Dear AMG: My marriage-obsessed BYU roommates are driving me nuts. Help?

Last October, I received a query from “HK” who was getting cold feet about her recent decision to attend BYU-Idaho.  “I’m afraid the push towards conformity will be too much to take,” HK wrote.   I encouraged HK to study her own mind and urged her to envision some alternatives for herself.  BYU-I might in fact be a good experience, I wrote, but no one should choose a college by default.

Well, few weeks ago, another letter from HK arrived in the AMG mailbox.  Here it is:

Dear AMG:

 I did end up going to BYU-Idaho, and my roommates talk about marriage ALL.THE.TIME. I hear the word marriage about 10 million times a day; on campus, and everywhere. I am taking a marriage class because I want to learn some of the good things that can increase the chance of having a good marriage, but I am not obssessed with the idea, nor do I want to be. I am trying SO HARD to live my life and progress without living in that mindset of needing a man. How can I ignore everyone around me thinking like that? It makes me feel very negative. I am starting to be constantly annoyed, and I can’t live like that. What can I do?

HK

Dear HK:

Last time you wrote, a loyal AMG reader sent in the following comment:

“HK, if you follow Ask Mormon Girl and you’re not even in college yet, I don’t think you’re going to love BYU-I. You are obviously really smart and this is a priceless opportunity to love, love, love college. If you’re willing to be a little different because you’re Mormon, I think it’s time to apply to Smith or Yale or UCLA. Keep us posted because we know you have a big bright future.”

And you know what?  She was 100% right.  I really should have been firmer with you, HK. I shouldn’t have kindly suggested that you consider other alternatives.  I should have written in ALL CAPS.  Because over the course of our epistolary relationship, HK, I’m learning that you’re an ALL CAPS kind of gal.  So here is my ALL CAPS message to you.

REXBURG, IDAHO IS NO PLACE FOR YOU.  DROP YOUR MARRIAGE CLASS.  PACK YOUR BAGS.  AND START LOOKING FOR A NEW SCHOOL.

(Exhale.  Sorry, readers: I know this is hard on the eyes, but I can’t get through to HK without it.)

YOU MUST STOP LETTING OTHER PEOPLE MAKE YOUR CHOICES FOR YOU AND THEN KVETCHING ABOUT THE OUTCOMES.

YOU MUST MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEM.

(Phew.  Okay.  Just a few lines more.)

YOU ARE DIFFERENT. OTHER PEOPLE’S ANSWERS ARE NOT GOING TO WORK FOR YOU. NEVER.  EVER. EVER.

ARE YOU GOING TO SPEND THIS ONE BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF YOURS EATING BAD PIZZA AND WATCHING RENTAL VIDEOS IN SNOWBOUND IDAHO APARTMENTS WITH LADIES WAITING ON PRINCE CHARMING?

OR ARE YOU GOING TO STOP WAITING AND BUST YOURSELF OUT OF REXBURG?

(Big finish here, readers.  Almost done.)

TO QUOTE A FAMOUS NUN (WHO OBVIOUSLY KNEW SOMETHING ABOUT LIVING WITHOUT THE MINDSET OF NEEDING A MAN) :  CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN.  FORD EVERY STREAM.  FOLLOW EVERY RAINBOW.  TIL. YOU. FIND. YOUR. DREAM.

OR DIE UNSATISFIED.

LOVE YOU.

LATHER, RINSE, REREAD.

PEACE OUT.

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.  Follow askmormongirl on Twitter.  Friend Joanna Brooks on Facebook.  Or do none of the above. 

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26 Comments

Filed under BYU, young women

26 responses to “Dear AMG: My marriage-obsessed BYU roommates are driving me nuts. Help?

  1. Lacy

    As a BYU-I (formerly Ricks) alum (alumnae? Alumni? I always get confused on this), I have to stick up for the place on some level. When I was there (admittedly, back in 1999) the college housed some amazing professors. Seriously. Liberal-thinking people who introduced me to wonderful new ideas. And I loved that about BYU-I.

    On the other hand, the culture drove me nuts. Nay, sucked my soul dry. So, objectively looking back 12 years later, I can say that I wish I’d had a friendly CAPS letter from a wise soul like Joanna early on in my stint as a student there. Because, the truth is, there are plenty of amazing professors almost everywhere. Also, why have your soul sucked dry in -19 degree weather?

    Best wishes for a speedy transfer (to a place that takes your credits)…

    • Trent

      So, Joanna, my wife just discovered your blog (today) and she read every single post. Then, she had me read a few of them (that was, after we read your fantastic interview with Warren Smith). All’s I have to say is (Utah phrase) – I loved everything I read.

      And, this post had me laughing out loud. SO TRUE! Still, I consider myself middle-of-the-road (don’t we all?) in my world views. But, when I went to Syracuse University, I was known as the truly far right-wing conservative on that ultra-liberal campus. The following year, when I went to BYU, I somehow became that ultra-liberal dude on the far left. I’ve decided that I really am in the middle if both sides view me on the other extreme….

      Carry on your blog, Joanna. I look forward to more thoughts.

  2. Jay

    I just left BYU-I 2 years ago, when they didn’t let me come back after deserting my mission. Good luck transferring credits, most schools won’t take much from BYUI.. You best vet is getting ur AA

  3. Holly

    YOU MUST STOP LETTING OTHER PEOPLE MAKE YOUR CHOICES FOR YOU AND THEN KVETCHING ABOUT THE OUTCOMES.

    Unfortunately, being an orthodox Mormon pretty much demands that one let others makes your choices for you. The brethren say, “Fight gay marriage!” so you fight gay marriage. The prophet say, “Get married young (doesn’t matter all that much who to)” and people get married young without worrying too much about who to.

    Orthodox Mormonism ultimately comes down to one choice: to obey or not.

    If you make the decision to obey, your course is pretty much set for you. You’ll do what you’re told, whether it’s right for you or not.

    It’s only when you make the decision not to obey that you actually learn much about who you are, what you want, and what will make you really, truly happy.

    • Mikayla

      To this Ma’am or Sir,

      I’m not sure you understand what being a Latter-Day Saint is all about. There is not orthodox or non-othodox–if there was, it would defeat the point of having a single, true church, and thus it would be a corrupted church of man. Second of all, agency is the greatest right of man and one of the strongest principles in the Mormon church. The prophet never told anyone to marry young–it’s a tendency of Mormons, and that is all. It is not a commandment to fight gay marriage, only to not support it. I myself have observed the “day of silence” against homophobia, but that doesn’t mean I believe hobosexuals are right; only that they don’t deserve to be persecuted. Also, the Church had never persecuted homosexuals, only stood up for its core beliefs. Marriage is not a constitutional right, and, by definition, a sacred ceremony connecting a man and woman in the sight of God. There is nothing wrong with not supporting gay marriage, the same way there is something wrong with being homophobic.

      I am a highschool girl looking forward to going to BYUI, not to marry, not to be told what to do, but to experience the feeling of being gathered in Zion. I have lived amongst born again christians who either thought I was going to hell or that I was a poor lost soul who needed to be pitied and coaxed out of my “snake-worshiping, racist ways.” I am willfully going to Zion to receive an education. No one is making me. And no one is forcing you to obey and be “and orthodox Mormon,” as such a thing does not exist. You either believe, or you don’t. And no one is making the choice for you.

      Everything in the Church of Jesus Christ is an offering. It is not a statement. And a person should not be defined by their faults, or differences–they should be defined by their entirety. I am not the sum of my unorthodox feelings. I am a whole person. I can choose to not go to BYUI and be just a good a Mormon, but I know that I am the kind of person who wants and will enjoy being surrounded by LDS members if I go. That is me wielding my power of choice, a power that cannot be destroyed.

      It seems to me people who must go out and find what “truly, really, makes them happy,” are people who have never had faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, or had a testimony of the gosepl. If I am truly happy when I drink and drive, and eventual kill someone, does that mean I should be allowed to do it? In fact, the answer is yes. No one has the right to make me stop. Yet if I cared for others, and could understand the concept of eternity, that I am not an island, wouldn’t I then choose to obey? I don’t have to. I can simply not obey and proceed to injest all the consequences that come along with it–including the absence of blessings, the self-induced seclusion from other members, and a bitterness that will forever fester inside me. I can be happy for a little while. Temporally.

      But one may remember; true happiness is the kind that lasts. It is spawned from wisdom, from within, and from an eased conscience.

      I hope you don’t think I’m chastising you. I was stricken when I read your post, and couldn’t fight my need to respond. As an eighteen-year-old girl who has been fighting against the apathy and oppression of the deep south, I hope you can understand where I’m coming from. I also hope I have helped you understand what your religion is truly about.

      Perhaps its time for you to take responsibility on your own shoulders; to stop beleiving that others are forcing choices on you, and to simply decide the answer for yourself: Do you have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or not?

      If you do, no Western Mormon culture will stop you from taking pride in the magnificent sarcifices and ancestry you come from. Members are not perfect, remember, the same way you aren’t perfect either. If not you do not have a testimony, I can hardly express my sorrow for one who was given the great gift and calling of being born into the Church, and then rejecting it.

      Sincerely, Mikayla

  4. Jana H

    On the flip side, I went to a small liberal arts college to “follow my dream,” and discovered how difficult it is to live a Mormon life without a well-established Mormon support system. It has its own difficulties and challenges, which are every bit as trying as dealing with roommates who are focused on marriage.

    • This is why I’m so glad I attended Utah State.

      All the support system you could ever need, none of the BYU BS. (Okay, way, way, WAAAAAAY less of the BS.)

  5. Its only going to bug you more and more the longer you stay.

  6. Bitherwack

    Jana, one of these days every. single. member. of . the .church
    is going to have to live without his/her ‘Mormon support system’
    If that is too difficult, then there are questions you should be dealing with regarding testimony and your relationship with God. (I can’t believe it! I’m never this preachy!) This is something that living in the ‘field’ does to both strengthens and ‘libralizes’ us. We know that we aren’t part of the ‘crowd.’ Our faith is what it is. We tend to have many more friends that aren’t members than are. Knowing so many people from such a variety of backgrounds teaches us how we don’t actually have all the truth/ all the answers/ a patent on righteousness. It means we can see beyond the Wasatch myopia. I hope you can stick with it. Otherwise your church experience will become a social club, and it’s getting in the way of your relationship with God.

  7. Elizabeth

    Dear HK,

    I went to BYU-Idaho for 3 years. When I started, it was the best place for me to go. Being surrounded by Mormons and FHE and wards and activities and prayers made the transition to college life less intimidating for me. However, when I reached 21, and was still single (not entirely by choice, I had just been dumped by a serious boyfriend), I knew I had to get out of there. There is so much pressure at BYUI to act and be a certain way, and I no longer wanted to be held to that standard. I did not want people asking me every week why I was not going on a mission, or who I was dating. I just wanted to be me, and live my life. So I left. And I am so HAPPY I did! Who cares about the “Lord’s University”? The Lord wants you to be happy! So go where you’ll be happiest! Seriously, you cannot change the people at BYU-Idaho. You might be able to talk a roommate or two into seeing things from your point of view, but you will never change the whole campus. They are too much in a group mindset backed up by the “spirit”. (To clarify, I totally believe in the Gospel, I just think a lot of things at BYUI are culturally based, not scripturally based.)

    The most important thing here is probably to make a decision and pray about it. It was really hard for me to decide to leave BYUI because despite not fitting in completely, I felt very safe there. It is hard to leave your safety net. But I am so glad that I moved and got a real college experience where I was allowed to be myself and discover the things that make me happy and are important in my life. You can do it to!

    The only real benefits to attending BYU-Idaho are 1) the opportunities to date other Mormons, 2) an incredible faculty who care about teaching 3) cheap tuition

    You can find good faculty elsewhere; and it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in #1; and your college education is work an extra loan if needed. So move on! My final advice :)

    Good luck!

  8. Laura

    I don’t know much about BYU-I but I had some wonderful openminded professors and friends at BYU Hawaii. I also took a few classes at BYU Provo and don’t think every female student is twiddling their thumbs waiting to be married. Maybe you just need some new roommates.

  9. meg

    My husband went to BYU-I and constantly struggles with his feelings towards members of the Church because he is loud and unorthodox and unafraid of being different. However, he got a lot of flack for his creativity and even a professor told him he was going to hell for some zombie student video he did because it didn’t appropriately reflect the values at BYUI or something. I went to Provo and struggled my first few years but fell into friends in liberal arts degrees and enjoyed myself a lot more than he did. In terms of career prep, I didn’t get much done, but I’m working on that now, away from Utah. Here’s the thing: the Church schools are cheap. And of course, you have to make your own decision. You can make a lot of great friends and have some formative dating experiences, if you don’t fall into the trap of placing too high expectations on yourself. But if you want to develop yourself and not feel pressured to have a ring by graduation, go to another school. I was in a serious relationship that ended badly my last semester at BYU and it was so terribly painful. Not the best use of my time either, as I’m educated but not as competitive as I’d like to be, in terms of the job market. Good luck.

  10. Steve

    Don’t overreact, Mormon Girl!!!!! She made a choice, and she should stick with it. If she learns to run away from adversity every time she meets it, she will live an unfulfilling life. Rather than run away from the situation and think she is better than her roommates or BYU-I as a whole, she needs to find a solution!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kathleen Jones

      Spoken like a true misogynist Mormon Male (you all aren’t like that, btw)…do not THINK young lady, suck it up and do as we say! We need you parading out there for us to pick from! The religion works fantastically well for men who have this particular personality trait. And boy, howdy, do they have fantastic marriages…(eyes rolling)

      • Steve

        Bummer. I was under the belief that AMG was a place where I could have a civilized discussion without others making assumptions about me as a person. I’m not sure how Kathleen defines “misogynist,” but I am anything but that, according to the definition in the dictionary (though I have more faults than I would like to think about). I also don’t know how such a meaning could be interpreted from my simple statements. I would have given the same advice to a male.

  11. Derek

    As one who lived in Rexburg and also went to Ricks College, I would encourage you to get out of there… it is a great place if you “fit” the mold… it is safe and cheap and at best a large “seminary” program which hardly teaches one how to think and question reality (like a good education can). I applaud Mormon Girl’s advice and say break out of the Motrix found in Rexburg… you’ll be glad you did after you overcome the addiction of the religious mindset…. ;-)

  12. BMS

    I have been exposed to different schools in the U.S. as a student and as a teacher. I know that most schools have LESS academic freedom than BYU does. Academic freedom should not be reserved for a few pet issues. It should mean freedom to speak out, and universities do not allow that. They allow freedom only to support their views, which usually happen to be different from BYU views.

    I have not felt academic freedom anywhere. Each school has a philosophy, and you support it. Bashing white males is a popular one, but just because you happen to support bashing doesn’t mean you have freedom.

    I have felt restricted everywhere, in some way or another.

  13. Nathan

    I went to BYU – a mormon school, UNM an unadmitted severely catholic influenced school, and Touro College – an orthodox Jewish school. At BYU they talk about marriage all the time, at the other schools the talk is about having sex all the time. You can chose where you go and what you talk about. Having been to many schools I know that each has its good and bad points. I had to leave to pursue a degree not offered at BYU. In the end I made friends where ever I went and enjoyed all of them. If you hate the marriage conversation then ask them to stop, or find new roommates with a broader focus. If you go somewhere else you’ll have to ask them to stop talking about sex. Which will be harder for you I don’t know. I do know that the Lord answers prayers and will answer yours and give you the guidance you are seeking.
    My own daughter is now at BYU and has also had this same type of issue, she found new friends. She also talked to us about it. Parents can give you good advice especially if you ask for it.

  14. Nathan

    Discover what I love, do what I love, discover my love is slightly changed, slightly change what I do, so on and so forth. -One component of my own equation for personal fulfillment. And sometimes I have found my passion by stumbling upon my dislikes. What have you learned about yourself in your short time at BYUI? Are you brave enough, courageous enough to act on what you’ve learned?
    As far as academics, I know relatively few specifics about the quality of education at BYUI. But a professor (or instructor) must hold a temple recommend. And what percentage of Mormanity holds a PhD and a temple recommend? A few thousand? The pool of qualified individuals is quite shallow.

    • BC

      HK-
      BYU can be a strange place. Young Mormon women are generally counseled to “get an education” but also told that the main purpose of a college degree is to help them be better mothers and give them a backup plan in case they don’t get married or something happens to their spouse. The message often seems to be: get an education but it will be a tragedy if you actually have to use it for anything other than helping your kids with their homework. (And then some local/regional church authorities wonder why they can’t get more young women in their area to go to college.) The BYU alumni magazine is filled with articles about how happy former co-eds are using their BS in chemistry or MA in English to raise the latest generation of chosen Mormon youth, and angry letters to the editor if the magazine dares to applaud the non-domestic accomplishments of its faculty or graduates. No surpise that many if not most female BYU students (at all three church schools, I suspect) are preoccupied to some extent with dating and marriage. That said, you are not alone, HK. Not everyone is like your rommates and many young Mormon women struggle with imagining and then working toward futures for themselves that involve more than marriage and motherhood, or even with just not constantly imagining their future spouse and 3-4 children (down from 6-7). But its a hard culture not to get caught up in–even for students who are committed to learning. I’m not sure about BYUI–which is basically a teaching mill (faculty there are not rewarded for or expected to do research –and are not given any time for it) and Idaho has even worse statistics on female:male hiring/tenure rates than does Provo–but there are increasing numbers of female faculty at BYU to whom female students can (and do) look to as role models and mentors, whatever their interests may be. That BYUI is a teaching and not a research University may contribute to the student culture you describe. Although Provo certainly has a similar culture, students also generally take their classes and academic interests fairly seriously. I would also add that the pool of highly qualified temple-recommend-holdng faculty candidates is hardly as shallow as some think (although women and minorities remain under-represented in all but a few fields, and this is true even though there remain few departments who aren’t actively trying to hire female faculty). As Joanna knows from her time there, BYU also has alternative student cultures–young men and women thinking and acting in ways outside the stereotypical norms of Mormon (young)adulthood. It helped produce her–and scores of other amazing women and men! And, I would suggest, it has, especially in last few years (from my limited experience), become an even more diverse and accepting place. There are all sorts of student groups and activities and people doing their own thing. BYU/BYUI may certainly not be the place for you–my husband HATED (and I do mean all caps here) BYU culture and has often regretted having gone there. I fared better–I admittedly got sucked into the giant youth conference feel of the place and seeing potential mates everyone I went for a while (I didn’t grow up around many Mormons and was raised in a typical conservative Mormon household)–albeit one that valued education) but then further developed my critical thinking skills and got more interested in the things I was learning about in classes and what was happening in the world. I ended up finding my place among other like-minded students and being able to laugh at the ridiculousness of Mormon college culture. Whatever you decide, good luck and I hope you can help other Mormon women like yourself along the way.

  15. Joanna

    yeah, Steve–you’re right. Kathleen–I don’t see anything misogynist in his comment. Care to explain, or apologize? I’d like AMG to be a civil place.

  16. Savvy J

    Dear HK,

    Come to USU. We can hang out. Eat GOOD pizza. Go rock climbing ;).

  17. ResidualBlue

    I’m a student at BYU-I also. I love it there, but I can relate. Marriage is a huge issue up there, but I’m in a slightly different boat. I think that by virtue of being LDS, leaders and LDS peers are going to be talking about marriage either way because the leaders and teachers up there want students to get married. However, most of the people I meet up in Rexburg are actually not even thinking about marriage! What they talk about “ALL. THE. TIME.” is dating. Marriage comes up much more infrequently than dating in my circles. So I’m curious, is marriage the issue or is dating? Just curious. I’d like some guidance here too, especially considering that I want to stay there.

  18. Jenny Smith

    As a BYU-Idaho alumni I have to say that many people there are only concerned with getting married. I think that’s why many refer to it as BYU-I do… The mormon culture we are brought up in teaches marriage and marriage young. I started BYU-Idaho at 21 and honestly I never really dated anyone – it had seemed to me that any returned missionary wanted to marry a really young girl (17-18 just barely graduated high school) so I was at a loss. Many of my roommates we obsessed to say the least about the boys in the ward or in their general classes and it made me sick so even though I tried I never tried that hard to actually date someone there. But I also think that everyone has their right to choose what their outlook is – even if their roommates are man obsessed you can ignore it and lock yourself in your room but what fun is that. You can hang out with boy obsessed girls at any school you attend but whether marriage before graduation is your main goal or not, you still have agency to choose what you do. Also dating is a part of the college experience – go for it. There are many people at BYU-I that have one goal in mind and that is an education. Many young women want to get their education whether its in textiles or elementary ed. They want more for themselves than just an Mrs degree. If you want to be in an environment with people with more on their mind than the opposite sex then move to another apartment, find different friends. It’s all up to you!
    Yes I did marry the year before I graduated and my husband and I were together almost a year before getting married, which to some seemed like such a long time (an eternity compared to the many marriages that happen at BYU-I where most people know each other for a semester and marry at the end of it) but he was worth the wait and the time because marriage would have been much harder if we hadn’t taken the time to know each other first.

  19. I am loud, outspoken and different. Many places that you would go you would become defined by your faith. I went to a liberal arts college in Arkansas, and as a result I was the Mormon, literally the only one, and it defined me. Here in Rexburg, where I’m currently attending school, I found that my personality was able to bloom. Is there a culture here, absolutely, but a culture of obedience that you need to buck is going to be a lot better than a culture that finds any religious belief repugnant that you’d need to buck at any other university. Rexburg has lots of smart, liberal, forward thinking individuals but you have to find them, going to another university will not be the panacea that AMG seems to suggest.

  20. Katelyn

    If you made your original choice for the right reasons, then you need to stick it out through these annoying roommates. I am in my first year of college, and I have often wondered why I am even at the school I am at. But I am confident that I am supposed to be here, because I made my original choice for the right reasons. Listen to the Spirit. If it’s time for something new, then don’t force yourself to be someone you’re not. However, this may just be a trial that comes with the territory. If the Lord wants you to be at BYU-I, don’t give up on the bigger picture that He may have for you. In the end, it has nothing to do with the culture and the people. It has everything to do with you, what you and the Lord want your life to look like, and whether or not BYU-I will help you reach your dreams.
    By the way, I go to BYU and I have not had any problems with feeling pressure to get married or anything like that. I have felt very supported and encouraged in my career goals. I have been treated equally with my male peers and I have felt very empowered. If you would like a church school with a much broader selection of roommates, you should consider trying to transfer to BYU Provo.

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