I'm 26 years old, and there is no ring on my left hand.
I've been rolling this particular post around in my head for probably close to a year now. Pieces of it are scattered on scraps of paper around my room and on random pages of notebooks and in various half-written notes on my phone. At the Elevate Blog Conference this weekend, the message I kept hearing was, "Be raw. Be open. Be vulnerable. Take the walls down." Particularly, the thoughts from Ashley at Little Miss Momma kind of hit me in the heart and settled heavy in my gut. And for that reason, I am sitting here on my bed, with my suitcase plopped in the middle of the room, 15 minutes after arriving back in Arizona, spilling a piece of my heart into my laptop.
To make it clear, I believe in and plan on marriage.
My religion places a heavy emphasis on marriage and family, and I'm 100% on board with that. I believe in that plan, I support it, I condone it. I wholeheartedly invite the blessings of marriage and motherhood into my own life. However, what I don't believe in is the strong cultural pressure that tells me exactly when and how those things should play out for me as an individual.
My story is not far off from many of my close friends: I graduated from college a few years ago, I'm doing the whole career thing, I'm active in my church and my community, I'm developing an ongoing and ever-evolving relationship with Christ, I socialize, I date, I volunteer, I have hobbies, I spend time with my family, etc. My life is very rich, and my heart is very full.
"So why aren't you married?"
Sometimes, people assume they know all the reasons why a normal, healthy mormon man or woman in his or her late 20s could possibly still be going it alone. "She's too picky." "He has commitment issues." "He's selfish." "She's immature." "He must not understand the way the plan works." "They don't know what they're missing out on."
The issue with these statements (other than the obvious fact that they are tasteless and hurtful) is the false assumption that anyone is capable of fully understanding or knowing someone else's story. Sure, maybe some of the above reasons do apply to some of my single peers. And maybe some of them have applied to me at one point or another in my life.
But what you're missing is the real story.
The guts and the heart and detail of it all. Gather a dozen single mormons in a room somewhere and I can guarantee each one of them will have their own personal, unique stories to tell about their individual relationship histories. And many of these stories will include elements of heartbreak, loss, abuse, infidelity, addiction, and any number of other tough (sometimes really tough) experiences. It is impossible to judge what you do not know, and it is unkind to put someone else's trial on a platter and deliver it up for laughs or thoughtless discussion.
Another problem with the "why aren't you married" mentality is the implication that if you are not married that you must be doing something wrong. This, in turn, implies that there is only one right way to navigate life. It also portrays marriage as a milestone that somehow signifies, "Hey, you made it! You're finally worth something!"
But the real truth is that a person's inherent worth isn't, never has been and never will be about a wedding band or lack thereof.
Married or single or divorced or widowed or man or woman or tall or short or black or white or rich or poor, a person's value and worth is based on one thing and one thing alone: you are a human being. You are a creation and child of God. Not once, not anywhere, in my entire life of consistent mormonism, have I encountered a gospel doctrine that says a person's value is based on his or her relationship status at age ____.
A wise man named Gordon B. Hinckley once said, "Marry the right person, in the right place, at the right time."
What he did not say was the who, the where, the when or the how of exactly how that would play out in an individual life. He didn't put detailed specifics on the counsel to get married because God doesn't put specifics on it either. He simply says, "The right person, the right place, the right time." This could mean 18 years old, 22 years old, 30 years old, or possibly never in this life. Heavenly Father doesn't put an age on marriage or parenthood, and neither should we.
What's most important is that you're right with God.
It matters that we pray, it matters that we counsel with our Heavenly Father, and it matters that our hearts are in the right place. The decision of who to marry and when to marry is between an individual and God, not between an individual and friend A, family member B or well-meaning-stranger C. Certainly, close friends and family can play a trusted role in the path toward marriage, but ultimately, the decision is personal and sacred.
For me, it's most important that I be emotionally and spiritually ready to marry someone before I commit to time and all eternity. And that means that I don't put a timeline on it. I'm open to it happening this year, next year, 10 years from now, etc. Like I said earlier, I wholeheartedly invite the blessings of marriage and motherhood into my life, but that doesn't mean I want to rush the decision because I'm afraid of being alone or because someone says my particular path should be shaped a certain way. In my mind, I would rather carefully navigate and be fully committed to someone who I wholeheartedly respect and love than give in to pressure to be a wife or mother by a certain age.
Here's the truth I hold closest to my heart: in the eternal scheme, it matters more the direction you're traveling than the cultural speed at which you're getting there.
My intent in writing this post is twofold: to put into words what I and many of my peers feel in their hearts, and also to increase understanding for anyone who often interacts with a single friend or family member. This weekend I learned that one of the greatest powers of blogging is to be brave enough to put into words what other people are afraid to say. My hope is that someone will read this who really needs to hear it, or will pass it on to someone who does.
To anyone who feels that their relationship status, atypical life path or unconventional life goals mean they don't belong in the mormon world, I'm telling you: you have worth, and you have a place here.
I'm 26, my heart is right with God, I'm happy, I love and am loved, my future is bright and my faith is strong, I'm single ...and I'm a mormon.