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