Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
Listen to the audio here at the Mormon Channel.
I was almost 21 years old (just pre-mission) when I went through the temple for the first time and covenanted to “live the law of chastity”. At the time, I assumed I would have to “contain” my sexuality for a few more years – and then stay faithful to my husband for all the years after that. I didn’t think it would be very hard.
But, here I am, more than 20 years later – and I’m still on the “contain my sexuality part”. Because I stayed single, I’ve had to make the choice about staying chaste (according to the LDS temple covenant) many times. It is not an easy choice. And it is not an easy lifestyle.
In 2011, Nicole Hardy wrote an article in the New York Times called “Single, Female, Mormon, Alone”; it generated a lot of discussion among my single friends. In her article (now a book), Hardy describes her decision to leave her celibate, Mormon life and explore sexual experiences. Her choices are different from mine, but that is not what bothers me about the article. I am bothered by the fact that she sees choices other than becoming sexually active as adolescent and even foolish.
She writes: “Most troubling was the fact that as I grew older I had the distinct sense of remaining a child in a woman’s body; virginity brought with it arrested development on the level of a handicapping condition, like the Russian orphans I’d read about whose lack of physical contact altered their neurobiology and prevented them from forming emotional bonds. Similarly, it felt as if celibacy was stunting my growth; it wasn’t just sex I lacked but relationships with men entirely. Too independent for Mormon men, and too much a virgin for the other set, I felt trapped in adolescence.”
Hardy’s experience may tell one side of the story, but I have another. Rather than feeling that my choice of chastity leaves me stuck in adolescence or handicap, I feel it heightens my consciousness around my own body. I consider my sexual feelings deeply because I am compelled to consistently reconcile my beliefs and my desires. I have considered my choices and fully own my sexuality. This depth of feeling creates, for me, keen consideration of intimate relationships – and a confidence that I am choosing for myself.
I am tired of the word “virgin” being tied to ideas like naive, simple, scared, fragile, and ashamed. I would like to see the word make a shift to connect with ideas like courageous, determined, strong and sound … all attributes of a fully aware and responsible adult. Making a choice is empowering. Gone are the days when I live the law of chastity for fear of my Bishop or the Lord. It is my choice – and I can own that. (And I can feel comfortable with my single friends who make other choices – and own those as well.)
There is still another side to this story. I give the Hardy credit for describing a situation that has my complete empathy: living chaste, at arms length with ones sexuality, into mid-adulthood is a hard way to live. Sex is a normal part of adult life. It is, however, a missing part of my live or the lives my friends who live single and chaste. We are not only missing the act of sex, but the intimacy of shared living.
Many adults live without sex for a few years into adulthood while they finish college or “find the right one”, but we live without sex for an additional 15, 20 years or more. Over time, this physical isolation changes us; creating a wound in body and spirit. It is a dark hurt of longing, unsatisfied yearning, aloneness, and insufficient closeness.
The situation is exacerbated by the feeling that this wound is invisible to our married brothers and sisters who see only the benefits of a chaste life. It seems that for them there is no real difference between chastity at age 17 and chastity at age 40. Their sermons about the benefits of “saving ourselves for marriage” don’t fall on deaf ears, but seem to lack understanding. It seems that married leaders equate their 20 year old single experience to our current situation. We do see the benefits of living chaste, but our situation differs for that of a youth. Making sensible choices in a passionate moment is not as difficult in mid-adulthood as it once was. We’ve had practice with drawing boundaries and are fully aware of consequences. The harder part is the living; making the choice every day as the loss of a shared bed and a life companion grows. We miss intimacy into the deep parts of ourselves and know that some of those losses cannot be restored.
While choosing a chaste life comes with its price, I still believe it has been a powerful choice for me. I feel strong. I feel free. I feel whole. And the scope goes beyond myself, which gives me reason to continue choosing it. On its own, the law of chastity may fall short on benefits, but combined with all the principles in the gospel of Christ, it holds greater weight. All of these principles, together, create a tight weave in the fabric that connects me to God and to others in my faith community. It provides a sense of safety that spreads throughout my life.
Living chaste allows me to participate fully with my community of Saints – and holds me in solidarity with them. This community sustains me with their own faith and trust. I am better and live richer because I am whole with them.
By choosing to live chaste, I sacrifice parts of myself and am built stronger in others parts. My relationship with Christ allows me to believe that His atonement will, in time, heal my wounds and deepen my understanding.
by Amanda Waterhouse
Marriage is not simply a relationship or tax status in our church. It’s a blessing, a rite of passage, a necessary part of salvation; which leaves single adults in a tricky place. If marriage is a blessing, why haven’t you received it yet? Why don’t you deserve it? What did you do wrong?
Of course, the flip side to the myth that single adults are single because of some worthiness issue is the idea that it’s not your fault at all. You just haven’t been given the opportunity to get married yet. All too often I have been reassured, “I’m sure you’ll be married in the next life!” by well-meaning members who don’t recognize the inherent double blow to self-esteem in a message that implies:
1) you’ll be better (i.e. “fixed”) in the next life, thus reinforcing the idea that something is wrong with you now, and
2) you are not enough. It’s tricky to maintain a strong sense of individual worth when you are constantly reminded that no matter how good you are, you won’t be good enough until you are partnered with somebody else. I am a child of God, but I’m not worthy of exaltation so long as I’m a single child of God.
Free agency further complicates this idea. When marriage becomes a matter of choice rather than a spiritual achievement or opportunity, it’s a gendered choice – men do the choosing and are failures if they do not choose correctly; women wait to be chosen and are failures if they are not picked.
And it’s just that – waiting. The idea that your life doesn’t actually begin until you’re married and have “a family of your own” traps single adults in a liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. A wedding, particularly a temple wedding, acts as a significant rite of passage in the church; and the church doesn’t know quite when to treat those who have not completed that ritual as full-fledged adults.
Marriage equals maturity; therefore singles must be immature. Singles wards and groups are not only given second-class citizen status in their segregation, but they are assigned married couples to “lead” them. When a newly-married couple in their early 20’s is placed in a leadership position over older single adults, the message is clear – a marriage certificate bestows more life-experience and capabilities than years of living as an independent adult. No wonder many Mormon single adults buy into this myth as much as non-single member do, to damaging effect. All too often single adults embrace a semi-adolescent lifestyle, neglecting critical responsibilities such as creating wills, saving for retirement, or establishing their own homes. We lose sight of the “adult” by focusing too much on the “single.”
Some of the most damaging myths about singles in the church are rooted in some of the most beautiful doctrines of the gospel, which makes it so much harder to untangle the truths from the myths. It’s worth it, though. Free agency, eternal families, celestial progression, and a real understanding of individual worth are worth the struggle to remind my fellow members and the struggle to convince myself over and over again that myths about single adults are indeed just myths.
Amanda Waterhouse teaches theater and a whole lot more in a high school outside of Denver. She loves traveling, Michelin restaurants, Marvel movies, and the Oxford comma.
They say that most people have dealt with unrequited love at least once in their lifetime, at least 98% according to an estimate in this article in Psychology Today . I think most of us who are single are nodding our heads sadly in agreement.
How to deal with it
Where do I go from here?
I hate getting over crushes or unrequited love: call it what fits you best. You have to go through the pain of realizing that something you’d hoped for, something important to you, may never be. At certain times in my life this has been harder than others. I had someone writing me when I was on my mission. Towards the end he was still writing. I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure what I thought, but in theory (because of the letters he was writing), he was still there.
Only he wasn’t. I got home to find out that he was engaged to someone else. It was a heartbreaking time for me. I had at least hoped I’d come home to have him as my friend, there, to talk about my mission with, as we’d corresponded nearly the whole time. Even though I wasn’t sure that I wanted more than that, the loss of the friendship was the most difficult.
Another time period in my life I really liked someone and just wanted to get to go out with him. What I didn’t know what that he was dating someone else on the sly (heard of “stealth dating?”) and so when I told him how I felt he turned me down. Even though I felt embarrassed, I tried again a few months later. I got the same response and was mortified when I decided what a fool I’d made out of myself. To this day I still wonder if the girl he was dating (who became his wife) was bugged by me, or if she realizes that I’m long over it and that I saw almost immediately that they were a much better match, once they finally “came out” as a couple.
Getting over both these situations was painful, but tools our Heavenly Father has given us ultimately brought peace and healing for those times and others. In Isaiah 49:16 the Lord reminds us that he’s always there for us:
16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Heavenly Father does want us to be happy and if we pray for his help, He will help us move on and he will help us through the pain. The pain can be a bittersweet opportunity to look at ourselves and say, “Why am I hurting? What was I expecting?” and we can use these answers for future goals and expectations. Sometimes some of the greatest things we do come on the heals of painful experiences.
I invite you to reflect on the last time you experienced the feeling of fear. Was it wondering if you’d be accepted into one of the many competitive degree programs here at Brigham Young University? Or waiting to see if the girl you asked out wants to go out again? Or worse yet, wondering what to do if she does? For me the feeling is as recent as sitting on this stand, looking into the faces of so many, and knowing that, through the miracle of technology, thousands more are watching this message.
Like you, I can testify that the feeling of fear is real. Indeed, of this powerful emotion, Elder Bednar taught in last April’s General Conference:
Notably, One of the first effects of the fall was for Adam and Eve to experience fear. This potent emotion is an important element of our mortal existence.
Today I want to visit with you about overcoming the fears that are an essential part of our experience in this Earth life.
One of my favorite classes to teach here on campus is the Doctrine and Covenants, because I find it highly relevant in my own life and in the lives of my students. In a well-known episode from the text, Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon, was offered the opportunity of the lifetime: to join Joseph Smith as a translator of that sacred book of scripture. Oliver was instructed,
“Ask that ye may know the mysteries of God, and that ye may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up according to your faith, and it shall it be done unto you.”
(unsure on source, text of talk still unavailable)
Shortly thereafter, when Oliver failed in his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, the Lord explained the reasons for his failure, outlining several causes:
5 And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Doctrine & Covenants 9:11
I’ve long wondered what it was that Oliver feared that he did not continue as he had commenced. Knowing that the project was of eternal importance, did he fear making a mistake, and thus marring the sacred publication?
I was the age of most of you when this scriptural episode came to have special meaning to me. I was in grad school here at BYU, and began asking out a particular girl. And, as things progressed, I became scared. Fear caused me to not continue as I had commenced. I was afraid of making the wrong decision; one that I knew was important and, ideally, eternal. My poorly thought out solution to this fear was to stop asking the girl out. As weeks turned into months, I buried myself in other things, all the while praying if I should pursue the relationship that I clearly wasn’t doing anything to nurture.
Finally one Sunday I was in church here on campus when I finally made up my mind: I would pursue the relationship. What would be the worst that could happen? “Maybe I would get married,” I thought. I called her apartment, only to learn that she had gone home that weekend. I left a message for her to call me when she returned, which, incidentally, is ideal for someone gripped by dating paralysis. The last thing a young man really wants to do is talk.
That afternoon my dad called. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. The girl was engaged.
She returned my call later that night. “Scott, I heard you called.” “Yes, I was just calling to congratulate you on your engagement” was my response. Fear of the future had kept me from continuing what I had commenced, and the time had passed. I thought often about that experience, and the Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery concerning fear, the next six years of my single life.
So how do we overcome fears, act in faith, and move forward towards an uncertain future? Eleven years ago last fall I was dating my wife Janice. The week before Thanksgiving I invited her to come home with me to Southern Utah for the holiday weekend. She accepted. And then, once again, I became really scared. I’d taken girls home on road trips before. And for those familiar with Interstate 15 between Provo and Southern Utah, usually by about the town of Nephi, they became the longest weekends of my life.
I started to think of the ways I could uninvite Janice. With fear swirling in my head, I came to campus on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Preparing to teach my class that day, I stumbled across these words at the beginning of Doctrine and Covenants Section 67.
1 Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard, and whose hearts I know, and whose desires have come up before me.
As a 30 year old Elder, I had a desire, and had been praying for a long time that I might find a spouse and begin an eternal companionship. I could relate to these early saints. The Lord continues:
2 Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
In my office at the Joseph Smith Building that morning, the thought struck me: maybe marriage is one of the riches of eternity, and maybe it is God’s to give. The revelation then warns:
3 Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.
I realized if I didn’t face my fear of an uncertain future, I might never receive the blessings the Lord had in store for me.
I took Janice home for Thanksgiving, and the weekend went wonderfully. Returning to Provo, however, my worst fears of carrying on an extended conversation with a girl were realized: a snowstorm forced the closure of Interstate 15 and the two of us were stranded together in the car between the Utah towns of Beaver and Fillmore for several hours with no choice but to simply talk to each other. As our three hour road trip turned into seven, I realized that if we could survive this time together, maybe we could also face my fears of eternal marriage.
From these experiences I learned a valuable lesson: as you experience faith to overcome future fears and uncertainty, you will see God’s hand in your life. In fact, just a few short verses later in the Doctrine and Covenants, in Section 67, the Lord promises:
10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
I now look back on those years of post-mission single life, and like the saints in the Doctrine and Covenants, realize that God was in my midst, and I couldn’t see him. There were lessons I needed to learn, primarily about overcoming fear, coupled with experiences both my wife and I needed to have, that eventually prepared us for each other and our future together. As I stripped myself of fear, the day came that I could see God’s hand, and receive the riches of eternity, but they only came as I exercised faith.
Facing fear in our life isn’t limited to dramatic experiences involving unknown future events like relocating at the command of the Lord or finding an eternal companion. Indeed, the happiness of some is crippled by fears of past failures and the foreboding worry that the present and future can never become bright again.
My voice teacher in college, whom I looked up to. once said that it takes a lifetime to discern between emotion and the Spirit. Emotion can be overwhelming, whether it’s positive emotions or negative. Sometimes the positive emotions we get swept up in can be particularly hard to tell from the Spirit. Emotions, temptations, and fears can play just as much a part in confusing us in dating as they do with any other aspect of our lives.
Things that can get in the way understanding promptings in our dating lives:
When I was a kid, my older sister had a copy of a book by Brenton G. Yorgason called From First Date to Chosen Mate that I would guiltily sneak into her room sometimes to read. She was seven years older than me and that made her stuff….cool. Later I inherited the book and didn’t have to sneak to read it anymore.
One section of it that I really appreciated was the section on “real love” versus “infatuation.” To sum up, some of the counterfeits of love found in infatuation, you may already guess: you like how you look with that person, you like how they make you look to others, they fill an emotional need for self-esteem, etc. You can still get a used copy of it on Amazon.
Or, this blog post, “7 Signs That You’re Not Really in Love”on Family Share by Yordanka Pérez does a pretty good job of summing up the same idea. We like to think that we’re not affected by our emotions as much as we are sometimes, but emotions can be powerful and something we always need to work at to be aware of in our relationships.
Speaking of pressing forward in faith, “Mental Dating” is a term that I learned from a friend who is a therapist with a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA. It’s what a lot of us do when we meet someone attractive who strikes our fancy: we think about what they might be like, and in the extreme, spend a lot of time thinking about it. It’s not a truly productive form of work for your dating life. I’m not claiming that some escapism in the form of entertainment or even daydreams don’t have their place, but we need to realize that sometimes when we engage in “mental dating” in our heads, the made up scenarios on the stage in our mind may be replacing reality via the lack of interaction that we’ve actually had with them. I can pretend in my mind that, for instance, that actor Chris Pine is my best friend and woos me the same way he does Anne Hathaway’s character in Princess Diaries II, but it does not mean that if I met him in real life that we would or could or would even want to interact in that way. And we may find ourselves “understanding” this when it comes to Hollywood crushes, and yet we’ll let it mess with our minds with that handsome man or charming woman we met at church or an activity. In our minds they already have a slew of qualities that we’re looking for, yet we’ve never been on a date with them to actually find that out. In contrast, the person you’ve never talked to may have qualities you’re not aware of until you actually do talk to them and get to know them.
The Spirit leads us to do good things, and sometimes things we’re afraid to do. However, it won’t take away from the God-given plan of agency. The Doctrine and Covenants talks about God’s use of “stewardship,” something that is applied throughout the Church and in our own families. We can receive a positive answer about someone else: that they may be good for us or even a good marriage partner. However, we do not have stewardship over others when it comes to answers they receive for themselves. I may find that Heavenly Father gives me favorable impressions via the Holy Ghost about someone else, but as that person is looking at their possibilities, I may not be the best for them. Heavenly Father may not let me know that I am right for them. I believe this may be one of the most confusing kinds of answers we can receive that may take more picking apart and time to think over after receiving. For me, I’ve decided that it’s not the feeling that I need to concern myself over, but rather, “What did the feeling/prompting really mean?” (Positive promptings about someone else may mean that getting to know them is a good idea, but not necessarily that they’re “the one.”) And that once I can set aside the overwhelming emotions associated with dating and relationships, I can once again have heaven’s help in helping me interpret answers with humility: with my heart and my head, and come to some conclusions that follow all of God’s laws, including the stewardship of others, without feeling like the misinterpretation of the answer means that must be a foolish, silly person. God loves us. Always use that lens of His love.
So what things will help us recognize the Spirit? Obviously church leaders and the scriptures are full of advice on this.
From the recent “Face to Face” for the youth with Elder Rasband, Sister Bonnie Oscarson, and Brother Owen. (And yes, it was geared towards the youth, but it contains great stuff for us older people too.) One of the youth asked a question about recognizing the Holy Ghost, and this was some of the advice they received. You can find this about 22 minutes into the broadcast:
-Act on small promptings and over time you’ll get better at recognizing the Spirit, and the Lord will trust you with more. There is always room for all of us to improve on recognizing the Holy Ghost: if it invites you to do good, it’s the Holy Ghost.
Elder Rasband, quoting the Young Women/Young Men theme for 2016: “Press Forward with steadfastness in Christ. Feast Upon the Words of Christ.” That will help you feel the Spirit more often. (See more on this below.)
Sister Oscarson: The Holy Ghost may come as a thought, a feeling, or a clear thought: move forward and trust he’ll give us corrections on individual promptings if need be. (Think Nephi getting the plates from Laban.)
Sister Oscarson: Moroni 7:16
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
President Monson said recently in General Conference that “I reiterate what we have been told repeatedly—that in order to gain and to keep the faith we need, it is essential that we read and study and ponder the scriptures. Communication with our Heavenly Father through prayer is vital. We cannot afford to neglect these things, for the adversary and his hosts are relentlessly seeking for a chink in our armor, a lapse in our faithfulness. Said the Lord, ‘Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.'(D&C 90:24)” If we aren’t doing are part with our prayers and scripture reading, to improve and learn, how can we expect more blessings when it comes to receiving the Spirit? Conversely, by doing all we can in these areas, we can expect blessings.
Galatians 5: 22-23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Developing spiritual strength doesn’t come from leaning back; it comes from pressing forward, constantly seeking more light and knowledge from heaven… We cannot rest. Press forward.
As was said by Elder Rasband and Sister Oscarson, sometimes we receive just a little bit of light and we need to trust it and “try it out” by moving forward with it, believing that Heavenly Father will give us more when it is needed.
I have discovered that what sometimes seems an impenetrable barrier to communication is a giant step to be taken in trust. Seldom will you receive a complete response all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth.
He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow.
Even though I’m in my forties, I find that I still learn from college students when it comes to dating. My cousin’s daughter, Julia, who is a junior at BYU, was explaining the “star-shaped container” theory to me over Christmas break.
Now bear with me. It may sound cheesy to compare dating to Rubbermaid® or Tupperware® containers, but it’s good.
She said that some people find their mate quickly because they’re “star-shaped”and so it doesn’t take as much looking around to find your “lid.” It’s an easy match. The rest of us are, perhaps, rectangles or squares. Some of us are glass containers, some Rubbermaid®, some Tupperware, Ziploc®, or….let’s say Anchor Hocking®. If we’re the plastic or rubber lid, we may go with glass or a plastic container. But we’re slightly different sizes and it’s not easy to sort through that big bin of lids.
I don’t think it’s a difficult analogy. The difficult part comes if you over-analyze it.
Here’s a fun over-analysis: “Maybe I’m a limited edition Sponge Bob Ziploc® lid and the bottom doesn’t have any matching pictures, so that’s making it hard.”
Here’s a useless over-analysis: “But what if I want to marry a rectangular baking dish and I’m a round plastic lid.”
Another over-analysis: “No one wants my type of container.” Ouch. Don’t do that to yourself!
Fun analysis: “I’m a baking dish and I’m just too hot to handle.”
Bad analysis: “There’s only one person out there for me and I’ll know it when I see it.” You may give up just when you’ve found “it.”
Good analysis: Keep trying lids!