Mormons believe in happily ever after—literally. If a Mormon couple marries in the LDS temple, they expect their union to continue forever after they die. Growing up, Mormons are taught this in church—but the greatest challenge is finding the right partner for this eternal procession.
“We should all be born with a tag attached to our wrists that says the first name of our future spouse,” one Mormon joked. “Then, if a guy named Jeff had a wrist tag that said ‘Jenny,’ he’d know he was on the right track if her tag said ‘Jeff.’”
For Mormons, dating isn’t just dating; it’s preparing for an eternal mate who will beget a celestial family that will be together forever. Author and retired therapist Marion Smith says Mormons are less likely to give up on romance and marriage than non-Mormons. If a first marriage doesn’t work out, or if they aren’t married by the age of 30, they will continue to hope for an eternally married future.
Mormons, perhaps more than others, dread remaining single or becoming divorced. They pair off quickly with high school sweethearts, or at places like Brigham Young University or at church functions or LDS dances. The rush to marriage, however, doesn’t always end happily in this life, let alone eternity. But now single Mormons, whether divorced or never married, have found the Internet to be a godsend. A Utah online dating service tailored specifically for members of the LDS faith has become wildly popular. Some who have found mates online believe their meeting to be divinely inspired. One woman interviewed by City Weekly went so far as to call it “Heavenly Father’s website.” For about $12 a month you can sign up to find your eternal mate.
Crystal never imagined she would divorce. An active Mormon, she followed her church’s prescription to marry a returned missionary in the LDS Temple. But her husband was frequently absent. Her life was shattered when she finally realized he was leading a double life that included infidelity. “I was a victim of his free agency. You can’t control what your spouse does,” she recalls. She says each new revelation of his wrongdoing wiped her out emotionally. She coped by crying and taking hot showers. “When you find out that the person you married is doing things they shouldn’t, you realize they’re not the person you thought they were. It’s like a death to realize that your image of the person you married doesn’t exist.”
Devastated, but not wanting to be single, Crystal considered finding a new spouse but did not want to rush. “There is a grieving process you experience where you don’t want to date. My previous marriage made me cautious.” She completed massage therapy school, and for seven years supported her five children alone.
Classy, dark-haired Crystal eventually had her share of admirers, and during one period dated as many as 11 men and received five marriage proposals. Her most painful experience was meeting a man at an LDS singles’ dance, dating him for three years, marrying him and then having the marriage annulled one month later. She fell into total shock when her second marriage ended. “He said he wasn’t ready to make a commitment yet,” she recalls. “I told him he might as well have shot me.” She remembers feeling intense anger, followed by the sense that she’d been conned. “When you are burned like that, you don’t want anybody to get close to you.”
As the years passed, she told friends she wouldn’t rush into another mistake. “When the Lord hits me with a flashing billboard, I’ll know it’s right, but I’m not going to try to make the right situation with the wrong person.”
Nonetheless, Crystal still hoped to find her soul mate. She cautiously asked a massage therapy client how she met her husband, with whom she was very happy. The client told Crystal about LDS Singles Online, a website designed to help non-married Mormons meet each other. Crystal logged on to www.ldssingles.com last fall.
A typical LDS Singles profile reveals stats: age, number of children, profession, hometown, etc. A paragraph about Mormon church affiliation may mention church positions, returned missionary status, temple attendance and feelings about religion and spirituality. There are boxes to check the degree of church activity.
Some subscribers check the box that indicates they rarely attend church. “Not everyone in the database is a highly active Mormon, but if you’re inactive you can also find someone who feels like you do,” said one subscriber.
For some, it’s uncomfortable to post this very personal information on the web. Crystal prepared her profile twice. She and others say they were grateful to be able to change a profile after it was initially entered. “You can update it at any time?if you have second thoughts, you can go back and edit,” says Crystal. Some profiles end with the statement, “e-mail me for the rest of my life story.” After preparing and submitting her online profile, Crystal immediately began receiving dozens of messages each day.
“When you go to singles’ activities, you often meet people who don’t have anything else going on in their lives besides going out every night of the week,” says Crystal. “On LDS Singles Online, you meet people who have goals and are busy.”
She says the quality of people she met through the site “went way up” compared to her prior dating experiences. “I was dating psychiatrists, doctors and deans of universities—people who were on a high intellectual level, instead of hustlers. It really did help to broaden my ability to meet people and choose, instead of letting the chemistry be the number one thing.”
Last January, Crystal received a message from a man whose online handle was ‘Skidave’. His profile indicated he skis 40 days a year. “I thought he looked handsome and athletic, but it scared me that he was so into skiing.” Although she lifts weights, swims and runs, Crystal, who grew up and was living in sunny Arizona, had never been on skis. “I thought he wouldn’t be interested in me. I almost didn’t write back,” she says.
Before hearing from Skidave, Crystal learned one of the drawbacks people have mentioned about online dating services. Crystal heard from a man she thought was near her age. “He arrived looking 70 years old in his gray hair and leisure suit.”
That isn’t the only pitfall of online dating. Married men sometimes troll for conquests under the guise that they are single.
“Some people put forth that they are something they aren’t. Then when you find out the truth you are totally put off because they weren’t honest,” says Crystal. “I tell people they have to be honest or the website won’t work for them and they won’t meet their match.”
Maybe that’s one reason not everyone prefers to meet online. While official dances sponsored by the LDS church have dwindled in number, Bill Wright, owner of the Murray Arts Center and Murray Dance Center, says the dances he’s hosted for 15 years continue to increase in attendance. He’s expanded his facilities and holds dances three nights a week to accommodate the demand. While the events are not officially church-sponsored, participants are required to keep LDS standards of no smoking, drinking or foul language. He estimates that on Saturday evenings when ballroom dancing is featured, 80 percent of participants are single. “It’s amazing how many people marry after meeting here,” says Wright. His feeling is that many singles still appreciate the fact that dancing is “not just good physical exercise, but is mentally and socially rewarding, too. Not everyone wants to sit home alone on a computer.”
Jeremy, a thoughtful, introspective man, decided to move beyond the “I’m fine, how are you?” messages at ldssingles.com by writing questions he felt would be food for thought. Last February, in his first e-mail exchange with a woman whose online name is Diana, he wrote, “I notice that you are 42, have been married and don’t have children. I’ve been interested in seeing how many LDS women are married and have no children. Why do you think that is?”
Diana was surprised, but not put off by the question. She felt free to answer, in part because of the anonymity of being online. She wrote back that her ex-husband was disabled and children weren’t a possibility in her first marriage, which ended two years ago. She signed up with LDS Singles Online in October 2000, and had met five men through the site before hearing from Jeremy.
On a previous website she had joined, she found 10 to 15 men who fit her specifications for location and age. On LDS Singles, when she stated she wanted to meet men who were located from Springville to Logan within the age range of 38 to 48, she was surprised to find 450 men who fit her criteria.
Jeremy was impressed by Diana’s articulate responses as their e-mail correspondence progressed. “As a single dad who fought hard to get some time with my kids, the last thing I wanted to do was get a sitter and go to a church dance,” says Jeremy. He says he spent a lot of time screening on-line profiles. “It was fascinating to read what women were looking for.”
Jeremy said he, too, appreciates the anonymity of the Internet. “It felt wonderful to know that I didn’t have to put myself out there on a public meat market and could pursue this in a civilized way. There are people who love to date and socialize, but this service also works for someone like me, who wants to be reserved and cautious,” he says. “I hadn’t been in this area long, and joined just to meet people socially.”
Crystal, Diana, Jeremy and Skidave are far from alone. About 103,000 people have subscribed to ldssingles.com in five years of operation, and there are 25,000 subscribers at any given time, says the company’s president Bob Haupt, who himself understands the search for a significant other after marrying at age 32. The sheer numbers are one reason why LDS Singles Online works for a large number of people. “It’s possible to meet many singles within driving distance that you would never run across in the course of your normal day,” he said.
What about the LDS church? What do church leaders say about hooking up like this online? Is it acceptable? A spokesman for the LDS church had no comment but referred City Weekly to one of the church’s websites, www.media.lds.org. A perusal of the site, however, turns up nothing on dating or online dating.
Among the possibilities is that the Internet makes it possible to meet singles from anywhere else in the world, for those who don’t mind long distance relationships, or are planning to relocate or travel. Brett and Kristy Gardiner married after a long distance relationship—they first wrote in March 2000 and in May 2000. Seven weeks after their first e-mails, 34-year-old Brett flew the 4,000 miles from Alaska to Provo. Their courtship continued mostly online and by phone, but with a face-to-face meeting every few weeks. “We had many common interests and enough differences to make it interesting,” says Brett.
It isn’t always that easy. Mike has recently re-subscribed to LDS Singles Online after a serious relationship with a woman he met online ended. On a Thursday evening last month, nine women sent messages to Mike. One is in town from Las Vegas, two are blondes wearing sunglasses, one is a redhead, and two women sent bios without photos. One is from the woman he dated before. Though their relationship broke up short of marriage, she now seeks to reinstate his attentions and feels sorry he’s back online.
Mike clicks on his own profile, which contains a full-length photo that shows off his broad shoulders and tall frame. He points out that 179 women have viewed his profile, and 30 or 40 sent him e-mail messages. “That can hurt your ego if you let it—if hundreds of women view your profile and photo, but none of them write to you afterwards.”
To demonstrate how popular it is for Mormons to meet online, Mike clicks on the search option and scrolls through the names of more than 100 women who are new listings this week alone.
Licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist Marybeth Raynes explains that while most cultures value marriage highly and almost all put high hopes into it, Mormons add an extra layer. “It’s one of the major trainings of the LDS faith that marriage is not only the place to find the highest degree of happiness, but also to get to the highest kingdom of Heaven. There’s a quip about being in a singles ward—that you qualify to attend based on what you’re not doing,” says Raynes.
Marion Smith agrees that young Mormons feel more desperate to marry than non-Mormons. “But I don’t feel they are as desperate to marry by a certain age as in the past.” Because of their beliefs in the importance of marriage Mormons would use a website such as LDS Singles Online “more seriously and with deeper serious intent” than others. “For that matter, the world in general is so alienated and isolated that an Internet relationship would be interesting. I think Mormons and others would feel that the Internet is more respectable than classified ads in any newspaper,” Smith says.
Jeremy was single for over a year when he ran across Diana’s online profile, and the two began exchanging e-mail. “She seemed to have such a kind, genuine manner about how she spoke and presented things; it was endearing to me,” Jeremy said.
Diana also felt a bond with Jeremy, and although she’d met previous men from LDS Singles Online on neutral territory, she allowed Jeremy to pick her up at her house on their first date. During a dinner that lasted five hours, they experienced what other website couples have mentioned—a spiritual connection that seemed to indicate they should be together.
“At the time we met, my father had recently died. He was very ill and the whole experience was very difficult for me,” says Jeremy. He was discussing his father’s illness and his own sense of loss with Diana when he mentioned his dad had been hospitalized at University Hospital. “Wait a minute,” said Diana, who is a registered nurse. “I knew your dad. He was in the clinic I worked in and was a patient of mine.”
The fact that Diana met his parents before she met him was a spiritual confirmation for Jeremy. “One of my dad’s dying wishes was that I would find someone and remarry,” he says. “As soon as I found out I knew his parents, I felt I knew him so much better,” adds Diana.
Dave and Crystal had a similar sense of fate. Dave brought his family along on his first date with Crystal, January 23, 2001. “I fell in love with his granddaughter before I fell in love with him,” she says. The next day, they took their children to the mall, playground and zoo. “It felt very natural, like I’d known him forever,” says Crystal. “I had dated a lot and had a frame of reference. None of the other guys felt like the right person.”
Crystal suspected Dave had begun to like her. “When we first met, he told me he didn’t get to Arizona often. Yet at the end of our second date, he said he’d be back there in two weeks.” When Dave arrived two weeks later, Crystal asked what he would like to do while visiting. Dave said, “I only plan to do one thing. I want to ask you to marry me.”
“I thought for a minute and my heart said, ‘this is right,’” says Crystal.
Although pop culture pulses through the Internet, young Mormons still yearn for traditional marriages and families. “At a time when marriage is being questioned as never before, given the LDS emphasis on marriage, most of our young men and women are very desirous of finding what they feel is the right person to marry for time and eternity,” says Jerry Harris, a marriage and family therapist employed by LDS Social Services.
Harris’ relatives as well as members of his congregation at an LDS singles’ ward have met on the website. “Most of the experiences I’ve seen are postive,” he says. “It’s a way to facilitate the significant drive to get married that doesn’t take away the spiritual aspects of prayer and the desire to feel right about the match.”
The anonymity of the computer and the initial meeting has plusses and minuses, he explains. “While it’s a way to expand possibilities, it’s still necessary to be cautious—the same way you would if you went to a singles’ dance.”
It’s not all hearts, flowers and diamond rings. Occasionally, women have encountered married men on ldssingles.com. And not everyone sends in recent photos. Haupt advises new subscribers to represent themselves truthfully with current photos. “I tell them to be honest—what they are and who they are is going to come out. They should just be themselves.”
While Haupt says he works hard to keep the environment appropriate, subscribers online can hide behind a cloak of anonymity. “Like it says in the Book of Mormon, there are more ways to commit sin than you can count. A male member might send a private message that asks, ‘What’s your bra size?’ We have a continuing battle in the chat room to have people use appropriate language.”
People might be leery of the Internet, but it is a great way to meet someone with LDS values and interests. Still, website rules suggest meeting for the first time in a public place, possibly taking along a friend and using discretion about revealing a real name or address. Most subscribers exchange several e-mails before meeting in person.
Haupt says Internet meetings are growing in popularity. They allow women to be empowered to take the initiative and be proactive in establishing a relationship without violating social norms.
While the stories of the people in this article are filled with Earthly coincidences, they see themselves as having heavenly connections that they were destined to realize here on Earth. “This website is Heavenly Father’s way of giving us a second chance to meet the person we should have met in the first place,” says Crystal.