Hey there! I’m not really back to blogging, but the last month or so I’ve had two posts swimming in my head. I have almost a day on a plane and bus, so I have a little time. One post would include reflections of my most recent stint as Relief Society president in my singles ward. I was recently “released” from the position as we call it. In this same post I want to write about an evening I attended addressing surveys of Church members experiencing faith crisis. The New York Times just published a piece on the man who prompted the survey and who I heard speak. See that article at “Some Members Search the Web and Find Doubt.” I appreciated journalist McKay Coppins’ response “Why the Internet Hasn’t Shattered My Mormon Faith.” I’d like to write about my own sense of betrayal as I learned more about Church history and how I navigated through it. Make that how I’m navigating through it.
The other is this post about dating, prayer and choices. I’ve gone back and forth with myself about doing it. Then I re-read a few of my posts about dating, which made me smile because I forgot about them and realized this one fits right in. It makes for an interesting read and I hope that as I’m real, it can help others see how faith works in daily life—not just idealized in disconnected church sermons.
Here’s the point: Committed love is not inevitable. It comes by a series of choices to get there and then a series of choices to remain there. God helps us along the way if we ask. We have to ask because He works according to our faith and asking prepares us to receive what He will give.
(If this gets too long for you, just skip to the last section about prayer. That’s the best part of this post.)
“Web of Contingency”
It seems inevitable that my parents ended up together. I mean, I can’t imagine life without my family, or my mortal existence for that matter! Of course it was going to work out between them. But that sense of inevitability only comes with hindsight. Of course Americans would win their independence. Of course American slavery would become illegal. Of course the Mormon pioneers would settle the Salt Lake valley. Of course women would obtain the vote. Of course the Nazis wouldn’t win the war. There’s a sense of inevitability that comes with looking backwards into the past. But these events brought with them great uncertainty and struggle. So it is with marriage. Looking back on it for couples who are way passed the uncertainty and struggle of the decision process makes it all seem inevitable that they’d end up together.
But it wasn’t.
I like to think of achieving marriage in terms of how David Hackett Fischer describes the crossing of the Delaware River during the American War of Independence in his book Washington’s Crossing. When you read the words “this book,” think “marriage” and you’ll catch my drift.
We have seen how it happened: not in a single event, or even a chain of events, but in a great web of contingency. This book is mainly about contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world. It is not primarily a story of accidents, though there were many along the way. It is not about what might have been, though that question is always in the background. This is a story of real choices that living people actually made. To study an event in these terms is to discover a dense web of contingency, in which many people made choices within a structure of relationships. (364)
Mormons heavily emphasize the concept of free will. God created us before we came to earth, the Mormon narrative begins, and we came into the world to choose God and gain experience. We grow into obtaining our eternal potential as we receive Christ’s Atonement and absorb His power to make us holy.
I once heard a bubbly Church speaker say that God has a path for each of us, we just have to discover it and follow it. I didn’t think that exactly aligned with how Mormons understand the purpose of life. It’s more like God has His gospel path for everyone and Christ is the gatekeeper. But, once on that path and received Christ, there are thousands upon millions of good paths we can choose while still on that gospel path. What job you end up in, where you’ll live and even what partner you end up with isn’t predetermined. He can see some are better for us than others and will guide us toward those if we ask. He wants us to develop our ability to make good choices. We counsel with Him about possible paths on the gospel path while He gives us feedback from His omniscient perspective. “He approves more than He assigns” to quote a popular Mormon youth speaker.
Since we’re all making choices, it creates a “dense web of contingency” and it exists within a “structure of relationships.”
This means that Mormons don’t believe in predestined soul mates. But they do believe that once you choose a spouse, that person becomes your soul mate.
The Intersection of the Venn Diagram
I think of potential partners in terms of a Venn diagram. One circle includes the men I could match up with. The other circle comprises those who could want to be with me. There have been men in my life with whom I wanted a deeper relationship, but they didn’t want it with me. Then there have been some men who were interested in a deeper relationship with me and I wasn’t interested. The great potential for a partnership lies in mutual interest—the intersection of the Venn diagram.
There’s not just one person in the intersection who is the destined one. Lots are possible, though the circle is not so big to include everyone who is single. Some people have large intersections and others small, but I believe there are sufficient amounts of possibilities for most everyone. Progressing to marriage happens through a series of choices within the intersection.
God works according to the faith we offer Him. If we ask Him for help in finding someone in the intersection, He will. Then once you’ve found someone in the intersection, He can advise you along the way if you ask. He cares about our lives and that includes our relationships.
God’s will, your will or both? Being willful?
I think of God’s will in terms of my relationship with my Dad. It’s his will for me to be faithful to my knowledge of the gospel. He wants me to grow up and be a self sufficient adult who maintains a relationship with Him and still relies on Him for love and support. I think people often think of God’s will in very narrow terms, seeking to know the one thing they’re destined to be so they can be it. My Dad wants me to be successful and there are lots of ways to be successful while still living according to my knowledge of the restored gospel. I believe God’s will is similar. The key is counseling with Him along the way so we can hear His feedback on our choices. God wants us to align our will with His. His will looks more like a good father than a dictator.
Then there’s being willful, meaning you make yourself unavailable to His Spirit and do whatever you want because it’s what you want. Are you willful?
Women and Power in Dating
It’s hard to know who is actually in the intersection. That takes action and a willingness to be rejected. In other words, you gotta try.
I’m currently not sure how much true power Mormon women have in the dating process, beyond the power of prayer, which I’ll get to. I believe I have power over my own choices, but I’ve found relationships only progress if the man is actively moving it forward and I’m accepting or declining the forward movement. What am I supposed to do then, just wait around for someone to pick me? That seems so paternalistic. I do believe women have power to encourage and create opportunities and show interest.
For example, there was one particular guy I thought was so amazing. He was deeply reflective and incredibly smart, polite, kind and opinionated . He was spiritual in a faithful, yet sometimes unconventional way (as I view myself to be). But I didn’t know all those things at first. I just knew he was good looking. He started talking to me at our ward retreat. After a while they announced the last BYU/Utah football game was up. It was quite the feat to get the satellite signal to function while in the mountains near Camp David. To receive signal, it had to be set up on the lawn, so viewers grabbed chairs to relocate into the cold night air to see the large projector screen. I invited him to join me to watch, which he did. It was very cozy as we shared my blanket and continued talking while half watching the game. He had his arm around me. Or was that just his arm on my chair? I wasn’t sure. I think it was around me. We’d talk at subsequent Church activities and I invited him over a few times, but it never went much beyond that. Looks like he was in my circle, but I wasn’t in his. It’s too bad because he was so great, but at least I was trying—and doing what I could see was in my power. You gotta try. Committed love isn’t inevitable. It comes about through the struggle of our choices.
Then there was another man. We were no longer dating because of his choice, but he’d left it open. And I didn’t want it closed. We ran into each other at a party and there was no way I was going to talk to him. I wasn’t over him, but that was deliberate. I could have gotten over it for good if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. I figured I would when I had to, if I had to. He came up to me, making it a point to touch me, bringing up things we had done together and updating me on his life. He seemed different and I hoped that it could be different. At that point in my life I’d developed the belief that if a man likes you, he’ll do something about it and I’d already made enough of a fool of myself over this guy that if he did want to ask me out, he’d do something about it. I hoped he would for a while, but he never did and I tried to forget about it and sort of did. Then, months later I could bring a guest to an annual Christmas meeting for Temple workers in the upper room of the Washington, D.C. Temple. I’d attended this meeting before. It’s a moving experience. Everyone in attendance wears their Temple whites and the Spirit is very strong as faithful Temple workers sing gospel hymns and listen to sermons on the role of the Savior. I thought through people I could invite and really wanted him to join me. I decided and then undecided to ask him for about a week and finally landed on the go for it side. I stared at my phone for about 15 minutes before actually doing it. My voice was a tinsy bit shaky as I asked. The answer was no (well, it was “not now” which is neither here nor there at this point), but it was worth it to me to try. You gotta try.
More recently I was hanging out with a particular man, but I would have rather been on a date with him (see the difference between dating and hanging out at “Stop Hanging Out with Women and Start Dating Them” on the Art of Manliness and “Dating Versus Hanging Out” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks). We’d been on a date before. He’s really smart with lots of initiative and passion and he likes to hear my perspective on ideas he’s exploring. Our bishop had recently done the lesson on dating/marriage, which happens about twice a year or so in singles wards and we were talking about it. (That lesson happens apart from the weekly Relationships Sunday School class. Yeah that’s a thing.) I told him if I were a (Mormon) man, I’d be very active at dating. I’d ask women out until I found someone I liked and then pursue a relationship with her. If it didn’t work out, I’d move on and keep moving until it works out. I told him I envied the Mormon man’s prerogative in the dating scenario. It’s true that other cultures have different norms, so our model doesn’t have to be this way. However, I believe that culture influences emotions and to be countercultural in this instance doesn’t seem to work out for too many women. Too bad our dating norms are strongly in the favor of the man. He said that we probably had different perspectives on how to be active about it and continued with saying, “But, there’s no better way to get Mormon women to respect you, than to ask women on dates.” That made me laugh and I smiled in agreement. There are as many perspectives on dating as there are people who want to date. You gotta keep trying until it works. There are enough people, I believe, in each person’s intersection that it can eventually work out, but you gotta try. Committed love isn’t inevitable. It comes about through the struggle of our choices.
Someone’s Choice Does Not Change Your Worth
When I read again my post “God Knows That Dating is Tough,” I remembered this important point. The way others treat us often has a direct influence over our self esteem. It’s hard to still feel good about yourself when you’ve decided to let someone in and they decide they don’t want to be there. Self-esteem is how we view ourselves, but our worth is eternally constant. No matter what others choose, how God feels about us never changes. Each of Heavenly Father’s children was worth the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. That’s priceless.
The Lord said it this way in a modern revelation:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” Doctrine & Covenants 18:10
Just because someone isn’t in your intersection or is in your intersection and chooses someone else, it doesn’t mean you don’t have tremendous worth.
Asking God to Help with Dating
Now to what inspired this post in the first place. A few years ago, the Prophet spoke on marriage in the priesthood session of general conference and this talk became a recurring theme in my singles ward. In the talk, he expressed concern about single Latter-day Saints hanging out in large groups and not going about purposefully searching for a spouse. I got sick of hearing about it because I didn’t think this applied to me, but I didn’t want to feel like the Prophet’s counsel didn’t apply to me. I prayed sincerely to know what I should do about dating. I really wanted to know if I would never get married so I could grieve the loss of the dream and quit waiting around for something to happen that wouldn’t and move on with my life. After lots of work in the form of prayer and humbling myself, I got an answer to “be patient and trust me.” I was happy to receive a clear answer, but also felt like He wasn’t answering me as I asked. Hello?! Does being patient and trusting mean I should give up on this marriage hope or not? But pursuing that felt bratty. I decided to let that go and just pray for help to be patient and trust. I’ve been consistent with that since, though many mornings and nights it was more to just check the box (hey, praying for the same thing for years can lead to your fervency to wane). God did bless me with the patience and trust for which I asked. Gratefully, after a while I lost my angst about dating.
But, a few months ago things happened that motivated me to revisit the “What should I do about dating?” question.
I couldn’t sleep because I was replaying old tapes in my mind and it was seriously upsetting me. After earnestly praying what I should do about the dating thing, I felt better and went to sleep. The next day during my scripture study on the Metro a very clear answer came into my mind to “pray he’ll have the courage to pursue me.” This made sense to me and I started meaningfully including it in my prayers with faith. The next day someone I had previously dated emailed me and wanted to talk. I didn’t think much of it. Essentially the last time we talked apart from in-the-hall-at-Church-chit-chat was a train wreck. I felt like he was making choices based on assumptions about me without just asking me in the first place. When I said I just wanted someone who wanted to be with me and then you decide the life details after that, I didn’t take well to his response. Now he was looking for some feedback. Over the years at various times, I’ve sought feedback from men I’d dated after time passed and we were on friendly terms. I was looking for info to help me change for the better. It was never a bad experience. He appeared to be doing the same. Because he wasn’t asking me out, I didn’t feel the need to make it a priority. About a month passed before we ended up chatting and then only briefly. At the close, I wished him luck.
A few weeks later he asked to meet again. This time it was different. He said essentially since we had that terrible ending (my words), which was about six months previous, he’s been thinking of me and more generally of what he should do about dating. He’d received some impressions from the Spirit and subsequently had a “paradigm shift.”
Then he went on.
Then I responded.
Who knows what will happen with this. Committed love isn’t inevitable, it comes about through the struggle of choices. But here’s some thoughts that come to me about it from the benefit of hindsight:
His humility was absolutely disarming to me.
I had nothing but respect for him for the tremendous courage it required to tell me what he did.
Because of the humble confidence he carried by acting on what the Spirit inspired him to do, I changed from hardly caring to see him to finding him very attractive. Worth noting, right? :)
I’m also humbled about the timing. He’d been thinking about it for months and right after I prayed with faith and the Spirit gave me to “pray that he would have the courage to pursue me” he contacted me. 1. Cool he’s so responsive to the Spirit and 2. Cool the Lord gave me specifically what to exercise faith about.
I believe others would have similar experiences through acting on answers to prayer and trusting God.
You’re almost to the end of this mega-long post!
I learned many, many things this round as a Relief Society president. The most valued thing I learned was a re-learning. It is how to exercise faith in prayer, receive an answer, recognize the answer and to act upon it.
Most everyone dreams of committed love. If you involve God in the process, I believe He can help guide you to someone in your intersection. Then you have to continue to make choices. Ask Him for help in those moments too.
God cares, even about dating which can seem silly, but actually has consequences that reach into forever.
May you reach out to Him as He reaches for you, so your forever can be eternally learning the true meaning of the commitment of love.