Single in the Church Pt. 2 with Steve Soelberg and Sefa Palu
Last week, we heard two young single adult women discuss their experience as Latter-day Saints but this week, we get the male perspective as “All In” host Erin Hallstrom sits down with two single Latter-day Saint men.
ERIN HALLSTROM: Last week we heard the perspective of two, young single Latter-day Saint women. Today we turn the tables and talk to two single Latter-day Saint men who share with us their thoughts, experiences and you won't want to miss their answers to the question of how being single has changed their relationship with God.
I'm Erin Hallstrom, and this is All In, an LDS Living Podcast, where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Our guests today are Sefa Palu, who is an Australian young single adult working in digital marketing and Steve Soelberg, a single adult who is also a stand-up comedian. Both are men, you may recognize from participating in LDS Living videos over the last year. Sefa and Steve, welcome.
SEFA PALU: Good to be here.
STEVE SOELBERG: Thank you for having us.
EH: So I'm going to start with a softball question. Why aren't you married?
SP: How long do we got?
SS: Sefa, do you know?
SP: So many reasons. I am well aware, I've taken inventory. I do this probably every three months of what's wrong with me. Oh, man, the tears and the crying.
EH: Can I just say clearly, that's a joke question.
SS: I mean, it is a joke and we've done that before, right? We did the video of why are you still single? But and as funny as we joke about it, like, I still think of it, like all the time. Like where you say, yeah, there's times where I go, why am I still single? Because you do want to figure it out?
EH: Like, do I have a blind spot that no one's told me about?
SS: Yeah. There's gotta be a puzzle piece that I'm missing that's super important. I sometimes think that. I know that's false thinking, just if you're sitting at home because I don't think there is like--
SP: A missing ingredient.
SS: Yeah, I mean, I'm sure there's things that you can improve on, but that's not going to stop when you get married. It's not like, oh, now you did it. Like it's not the pinnacle, right?
EH: Okay, real first question. Although that one worked really well and you guys still answered it, so thank you. What does it look like to be a single man in the church in 2019?
SP: I don't get I don't kind of get don't get the question. To be honest. What do you mean? What does it look like?
EH: What's your experience? Is it, I don't want to put words in your mouth, is it alienating? Is it a positive experience? Do you feel supported?
SS: I think there, with adding the year to it, I think there are more single men in church now than there's ever been. I know that people talk a lot about how many single men are dropping out of the church, especially as they get older. Interestingly enough, like my community of friends that I've had, but maybe it's just because of who I associate with, haven't left. But a lot of the friends that I have who are girls have left.
SP: That's interesting.
SS: Which I think is contrary to the numbers, actually. So it could just be my personal experience. I mean, I feel as supported as I've ever felt in the church, though. I don't feel like an abandoned group. I went through a moment where I felt that way and if I'm like super honest, if ever the little inklings of maybe the church isn't for you, it came during that time, when I felt unsupported. And I was like, yeah, we've been forgotten about. I thought that, but I don't think that that's logical. I think actually, that little whisper, it's not of God. And so that moment where I was feeling not as supported, I think I was also just in a dark place at that time.
SP: So you don't think that was just like your own thoughts?
SS: I think it kind of was, I mean, it was when so when I turned 31, I had to go from the YSA to the single adult ward. And when I did that, there was kind of a mass transfer in Utah. They used to kind of be Lucy Goosy on the age.
EH: I remember exactly what you're talking about.
SS: You know that time.
SP: But then they really honed down on it and we're like, "If you're 31 go."
SS: Everybody go.
SP: Oh, really?
SS: And at that time, a lot of people dropped. And it was because you just felt-- because you go to the single adult ward, where previously nobody had been going. And it sort of was like, I remember the person who opened the door for me at the single adult ward looked like my mom. And she was like, "Welcome!" and was super happy to see me. Like, I thought, am I supposed--
SP: Giving you a program?
SS: Yeah! "Welcome, I'm your mom, and your date." Like I was so scared. And I felt like I screwed up somewhere.
EH: Full disclosure. I don't know if I've mentioned this yet on this podcast, but I'm single. And so I have that connection point too, and I still remember the first time I went to a dance.
SP: A single adult dance?
EH: A single adult dance. And I actually, at the time, was a young single adult but I was home for some for Christmas break or something and my friends like, "Let's go to this single adult dance." And I went, and I'm not joking, literally, people that taught me in primary were there. It feels, it feels wrong. But at the same time, I also feel guilty about feeling, especially now that I'm a little bit older, I think, "Oh, wait, they're people too!" But there's this jarring sense of belonging and experience that that brings out.
SP: But like, I feel like my experience is the opposite with that, like and maybe that's naive of me because I'm not yet a single adult.
EH: I was gonna say, it could be an age difference.
SP: But with me, I'm is kind of excited because I'm like, "Oh, well, I still have all my hair, I have all my teeth, I'm gonna be the hot new thing in single adult. If it gets to that point, I'm like, I cannot wait to be doted on.
EH: I don't mean to laugh as if that's not true. Because Sefa, I believe it's true.
SS: You're right. I believe it. Yeah.
SP: That's just me.
EH: Do both of you attend singles wards or are any of you in neighborhood wards?
SS: I'm in a singles ward.
SP: I'm in a singles ward. Is that what they call it down, neighborhood wards?
EH: That's what I call it.
EH: But it I feel like, actually this is my personal soapbox, I feel like calling it a family word is not actually what it is. It's a word that anyone who lives in that neighborhood belongs to. And so sometimes I think words make a difference. Not sometimes, I do think words make a difference.
SS: I like it. And I don't know if my reasoning is wrong for not going to a fam— Whoops, a neighborhood ward is because my schedule's super busy. And family wards tend to-- neighborhood wards-- Wow, it's so easy.
SP: They take up your time, man.
SS: They do.
SP: All the callings are like lifestyle callings, like when you're a youth leader. It's mutual, you're making sure everyone's going to seminary, you're having scouts.
EH: I will say though, some of the most fulfilling experiences I've had in church service have been because of that. But at the same time, everyone, and the thing that's beautiful is that we have these options we get to choose what fits for our spirit, our life and our experience and your schedule.
SS: Yeah. Which I know is, I don't know, even saying it out loud, I'm like, eh, it's not a good reason. I love the idea of those opportunities.
EH: So what would your response be to those people who say if you're single and over a certain age, you just aren't making an effort.
SP: You might have a point if I'm being honest.
EH: That's fair.
SP: With my own personal experience, to be honest, like, would I rather spend my time doing x, y and Z. Like the past couple of years, I went to school. I went to BYU Idaho, I graduated without getting married there. I didn't really date, not much. Oh, that's a lie. I had relationships but it wasn't like a three dates this week with three different women. I was like, yeah, I'm not about that. I wasn't about that, the relationship part was fine, it was just the dating part. That's not a hobby to me. It's not the same as like— I feel like sometimes it becomes synonymous with, oh, "go on a date tonight," it's almost the same as "go bowling tonight." They're not the same like dating isn't an activity to me.
EH: Well does the sheer number of, of actual dates equal effort always?
SP: No. And that's the thing, that's a good question. No! I'm gonna say no.
SS: I felt like that was a very, like an honest answer to be like, yeah, maybe not. The whole Joseph Smith kernel of truth, when someone gives you criticism. I think my immediate response would be like, I don't know, I'm trying pretty hard. Um, but yeah, I'm sure there's some place that I can improve on. I mean, that is revealed to me all the time on areas where I can improve.
EH: Can't we all?
SP: I agree, I agree with that. I think everybody can. But when it comes to those moments though, are you more confronting of those sorts of questions to yourself? Or are you honest with yourself, but then not with everyone else? Like, what's the process for you? To me, I'm kind of like an open book.
SP: I have no filter.
SS: I think I'm more reserved than you are, for sure. But yeah, I mean, I tried to be authentic and go, yeah, if I can improve here, whatever. At least, that's only a new thing for me though. I just am more eager to make mistakes now. Because I'm like, more accepting of that and more realizing like, "Oh, good, I can make mistakes." And, honestly, the right girl, I am of the mindset now that I am not going to make a mistake with the right girl that she's not going to be able to forgive. So I'm looking for someone who's very forgiving, and empathetic and I've definitely already burned some bridges with that idea.
EH: So in your experience, are men treated too harshly? Or do you think more blame has landed at your feet? For the single if, you know, setting it up as the church having this single adult problem, right, where not enough singles are finding each other, getting married. Do you feel like more blame is laid on the men of the church for that?
SS: I don't think so. I don't think men are treated too harshly but I think we definitely could encourage men more. I think we tend to take kind of a little bit of a football coach aspect with men. Like you gotta get out there.
SP: It's like a pep talk. But not like Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans," it's more like a fat camp or something.
SS: Yeah like, you beat him down.
SP: Like, you're gonna do this basic training.
EH: I'm actually really glad to hear that because I feel like I'm apologized to on behalf of men. You know, "I'm so sorry that they don't have their act together." That's the kind of narrative that gets said to single women a lot. I think it's a little bit of a pandering kind of thing to, you know, like, it's not you. And I usually, I usually actually push back on it. And I'll say, "No, we're all in this." But I don't know that everyone does. And maybe my experience is not everyone's experience and that's just to be clear about everything we're talking about, We really can only talk about our experience and not speak for everyone's experience.
SP: So in response to that, like when people tell you, oh, it's the men of the church, the pandering, does that make you feel any better?
EH: No, it doesn't. And I think it used to, though. I think initially, several years ago, it used to make me feel better, where I said, "Oh, it's all on them. So I can just stay here in my castle, and not worry about it too much," right? You know, because I've had a few of those years, where you're like, well, no one's coming around and I don't ever meet anyone and oh, well, but it's on them because the men haven't been trying hard enough to know that I exist in this castle that they don't know exists, right? And it was easier for me to believe that it was on men. Because it's their responsibility. It's your responsibility to do the asking, it's your responsibility to show interest first and I have had a change of heart about that. I don't believe that's true anymore. I think we are actually equally responsible for interest and showing interest and women have to be places where they can actually meet people in order to feel-- I mean, the problem is, is that we all have heard these narratives, and I'm going to go on the soapbox, and maybe we can cut some of this. But we all have these narratives that we've heard, and maybe you guys have heard this, too, where so and so's person just evaporated— or not evaporated, what's the opposite of evaporated? Materialized next to them and the sun shone down and it was the person and it just will happen when it happens. So all you have to do is just wait because that's what--
SS: Yeah, that's one of the things that bugs me the most. Is a lot of times you'll hear people say like, well, when you stop trying so hard, is when it's gonna-- and I'm like, no, stop your line of thought because that's never worked.
SP: That's been the case. Ever. That's not even doctrinally supported. Oh, stop trying, and then it will happen, that's a lie. Yeah. Yeah. That doesn't.
EH: After all you can do, don't ever do anything.
SS: Yeah, that's the Scripture isn't it? Jesus said, don't try at all and stop thinking about it.
SP: Yeah, Joseph Smith stopped praying and then that's when God and Jesus appeared. Yeah that's not how it works.
EH: Did you ever hear misconceptions about why you're still single? And what are some of those? What would some of those be?
SS: Yeah, you're too ugly, no, just kidding.
EH: No one has said that about either one of you.
SS: It's, I think, "You're too picky" is one that is a hard one to hear. I say hard one, I don't like hearing that. Because it's like,
EH: I want to talk about picky, why? Why is that one hard?
SS: If someone says you're too picky, it just, it takes away the options of, and you get to fall in love. And you're like, shouldn't I be able to be attracted to my future spouse? I think that is okay to admit that that can be a big part of it and that you're allowed to be attracted to that person. And like when they start to go, "Well, you know, the prophets have said that you could make a marriage work with anybody." And that's absolutely true. And I believe that to be true, you know. But gosh, I just don't think that's a good idea to start a marriage off where you just go--
SP: "She'll do."
SS: Yeah, she'll do. Now, I do believe there are things that we can refocus on. And that would be a better way of wording it. But it's like, it's not a conversation that you can have in the hallway. It's something that it's like this is a deep conversation you need to have with this person where you can go, "Okay, well, what are the things that you think you need to have?" And there might be things on that list that they're making in their mind that they don't need to have, that could be changed. And so that could be the picky part of it. But it's like, you can't just go, "Are you being too picky?" And they're like, you're right.
EH: Well it's dismissive.
SS: Yeah, yeah, just turns it off.
SP: And it's, you're right, how it said, a lot of the times that sort of question or misconception, say, given in such a casual way, that I can't, in the moment, I don't have time, because I'm usually in-between stuff. It's usually like a drinking fountain conversation or in the hallway. Then I'm like even if that were true, whatever it is that you're insinuating about me, I can't give it any sort of credence right now because I'm in the middle of something. Like this isn't-- that sort of analysis that's very introspective needs to be done more on a personal level, like you need to take time to do that inventory if that's the process you choose to participate in. But in regards to somebody casually asking me, I can't really give it any weight in that moment because of the way you asked it. I don't think I don't know, I don't personally find it particularly offensive or anything, I don't mind If people insinuate stuff, I can usually just brush it off. But if you wanted to actually genuinely know, I can't do give it to you there.
EH: So I want to talk about women for a minute. What expectations have you felt from the women that you date?
SS: I do feel like maybe expectations have gotten lowered a little bit like-
EH: In a good way?
SS: I don't know if it's in a good way, actually. I'm fine with expectations staying somewhat high, because then you feel like, yeah, I gotta step up. And this is maybe more just men in general, not necessarily in the church. I think just in general, we're just kind of like men are kind of, it's like the sitcom thing, where we had sitcoms 10 years ago that were, the man is the dope, right? And I think, unfortunately, now we have, I don't think we have dopey men, but I don't think we have men, I feel like maybe drive is down, or leadership or something like that.
SP: Like stepping up, initiative.
SS: Yeah. And it's because, and I don't know if that's true or if that's just me guessing because it feels like it's not as encouraged in society right now. Like it's more encouraged for men to play like a
SP: "Um, sorry."
SS: Like a role on the sideline where you're like apologizing for being a man or something.
SP: And I would agree with that, because my experience going from, I'm from Australia, I served in New York, and then I live here in Utah and BYU Idaho. Elders Quorum is awful everywhere. It's almost like there's no effort put into Elders Quorum as soon as we separate from the women. So Sunday school, everyone's raising their hand, everyone's volunteering to share the scripture or say a prayer, but then all of a sudden, in Elders Quorum, everybody's a mute. And it kind of goes to show that idea of just, there's no initiative just to have initiative. It's always like, if there isn't an end goal to this, then men won't really put in effort.
SS: I've wondered about that.
SP: And I yeah, that. I hate that. That annoys me.
SS: Without the prize at the end, kind of thing. You want people to just be good to be good. Yeah.
EH: So do you think there are misconceptions about LDS women that exist?
SS: Yeah, yeah, I'm sure there are.
SP: Well, so I have a couple of friends back home, who was similar in my age, some of them a bit older than me, girls was still single as well. And they always are told, especially one in particular that I know I can, I'm thinking of her now, where she's always told: "Oh, you're too good." And she's had multiple guys tell her, "You're too good for me," or "You're too good for the men of Sydney," which is where I'm from. And that frustrates her. I've talked to her about this, where I'm like, "That's rubbish." I personally don't like that and I know that she doesn't like that. And I think that is a common misconception where girls are put on this pedestal and boys are scum.
EH: Well, I don't mean to brag, but I have heard that.
SP: I wanted to make that clear, Erin, you are one of them.
EH: No, but I have heard that, especially in regards to people because I've been more proactive at asking people to set me up. And that is the response I get from 90% of people I ask. They'll say, "I can't think of anyone who's good enough for you."
SP: Why, just because you're active?
EH: And I stop and I say, well, pretty great. But I'll stop and I'll just say, "Don't worry about that. I'll figure that out." That's my job, just make an introduction for me. But that is absolutely something I think that can be a little bit destructive, because what does it help anyone?
SP: And isn't that what you want? Like, why would that be a deterrence for a guy? Why would you go it's like, "Oh, I don't want the gold, oh, I'll take the bronze." What do you mean, you're in an Olympics and you have a choice between the three, why would I choose the bronze? That's ridiculous. I want the gold. So wouldn't you just go for it?
SS: That's true. But the in their mind, they're trying to be so protective of you. It's too far protective, where it's like hurting your ability to meet more men and stuff like that.
EH: Yeah, that's true. What do you wish the general church membership understood about your experience? Or what would help you?
SS: That it's hard, that that doesn't go away. There's not a moment where you can just go, life is tough and today was tough, but I can go home to that person who loves me and I can have that repose. Your connection, your person who loves you is, there are those people in your life for a single person, I mean, you still have prayer, you still, I mean, you might still have loving parents, some people don't. But yeah, the loneliness is a constant companion. And that's heavy, and it's hard. That's what I would want people to know.
EH: Thank you.
SP: And mine would be more geared towards the people who are still single, like, there's nothing wrong with you. Like, there is, there's something wrong with everyone. Just because right back to that conversation.
EH: No, that's the key. There's something wrong with all of us.
SP: There's something wrong with everyone, and you don't need to feel so, you don't need to ostracize yourself. And I think getting outside yourself like you can still serve in the church, there's still work to be done. And that's the biggest thing I wish a lot of the single people would know like, every time there is- like in my singles world, whenever someone does give a talk, they always talk about principles to apply, like pending principles to apply because we don't have a family yet. I'm like, you can still do those things now. There isn't a set of principles, a set of gospel standards that can only be applied when you have a family. No, you can live them now. You can serve now. Like there's nothing wrong with you that you can't be an active member of the church. And I think that's why, at least the people I've known who have kind of fallen away, they feel like there isn't a place for them. And, again, I wish everybody in the church knew this but I think it's more important that those who are single note for themselves first, because then what everyone else thinks becomes irrelevant.
EH: I love that.
SS: I wanted to give a standing ovation. That was beautiful. I'm cheering.
SP: Don't google it because somebody else's name will be attached to that statement.
EH: 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?
SS: Well, I've never thought of that.
SP: Probably waiting. This is a bit of a long time, Sefa.
SS: 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: Oh, it certainly makes me turn to Him a lot more. I mean, I definitely feel like he's my cheerleader. I think, I definitely think that there's people on the other side who are working to help. I don't know how, but they're doing things that somehow is helping me find that right person. And it sure is a motivator. I don't know why, but it helps get me on my knees a lot more. I feel like I've prayed about this harder than I've prayed for a long time. Like when I'm like, man, I prayed like this on my mission but I'm here I'm doing this for this thing, and it's good because it increases that relationship so that suddenly I'm like, "Oh, yeah, my life isn't just being single, my life is so much more other things." And so then you can get lost in prayer and other things. So I think it's been really, really helpful in fun ways because of that loneliness stuff has made me go, oh, well, that's who's there for me. And, and yeah, it's increased that relationship, because He knows that I feel lonely and I think he's felt 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 existence because of this time of being single. I'm more aware of him and I feel like he is more aware of me, as that relationship grows stronger. It's awesome. What he thinks of my singleness is just like, just hanging naked. There are quiet moments like, and there's times where it's like, kind of the way the loneliness gets a bit intense. There are quiet moments where it's just me and him and I'm way more aware of Him because there aren't any distractions around me. I'm not, I'm in this kind of struggling time period and I feel his presence there. It's awesome.
EH: I love that. Thank you. So this is a question we always ask at the end of our podcast and it is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We love this question because there's a wide variety of answers. And so there's no wrong answer, but I know you guys have thought about it. What does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
SS: Because you told us this question would come, and I did think about it for a while, and I thought, it's repentance for me. Being eager to always be improving, and being totally fine with feeling shame sometimes and guilt and going, oh, this is one of those growth times where I get to reach out and use Jesus Christ to make my life better. I still don't love feeling guilt or shame, but I don't view them as bad things. I think I've heard a lot of people say, you know, they'll say like, toxic guilt, or whatever. And it's like, I think that's because you're not using the next part, which is Jesus Christ. And for me, all in means that I am using Christ as my Savior all the time. And it makes it awesome, because then suddenly when I go with my attitude of, I can't really make too many mistakes, I am going to make mistakes, but that's okay, it's all covered. And so I'm just eager to make mistakes and eager to repent. And that's my all in.
EH: Thank you. Sefa?
SP: Mine is about being in the right place at the right time. I find that my motivation sometimes is fleeting if I'm going off of just my feeling. And like other times when you wake up, I don't want to go to church or there are times where I don't want to fulfill my calling. I don't want to do X Y & Z, whatever it is that God requires of us, but just show up. And maybe that's the bare minimum for some people, but for me, I'm like just being at the right place at the right time when he expects you. If your church is at 10:30, you will be there at 10:30 because that's where he wants you to be.
EH: Thank you. Thank you both so much. I feel like I have learned a lot and I also feel like I have been through a therapy session. I'm grateful to you both for being so vulnerable and open and for allowing us to chat today. So thanks.
SS: Thank you.
EH: Thanks to all of you for listening, and thanks again to Sefa and Steve. For more episodes of All In, please visit LDSliving.com/allin. If you enjoyed listening, please leave us a rating or review. And as always, don't forget to subscribe.