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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Post: Why I'm Happy Being Single

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Ben Prime is a BYU graduate in Audiology and Speech-language Pathology from 2009. He is also a Graduate student in Communication Sciences and Disorders (Speech-language Pathology for those not up on their terms). He is single, modern, Mormon and incidentally, male.

I am a menace to society. Let me demonstrate.

1. I’m a second year graduate student. While scary for me, I don’t see how this makes me a menace.
2. I’m a returned missionary. Missions are good, right?
3. I’m a BYU alumni. The Lord’s university right? So nope, not a menace.
4. I’m single. There we go! Wait how old am I? 5. I’m 26. Ah yup. By the standard set by a long dead leader, I’m a menace to society … but shouldn’t we be judging me by something a bit more current?
6. I’m ok with it. Oh dear. This is downright despicable. Now I’m willingly a menace.
7. I didn’t choose it. Does this have any bearing on my menace-hood. I think it should.

What, you’d like some explanation? Well yeah … I mean you can’t challenge accepted wisdom without a reason, can you?

Well I reckon I probably should. Well where should I start? Probably with BYU. When I was asked why I chose to go to BYU (most people figured I was clever enough to go anywhere I wanted) I had this pernicious habit of being honest. I would tell them it was in the hopes of finding a wife. In the east, where I live, the modern Mormon dating pool is akin to a wading pool. There are only a few adults willing to be caught dead in it and what few are, you’ve either already dated or are related to.

So I left my beautiful east coast, full of the color green, humidity, and deep fried anything that once moved, and came to regal, royal, snowy Utah. My heart was full of hope, my mind full of dating ideas (well the willingness to google them) and my curiosity bristling with imagined futures for me and my hypothetical future wife and hypothetical future kids. Man do I have some plans for hypothetical future family. In hypothetical future world I’m a caring, compassionate and awesome father.

Back to the story, I get to BYU and start to hang out with old mission friends, because that is what is done! And I love it. They’re great fellows, dating great girls. Next thing I know, they’re engaged to great girls! Yay! I get to be the Mormon version of a best man. This primarily entails not throwing bachelor’s parties (I’m very good at this by the way). That first summer post-mission is really tough. All of my best friends are getting married to wonderful women. I date like it’s going out of style, trying to meet my very interesting, great and amazing girlfriend, fiancé and wife, in that order.

I quickly learn that it takes two to tango, and a modicum of skill. I find myself obsessing about treating these daughters of God right. I remember several dates where I spent the entire activity (play, movie, whatever) debating in my head.

Part 1: Try to hold her hand. She’s very interesting. This is like date 3 or 4, if she’s said yes this many times she’s probably interested in you.
Part 2: Are we sure this isn’t a pity date? Or worse that we won’t offend her by trying something so forward as holding her hand?

Part 1: Well … what are we here for?
Part 2: Well the movie. Look the penguins are huddling together, let’s focus on that.

Part 1: Please you’ve seen this movie, and penguins are far less interesting to you than the things that eat penguins.
Part 2: Well yeah… but what if she doesn’t want her hand held, or an arm around her? What if she doesn’t like it? We have class with her you know? We have to see her everyday.

Part 1: This is BYU, you’re on a date. Do something.
Part 2: Really? Oh … ok … wait, she just crossed her arms, that’s a clear non-verbal cue, don’t do anything!

Part 1: And the movie’s done. Tell you what, take her home, get your awkward hug, and talk to me the next time you want to be adventurous. End Scene.

Of course I didn’t stay at this level of silly awkward forever. I eventually dated one girl for several months. I think I even loved her. Things didn’t work out. Most relationships don’t. Before I knew it I had collected dozens, perhaps even scores, of phone numbers and first and second dates, and it was my senior year. I was getting bolder. Despite only 50% of BYU students getting married while there, I really didn’t want to graduate single. But by this point I was pretty bitter. I had gone on a freakish number of dates (many first dates only). I had done everything I felt like I should, been polite, paid for everything, drove us there, and tried to be as perfect as I knew how to be. Unfortunately perfect doesn’t really open up the way to get to know someone else, perfect doesn’t take chances. Well except that one time with 2 dozen roses, but that chance got me dumped before date three. I was respecting the divinity of womanhood, and losing sight of my own divine parentage.

Every Sunday I was being reminded about how I can’t be exalted without a mate, how wonderful, perfect, caring, and patiently waiting the young single adult women of the church and ward are, if only I’d get off my rear end, get my act together and marry one of them! One bishop was even so audacious as to ask if we didn’t want to have sex! Inversely, every date I was being reminded that a nerdy larger fellow who is trying his best, is little more than the appearance he puts forward. I was getting two conflicting messages. I was angry. Come general conference, and the message is repeated. It is my fault I’m single. While I don’t deny the cultural forces that push me to start a relationship, and that I am not perfect, and that I could be better at dating, I do feel like there needs to be a bit of cliché in all this. It really does take two to tango. I cannot summon hypothetical future family and just make a modern family happen. No matter how dearly I want it to happen; I cannot will it into being. Even if I could, it would be wrong.

You see, hypothetical future wife (HFW) has her agency, and I’m glad. I don’t want to be the consolation price. I don’t want to be the person HFW marries because she feels old at 25 (or insert age, I’ve known 19 year olds who felt that their biological clocks were ticking) and desperately wants to have babies, any returned missionary will do. I don’t want to get married for a ticket to exaltation, I want to get married because HFW loves and wants me, and I love and want her. For all of time and eternity. That is a really big commitment, and when I meet HFW and see that kind of love, desire and commitment in her, I will pursue her until the end, whatever that end may be. If HFW decides to stay hypothetical, I will respect that decision. HFW has options. I’ve dreamt of her in every body type, every color and many ages, each one was beautiful, and each one deserves what she wants. If they do not want an overweight man pursuing a woman dominated field of employment, that’s ok with me. There is a HFW out there who will love my quirky self. Who knows, maybe I’ve met her, but I don’t think I have yet.

I do not see my lack of marital bliss as a burden, I see it as a blessing. I live in the east again, and go to a family ward (it’s all that’s available now) and I hold a monthly game night with some guys from church. We use my very modest apartment because I live alone, enjoy entertaining, and don’t have to check with anyone or put any kids to bed to be able to have the place available. This has helped us, a mixture of singles, married, and people in the committed-but-not-married category to forge closer bonds as friends and children of god. I, through my solitude, am helping people connect ... that’s a good thing last time I checked.

I spend quite a bit of time talking with a number of my married friends, many of whom have kids now. I show interest in their children and their lives, because I care. And because I live alone, I can be flexible about when they call me, where they have to worry about everyone else in their household’s schedule. I do not use my single-ness to live extravagantly. I just live, and enjoy it. I even see a few silver linings. I feel doing graduate school without HFW and children is easier than it would be with them. It’s not terrible to think that. It’s a tender mercy to get me through until me and HFW meet and choose each other.

There are positives, more than I can count or share here, and I may as well focus on them. Although peppered with the occasional pang of jealousy and wondering why I haven’t moved on to the next tier of existence, I choose to be happy with my life.

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