Dear Ask Mormon Girl,
I’m writing to ask you for help understanding the Mormon man I’ve been dating over the past several months. He is a lawyer who recently divorced from his wife of twenty years. At first, I was impressed by his strong work ethic, sincerity, excellent kissing skills, impressive knowledge of basketball, rugged all-American good looks, and one-generation-off-the-farm pragmatism. He seemed so emotionally tuned-in at first. When we briefly broke up after only four weeks of dating, he even cried! However, as I have become more engaged and smitten, he has maintained his distance, unable to commit emotionally (although he does say he “likes me a lot” and finds me “adorable.”). I can’t help but think that there might be something about his Mormon background and culture that is keeping this from developing any further. What could be going on?
Jenn in Phoenix
Remember the opening line to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”?
It’s a great line, but it needs a little tweaking, I think, for application to the world of Mormonism. Mormons tend to believe we have our own special brand of happiness that comes from living a devout Mormon life, but our unhappiness seems to come from the same sources as everyone else’s: failure, disappointment, conflict, self-doubt, poor choices, and so forth.
I’m tempted to say that the unhappiness and emotional distance you’re experiencing with the Mormon man you’re dating has more to do with the fact that he is processing the end of a twenty-year marriage than with any particularly Mormon facet of his masculinity.
Which is not to say that you’re wrong in your hunches, or that Mormonism has not played a role in shaping his masculinity. Few contemporary world religions talk more explicitly and prescriptively about gender roles than Mormonism, and I have no doubt (especially if he is a multigenerational or ethnic Mormon) that his Mormonism has helped shape how he understands and expresses himself—including his love of basketball, his pioneer work ethic, sincerity, pragmatism, and his sentimental tears!
But theorizing the relationship between Mormonism and masculinity doesn’t sound like a fun way to start a relationship. Sure, it’s a fascinating topic that has generated some terrific novels (see The Backslider and The Lonely Polygamist) and a bit of scholarly commentary. It’s great dissertation material. And I suspect it may generate some interesting comments below. But do you really want or need a dating relationship that gives you more angsty grist for your analytical mill?
What do you think, folks? Is Jenn right in her suspicions that Mormon culture may be contributing to the turbulence in her relationship? Shall we talk about Mormonism and masculinity? Or shall we encourage her to move on?
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