I’m an active Mormon and, as much as I hate to admit it, I would say that 95% of my social network is LDS. I’d really like to change this for a number of reasons. For one, it can never hurt to have more friends, right? For two, I think it would be healthy to associate with people who are different from me–to get new ideas and new world perspectives. I’m not interested in converting anyone–just genuine friendship. Another reason is that, while some of my fondest and closest relationships have been with my fellow Mormons, I’ve started to feel like more of a social outsider because of my increasingly liberal political views (at least ever since moving back to Utah).
However, there are a couple of obstacles for me. One is that I’m an introvert. I’m not shy, but I don’t make friends easily and I feel socially awkward around strangers. Another problem is that I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids under 3. Between naptimes and feedings, it’s difficult to get out of the house and be social sometimes. And, of course, there’s the fact that I live in Utah County. It just seems like there are less people of other faiths to rub shoulders with here.
One fear I have is whether or not I could even be able to relate to someone who isn’t a Mormon. Will I be able to understand them? Will they be able to understand me? Is more than a superficial friendship even possible?
Really looking forward to your perspectives,
RA in Utah County
RA, I do I love your “dare to be different” approach to LDS friendship, because as we both know many of our people strongly prefer same-same-same. Just a few Sundays ago, I was chatting in the back row of Primary with a friend from Idaho, who told me how glad she was to be living as a Mormon in California. “I saw these pictures of a friend’s baby shower in Utah,” she said. “And it was all the same graduated bob haircuts and the same chunky jewelry.” Not you! You may be the stay-at-home mom of young kids in the most LDS county in the USA (85 – 88% is the current stat for Utah County). You may even wear a graduated bob and chunky jewelry. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have cosmopolitan interests and global horizons. Your challenge is finding friends who share them.
First things first: let’s clear up this question of whether you’ll be able to relate to or develop a friendship with someone who isn’t Mormon. Dear RA, don’t be silly. As a Mormon who is married to a non-Mormon and who has had most of her closest friendships with non-Mormons for about 15 years, let me assure you: the answer is Yes. Those of us who grow up mostly around Mormons develop deep social habits that incline us to prefer and feel most comfortable around Mormon people with whom (we think) we have so much in common. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that you don’t also have a great deal in common with the rest of humanity. In fact, I predict that you will find a lot of joy in developing friendships with people who are different than you. That’s certainly been the case for me. And the patience of my non-Mormon friends never fails to amaze me. I have spentyears upon years subjecting them to endless discourses on golden plates, Mormon feminism, food storage, and funeral potatoes. And they still like me. Amazing. Truly, it warms my heart.
Now, one of the social tools we develop growing up in our Mormon social contexts is a terrific sense of “Mo-dar”—like “radar,” like “gay-dar,” but tuned specifically into detecting others of our faith. Just from hemlines and necklines and haircuts and bumper stickers and stroller widths and beverage choices, we can hone in with a certain degree of accuracy on other members of our tribe. The trick is, how does one throw Mo-dar into reverse? And more importantly how does someone who has built most of her relationships within the total social world of Mormonism begin to branch out?
You’re right that Happy Valley is statistically a difficult place to find non-members. (I’ve written about it in an older post.) And since I haven’t lived there myself since 1993, I’m not dialed into the latest demographic insights on where non-Mo’s might congregate. (I’m hoping AMG readers who do live in Utah County can chime in with helpful comments.) But I have two keywords to focus your search: a) coffee and b) Democrats.
Why not start your search for a non-Mormon partner in crime by cruising local playgrounds at 10 a.m., looking for another mom who’s not ashamed to flaunt a travel coffee mug? (Be sure to branch out from your favorite haunt and try new spots as necessary.) When you spot a likely candidate, try to let go of your shyness. Those of us who’ve been there know that being a mom with young kids can be surprisingly lonely; rare is the down-to-earth mom who’s not hungry for a little grown-up company, and it might just be worse for non-Mo’s in Utah County. So plop your kids down near hers and offer to share something—sand toys, granola bars, classic Mormon homebaked goodies? Ask how long she’s lived in town. Ask how she likes it. Make room for her honest answers, and conversation will surely follow. If your kids seem to get along, you might even ask if she’d like to meet up for a second park playdate. And if that doesn’t work, you could get really bold and drop by one of Provo’s coffeehouses for a midmorning hot cocoa run with the kids. You just might find a higher concentration of non-Mo friend candidates in an establishment that smells like caffeine.
Next suggestion. Given that it’s now election season, you might branch out a little and get political by volunteering with the Utah Democratic Party. Yes, you have young kids in tow, but knowing the incredible fortitude and multi-tasking ability of Mormon mothers, I have no doubt you can find a way to pitch in. As someone who’s canvassed door-to-door for marriage equality with a double stroller, I can tell you that politics needs to make room for women like us. (To paraphrase the great revolutionary feminist anarchist Emma Goldman, if I can’t bring my kids, it’s not my revolution.) And it is way easier for us Mormons to build relationships when we’re doing something productive: anxiously engaged in a good cause or putting our shoulders to the wheel or delivering lawn signs. You’ll meet some really nice people who will be so grateful you showed up. You’ll be setting a great example for your kids. And while yes, I know that there are plenty of Mormon Democrats in Utah County, the critical non-Mo to Mo ratio is likely to tip in your favor if you hang out in places flush with Democrats.
Finally, AH, if none of this works, let me know and I’ll hook you up with other AMG readers in Utah Valley. I even know of one or two who are actual non-Mormons living right there in your backyard.
Readers? Anyone out there for AH?
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