Monday, April 30

Paradoxical Dating in the Mormon World

Yesterday at the combined 5th Sunday meeting, our bishop, after a brief introduction, spoke about the importance of dating. I think it must be addressed by hundreds of bishops on 5th Sundays all over the world.

Normally talks like this are from the hip, and are simple encouragements for men to date more and women to be more willing to date. But this time he referenced a number of recent talks given by the Brethren that, taken at face value, were pretty incriminating against single men who aren't actively dating... and my ward is full of them. The end message: If you aren't moving towards marriage (which means dating), you need to repent.

Whenever I listen to discussions on dating and marriage, I find myself asking, internally, which parts apply to me and my life. None of the discussions on marriage I've ever heard have referenced those of us who live with same-sex attraction. I guess it could be for multiple reasons. Maybe those speaking don't realize that some of us are in the audience. But my bishop knows about me, and probably others in the congregation. Perhaps the situation is too complicated to really address, and he's just teaching something that applies to most, but not all. Or maybe the encouragements to date apply to us as much as anyone else.

The few times the Brethren have spoken about homosexuality and marriage, they have very clearly said that marriage is only an option in some cases... which means that for some men and women, it's not an option. Deep attraction to a member of the opposite gender is one of the requirements. But they don't talk about dating. My takeaway from those discussions is that, no matter what I face, I need to be preparing for marriage. And if I do what I should, the Lord will make sure it happens. In my case, I need to be attracted to a girl for marriage to be an option - something that hasn't happened before.

That's complicated enough, except that Church YSA culture is totally different. No one knows that I live with same-sex attraction, which means that everyone, from family to friends to well-meaning strangers have thoughts on what I should do to make me more marriageable. If only they knew. I'm not married, which means that, in many people's eyes, I'm doing something wrong.

That's compounded with the issue that dating, even if it's nigh unto a commandment and expectation in YSA culture, brings with it implied social contracts. Most men don't ask out someone they're not attracted to. The thought of even doing that sounds hollow, false, and cruel. Welcome to my world of dating. When I date, I realize that the girl I take out is going to have a totally different experience because there's no physical attraction on my part. In every case, that has been a huge blow to her. I don't tell girls that, because they then infer that it's just about them unless I tell them it's all girls (which isn't a current option), but it's not that hard to figure out. My dates are as platonic as they get.

To beat the issue, and soothe my conscience, traditionally, I'll only take out girls who are really interested in me (and I'm usually oblivious to interest unless it's extreme) - after they've gotten to know me somewhat, and after I warn them, upfront and openly, that relationships with me can be painful. We have a DTR before we even start dating. Really. I take this seriously. None of them believe me, and it's always painful if the relationship ever goes anywhere. But they all say it's worth it, and at least I know from the beginning that I was open.

So the Brethren teach that all post-mission righteous men should be dating to get married. You can't be a bishop or stake president or professional seminary teacher without being married. Then they speak to us and say that marriage may not be a possibility for some of us... who look totally normal on the outside. Church culture says that if you look normal and you're not dating, you must have something wrong with you - and most of the time the projected sin is pride or fear of commitment. (btw: Are there people who are really afraid of commitment? If I found a girl I loved, I'd drop anything for her. Man up, guys.) And then girls themselves expect you to be attracted in relationships, from the beginning. Pressure from every side.

I think this, and the huge pressures that men face during the post-mission years on this topic, may be why so many men and women with same-sex attraction leave the Church at this time of life. Telling your ward, family, and others that you're gay quickly cuts the pressure to date (in most cases), and leaving the Church distances you from what the prophets teach. And if you ever do date a girl, then she already knows that you're not attracted. You just like that she can keep good conversation, or you want to ask her questions, or you just want someone to talk to.

Someday, I hope that something changes. I don't see the pressure to marry ever abating - it's a vital doctrine. But I'm also not seeing a shift where coming out would be accepted soon in my life or Church culture, though. It looks like a catch-22, where I have to march to the beat of a number of different drummers. It's possible to take a step only when they all beat at once. But, for long stretches, I have to just listen and internalize the dissonance while everyone watches.

25 comments:

Lalis said...

I've always said that Mormon culture and Mormon religion are two different things... I think you're describing Mormon culture, not religion.

I say that because I have felt the pressure of the culture many times in life. Nonetheless,I always felt that as long as I did what I was supposed to be doing, Heavenly Father was happy with me.

Where does that put me? Graduated from BYU single. Graduated from the U with a Master's, also single. A professional girl, single. So far, in the eyes of the members of the Church that don't know me well, I must be doing something absolutely wrong.

I've dated plenty, but long story short, NO ONE ever met the bar. And trust, I am justified in saying so.

Enter my recent boyfriend... Not a member of the Church. He was absolutely wonderful except for that major detail. But he was interested. He fell in love with our faith from the moment he was introduced to it. But he is Middle-Eastern, where you grow up knowing how to be afraid. The fact that he even knew how to have faith was amazing to me. He has struggled for the longest time (almost two years) to accept some doctrinal things... So what happened?

Two years of dating! How could I wait longer? Shouldn't I be married by now? Be planning on a kid by now? The culture got to me.

And I fear I may have lost something really good, because, without giving any details, plenty of prayer and scripture studying and have shown me that there was no reason for me to hurry the process, to put pressure on this young man.

The Lord give his Church guidelines through the Brethren, but He we are also all entitled to personal revelation. He has an individual plan for each of us. It is between me and the Lord what happens in my life, and if my conscience is clean, why should I sit and feel guilty when they speak about marriage? I know what has happened in my own life to place me where I am now, and where I may be for the next five years. If I am doing what I need to do, take it one day at the time, I should have the surety that the Lord will bless me with what is to be mine.

GMP said...

Bro, stop overthinking. First off, try to become a little more open to the idea that you don't have to be deeply attracted to someone to marry her. Attraction is important, but it's not the only thing that matters. To be completely honest, the prospect of sex with a woman makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but the girl I have in my mind right now is more appealing to me because she is fun, faithful, and entertaining to be around.

Don't take dating too seriously either, it doesn't have to be magical every time. Lots of guys go on dates with girls to whom they're not attracted and it's not cruel. They're just opening themselves up to options they hadn't considered before. It's dating. You "try on" different people and see which one fits best. First dates around proposals; you can go on lots of first dates with lots of different girls and not feel guilty about it.

I get the concerns. I'm worried that I won't marry in this life and I'm trying to come to grips with that potential outcome. It sucks because we live in such a marriage-centric culture and I understand how you feel. But it's okay. You'll be okay. Have fun out there and things will fall into place.

Cappuccio said...

This topic actually came up last night and a friend said that she read about a man suffering from the same trials as you. I can't explain very well what she said but he ended up marrying a great friend who understood his situation. They focused their marriage on friendship and family. Now he feels like he may be even more attracted to his wife than she is to him. I'll ask her where she read his story so that I can forward it you.

Just don't ever lose hope in finding joy and love through family. It truly is better than anything else you can imagine. I know that Heavenly Father will lead the way as you go forward with hope.

v1ct0r1a said...

(Doh!) I couldn't think of a better way to express the frustration of your experience! The single best way for people to get on in wards/congregations is to stop judging each other AND keep their mouths shut. Same principle that you're talking about also relates to young couples who battle infertility. The comments they get! Brothers and Sisters, just keep your mouth shut and your arms wide open.

Keep fighting the good fight, brother. We're pulling for you.

Becky Rose said...

My father didn't marry till he was 39. He did not have SSA. He dated and thought of marrying other women, but he never proposed. Then he met my mom, 17 years his senior. They had 7 kids.

I just left my first marriage and his 5th. His 4th wife he wasn't attracted to, but she was sweet. Of course he's also say she was a potential murderer. He also did not deal with SSA, so I guess I don't know why I'm sharing since it has little to do with what you are talking about. I think it's also about timing as the talk from Elder Oaks discusses.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes attraction is built through knowing a person. Find someone you have fun with, bond, and see what happens. There doesn't have to be fireworks the minute you meet. You might be surprised what develops with time... ;)

yeti said...

I cannot imagine the different pressures that you must face. Thanks for giving me a glimpes into your world.
Wishing you the best.

Erin said...

I love this Church with all my heart, and believe it, and I wish that some things would be less taboo. I wish we would talk about same sex attraction more, make it human, make it real. I never HEAR about it. I see beautiful articles and press releases from the Church's PR reps. I see your blog. (I love your blog!!) I read conversations of Facebook that are filled with love and understanding toward LDS members who are attracted to the same sex. But I never HEAR about it. Why don't we discuss it in church? Not every Sunday. Just sometimes. Just sometimes so that it exists, and so that people who deal with it are humanized and normalized and appreciated and welcomed. Anyway. Bless you for your diligence, sir! Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with GMP and Anonymous above. In talking with non-SSA friends (who don't know about my SSA), I know that attraction isn't required for a first date. Many guys date girls they like to talk with and be around, and the attraction follows. Platonic first dates are pretty normal (I think). (I probably wouldn't really be interested in dating a girl that was expecting much more on a first date, anyway.) Even for a guy without SSA, it often happens that he really likes a girl for her personality and character but after a few dates he doesn't start to feel an attraction, in which case he just stops dating the girl. It can be difficult for both, but it happens fairly frequently.

But there are probably even more stories of guys developing an attraction after getting to know a girl better and going on a few dates. I think this is really how it should be, anyway. Attraction is important, but it isn't the most important. If too much emphasis is placed on attraction, the relationship can be hollow. In 40 years, there won't be much attraction to keep the relationship going if they aren't friends to begin with. The approach a guy with SSA has to take to dating is not a bad one. Looking for all of the great qualities other than looks in a girl and then letting the attraction grow is a good way to develop a healthy relationship.

However, I also agree that dating is really difficult for a guy with SSA. For me, I just don't really have the desire. I want to marry and have a family, but without the attraction, it is really difficult to play the dating game. I am perfectly willing to take girls on dates to get to know them and hope for the attraction to grow, but I'm always afraid of hurting a girl's feelings if I take her on a date or two and then don't any more. (Which is kind of a silly fear because I'm really not very attractive, and I'm pretty awkward on dates.) I would be perfectly content just being friends with a lot of girls and deciding who I might be willing to date from there, but I no longer live on a college campus (and never went to BYU), so it is hard to get to know a lot of girls without dating. And I'm really quite picky about who I date. It's kind of a conundrum I'm stuck with right now.

There is one girl that I would currently be willing to date. We are great friends and talk really openly (she already knows about my SSA). I think I may even be able to develop an attraction. Unfortunately, she is not attracted to me. So back to square one (although I haven't given up hope). For me, and I think most guys with SSA, it is important to develop a strong friendship first and hope (and pray) that the attraction develops afterward.

The Atomic Mom said...

I think sometimes lessons in church are "lowest common denominator" type things. Yes, they have to give the harsh, "get married you slacker guys" lessons a lot because there are slacker guys. I don't think you are a slacker guy though. From reading your blog and knowing several gay LDS men, who are trying their hardest to remain faithful, I know the struggle you have is a real one. I say as long as you're faithlfully trying to live the gospel and keep the commandments, it's no one's busyness what your status is or is not. Before I met my husband, I was an older spinsterish gal, and I grew tired of the get married lessons that seemed to be poured down on us all the time. I finally decided to try and just be content. Content that the Lord knew the timeline of my life and would take care of me, no matter what. So take care, keep the faith and don't give up your fight. Reading your blog gives me hope that you can have SSA, be a Mormon and stay faithful.

Anonymous said...

"you don't have to be deeply attracted to someone to marry her. Attraction is important, but it's not the only thing that matters. To be completely honest, the prospect of sex with a woman makes me incredibly uncomfortable"

This comment seems a little naive: I assume the person who said this has never experienced the intimacy of sex. It's true that you don't have to be deeply attracted to someone to marry them. However, to maintain the relationship requires attraction to the partner. If the prospect of sex with your partner (or a potential) makes you "incredibly uncomfortable", that's possibly an indicator that intimacy will be uncomfortable for your partner. At least the idea of being intimate while my partner is "incredibly uncomfortable" is not the best idea in the world to me. It would cause issues in our relationship, and similar things cause issues for those in mixed-orientation marriages.

My intent isn't to discourage anyone but to be realistic as the above comment doesn't seem realistic to me.

Anonymous said...

"I also agree that dating is really difficult for a guy with SSA. For me, I just don't really have the desire. I want to marry and have a family, but without the attraction, it is really difficult to play the dating game."

@Anonymous, I had this conversation recently with a few gay Mormons. They think they're more motivated by social pressure -- to marry as way to relieve themselves from the pressure. Is this true for you (or GMG)? If so, it seems like this might lead to a situation in which you find yourself in a marriage you don't really want to be in. And it seems like the case repeats itself so much in Mormonism: gay Mormon guy marries to alleviate social pressure, pressure is gone, gay Mormon guy is now confronted with the reality of the situation (I'm not attracted to my wife and it's taking an emotional toll on her), and then faced with the question "What now?"

Steve Dalton said...

Every time I read your blog it reminds me of the different trials we all face. I feel so much sympathy for your situation. I admire your faithfulness amidst a feeling of life-long discouragement. I know it's not much, but all I can offer is to just keep taking things one day at a time. Once, when I was having a painful surgery on my lungs, I met President Monson. He told me that even though things were going to be hard for me, I just needed "to take things one day at a time". God bless you for the good you do.

Anonymous said...

What a beautifully eloquent post. I'm not sure where you live, but I'm from the SF Bay area and I know that it is totally safe to be open about being gay and Mormon there. Hang in there. My best friend grew up in the bay and thrived. He moved to small town USA and ended up committing suicide over his struggle with same gender attraction. I wish more people would verbalized their struggles as well as you have.

Whitney said...

You think you could develop an attraction. She could too. Try asking her out :D

Whitney said...

There's a great article in the new LDS Living magazine by Ty Mansfield and his wife of how he dealt with SSA and eventually ended up marrying his wife. Great article! As I read it, I wanted to share it with you!

Mormon Guy said...

The thought of marrying just to conform to social pressures... sounds awfully unreasonable to me. I couldn't imagine doing anything like that, and all of the men I've met who married honestly loved their wives and wanted to begin a family with them. They didn't realize how hard it would be, but they definitely weren't getting married just to fit in. Maybe that happened a few decades ago, but I honestly can't imagine someone feeling like that was a good reason for marriage, even inside.

Mormon Guy said...

I guess a much better answer to the question would be: absolutely not. I personally can't imagine doing anything like that. And while this post may seem to bemoan social pressures, it's not really all that bad. I just wrote it to outline some of the things that were going through my head, and to communicate them to others. The stress of not being married definitely isn't killing me. :)

A Latter-day Saint with SGA said...

(I'm the author of the original comment quoted above)

I agree with Mormon Guy. I have no intention to marry due to social pressures, and I would discourage anyone from doing so. I have a genuine desire to marry and have a family, however, so I will continue to look in that direction. I yearn for the opportunity to love a woman and devote my life to her and my family. If someone does not have that desire, he/she should not get married yet, whether attracted to the opposite gender or not.

So, I will continue to play the dating game as best I can, hoping and praying to one day be attracted to a woman I can love and marry. I will put off marriage until that happens, and I will always be completely open about it with my future wife before the relationship gets serious in any way.

A Latter-day Saint with SGA said...

This was supposed to be a reply to the comment four posts up... sorry for the confusion...

mormonandgay said...

Just wanted to add my two cents. First of all, I understand the dilemma. I actually don't date at the moment. Mostly because I haven't found someone who I truly find interesting or attractive, but I do wish to get married and hope to be able to find a wife and be truly attracted to her. Second, I just think it is between you and the Lord. Talk to your bishop and see if dating is right for you right now. If not, keep living the gospel and be patient in waiting. I am sorry that you feel people judge you for being single. I have that issue as well. I admire your mindset though. I am so glad that you are here blogging. I love reading what you say. It is such a comfort.
-M&G
www.mormonandgay.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

Hey GMG, just wanted to say, your blog is awesome and you should feel awesome.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is wonderful. Your story is so beautiful. You're doing your best to live your faith, even with Same Sex Attractions.

I'm an LDS, slightly autistic very tomboyish 26 year old woman with Clinical Depression and a hormonal Infertility Disorder, and I have also recently come to realize that in spite of years of denial I may have some same gender attractions. I'm starting to accept I may have Bisexual tendencies.

I don't plan to act on them. I believe in the Gospel, and the doctrines of Christ, particularly as concerning the roles of men and women, but it is hard to know that if I ever told any family members or friends the truth about my particular struggles, they'd definitely jump to conclusions about what they think I mean to do with this knowledge.

I like your strategy for dating. I admit my own dating life is pretty miserable. I'm an LDS, slightly autistic very tomboyish 26 year old woman with Clinical Depression and a hormonal Infertility Disorder. 26 and Single, culturally, especially in Utah, means there must be something WRONG with you. I have brutal bouts of self-despising and self-doubt thinking that Yes, there are several things Wrong with me by local Cultural standards. Whoever marries me will have to deal with being unable to Fix me and sometimes can't make me happy, will have to deal with possibly having no children without great difficulty, will have to deal with a wife who can barely interact socially and is severely introverted with strange hobbies, and has severe reactions to sensory input. "Who wants to take that to the temple?", my doubts ask me.
Your story gives me the courage to keep trying.

Anonymous said...

I agree whole heartedly with what Lalis is saying.

There is a very distinct difference between Mormon religion, and Mormon Culture. My husband and I discuss that very thing often. We married when we were "older" according to the culture of mormonism. We were 29 and 30, not old by any means. But the pressure we both felt during the 1 1/2 years of dating and 1 year of engagement to hurry up and GET MARRIED ALREADY was ridiculous. To add to the pressure, I cannot have kids, or rather, decided not to because of a gene that I carry that makes pregnancy dangerous for me, and has potential to seriously harm genetic children. So here we are 2 years into our marriage and we have no kids. While everyone seems to have an opinion on our various *failings* that culminated in us furthering our educations instead of bearing children, no one understands the private heartbreak.

I guess my point is that pressure comes in lots of forms. It comes across as judgmental, sneering, and holier-than-thou sometimes. But the most important part is that we as individuals are doing our best. The lord knows that we are making the best choices that can with our current knowledge, and He will make up for the rest.

I don't have to care what Mormon culture says- I care what the Lord says. What He says to YOU about your choices is what matters the most.

Anonymous said...

I agree whole heartedly with what Lalis is saying.

There is a very distinct difference between Mormon religion, and Mormon Culture. My husband and I discuss that very thing often. We married when we were "older" according to the culture of mormonism. We were 29 and 30, not old by any means. But the pressure we both felt during the 1 1/2 years of dating and 1 year of engagement to hurry up and GET MARRIED ALREADY was ridiculous. To add to the pressure, I cannot have kids, or rather, decided not to because of a gene that I carry that makes pregnancy dangerous for me, and has potential to seriously harm genetic children. So here we are 2 years into our marriage and we have no kids. While everyone seems to have an opinion on our various *failings* that culminated in us furthering our educations instead of bearing children, no one understands the private heartbreak.

I guess my point is that pressure comes in lots of forms. It comes across as judgmental, sneering, and holier-than-thou sometimes. But the most important part is that we as individuals are doing our best. The lord knows that we are making the best choices that can with our current knowledge, and He will make up for the rest.

I don't have to care what Mormon culture says- I care what the Lord says. What He says to YOU about your choices is what matters the most.