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.
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.