Ask Mormon Girl: I’m 20. I don’t think I’ll ever get married. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I am sure I will never find a Mormon guy who will make me happy, to marry in the temple. I am 20 years old, I’m not out of time, but I have a lot of problems with church and marriage in general. I was told all my life to accept it as the truth with no questioning, and that if you do everything “right” then you’ll be happy no matter what. I found that my parents never really were happy and when my dad came out of the closet, and my parents divorced, it proved me right, that doing what’s “right” doesn’t make you “happy.” I feel pressure to date only guys who are Mormons even though a Mormon guy wouldn’t understand me very well. I don’t have a very good “testimony” of the church, but honestly I would still like to get married in the temple, to an upstanding guy. I’m just not sure how to get there without denying my true feelings about men who think they’re “over” their wives, who expect their wives to fit the homemaker mold, and my feelings that marriage can’t work even, and especially, when founded on the teachings of the Mormon church.

 

Lizbeth

Dear, dear, dear Lizbeth:

So let me get this straight:  You are 20 years old.  You’ve grown up in the church, and you’ve noticed some things about gender relations between men and women in apparently orthodox Mormon marriages that you don’t think you could live with. And, perhaps most importantly, at some point in the relatively recent past, your father came out of the closet and your parents divorced.

Yeah, if I were you, I’d have some pretty strong reservations about marriage too.

As a dear friend recently observed, we Mormons are among the most marriage-fixated people on the earth.  I suspect this comes in large part from the huge role marriage plays in our theology:  orthodox Mormons believe you have to be married in a Mormon temple to get to the celestial kingdom (that’s the highest levels of heaven, where God lives—for you “gentiles” / non-LDS folks).

Unfortunately, this otherwise lovely and distinctive element of our theology has the power to send Mormons into terror when they or someone they love doesn’t marry, or marries “wrong,” or has marriage trouble.

We Mormons worry about marriage all the time.  (Heck, I spent my entire freshman year at BYU in a silent panic about it.)  But there’s something you really need to know, Lizbeth,  And  it’s so important for me to get this message across that I’m going to break one of the rules of writing on-line.  I’m going to use the on-line “nuclear” option:  ALL CAPS.  Because when you write in ALL CAPS, people tend to think you’re yelling at them.  I promise I am not yelling at you, but here goes:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GET MARRIED.  EVER.

AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TO MARRY ANYONE OR IN ANY MANNER YOU FEEL IN YOUR HEART OF HEARTS IS NOT RIGHT FOR YOU.  EVER.  EVER.  EVER.

Lizbeth, I know it’s important to you to get married to an upstanding guy, and it sounds like you want to marry an upstanding Mormon guy.  Which would be wonderful.  And it is totally possible.  But for now, you need to lay the foundation for that marriage (or for whatever comes next) by taking care of yourself and getting to know your own mind, your own heart, and your own soul.  It’s so important that you give yourself time to mend and grow that I’m going to go so far as to officially forbid you from worrying about getting married until you are 25 years old.  Just cross that issue off your five-year-to-do-list.  With a permanent Sharpie marker.

In the meantime, here are some other things you might put on your to-do-list, if you’re not doing them already:

1.    Find a good therapist.  If one or both of your parents have health insurance, you may still qualify for mental health benefits, or if you are in school (see point 3 below) there may be some free or low-cost mental health services for students.  After seeing your parents’ marriage unravel and learning your dad was closeted all those years, you need what every sane person needs at least once in his or her life:  a small, confidential room with a comfy couch where you pay a caring, trained professional to listen to you say sad, horrible, scary, mean, and true things you can say nowhere else and help you sort out a path forward.

2.    Buy a journal.  Not a fancy journal.  A notebook.  Take it everywhere with you.  Write.  Write.  Draw.  Write until your soul is tired.  And then write some more.

3.    Get as much education as you possibly can, at the best schools you can manage to get into and pay for.  Take the hardest classes you can, do the best that you can, and flirt with the smartest and nicest boys in the room. (Remember I said the smartest and nicest, not the cutest.) And while you flirt, remember that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO MARRY THEM.

4.    Dream up and then take practical steps towards a career path that can pay your bills and give you a sense of contribution to the larger world.

5.    Get a room of your own.  Even if it is just a bedroom in a shared apartment.  Furnish your own room however you please.

6.    Download or buy an album by at least one of the following artists:  Joni Mitchell, Neko Case, Tori Amos, the Runaways, Carole King, Cat Power, Feist, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Bjork, Mary J. Blige, Regina Spektor, Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Gwen Stefani, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Kim Deal, LIla Downs, Lola Beltran, Joan Jett, and others our readers will recommend.  Play it really loud in the room of your own room (see 5).  Sing loud, with reckless abandon.

7.    Go to southern Utah.  Zion’s.  Bryce.  Canyonlands.  Capitol Reef. Calf Creek.  Capitol Reef.  Find some quiet and see some big horizons.  Go alone if you must—use your head–goodness will find you.  Pick up a pinch of sage or a little red sand from southern Utah in a jar (not from within National Park boundaries, please) and keep it in the room of your own (see 5).

8.    Or, heck, don’t let the Utah border stop you:  keep traveling.  See as many places on this earth as you possibly can.

9.    Somewhere—while driving by yourself on the highway—or under the arching roof of the library late at night—or while running your hands along the smooth sides of one of those red rock slot canyons in Southern Utah—or in a faraway crowded place–see if you can remember how to pray.  See if you can pray for the first time in your own language.  Pray not as the child you once were but as the broken-hearted young woman you are.  Pray real.  See what happens next.  Keep praying.  Trust.

10.  Finally, please hurry turn your computer’s web browser to the amazing Feminist Mormon Housewives site, a space where women like you, Lizbeth, and me can sort through Mormon tradition’s unique take on gender in safe company. And tell ‘em AMG sent you.

Lizbeth, no one tells you that there’s a second puberty you go through in your 20s:  soul puberty.  It happens on the inside.  And it hurts.  It hurts when you discover that life so often does not turn out the way they told you it would.  But it gets better when you discover that if you play your cards right, life may turn out way, way better than they told you.  Not easier.  Not without sorrow, or struggle.  But yours to create.

Welcome to womanhood.  I have faith in you.  Stay in touch.

Love,

AMG

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15 Comments

Filed under Love, marriage, Uncategorized

15 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: I’m 20. I don’t think I’ll ever get married. Help?

  1. Julie

    Excellent advice! In fact, I may do some of those things on the above list for myself this summer (as a married 45-year-old mother). I wish I had had this list in my 20s–it’s so hard to have faith that things will work out, not just with marriage, but with all of life’s milestones. After being raised Orthodox Mormon (and after much 20-something anxiety about not having a boyfriend), I married a non-Mormon at 31 and lately have been wondering if I married too young. And I wish I could do so much of my singlehood over again.

  2. ECS

    Beautiful, Joanna. I hope Lizbeth does exactly this.

  3. Lynne

    What a beautiful and thoughtful reply! I plan to share this with the young women in my life, including my 20-year-old daughter.

  4. JA de Mexico

    Lizbeth,

    As a thirty-something Mormon woman who survived “soul puberty” with a to-do list not unlike Mormon Girl’s healthy and heartful suggestions, these are some great sign posts and destinations to guide the way. I also want to thank you for your questions. I forwarded this post to another Mormon gal I know. She is 21 years old, processing her Mormon parents’ divorce, and struggling with the making of her future out of her past. It is good for her and you to know that you are SO NOT ALONE.

  5. annie

    what a lovely response. i will be following this advice myself.

    i would also like to add that not all mormons are of the type that you describe, lizbeth. you aren’t. i’m not. those over at FMH aren’t. joanna isn’t. i have no doubt that you can find an upstanding mormon man who will be able to marry you in the temple and will hold the same (or at least similar) ideals as regarding spirituality and equality and marriage and whatever else is important to you. it might take longer, but it’s possible.

  6. Jim

    i am proud to say that AMG offered the ALL CAPS advice to our 5-year old daughter 4 years ago, for which i remain so very grateful.

  7. Kelly Chung

    You brought tears to my eyes; I’ve never heard such wonderful sound advice! I miss class!!!!

  8. Kristina

    I cried. Thank you so much. You have brought new perspective, and new direction for me. I think it will take awhile to get it, but now I know that I can be so much more than just married.

  9. reb

    Great advice, Joanna. Really wonderful.

    I want to ask the questioner one question – if you don’t have much of a “testimony” then why do you want to get married in the temple? For cultural, tradition-based, “because that’s what people in my community value” sorts of reasons?

    Don’t do it for any reason of that sort.

    The temple, and marriage in specific, is absolutely the highest level of Mormon commitment you can make. If you are not sure and don’t have a testimony, don’t go in the temple no matter what anyone tells you. It will work against you to make promises you don’t intend to keep or don’t think are worth keeping. If, in your journeys and checking-off of items on the list (let me add Kat Edmondson, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Coleman and the Noisettes to the music recommendations) you arrive at a personal testimony, work on it, grow it, and then go to the temple and learn from it.

    By the way, “soul puberty” in the 20’s is true. It comes again, stronger, in the 40’s and maybe later, too. For some reason, the 30’s were fine, but the 40’s are coming down hard! Learn to love the maturation process.

    • Lizbeth

      There are a lot of reasons for getting married in the temple other than that it’s what I’m sure of and want. It’s telling your friends that you aren’t sure the temple is going to happen for you, and them assuring you that any other way will be wrong, just wrong. There are your parents who think the same thing but without the pretense of thinking it is the right way for you. They think it is the ONLY way. Then, there is being raised in the church. It’s having drilled into your head that you can’t live any other way. That even if you aren’t sure or your testimony isn’t strong enough, fake it until you make it. Right? Well, its not working for me.
      I guess all in all there’s only one reason that I would marry in the temple without believing in it. Fear–having drilled into my head that there is no other way, and being afraid that I will lose my identity, and my way to heaven, if I don’t. Isn’t that lovely.
      –Lizbeth

  10. Soul puberty…haha…funny and true. Joanna, I found you through “Mormon Scholars Testify.” Reading Richard Bushman has helped me progress through my own “Soul Puberty” but I’m glad to find a younger, prettier person that I can relate to in you. Can’t wait to look up your books and essays. What a great website this is!

  11. Just stumbled upon this and love it, absolutely. My $0.02

    Loved your viewpoint about finding it impossible to meet a Mormon guy that would “understand” you. The truth is that there ARE Mormon guys, and non-Mormon guys that will understand you, but the majority of guys might not understand you. There are Mormon guys that have been through almost the same experience as you have. Relationships take time. Finding someone to is really a good match for you takes time.

    Sure, some people stumble upon the “one” early in life, but most people stumble around in the dark with lots of the “wrong” and many times people end of SETTLING :( for the “wrong” because some things are good in the relationship.

    Take you time, no rush….. You have all the patience you need. You have all the peace, love, and support you need. If you don’t feel that you have these things then look deeper, search it out, and you will discover that there are millions of people willing to help you see how to gain them, and how you actually have them.

    One of my favorite words to share with people that are struggling with similar issues is ALLOW. Allow things to be as they are, and follow the great advice above, learning to become the person you feel you should be.

  12. Lizbeth, I can totally relate. As a very independent, “feminist”-y girl who married young (*thankfully* to a super fabulous guy who also happens to have been my best friend for the 6 years before that), I am on the other side of these worries and often asking myself “Should we be having kids? When are we supposed to be having kids? Am I supposed to be doing the cooking? But I don’t want to do the cooking, and hubby is better at in anyway…. Should I be learning to sew and craft? But I prefer the idea of going to grad school and pursuing a career….. Are Mormon women allowed to *want* a career? Or am I totally sacrilegious for wanting to do anything else with my life besides make babies and be with them all day in my house?”

    etc. etc.

    And I think these are good questions. And I have a lot of answers now, that I have to remind myself of all the time because I get nervous that we’re such an unconventional “Mormon couple.” Here goes:

    I am going to grad school. I LOVE it and I felt inspired to go, and felt inspired to not have babies yet, and I really do believe that. We live in a new generation with different opportunities and different requirements, and despite our culture which pressures us to get married and have babies ASAP ASAP, our DOCTRINE is founded on modern prophets’ teachings, and they have taught over and over to get as MUCH education as we can (women too) and that having children is between a husband, wife, and God and no one else. And there is no ideal timeline. Also, anything anyone says about how the man is the head of the house and because they have priesthood they’re “over” the wife is totally misled and I just have to say it’s totally bogus. Don’t let yourself be tied down to a completely unfounded stereotype. If we study it the doctrine is clear, and no stereotypical expectation should never , nor will it ever, trump that.

    My best wishes in your efforts to carve out a happy LDS life that works for you ;)

  13. Nic

    I Love This! Lizbeth heed this advise well. I’m a 25 year old male who used to think that in order to be ‘perfect’ I would have to serve a full time mission and have a PhD in something and have committed ZERO sins. It took me some time but eventually I found out exactly what AMG told you. You really have to know who you are before you give yourself. You and I are similar, Lizbeth. My parents weren’t the best examples about what to do in life or how to handle daily life stresses. Life was a challenge until I discovered it. I went to therapy. I got my education. I got a great job that no one expected me to do or even that it was possible for me to do. I sat next to all kinds of girls and got to know them and dated sporadically. I created my own little place where I’ve learned to create things with my hands. I’ve been to southern Utah and all over the USA. I didn’t serve a mission. I’m single, yet I’m happy. After doing all this I noticed two things: I followed what my heart told me and I wouldn’t trade the peace I now have for anything! Keep going. Keep believing. And I wish you the best of luck and love!

    • Lizbeth

      Nic, you are the best!! It sounds like your life is an adventure, and you are just living it as it comes. You don’t live based on the judgements of others, and I love that!!

      I hope to be more like you in the near future. To do what my heart tells me; which may just happen to be smart and productive as well…lets hope!

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