It's a truth universally acknowledged that single twenty-somethings are the red-headed stepchildren of Mormon culture. Each family ward has a place for children, youth, and adults, but those of marriageable age with no children suddenly find themselves without a niche.
The solution? Throw them into a singles ward! Marry them off as quickly as you can so they can move back into a real ward and finally feel comfortable with real adults!
Okay, so it's not that bad. Except, sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes I worry that the comical, negative stereotype super-glued to YSA wards is the only perception people have of YSA wards. That they view those who didn't seize the low-hanging fruit in their early twenties as too weird/selfish/lazy/immature to get married.
And I'm not just talking about others here—I thought the same thing until I became one of those single twenty-somethings.
When in fact marriage really has little to do with singles wards in the first place. It's often a side effect, yes. But after 7 1/2 years in a YSA ward, I've felt more and more strongly that these wards were created because God loves his YSAs, not because he wants to "fix" them.
My first YSA ward was a BYU ward. To my 20-year-old self, it was like an unsupervised playground that spontaneously shot couples with Cupid's arrows. Even beyond that, it was a haven, a place of belonging. This was a ward specifically for me and all the other transitioning adults in my small corner of Provo.
I never thought I could learn so much from people my own age, or that church would still feel so right in a setting without families.
Being surrounded by budding romances did wear me down toward the end of my BYU experience, though, and I lost sight of all that is good about singles wards for a while. I felt like that guy from that Singles Ward movie, who, after his divorce, was more upset that he would have to go back to a singles ward than that his marriage had ended.
My perspective shifted when I moved to Midvale and started going to a newly formed singles ward, where beards were rampant and college graduates were the norm. Refreshingly one of the young ones of the ward again, I felt more at home at church than I had in a while. The pressure to get married was still faint, but I was surrounded by people in the same boat I was—trying to make the most of a life experience most of us didn't expect to have.
And being part of a singles ward is an integral part of that experience. It provides you with people who roll their eyes with you when someone admonishes you to "try a little harder" at dating, like it's that simple. (And they're also the ones you listen to when you really do need to try a little harder.) You have a support group to lean on when all of your friendships change because your friends are married and you are not. Sunday School, Relief Society, and Priesthood lessons are relevant to your life today, not the one you hope to have in the future.
But it's more than just the sense of community and commonality. It's the way your relationship with God strengthens as the regulars in your life diminish. It's the trust your bishopric has for young adults to fulfill the "important" leadership callings in the ward. It's the way the ward focuses on you and helping you reach your potential.
I haven't missed going to a family ward for a long time, and I know I'll be really sad when I have to leave. Because YSA wards aren't just a solution to the twenty-somethings problem—they exist because God watches out for all of his children, even the misfits.