Dear Ask Mormon Girl:
My sister, a 50-something non-Mormon single woman, has just recently moved to SLC for a job? How does she make new friends her age? And I mean just friends — people to hang out with so she’s not so lonely. She’s having a hard time because so many people her age in SLC are Mormons with families who don’t need new friends and are pretty set in their ways. (And she definitely doesn’t want to be the subject of missionary work!) And everyone she works with is much younger than she is. She’s feeling very much the stranger in a strange land.
Christina in Ohio
Dear Christina in Ohio (and big hello to Christina’s sister in SLC):
Salt Lake City is a company town. Sure, it has all the vital features of a twenty-first century eco-vegan-tattoo-alterna-mountain-paradise. But strip away the hemp lip balm and the yoga mats, and what stands beneath it all is an urban plan gridded out and still supervised by Brigham Young Himself.
The social ramifications of the Mormon origins of Salt Lake City are profound. It’s possible to experience the city as two parallel universes, each pretending the other does not exist.
There are, on the one hand, the Mo’s-with-families-content-unto-themselves, many of whom may spend 10 – 20 hours a week on their Church attendance, activities, and volunteering. For these folks, it’s true, Mormonism can provide a satisfyingly complete social environment, and little time or space for outsiders.
Then, on the other hand, you have the heck-no-we-ain’t-Mo’s, many of whom would like to pretend that Salt Lake is just Boulder-with-annoying- liquor-laws-and-God-issues. Elite members of this group may pretend not to notice the Mormonism of SLC at all, dedicating incredible psychic resources to barricading themselves against the obvious. Some strive to perform their non-Mormonness as dramatically as possible by, say, descanting loud and long on their alterna-politics while brandishing multi-piercings and a gourmet coffee. And in the dive bars of Salt Lake City, you will find the most curious local subset of the “heck-no-we-ain’t-Mo” set: the self-declared “used-to-be Mo’s,” who plunge themselves and innocent bystanders into drunken discourses on the darkest aspects of Mormon history and culture. Please be gentle with them. Their world is a complicated one.
Meeting quality people when you’re a single professional woman over 50 is no cakewalk any place. My hunch about dealing with the added challenge of living and socializing in SLC depends on one’s ability to walk comfortably in, out, and between its parallel universes without losing a sense of equanimity.
To that end, I suggest that your sister make intellectual friends with the fact she’s living in an utterly unique American geo-political environ, the urban legacy of a powerful nineteenth-century social movement. Make friends with its Mormon specificity and all the good things it brings: excellent white bread, for example (try Grandma Sycamore’s), or exquisitely wide tree-lined avenues, or local folk art, or the Beehive Tea Room. Read up a bit, and I don’t mean Jon Krakauer (more on him another time). Start with Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge. Or, more briefly, this fascinating lefty take on SLC politics.
Then, I suggest that she get outside. Mormons have a genius for real estate. Just so happened Brigham Young established the heart of Mormon civilization in a gorgeous wilderness, with world-class alpine slopes and meadows to the east and an infinite matrix of red sandstone slot canyons to the south. If she heads over to REI and signs up for a couple of classes (snowshoeing is the new skiing), or goes on an outing with the Sierra Club, she’ll meet people of all ages who get outside, and that, in my experience, is one of the best ways to keep your balance, even in city as divided as SLC.
A few other suggestions for regaining and retaining a sense of equanimity: Park City. The Salt Lake Film Society. King’s English Bookshop. And don’t forget the Jewish Community Center, which has a gorgeous health club and book groups open to the community. If your sister feels like a stranger in a strange land, she could probably learn a thing or two from the Jews, who a bit about making friends and keeping a sense of humor.
Thanks for writing, Christina. Readers, many of you know SLC better than I do. What advice do you have? Can you help Christina’s sister?
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