Can I get this off my chest?
I have been reading and thinking a lot about life, the universe and everything else over the break, and this is one of my topics to ponder. There's something that's been bugging me. I usually don't say anything because it's not socially acceptable in the church to say these things out loud. Everyone looks at you with wide eyes like, "Shhhh! You can't say that! We have to seek for the ideal!"
It bugs me when we talk to the girls in the church about how wonderful marriage is. There is a meme going around on Facebook that has a picture of a temple and says, "If this isn't your castle, you're not my prince." On the surface that's all nicey - but as I think about it more and more I really don't like it. I think there's too much talk of princes and castles, and not enough about reality. Truth is, I don't know anyone who lives the fairy tale. Life isn't a fairy tale.
Last Sunday we had a new YW presidency called. The new YW president was asked to speak for a minute. She talked about how much fun they were going to have, how great she thinks the girls are, and how she looks forward to getting to know them, and ended with a testimony of temple marriage. She said she heard a lot, when she was in YW, about how wonderful temple marriage was, and it wasn't until she was actually there getting married, that she thought that they didn't even say it enough. She went on for a bit about how wonderful wonderful wonderful marriage was. I understand why she says that stuff. She was actually probably even encouraged to talk often about the temple.
And that's what bugs me.
I'm not saying this because I'm some angry, raging feminist, nor am I saying it because I'm unhappy in my marriage. I'm not (well, actually, I am a bit of a feminist). I'm bothered because I think that when we put so much focus on how marriage is the ultimate, beautiful, end of the road achievement, we may be setting girls up for disappointment, and even depression and rage.
According to a 1981 membership survey, 30% of members are single. Only 51 percent of women and 64 percent of men between eighteen and thirty in 1981 are expected to be in an intact first marriage by age sixty. The others will have experienced some period of singleness due to having been divorced, widowed, or never married. If these trends continue, one-third of adult Church members will divorce at some time before age sixty (Goodman and Heaton, pp. 92-93, 96).
I get a little rankled when I hear people talking to my daughter so much about marriage. I do want her to get married, but I don't want that to be her main focus. I want her to have her own goals and interests. I want her to feel good about herself whether she is standing alone or with a partner.
My own family is a good example of why it's important to feel comfortable in your own skin, whether with someone or not. My oldest aunt is still married to her first husband. She, however, is experiencing declining health and is incapacitated and not expected to live too much longer. Soon her husband will be alone. Next is my mother, who has become a widow at an age we nor she did not expect to be left alone. She is now 70. My next aunt is divorced and remarried as is the youngest aunt. They have all had, or currently are facing life without a partner. I've seen them all really struggle in that solitude. And many would look at us as one of those good families for whom everything works out!
I personally have a number of friends who have never married. In a church where family is the focus, that can be painful. Some have struggled with activity and with life management. They hadn't intended to be supporting themselves all their life. Some of them never really got serious about a career until it was painfully clear that they ought to get serious about it.
I can't even count the number of people I have known who are divorced or unhappily married. I also have many friends who did not see the dream of having someone look after them come to fruition. They ended up having to work, and not so their families could have fancy vacations or extended comfort - just so they could get by. I also have a number of friends who once they did get married and have children were left wondering 'what now?' because they hadn't even thought of what life would entail after marriage and children and find themselves sucked dry by giving all the time and never having any interests or goals of their own. I remember once looking at a list of goals I had and realizing how hollow they were. They weren't really mine. They were more about my husband and my children. And while I realize those things are important, I realized then, that there was nothing on the page that was just for me - and perhaps that was why it felt so hollow.
If I could have my wish they would not talk about marriage in YW much at all. I wish they would talk about healthy relationships, about smart choices, about personal development and goals. I wished they'd encourage them to go to school, go on a mission, travel and work before getting married. They do talk to them about those things, but it's always with the addendum 'in case things don't work out'. And whoever thinks things aren't going to work out for themselves? We're all hoping for the fairy tale ending! I wish they would have women talk to them about divorce and death and plans for when things don't work out. I wish they'd have women who have risen up from depression to finally have their own goals and interests talk about their journey. I wish they'd talk to them about tricky family relationships and how to continue on when you don't get along with your mother-in-law, or your sister, or your family doesn't like your husband. And I wish they'd teach them to be strong and independent and fiercely focused on personal development and achieving.
Instead we seem to want to focus on the fairy tale.
I'm afraid life ain't no fairy tale girls. Yup. There are wonderful times. And the actually wedding can be kind of fairy tale-ish - but a wedding is just one day. You then continue on and have to make your way in life together - which can sometimes be tricky and hard!
I said it.
So shoot me.
And for those of you reading this, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Goodman, Kristen L., and Tim B. Heaton. "LDS Church Members in the U.S. and Canada: A Demographic Profile." AMCAP 12, no. 1 (1986):88-107.