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Mormon Men Delaying the Walk Down the Aisle

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) John Evans is in no hurry to get married.

The 25-year-old returned LDS missionary lives with his parents, works full time, takes night classes toward an English degree and, with law school looming, is building up his savings.

Evans goes on dates, but they tend to be expensive so he prefers developing friendships first. Sometimes he finds it easier just to hang out with the guys at his Mormon fraternity.

“My dating pace is right for me,” Evans says. “I don’t feel stressed.”

That kind of modern nonchalance is what may be worrying LDS President Thomas S. Monson and other Mormon leaders, who addressed the issue at the church’s recent General Conference.

“Brethren, there is a point at which it’s time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity,” Monson said at an all-male priesthood meeting.


“If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness.”

Apostle Richard G. Scott spoke even more emphatically the next day.

“If you are a young man of appropriate age and are not married, don’t waste time in idle pursuits,” Scott urged. “Get on with life and focus on getting married. Don’t just coast through this period of life.”

Their concern is natural. After all, marriage is a core Mormon teaching and temple marriage is a prerequisite for the highest Mormon heaven.

But LDS leaders may be fighting a cultural shift. Traditional dating is almost a quaint custom on college campuses, where hanging out in groups and casual sex “hook ups” are increasingly common. Students also are worried about their financial stability.


“People in the country are pairing up,” says Brigham Young University sociologist Marie Cornwall, who teaches a class in family and social change. “They’re just not getting married.”

Past church presidents also counseled young Mormon men not to delay marriage, but there is a new urgency.

The median age for a first marriage in the U.S. has climbed to 25.8 for women and 27.4 for men. In heavily Mormon Utah, the median age for first-time brides has jumped from 20 in 1970 to 22 in 2008, and from 22 to 24 for men.

So what’s slowing down Mormons?

The picture is complicated, especially in individual cases, social scientists and LDS teachers say, but a clear trend is evident: Today’s young Mormons are not nearly as confident in the future, in their economic well-being or in their choices as their parents were.


“I really do plan on finding someone,” Evans says, “and getting married.”

Just not yet.

Monson placed the blame for Mormon men’s marital foot-dragging on financial anxiety, insistence on finding a “soul mate” and having too much fun being single. Yet there is no shame in a couple having to “scrimp and save,” Monson assured the young men. “You will grow closer together as you learn to sacrifice,” he said.

He told them not to insist on finding the perfect mate, but rather a young woman “with whom you can be compatible.” A previous LDS prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, once called the idea of a “soul mate” a “fiction and an illusion.”


The issue of finding the perfect match seems especially prevalent on LDS-dominated campuses, said David Dollahite, who teaches marriage and family relations at BYU. It produces a kind of “market mentality,” Dollahite said.

“The young men think, ‘I am dating a 9.7, but if I wait, maybe I could get a 9.9.”‘

Financial instability is also real, given the country’s economic downturn. And societal attitudes are pressing in around them, said Larry Tippetts, who teaches classes on courtship and marriage at the University of Utah’s LDS institute.

“In my generation, when you met someone, you just got married, confident it would work out,” Tippetts says. “But 50 years ago it was easier to eke out a living than it is now.”


At the same time, he says, fear of a bad choice may be paralyzing young men in their search for a spouse. “These kids are terrified of making a mistake,” he said. “They think too much and overanalyze everything.”

One problem is pretty stark, Tippetts said. Many young Mormon men, even 21-year-olds who have served missions in foreign lands, have no idea how to set up one-on-one dates — because they may never have been on one.

For at least two decades, LDS leaders have counseled high-schoolers not to be romantically involved or “go steady,” but rather to engage mostly in “group dates.”

That has been a boon to lots of Mormon boys who were too shy or awkward to ask out a girl, but it hasn’t prepared young men for real dating and courtship.


“It’s hard if you’ve gone only on group dates before your mission, then you come back with the same mind-set. But now they say, `Go, go, go.’ For a lot of guys it’s too much,” says Richard Spratt, a 21-year-old returned missionary from Bountiful, Utah. “It takes effort to go on an actual date, which discourages a lot of guys.”

Facebook and texting were meant to enhance dialogue but may have “crippled” the dating scene, says Robin Walton, a Mormon from Las Vegas.

“They’ve altered our ability to interact face to face,” says Walton, 22 and a University of Utah graduate student. “After we’ve learned everything about each other on Facebook, what do we talk about on the first date?”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)

  • Faith hope charitees

    Well, I know quite a few Mormon (and other Christian) young men and they have no problems going out on dates, one on one. I am thinking that if you are a social pariah, no matter what religion you are, you will have a hard time finding dates.

  • John

    I think part of the problem is that in the past, all the pressure to get married has led to some poor choices. It’s true you don’t have to look for the hypothetical “perfect match” or “soulmate” (though I believe they exist, since I married mine!) but you should at least look for someone you are compatible with. If you marry the first girl that shows any interest without really getting to know her first, that can only lead to unhappiness down the road.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Having known about and met a few Mormon’s who are on their 2nd wife/husband( or 3rd in a couple of them), why should the men hurry to marry? My brother-in-law was married before he met and married my sister (who was and is still a Methodist) 30 years ago. Even LDS folks divorce just like those in other faiths. AND what is with the “marry someone with whom you can be compatible”? How about love entering into the equation? These men are taking their time—IMO, good idea.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Everyone should be so smart. They are acting responsibly. If more people waited till they could afford children to get married we’d have fewer people on welfare. Of course it would also help if everyone knew about and used real contraception.

    Anyway I applaud what they are doing. The religious leaders are being greedy (so what else is new?) because they want more people contributing to their upkeep.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sarah Merrill

    I am Mormon and I got married young (I was 20 and my husband 24) and had children right away (I have 4) like I was commanded to do and (even though I am still married to the same man) it was the biggest mistake of my life.

    It led to extreme poverty, welfare, and way too much responsibility with not enough maturity. I tell my own kids to wait until they are much older and financially secure. Young marriage and children is a recipe for misery.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Sarah M.:
    I married 1 week from my 20th birthday, to a man who was 3 weeks from being 20—and 2 children and 46 years later we’re still married. I’m far from Mormon, married a Unitarian, but I have not regreted marrying that young. However we postponed children for 4 years, making things easier while we went to college and graduated. My sister is married to a Mormon (30 years ago)but she was and is still a Methodist. Their 2 children aren’t married–only one chose to be Mormon (she is 24 and really isn’t even dating right now—grad school) and the other is Methodist, and is 21. She had a serious boyfriend but that is over. Early marriage can work for some but not all. My children were 36, and 41 when they married. Personally the attitude of the men in the above article is really out of date. As I said above—marrying someone who is compatible? Love needs to be there too, IMO. And in all honesty—-marriage isn’t for everyone, no matter what their gender.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie Angel

    I started dating when I was fourteen and had a boyfriend pretty much consistently from then on, but I didn’t marry until, at the age of 26, I found the man that I could not envision my life without – even though he had a congenital heart defect and I knew I was likely to be a young widow. From the day we started dating until the day 25 years and 1 month later when he died, we surmounted every difficulty and celebrated every victory together. I could have chosen any of the ten previous marriage proposals but I waited for the right one. And I have never regretted it.

    I applaud these young men for not “settling” for compatable but waiting for the real thing.

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