I’m dating a Mormon man. Can you help me understand him better?

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?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.


Filed under Love, social connectedness

8 responses to “I’m dating a Mormon man. Can you help me understand him better?

  1. April

    I have to agree with you Joanna. His distance probably has to do more with his recent divorce or the pain caused by that, than the fact that he is Mormon.

    IMH everyone deserves as much time as they need before having to commit to a relationship, he may be feeling pressure to do just that (Mormon speed dating style) and after a divorce this makes it especially tricky because he may be trying very hard not to make the same “mistakes” again and may need even more time to assess a relationship than someone who has never been married.

    I would ask how long he dated his first wife and if he even knows how to take a relationship slowly. It may be a real struggle for him if he was someone who met and married within months of each other the first time around.

  2. Hmmm…. good question.

    I think our culture shapes us and our life events do also. Definitely the Mormon culture shapes a man to be the way he is — but the end of a 20-year marriage may rock someone into having a hard time getting too close also. Mormons tend to bond quickly.

    All in all, I would ask him. And if he can’t communicate openly, then maybe that’s a problem too.

  3. Melanny

    I think Mormonism is playing a role in the emotional withdrawal of this man. It’s true that the divorce rate is lower for Mormons, but it does not necessarily mean that Mormons have happier marriages. It could mean that Mormons are more likely to remain married due to the fears of social rejections and lowered self esteem as a result of the divorce.

    There is a great deal of pressure on a married Mormon couple to treat each other well, be happy, and above all else, work it out. All people feel a sense of failure after a divorce, but I think for Mormons the pain is tenfold.

    I believe his emotional withdrawal could be caused by his inability to forgive himself for a failed relationship, and a reluctance to engage in a new relationship because he isn’t certain he could handle the devastation of failing again.

    I agree that the situation may not be worth this amount of stress. If you really mean a lot to him, then he will take a risk. If he won’t, then you know where you stand.

  4. JB, you know I think you’re brilliant but unless you know something about this questioner that I don’t, I’m reading this question in a completely different way.

    She’s not a Mormon, and IMHO the surface question is: Is the fact that I’m not Mormon keeping him from committing to me; is it responsible for a certain level of reserve and apprehension on his part?

    I think the deeper Mormon cultural question she’s asking is this: While he frequently gives the APPEARANCE of deep, sensitive, emotional connection, in reality he’s distant and emotionally reserved.
    I think she’s looking at the disconnect between what he seemed to be and what he truly is, and wondering if the display of emotion and appearance of depth and feeling coupled, confoundingly, with distancing behavior, is related to Mormon cultural practices. Are Mormon males socialized to act a certain way? A way that may or may not accurately reflect their emotional abilities?

    Non-MO’s are not typically used to emotional displays from men. His may have led her to expect something of him that he can’t actually provide.

    Just to confuse things for you….

  5. Anyone recently divorced, especially from a 20 year marriage, is going to be bouncing all over the place for quite a while. Not knowing the guy, I think it has more to do with time needed for healing and gathering his emotional bits and pieces than anything. Sometimes we need more dating experience under our belts but don’t want to hurt, or lose, the person we are currently with.

    And let’s not forget the hugely differing sexual practices of single Mormons (at least the faithful ones) and single non-Mormons. If he is unwilling to have sex outside of marriage and she is all for it – that is bound to cause some pulling away and distance and yo-yo behavior.

  6. Isaac

    I’m a ‘Mormon’ guy and I’m divorced. I wasn’t married for the length of time he was, nor do I know the circumstances of his divorce, so how my view apply’s is subjective. My wife left me…I was not without responsibility but the event left me devestated.
    I shudder to repeat that trauma…and though I find it easy to love, I find it difficult to lay my full trust in someone’s hand again. The desire to be close to someone, to love them, and to be loved was there right away…but I wasn’t ready to seriously persue a relationship for at least two years.
    I was in it as Dante, in Dante’s Inferno, was in it…for the long haul. For that bond to be severed is no small matter. If he were to be emotionally ready to attach to you, I’d be scared! You want a man who will love you no matter what…even if you were to spike his foot to the floor and leave him to waste…he seems like such a man. His lack or enability to commit shows just how commited he was to his former. Though he has resolved the legal aspect through divorce, it says nothing of the emotional resolutions that need to take place.
    Distance…I quickly found out just how intimately envolved i could become with those I dated…not very much, without stirring up a bold wave of passion and feeling. Don’t take that as a slight against you, but as respect toward you. ‘Mormons’, if practicing, tend to take on a long term perspective on things…me being affectionate and intimate with someone reflects the nature of a relationship that I will have with but one person for the rest of my life and beyond…to look that far ahead will be too painful for him, as it was for me. To ignore the long term and take pleasure in the moment would be dishonest and disrespectful.
    Respect him in return and understand that the closness he feels toward you is acutely akin to the closeness he felt toward his ex…which is that of companion…which should be a compliment.
    Sorry you caught him at this point in time. Know that your relationship will remain platonic…if you can’t love him enough to let go then you ought to walk away.
    Being a supportive, loving, selfless friend is a step in the right direction no matter what the outcome is.

  7. I find it interesting that people trust “the Internet” and “Mr/Mrs no one and nobody” or whoever is behing the screen” more that close friends or someone they are intimate with when it comes to their efforts to understand Mormon beliefs and Mormons. I presented a paper on how Francophone Mormons and non-Mormon use the Internet at the Sunstone Symposium this week. Someone in the sample that I studied posed almost the same question: “is it ok for me to continue dating a Mormon?”
    Joanna: please check you “contact” email regarding a researcher on Mormonism living in Bordeaux, France.

  8. Debbie

    Emotionally move on…. Men like this like what they can’t have!

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