This fun photo strip was taken at a photo booth set up at a wedding reception for two mid-single friends a couple of weeks ago. We thought it was a great idea. Each guest got a momento of the event and the couple got a picture of everyone who attended their reception.
It always feels joyful to me when I hear about a mid-single couple being engaged or married. It suggests people having the resilience and courage to try again. It suggests hope in the idea that blessings can come to us later in life than we thought and still be joyful. Even before Cathy and I got married, seeing other mid-singles getting married always renewed my hope.
I know that, for some of you, seeing a wedding announcement from a mid-single couple triggers some pain -- particularly when the wedding involves someone you dated or had hoped to date. I feel for you. I know many of you have despairingly asked the question, "Why not me?"
I want to suggest that you ask the question rhetorically and hopefully, "Why not me?" as in "Why not?" Because one day it could be you. One day it will be.
You might have tried over and over and feel like it never works. My friends, it never works until it does. It really only works once right? Then you stop trying with new people. It only HAS to work once! So, if a loving marriage is the desire of your heart, don't give up.
I want to suggest a few important ideas on this subject that I hope might make your search happier:
I give this advice with a little caution. I am not suggesting it because I am assuming there is something wrong with you that needs fixing before you can get married. You are worth marrying right now, just the way you are.
Suggesting personal development will bring more joy into your life independent of getting married, as well as prepare you for marriage. I also believe it will make you a more attractive dating partner. Quality people are drawn to others who are thinking deeply about their purposes and seeking greater joy and fulfillment.
There are so many great resources today! You can listen to the free "gospel library" app reading the scriptures to you while you drive or take a bath. Our LILY Pod podcast is available on the major platforms. Give us a listen and see if it gives you hope and good ideas for your life. It's a resource created for mid-singles and it's FREE with new content being added every week!
You don't need to make your first date in 5 years a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Meet her for a Jamba Juice and see how it goes. And strive to date consistently -- not in flashes. You may need to "try on" a lot of people before you find one that fits you. If you make finding new people to date and regularly dating a part of your life, it won't be very long before you find someone you want to date exclusively and consider marrying. Remember, I am suggesting that dating consistently is a part of your life -- not that it take over your life.
3. Enjoy Your Life Otherwise
Two happy people rarely get together and have a lousy time. If you are a happy person, chances are good that you will be happily married. If you are unhappy and waiting for someone to come along and ease your burdens and otherwise make you happy, you are going to have a harder time getting married and a lower chance of being happily married. Do your best to figure out your life and be happy where you are.
There is a lot more I could say. (Actually, I did. Cathy and I have a 350 page book coming out this fall, so stay tuned!) But I think these few ideas can help. Remember, above all, that happiness is the object and design of our existence, and remain hopeful. Let every wedding of a mid-single couple renew that hope.
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN
There once lived a man named Huffnagle. He was a sensitive man with a bright mind, and he was lonely. He had many good things in his life -- he was young and athletic, got good grades in college, had some good friends, and he was handsome. He couldn't necessarily see these attractive attributes in himself because he focused on people who rejected him. He rarely risked his fragile ego to ask women for dates and, when he did, he was horrified if they refused him, even for really understandable reasons.
One day at the beginning of an academic year, Huffnagle met a lovely young woman named Hilda and walked her home from class. She was aloof and stand-offish but cordial. He assumed she was not interested in him and determined not to call her. He didn't even ask for her number.
The next week, Huffnagle and his roommates all decided they needed to start dating more. They bought tickets to a concert in a unique location and decided to all get dates. Huffnagle vowed to ask the next woman he ran into for that date. As he was walking from his apartment toward campus, Huffnagle met Hilda again as she was about to go out for a run -- and he almost forgot his vow. But he kept the vow and asked her to the concert.
They had a good time, and he asked her for another date. However, Hilda's roommate called him and told him that Hilda was making fun of him with her other roommates. His fragile ego was unable to stand this kind of insult, so he walked to her apartment, asked her if it was true and, when she admitted it, he broke the date. She told him she was not interested in dating him anyway, but asked if they could be friends. He said that was up to her and walked away.
The school year progressed forward, as they always do, and Huffnagle dated once in awhile, but the first dates didn't ever seem to lead to second dates. Huffnagle was discouraged. He doubted he would ever find a woman who could put up with him and keep him company over the long haul.
One night, when Huffnagle was returning from a Valentine's Day dance in his tuxedo, he found Hilda waiting in his apartment. His date had not gone particularly well, and he had decided not to ask the same girl out again. Hilda wasn't there to see him, but he needed someone to talk to. He asked her if she was doing anything later that evening and she said no. He said maybe he would go to her apartment and see her. She had said she wanted to be his friend, so now he was going to talk out all of his romantic woes with her. However, Huffnagle's roommates got home, and they decided to watch a movie together, and Huffnagle completely forgot about telling Hilda that he would visit her.
The next day in church, Hilda asked Huffnagle what had happened. "I waited up until 1:00 a.m." she said. Huffnagle felt genuinely sorry to have inconvenienced Hilda and promised he would visit her that afternoon.
During that visit, Huffnagle and Hilda talked like best friends, reminiscing about childhood, sharing experiences, talking about literature and ideas, and connecting at a really deep level about emotions and spirituality. After that conversation, Huffnagle and Hilda were inseparable for the remainder of the school year. They often went to the beach together, got together in the evening to study together, went for long walks, and otherwise just craved each other's company.
As the end of the school year approached, Huffnagle realized that Hilda was planning to go on a mission, and he realized how much he would miss her. He thought he might never see her again, and it made him very sad. He thought about it over and over again, and he decided he did not want to live without her. So one quiet evening on a beautiful beach, Huffnagle proposed marriage to Hilda. He read her a poem he had written to her and said, "I love you Hilda. Will you marry me?"
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 2
When Huffnagle proposed, Hilda smiled and said, "Aren't you going to get down on one knee?" More sure of her answer now, Huffnagle bent down on one knee and repeated his proposal. Hilda replied, "Of course I'll marry you Huffy!"
Huffnagle and Hilda tumbled ahead like careless puppies, having a baby 10 months after they were married, living in different cities where Huffnagle tried to develop a career. But early in their marriage, Huffnagle noticed that Hilda didn't seem entirely happy. She seemed to resent not going on a mission as she planned. She also made the comment wistfully that, "I was just getting to the point where I could get any man to ask me out and enjoying being young and single. Now I'm just old and married and knocked up!"
Huffnagle was very troubled by these words and didn't like Hilda thinking them, let alone saying them. Why was she missing the attention of other men? Wasn't the point of dating to find love and get married? Then why was Hilda missing the dating game? It seemed out of harmony with their religion. Wasn't eternal marriage the point of everything? Hilda's thinking seemed dangerous. Were there former boyfriends she missed? Did she wish she was with one of them? Did she regret marrying Huffnagle? He worried and fretted about Hilda constantly. He quizzed her and asked her questions trying to decipher any clue of her disloyalty or dissatisfaction -- even if it was just a passing thought. She refused to discuss it with him, which only made his horriblizing worse as his mind concocted all kinds of things that might be going through Hilda's mind.
And there was more. Hilda was often unhappy. She rarely smiled, except when she was putting on a show for other people. She rarely smiled at Huffnagle anymore. She worried a lot about whether they had enough money and seemed to regret their sometimes meager budget for groceries. She often slept in until well after noon and was unmotivated to do house work -- so their home was usually a mess. Huffnagle tried to clean up when he could. But working full time, he couldn't keep up with it.
Huffnagle and Hilda had more children and more children were more work. They loved these children, but life had started to feel overwhelming. Huffnagle was often worried that things at his home were unsafe when he was not there and worried about Hilda's well-being when he was away at work or out of town on business. The budget continued to be tight and Hilda and Huffnagle got in trouble with credit card debt a couple of times, which they only overcame by even deeper cuts in their budget.
Hilda finally decided that she needed more money than Huffnagle could provide. So she got a job working nights as a waitress at a local diner. At first, Huffnagle objected to this because it would give them little time together as a couple. Hilda watched the children during the day when Huffnagle was at work, and he watched them at night while Hilda was at work. Hilda did seem a little happier. She kept all of the money she made for herself. It wasn't a lot of money, but it bought her some of the things she wanted, like the occasional pair of new shoes or a meal out with a girl friend. Huffnagle sometimes resented that He worked "for the family" and Hilda only worked for herself. He resented that she had more money to spend on herself than he had for himself, because most of what he earned was used to pay bills and support the family.
Hilda also made glowing comments from time to time about the men she worked with, or who flirted with her when she waited on them. Huffnagle wasn't so sure he liked having his attractive wife out in a social place where she was exposed to so much positive male attention.
Huffnagle also noticed that lovemaking had become less frequent and more of a chore for Hilda. She rarely wanted to be satisfied herself and mostly just wanted it to be over quickly so she could get back to reading her book or other solitary activities. Huffnagle tried to talk with her about how this hurt his feelings, but she refused to discuss it or even admit that it was a problem.
Huffnagle decided that maybe Hilda would talk to him in marriage counseling where there was someone else in the room to help Hilda feel safe. He proposed that they go to marriage counseling.
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 3
Hilda agreed to go to marriage counseling. Huffnagle loved Hilda desperately and he told the therapist, "I'll do whatever I have to do to keep my family together." Hilda was less convinced that she wanted the marriage to work, so most of the therapy focused on making Hilda happier. Occasionally, Huffnagle brought up the concerns he had, but the therapist said they were "putting the cart before the horse."
After six months of marriage counseling, Hilda did feel better and more willing to be in the marriage. But her behavior toward Huffnagle didn't change very much. She was still unwilling to discuss his concerns. Since those had never been explored in counseling either, they remained unaddressed and continued to fester. Hilda continued to be uninterested in Huffnagle in the bedroom.
As the years passed, Huffnagle and Hilda occasionally caught glimpses of the relationship they had when they were young. They were both intelligent and could connect over thoughts and ideas. But they could rarely connect over the things that were most personal to them. There was an undercurrent of contempt between them.
They built their dream home with a vaulted ceiling, wood floors, and an incredible mountain view. Hilda had always hoped that moving into a house like that would make her happy. (Huffnagle secretly hoped so too.) In the end, Hilda was happier for a few weeks -- until the newness wore off and the house was just a place to crash. They tried the same experiment with a luxury car for Hilda. She was happier for a few weeks and then it was just transportation.
As our couple was sitting in church on Easter Sunday, Huffnagle looked over and saw that Hilda was not wearing her wedding ring. His anger swelled within him, and he removed his wedding ring and dropped it in Hilda's purse. She looked over at him incredulously and whispered, "what?" Huffnagle whispered back, "You haven't worn your ring in months and you ask me what?"
That moment between Hilda and Huffnagle was the beginning of the end. Huffnagle decided that his concerns had never been important to Hilda, and he persisted harder than ever to make her hear him. In turn, Hilda persisted more stubbornly than ever to stonewall and resist all uncomfortable conversations. The more they did this dance, the more polarized they became -- until Hilda wanted nothing to do with him and moved into to the spare bedroom.
Huffnagle went to Hilda shortly after this and said, "I love you Hilda. We've been together through good times and bad times -- 16 years. We have children. I don't want a divorce. Can we go to marriage counseling again?" She said she would think about it. Huffnagle went to her parents and told them everything and asked them to recommend counseling. They seemed troubled and said they didn't want to be involved, but said they would encourage her to go to counseling.
TO BE CONTINUED AGAIN . . .
THE TALE OF HUFFNAGLE THE HUMAN, PART 4
Hilda agreed to go to counseling again and said she was hopeful. Huffnagle was hopeful too. But this time around, Huffnagle was different in counseling. He didn't approach it with the attitude that he would do anything it took to save the relationship. He thought it would be better if both he and Hilda were heard and understood in counseling.
Perhaps Hilda was hoping that counseling would do what it did before -- and get Huffnagle to focus only on making her happy at his own expense. Perhaps she was actually just done with the marriage and didn't know how to end it. Perhaps she only went to counseling to please her parents. Huffnagle could not tell for sure which of these answers was right or if they were all wrong together. All he knew was that, at first, it felt like Hilda was trying to "win" the sessions. Perhaps he was doing the same. It is common for people to go to counseling wanting the counselor to change their partners.
The counseling went on for 8 months, but it was mostly over after the first month, when Hilda mentally checked out and became mostly non-responsive in therapy. Whatever the reasons, she just appeared tired and crestfallen -- like she was exhausted from years tolerating a marriage to a man she didn't really love. She seemed to be following the path of least resistance. She wasn't quitting counseling, but she wasn't engaging either. It was quiet, passive resistance.
They say some marriages end with a bang and others with a whimper. This was definitely a whimper kind of ending. In fact, Hilda and Huffnagle never argued -- during their marriage or in the middle of the divorce. Their marriage just seemed to fade out of existence.
The counselor once said, "You two don't seem to have any passion -- even to fire one of you up to go and file for divorce." Huffnagle knew, for his part, that he had been passionate about Hilda. But he was emotionally exhausted from years of over-functioning with a chronically depressed wife, and trying to earn the love of a woman who would never give it. One person cannot have enough love for two. Huffnagle had learned that the hard way.
As the years passed, Huffnagle and Hilda tried to mitigate the harm the divorce did to their children through counseling and other interventions. But it was hard for Huffnagle to watch his children suffer and act out.
Hilda moved in with another man before the divorce was final, believing she was finally in love. Huffnagle dated many women for a decade before he re-married.
As his single years passed, Huffnagle sometimes reminisced about his younger years and his marriage to Hilda and he was sad that something that began with so much promise seemed to almost end for no reason. He heard from the kids that Hilda's new husband had a bad temper and he hoped she was o.k.
As he thought about it, with the benefit of some time and distance, he understood that he had not been a perfect husband. That is not to overlook Hilda's limitations. But he could remember moments early in the marriage where he was needlessly insecure and jealous, and realized that his questioning of Hilda not only seemed weak and needy, but also reflected a lack of trust. He also thought about how he was always a little bit afraid that Hilda was not who he hoped she was, and might not be true to him and to their shared faith -- and he had never been at peace about this. As he reflected on it, Huffnagle realized that this had probably helped to create a feeling in Hilda that she was not right for him and that she could not be what Huffnagle needed. This was reinforced by the fact that Huffnagle often looked to Hilda for his happiness and validation of Himself -- which was overwhelming to Hilda and felt smothering to her.
Huffnagle came to peace with the idea that the demise of the marriage had not been all Hilda's fault. He had also played a role. He had loved Hilda the best he knew how at the time. There were marriages worse than theirs that went the distance -- even involving severe mental and physical abuse. So what did that say for Huffnagle and Hilda? Not much. Such comparisons are seldom very helpful.
Huffnagle had always previously thought that marriages ended because of abuse and that people need a really good excuse to get divorced. He learned that divorce is about a choice, not an excuse. Huffnagle learned the hard way that you can never take love for granted. It is a precious gift. It cannot be taken, demanded, or extracted. It can only be freely given, and a wedding ring does not change that. Real love honors agency and accepts the consequences.
Huffnagle also learned that a marriage is more than a discovery -- it is the creation of the two people involved. He learned that he could only create his 50 percent of it, and that marriage could be better if the two spouses together formed clear intentions about how to operate and create a marriage they both loved.
And here ends the tale of Huffnagle the human -- utterly human isn't he? I hope all of us can see the little bits of Huffnagle and Hilda in ourselves and think a little more deeply about how we show up in relationships. Divorce creates a precious opportunity for us to intentionally consider how we can show up better, be less demanding, be more connected, and be more capable of personal happiness and, thus, marital happiness.
You may be in pain lover past losses. But take this journey. Accept the challenge. It might be the best thing you've ever done.
RELATIONSHIP LESSON FROM HORSES
I love horses. I mostly grew up in the city and my ranch raised father decided I was missing out on the education in hard work he had received as a child. So he sent me to work on my grandfather's ranch with my uncle David the summer I turned 12 years old, and I continued to do that every summer until I was 18. I was horseback 16 hours a day. At age 11, I learned to get up at 5:00 in the morning, catch and saddle my horse, and be working by the time the sun came up. By the time I was 13, I could cut and corral cattle as well as my uncle.
During those summers I would usually have two horses, and I would alternate them every other day so they would have a day off between work days. During that period of time, I got to know about five horses really well. Each one had its own personality and style. My least preferred mount was a tall and beautiful sorrel named Lad. He was beautiful, and a great cow pony. But he was mentally ill. When I would call the horses in, all the other horses obediently came in, knowing they would be fed grain. I always had to go out and catch Lad in the pasture. When I saddled him he would blow up his belly so the cinch would not be tight. A mile or so down the road I would always have to get off and tighten the cinch. Before I discovered that trick of his, I had the saddle just slide off to the side and fell off a couple of times. Whenever I went to get on him, he had his ears pinned back like he was angry and stepped around nervously like he wanted to buck.
Lad did buck with me a number of times. Typically, if I held something out to the side of me, he thought it was a ghost or something dangerous to him and would start bucking. The first time it was a water jug I was handing back to my dad. I didn't last three jumps before I was bucked off. I can describe the other incidents, but you get the general idea. Typically, I never got to ride Boots or Smokey when my brother or cousins were around, because I was the more experienced rider and knew Lad better -- and he was by far less gentle than the other two. Sometimes I hated him.
The biggest problem I had any time a horse started bucking was that I would freeze with fear and spend all my energy trying to get the horse back under control. I always try to keep control and stop them from bucking in the first place. But once they start bucking, I have to control myself before I can control the horse. If you talk to great rodeo cowboys, they can tell you that they simply accept that the horse is bucking and, in fact the harder he bucks the higher they are likely to score if they can stay aboard. They focus on themselves and the things they can control (body position and movement). They focus on reacting to the rhythm of the horse and getting into that rhythm with him. They aren't fighting the horse. They are working with him. You know what? Once the horse knows he can't beat you, he realizes that bucking is futile and he stops wasting his energy bucking.
Much like Lad, most of us in this group have experienced traumatic events or relationships in the past. We are likely to overreact as a result of that. Much like the 12-year-old me, we are tempted to try to control our partners to prevent chaos from erupting and destroying our lives.
Like a bucking horse, when a trial appears in my life, it usually feels like chaos unleashed. I instinctively try to seize control of it. However, if I relax and focus on the things I can control, I generally see that there is a rhythm to it. It is not chaos. If I accept that the horse is bucking and get in sync with the rhythm of it, I can ride it out. If I fight it too hard, I am likely to get bucked off.
Relationships are like that too. If my partner feels fear (which most do at some point in a relationship) and pulls away from me, I might be inclined to react with fear and try to seize control by arguing vociferously for why she is making a huge mistake. So what is she going to do? She's going to buck harder. (I have learned this from experience.) What if I accept that this is where she is and try to get in rhythm with it? We are more likely to ride it out. We are likely to build trust and both of us will gradually realize that no bucking is necessary.
Life and relationships can be like riding a high spirited horse. You can't take them for granted and they can surprise you in all kinds of ways. But remember, when it feels like chaos is breaking out, it probably isn't. There's actually a rhythm to it. If you can get in sync with that and work with it, life goes better and relationships go better.
Jeff and Cathy each hold college degrees in the family science field. The principle of least interest is a prominent theory in this discipline. It simply means that the partner who is least invested in a relationship controls that relationship. This is so because the less interested partner is more willing to walk away rather than compromise or change.
We have seen many manifestations of this, such as a wife who is constantly clamoring for her husband's attention while he works long hours to avoid feeling smothered at home. It could be the husband who is pressing his wife for more couple time while she focuses on the kids and her friends, often to the exclusion of her husband.
In the realm of dating, one person may be very excited about another, while that other may still be dating a lot of other people. That dynamic creates a great deal of frustration for both of them. The one who is dating all of the other people controls the relationship because he or she is prepared to pursue other interests, while the other is willing to make the relationship a priority.
If you are the more interested dating partner, here are a few suggestions to help you deal with a relationship where you have no power:
- Date other people. If your partner does not commit to an exclusive relationship, neither should you. I have coached people who have protested, "But I don't want to date anybody else. I have found the person I want to be with." Don't invest more than your partner is willing to invest. This isn't a matter of playing games but of recognizing where your relationship really is. For commitments to be meaningful they need to be mutual. If you are constantly chasing someone who is chasing other people, you are likely wasting a lot of time and emotional energy, and smothering your partner in the process. Keep dating other people and give your partner a chance to catch up. Be open to meeting someone else.
- Develop other interests. Take a class. Restore an old car. Get together with friends and go to a movie. Do some scrapbooking – whatever you enjoy. Don't overload a relationship with constant demands that the other person "be there" to make you happy. Make yourself happy and accept what the other person is willing to give. Ultimately, if your partner does not get more invested, your relationship is not going to go anywhere and it shouldn't. Occasionally we have seen relationships where the more interested person gave an ultimatum and the less interested person gave into it under pressure. That leads to a marriage to a half-hearted partner. Does anyone want that?
- Don't get married where there is a huge emotional intimacy gap. If you are in a relationship where you find yourself always wanting more of your partner, this may not be the right relationship for you. You may have fundamentally different ideas about the appropriate amount of time together and the balance between relationship and outside interests. You might have great physical chemistry and the ability to connect in conversation. But if your partner is not invested in the relationship at roughly the same level as you, it is going to take a lot of adjustment for you to get comfortable in the relationship. You're probably going to do a lot of grieving. You have to decide whether that is something you are ready to do, or if there might be another person out there that is better suited to you.
Listen to our LILY Pod episode which outlines dating etiquette for mid-singles and for married couples. If in addition to these free materials you would like to consider one-on-one coaching for your own dating and relationships, email us at loveinlateryears.com to schedule a free consult.
Enjoy LILY Pod Episode 7: Dating Etiquette for Mid-Singles and Married Couples
On our most recent anniversary, Cathy suggested this hand photo. We are each wearing our "kelibet," which is the Ethiopian word for engagement. In Ethiopia, the first phase of the wedding is the kelibet ceremony where rings are exchanged. At this stage of proceedings, you are engaged to be married, but not actually married yet. Since we got engaged in Ethiopia, we bought rings and began to wear them immediately. These rings were not expensive, but the memories they evoke are dear to us, so we only wear these rings on special occasions. We have other wedding rings that we wear at other times to remind us of the covenant we have made to each other.
Thankfully, my sealing clearance went through the first presidency quickly. Even so, we only had a month before our intended wedding date to plan the wedding. I think it took us approximately two hours of discussion.
We decided on the Provo City Center Temple because it is near my hometown, it is splendidly elegant and, most important, its history represents how lives can be burned to the ground and rise again with a higher and holier purpose, and even more beautiful than before. At the wedding we enjoyed the presence of loved ones on both sides of the veil. My oldest son was my escort.
Instead of wearing a wedding dress, Cathy chose to wear her temple dress. Coming out of the Temple, she wore a beautiful Ethiopian celebratory dress that we bought on our engagement trip. We had our couples pictures taken the day before on the temple grounds because rain was forecast for our wedding day. But we had a great little window of time right after we came out of the Temple to take some great group pictures. We splurged a little bit on the photographer. He gave us a great deal, and he was very experienced and affordably priced.
After the wedding, we had a lunch of all you can eat fajitas at Los Hermanos, which our guests loved -- and it was a third of the price of catering a brunch at the nearby Marriott. Something fun and festive was more our personality anyway.
The next day, we had an open house and many of our friends and relatives came to congratulate us. We planned it for the next evening partly because we had both been through weddings where all of the festivities were on one day, and it was hectic, running from one thing to the next all day. Planning it as we did, we were done with our wedding luncheon by mid-afternoon. We got to spend a lot of time relaxing together in our hotel room and having a quiet, private dinner together at Market Street Grill.
For our open house, Daniel Coburn made wings for our guests as a wedding present to us. We had other trays of meat and cheese, vegetables, and other food that we bought and friends put together. Instead of wedding cake, we served cake bites from Sweet Tooth Fairy. We served each other bites of a giant wedding cupcake. Throughout the evening, a mix of our favorite love songs was playing on the stereo.
We had circles of chairs set up in a few places in the house, so groups of friends or family could sit down together and talk. The whole mood of the evening was festive and happy.
I don't say this to either boast or sound cheap, but we did the wedding for around $1000, including dress, rings, and everything. (A client of mine who owned a hotel donated his presidential suite for the night -- so that was a nice freebie that we very much appreciated.) We splurged for lunch for our sealing ceremony guests and the photographer, but all in all did our wedding inexpensively and with almost zero stress. And guess what! It was amazing! We just got to relax and enjoy our day (and the next evening) together with loved ones.
I remember my first wedding, which was a financial stress for my parents and my former wife's -- not to mention that my former wife had all kinds of dreams about her wedding day that would have cost millions of dollars to fulfill. No matter what we did, it seemed like we were disappointing someone. It was stressful, and the focus really was not on the sacred moment in the temple -- which Cathy and I chose to focus our wedding on. (To my former wife's credit, when she remarried in a simple ceremony at the university library where her husband worked, she walked down the aisle to a favorite Beatles song. I respect the fact that she also learned valuable lessons from the stress of our first wedding -- and did something simpler and more reflective of their personality as a couple.)
I bring this up because many in our group will marry in their middle or mature years as we did, and I hope this perspective might help you to create great memories around your wedding, without breaking the bank, and without creating an undue amount of stress for yourselves. It won't be exactly like ours. It will be your own creation. It can reflect your personality, even if you don't choose to spend a lot of money or are unable to. The thing I do hope is that it will be centered on the covenants you are making, and that your guests will understand how important that is to you.
ON THOUGHTS AND ADVERSITY
In 1 Nephi 17:1, Nephi described the adversity he and his family went through as they traveled in the wilderness after their exodus: "And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness."
Yet his prevailing thoughts were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Immediately following these words, Nephi exclaims:
"And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
(1Nephi 17:2-3.) It is amazing that Nephi was so positive under these conditions, while Laman and Lemuel murmured in dissatisfaction and misery. This scriptural passage fits the promise given by President Monson that, "The Lord shapes the back to bear the burden placed upon it." As a single parent, you may have felt the miracle of receiving unnatural strength to bear the burdens of parenthood alone. You may have been given miracles that allow you to feed your children better than you thought you could while being both mother and father in some ways. Your ”wilderness" is no less real than the one Lehi's family wandered in.
The truth is, most of you mid-singles are survivors. You have figured out how to survive trials and trauma. Your bigger problem, in many cases, is figuring out how to thrive and be happy. And make no mistake, they are entirely different skill sets.
Your brain is wired for survival. It stays on alert for danger. It does not distinguish between physical and emotional peril. In fact, it desperately wants acceptance and belonging. In primitive times, being rejected by your tribe would probably mean starvation and vulnerability to predators and the elements. Your brain knows this and intuitively responds with fear when you are rejected by someone you may have offered love (or to possibly create love). This survival instinct is very powerful, and it has a tendency to override our happiness. It often keeps us survivors stuck in anxiety. Happiness depends, in no small degree, on being able to switch off that survival instinct in situations that do not truly require it. If you are like me, you may have found that all of your prior success in life was based on fear. I think I got through law school and motivated myself to study by fearing failure. That is one example. There are thousands. If you try to find a deeper and more healthy source of motivation, it can feel like giving up your security blanket. You may cling to your anxiety and pain even harder for awhile.
Nephi demonstrated this skill when he focused on the blessings of the Lord, and showed faith in Him to take care of his family in the wilderness. The result was that he could relax into his situation, celebrate the blessings of the Lord, and create inner peace that his older brothers could not. Nephi demonstrates this positive quality again in the same chapter, stating, "notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.” (1Nephi 17:6.) He "exceedingly rejoiced" notwithstanding great afflictions.
We often hear people say things like, " I am not a pessimist. I am a realist." They will then go on to paint a very gloomy picture of life or their circumstances -- not even realizing that most of it is interpretation rather than fact, and it's just a story they are telling themselves.
What kind of stories do mid-singles tell themselves?
"There are no good men out there."
"Women are all drama queens and crazy."
"Dating is hard and it's not worth the struggle."
"No one finds me attractive."
"I am past my prime and not beautiful / handsome anymore."
"Men are only after one thing."
"All women want is a guy with money."
"Being a single parent is hard because you're totally on your own."
"I have no time to take care of myself, because my whole life is about other people."
We could go on, but this is enough to illustrate the point. Are these Nephi kinds of words, or Laman and Lemuel kinds of words? Do these beliefs lead to happiness or to misery?
Let's try on some different beliefs:
"God has a loving plan for me, and everything I've suffered is taking me to a better place."
"My losses have prepared me for a better love."
"I have many friends in my life, and there are plenty of other people who are willing to be my friends and lend mutual love and support."
"There are many good single men in the church."
"There is an abundance of amazing women in the church."
"Most people want to love and be loved, aside from material things."
"Sex is a beautiful and holy part of married life, and I eagerly await the arrival of this gift."
"I owe it to myself and my children to take good care of myself, and to show love and compassion to myself as a child of God."
Which of these thoughts is more elevating? Which is more calculated to lead to happiness and peace? Do you feel more peace when you believe that you are on your own in a cruel world, or when you believe that a loving God has a plan for you, and you are surrounded by friends who love and support you? You might even ask yourself which of these sets of beliefs is more in harmony with how the gospel sees us as children of God with the potential to become like Him. Nephi understood that gratitude for God's blessings, and seeing them as abundant, created more joy and light.
As mid-singles, many of you have learned to survive. You have already won that medal. You have learned to survive by feeling anxious and fearful, and trying to solve everything that is wrong. Now, move into the light and learn better how to be happy and thrive by shifting your thoughts from fear and lack to abundance, joy, and love.
SUNDAY LOVE STORY ~ DAVE & LORI
This couple dated in high school. They graduated, went their separate ways, and married other people. Fast forward 30 years. Both David and Lori were divorced and had been disappointed in love more than once. I knew both of them because we had competed on the same speech and debate team in high school. (I met both of them in junior high, but became close friends with them in high school.) Dave wasn't dating much and Lori was convinced she had a "bad picker" when it came to men.
Lori sent me a friend request on Facebook after I asked another friend what had happened to her. I was happy to hear from Lori because she was always one of the nicest people I knew. (She still is.) I asked Dave if he would consider dating her. He had been single for quite awhile by this time. He said, "She's a sweetheart, but she's married." I said, "Not for long. Her divorce is pending." I could sense his ears perking up on the other end of the phone. I gave him her number and the rest is history. They reunited and got married after three decades on other paths.
I share this post to give mid-singles hope. When you think you are out of options and feel like abandoning hope, sometimes a loving Heavenly parent takes a hand. Of course Dave had to summon the courage to dial that phone number and show up out of the blue after thirty years -- and Lori had to overcome her fears about having a "bad picker" when it came to men.
But what would you do to be with the person of your dreams?
Congratulations on six years of marriage Dave and Lori! Best wishes for the next six thousand!
"About a Boy" is a popular 2002 film starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. It begins with a self-centered mid-single man named Will (Grant) who lives off of the royalties of a Christmas jingle his father wrote. So he has no job and doesn't need one. He insists that he is an "island" and doesn't need anyone in his life. He spends his day playing pool, getting haircuts, watching TV, buying things, and figuring out ways to date lots of different girls. A couple of his married friends offered to make him godfather to their daughter Imogene. Will's response was, "I can't think of a worse godfather for Imogene." He said that he likely wouldn't do anything to help her until her 18th birthday, when he would take her out, get her drunk and, "let's face it, probably try and shag her." The mother says, "I can't really believe you're that shallow." Will boastfully responds, "No, you've always had that wrong. I really am that shallow."
Will develops an elaborate scheme to date "single mums" by attending a support group and pretending he has a two year-old child named "Ned." It actually works and he begins dating a woman from the support group he is attending. They end up on a Saturday outing to a park. The woman informs Will on their way out the door that they are taking her friend's geeky teenage son "Marcus" (Hoult) on the outing with them because his mother (Toni Collette) is not feeling well. His mother is something of a hippie and gives him a loaf of bread to take on the picnic. It is hard as a rock and won't break when Marcus tries to feed the ducks with it. In desperation, he finally throws the entire loaf into the pond and kills a duck with it. Forever after that he calls that day "the dead duck day."
When Will and his date take Marcus home, they find his mother lying unconscious, having attempted suicide. They call an ambulance and rush her to the hospital, where she receives life saving treatment and lives.
Marcus is very disconcerted by his mother's suicide attempt. He is bullied at school and doesn't have any friends. He is such a target for bullies that even the other geeky kids don't feel safe hanging around him. He also realizes that the only person he really has in the world is his mother, and she is unstable. He says to himself that one person is not enough. "You need backup." So Marcus turns to Will, the "island" man, and starts dropping by his apartment after school. At first Will is resistant, but eventually takes a liking to Marcus.
One day when Will sees Marcus getting bullied, he takes him out and buys him some cool new shoes. Of course, soon thereafter, the bullies steal the shoes and he has to walk home in the rain in his stocking feet. As he explains the situation to his mother, he is forced to tell her who bought him the new shoes, and she goes to a restaurant and confronts Will about "these little after school tea parties." Will gets upset, tells her off for being a bad mother and not knowing what her son needs, and vows to "not open my door to Marcus again, adding "I'll be grateful to be rid of the pair of you frankly." The mother then seems to shift her position by saying, "so that's it then, you're out of his life?" She asks him if, by some miracle, he is right about what Marcus needs and she is wrong, what he is going to do about it. At first he claims that Marcus is none of his business, but continues to allow him around his apartment, gives him socially relevant Christmas presents, and coaches him through his first crush. He observes that, "When you let one person in, all sorts of other people come in too." I think, perhaps, that is the most important idea in the movie. Marcus helps Will to realize that being an island isn't enough. There are "Island chains." Will realizes that he needs people in his life.
After he lets Marcus in, Will takes a fancy to another beautiful "single mum" named "Rachel" (Rachel Weisz) and wants her to be his girlfriend. He wishes that he was "in any way interesting" to make him more appealing to her. He interjects a comment about Marcus in a conversation she is having with someone else, and she assumes that Marcus is Will's son. Not having learned his lesson yet, Will allows her to go on believing that, even when he brings Marcus over to her house for a Saturday afternoon. During that little event, Marcus is forced to associate with Rachel's son Ali (Augustus Prew), who is one of the kids bullying Marcus at school. When he threatens to cut Marcus into little pieces if he doesn't stop his "father" from dating Rachel, Marcus goes running from the house, and Rachel is forced to do some advanced single parenting.
Will ultimately decides that he has to tell Rachel that Marcus is not his son, but he blames her for choosing to believe it. She gets upset that he has been lying to her about having a son and breaks up with him.
Will, fresh from this stinging rejection, blames Marcus for messing up his relationship and says he can't help him with "real things" like his mother's depression. Marcus gets upset and decides the only way to make his mother happy is to sing "Killing Me Softly" in front of his entire school at a talent show, playing a tambourine that his mother gave him for Christmas.
After Marcus deserts Will and stops coming around his house, Will misses him and realizes that his perfect little life doesn't mean anything. He realizes that the only thing that means anything to him is Marcus. So he goes to Marcus's mother and pleads with her not to try to kill herself again. In the course of this conversation, he learns about Marcus's plan to perform at the talent show and knows immediately that it is going to get him bullied even worse at school. Will and Marcus's mother rush off to put a stop to Marcus's plan.
When they get there, Will pleads with Marcus not to perform and tells him that he cannot make his mother happy, and she has to do that for herself. Marcus disagrees and goes out on stage. He begins a timid performance and is about to be laughed off stage when Will shows up on stage with an electric guitar and gives a humorous (but a little more "hip") performance--for which he takes an apple to the head from a heckling student in the crowd. His performance saves the day for Marcus. Rachel is in the crowd and is impressed by Will's willingness to make a fool out of himself to get Marcus through his moment of humiliation. She gets back together with him and Marcus develops some sort of relationship with the first crush. The closing scene of the film is where they are all celebrating Christmas together as a hodgepodge of misfit people.
I love this movie for a few reasons. First and foremost, I think it explores the fact that letting one person into your life and your heart can open the floodgates to a whole lot more love. Marcus's persistence softens Will's heart, and he realizes that it feels good to love and be loved. Once he let Marcus in, he could let Rachel in and have more than a superficial relationship.
I also love that this movie is full of single parents who are finding their own ways through life, and a confirmed bachelor who develops a parental kind of love for a young kid. They are figuring out parenting mostly on their own. When I was a mid-single, I often said, "We are the Island of misfit toys." I think it helps for mid-singles to be together and give each other support. It is tempting to draw a little bubble around ourselves and our children and stay isolated. Having been through significant traumas, it feels safer to close people out. But letting more people in is important. Letting love in is essential.
The important message of "About a Boy" is that life doesn't mean much if you are an island. It means more when you share it with others. If you want a funny, heartwarming movie, find this one, pop some popcorn and enjoy. If you are a mid-single, I think it will speak to your heart.
During my mid-single years, I often heard the phrase "I hate dating." I even heard it from people who were actively making an effort to date -- maybe even especially from those people. If I asked the reasons, I heard disparaging comments about the opposite sex, feelings about having hearts broken in the past, negative comments about "playing games," and comments about how "phony" and "contrived" the process is.
In one way or another, all of these comments come down to fear. These include fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, fear of emotional pain, fear of invalidation, fear of being deceived by a partner and hurt, or fear of not being able to "play the game" right and win the prize. Inevitably, dating is an emotional risk and it feels unsafe. (It's also exciting for the same reasons.)
How do we confront these fears and make dating more joyful and less fearful?
1. The Apostle John wrote, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18.) Isn't this true? It may have been written 2000 years ago, but it is true in 21st century dating that "fear hath torment." I am suggesting that the primary remedy for fear and torment is to love your dating partners. You might be thinking, "I don't know her yet. How can I love someone I just met?" I'm not suggesting getting carried away with romantic feelings and making commitments when you have barely met someone. I'm talking about genuine, Christlike love. Care about him or her as a person. Ask authentic questions about his or her life. Focus on the other person instead of your own fears. Focus on getting to know him or her and discovering what is special about that other person. Focus on finding genuine ways to build him or her up. Focusing your attention on the other person's gifts and goodness is the way to love him or her, even early in a relationship.
2. Focus on authenticity and be vulnerable. For some of you, this will trigger thoughts like, "but my ex-husband was a narcissist," or "I can fall in love easily and I need to remain suspicious to protect myself." No, you don't. That is fear talking. It is a fear of being vulnerable. You can never build high enough walls to protect you from getting hurt again. The best way to see who the other person really is, is to cultivate an authentic relationship, not a guarded or contrived one. As Paul wrote, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1.) Do you know any "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal" people -- who are very impressive talkers but void of real love? Such hearts are exposed in an authentic relationship. If you are only playing games and keeping your own defenses up, the other person will do the same thing and you will have a superficial dating relationship and not really get to know the person at a deeper level. That's how you get fooled. Take the lead in creating an authentic and vulnerable relationship. That is your best defense against marrying a narcissist. Focus on love and the fear of being fooled will dissipate.
3. Drop the excuses. If you think the dating process is "phony" and "contrived" change it. There is not some big governing body that sets the rules for dating. "How it works" is determined by the two people involved. Our social customs are not so rigid as to prevent authenticity and vulnerability. When you are dating, you and your partner make the rules. If it ends up being phony, it is because you made it that way. Honestly, it is such a relief to drop the pretense and stop trying to impress, and just have a real conversation with another real person.
I've heard every excuse in the book for why people don't date, and I know it's not for me to judge any individual. I only encourage you to seek for the things you really want. For most Latter-Day Saints who understand the plan of salvation, I think an eternal marriage is our highest aspiration -- second only to our relationship with God. As President Kimball said, "Honorable, happy, and successful marriage is surely the principal goal of every normal person." So why do many of us pretend we don't want something that we fervently do want? Fear. We do it in many areas of life. If you don't get that job you really wanted, you might be inclined to tell people, "I didn't really want it that much anyway” to make it okay. Any other time we are not chosen for something we really want, we make it okay by saying "I didn't really want it." For many of us, we tell ourselves that we don't want to get married because that's safer than getting our hopes up and being disappointed or embarrassed. So we make excuses instead. As Jesus said:
"Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." (Luke 14:15-20.)
"I have to focus on my kids right now."
"I have to get my business up and running first."
"My church calling takes all of my spare time."
"I am not good at marriage."
Instead of making excuses, admit what you really want. Be authentic and real. If you are afraid of getting hurt, say so. It will feel a lot better than pretending you aren't interested, playing hard to get, or telling people you are apathetic or don't care Of course you care. You are talking about your eternal destiny. Confront your fears with love and not with walls.
It is a self-evident truth that, in the realm of human relationships, agency will always create the opportunity for truly irreconcilable differences.
During our long-term marriages, we believed we would always be able to think of an acceptable alternative to divorce, no matter what problem arose. However, in both of our cases, the decision was our spouse's. At other times, the kind of marriage a spouse might have to settle for would violate their integrity. For example, we know a man whose wife told him she would stay married to him if she could keep her lesbian partner in a separate bedroom in their house. He would not remain married on those terms.
In situations where your spouse gave up on the marriage, placed serious addictions above the marriage, or proved chronically unfaithful or abusive, you can continue to hope and pray if you wish. This may be living in denial. Acceptance of reality and of your partner's agency is the beginning of healing.
If you are broken-hearted over the decisions of a former spouse and think, "It wasn't supposed to be this way" or that something is "wrong," give yourself time to grieve. But also begin to ask yourself whether, perhaps, your situation is exactly as it should be. Consider whether a chance to start over at mid-life with all the knowledge you have gained is a tender mercy. Begin to think and dream about creating a new future with a spouse that is aligned with you in the most important areas of life – and see your situation for its possibilities.
Enjoy an associated LILY Pod episode:
- Elevating Energy from Grief to Gratitude