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single + mormon + celibate

This post was originally posted on my more mysterious and vague blog (the one I write for friends and family). Click here to read it in that context. I'm reposting it here because it's still true. If you're single and practicing celibacy for religious and/or personal reasons—I'd love to know your perspective, or what you've learned/are learning. 


When I was little my biggest fears included the following:
  • Bloody Mary living under my bed. 
  • Leaving the lunch money for me and my 2 siblings on the bus (this actually happened). 
  • My sundial science project being used as a shovel in the sand box (this also happened). 
  • Not ever getting married.
From my seven year-old perspective, the whole dating/marriage process sounded suspiciously like a gigantic, maybe horrifying, round of picking teams. No one wants to be picked last—ever.

But I was seven. And, who really thinks about things like that for very long? So, then I grew up.

When I was 24, I moved into little a apartment with two 20 year-olds. At this point in my life, at least one round of close friends had already been married for 3 years, I was about to graduate from college, and that old sneaking suspicion about picking teams and dating was occasionally haunting me.
By this time, I'd already read, He's Just Not that Into You*. So, I wasn't buying excuses like, "You're too independent" or "He's just intimidated."

Being Mormon narrows a person's dating pool to a very small amount. I mean... very small—if you want to date in your religion. Add in a personality which is sort of different...well, the pool is tiny (maybe the size of a fish bowl?).

I was beginning to wonder, what if?

In my new ward I had a relief society president who was 28, single & totally cool. She was an artist. Which doesn't mean anything to anyone else, except I didn't know too many artists, and I wanted to be one some day. When our ward had an 80's dance, she had the coolest outfit. She wasn't sitting lonely and sad anywhere.

I never heard her complain or be bitter (although I'm sure she complained to friends, her mom, etc., because that is totally normal).

But, she took every opportunity to be open about her experience. She told us over and over again that being RSP didn't make her immune to pain. She told us she'd had her heart broken. A lot. And she said it hurt. A lot.

Then she told us that we must decide for ourselves if Christ really came to save us from our sins and our heartbreak. Because if he did, he could help us make that pain into something compassionate and beautiful. If he didn't? What was the point of coming to church?

So I decided. And, I decided that if I had to be single for a long time or my whole life, I wanted to be like her. I didn't want to be sitting anywhere sad and bitter. I wanted my life to equal happiness and hope and love. Christ was just going to have to help me because I really believed he died so that I didn't have to feel despair.

At the end of that year, my super cool relief society president got married and moved away. And, I moved away. But, I’ve never forgotten her or the things she said to me. (She doesn’t know the wake of healing and hope she left behind her. She could never have any idea.)

***

In the years since, I've really seen how God can take pain and just take it out of your hand, roll it around for a while, and hand back this gorgeous glowing lovely thing.

It sounds so easy, but there have been nights when maybe the neighbors heard me crying through the bathroom window.

You learn real fast how and why agency matters in any hard thing. It would be so easy it get brittle and mean. And ugly. Ugliness is so easy when he just stood you up again. Or after he promised to marry you then changed his mind. Or after he never calls. Or after you haven't been on a date in months.

I wanted to fall in love with my best friend just like my friend Sam. I wanted to have ten kids. Just like my mom. I wanted my husband to have memories of me when I was 21, and to know what my hair looked like before it started turning white. I mean, I had really pretty knees when I was 23.

***
It takes a lot of breathing. And conscious choices you feel in your gut. (Also, real life prayers where you really believe you're talking to someone who created you.) (And maybe yoga). But, its possible to feel great happiness despite great disappointment.

One time, I was watching my younger brother cut open a pomegranate. He cut off maybe half an inch from the top of the fruit. I was busy shredding lettuce, but I happened to glance over just as he made the cut. In all my life, I'd never seen a color so deep and red and lovely. The color was made up of all these seeds packed together. Just jammed together. It looked so vulnerable and hopeful at the same time. I thought to myself: I want that to be my heart*.

***
So, every day = my agency. My life is just as fun and gorgeous as I can dream it up to be. So yes, thank you, I will be delighted when I finally see those stained glass cathedral windows all lit up—I had no idea I just had to drive by at six in the morning.

And yes, thank you, I will love you forever for helping me pick up the contents of my art box—in the cold, on the icy sidewalk, you even found my needles.

Thank you, you can't marry me, but you minced garlic and sauteed vegetables whenever you knew I was starving.

Or. Here is a sunset with clouds, here is a sunset without, and here is a sunrise that wakes you up, and here is rain in the middle of the day, and here are some Christmas lights, some oranges, some raspberries, a dad who misses his plane so he can replace your garbage disposal, a brother who likes hanging out with you even when you're cranky, another brother who calls you to tell you his swim times, a sister who lets you call her when you have horrific nightmares.

How about neighbors who shovel your walk when it snows? a mom who makes you turn around instead of driving all night through a snowstorm? or maybe some friends who make you laugh super hard all the time? This is all in addition to things like waking up in a room with blue and green wallpaper, the view from the corner of my street (at night), and the existence of elephants and whales.

Is every day like that Yael Naim music video? 
Nope. I’m working on it though.

*** 
The truth is we all have hard things we have to live through, suffer through and/or overcome.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends was telling me she was lonely. She said a lot of things that were similar to what the author of the NYT article said. Things like, wouldn't God want me to have this experience? Wouldn't he want me to share my life with someone? Then she said, I don't want to die a virgin.

I mean... it was sort of dramatic. I also knew she'd just kissed someone like two weeks before. I wanted to tell her: "There are people in this room (there were a lot of people in the room) who have real problems! Pull yourself together! At least you can swim! You can taste food! You have the use of all your limbs!"

I could tell she was sort of fragile about the whole issue—so I said something normal.

The whole point of life is to have experiences specifically designed to bring us closer to God—and to become like God. Sometimes the experiences are happy. Sometimes they are really difficult. Really difficult. Sometimes the difficult things last our whole entire lives. But, the design is the same for both kinds. Isn't that a relief?! Isn't that joyous? We can't lose! No one loses! Yay! We all get to be acquainted with God (if we want)! It's so hard! It's really really hard! And so fun!

The normal thing I told my friend (and I only repeat here in the hope that it could help someone else—because it really helped me):
One time one of my friends—who is pretty religious but has no issues with sex while dating—asked me about why I wouldn't have sex. I told him some reasons. Mainly, I made a promise to God. And, I happen to love God. I don't really want to let him down.

Then, he said, "I can't believe you've never had that experience—you don't know what it's like."

I said, "I just know something different."
For the first time I realized that what I was choosing wasn't a lack or an absence, but an experience that was helping me gain real knowledge.

So yeah, I can walk into a room of professional, adult people and not feel like I am a child trapped in a woman's body. I know something different than most of them—probably all of them, and its completely appropriate because I'm not married.

I'm not celibate because I've been told all my life it's wrong to have sex before marriage. Not even because pre-marital celibacy automatically prevents unplanned pregnancy, stds, one-night stands, and a lot of emotional trauma.

I’m celibate because it’s a form of worship, it’s a physical practice of faith hope and charity, a sacred prayer--and something that brings me closer to God (who loves me).*

***

Notes regarding:
  • The book He's Just Not that Into You—I probably need to read it again because I still forget stuff in there— like, he's not that into you if he's not asking you out... a basic principle (I know. Gosh) (bwhahaha).
  • The heart/pomegranate story—You probably don't believe me. But go buy a pomegranate, cut it in half and see what pops into your mind. Probably something amazing.
  • This post is intended to be read as another story in response to an essay posted in the NYT.

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