Mormon single woman’s loves, losses & laughter chronicled in new memoir

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Julie L. Rowse

(courtesy of Julie L. Rowse)

Julie L. Rowse

A new memoir by a single Mormon woman tells the truth—often very comically—about dating and finding her way in the world.

Julie L. Rowse

Julie L. Rowse

In Lies Jane Austen Told Me, the 42-year-old Julie Rowse says she always expected that by this point in her life, she would have multiple kids and be driving a minivan.  

Life has been good overall, but it has not turned out according to that particular plan.

In the book Rowse discusses some of the messages she imbibed as a youth about what romance was supposed to be like. She didn’t hear those messages only from the family-oriented LDS Church, but also from pop culture touchstones ranging from Jane Austen’s books to John Hughes’s movies.

Before the interview, let’s get this out of the way: This is Julie Rowse, not the apocalypticist Julie Rowe, another Mormon woman who has been in the news lately. Unlike Rowe, Rowse doesn’t think the world is ending anytime soon, even though her romantic life has sometimes made it feel that way.– JKR

 

RNS: You write, “In all the youth lessons and activities I attended, and even in religion classes at Brigham Young University, living my life as a single woman was never even floated to me as a possibility. Not once.”

Rowse: The message was that marriage and family were the only things I needed to do in my life. I know my parents wanted me to go to college. And they wanted me to be married someday, but they didn’t tell me how I had to go about that. I just internalized everything they weren’t saying, along with everything I was hearing at church, as “You need to get married.” And all of these other secular sources, like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, were just reinforcing that there was the One Guy out there for me.

I don’t ever remember a Young Women lesson that didn’t focus on anything other than being a wife and mother. That could have just been what I was choosing to hear, but I think I would have remembered even if I’d had a Young Women leader who was single, or maybe married but had a career at the time. But the message was that every choice would be inferior to being a wife and mother.

To be honest, young women still get that message. At the April General Conference, at the Saturday morning session, every single talk was all about how marriage is the ultimate goal. I’ve built a good life for myself in spite of not having that opportunity, so I feel even more marginalized.

Cover-MockupRNS: On this blog last month we had a horrible and insensitive comment about singles in the Church. Brace yourself: “Yes, married people, especially ones with children, are more mature. They don’t hang out all night playing video games. They don’t spend as much money on luxuries and frivolous things (Mint in box collectible Star Wars characters?). They have to get educations and get real jobs so they can support a family.” How do you respond to this kind of attitude in the Church? Do you think it is prevalent?

Rowse: I’m really lucky in my ward. I do not get any of that at all. Also, though, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more vocal as I start to hear people even approach saying those kinds of comments. I live in an area where I’ve lived off and on for 30 years. My parents work in the Omaha temple; my dad was a bishop here and on the stake high council. I don’t think anyone who knows me here would ever see me in that childish way, or say I don’t have a real job.

Where I’ve landed is that people who make comments like that don’t have a face to that situation. They’ve built their own idea of what they think single life is like, and that’s also guided by how singlehood is portrayed in pop culture.

RNS: So how is life for you at church?

Rowse: Really good. I’m the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward, a calling I’ve had for four years.

I’m comfortable in my own skin. When I was younger I would read articles about how women in their 40s just don’t care anymore about what other people think,  and I had wondered how that could really be true.

RNS: Heck yeah, it’s true. Amen!

Rowse: It is true! I am so over it. So I speak up. There was one week when we were having a law of chastity lesson jointly with the priesthood. I brought up The Bachelorette, where that season deviated from the script and the woman had sex with one of the bachelors before the producers had approved of that.

And the emotions that she went through! The episode really showed the emotional consequences of sex, of wondering how trustworthy someone is going to be when you open up to him in that way. She did not end up with the man that she slept with early in the season. So I brought up the episode as an example at church, and said, “This is what we should be teaching our young people.

And there was a man near me who kept rolling his eyes as I was speaking. And I was thinking, ‘Your eye rolls? Not shutting me up.”

RNS: Why did you want to write this book about your experiences as a single Mormon?

Rowse: There are very few places in the Church to escape that romantic ideal. That’s part of why I wrote the memoir. There wasn’t that voice saying that it was OK to be single, especially single and LDS.

I read Kristen Oaks’s book, who had married Elder Oaks in her fifties. It’s a very Deseret Book-approved approach to singleness, and it’s very spiritually grounded.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Elna Baker or Nicole Hardy, who decided to leave the church. But that voice in the middle, the one that speaks to me, is the one I couldn’t find anywhere. No one else was writing it.


UPCOMING AUTHOR EVENTS WITH JULIE ROWSE:

  • Friday, October 16 at 7 p.m. at the Provo City Library
  • Saturday, October 17, at 2:00 at the King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City

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  • stacer

    Excellent interview! Looking forward to Julie’s book. I so agree that every time we see a narrative in the church about single women, especially in the Ensign, it always ends with “and then I had faith and that was rewarded with a husband!!1!” I’m tired of it. Sometimes people *don’t* get married. And my life has worth in and of itself. It’s not a backup plan, it’s not a you’ll-have-worth-when-you’re-dead plan. It’s a life that is what it is. I’m doing good things in the world, whether I have a family or not. Not enough single women doing awesome stuff visibility. Thanks!

  • New Iconoclast

    Excellent review. I may find myself buying copies of this book for my kids, both sons and daughters. Two of my sons are married; one daughter engaged; the others (one of each) still in high school. But regardless of what their futures bring to them, they need to know that they have value to God and to the Church as people, not just as halves of a couple. This is especially true for my daughters.

  • Fred M

    Is there data anywhere on the number of single women in the church in their 40’s? Their 30’s? It would be very interesting to see those numbers. And to pass them on to the young women of the church to make it clear to them that statistically not all of them will be married. Which I think would be helpful in many ways.

  • GTO

    When I look at a group of LDS young women, I always ponder… some of you will never marry; some of you will have terrible marriages that end up in divorce; some of you will be infertile; some of you will have special-needs children; and some of you will face huge trials in other areas of life. I want to inform them of these potentialities and tell them to stay close to God and follow the Spirit to their own brand of success, which may not look like someone else’s success. Heavenly Father is broad in His views, and the Spirit can lead us to great adventures, and happiness that is unique.

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