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.