Sunday, February 14
My younger sister got engaged yesterday.
I got pictures of the proposal, the ring, and a bunch of smiling faces by text message while at work last night.
She's 6 years younger than I am.
That's totally unfair.
Don't get me wrong. I hope that this brings her happiness, and I am glad that she is making decisions that will guide her future. But every time that I watch someone else find love (my siblings included), the beauty of the moment gets eclipsed by the juxtaposition of my own life.
I've done all the "right" things. I dated twice or more each week for over six years. I took every marriage prep and dating class available through the community, school, and church functions. I never turned someone down who asked me out in person. I went to therapy to work out my own personal issues and develop better relationship skills. I followed a rigorous personal health regime. I attended social functions, focused on being friendly and outgoing, served others, chose a valuable course of study, worked faithfully in community and church, met new people, worked and kept going even when nothing seemed to work. I asked out anyone anytime I felt like I should, even when dating seemed inconvenient. I even signed up for an eHarmony account and tried online and long-distance dating.
And the sum of all my efforts is pretty pitiful. Thousands of dollars and hours later, I'm no closer to finding love than I was when I began. I still get to listen to people who were engaged after less than a year of dating tell me what I'm doing wrong, and that if I just work harder, or work smarter, or have more faith, or repent, or read my scriptures, or go to another speed dating event, I'm somehow guaranteed to find love. Just do everything in my power, and then God will make it happen. Or I'll make it happen, by sheer force of will.
And by simple inference, I hear that, since doing all those things hasn't worked for me, I've been doing something wrong.
Or that there is something wrong with me.
The culture of love could have so easily ruined me.
Love - romantic, sexual love - is pushed from every side of life. Books, movies, advertisements, radio talk shows, department stores, greeting cards, Internet memes, chain letters, tax laws, religious writings, court cases... everyone and everywhere tells me the same thing: I deserve to find love, to be in love, to be loved, no matter what the cost or effort involved. Love is the goal. All I need is love. Find love and happiness will follow. Follow love wherever it takes me. Fight for love. Work for love. Do anything and everything I can to find it, then everything and anything I must to keep it. To many people, romantic love trumps all. There's nothing more important in life.
But that belief is broken.
Valentine's Day is a lie. Romantic love isn't the end-all course of human existence. It's likely an important facet of many or most people's lives, but for some, it's not in the cards of mortality at all - no matter how hard or smart or faithfully the search for it is done.
But the true tragedy isn't that.
When I've grown up in a world that tells me what to think, that tells me what to feel, and that tells me what I deserve, and then I realize that I don't fit the mold they used, I have only a few options.
I can believe them, and try harder. I did that for a long time. I believed that I was doing something wrong, and that if I could fix it, love would follow. Hence why I took classes, followed all the instructions, and even went so far as to seek and find cures for incurable mental diseases.
Work and wait long enough, though, and even the sturdiest rock will crack. And at that point in time, I realized that the people preaching to me - the media, the world, and even my well-meaning acquaintances and church goers - hadn't been telling me the truth.
At that moment I had only one option: find the truth for myself.
But after the world has lied to me, it's hard to trust anyone anymore. When someone tells me that I can, by force of will or effort, find love that isn't going to be found that way, I'm not going to turn to them for guidance in my faith. And anything else they've ever told me could become suspect. If they were wrong about love - and about how to find it - then maybe they were wrong about other things. Love is preached by worldly standards as the most important thing in life. If they got that wrong, what else is wrong?
I've seen thousands of people hit that realization. Being attracted to the same sex can cause it to happen, as can major mental illness, or other circumstances. Realizing that no matter how hard they try, it won't happen the way they wanted. Some people look inward, come closer to God, and choose to trust Him and His timing. They turn away from the entitlement taught by media, peers, and social norms, and humbly believe that God's Plan has other things in store for them.
But far more keep believing that they deserve to find love, and turn against the people who told them how to find it. Family ties break, faith suffers. One simple doctrine, taught wrong and embedded into culture, crushes a temple of faith, and the destruction can last a lifetime.
I'm one of the lucky few.
By the time I reached that realization, I had already gone through fire. Depression and loneliness had pushed me to God, and I knew from experience that most people just didn't understand how wrong they were. Most people had good intentions, and pieces of what they believed were true... they just didn't know the whole truth because they had never been forced to find it.
I'm not embittered. Most of the time, I laugh inside when I hear people preach that love is easily attained - that just by working hard or smart or trying with all my might I could achieve one of the few things I've ever really wanted. I smirk when someone asks me why I'm not married, and my answers are often just as superficial as the comments I'd get if I bared my soul.
But along with the laughter is a realization that this culture - the culture of entitlement and focus and self-centered "if you work/serve/pray/whatever you'll get what you want or deserve" - is killing far more souls than it is amusing.
If you can hear me, I have a request for you.
Stop telling people that working harder or smarter will make all their righteous dreams come true.
Stop telling people that love is the greatest thing on earth.
Stop telling people that they just need more faith, or more effort, or more motivation, to accomplish the goals the world, or you, have set for them.
Instead, tell the truth.
Tell the hard, difficult truth that, for many people, it won't matter how hard or smart they work - they may never be able to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of the things they want in this life.
Tell the truth that life is different for each of us, and that life is often unfair when we lack the perspective to understand.
Tell the truth that, from God's perspective, life is just a moment - and that He designed an excruciatingly painful experience for some of us - one that may make us envy everyone we meet - to give us the best possible chance to become the people He sees in us.
And tell the truth that that's is ok.
I believe that romantic love is probably almost everything that people make it out to be. That it can make people into better people, fill a deep human need, and build the fabric of society. I believe that it's a valuable quest, a viable goal, and a good reason to work hard.
But I don't believe that romantic love is the end of all human existence.
For some of us, choosing who to marry may be the most important decision in our lives. But not for all of us.
Some of us will find meaning and happiness in love and eternal family. Others of us will never find that love in mortality, or the love we do find will be skewed by the issues we face. But we can find that same happiness even without it.
For some of us, the goals and plans and expectations that society has set for us will match our lives exactly. And for others, we'll have to turn to God personally to find that path.
The title of this post is actually a terrible misnomer. Even people like me - and I have all sorts of issues revolving around love - can experience the peace and happiness that comes from the true love of God. Without Him, I would have turned away long ago from people who claimed to understand my life and give me advice. With Him, I've learned the truth. When nothing and no one else can get through depression, frustration, sadness, chaos, and the ever-present pressures of everyday life, God can still speak to my heart, if I'm willing to let Him in.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 8:52 AM