What does it look like to be a single man in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2019? What do they experience? What pressures do they feel and are there any judgements they receive? How do they feel attending a church that is so focused on family?
Steve Soelberg and Sefa Palu are both active and faithful single men who graciously agreed to a conversation with me about their experience. They were funny and honest and humble and insightful. But I’m going to admit something: I went into my interview with Steve and Sefa thinking I knew what they would say. As the interview progressed, I quickly learned that they weren’t going to give me the soundbite I was expecting.
Let me be clear. I didn’t want them to be disgruntled or frustrated by their experiences—I just assumed that would be the case. It is not to say they didn’t express some of the issues they face or many of the expectations they feel. But I was surprised and impressed by the introspection shown in every answer. When I jokingly asked them why they weren’t married, I expected jokes and teasing but not a sincere reflection on if there is a missing puzzle piece they haven’t figured out yet. When I asked what they would say to people who tell them they just aren’t making an effort, I expected protests but not “You might have a point” and “I’m trying pretty hard, but sure, there are always areas I can improve on.”
I mentioned to Steve and Sefa that as a single woman in the Church, I am regularly apologized to on behalf of the men of the Church. I realize it is used as an attempt to compliment me coming from friends or ward members who want me to know that my single status is obviously the problem of the men I am dating, in effect absolving me of any responsibility. I’m not going to lie; that feels nice to hear sometimes. But is it true? (I was going to leave this as a rhetorical question, but for clarity’s sake, I will add: no, it is not true.)
I hope you can feel from the excerpt below the spirit and the hearts of these two men who love the Lord and are seeking for His guidance in all their pursuits. Ultimately, we are all on a journey, and assumptions made about how any one of us is handling our set of circumstances is unhelpful and often flawed. I think it is also helpful to mention that Sefa and Steve are only responsible for their experiences and thus cannot speak for all single men in the Church. We know there are many perspectives on this topic, and we will seek to address more of them in the future.
Listen to the entire episode below or by clicking here.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Erin Hallstrom: So there are many stigmas around being single in the Church. We’ve talked about some of them; what do you think God feels about your being single?
Steve Soelberg: Oh, I’ve never thought of that.
Sefa Palu: Probably waiting (like), "This is a bit of a long time, Sefa."
SS (laughs): "I’ve given you a lot of opportunities."
SP: "And I gave you some leeway."
EH: Or maybe let me rephrase. How do you feel your relationship with God has changed?
SS: It certainly makes me turn to Him a lot more. I definitely feel like He’s my cheerleader. I definitely think that there are people on the other side who are working to help. I don’t know how, but they’re doing things to help me find that right person. And it sure is a motivator. I don’t know why, but it helps me get on my knees a lot more. I feel like I’ve prayed about this harder than I’ve prayed for a long time. It is good because it increases that relationship so that suddenly my life isn’t about just being single; it is about a lot of things, so I can then get lost in prayer in other things. So I think it has been really, really helpful in fun ways because that loneliness stuff has made me go, ‘Oh, well that’s who’s there for me.’ And yeah, it’s increased that relationship because He knows that I feel lonely and He knows what that feels like and is happy to help me get through it.
SP: Yeah, I agree. I think I’m much more aware of His presence, and I have a stronger conviction of His presence because of this time of being single. I am more aware of Him, and I feel like He is more aware of me as that relationship grows stronger. It’s awesome. As for what He thinks of my singleness, (He’s like), "Just hang in there, kid." There are quiet moments when the loneliness gets a bit intense—where it is just me and Him, and I am way more aware of Him because there aren’t any distractions around me. I’m in this struggling time period and I feel His presence there. It’s awesome.
Watch two LDS Living videos that previously featured Steve and Sefa below.