not in Primary anymore

marry me!

Guest post by Justin Anfinsen. You can read more by him by clicking on these links. 

The first visit to a new ward can be stressful. New people, new church leaders; it’s a lot like the first day of school, just with 100% less recess and 100% more Jesus. It was on such an occasion I found myself surrounded by a group of young men sitting in Elders quorum- the topic of dating came up as it always does because this is a singles ward and that’s what happens. The young man teaching that day casually dropped that it would be good practice to ask the girl to get married on the first date…this was followed by laughter by the class, “oh good he was only joking lolz” one would think. If you thought that, the joke was on you, because he then explained why this is a good idea: It weeds out the fakers you see, the casual girls who are not ready or thinking about marriage. It leaves you with the good girls who take marriage seriously. I should also mention the bishopric was sitting in on this lesson and could interject something (anything) whenever they pleased, but they didn’t. I know what you are thinking- “But people say crazy things all the time in church that are not true.” It’s true, so I gave him a pass and brushed this crazy under the mental rug in my brain (it’s really crowded under there).

I did think about this approach however and how bizarre it was for multiple reasons; I won’t get too much into detail because you can figure them out on your own. But asking someone to get married on the first date accomplishes a few things,

  1. You successfully make an awkward first date even more uncomfortable.
  2. “Good” girls could easily find your cave man approach off-putting even if they had marriage on their brain.
  3. Do you really expect someone to say yes? You would want to marry someone who would say yes?
  4. What if she says yes but you didn’t want to get married to her after 1 more date? It seems like way more negative comes as a result than positive.

There is a bigger issue here of course in your attitude about marriage if you think this is honestly a good idea- how could marriage be important if you throw it out to just anyone based just on principle? Is it even possible to have an honest proposal ever if you throw them out like candy at a parade?

A few weeks later I was sitting in a different meeting in that same ward and another person (a man) threw out this exact same idea…I’m not sure if he came to this conclusion on his own or if he heard it in Elders quorum like I did and thought it was worth sharing but I sure as heck wasn’t going to find out. I left that ward after that and never went back.

Maebe-Funke-Marry-Me

Even though I have never heard that practice advocated again, the idea of it is still there, and it’s one I take big issue with. There is an overabundance of focus (I feel) in young single adult wards about marriage and how we all need to be married right now and –OMG why are you not married now? Are you still sitting there reading this?!?! Go outside, meet a nice boy or girl…GO! Why U no Married yet? Why does Pandora think I am always in the market for engagement rings? Has it been talking to my bishop?

I’m one who is perfectly fine to be by myself. I don’t need anyone and that’s ok, it works for me. So I let marriage lessons wash over me like a wave. I don’t begrudge anyone who has marriage as a priority of course, if it’s important to you; you need to do what makes you happy. I think you should be entitled to at least that much.

My concern is how marriage is being presented to young adults. I have perceived that there is a disconnect there, and it’s as wide as the Grand Canyon.

On the one hand we are taught not only that your partner is going to be with you for the long term, not only as a support but as an equal partner in all things and the person you would raise a family with, and also that a temple marriage is essential to our salvation in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom (please note there is an exception to everything I listed here depending on individual circumstances).  A decision like that warrants some gravitas, no doubt- the consequences are meant to be eternal by design in God’s plan. In my understanding this decision is one of the most important I will ever make in my life, because that is the way it has always been advertised to me. A decision to rush? Probably not.

That’s only one half of what is taught about marriage though; the other half is asking every girl you fancy to enter into this decision-quickly. Recently I was informed of a humorous story that was shared in my current ward’s Relief Society meeting. The speaker was sharing the story of her daughter who was 22 and having a rough time because all she wanted was to get married and it just wasn’t happening for her (good luck getting sympathy for her in a room with lots of 30 year olds). Well the girl’s parents were called to serve a mission abroad, and as they were nearing the end of said mission they get a call from their daughter. Guess what? She has been dating a nice guy for a few months and they are going to get married! WooHoo! She informed her parents they were going to wait the 4 months until they returned home so they could be there for the wedding. Nice gesture right? Oh, except her parents refused this and told her she should not wait for them because marriage was too important to be put off. Family is everything in the church and marriage is not to be taken lightly, or you could easily Photoshop your parents into your wedding pictures or whatever…

If marriage is eternal and so important and rushing that decision is part of the process my brain is not going to do the mental gymnastics necessary to reconcile the two different narratives. It has to be one or the other, but not both.

I am happy that there are success stories if you marry quickly or have a long courtship. If you did marry quickly I am not trying to antagonize your decision- different things work for different people. That’s my point; we have to find what works for us. We are often taught that “Well this worked for me, so it works for everyone.” Making such generalizations I believe is taking a toll on the attitude people are taking towards marriage.

While the divorce rate in the church is lower than the national average, the age people decide to get married is on the rise. In 1970 the age men and women got married in Utah was 20 for females and 22 for males. Today this age is now 22 for females and 24 for males. In an informal survey conducted by the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah males said that age 30 was the best age for marriage. Sure there are other factors at play, a fickle economy, personal fears, but I don’t believe those are the only reasons, it’s hard to come keep a clear head when you are bombarded with so many mixed messages.

expectations v reality

Next time you find yourself in a lesson about marriage and some member of the high council is telling you about how marriage was so different in the 1960s because they just went all in and didn’t think anything of it, remind yourself there is never going to be a one size fits all approach to marriage- the most important lesson is learning what works best for you.

Source for the ages on marriage:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/51631455-80/lds-says-marriage-mormon.html.csp

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8 Responses to “marry me!”

  1. Lesley

    This reminds me of my stepmom (who, it should be noted, is unhinged and on her 5th or 6th marriage). My brother and his wife dated for 2-3 years and then were engaged for 6 months. My stepmom told them that they needed to hurry up and get married because, “what if you wait too long and then you don’t want to be married to them anymore?”

    Yep.

    Reply
  2. SIngle Mom

    When my parents were on a mission in Alaska, I wrote and told them I had met a very nice guy (turned out wrong, but that’s not the point). I had been inactive for years and he was not LDS. I told my Mom we were going to move in together and get married as soon as she got home. Wrong and wrong, I know.
    They wrote back “Living with a man is far worse than heart disease or cancer”, get married now. This was his first introduction to the LDS way. Needless to say, he did not convert.

    Reply
  3. C.

    My junior year at BYU we had a counselor in the bishopric who was obsessed with getting the entire ward paired off and every interaction with him was deeply uncomfortable until one day I broke and told him (full of 20 year old righteous indignation) that my marriage plans were absolutely none of his business and that if he really wanted to do the ward a service, he would butt out of our personal lives. It was priceless. And happily, seemed to honestly make him think about where his spiritual priorities lay as a church leader. I only toot my own horn because I’m firmly of the opinion that if we collectively do and say nothing, we cannot expect but that this cultural tendency will continue. If we really see problems with the way marriage is being presented, we need to stand up and say so and offer alternative viewpoints (especially as feminists!).

    Also, is anyone else weird-ed out by the messages that “Men are awful, living with them is terrible, marry one right away?” I was in an RS meeting last sunday that devolved into an hour of husband bashing and I hated it. I got the feeling none of the women in that room even liked their husbands except me! When they asked for ways to make marriages successful, I offered the idea that we need to do better about preparing youth for marriage rather than pushing it on them. Getting married quickly and young when you don’t have communication or decision making skills leads to harder marriages and if we want stronger ones we need less “someday my prince will come” and more “how will the two of us make it work when he does.” I was shot down immediately. One woman also told me to “come back and talk to her in a few years” when I actually knew what I was talking about. And after this hour of complaining and sharing totally personal marital details about how hard and unpleasant being married is, the lesson concluded with, “And marriage is wonderful!” My head was spinning.

    Reply
  4. Andy

    I just graduated from BYU this year and I have to say the push for marriage got worse and worse every single year. I moved every semester or two so I got to see several different wards and what those in charge said about marriage.

    The last couple years a fad even started around BYU creating dating committees and counsels. We started having ward date night every week and hearing a lot of personal dating advice packaged as doctrine from ward leaders in church. The vast majority of fifth Sunday meetings were about either chastity or dating/marriage and were full of pseudo-doctrine and pressure to marry the first worthy person I meet regardless of other factors.

    Ridiculous.

    Reply
    • M'Lisa Harris

      And then there was the bishop’s wife. She sent an email to all the guys with a list of select girls she thought they should date. Never hated a bishop or his wife so much in my life.

      Reply
  5. Jenna Christensen

    I’ll admit, I mainly read this post to see if there was going to be a Maeby Funke reference. I was not disappointed.

    I remember about six years ago in one of my college wards, the stake president was speaking at ward conference. He was already a good 20 minutes over when he told us that 3/4 of us in that room should already be married. I see that as my breaking point. Whenever marriage was brought up in lessons or talks before that I just rolled my eyes and did my best to listen. Now, at 26, I let out a (probably very audible) sigh whenever marriage or dating comes up. I then start reading a Wired article on my phone until it’s over. For “older” single adults, this horse has been beaten beyond all recognition. People figured out how to navigate the marriage process before we started telling them how. With me, Church leaders, deep breath in… and out… in… and out…

    Reply

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