Sailing Single-Handed: A Navigation Guide for Single Latter-day Saints

guestMormon 14 Comments

The following is an excerpt from Sailing Single-Handed: A Navigation Guide for Single Latter-day Saints, by Christopher P. Halloran.

Every four years, a small group of men and women gathers in the Vendée region of western France to begin a three-to-four month sailing race around the world. Each of them will make the voyage alone, single-handed, in a 60-foot-long monohull yacht.

The Vendée Globe, as this race is known, is regarded by many competitive sailors as the ultimate open-ocean sailboat race. From France, the competitors sail south along the coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, then head east through the notoriously dangerous Southern Ocean, sailing south of Australia, past Cape Horn at the tip of South America, then north again to France. The race, which the competitors must complete without any outside assistance, is a test of courage, determination, self-reliance, resourcefulness, stamina, emotional fortitude, ingenuity, patience, and endurance.

Many years ago, I worked as a deckhand on a 65-foot yacht that we sailed from Gibraltar across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. For the most part, the trip across the ocean was relatively peaceful, but there were several occasions when I witnessed the fury of nature in a way that I never had before and never have since. The middle of the ocean can be a very scary place even on a fully crewed sailboat. Being alone multiplies the intensity of the experience by orders of magnitude.

Perhaps the metaphor of the single-handed sailing race is too extreme to represent what life is like as a single Latter-day Saint. While single Saints might not yet have a spouse, the community of the Church and, often, family can offer support and emotional sustenance. Nonetheless, many of the qualities exhibited by the courageous competitors in the Vendée Globe are ones that are required of single Mormons as they navigate through life on this Earth.

While sailing single-handed may not be the safest or easiest way to cross an ocean, doing so successfully can be a source of immense satisfaction and strength. Anyone who has traveled extensively will say that, no matter how long the trip, with the perspective of hindsight it always seems like a brief moment. For those who are currently sailing alone in the middle of the ocean, there is reassurance that on the other side of a successful voyage will come the companionship that has been missing for that short period of time.

For 48 years, I was embarked on that voyage. And then, mirabile dictu, I met the woman to whom I am now happily married.

I had not, prior to that point, been a recluse. Once, in a moment of panic about my persistent bachelorhood, I made a list of all the women I have ever dated, from the time I was a teenager. It included women I only went out with once and women to whom I eventually became engaged (there were two of those before I finally got married). I wanted to understand if there was a common thread, some underlying reason why I had not been able to close the deal. What, in other words, was I doing wrong?

There were a hundred women on that list. I can’t decide whether that is a lot or not very many. It probably would sound like a lot to someone who got married when they were 23, but if you average the number over 30+ years of dating, it’s really only three per year. Either way, I was not living a monkish life, hiding from human relationships.

I dated a lot of great people, many of whom I still count as my friends. I have been invited to eight of their weddings (nine if you count my wife’s) and am friends on facebook with at least 30 of them. There are a few on the list who hate me, but by and large I have maintained cordial relationships with most.

What I’m really trying to say is that I’m not a psycho. Or at least I don’t think I am. And my wife doesn’t think I am. I’m a pretty normal person who, for one reason or another, just wasn’t able to close the deal. Which probably describes many single Latter-day Saints of a certain age.

It’s important to note that I am an active, believing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I want to be clear that I begin from a position of faith and of active participation. If there are aspects of being single in the LDS church that I have found odd or difficult, it’s not because I have issues with the Church itself.

The impetus to write a book about being single and Mormon came one night when my wife and I were at an outdoor dance performance and ran into a single friend of ours – a truly fantastic woman in her early 30s. Our friend was with three of her single friends, all of them also fabulous single LDS women in their 30s.

Because Jennifer and I had only been married a relatively short time and I had been single for so long before getting married, our friend and her friends were eager to talk about potential solutions to the vicissitudes of being a single Mormon over the age of 25.

After that conversation, I was struck by how much we can want good things, the things we’ve been told to strive for, and how confused and lost we can feel when we are doing all that we can to achieve those goals but are still not succeeding.

I learned some valuable lessons during my 30 years of single adulthood and thought it might be worthwhile to share them in the hopes of alleviating some of the fear and confusion and, perhaps, providing insights that might catalyze a relationship. I’m not a psychologist or a life coach. All I have are my experiences. My hope is that they will be of value to someone who is in the midst of the same journey I was embarked upon for so long.

With that in mind, I have made my book available as a free download, either at its associated blog site (which is still in its nascent stages) or from a public folder on Windows Live. I recognize that the human experience is a varied one, so the book is not meant to be definitive. Because it is an electronic document, it is easily modified. So, to the extent that there are others who want to chime in on this subject, I welcome commentary, which I will incorporate into future revisions.

-Christopher P. Halloran

Comments 14

  1. Christopher, what a great metaphor for the single life. Thank you for making this book available. I clicked the link this morning and looked it over. Even though I’m not single, it’s interesting enough that I’ll read it all.

  2. Great guest post! I was single for a time after a divorce, and was certain the universe was conspiring against me — that the world had become such a wicked place that all the single men left were either addicted to porn, couldn’t (or refused to) hold a job, or had basically renounced any claims to faith. I was even, for a time, tempted to set aside my own values in the hopes of finding some temporary happiness.

    I am so grateful I did not, and that my prayers seeking peace and happiness — and those of MANY others on my behalf — were eventually heeded. (For that reason, the part in your book about “Authentic Religion” is particularly resonant with me.)

    Thanks for making it available (for free, no less) — looking forward to sharing it.

  3. I’m single again after a rocky end to an engagement wherein my ex basically had told me that she didn’t have any intention of keeping the temple covenants. After some soul searching, fasting and prayer I broke it off and have been in a single’s ward since. It’s indeed been rocky, especially since there aren’t too many women out there who share the same interests (in short, I’m a complete nerd), but I definitely know I want to be able to meet a gal who will be willing to put her trust in the Lord when times are rough.

  4. Hi Christopher, I read through your guide on the blog, and I have to say, it seems like this journey as a single man has taught you a lot. Perhaps a number of things you would not have learned if you had been married at 23. I would just like to add my perspective as a man who was married at 23. Paul says that those who marry will “suffer in the flesh,” and that if you can resist marriage you will be better off. Sometimes I wonder if Paul was right, given the fact that for me, marriage has been so difficult. It is still something I deeply believe in, and has helped me grow in tremendous ways, but it has not brought me the happiness so many say it does. I’m glad that you have found happiness in your marriage, but for many, this is not the case. In fact, I’ve read statistics that say single women are happier in general than married women, although married men are happier than single men.

    So part of your discussion can include the idea that “the grass is always greener on the other side.” The life of a single can be a rich one. Didn’t Julie Beck say something to the singles like: “No one is better positioned than you to work in temples, serve missions, teach the rising generation, and help those who are downtrodden. The Lord needs you.”

    I think your book perhaps inordinately focuses on the goal of becoming married as the focus of the single life, as if that is the only thing that ultimately matters. Sure, getting married is a commandment, but only one of many commandments, and I think we do singles a disservice by over-emphasizing it, and over-romanticizing it. Perhaps the goal of getting married should be balanced with many others over which a single has much more control.

    You did mention the concept of trust in God, and acceptance of his timetable. Trust for me, is the most beautiful of virtues. Real trust can bring contentment in any circumstance. Again, Paul, the great single apostle said: I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.

    Sorry this posting is long, but I also just want to apologize if I missed or misinterpreted anything in your book. The journey of the single is not mine, so I’m hardly qualified to offer advice, other than noting that the for some, “the grass is always greener…”

  5. @Identity: Thank you so much for taking the time to read the book and for your insightful critique. I am genuinely sorry to hear that your marriage has been so difficult and acknowledge that that is a reality for too many married couples. I need look no further than my ward to see any number of couples for whom the experience of marriage ranges from less than satisfactory to outright misery.

    Perhaps I need to revisit the tone of the book to make sure I am not painting marriage in too rosy a light. My only objective, really, was to offer a little bit of hope to the many I know who want so badly to be married, but who believe that opportunity has passed them by.

    I agree that we do singles a disservice by over-emphasizing marriage. That was one of the reasons I stopped going to a singles ward long before I got married. But, I think that singles themselves also obsess about finding a companion, often to the detriment of other facets of their lives. I also agree that the life of someone who is single can be a rich one. Mine was. While there was always a nagging sense that something was missing, I think I can honestly say that I was happy when I was single. I love being married, but I think I would have continued to be happy had I not met my wife.

    In any case, I very much appreciate your thoughtful comments and will take another look at what I’ve written to make sure it conveys the message I intended it to.

  6. @Bored: Thank you for your willingness to read the book. If you have any insights about how it might be improved, I’m all ears!

    @Dave I’m sorry to hear about the break-up of your relationship and the rockiness of the road since then. I don’t really know what a nerd is anymore. Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and Craig Newmark are all nerds. One might argue that a not insignificant number of General Authorities are nerds. In this new millennium, it would appear that nerds rule. I hope you quickly find someone who recognizes that fact.

  7. @Chris: I’ve only skimmed your book so far, but what I’ve seen looks very interesting. I’ll have to read it more thoroughly. I do wish you had addressed the issue of patriarchal blessings and other priesthood blessings that promise marriage and/or children. When these blessings remain unfulfilled, it can be a real stumbling block for LDS singles. This is an issue I’ve struggled with myself, especially as I’m closing in on 40.

    @Identity: In our church, marriage is not “only one of many commandments”–it’s required for exaltation. Marriage and family are talked up *constantly* at church, almost more than any other commandment or doctrine (see the most recent general conference sessions, for example). Not only that, but most people aren’t wired to be content without sharing their lives with someone. Beyond a certain age, wanting a consistent, intimate relationship becomes not just a Mormon thing but a human thing. And while it’s true that the life of a single person can be rich, it is a *huge* loss when one realizes that the dream of building a life with a spouse and children will likely be unrealized. When we singles yearn for marriage, it’s not necessarily because we are over-romanticizing marriage. We know marriage isn’t a fairytale. We just want what we were *created* to want.

  8. Rivkah, thanks for your retort. I did not mean to be dismissive of the great yearning many singles feel for marriage. I have many single friends who have expressed this deep desire. I have never felt the yearning you speak of, as I did not really get married out of yearning or desire, but from a revelation to do so. So I don’t really have any insights. I do believe that we are wired to be married, and that we are wired to have children, and when those things don’t happen, that it is a huge loss. Psychologists say that this loss can be as devastating to those experiencing it, as the death of a child is to a mother.

  9. @Rivkah: Your point about patriarchal blessings is a good one. I think it is easy to ignore Isaiah’s reminder that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” and to become discouraged when a promised blessing doesn’t come to pass in exactly the manner we had expected it to. In the end, I take refuge in my certainty that God is good, that He loves His children, that He wants only the best things for us, and that, contingent upon our actions and desires, He will help bring those things to pass. But, for myself, I think it is foolish to try to understand the hows and the whys. The calculus of the universe is far more intricate and complex than I could ever hope to understand, so all I can do is work hard, have faith, and know that God’s plan is unfolding as it should.

  10. Community of Christ doesn’t place the same emphasis on either marriage or marriage within the church as does the LDS — different theology about the afterlife — but I certainly wanted a life companion within my faith.

    There are about 100 times fewer CofChrist women than LDS women. I used to have to get on airplanes to go on dates. God still got me together with the right companion.

    So enjoy the experience of being single, and have hope for future companionship when its time. Finding companions for you Mormons is a trivial problem compared to finding one for a CofChrist nerd. 😀

  11. i loved your book. very interesting and insightful. i have emailed it to several of my single friends. the only critique i have is that i would have liked to read more about how you met your wife and how you ended up getting married. you did a wonderful job explaining things and really putting a great spin on the whole drama of the over 30, single person in the church.

  12. @SMC I really appreciate your taking the time to read the book and for your comments. Your critique echoes what I have heard from a couple of other readers – namely the need to personalize the book a little bit more. I will do that in the next iteration. Thank you!

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