I hate singles wards — and so does everyone who attends them — but we all keep going to them, pretending we like them, pretending like we belong, only because we all want to get married to someone who’s LDS and we believe the wards are a necessary minefield in our lives.
About 7 or 8 years ago, a blogpost began making rounds on the internet and stirring up discussion in Zion. The anonymous post, titled “Confessions of a Ward Hopper,” is a scathing critical review of LDS Singles Wards and the members who attend them. Authored by a disgruntled 32-year-old RM unable to find love, the piece draws our attention to what Mr. Hopper considers to be the painful truths single-wardies refuse to acknowledge.
If you’ve never read the original post before, be warned: it’s brutal.
You will disagree with Mr. Hopper on a lot of points.
“I once wondered out-loud on a talk radio program whether the Mountain Meadows Massacre was justified on some level.”
You will be offended by the callous way in which he talks about women.
“As many a two thirds of the young women are overweight. These girls all think that because they have good personalities, or good jobs, or are well-educated that guys should care more about who they are than how they look. Someone needs to make them understand that young men will never want to be intimate with them if they’re even a little heavy, and they’re doomed if they don’t lose weight…. Nobody would have wanted to kiss Sleeping Beauty if she were a fatty with a Ph.d. Hate the game if you want, but you can’t change the rules, and you women are choosing old maid-hood.”
You will deem him a Narcissus as you read his self-description.
“I have thinning brown hair and blue eyes that are so piercing that sometimes I find whole rooms of people falling silent and staring at them as I enter. “
…And then you will realize you don’t know him. That this post, steeped in years of anger and frustration was a diary entry — a shout into the dark that was never meant to be heard.
“…in moments of pain and failure, I realize that I am not as attractive and smart as I’ve convinced myself I am… I want to have a wife and a family. I want to be better. “
As my initial disgust and shock gave way to intrigue, I realized that I empathized with this man. I wanted to know more about him, what became of him after his personal entry blew up, and how is his life now, almost a decade later?
So I found him, three years deep into a happy marriage with one son and another kid on the way. Mr. Ward Hopper agreed to answer all my questions as long as I maintained his anonymity.
1. How would you describe your mindset at the time you wrote the famed “Confessions of a Ward Hopper” post?
A: I suppose at the time I was not extremely happy with singles wards or with being single – though I recognized the wards were being offered for my benefit and that of other singles by the Church and appreciated that. It was not the singles wards I was complaining about, but the singles themselves. Although it’s true I was frustrated and bitter, I did not question that singles wards were necessary and beneficial, rather I just was conflicted about mid-single life.
Some of that bitterness was probably caused because I didn’t fit in perfectly. The post wasn’t intended to give a noble account of myself (quite the opposite, which is why it was done anonymously), rather it was intended to give an accurate account of I what I believed from my perspective were some challenges and misconceptions facing a lot of singles. It’s probably also worth mentioning that I was venting in one moment of time and didn’t really anticipate the post would proliferate to the extent it did. I wrote the whole thing in just a couple of hours one night. I also wrongfully assumed I wouldn’t be identified…
2. How would you describe your mindset as of today, Mr. Hopper?
It’s painful being single, and the disconnect between what some singles think they know about the opposite sex, and the realities about [the] opposite sex, is the source of a lot of that pain for singles; perhaps more so for the women.
A: I think my mindset has softened. I wouldn’t write the same things today that I wrote then and I should have focused more on the positive. I recognize, though, that I’m not in same situation today that I was then either. I thought then that many singles – especially mid-singles – who’ve been running the same drill for years or decades in the singles wards and who don’t understand why they are single, might benefit from a hard assessment of what’s happening.
That was my thinking at the time – that somebody needed to be fearless in describing those problems to help fix ‘em. I was also a young attorney at the time and my whole world revolved around conflict, so the post just seemed to be an extension of my trained approach to dealing with conflict. It’s painful being single, and the disconnect between what some singles think they know about the opposite sex, and the realities about [the] opposite sex, is the source of a lot of that pain for singles; perhaps more so for the women.
When friends of mine who’ve been single for 15 years tell me how sad they are that yet another love interest or relationship has failed, 99% of people will try and reassure someone suffering by telling that person that they don’t really want what they want (e.g., “you don’t want that girl anyway. She was psycho.”). Seems like trying to write someone off as irrational by attributing emotional problems to them so you don’t have to deal with their feelings logically isn’t helpful.
Likewise, trying to deal with someone’s problems by telling them they don’t want what they do want is the easy way out and actually hurts that person I think by reinforcing false paradigms about how dating works. I think it’s better to tell friends and other singles how it is, hence the post. Tell them, “Well, I feel for you. Let’s look at this situation together and figure out how to solve it” or maybe more directly, “I feel sorry for you and the problems are obvious. Let me try and help.”
Even if the realities are cruel and unfair, it may be that understanding them is what’s most beneficial. If the solution is to lose weight, put aside certain behaviors or beliefs (including political beliefs), make more money . . . or whatever it happens to be, I think it’s best to point them out when someone who’s suffering genuinely wants to understand them. Even if you don’t believe the person you’re talking to can actually accomplish what’s necessary to fix their problems, it’s better to give them legitimate information and let them try in my opinion. People are often capable of more than you think they are. I thought I was doing that all to some extent with the post.
3. What was the strangest response you received following the post?
A: By strangest if you mean the most unexpected, I suppose it was what probably what can only be described as love letters from single women – and even their parents – trying to get a hold of me get me and trying to get me to go out with them. I got a lot of hate mail too, but that wasn’t unexpected or strange in my opinion and didn’t phase me. For every two women who hated the post, there was at least one who liked it or who liked the personality they determined was behind it. That was unexpected because I didn’t think anyone would appreciate all the personal admissions I was making about myself. I was also surprised that a couple of media networks totally unassociated with Utah or Mormonism tried to track down the author.
4. How did it feel to be labeled a narcissist by internet strangers?
A: Yes, everyone thought I was a narcissist. I’m a man of many faults, but I don’t believe narcissism is one. I’ve always thought that those kinds of labels in the single world are really just ways of writing off rational points someone might be making. “They’re just narcissistic, mental or irrational,” so we don’t actually have to deal with them rationally. If you could look inside my heart, I actually do care deeply about others and try to go more out of my way to help others more than most. There was a girl I knew in a mid-singles ward who committed suicide who’d tried to call me a couple of times a week or two before. There are a lot of people suffering. I’ve always felt horrible I didn’t get back to her. Wanted to. Intended to. Just didn’t. She was very pretty and you wouldn’t have thought she was suffering.
5. I realize you’re now married and it’s been a long while since you’ve been in a singles ward. But, if you’ve had any interaction with singles ward’s recently, have you noticed any changes (for better, or for worse)?
“I think it’s the practical side of dating that is lost on most singles and sinking their chances.”
A: I haven’t had any interaction with the singles wards since getting married three years ago. I lost touch with them, but there’s no reason to presume the dynamics of being single have changed. I had at least 20 very close single male friends from my single days who are now moving through their late thirties and early forties. Not one of the men has gotten married. These are trim, gainfully employed, very astute and capable people. The numbers are dismal for those over age 30 and most don’t figure it out.
The Church tries to focus the wards on the spiritual side and a little on the practical with mingles and socials, but I think it’s the practical side of dating that is lost on most singles and sinking their chances. Two of the single women I knew did get married recently, but they were not among the singles who had any problems. They were amazing, educated, vibrant, beautiful intelligent women in every way and I knew they would get there. There are some amazing people in the singles wards, and I should have recognized that more in my post.
The post was directed to those I thought had issues, but it’s very true that not all do. Some just get overlooked, or lived in some small town for too long, or just were unlucky a few times over. There really are some great ones interspersed across the wards. I will also say that singles life got easier heading into my mid and late thirties than my earlier thirties.
The post was written in my early thirties at what is probably the hardest phase of being a single LDS male, transitioning from the YSA wards to the mid-singles wards. That particular phase is harder on the men than the women because the men are used to dating women younger than them and suddenly become locked out from the younger age group then faced with having to date from a much older group. It might make sense to have different transition protocols for men than women from YSA wards.
6. Has your wife read the post?
A: I think she read it about the time we got engaged. Don’t know how she found it, but we never really talked about it. Seems to be a subject best ignored…
7. What were her thoughts on it?
A: Not everyone found the post to be as offensive as the majority. I’m hoping she was in the minority.
8. Did you meet through singles ward?
A: We met at a singles dinner on a Sunday night hosted by a mid-single guy for any LDS mid-single who wanted to come regardless of ward boundaries in Holladay. The guys had to pitch in for food costs, but the girls were free. They were good events and opened with prayer I think, but weren’t tied to any ward. Don’t know how many people met or got married, but it made a big difference for at least one pair of mid-singles I know. A lot of people met there. I used my best pick up line on her, “So what’s your name?” =)
9. Any words of advice for current singles ward members?
If the relationship isn’t working out right away, make some kind of overly generous, overly romantic gesture (song, poem, etc), then walk away emotionally suddenly and don’t keep calling.
A: The advice I have for the girls is laid out pretty clearly in my post (inartful as it is). As for the guys, I could write forever, but I would say you have to approach meeting people strategically and systematically. It’s not like I was Casanova, but I am strongly convinced that – counterintuitive as it may seem – it is critical for guys to have a routine and techniques they develop and deploy. Things improved for me dramatically when I got some rules and routines worked out. Maybe I should write a book. What follows below is my attempt sum up secret dating advice I would usually only share with close guy friends:
- Initial contact: Making initial contact with women and driving initial conversation forward quickly is important. You don’t have a lot of time for conversation in the singles ward environment. You have to move fast. You have to have some humorous, scripted anecdotes prepared. You want to be relaxed, but you need to have several opening statements/questions lined up that follow in sequence. You really need to have a serious of engaging lines prepared. Having a few very subtle props as back up is helpful (graduation ring, fountain pen, whatever). Be genuine. Be confident. Look good. Dress in a suit (don’t go to church in your uniform if you are in the military or on the police).
- Phone numbers: Asking a girl for her phone number. When? After the first contact is usually best in singles wards because people jump around so much, odds are high you won’t meet them again. The prevailing wisdom is that you should wait until you get to know them, but that’s usually wrong. The singles ward environment is too fleeting to get to know somebody. That’s what dating is for. You need to have rules about text messages. Usually best to text someone a few times before the first call and gauge their receptiveness.
- Wingmen: It’s always best to have someone with you at a singles ward who’s dynamic and on the same page strategically. I guess the lay term is wingman. It’s an implicit endorsement from someone else that’s helpful in buying credibility, but more than that, it’s a way of breaking into groups. A lot of women guys are interested in mingle perpetually with groups/cliques of their friends after meetings. Send the wingman over to distract the group and break off the stragglers, then move in or use the wingman to introduce you.
- First dates: Have routines that work for first dates, and don’t do group dates or strenuous activities the first go around. They’re distracting. You need a restaurant that is not too noisy and not too cheap, but where the food is served quickly and there is some kind of entertaining atmosphere that doesn’t interfere with conversation. Tepanyaki is perfect. Rodizio Grill is bad (too noisy). This is important. You have to do dinner first to try and connect before doing any kind of activity. Don’t drive over the top cars on first dates, like Dodge Vipers (or Corvettes, motorcycles, muscle cars, etc.).
- Subsequent dates: Subsequent dates need to be unique and need – strangely I realized over time – to challenge a girl’s comfort level slightly, if only to show her afterward there was safety in it. For instance, you might walk around Saltair at midnight out to the where the waves break of the Great Salt Lake to see the city lights on the water. Tell her about the Indian burial grounds out there. The girl is uncomfortable because you’re in the middle of nowhere, she thinks Salair is haunted, and she doesn’t know you well, but it is undeniably cool and after it’s over and she feels good. Try walking around the tarmac at the Bountiful airport at night and looking at the old planes. It makes everyone uncomfortable because they think they’re trespassing in the dead of night an airport (you’re not), but it’s different and a higher type of activity. Try walking Memory Grove in Salt Lake after dark, or do the quick hike to the Moon Tower by the U in Salt Lake. Show your dates collections of things at your home. Girls always feel like they know you better after seeing where you live and what your interests are. Coin collections, stamps, cars, books, all make you look smart and are genuinely interesting. Eventually more serious dates are okay, like going out of town and having fun. Don’t let successive dates become stagnant. They need to always be escalating. You do need to spend a little bit of money on dating.
- Intimacy: Don’t ever, ever try and make a first move on the doorstep. It’s too expected and awkward. It needs to happen spontaneously sometime during the date. The older you get, the faster others want and expect you to move. By the time you’re a mid-single, moving in on the first date might still be unexpected, but it’s thrilling to most and usually a net plus on balance. Even if it’s something juvenile you’ll have to live down later, pry it out of them. Bet the girl a kiss you’ll beat her at bowling, then make sure you collect…
- Random romantic acts: If the relationship isn’t working out right away, make some kind of overly generous, overly romantic gesture (song, poem, etc), then walk away emotionally suddenly and don’t keep calling. You have to really invest in whatever that gesture it is, then let whoever come back if they want to. Even if the overly romantic gesture is interpreted as desperate and clingy in the present, it will be interpreted as romantic once you’ve moved on and demonstrated the strength to do so. Usually the girl will miss you all the more because of whatever you did and come back. None of this means the gesture was insincere or that you were insincere in making it. If she does come back, you’re better off going forward in the relationship because the girl has become self-determined to commit rather than just going through the motions unsurely. You can’t fake it though. You really have to move on, not just agonize over your phone hoping whoever will call as you fall apart emotionally day-by-day. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is space. It’s like the old ‘80s song, “hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you gonna lose control.” You can’t convince someone to marry you out of charity or by being clingy.
- Don’t get depressed: I did get depressed about a lot of failed relationships. They affected me deeply, some for years. In retrospect, I regret feeling regretful. Enjoy being single and don’t let any failed relationship overwhelm you or mess up your personal or professional life. Being single should be the most exciting time of your life, and you’ll regret not letting yourself enjoy it by lamenting losses. Relationships are more likely to work out if you have that attitude. Letting failure and heartache affect you too much for too long is a sign of weakness . . . a weakness I’m prone to along with a lot of other people.
10. Would you still endorse ward hopping?
A: It seems like playing the numbers is part of sound strategy for getting married. Anytime you go out with a person, even if you really like them, you’ve got less than a 1% chance of that person being the one (assuming you go over 100 first dates in your life). If everyone ward hopped, though, nobody would have callings and wards wouldn’t function. Therein lies the great conflict in singles ward administration.
Even for the church authorities, I think it’s been an ongoing point of debate: do you let singles wards swell to mitigate ward hopping or keep them small and disciplined? I’m not sure what the answer is. When I left the scene, there were at least three mid-singles wards in Salt Lake approaching 1,000 members a piece, some regularly with over 700 in attendance. One of them was a branch. The Church had consolidated mid-singles wards into larger bodies. I don’t have a solution or I would be all over it.
11. You ended your post on a rather hopeless note, without any clear “solution” in sight. Would you say you have found a solution?
I don’t like liberalism and attribute some of the problems I thought women were having getting married to liberal political influence.
A: Well, I did get married to someone wonderful who I love. We’re having a family now and are active in the Church. I feel like I did find a solution to the problems. I’m conflicted about what I wrote in the post because I don’t like the tone, but I also continue to feel deep down that it’s important for singles to understand the realities they’re living in. It’s true that there is a political side — perhaps a bias — to my perspectives.
I don’t like liberalism and attribute some of the problems I thought women were having getting married to liberal political influence. I hesitate to walk back those statements totally, because, brutal as they seem, I continue to believe they’re true to some extent. The fact is, though, I was not the best looking, most articulate, most accomplished young guy ever to walk into a singles ward. There are a lot of women who are anything but how I stereotyped singles generally in my post. They’re beautiful, kind, smart, optimistic… that’s what us men all celebrate and want. Some of the men are great too and don’t need to buy into my negativity as much as I did.