We interrupt your previously scheduled philosophical musings about religion and its place in the universe and life to bring you…another post about being single. Yay.
So I have probably done a lot more dating in the past year than I’ve done in any year previous. And while that doesn’t mean I’ve actually done a ton of dating, I have dated quite a few different people, and different types of people. I’ve dated people near my age, and people a lot younger than me. I’ve dated people I’ve known for years, people I’ve only recently met, and people I met online through dating services. I’ve dated fat girls, skinny girls, girls who climb on rocks. Tough girls, sissy girls, but no girls with chicken pox. And even though I’ve gone through a rather large range, there have been some striking similarities with every single one of these “relationships”, and one common trait in particular, which I shall dub the “Third Date Dump.”
What is the Third Date Dump? Well, contrary to what it sounds like, it’s not where I consistently got dumped on the third date. At least, not exactly. Rather, it refers to the moment, usually during the third date, where I know that the relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere. And on almost every occasion (save maybe one), it was due to the girl making it clear that she was just kind of being polite, usually something like sitting stiff as a board with her arms crossed while we’re watching the movie/watching the DVD/taking a walk/whatever, coupled with That Look. This normally coincides with a complete lack of contact after the date other than replying to me asking what their schedule is so we can go on the inevitable next date (which is especially telling with the girls I meet online, where we normally have several long and meaningful conversations in text before we even meet each other). Sometimes (OK, once) we do end up talking about it, where the girl confirms my suspicions that yes, she’s not interested and was just interested in putting me in the friend zone. Other times she just gracefully disappears from the radar (this works great with the dates found through online services). Often we go on a fourth or even fifth date, but it’s apparent to both of us that the relationship is over and we’re just humoring each other, and things just peter out after that. This, I have found, is the way that most girls will dump you: not by sitting down and saying, “I think we should see other people” or whatever, but by the little signs until you get the hint. Therefore, the “Third Date Dump.”
This has happened with every single relationship I’ve been in over the past year. Heck, I shouldn’t even call them relationships, since three dates doesn’t really constitute any sort of meaningful relationship. This is similar to something I’ve complained about several times in this blog (see that “That Look” post I linked to earlier), but with one important distinction: the first date is almost always great. We normally hit it off pretty well, have a lot to talk about, and we enjoy each other’s company, with both of us eager for a second date. And the second date normally goes pretty well, too; sure, some of the excitement of the first date may have worn off, but we still normally have a good time and get to know each other better. But always by the third date we hit that wall of “sudden disinterest”, and I just don’t understand it. A few times this wall had been hit prior to the third date, but all of those were cases where the person had known me for a while, which makes me think, “At what percentage of knowing about me does the typical girl get turned off?” or “What precise trait do I possess that always comes out at the same point in dating someone that is such a deal-breaker?”
It’s really starting to get repetitive. And that’s what caught my attention. Normally I’d be prone to think, “Well, this particular girl isn’t interested, and that’s fine,” if this had happened once or twice. But every single one? What are the odds? In fact, if we extend this back to all the relationships I’ve had/dates I’ve been on, only once has something like this not happened. And of all the times it did happen, only once did it not take place until past the third date, that I can recall. It’s seriously sapping my will to date at all. Why put so much effort into getting to know a person if we’re just going to break it off two weeks down the line?
I’m turning 30 in a little over two weeks. And the problem with being single for so long is that you get set in your ways. Your life is so self-focused that, even though you want a relationship, you really have no idea how to get one to work, or even start. I know I have this problem, and all of the girls I’ve dated around my age have the exact same problem (and anyone who doesn’t…is probably already married). They have constructed their life already, and adding a partner to that doesn’t jive with everything else that’s already been set up. And while that carries with it a certain amount of loneliness, it also carries with it a certain amount of control and comfort. While I was searching for an image to put at the top of this blog post, I came across this article (yeah, I just linked to the Oprah magazine; make of it what you will) that describes this phenomenon much better than I can. And while the analysis is spot-on, the conclusion (that people who feel this way should learn to accept and embrace being single instead of chasing unobtainable dreams) is something that I can’t accept. Is there another option to break out of this? Is this the thing that breaks up every relationship I’ve attempted? I don’t know! How come everyone who has a successful relationship is always like, “Well, I met the right person, and the rest is history?” How is that supposed to help? I didn’t make it this far alone because that “special someone” is still out there, gazing at the stars outside her tower window. I don’t believe in the “one true soulmate” story. So it’s gotta be something else! Angry rant! Frustration at everything! Inability to figure out what to do differently! Resignation that nothing’s gonna change unless I change it, coupled with the ignorance of what to change! Awareness that I keep using the word “couple” as a verb, because I guess it’s on my mind! Exclamation points!!!!
Here’s the thing. My most recent relationship is currently right at this phase. It’s a girl I met online. We’ve had the third date. The 3DD (you know what this stands for) signs were there, coming from her. At the same time, she wants to go see the current Poison Ivy Mysteries show with me. There’s always the chance that she’s just not sure how she feels and maybe this relationship will work with some effort. Or there’s the chance that she’s done with me but wants to go see the show anyway because it sounds fun and hey, free dinner. I want to actually discuss the topic with her, but I don’t know how to bring it up without the dreaded “DTR” talk somehow pushing things too fast and killing off an otherwise salvageable relationship (which has also happened in my past). I like her. I want to like her more. Everything that implies. But I feel like a fourth date at this point will be the same as the previous fourth dates I’ve had recently: we’re just kind of humoring each other, and it will peter out after that. So there’s the impasse.
Thanks for reading this rant. I promise next time we’ll go back to questioning the foundations of my faith, which garners a much larger response from people.
Note: I’ve received a lot of comments on part one so far, and while I will eventually address them specifically and individually, first I’d like to continue with this series and see if any points pop up that I can then refer to in any specific answers. Please bear with me!
So in part one I brought up a few questions: How does one believe in a true church when it is full of flaws? And how does an intellectual believe in something so dependent on feelings? I’ll address these more later, but first I’d like to examine the root causes of why people leave the church. I am not here referring to people who have never joined the church for whatever reason, but those who were members, either through conversion or through being raised in the church, but have now decided to leave it. Like I said in my last post, everyone has different reasons for ceasing their activity and/or belief in what the gospel and the church have to offer. But after a lot of thought and consideration, I believe it boils down to two main reasons:
1) It’s easier
Do you guys know what’s easy? Not being a member of the Church! Aw snap! You can do whatever you want on Sunday, you get to keep that 10% of your income instead of giving it up to build more chapels or whatever, you don’t have to worry about that whole dumb Word of Wisdom thing telling you what you can and can’t eat and/or drink, that one guy down the street who thinks Obama is a secret Muslim out to burn the country to the ground can’t tell you how to improve your relationship with God just because some other guy called him to be your bishop, and if you want to watch porn while drinking cheap scotch and swearing loudly, nobody’s gonna care! You arrive at your own morality based on your own experiences! You’re an adult, not some little five-year-old! You can figure this stuff out!
I’m (half-)kidding with those extremes, but a lot of people do leave the Church because it’s simply easier not to have to deal with a lot of crap that gets thrown at active members, whether it be requirements of active membership, outside criticism of the faith, inside judgement from nosy ward members, or personal disagreements with church leaders and/or doctrine. It’s a lot easier to say, for example, that homosexuality is just as valid a lifestyle as heterosexuality (please do not discuss this topic in the comments; I’m not opening that argument here, this is just an example) and therefore the Church’s teachings are false, than it is to do the research to figure out where the leaders are coming from in an eternal perspective. And even if one has done that research and still disagrees, it’s a lot easier to say that the Church leaders are wrong, or misguided, or have a different belief system (and good for them), but in my life I’ll believe what I feel is right, than it is to say that maybe I’m wrong, even though I don’t understand why yet and possibly never will until I die. It’s easier, more rational, and from a purely intellectual standpoint, probably the correct thing to do.
Am I saying that everyone who leaves the Church because it’s hard is somehow a lazy bum or a hedonist? Of course not! Being a Latter-Day Saint is hard work, and I don’t just mean the physical things like going to Church, or tithing, or obeying commandments, praying, scripture study, service projects, home/visiting teaching, fulfilling callings, etc. etc. but a lot of the mental, social, and emotional wringers that people are put through in a lot of Church environments. I mean, where would you rather be: a place where people either look down upon you or (even worse) make you into a project to save the “one lost sheep” just because you happened to wear a slightly shorter skirt, or admit that you like video games, or once said that Ewan McGregor is damn smoking hot (and you’re also a guy)? Or a place where you’ve got a bunch of friends who couldn’t care less what your lifestyle is and accept you for whatever you are? I can tell you this: one of those scenarios is certainly much easier than the other one. But does picking the easier scenario mean that you’re somehow weak, or does it just mean that you’ve got a measure of sanity? Am I a lazy good-for-nothing because I didn’t join the Marines? I don’t think so.
With that said, however, I also think that a lot of people who do leave the church would be willing to put up with all that adversity if they felt it was worthwhile in the end. This leads me to my second reason why I think people leave the Church:
2) Lack of spiritual experiences
Now don’t get me wrong with this: I’m not saying that spiritual experiences are only for Church members, and that everyone who has left the Church has obviously never had one. People outside the Church have spiritual experiences all the time, while a lot of people in the Church never really have. But I think that’s part of the issue here. There have been a lot of people I’ve talked to who said that they’ve done all they can think of to receive that spiritual witness that the Church is true. They’ve read the Book of Mormon. They’ve prayed about it. They’ve been as faithful and obedient as they can: paying their tithes, attending their meetings, serving others, etc. They’ve taken Moroni’s challenge, followed Alma’s counsel to plant the seed, and even pulled an Enos or two. And still, after all is said and done, they never received that strong spiritual witness that most active members point to when they are asked what the basis of their testimony is. Or perhaps they thought they had received a witness but later find out or decide that it was just an emotional response: that their reaction to the Book of Mormon felt the same as their reaction to watching WALL-E or something. Or maybe they’ve received a witness of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ but haven’t received that witness regarding anything specifically related to Mormonism.
Some people, at this point, look to justify why they haven’t received that witness. Perhaps it’s because the Church is for/against something they do or don’t believe in; therefore, it’s not true. Perhaps they find some bit of evidence suggesting that Martin Harris rewrote some weird manuscript and published it as the Book of Mormon; therefore the Church isn’t true. Maybe Apostle X or Bishop Y or Sister Z did something pretty boneheaded and uninspired; therefore, the Church isn’t true. Or maybe the Church isn’t able to answer their question to problem X to their full satisfaction; therefore, it isn’t true. But all of these nitpicks usually don’t bother most strong, active members. For, when you get right to the heart of it, the main difference between those who stay faithful and those who fall away, between those with a strong, unbreakable testimony and those whose testimony gets blown apart given enough adversity, is that the latter group does not have that foundation of the Spirit upon which to build everything else.
Why is it that some people can kneel down and pray about the Book of Mormon, and receive that witness, while others work for years on it with nothing to show for it? How is it that one person can do everything in their power to be the best and most faithful person they can be in the gospel and not receive that witness, especially when they see that gossipy Relief Society president with little to no regard for the people she’s supposed to serve, go up to the pulpit with tears streaming down her cheeks and proclaiming that she has received a strong spiritual prompting that her now-deceased pet dog is in Heaven and therefore she knows the Church is true with every fiber of her being?
That example may seem a bit extreme (though probably not as much as it should be, sadly), but let me share a personal experience that I’ve struggled with for quite some time. One day on my mission I was on an exchange with another young elder and Elder Proctor, a 70-year-old former vacuum salesman who was…let’s say…eccentric. He had a lot of crazy theories about the gospel and missionary work, and one of those was that “God bunches up the elect,” meaning that, in any particular city, God takes all the people that will accept the gospel and puts them all in the same neighborhood, and all the missionaries have to do is figure out wherever that neighborhood is and then they could baptize everyone all in one fell swoop. Most of the other missionaries (including the mission president) were somewhat skeptical of this approach, but whatever gets the work done, right? So in the city where he served he had divided the city into a grid and had one day spent hours on his knees figuring out where the elect had been bunched in the city, and had come up with map squares 8B, 14B, and the street Tío de Romero, and refused to tract anywhere else in the city since it would be a waste of time not working where the elect had been bunched.
Anyway, on this particular day, before we went out in the afternoon, he had us get down on our knees and pray for a minute to ask the Lord whether we should tract in 8B, 14B, or Tío de Romero. As the prayer went on I didn’t feel any super-strong prompting for any of those three places, but toward the end I thought, 14B? Maybe? Is that my prompting? It’s the best I have! So after the prayer, we all stood up, and Elder Proctor asked me, “So, Elder Parkes, where does the Lord want us to go?”
“BZZZZT! Wrong!” Yes, he actually said this. He then asked the other elder, “What about you?”
“DING DING DING! Correct! Let’s go!” And we went.
I was a bit nonplussed by this, but I normally would have chalked it up to just another silly thing that Elder Proctor did (he really was quite a character), except for what happened next. The second door we knocked on contained a bunch of out-of-work Bulgarians who didn’t know anybody and were truly humble souls. To make a long story short, all six of them had been baptized within a month and it ended up being Elder Proctor’s biggest success story of his mission. Every testimony meeting since then, Elder Proctor would get up, tears in his eyes, and tell the wonderful story about how the Lord knew they had been waiting to receive the gospel, and how they were going to head back to Bulgaria and spread the word of Christ in a country that didn’t have an LDS presence, and how it was truly a great miracle, and how strong the Spirit was in that room when “the three of us knelt to ask the Lord where to find His sheep, and we all got up and all of us knew where to go — well, two of us did, anyway — and then, with His guidance, we found these wonderful souls…”
I had been doing my best as a missionary. I was praying eight times a day or so (at least), studying my scriptures, doing my best to learn the language, preach the gospel, and serve those around me. True, I was far from perfect, but I was doing the best I could. How is it that I felt absolutely nothing and came up with the wrong answer, when the other two had such a strong witness and it ended up being such a success? Was I really that apostate, even though I had been doing my best? This experience, while such a wonderful spiritual witness for everyone else involved, probably tested my faith more than anything else I had experienced up to that point, including a pretty crappy childhood and teenage years, because it hit at the very core of my testimony: my ability to recognize and follow the Spirit.
So once again, I ask: why? Why is it so hard for some people to receive that spiritual witness despite their best earnest, sincere efforts? How can a person believe “Knock and it shall be opened unto you” when they feel like they’ve been banging on that door forever and nobody’s answered? What’s the missing puzzle piece?
Once again, I have my own thoughts on this which I will eventually share, but I’d first like to hear what you guys think.
Recently, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend. A lot of people I look up to — smart, intelligent, capable people whose opinions I put in high regard and with whom I usually identify in regard to most subjects — have, one by one, started falling away from the LDS Church (the most recent example being someone who was my first counselor when I was Elders’ Quorum President a few years back). While some (not all) of the most stalwart members I know are also the most ignorant and naive in other areas of life. And with the recent spotlight of Mormonism in pop culture, what with Mitt Romney and the Book of Mormon musical and even things like Prop. 8 from a few years ago, even Internet personalities and/or famous people whose opinion I also respect have begun to weigh in on the topic of what Mormonism is and how it works. And with all this scrutiny, I’ve come to realize one important thing: I have to figure out where I stand on the issue. Gone are the days when I could just say, “I know the Church is true,” because I was standing at a pulpit during a testimony meeting. Gone are the days when I could just sorta believe, ’cause, you know, the Church does a lot of good charity work and teaches uplifting life lessons and hey, everyone else around is doing it. As I’ve made fairly clear on a few occasions, there is a lot of LDS culture that I am not a big fan of, so I don’t have the culture to tether me into the faith.
So how will I, a self-proclaimed intellectual, find the fortitude to stay within the LDS fold, when so many others of my ilk are falling away?
To begin, let’s look at the reasons people give for leaving the church. One thing I’ve found interesting is that most of the people I know who’ve left the church have fairly disparate reasons for doing so. For example, this popped up on my Facebook feed recently. It is basically a list of grievances brought forth by some members of the Church who are unsatisfied with the way it is run now and want to bring about some changes, mostly in regard to the role of women. Some of the grievances are more sins of the culture rather than the church (such as the equality in the budget and focuses of the Young Men/Young Women programs, which I’m fairly certain is more up to local leaders), others are basically never going to happen (most of the “women should have the priesthood too”-related ones), and still others are legitimate grievances that should be addressed (and in fact, one already has: one of the points is that sisters should be able to serve at age 19, which, thanks to last week’s General Conference, they now can!). Some of the points I feel are a little naive themselves. I’d argue that there are a lot of things in the Church that are way more women-friendly, and if you compare, say, the mainstream LDS view of single women to single men, you’ll find that single women come out on top, especially in recent years, where the view for women seems to be “It’s OK; do your best and you’ll be blessed anyway,” but for men it’s “Find a wife, you sinful moron!”
My point in bringing this up, though, isn’t to discuss its finer points, but to say that a lot of these ideas and similar ones are what some people seem to fixate upon. Once someone has a persecution complex, it’s easy to put on blinders and focus on only those issues in the Church, to the point that as long as that one thing isn’t addressed, then the Church isn’t worth it. I could very easily point out the disparity between the way the Church treats its single men and its single women, or between singles and married people, or between childless couples and families. I could use that as an excuse to say, “Until single men have the opportunity to serve in bishoprics, I don’t believe in the Church anymore! I can do just as well as any other married guy! With the added bonus that I wouldn’t have to leave a family home while I go to all these meetings!” This argument applies to nearly any “persecuted” minority in the church: women, gays, people who like to swear, intellectuals — the list goes on.
But is it valid? Is it right to say that, since we claim that God created the Church, and it is the only true and living Church on the face of the earth, any flaw in its policies disproves that claim? Or any part of the doctrine that doesn’t make sense with our worldview? Is the excuse that “the people in the church aren’t perfect, even though the church is,” a valid defense, or just a cop-out designed to deflect criticism?
Let’s take another angle. Matt, the author of the blog post I brought up at the beginning of this one (if I understand him correctly), grew up believing in the Mormonism of ideas. That is to say, putting Alma’s and Moroni’s promise to the test: faith was good to start, but it was possible to come to a knowledge of the precepts of the gospel; not just of the simple things like “serve your fellow man and you will be blessed” but complex things about intelligences and how spiritual matter is organized and other things hinted at by Joseph Smith that forms some of the deeper doctrine of the Church. In addition, there are a lot of differing accounts of how some things happened in Church history, many painting a different picture than the common one accepted in Sunday School classes. And while it’s easy to say that, “oh, the deeper doctrine isn’t necessary for salvation,” or “oh, some of those accounts are either fraudulent or biased or influenced by Satan or whatever” (I honestly haven’t done the research myself or I would cite examples), at some point the suspension of disbelief may begin to crack. One can debate the validity of using spiritual experiences to prove objective truth, but the point is, for him, there were too many discrepancies and/or too much vagueness on these points that it was impossible for him to form that solid foundation upon which to build a concrete belief system. (I suggest you actually go read that post, as it is quite well-written and obviously he puts forth his argument better than I have.)
Must one have blind faith to overcome these seemingly small obstacles that build up? Is it enough to say, “I believe in the Church because I’ve felt good about it, which has gotta be the Spirit,” even if it’s hard to get the objective evidence to line up? How can a serious, analytical thinker, whose core being thirsts for knowledge and understanding, weave together a perfect gospel and/or Church from so much vagueness and uncertainty? Is it enough to apply Bellisario’s Maxim (“Don’t examine this too closely”) and go around thinking that all the stuff that doesn’t quite make sense will be explained in the afterlife or something, or is that too much to swallow for a rational person? Must we go around all 1984 and employ doublethink just to keep our lives simple?
I do have my own responses to many of these claims, and with a lot of them I’ll try to go somewhat deeper, somewhat more intellectual. But first I’d like to hear what people think, especially from both those who have left the Church and those who consider themselves intellectuals and/or don’t really fit in the Mormon culture, but still stay active in the Church.