Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mormon relationships

Mormon relationships… Mormons have a reputation (mostly amongst themselves) of sealing the deal fast. I can’t even recount all of the conversations I had over the years with friends, mission companions, family members, and ward members where the girl holds out her hand and shrieks, “We are engaged”. I was always a big brat and followed up their news with questions like, “Haven’t you only been dating for three months? four months? six months?”

One of my mission comps called this week to let me know about her engagement. They have been dating a little over four months… He proposed this week sometime.

I myself am the product of a four month old relationship. My dad proposed on the second date. They were married about four months later. Before their first anniversary I had already been around for a few months. I think my parents are honestly only just now really and truly getting to know each other since we kids have grown.

It blows me away.

The reputation for being fast really does hold up. Why do soooo many Mormons move so quickly? I’ve got a few ideas…
  • One can certainly speculate that if they are “good Mormons” they are probably also “horny Mormons”. The race to the wedding date would certainly be about protecting their virginity…
  • God told them to get married… It is His will. Many of the people who shared their good news with me also recounted the spiritual experiences they had as they prayed about their upcoming marriage.
  • The leadership pushes it. I can’t even recount my own personal conversations with leaders who inquired about my dating life, relationships, and what I needed to do to get married as soon as possible.
  • The theology itself is built upon the idea that the only way to validate your life is through marriage. To return to God again you must be married in that Mo-temple and preferably have a bunch of Mo-children. It is the purpose of this life… This, as a gay Mormon, was something I felt acutely. Life did not seem to have meaning if it did not follow that end. There was no other path that was valid.


The pressure to get married is intense which is probably why it seems to happen so quickly. Increasingly I am glad that none of those things factor into my relationship with Leigh. No virginity to protect, plus, neither of us view sex as being sinful... We are both atheists so there is no god pressure to apply. No leadership pressure. No particular belief that the only purpose in life is to get married, certainly not married in the Mo-temple, plus we can't legally get married anyway... Our relationship gets to exist just for the sake of existing. It gets to exist just because we love each other... 

Getting that phone call from my mission companion provided a stark point of contrast for me and my own relationship with Leigh. My comp has been dating her fiancé for about the same length of time I have been dating Leigh. Just past four months.

It was interesting because as I listened to my comp talk about her relationship. Her tone of voice communicated as much as her words did. The words she did not say also said a lot. “It feels pretty good.” That stated followed by strange long pause. I was Mormon… I know what that means. She felt “the spirit” when she prayed about it… Feeling the spirit equals “right”.

I have felt “the spirit” on several occasions when with Leigh or when thinking about Leigh. I guess the difference between me and my Mormon friends and family is that I no longer think that that feel means our relationship is divinely sanctioned and commanded.

I got off the phone a bit sad when my comp called. What the conversation lacked was that element of excitement. She did not sound super excited. She did not sound sure about her choice. She did not at any point express any big emotion for this guy. No comments were made about how crazy she was about him, or how they just seemed to click, or how great he was, or that she loved him. None of that joy at being in a relationship with someone that you really love was communicated at all in that phone call…

 Maybe I’m just reading too much into a ten minute phone call but I would have expected something?! I am crazy about Leigh. I can hardly not talk about it when I am on the phone with close friends. I can’t help but recount to them her wonderful qualities. While we are not “engaged” we do talk about our future and what it’s going to look like, but those talks are not filled with the pressure of belief or that our very purpose for existence on this planet rides solely on our relationship.Things happen in our relationship based on our own timeline and our own feelings. 

As I found myself comparing my relationship with my very limited knowledge of my comp’s relationship I was grateful to be outside of the church machine. I was grateful to not have the stress and the pressure applied by those beliefs to this experience and relationship. I get the luxury of enjoying this relationship and letting it grow without huge expectations and social pressure crushing it. Leigh and I get to build it and define it.

14 comments:

  1. Can't tell you how many times my boyfriend and I have had this exact conversation! Hooray for being able to live an authentic life on our own terms and not trying to meet a religions unrealistic expectations. It is great to just BE!

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    1. Sometimes figuring out what authentic is when you have been religiously programmed is so difficult! I'm glad to hear other people are having these conversations too.

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  2. I'm not outside the church machine, mostly because I married in the temple to a man I'd dated for only six months. We've been together almost 13 years now and it has been a struggle.

    I love him and I'm pretty sure he loves me, but my disaffection has been hard on him. The kids (who are young) don't understand why Mormonism is "superior" to what I now believe. I'm hoping things will somehow work out.

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    1. Congrats on 13 years! (As far as struggling goes I think any relationship certainly takes work! :) )

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  3. Eh, this seems more like a case where Church culture is at odds with popular trends in the dominant culture than it is a case of the "Church machine" being wrong.

    I guess I'm just not convinced that slow, careful relationships with long engagements are really necessarily better so much as they are just a current cultural norm for white upper-middle-class Americans (and so, like most cultural norms, we assume they're better when they're really just typical).

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    1. I think it is really more complex than just the church trend going against current culture and I don't really think that current culture really truly favors long engagements and careful slow relationships as you say. Not to mention that this trend to marry fast is cross-generational in the church. The trend to marry fast in the church comes from the very approach to marriage that the church has adopted over the years in the first place.

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    2. I think you have misunderstood what I mean. I am not suggesting that the Mormon norm is merely a reaction to "current culture," but that your negative reaction to the Mormon norm is because you have internalized "current culture."

      In other words, I am asserting that young white upper-middle-class Americans basically take it for granted that getting to know a romantic partner well before committing and then having a longer engagement before marriage are good and short engagements to people you have not known for a long time are bad. Whether or not it's actually true, human beings always assume normal is good because it's normal.

      So I am suggesting that maybe your strong reaction against Mormon dating/courtship norms has more to do with your internalization of white upper-middle-class cultural assumptions than it does anything inherently wrong with Mormon dating/courtship norms.

      Or not; whatever. Food for thought.

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  4. How interesting! I've never dated a Mormon, but just about all the Mormons I've met do 'move' fast... I mean, they'd call me a bosom buddy like 5 minutes after we've met. Being someone who likes to move slowly when it comes to relationship (I have loads of acquaintances and not many 'friends' and fewer 'buddies'), that freaks me out a bit (not a bad thing since the misshies were doing this fast moving friendship thingy, too, and that really backfired on them... I thought they reminded me of that car salesman dude that tried to get me to sign a hideous leash on a minivan the first time I shopped for cars. Big huge alarm flag).

    Good to see that you're in a much stabler relationship with Leigh, though. :o) In it because you want to rather than because you're expected to. The biggest difference in the world!

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    1. Thank you! I think you are right. Maybe the fast moving does go beyond just romantic relationships...

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    2. Smorg - Your description of fast moving got me thinking about personality disorders. Being instant best friends illustrates a lack of boundaries that is considered very unhealthy in the psychology world.

      Does Mormonism promote that?

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  5. I was talking to a friend about fast moving relationships... He added that the church teaches that any two people that are living the gospel can make a marriage work. There's no need to take your time - as long as they go to church, it's all good...

    Reading your description of your relationship with Leigh - I just feel happy for you. I like that you are defining your own relationship.

    You also made me think about the relationship I am in. It is beautifully simple and wonderful. It's complicated to explain to others though. They want to know if we are a couple, or if we're dating, or give a label to us... and none of the labels that I know of fit us...

    I like the idea of defining relationships and making them be exactly what we want it to be.

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  6. I think all the reasons you listed as to why Mormons tend to marry fast are likely correct. Unfortunately, marrying too quickly (and for the wrong reasons) is a recipe for disaster. I suspect that some of these marriages are unhappy because the partners are ill-suited for each other, something they would have discovered if they'd gotten to know each other better before marrying.

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  7. Interesting post and observations. My hubs and I knew each other 5 months before we started dating, we dated 4 months, and then were engaged 7 months. A lot of Mormons were wondering what took us so long. My family was wondering why I was moving so fast. It's funny how different people's perspectives can be. For us, it was that it felt right And we were madly in love. I have to say I've only grown to love him more over the years. Overall, I think your observations are right though. There is a lot of pressure to get married and quickly in the LDS culture and have lot of babies.

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  8. Keep in mind that this is the same culture that wants 8-year-olds, and people who've been investigating the church for a month or less, to make eternal covenants with God. And then holds them to those afterwards.

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