Ouch.

I haven’t really been able to get to sleep tonight. I am visiting the family this weekend, and earlier tonight while I was looking for a scrap of paper to write on in the drawer in the kitchen where pens, paper, and other common-use junk is kept, I flipped open a little notebook to rip out a sheet of paper. The page I turned to, however, wasn’t blank.

The page and the next several pages was covered in my mother’s handwriting. It seemed to be some note she had written to herself as she planned some hypothetical conversation she and my dad would be having with me. Specifically it listed objections to my current boyfriend, who was never Mormon and does not believe in a personal god, an immortal soul, or spending any time contemplating these issues. You know, like most non-practicing but technically baptised Protestants. But he’s also a good man and treats me better than any other bloke I’ve gone out with, especially when I compare him to the Mormon ones I used to date. Many of the “nice” Mormon guys I can think of always had something; neurosis, flagrant sexism, racism, or homophobia, or a belief that membership in the Democratic party was cause for excommunication. There have been genuinely great Mormon guys that I have gone out with or befriended, but at the end of it my beliefs in equality clash too much with church doctrine for us to get to the point of serious relationships or marriage. (And yes, I do know that there are Mormon men who oppose the church’s second-class treatment of women, minorities, and homosexuals, but I was never lucky enough to find any in my singles wards.)

I think she may have wrote this note due to the recent passing of Valentine’s Day and the fact that my trip was rather last-minute. Perhaps she thought he’d pop the question. We have been dating a year, which in Mormon time means I should have been married seven months ago and ought to be pregnant by now.

The note hurts on several fronts. First off, I wasn’t expecting it and being blindsided makes it worse. All I wanted was a bit of paper to write down a phone number. I wasn’t snooping, and it’s the last place in the house anybody should have left such personal thoughts. I object to reading people’s journals because it’s an intrusion of privacy, but even more so because you’re reading someone’s thoughts in an unfair setting. Journals are for venting and for putting down half-formed ideas. It’s wrong to judge someone in their private mental workshop, because the ideas that they end up taking out into the world might be very different and more useful than the jumble of thought they poured into a private book. I don’t like that I suddenly found something before my eyes that allowed me to see thoughts that went through my mum’s head. I have no way of knowing how strongly she feels this way, although I suspect that what she wrote does probably reflect her true feelings. However, it’s the worst possible way for me to learn about them.

Second, this note hurts because it’s loaded with foregone conclusions. She chastises me for not asking herself and my dad what they think of my boyfriend, and has a bullet point asking me to “open my heart and mind.” She then goes on to list all the reasons why I should not marry my boyfriend. If it’s a foregone conclusion there’s not much point in opening my heart and mind, is there? It all comes down to one thing; he isn’t Mormon. He could have any flaw in the universe, and it wouldn’t matter a bit to her if he was a garment-wearing, temple-recommend-toting, returned missionary. It doesn’t matter that he is intelligent, kind, loyal, responsible, mature, and has a great job with excellent career prospects. No virtue can compensate for failure to be Mormon.

The most disappointing aspect of this note is how evident it is that my happiness is not even a consideration. Among the massive list of my errors that she lists (all of which are things that are not bad in themselves, but just don’t correlate with the sort of behaviour that the LDS church prescribes for me) there is never a question like “does he make you happy?” or “do you think that you would be happy with him as a husband?” She does make one fair point that he was a bit more antisocial than he should have been at the last family gathering, which was where I introduced him to my relatives. I also felt he could have made more of an effort to participate in conversations, especially as this was his first impression, but poor performance at one social event is hardly an excuse to write him off completely. But the rest operates with circular logic: “I don’t want you to be with him because he isn’t Mormon and because he isn’t Mormon I don’t want you to be with him.”

I have been lying awake trying to decide what to do with this information. If, when and how should I reveal this information to my boyfriend? Should I let my mum or dad know that I stumbled across this? Should I just leave it be? I suppose it’s just a matter of time before I have to have this conversation anyway. I don’t date Mormons because it would be unethical to date some poor nice guy who expected me to follow a belief system that I can’t support in good conscience. The only way to make my parents happy would be to delude myself, lie to myself, or hide myself and pretend to be a good Mormon. I couldn’t lie to myself and my family just to meet my parents’ demand for orthodoxy. Ironically, my parents taught me better than to be such a hypocrite.

I’m not shocked by the contents, as I could roughly guess my mum’s thoughts on this matter anyway. But I am disappointed to find out that religious orthodoxy matters more to her than happiness, or perhaps that she believes that happiness is dependent on religious orthodoxy. I don’t know if it’s possible to make her understand that for many people, those two things do nothing but cancel each other out. I wish I could explain to them that I am happier not believing in Mormonism, and the greatest mental pain I’ve gone through in my life came from trying to pound a square egalitarian peg into a round Mormon hole. But in their worldview, you can’t be happy if you are not a good Mormon. And my failure to be a good Mormon brings guilt and shame on them, because they believe they’re going to have to answer to God for their failure to be good Mormon parents.

That’s not a feeling I ever wanted to inflict on my parents. It is utterly unfair for parents to be responsible for the decisions of their children, especially when no actual harm is done and it’s simply a difference of philosophical opinion. But whether my intentions in leaving the fold were malicious or honest, it makes no difference. They still feel the guilt and sorrow. Perhaps that’s why Mormons can so easily paint those who leave with the same brush; they are “apostates” and “angry ex-Mormons.” When you truly believe that you are RIGHT and your religion is the ONLY way to be happy, then anybody who leaves must naturally be wrong and unhappy. That’s not quite how it is, as anybody who’s left the faith system of their birth can say. But getting the orthodox faithful to listen and think sometimes seems like an impossible and depressing task.

3 thoughts on “Ouch.

  1. A couple of things to consider:

    * Bullet points are not a conversation. As someone who gives speeches, and conducts witness examinations regularly, I can tell you a couple of things. First, we tend to write down what we’re either afraid of forgetting to say, or not sure we should say in the first place. Obvious points (e.g. “does he make you happy”, or in a lawyering sense, “where were you on the night of October 8”) don’t get written down. She was trying to organize her thoughts in advance of talking to you; in many ways, this was exactly like a journal entry. Don’t judge her too harshly.
    * I’m not sure it really matters where someone leaves something; what matters is the form and content of the missal. Whether journal, notes, etc., something’s either for public consumption or it isn’t.
    * One issue I’ve struggled with, in my own life, is that our parents’ idea of what should make us happy very often doesn’t correlate with our ideas for ourselves. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that they don’t want you to be happy, or don’t care if you are; merely that they’re misguided.
    * Are you sure that his lack of being a Mormon is the only issue? Have you asked? Sure, it’s easy to assume that, and maybe that’s 90% of it, but you won’t know until you ask. Just for the record, it’s not like all Mormons are against the idea of marrying non-Mormons. Many of the people I know, who happen to be Mormons, have married non-Mormons, and/or are accepting of the idea.

    I’m sorry your mom hurt your feelings. That stinks. I hope things get better.

    • * Judgment is something I’m trying to avoid. I can see the flaws in the arguments she penned down here, so at least if she ever does bring this up I’ll be prepared to respond to her in the best way I can manage. But I won’t and don’t consider this to be her final thought on the issue.
      * Yes, this note isn’t something I ever should have read. I really felt unhappy because I never go snooping through other people’s things, and so to run into something like this when I’ve really tried to avoid it made me very sad.
      * I think this affects every child whose parents love them. Caring parents all around the world struggle with letting go and micromanaging their children’s decisions. The irony is that they are hurting their children because they don’t want them to hurt.
      * Yes, I’m certain that his lack of being a Mormon is the number one issue. I don’t need to ask. For my entire dating life, they spoke disparagingly of guys I spent time with who were non-LDS, and my mum constantly warned me against being alone with these guys lest my virtue be violated. When I was briefly married (in the temple to a returned missionary) they pushed me to stay with him, even after he became abusive and sexually unfaithful. But I had a Temple Marriage(TM) and they didn’t want me to be stigmatized as a divorced person (which I was, and heavily, after I finally decided to stop listening to my priesthood leaders and escape the situation). My current boyfriend is a great, psychologically healthy guy who really has his act together. But my parents say judgmental things about him to my siblings and make no effort to get to know him. Like most super-orthodox, super-active LDS, they view their children being with non-members as a terrible thing to be avoided. In the ward I grew up in, whenever someone heard about a Mormon marrying a non-Mormon, the reaction was always “oh, that’s too bad.” An interfaith marriage would be as much of a letdown to them as me contracting HIV. As shocking as it is to put it this way, my parents would rather have me temple married to an abusive cheating LDS man than married outside the church to a good person who makes me happy.

      • I’m really sorry; I can’t imagine how difficult that must be. The only explanation I can think of is willful blindness; maybe they just aren’t allowing themselves to recognize the truth of what the situation was with your ex (and is with many people, regardless of their religious affiliations), because it’s so different from what they want to believe. I think a lot of people (Mormons and non-Mormons alike) have way, way too much invested in some abstract “perfect” image of what life is supposed to be like. When real life deviates from that (as it almost always does), they just shut down. I’ve experienced this phenomenon in my family quite a bit.

        Hopefully, in time, they’ll come to appreciate your boyfriend; he sounds like a great guy. I guess this is naive, but maybe they just need to spend more time with him? A lot of us may consider ourselves godly, but most of us aren’t worldly; whether Mormon, Catholic, whatever, I think a lot of people are highly suspicious of anyone who’s culturally different, and just can’t conceive that they might actually have the same values. But many atheists I know are, going by the church’s guidelines on how we’re supposed to treat each other, more “Mormon” than actual Mormons.

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