What You Hear

A friend of mine shared the following with me. With her permission (and with some details scrambled for privacy) I share it with you; I thought her insights into the practical reality and consequences of being single in the Church are profound.

“Blindness separates you from things. Deafness separates you from people.”

This quote from Helen Keller was used today in a presentation. She discussed how she was routinely left out of hall conversations such as someone’s birthday or new car purchase or even the group casually brewing up lunch plans. She is deaf. People naturally don’t think about her inability to overhear their side conversations and office life moves subtly forward without her. She has to push her way into the stream of the hearing people around her.

Recently I’ve been heavily involved in a new convert family. I’ve helped [her children with their various church activities]. During the last 8 weeks, I’ve been carried along in a stream of hearing people around me. As a single, you don’t get included in the hall conversations naturally. In a short time, I know several people’s vacation plans, an adoption plan, a financial crisis, not only of the people involved with scouts, in YW, but the things they tell me about other YW leaders or parents, other scout leaders or parents.

Blindness separates you from things. Being single in an LDS culture separates you from people. Or at least makes it vastly difficult to stay marginally included.

So I took good notes from my friend today and am pondering how to best use what I learned.

Previously I thought the marginalization was primarily a function of not having time to socialize formally. It think now it’s more a function of not hearing the hall conversations that occur around children and the the numerous functions that includes.

It also reminds me of the smoker’s club at work. A year ago, we had a senior executive who smoked like a chimney and several people took it up in order to hang out at the smoking information club. It benefited several people career wise but probably did nothing for their lungs.

I don’t plan on smoking or taking up children just to hang out with the cool kids but I am vastly surprised at what a simple difference it makes in my connection with the ward members.

Julie’s comment on this: I think my friend nails it in this reflection: most of our socializing is ad hoc and much of it occurs around children’s activities (church activities, schooling, sports, playgroups, etc.). Singles are then not (usually) deliberately marginalized but just not normally where the action is. In some ways, this is a tougher problem to solve than intentional exclusion: we can’t just nag the married people to include the singles. But it does suggest some solutions, such as giving singles callings with youth. And I’ve had some single friends who have chosen to attend my children’s activities (musicals and the like)–that might be another solution. And perhaps social media is a way to become more aware of the daily drama of life in your ward.

Other thoughts?

24 comments for “What You Hear

  1. Martin James
    April 28, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    How do I make myself deaf?

  2. Old Man
    April 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    “Being single in an LDS culture separates you from people. Or at least makes it vastly difficult to stay marginally included.”

    Nicely said.

  3. April 29, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    It is always helpful to see through another’s eyes (or in this case, hear through another’s ears). From what your friend says, it seems that this same type of isolation probably applies, at least to some extent, to the married-but-childless.

  4. Sideshow
    April 29, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Your friend may think her category makes it this way for her, but this problem is much wider generally. Anyone who doesn’t have kids in YM / YW, or who doesn’t attend every church activity or service opportunity, or even who doesn’t invite other members over all the time risks not being plugged into the social pipeline. We’re not single, and we have kids, and yet we still feel marginalized.

  5. April 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    “It think now it’s more a function of not hearing the hall conversations that occur around children and the the numerous functions that includes.”

    Make friends with the childless people! I can say that and have it not be flippant, going on 15 years of marriage without kids.

  6. April 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision…

    And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.

    And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle…

  7. H.Bob
    April 29, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Martin–a sixteen-penny nail and a hammer would work, but you’d want to make sure not to hit the nail too hard. Do that and you’re dead, not deaf.

  8. Martin James
    April 29, 2014 at 9:31 pm


    Went in one ear and out the other.

  9. NewlyHousewife
    April 30, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Martin–you could also figure out a way to get a bird to poop in your ear. Bad enough infection will kill off all the cilia or create a hole in your ear drum.

    But in all seriousness, that’s an insulting joke.

  10. Don
    April 30, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Let’s face it, singles are treated as people with a disease in our church.

  11. bmcarson
    April 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I’m not sure callings with children or the youth help. When I was in a family ward I served first in Relief Society and then in Primary. I felt very much a part of the ward when in Relief Society. And felt quite isolated when serving in Primary. The only hallway conversations I got out of Primary were the ones where the parents of the children in my class asked for the weekly evaluations of how they had done that week (two boys with mild behavioral issues) before hurrying away to deal with the rest of their Sundays.

    Not that I have any good answers in the place of that one. I do go to baseball games and recitals of the children of my friends when invited. But of course, they have to become my friends first.

  12. E
    April 30, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Yep, primary callings definitely don’t help much. I have to leave sacrament meeting early to get ready for nursery so I miss announcements about ward/RS activities, along with the passing period social time. Parents usually poke their heads in just long enough to drop off or pick up kids. By the time the last child gets picked up from nursery at the end of the day, most of the people in the halls are there for the next ward. I actually have more friends in that ward than my own! I’m married, but but to a less active guy, and we’re childless.

    I think better callings for singles would be leadership callings or other positions that make them visible and central to the ward. If singles were adult teachers, counselors in Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum, clerks/executive secretaries, ward greeters, regular sacrament meeting speakers, etc., then the ward social scene could NOT move on without them. I think, in my area at least, it would also help if fewer activities were married-only (or specifically geared towards improving marriages and children) or single-only and geared towards getting them married. I’ve also noticed that young adult singles in my area get regularly roped into providing free childcare for ward events. I think that’s messed up. Sure, the singles get to know the kids, but what about the married adults getting to know the singles?

  13. Kristine
    April 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    The reality is that singles have to work harder than pretty much everyone at becoming socially integrated into a ward, with no guarantee that they’ll ever be fully accepted. Add to that a theology that makes them eternal second-class citizens, and it’s sort of amazing that any of us remain active…

  14. April 30, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    I think only a small percentage of church social interactions are a result of children — callings and assignments matter far more, followed by choices like singing in the choir, volunteering to help organize a ward activity or working at the cannery, and doing your home or visiting teaching. That’s how you tap into the the ward social network. Also: be called to work in YM or YW — those groups always develop into tight friendships (I’ve had all kinds of callings in my 20 years of adult life, but still not YM).

  15. jill
    May 1, 2014 at 1:43 am

    The same is true for Lds women whose spouses are not LDS.

  16. May 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Great comparison, Julie

  17. Naismith
    May 1, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for posting this viewpoint.

    I wonder how much those kind of conversations and social interaction in general are important to members of any stripe, though? I guess having been raised in another church tradition, I don’t think of the social aspects of church as being as important as some do. and perhaps it is more of a disappointment to those raised LDS? Or perhaps college towns are so mobile that we don’t become as friendly since we know that people will be gone in months?

    Most of my friendships and social interactions are with people outside the ward, mostly outside the church. One year I was the only woman in the ward to have a baby, so if I wanted a peer group of mothers for playgroup, I had to look outside. It ended up being a great experience, to see our LDS assumptions through fresh eyes.

    But yes, I’ve also been in Primary for quite a few years and thus have little to none of that hallway stuff going on either.

    We’ve had singles serving in all the callings mentioned in #12, including counselor in bishopric and high councilor. And it is important that prayers and talks not always be assigned to couples. Our book club has also been very inclusive of singles, a great activity to share.

  18. Sharee
    May 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I am single, but I don’t feel marginalized in my ward. I doubt any other singles do, either. We’ve had singles in pretty much all callings. We had a single man in the Bishopric for quite a long time, our current High Priests Group Leader is single, we’ve had singles in RS leadership and as teachers, same with YW and Primary, single men as Ward Clerks/ Executive Secretary, etc. And prayers and talks are not always assigned to couples. Couples speaking is usually only if they are a new couple in the ward. Our ward is very inclusive.

  19. Katya
    May 1, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I think that having children and an (active) husband increases the number of connections a woman has in a ward, period, because she is likely to get to know the children her children are friends with (as well as their parents) and the men her husband is friends with (as well as their wives). Without those connections, a single woman only gets to know other people through more direct friendships, so mainly other women in RS and possibly her home teachers.

    I agree that the commonality of having children means that parents have something to talk about, but I don’t think that shipping singles off to Primary or YW is a good solution, for reasons that E articulated (although it does give them a chance to work closely with other women in those callings, as Matt Evans pointed out).

  20. Ardis
    May 2, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I always read posts and threads like this avidly, hoping for better understanding and maybe something new to try. Mostly I end up being amused/irritated by many of the comments that boil down to “I don’t have a problem so nobody else has one either” or “I am not in the subject class but as a married male let me pontificate.”

    I think Julie’s friend is on to something. Just being in the same room with people or saying hello or making comments in class isn’t enough for most of us to feel connected to ward members. We have to have common personal interests — not necessarily in the sense of “we both like reading” or “we’re both Ute fans in a Cougar ward,” but interests that draw us into common goals and needs. Children’s activities do that. Ward choir and cleaning the chapel, not so much. Sure, those may make us more apt to smile and say hello because we recognize the faces, but they don’t necessarily do more than that.

    Working with others in callings? Not if you’re a Sunday School teacher whose class changes from week to week — you don’t work in cooperation with a faculty or get to know class members beyond their views on the historicity of Noah’s Ark. Volunteering for the cannery? Not if the ward’s assignments are always-but-always in the middle of your working day. And other than the bishopric (and my home teachers, if I had any), there is zero opportunity for a single woman to get to know any of the men in the ward. I can’t even match more than a dozen or so of them up to their wives, whom I might know a little.

    And while I’m glad that my ward assigns talks and prayers to individuals and not to couples, it doesn’t really help me in the slightest that our Relief Society president is single. That may be great for her and no doubt builds all kinds of ties between her and others in the ward, but it doesn’t affect me at all, doesn’t bring me into the in group, doesn’t expand my own possibilities for service as a single.

    There’s just very, very little opportunity to mingle with other ward members in any kind of personal way and get to hear any news (okay, gossip) about anything going on with ward members who are friendly faces but otherwise are strangers. I think Julie’s friend is on to something, with the need to communicate about children’s friends and activities as a sort of icebreaker.

  21. Lori
    May 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

    This can happen even if you’re married to an active man and have kids. Many of the women in my ward are good friends because they get their kids together both in an official ward playgroup and unofficially just for fun. I’m out of the loop because my daughter is older than most of the kids and she’s in school, so we don’t go to such things. It’s not malicious on anyone’s part, just a fact of life. All of these women are perfectly friendly to me, but it’s true that I have to work harder at developing any real relationship with them simply because I don’t spend as much time with them as they do with each other. Visiting teaching is the best way I’ve found to try to overcome some of that, and it isn’t a perfect solution.

  22. Naismith
    May 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Ardis, I appreciate your heartfelt explanation. But what I am not clear on is what you think the solutions are, what your vision is for how this SHOULD work, and how you think life is better for the “in group.”

    And I apologize if I came off as a clueless married person.

  23. Laura
    May 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Naismith, thanks for your thoughts. I’m not Ardis (though I wish I were).
    But here goes…
    I’m not clear on what the issue is exactly and I share her insistence that usually we seem to have a conversation that doesn’t produce anything.
    So know I really appreciate your curiosity. It’s the beginning of a better, exploratory conversation.

    I do know that the vision of how it could work is readily apparent at work. I am easily invited to lunch or plays etc and develop friendships with those with children, no children, kids who are two and kids who are college graduates, minister spouses and non religious spouses, alternative spouses and other singles, those who make much money, those who are tall, short, bond, free and the list goes on.
    I’ve belonged to other churches and it’s been like it is at work – no respecter of persons was widely obvious like it is here.

    And I can’t, for love nor money, put my finger on why it’s markedly socially different in this particular church. (Ignoring the obvious answers regarding time constraints and inappropriate gender mixed solos). At work, marginalizing any group of people would easily be discrimination. This kind of group think would not be tolerated openly at work. Too many people would loose career opportunities and sue. If we did replicated this interaction culture norm at work, it would be obviously and notably weird. *Note: work isn’t perfect. There are clicks.

    So I’m befuddled and bemused (as Patrick McManus is famous for saying).
    I don’t know what keeps it from occurring organically like it does at work. hummm……

  24. Angela C
    May 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    This is a good reminder for me. As someone with kids, I like inviting the singles over because they don’t have kids. I prefer get togethers where adults outnumber the kids. Just need to remember that.

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