How I Stopped Narrating My Life As a Tragedy: A Few Reflections from a Gay Mormon

Have you seen the movie “Hotel Transylvania”? The vast majority of the film is slapstick comedy with Adam Sandler playing a ridiculous Count Dracula with his best friends Frankenstein, Wayne the werewolf, and Murray the mummy making fart joke all along the way. But underneath that crusty layer of the McDonald’s level of humor is a love story between Dracula’s daughter, Mavis, and the unsuspecting tourist-ey (and very much human) Johnny. The moment their eye’s meet, the audience can see an electric reaction in their glance. A classic love at first sight moment. Dracula does everything he can to get Johnny out (he’s human, after all, and humans are dangerous!). In an elaborate plan, he manages to get Johnny out leaving Mavis heartbroken. In a touching moment, we find Mavis reading her birthday present from her dead mother, an ode to true love:

hotel_transylvania.jpg

 

“True Love by Mom”

Two lonely bats crashed in the night.
They felt a Zing. Love at first sight.
They knew right then they would be husband and wife.
For a Zing only happens once in your life.

Your Zing will come my Love.
Cherish it.

Love,

Mom

 

Whoa. Pause right there. Did you see this subtle message that Hollywood is trying– and has quite successfully– sold you on? In a small and catchy phrase? “For a Zing only happens once in your life.” You only zing once. You only have one chance at true love, so you’d better not let it pass!

This whole true love thing sounds like we’d better take it very seriously. We have to pay attention to our feelings, because we will definitely know when it happens. Mormon culture has certainly imbibed it hook, line, and sinker too. The two lovers, Julie and Tod, promise each other in the pre-existence that they will find each other on earth and get married. They sing a touching song (“The Circle of Love”*) before parting ways, and when they find each other on earth, they sing it again (so ROMANTIC!!)

And if you want to go down the dark and scary path, just open up Twilight. ACK! It gets suicidal.

For the vast majority of my early life, I bought into the narrative from beginning to end. And when I began to confront my sexuality, the true love paradigm came with leaving me in a terrible conundrum: My faith requires me to marry a woman with whom I cannot fall in love with, but I cannot be truly happy unless I find my zing. It apparently left me with two irreconcilable desires, and it was only a matter of time before I had to give up on one or the other.

As I began attending support groups, I met a guy who I fell head over heels in love with. We began dating, and I couldn’t tell you how happy I was. I truly had met my zing. But as things got more serious, and I began to realize what a serious relationship entailed, I was confronted again with this fundamental conflict in my narrative, and I phrased it in the saddest most pathos-filled voice I could: why is this happening to me? Why is so much being asked of me? This is so unfair. What could possibly be worse than giving up a lifetime with someone I truly love? In a define-the-relationship moment, we decided to part ways. The ache didn’t wear off for a long time, and I would sometimes look back wistfully full of what-ifs and could-have-beens.

This love-at-first-sight narrative fills our culture. We breathe it in all the time. But this ended up being the thing I had to give up in the end in order to reconcile what I had considered irreconcilable. One of the first things that changed my perspective was a talk given by Dieter F. Uchtdorf at a CES fireside while I was attending my local singles ward. In the talk, President Uchtdorf referenced his own marriage to his wife, Harriet:

I know this may be a disappointment for some of you, but I don’t believe there is only one right person for you. I think I fell in love with my wife, Harriet, from the first moment I saw her. Nevertheless, had she decided to marry someone else, I believe I would have met and fallen in love with someone else. I am eternally grateful that this didn’t happen, but I don’t believe she was my one chance at happiness in this life, nor was I hers.

At the time, this caught me completely off-guard. I was so surprised. Good old Dieter laughed about it, and you could see him exchange glances with his wife as he said it. But in no way did it devalue their relationship, but it seemed to me it made it of even greater worth. He continued:

There are those who do not marry because they feel a lack of “magic” in the relationship. By “magic” I assume they mean sparks of attraction. Falling in love is a wonderful feeling, and I would never counsel you to marry someone you do not love. Nevertheless and here is another thing that is sometimes hard to accept that magic sparkle needs continuous polishing. When the magic endures in a relationship, it’s because the couple made it happen, not because it mystically appeared due to some cosmic force.

Ah! See? He’s directly confronting the “You only Zing once” narrative present in everything from Hotel Transylvania to Romeo and Juliet. That magic, that spark, isn’t the be-all end-all of a relationship. Finally, he outlined instead what truly lasting relationships are built off of:

Frankly, it takes work. For any relationship to survive, both parties bring their own magic with them and use that to sustain their love. Although I have said that I do not believe in a one-and-only soul mate for anyone, I do know this: once you commit to being married, your spouse becomes your soul mate, and it is your duty and responsibility to work every day to keep it that way. Once you have committed, the search for a soul mate is over. Our thoughts and actions turn from looking to creating.

I began reflecting on this a lot. Perhaps my life wasn’t a Greek tragedy after all. All relationships take work. A magic spark, at the very least, isn’t essential to starting a successful relationship. And you can ultimately forge your own soulmate as you build a relationship together. This was what started my path to choosing to give dating another chance.

I need to put in a word before I go any further. I don’t believe that a mixed-orientation marriage can or will work for everyone. But I do believe that framing your narrative as a tragedy is definitely harmful. Each person needs to find the path that is right for them whether they find themselves inside or outside the Church. I have many people that I love and respect who chose to leave, and I don’t hold anything against them, nor do I hold myself on some kind of self-righteous pedestal for my own choices.  No one should dictate what path they should take.

It was C. S. Lewis who really sealed the deal for me though. As I was reading his Mere Christianity section in Christian Marriage, I found what would become my approach to marriage. As I recounted in previous accounts of my story here, here, and here, I actually read this passage to my wife on our first date (she thankfully kept dating me afterwards!). I haven’t written the passage in its entirety before, but I want to do so now:

What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense– love as distinct from ‘being in love’– is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved then to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love is the explosion that started it.

This is the engine that makes our marriage run. I have been so happy being married Jenni. She is a blessing in my life, because she shows her love in so many ways. We work to maintain our relationship on a daily basis by seeking chances to serve each other and anticipating each other’s needs. It is truly an adventure, and I’m glad have her as my companion along the way.

 

P.S. Jenni reassured me that she can indeed sing every single song in Saturday’s Warrior. Here’s the uber-gushy “Circle of Love” mentioned earlier:

I’ve seen that smile somewhere before
I’ve heard your voice before
It seems like we talk like this before.
Sometime, who can be certain when?
But if I knew you then,
It’s strange I can’t remember
Feelings come so strong,
Like we known each other oh, so long.
The circle of our love is more
Than just a rising sun that sets,
The circle of our love, it goes forever.
The circle of our love begins
With now and every promised dream
In God’s eternal plan, it goes forever.
The circle of our love extends
Beyond the reach of time
Beyond the span of days and years, it goes forever
The circle of our love begins
With now and every promised dream
In God’s eternal plan, it goes forever.
The circle of our love extends
Beyond the reach of time
Beyond the span of days and years, it goes forever
The circle of our love is found
In every warm and tender thing
That lips may breath or hearts may beat, forever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: