Families are people we love or try to love because they’re related to us: “I love you Mom, but I can’t let you tell me where to spend my Sundays.”
Neighbors are people who live nearby and whose quirks may affect our own choices: “Watch out when you drive past Minnie Larsen’s driveway. She never looks when she backs out at 50 mph.” or “Sniff, sniff. The Stewarts are burning garbage in their fireplace again. This time I’m reporting them to pollution control.”
Friends, on the other hand, are people we choose—because we have common interests or because they add to our lives in some way.
Carolyn was probably the only friend I’ve had with whom I had nothing in common. What drew my skinny, book-loving, 15-year-old self to Carolyn was the simple fact that curvaceous Carolyn with the long, blonde hair was a guy magnet. Watching boys swarm around her was as close as I was going to get to a dating life of my own that year.
Adults are less shallow about their choice of friends, but more limited. Once out of school, opportunities for finding new friends shrink—usually to work, church or neighborhood. For Mormons in Utah, neighborhood and church are the same. In Zion, stay-at-home-moms essentially have only one source for finding friends. Those who don’t quite fit the mold—non-Mormons, the divorced, those with intellectual interests—experience loneliness.
Alexandra moved into a Wasatch Front suburb with her two young children following her divorce. She worked alone and didn’t have time for organizations outside the church. Not surprisingly, no one in her ward/neighborhood shared her passion for art or wanted to discuss Joseph Campbell or Greek tragedies with her.
Once her children grew up, Alexandra had time to take classes and join book groups. She found a circle of friends with similar interests. But she had a long wait.
I recognize the administrative advantage for assigning members to wards. Still, people who don’t fit comfortably into their assigned ward might be more likely to attend a ward they were free to choose.