In many LDS circles, singles over 25 are considered old. 27 makes them a “menace to society.” 30 and stake leaders start suggesting a special fast. Divorcées might more often escape the curious glance and probing question “So, what’s your fatal flaw?” but they’re still single and in danger of missing out on some of the greatest promises of the gospel, which includes feeling like they belong in a church full of happy families.

Many who fall into this category of “older” singles aren’t particularly concerned about their current marital status, and this attitude is a source of grave concern to church leaders working for the eternal welfare of their parishioners. “I find it a little frustrating,” says a Provo singles ward Relief Society President, “when people assume that all singles are miserable, out of place, and if they’d just exercise more faith, all their troubles would disappear.” She relates a story of stake leaders “comforting” the ward with tales of how happy the holidays will be someday once they’re married. “At least a dozen sisters were crying in Relief Society that day.”

This president believes that many of the single sisters under her leadership are “where they should be” at this point in their lives, but even so, many of them – along with the ward elders – feel frustrated playing the dating game even in one of the most densely-populated LDS areas of the world. Local singles often claim that it’s difficult to meet other singles who they “click” with, regardless of the scoffs such comments would earn from their counterparts in distant regions. “I think there are maybe two single men in my age range in the entire state,” a single member in Alabama recently wrote to an LDS singles email list.

All judgments aside, becoming happily married can be a challenging task. What can singles do about it?

Remember the old joke about the guy who prays to be saved from a flood? First a neighbor rides by on a horse offering to carry him to safety, but the man refuses. “The Lord will save me,” he assures his well-intentioned neighbor. As the water level rises, search and rescue floats past in a boat, which he also refuses, and finally Life Flight lowers a hoist to pluck the man from his perch atop his chimney. Once again, the man answers, “No thanks, the Lord will save me.” Soon the water washes him off his house and the man drowns. When he reaches the pearly gates and complains that he wasn’t saved, St. Peter responds “We sent you a horse, a boat and a helicopter – what more did you want?!”

It turns out that many singles eschew some of the best ways available to meet other singles. Why? Perhaps because of discomfort or past failures. Perhaps because they lack hope and motivation to try one more time. Even so, failure to try is the best formula for failure known to mankind. If singles are determined to change their marital status, it may be time for them to take that proverbial step into the darkness and wait for the light to appear. The following six steps encapsulate some of the most effective advice available.

Step 1. Pray.

A simple answer, but always a good starting place. In a recent regional conference at the Marriott Center, three different speakers recommended seeking the Lord’s help in finding an eternal companion. This wasn’t even a singles conference. No matter what else you decide to do, it certainly helps to solicit a little divine assistance. If you don’t pray, well, then you haven’t got a prayer. But keep in mind what should always follow prayer: action. Faith without works is dead. Read on.

Step 2. Get Out.

Out of your apartment. Out to anywhere, and out to places associated with your personal interests in particular. If you’re living the gospel, then your roommates aren’t potential mates, so go somewhere where potential mates may be hanging around.

If you’re an avid outdoorsperson, get outside! Go for a hike, a jog, a ride or a climb. Prepare yourself to say hi to others you pass along the way and see if you can strike up a conversation. If you love movies, assemble groups and go watch a few. Talk to other groups while standing in line.

Attend activities sponsored by singles wards or other groups of interest to you. Get involved in your community. If you don’t know what’s available, try signing up for a weekly area activities email like Al’s Activity List by sending an email to subscribe@LDSDates.com (this serves Utah County. Other similar lists exist elsewhere).

Wherever you end up going, build up some courage and open your mouth. (D&C 60:2)

Step 3. Small and Simple Means.

I had a roommate who wanted to know how to meet girls—a shy girl in his class in particular. My roommate was also shy, so I recommended he take it step by step. Say hi once. He could then talk a bit longer the next time. He could sit near her and ask the time, the date, or to borrow a pen. He could carry extras in case she needed to borrow one. Saying anything to break the ice could lead to a conversation, which could lead to a date, which could lead to an eternity of wedded bliss.

Or not. But you never know until you try, so you might as well give it a shot. This technique applies to the classroom, a restaurant, jogging on the river trail or hiking the Y. Take a little chance and just be friendly. You never know what even the tiniest leap of faith can accomplish. By small means are great things brought to pass.

Step 4. The Blind Lead the Blind.

People you know know people you don’t know, and may be willing to set you up. You probably recognize by now that some of your friends know how to spot good matches for you and some don’t. Not all blind dates turn into horror movie scripts, but it’s a good idea to invest in a little effort before giving the go-ahead when getting set up, just to be on the safe side. Give your would-be matchmakers a profile the date must meet. List a few interests or traits. If someone meets your basic criteria, a date may be worth a shot. If not, it may be best not to further damage your confidence in blind dates in general.

Be judicious in choosing who to trust to set you up. Watch out for those who think you’re old and desperate and would be lucky to hook up with anyone at all. You may also want to be wary of newly weds. “We just want you to have the same happiness that we do!” they profess. If love is blind, then those blinded by love can be doubly blind to who’s right for you.

Remember what your mother taught you and always play it safe, particularly when talking to strangers. Meeting in groups not only increases your physical safety, but helps ensure that a poor match won’t be a total waste of an evening. If you tire of talking to your date, you can always engage someone else’s date in conversation. Meeting for lunch lets you evaluate the value of spending more time together and escape if half an hour is already too long.

Blind dates have a bad reputation for good reason, but unless you have a better option, you’d be wise not to shut the door entirely to the possibility – just remember to keep the safety chain in place until you’ve checked to see who’s waiting on the other side.

Step 5. Open Your Heart.

Sleeping Beauty tells the story of a beautiful girl who fell asleep under an evil curse, never to wake until kissed by a handsome prince. While I admit that kissing tends to awake certain amorous emotions, falling asleep until love comes along is hardly an effective strategy for attracting a prince these days. Maybe that’s not the way it really happened in the first place. Maybe the handsome prince just happened to be an EMT and was beginning CPR.

Rather than succumbing to the curses of loneliness, bitterness or despair, bolster your immune system with a healthy serving of service. Forget your own problems for a while and focus on someone else’s, or at least on their needs. If you nurture a spark of charity, the gleam in corner of your eye will grow brighter, and that might attract someone who happens to glance your way.

You can also revive your heart by discovering yourself. Explore your interests and practice them regularly. Many people become “pleasers” as they grow up, trying to secure self esteem by doing what they think is wanted or expected of them. While their efforts meet with moderate success, trying to be someone you’re not will never secure you lasting happiness. It will also put you at risk of getting into unfulfilling relationships. Everything may appear perfect from the outside, but if you’re not really yourself, then who’s having the relationship? Discovering your interests, passions and opinions can help you break away from being a pleaser and build your emotional health and confidence. Secure personalities attract each other, and relationships built on secure self-knowledge stand a better chance of enduring because each individual is less likely to wake up one day and realize that they don’t even know the person sleeping by their side.

People find many reasons not to connect with others and to close their hearts. Closing your heart can serve as a protection from various emotional threats, but it also happens to be a dangerous practice best left to heart surgeons following an operation.

Pretty girls, for example, often feel obligated to give people the cold shoulder to avoid having to deal with endless invitations to unwanted dates. Because some guys can’t take a subtle hint, sometimes only the most blatant ignoring or brushing off can successfully deflect their approaches. The choice to employ such tactics, however, is not without consequence. The main consequence is the person that you become. “If he’s not nice to the waiter,” a wise saying explains, “he’s not a nice person.” Do you want to be a nice person? Do you want to experience the joy and promised blessings of possessing charity?

Charity and niceness do not require you to go on dates with anyone who asks. They do not require you to stand and listen while someone bores you out of your mind. They do, however, require that rather than closing your heart, you have the courage to employ alternative tactics. You may have to say “No, thanks” when someone you’re not interested in asks you out. You’re under no obligation to give any excuse, and if you don’t give one, perhaps the person will know better than to call back and ask you out again. You may have to say “Nice talking to you. Would you excuse me?” when you’re about to feel smothered. None of these things are easy, but you have to ask yourself, “Are they worth it?” As with any skill, these phrases get easier with practice.

“The best indicator of whether or not we have come to Christ,” writes Stephen R. Marsh, “or merely delude ourselves, is the kindness we show those we deal with, the fairness we show those who oppose us, the love we show to those who otherwise mean nothing to us.”

Anyone who has loved and lost knows something of the pain and suffering of heartbreak. Emotional scar tissue often appears to lock away feelings that would risk further heartache. While such protective measures lock out the risk of relationships, they also lock out the only opportunity to heal and find love and the greatest of eternal happiness.

Rather than shutting the world out, accelerate your healing by learning to connect. Use caution in who you trust and connect to, but once you’ve identified someone relatively safe, open your heart. You don’t always need to open your mouth to open your heart. Full disclosure doesn’t all need to come at the outset, it can wait until an appropriate relationship has been built. For now, simply learn to look into the person’s eyes when you talk. You’ll find clues there about the person’s feelings and identity. Don’t automatically assume that any intimacy that may ensue is romance. In fact, the more you connect on a purely friendship basis, the better your chances of healing without causing more scarring.

If you judge every person and relationship based on it’s potential for romance, consider rearranging your values. The result of such a world view is that very few people are able to offer you any value. After all, how many romantic relationships can you pursue at a time? Instead, practice finding value in all people. Discover their interests and opinions and learn the joy of interacting with people without hoping to “get” anything in return.

The local tradition of overvaluing romance and undervaluing friendships and other relationships is largely to blame for the fact that so many people feel lonely and alone in one of the most densely-populated areas of LDS singles in the world.

Step 6. The World Wide Wed

“I swore I’d never sign up on one of these things,” was one of the most common opening statements to self-introductions on ldssingles.com for its first five years of existence, “but here I am.” In the last two or three years, however, such excuses have all but vanished as online LDS singles sites have become a mainstream way to search for dates and mates.

Online dating web sites generally allow users to sign up for free, upload a photo and write a self-introduction, and peruse the profiles of thousands of other singles at any hour of the day or night.

Before you begin, however, you should recognize a few important facts. The first is that you can’t successfully fall in love with someone online. You may find them fascinating in writing, but in person, the chemistry can evaporate into thin air. So if you begin a romance online and then meet, be sure to give yourselves plenty of time to verify your feelings before continuing on.

Fact number two is that while signing up and surfing profiles is completely safe (as long as you don’t include contact information in your profile), meeting strangers, even those who say all the right things, is not. Exercise extreme caution when deciding to meet someone in person, especially the first time. Meet in a group, in a public place, and don’t give out your address until you’ve decided you can trust them. Keep a cell phone handy and drive your own car so you can leave when you need to. Check references before putting yourself in a possibly dangerous situation. Physical attacks from people meeting online have happened before and will surely happen again, so don’t let it happen to you.

That said, meeting people online isn’t so different from meeting them in class or at a dance. It even offers a few advantages. For example, you can correspond for a while before meeting face to face. You can be more selective about who you spend your time with, and you can write to more than one person at a time while narrowing the field. The question has changed from “Should I sign up?” to “Which site should I sign up on?”

Of course you could go ahead and sign up on each of the two or three dozen LDS singles sites, but to make things simpler for you, we’ve reviewed a few of the top LDS singles web sites to point out strengths and help you choose where to invest your precious time. We searched for “LDS singles” on Google and chose the top three results.

Each site lets you sign up for free, though paid membership is required to activate messaging features. Profiles include demographic information, a photo of yourself, and a chance to write about yourself. Each also supplies a chat feature, though beyond that, features and pricing vary. Prices listed below are for a single month. All sites offer discounts when paying for longer periods.

LDS Singles Online: This is the grandaddy of LDS singles sites. They boast over 100,000 profiles, though it’s unclear how many of these are still active. Even so, for sheer numbers, this is the place to go. Profiles are very basic while members paying for full access are allowed longer introductions and photo albums in addition to their profile photo. Navigating the site is somewhat slower than other sites. Upgrading your account for access to messaging costs $11.95 per month.

Overall Grade: 3 rings (a.k.a. stars)
Number of members: 5 rings
Features: 3 rings
Price: 2 rings

LDS Mingle: LDS Mingle includes LDS Singles Connection, now defunct. “The Mingle” has a good size member base, some specific questions to help you write your introduction, and real-time chat rooms. Members may list predefined interests and personality traits but these are not searchable. Messaging access costs $11.95 per month.

Overall Grade: 3.5 rings
Number of members: 4 rings
Features: 3 rings
Price: 2 rings

LDS Singles Network: LDSSN is the newcomer on the block, and seems to have taken everything from the old and improved it slightly, along with adding a spate of new features that significantly enhance the online experience.

Members can list up to 25 skills and interests on their profile, for example, and these are searchable. They feature a Compatibility Profile which shows how closely your values and preferences match up with others. To help you write your self-introduction, they have a list of over 200 questions to choose from and answer free form. Also, their detailed privacy settings let you control access to your profile, photo, and other profile details. Sending messages is free, while full access costs $5 per month with deep discounts for purchasing multiple months at a time.

Overall Grade: 4 stars
Number of members: 2 rings
Features: 5 rings
Price: 5 rings
Step 7: Publicity

I know I promised only six steps, but here’s a bonus step for the ambitious: Write an article on BeingLDS.com telling other singles to look you up, like this. If you’re single, female, age 26-31, passionate about life and ambitious, intelligent, adventurous and outdoorsy (serious stuff, not just the 1-mile stroll kind of thing), look me up (ShaunR or Natureboy) on any of these three sites. ;)

By following these steps, the light is guaranteed to appear, even if that light is simply the realization that you can lead a happy, active, fulfilling life even if you remain single for quite some time.