in the church should read this — one, unmarried women like myself can get some assurance that they aren’t the total social outcasts we’re sometimes made to be in the church (I’m being a little hyperbolic, but at the end of the day, most of us single ladies in family wards do feel pushed to the side to a degree); and two, married women in the church can get a better understanding of the mindset and life of unmarried women in general. And perhaps not be as quick to judge. (Again, painting broad strokes here, but I’m reflecting from experience.) The book is a reflection of how our contemporary world views marriage, motherhood, family, and dating. You may have a good idea of what those ideas are, but this book might help clarify, or give you a better understanding overall of what unmarried women face every day.
A quote from Neylan McBain’s Women in the Church came to mind (and comes to mind frequently when this discussion comes up): “Single women can feel their identity in the Church is defined by what they are not: they are not wives, they are often not mothers. Even maintaining virtue – a revered spiritual characteristic – as a single woman can be perceived as merely an absence of sexual experience. They are what they lack. Is it any wonder single women in particular struggle with feeling a part of our community?” Traister’s book describes the communities that single women have formed instead of married life, or at least in postponement of married life. How vitally important friends become, for instance. Reading this book I’d fluctuate from feeling incredibly lonely to incredibly vindicated. I became fiercely proud of the friends I’ve had since college, because they have formed a kind of surrogate family for me at times. We can rely on each other, and not feel like we’re “lacking” in something simply because we’re not married.
While the world has accepted cohabitation, single parenting, and working mothers, the church aims for the ideal of two married parents who both raise the children in a loving home. We encourage our young women to marry RMs, to marry in the temple, to stay chaste until that temple marriage, and then to bring many beautiful souls into the world and raise them in righteousness. But more and more LDS women are graduating college not married. More are pursuing careers. More are finding the dating pool lacking of active LDS men who honor their priesthood. Oh, the many late night conversations I’ve had with girlfriends about this. We look around and see so many women who are not following the commandments, who are not living the gospel, who do not even believe in God, and they have the things that we want — a family of our own.
And the idea of marriage has changed in recent decades with many people. It might be more of a financial arrangement, or a way to commit to a partner for a time (with divorce an obvious out), or at worst legalized rape and servitude. It pains me to read about women who view marriage in such a negative way. I’m lucky to not only have been raised by parents in a strong marriage, but see many of my relatives give amazing examples of how marriage can work. It’s a covenant. It’s inspired. It’s the way God has mandated for children to be brought into the world. It’s always having someone to serve outside of yourself. It’s forming a bond with one special person that will last for eternity.
It also is noted in the book that by women delaying marriage (for one reason or another), they are actually changing men’s perceptions of women for the better. Men start to see these women they work beside as equal partners. They see them more as intelligent people. They see how accomplished they are. The women who delay marriage a few years are more likely to make long-lasting unions because they find better mates who match them in more satisfying ways. I’m not saying those of us who marry before graduating from college are making less-worthy marriages — but those of us who don’t marry until later have a chance to really develop into the adults they will be the rest of their lives, and therefore find mates who are more agreeable to the person they become. It gives me some hope, anyway.
You’ll find some disagreeable things in All the Single Ladies. But you’ll gain a greater understanding of what it’s like out there for us. You’ll see the scope of how views on marriage have shifted. And maybe as a result you’ll be able to open up a dialogue with the single women in your life and get to know their individual circumstances better. Seriously, you ask me about what life is like as a now mid-single adult in the church, and you’ll need to block off a few hours for me to get through all my thoughts. This book is a jumping off point for that discussion, and I hope more in-depth studies on LDS single women happen in future to augment it.