Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.
Q: I am a single woman in the Church and am over the age of 50. It’s hard not to feel like an “old maid.” How can I better deal with this?
A: Thank you for asking this question. Whether never-married, divorced, or widowed, it can be especially challenging to be a single adult in our family-focused faith. So many sermons, conversations, activities, and even ordinances are centered on marriage and family relationships, and members at times are not sensitive to the loneliness and feelings of single members of being "outside" what everyone seems to be talking about. This is not even to mention the natural human desire for companionship that, for many, goes unmet. Of course, some are perfectly content to be single. But for others, there's a great deal of pain involved.
Regardless of marital status, the answer for how we can best deal with the challenges of life, from a gospel perspective, is discipleship. Filling your life with the light of the Holy Ghost through study of the words of Christ and His prophets will give you hope for the future and an eternal perspective beyond the disappointments of the here and now. Filling your time with service toward others, especially others who feel alone and forgotten, will help to ease your loneliness. Working on family history and preparing to perform saving ordinances for your departed ancestors will help you in piercing the veil and establishing greater connection with loved ones from past generations.
From a therapist’s perspective, I would note that you referred to yourself as an “old maid.” That’s a pejorative term that puts you in a “lesser” position than your married peers and implies that you have something to apologize for. Yet you don’t. You have nothing to apologize for. There is nothing wrong with you. Singleness is but another state of being. While we seek marriage eternally, there is nothing innately inferior about being single in mortality, especially if one is living worthy of the blessing of marriage when the time, place, and person are right.
Start by thinking more highly of yourself. Instead of referring to yourself pitifully as an “old maid,” consider seeing and introducing yourself powerfully as a “disciple of Christ,” as a Latter-day Saint, as a daughter of God, or as a compassionate, strong woman.
What meaning will you create for your experiences and life? I recently was reading about “existential courage” or the ability to ask “What am I going to do?” instead of “Why is this happening to me?” It turns out that those who obsessively seek for meaning in their trials can become disheartened when no meaning reveals itself to them. Things merely “happen to them,” without purpose. On the other hand, those who accept hardship and focus on how they will respond emerge empowered and successful. They act for themselves instead of being acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26).
Viktor Frankl, in his fantastic book Man’s Search for Meaning states: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is. Rather he should realize that it is he who is being asked the question.” This is akin to the parable of the talents, or the Savior’s teaching that we must not wait to be commanded in all things. God gives us life and experiences, then waits to see what we will do with them. “And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:28).
As long as you do good, you won’t lose your reward. So how do you handle being single, female, and over 50? By doing good. What good? Whatever good you feel or want to do. What skills or talents do you want to develop? What hobbies do you want to pick up to grow your abilities? What things do you want to learn, either for the sheer joy of learning them or to put them to use? Who can you help? What do you want to do for exercise? What expertise do you want to acquire? Where do you want to go?
Reach out to others. Develop and improve yourself. It won’t completely take the loneliness away. But it will add new layers of joy and meaning to your life, meaning that you create, meaning that pleases your Heavenly Father.
God bless you. I hope this helps.