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Love, marriage and the single woman stuck writing about it

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Editor's Note: This is the second of three articles and accompanying videos in our Love & Marriage series. This series explores what makes marriages work and shows single people how to navigate dating, happiness and chastity. In this installment KSL Television producer Candice Madsen details her journey and what she learned producing a special about love and marriage following her own breakup. Here is her story.

SALT LAKE CITY — A funny thing happened after the guy I wanted to marry dumped me − I got tasked with producing a one-hour television special for KSL all about modern dating, love and marriage.

I now had to spend my days researching the very thing I really wanted to avoid thinking about. It felt like the plot to one of those sappy holiday chick flicks I get sucked into watching this time of year. However, my journey ends with optimism and new understanding of love and commitment, not a kiss and a spouse.

First I had to wade through data that seems especially depressing to a 38-year-old female member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) who has never been married.

According to a Time article published earlier this year, I'm at the epicenter of the dating crisis. In fact, the article used the alias Kelly Blake to describe the sad plight of a television reporter, in her late 30s, living in Salt Lake City, attending an LDS singles ward with a man-deficit, as an example of why faithful women face bleak prospects for a happy life.

I am not the real Kelly Blake — although plenty of family and friends were convinced that I was. (So many in fact, I had to go on Facebook and declare it which resulted in even more people admitting they thought the same thing.) However, I know the real Kelly Blake and contrary to how the story portrayed her she would not consider her life in crisis. Neither would I, but I admit six months ago when I started this project I was very much disillusioned.

Other than the topic, I was given a blank canvas for the TV special and I had no idea where to start except with data from the Pew Research Center.

  • The number of adults 25 or older who have never been married is at a record high — 20 percent, and the U.S. marriage rate is at an all-time low. (Only 51 percent of adults were married in 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.)
  • Women surpass men by record numbers in college enrollment and completion, which has decreased the number of "eligible" bachelors for women with college degrees.
  • Among never-married adults ages 30-50, men (27 percent) are more likely than women (8 percent) to say they do not want to marry.

I set off in search of an expert who could help put this data in context and found Dr. Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, who has been quoted in several articles from major media outlets that have labeled millennials as marriage averse. But when we met he explained the side of the story he said the media keeps missing: Millennials value marriage but "by and large they don't know how (to get married)."

That became the premise for the TV special as I traveled around the country talking to experts and millennials. I wanted to learn about the most effective ways to teach those who want to get married how to do it in this crazy, digital age of impersonal text messages and overwhelming social media options.

“Love and Marriage: A Modern Take On A Traditional Vow” aired on KSL in Salt Lake City Oct. 3. Aside from a few single women who told me I wasn't hard enough on the single men and a few single men who told me I wasn't hard enough on the single women, the rest of the feedback from singles and families alike was mostly positive. When I watched it from home I couldn't help but recognize how much the journey to complete the project had helped me.

Getting started

I visited two relationship classes for this project — one at the Center for Relationship Education in Denver, Colorado taught by Joneen MacKenzie and the other at BYU taught by Jason Carroll. They both talked about the importance of being willing to take a hard look at yourself.

That has been a humbling process.

It's much easier to blame society and an entire generation of men for my single status than to look inward. It actually came as a relief to discover that even after two decades of dating (or maybe because of it) some of my attitudes were a bit warped and shifting my way of thinking could lead to a healthy relationship and eventually marriage.

For me, a lot of that revolves around the big "E" word: expectations.

My expectations have sabotaged not just my relationships but my overall enjoyment in life. I expected to marry a certain type of guy by a certain age and have a certain kind of marriage. Even when I let go of the expectations of how my life was going to evolve (I did that a decade ago) I still held on to expectations about how the “right” relationship should proceed, and I put most of the responsibility for that on the guy.

A great guy I dated years ago told me I had a script constantly in my head he couldn’t follow. The advice Mackenzie shared about those kinds of scripts surprised me. It’s OK to have them, she said. But you have to share them.

She and her husband have actually written out scripts for each other about how they would like the other to respond in certain situations. They do it with humor and when they are both in good moods. She said initially, adhering to a script felt totally unnatural until they understood why the other needed a certain kind of response and then the “right” response became genuinely authentic.

I also discussed this with Nate Bagley — a fellow LDS single on his own journey to find lasting love. We’d be a couple made in romantic comedy heaven if not for the age difference. (A BYU Cougar is the only kind of cougar I want to be.)

He produces the Loveumentary podcast and he told me about a couple he interviewed who came up with their own “script” for when the husband returned from a day at work. The husband said he came home one day really excited to see his wife but his wife — exhausted from spending the day with their kids — didn’t show the same excitement and basically ignored him when he walked in the door.

So he asked her to try again and went outside. When he came back in she jokingly rushed into his arms and kissed him passionately. From then on it became their little joke and once the wife realized how much it meant to her husband she didn’t have to fake the passion behind that kiss.

New York, New York

I had a blast stopping strangers in New York, Philadelphia and Provo to ask them about the best part of being married. If you think most people have bad marriages, try this experiment yourself.

I also interviewed couples I really admired. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife Katherine reminded me that chance encounters can lead to love but only if you act.

Wallace and Ruth Gattrell showed me that even after 70 years of marriage it’s still possible to “keep a fire in the furnace.”

Seth and Kim Smith taught me why "marriage isn't for you. It's for the one you love."

I loved talking about the importance of taking risks in a relationship, with Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the church's General Young Women Presidency, and her husband David. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the only way you can create real intimacy with another person. They also stressed that love develops after you make a commitment.

So did Carroll. He believes there is far too much emphasis on finding "the one." He told me it has created one of the biggest pitfalls in modern dating because it is actually the "commitment and investing that helps to create and make a great relationship".

Turning princes into frogs

The first time I attended an LDS midsingles conference in Huntington Beach a few years ago the only guy who asked for my number went to high school with my mother.

Experiences like that aside, I've come to realize I turned a few princes into frogs, I wasn't as easy to date as I thought I was and as an LDS singles ward bishop I interviewed pointed out — there are nearly as many reasons why people are single as there are single people.

I also gained a new perspective on the “man-deficit” after a lengthy conversation with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, an LDS psychotherapist based in Chicago.

She pointed out that men didn’t ask for the numbers to be in their favor and “more options” actually leads to suffering.

“It allows men to get bashed for not getting married because they are supposed to go out and do the noble thing … and give her a life, give her children and give her a place in the community and if you don’t do that you are selfish.”

That way of thinking can put paralyzing pressure on men and makes it easy for women to see themselves as victims if they don't marry.

I also think it’s become culturally acceptable to view all men, especially single men, as naturally inferior to women when it comes to high moral standards. How many times do we talk about women of virtue? Are there no men of virtue?

Finlayson-Fife and Carroll both told me they believe men are often unfairly bashed because of their sexual desires and women are unfairly portrayed as not having sexual desires. This flawed way of thinking can have a negative effect on dating and marriage.

Personal Journey

Back to my personal journey. It’s been just that — personal. I can’t offer up a magic formula that will work for everyone. You’ve got to embark on your own soul-searching journey, whether single or married, to figure out how to improve relationships and live a satisfying life, no matter the circumstances.

My job in a newsroom exposes me to all the horrible things that can happen to people, and singledom is nowhere near the top of the list. My church service responsibilities remind me that single people aren't the only ones who experience debilitating loneliness. And I know plenty of incredible, single women who teach me by their example about the divine power of womanhood.

There is a unique and profound grief that comes with being single and childless, especially at an older age and I don't mean to diminish those feelings. I've experienced it. At the same time, single women today have so many opportunities and we've got to embrace and celebrate them.

My advice to Millennials

While I was in New York working on this series I found myself standing in line for ice cream with two young college women. I told them about the project I was working on and the flood gates opened. It was as if I had given them permission to admit they also wanted to be wives and mothers and they worried that might not happen.

I commiserated with them about the tough dating scene but I wish instead I had given them this little piece of advice:

  • Don't worry about getting married.

Maintain a heart that is always open to it (that won't always be easy).

Prepare for it by developing relationship skills that will empower you and serve you in other areas of your life. Learning how to communicate well creates confidence. Recognizing the difference between merely listening and actually hearing what someone is trying to tell you leads to intimacy. Allowing yourself and others to be vulnerable builds relationships of trust.

Chase your other dreams. I pursued a career I love but have also maintained a healthy work/life balance. Had a career been my only pursuit, I think I would've ended up with a hard heart. I now have more room for compassion, empathy and understanding.

Live by faith, not fear. Fear only prevents and derails relationships. It can also keep you holding on when you should actually let go. Above all, fear prohibits you from fully engaging in the beauty that is your imperfect life.

Finding Love

It was a race to finish the marriage and love special before deadline and I was stressed wondering if it would all come together. I arranged one of the last shoots in front of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple near the circular platform where brides and grooms stand to take their pictures.

The sun was beginning to set and the temple stood encased in the most glorious colors. A feeling of peace wiped away the panic and I knew that at that moment I was just where I needed to be in my life.

About a week later I stood in a crowd of thousands gathered to celebrate the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with Pope Frances. It's hard to describe the incredible transformation that city underwent. Aside from the unprecedented security and the fact that the event brought a major city to a complete standstill, there was an undeniable feeling of love.

During the celebration a beautiful video on marriage was shown on big television screens all around the city. (I included it in the special). I love the simple message it presents that marriage is a couple's "project for the world" and family is the sanctuary of love and life.

It's been more than six months since I've seen my ex.

He is in another serious relationship with an interesting plot twist. The woman who dumped him 20 years ago got a divorce and he decided to take her back and let me go.

I really could write a screenplay.

Cue the montage of me standing alone in front of giant "LOVE" sculptures all over the country while cute "couple pics" pop up all over my ex's Facebook feed.

Although the rejection was brutal, this project helped me gain clarity about why our relationship didn't work out. My expectations killed a lot of the fun, he expected all of the fun without making a clear commitment (I had no idea he considered proposing at one point) and neither one of us felt completely safe in the relationship.

I'm now "back out there" navigating singledom and facing the new year less jaded, a lot more open, wiser and confident about the possibilities for my life and relationships. Turns out writing about love and marriage was just what my broken heart needed.

Candice Madsen is a senior producer of Special Projects for KSL TV. Email: cmadsen@ksl.com