Much has already been said concerning the Weeds’ post about their divorce. My wife and I were debating whether to post at all. It has been covered in so many places already, including Slate, The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and on blogs like here and here. But we felt our response unique to be shared. This is going to be a dual post again, so you’ll get to hear from both of us.
Before I dive into our thoughts, I wanted to write some of our gut reactions to the article first. Even read the article the title (Turning a Unicorn into a Bat: The Post in Which We Announce the End of Our Marriage) brought tears to my eyes. It had little to do with me or how the article reflected on my own situation; my wife and I have followed the Weed’s story for several years now, and we found their relationship beautiful and inspiring. I had the chance of meeting the Weeds in person while living in Washington, and even in that brief encounter, I could tell what amazing individuals these two are. I love and respect them. My reaction while reading was one of deep sympathy for the pain they must have gone through to get to this point. I wished that I could give them both a hug.
As I began to read the article, I began to realize that the scope of the article was a little more broad than I had anticipated. It morphed from a personal story to one with implications for mixed-orientation marriages everywhere. At first, I thought I could keep some separation between my experience and theirs. But the Weeds weren’t going to met me off the hook so easily. Lines like this one:
If any marriage like this were going to be functional, it would have been ours. But it’s not. Not because the marriage was bad. But because the foundation we were building it on was a mirage. The most integrated, sound home will fall to shambles if it’s built on a sinkhole. Our marriage was built on a sinkhole. Gay people and straight people cannot attach to one another.
A sinkhole? My marriage is a sham? I felt the stirrings of righteous indignation, anger and self-defense. I wanted to charge into the battlefield and tell him how wrong he was. Why was he saying this? Behind that came a small seed of self-doubt. Who knows? I mean, they are farther along in their marriage than us. How will we feel in fifteen, twenty years? That’s something I have no control over. I wanted to give them the space they deserved at such a private post and heart-wrenching post, but now you’ve got me doubting myself.
The next reaction was the realization that their post would be a rallying cry for those in the LGBTQ movement who have always thought mixed-orientation marriages were a sham. I could see the “we told you so”s already flooding in. It was inevitable.
But the final note that left me as I finished the article was what will my wife think? The article was hard, but overall, I felt like I could potentially move on. But this was something we could only move on together about. The line that really got to me, shook me, and made me unsure, was Lolly’s comments on how the marriage had taken its toll on her:
Josh has never looked at me with romantic love in his eyes. He has never touched me with the sensitive touch of a lover… This deficit started to mess with my self-esteem. I almost felt if only I could be thinner, prettier, sexier, maybe it would be enough to catch Josh’s eye, to help him want me in the way we need to be wanted by our attachment partners. In reality, Josh was GAY and it had nothing to do with me. This is where it doesn’t make sense. I knew he was gay. I didn’t think his sexual orientation was going to change. I could have been the hottest woman on the planet and he still would not have felt any different toward me. No matter how clear I was on the technicalities of this reality, it was impossible not to internalize his complete lack of attraction toward me. Subconsciously, it was a constant message. You aren’t attractive. You aren’t wanted. You aren’t beautiful. You aren’t a good enough woman.
The words seemed painfully honest, and I didn’t know how my wife was feeling as she read those words. I was reading the post on my bus ride home from work. My wife picked me up, and we first got our anger about the post out in the air. But then I mentioned Lolly’s thoughts. When I asked how Jenni felt, she bit her lip, and I knew that it was tough for her. We didn’t speak much more of it then, but I knew that she was trying to reconcile herself to the article…
So my first reaction wasn’t as kind as Chad’s. As I was reading through Josh’s part at the beginning I was angry. Sure, if they are getting a divorce, let them get a divorce, but why did he have to throw the rest of us under the bus like that? Didn’t he already know how unpopular people believed my and Chad’s choices were, on both sides of the fence? When we wrote about our experience we got flack from both sides. People didn’t want us to talk about our lives, our choices, our experiences. And now here comes along someone who was supposed to understand: Not everyone sees love in the same way, not every relationship is the same, not everyone chooses to walk the same path and that’s ok. And it was turned into: If it doesn’t work for me, it won’t work for anybody. There was no room for me or my experiences and choices, there was no room for Chad and his experiences and choices. Because Josh Weed’s marriage was a “fake”, my marriage by default was a fake.
But then I got to Lolly’s part. And while there were parts that I definitely did not identify with (e.g. I don’t feel like when Chad holds me it is like a brother holding a sister, [ew!] or as others put it, like living with a roommate), there were other parts with which I did— particularly the part about the effect that it had on her body image.
I have just had a baby within the past year and a half, I have a lot of things going on with my body image. For me, I would think maybe if I were sexier or prettier, then maybe Chad would want me more. But then I would think, meh; it doesn’t matter anyway. So then I wouldn’t worry about it, but not in a good way; more in a why-should-I-even-try-he’s-not-even-going-to-notice-self-depreciating way.
But here is the thing, I married Chad for exactly this reason. I wanted someone who was going to love ME. Even if I gained weight, even if I had nasty stretch marks, even if my body was completely destroyed from birthing children. Yes, I want someone who loves me for being a woman. I do. But I also wanted them to love me for all the beauty inside more than all the supposed beauty outside.
And let me say this here. Body image and desirability issues do not go away just because you are in a traditional marriage. I really had to sit down and think about this one. If I was in a traditional heterosexual marriage, would all my issues with how I looked magically go away? No, it wouldn’t. Because the moment I felt like I was a little overweight, or I acquired those nasty stretch marks, or my body was destroyed from birthing children—in that moment I would worry about how my husband desired or wanted me and that wouldn’t be healthy either.
So what was I to do? This seemed like a lose-lose situation. I’m actually thankful that Lolly wrote this part because it made me realize I was basing my body image and my identity as a woman on the degree that my husband desired me. If he desired me a lot, then things were good; if he didn’t desire me as much as I think he should have then I felt rejected and let that erode away at my self-esteem.
Now I love my husband; being as close to someone as an intimate relationship creates, is a beautiful interdependence. However, should I base my views of myself, of my body, based on my husband’s view of my body? Let me be clear: if he were totally turned off and disgusted by me, that is one thing, but that is not the case in our marriage. The problem is not how my husband views or desires or sees me and my body; the problem is how I perceive him perceiving my body, and allowing that to control what I then thought of my body. It is unhealthy in either a mixed orientation or traditional marriage. Any time my body changed I would be thrown into the world of what does my husband think of me now? And then I would let the perception rule what I thought of myself and my marriage.
Or I could love myself for who I am, inside and out. I could love my body, my beautiful feminine body, overweight or not. I can take care of my body for me, not my husband. I can love my body because I love myself and that self-love would give me the confidence to take more control in my physical and sexual life. I am not a woman who lives at the behest of her husband. It is time for me really to be that equal partner.
Have you ever met someone who at first you were like, meh, they’re look ok, but as you got to know them and spent time with them, their personality just makes them all the better? And next thing you know you find that you are attracted to them, not because their looks have changed at all but because the beauty of what you see on the inside makes the outside that much more appealing? And next thing you know you are used to seeing that face every day to the point that you wouldn’t know what you would ever do if you had to go for an extended period of time without seeing that face? I know that my husband loves me and thinks I am beautiful and that will not change because he loves ME which includes the inside and the outside, no matter how I end up looking 5, 10, 30 years from now.
(I don’t know if that was the romantic attachment Lolly said was missing in her marriage, but to me that is pretty stinkin’ romantic)
I’m not saying that I have suddenly cured all of my body image problems or that there are not unique issues that have and will arise from being in a mixed orientation marriage. All I am saying is that I wouldn’t have thought this all the way through or realized this issue in my marriage unless Lolly had brought it up. Her words helped me work through some of my own issues I was facing and while we have come to different conclusions, that is ok because I am not Lolly. I am me.
Love is a Choice
The foundation on which I felt I had built my marriage was a covenantal understanding of love. I liked Jenni. I first wanted to date her because I felt a deep spiritual power in her. I first resolved to ask her on a date after hearing her bear her testimony on Fast Sunday. But what ultimately drew us together was a choice, a choice to love each other. That choice was sealed into a commitment for life when we were married at the altars of the temple. I feel a deep confidence in our relationship, because there is a trust. Even if there are rocky days, we know that that love is still there. It truly is “more than a feeling.”
I felt beaten to the punch when Jacob Hess found the perfect quote to it in his own response to the Weed’s post: “True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed….Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional… The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love... This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. If it is, so much the better; but if it isn’t, the commitment to love, the will to love, still stands and is still exercised.”
I don’t deny that looking at each other with romantic eyes, and “the sensitive touch of a lover” are real and important parts of a relationship. But I was also aware of that when I went into the relationship. I got married to Jenni with absolutely zero expectations that my sexuality would change in any way. What I did believe is that both our faith in God and our love for each other would be able to mould us into one flesh, to use the biblical expression. The passionate element, far from being the foundation of our marriage as the Weed’s post implied, came along the way. I just finished Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir A Severe Mercy recounting his own love story with his wife Davy. In it, he said something I found quite profound and equally true in my own marriage:
The passion, the sexual element, was there: and sexual harmony like sexual playfulness was an important dimension of our love. But it wasn’t itself the whole thing; and we knew that to make it the whole or even the most important element was to court disaster. Those who see love as only sex or mainly sex do not, quite simply, know what love is. They are the blind man assuming that the trunk of the elephant—or perhaps the phallus—is the whole creature. Sex is merely part of a greater thing. To be in love, as to see beauty, is a kind of adoring that turns the lover away from self. (A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken)
The foundation of marriage isn’t passion. And love isn’t about feelings. Love is no more about the good feelings you get from loving that faith is about the good feelings you get believing. George MacDonald, another favorite author of mine, uses Christ’s temptation to turn stones into bread as an object lesson:
A man does not live by his feelings any more than by bread, but by the Truth, that is, the Word, the Will, the uttered Being of God… But the word of God once understood, a man must live by the faith of what God is, and not by his own feelings even in regard to God. It is the Truth itself, that which God is, known by what goeth out of his mouth, that man lives by. And when he can no longer feel the truth, he shall not therefore die. He lives because God is true; and he is able to know that he lives because he knows, having once understood the word, that God is truth. He believes in the God of former vision, lives by that word therefore, when all is dark and there is no vision. (George MacDonald in Unspoken Sermons)
Love is about the beloved, not the feelings you have for the beloved. Jenni is my beloved, so my love is focused on her. My favorite treatise on love is C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves. The book organizes itself around four different forms of love: affection, friendship, eros or romantic love and charity. One aspect Lewis emphasizes is that the first three loves should not becomes ends to themselves, but in fact have to be pruned. He ends with this warning: “We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. They then become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.” We can’t let our love itself become the focus, because it is just a means to an end. Making love a thing in itself is misunderstanding love.
One thing I struggled with after reading the post was the whole concept of “romantic attachment.” Lolly and Josh both seemed to think that to not experience it was to not really live…So what was “romantic attachment” exactly and did Chad and I have it? Was it a look? A touch? An unexplainable it factor? Obviously it was more than just caring for someone, because you cared for a lot of people (parents, children, siblings, roommates) without ever experiencing “romantic attachment”. This was a hard thing for me to define because: I loved Chad, he loved me, didn’t that mean we had romantic attachment? Did my love life have to look like a Hollywood movie in order for me to have romantic attachment? Or worse! What if romantic attachment in my marriage died, did I have no other choice but to get a divorce the minute or month or year I no longer felt it or my husband no longer felt it for me? That didn’t seem like a good recipe for a lasting marriage! What if Chad and I didn’t have “romantic attachment”? Did that mean I would live the rest of my life in misery, missing out on something I didn’t even know about?
While I was struggling with my many, many questions, and talked this through with Chad, I came across a few things that helped me.
First I came across an old love letter that Chad had written me before we got married. In it, he referred to the parable of the wheat and the tares. I realized that any marriage is like the wheat and the tares. At any given point in a marriage, there is going to be problems, but if you uproot all you have built together because of the problems (tares) then you will also be uprooting all the good in your marriage (wheat). And there is sooo much I love about our marriage and little family! They are my life and what makes me truly happy. Ripping it up because of a future we cannot foresee or questions I cannot answer now would be so premature! There is so much good! Sometimes we just need to let the wheat and the tares grow together so we can see what will become of our lives down the road. And in the end we may just find that those problems that seemed so significant that you were about to rip out all the good to get rid of them, were actually insignificant to the amount of good and joy you were able to harvest in the end.
I realized how much reading Chad’s old love letter had helped me so I asked him to write me another one. Here is part of what he wrote that really meant a lot to me:
“Family, father and mother, are left in order to cleave unto the spouse. You honor father and mother, but you cleave to your wife or husband. To me, that means that you are my absolute highest priority. I care for you like I care for my own body and soul. It is in moments when you realize that level of depth that it is truly romantic.”
Sometimes I tease Chad about not being romantic but he really is, probably more romantic than I am in a lot of ways. I don’t need to sit around worrying about to what degree Chad and I experience “romantic attachment”. All I need to know is: Do I love him and does he love me? (Yes!) Do I want to be with him and does he want to be with me (Yes!) Do we prioritize each other and care for one another above everyone else (Yes!) To me this is true love, a romance deeper than a look or a touch, but can be felt in the look and touch as this deep bond we have chosen for each other is realized. This is lasting romantic attachment and Chad and I have it!
Suicide: The Trump Card
There was another aspect of the Weed’s post that made us both very uncomfortable. That was the way in which they treated the topic of suicide. Jenni and I both take suicide in the LGBT community very seriously, and we both were very appreciated of the Weed’s concern for this issue. They are passionate about it and they help others to see that this should be at the top of our priority list.
However, passages like this one felt off:
The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die. It’s the thing that wants to die in all of us when we don’t have hope for attachment to a person we are oriented towards. It’s actually a standard part of human attachment: when we don’t have attachment—and have no hope of attachment–our brain tells us we need to die.
He seemed to be confounding human attachment and contact and romantic attachment. I agree 100% that if you felt you had no one who loved you, you could potentially be suicidal. But in context here, he is implying that people like me and others in the church who don’t have someone in their lives to whom they are physically oriented to are deep down suicidal. They just don’t know it yet.
This isn’t right.
The Weeds use the potential of suicide to try to shut down discussion. I have seen this before used against me. When Jenni and I first wrote our post, we had some people respond accusing us contributing to LGBT suicides by even writing about our experience. By doing so, we were kindling false hope– even if our marriage was successful.
I want to be clear about something before I start to talk about how detrimental this statement by Josh has the potential to be. First off, I do believe that we do need to be aware of the many suicides in our LGBT+ community and be doing all we can to reach out in love and acceptance, yes even of people who choose to live differently than we do. Secondly, if Josh and Lolly believe that ending their marriage will correct Josh’s suicide ideation, then I support them in that decision.
But when suicide is used as a way to emotionally control other people, their choices, and beliefs, that is when I have a problem. Before I married Chad, I was dating this man who was VERY romantically attached to me. When I decided things wouldn’t work out between us and I attempted to tell him, he tried to force me to keep dating him by threatening to commit suicide. While I testified to him that God loved him and that his life was worth living, and I truly hoped he wouldn’t do it, there was no way I was going to let him force me to stay with him by trying to lay the responsibility of his life upon me. Using suicide as a way to force people into thinking a certain way, saying a certain thing (or not saying a certain thing) or making a certain choice is called emotional manipulation.
If what Josh says in the above statement is true, then that means that Chad and I should get a divorce because somewhere inside him he wants to die or will become suicidal because he doesn’t have the “romantic and sexual attachment” with a person he is oriented towards. That is the implications of Josh’s statement and he left no room for other people’s legitimate experiences where they have a different experience where they may not actually feel the way he says they do. In this case suicide becomes the trump card to shut down discussion and manipulate people into thinking a certain way, and to making certain choices because otherwise we have to believe that we are killing people.
However, I will not be manipulated into ending my marriage against my and my husband’s will because Josh thinks the way it has worked out for him works the same way for everybody. This is not how things work for me and Chad. Maybe, just maybe, there are a few other factors involved that make the situation a little more complicated than he has portrayed it. Life isn’t a Romeo and Juliet play and we do a disservice to people to act like it is. Jacob Hess writes:
As a respected therapist who identifies as Mormon and gay pointed out to me: While it’s true that lack of human attachment can be destructive to anyone, the idea that a lack of “romantic attachment” or “orientational attachment” (a new term that Josh uses) leads to suicidality is “one bridge too far,” and doesn’t have the “statistical” support Josh claims. He added, “We also need to make a distinction between attachment and romance, and attachment and sex. You can have sex without attachment, and we can have attachment without sex. The conflation of the two is pretty remarkable.”
Advocates for change
One thing to which the Weeds attributed their changing attitudes was love for the LGBTQ population. Implicit in the post was an advocacy for change, a change not only in culture within the church but change in doctrine.
I too believe that there is room for growth and change within the Church. If we truly claim to be a living Church, we should be able to respond to the challenges and needs that face us in the present. And right now, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters need us. Many do not feel welcome. Things said over the pulpit and in Sunday School, at best well-meaning and at worst political platforms, can drive them away. However, I do not believe that it is our place to dictate doctrine. That is the prerogative of the prophet alone. I am glad that I do not have that kind of responsibility, because it truly does impact millions of lives. I believe that prophets are aware of that responsibility, and know they are accountable to God for their actions.
My wife and I for the first years in our marriage felt content not rocking the boat. But after attending a Northstar conference last year, we become aware of a responsibility to create a space in our wards and congregations for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We know that there are things that need to change. This is ultimately the responsibility of us as members. We as members are responsible for the culture and environment at church. We can do so much to help and to build. I found a call to action from a quote by Sister Carol F. McConkie on the Mormon and Gay website:
It is so important that we understand first of all that we understand that everyone is in a different place along the path and that we develop an awareness of the people that are around us. I know people who come to church every Sunday so that they can be inspired and uplifted and who just simply walk away feeling judged and unloved, unneeded, like there is no place for them at church. We need to do this differently.
There is truly room for everyone in the choir, and we need to welcome them with open arms. We have to give them room to make their own decisions. We need to make sure that our wards don’t exhibit what Elder Christofferson referred to as shame culture: “In a shame culture, you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors you or excludes you.” Can we not do a little more honoring of the faith and example that our LGBT brothers and sisters offer?
I think that there are many in the Church who, like Josh, think of themselves as a broken straight person. We shouldn’t be perpetuating self-hate or self-loathing within the Mormon Gay community. We shouldn’t be telling people they can or need to be cured. Or that because so and so chose a certain path, then you have to as well. We should not love people in spite of being gay. This is extremely unhealthy.
Chad is gay. That is a part of him, of the whole him. He is not a broken straight person, he is wonderful the way he is. The fact that he is gay and a member of the Church has served as a catalyst to bring him closer to and rely on his Heavenly Father. It has been an opportunity to exercise faith when he couldn’t see the way forward. It has been an opportunity for both of us to exercise faith and rely on our Heavenly Father together. The fact that Chad is gay has blessed his life, and in turn it has blessed mine. His strength in the gospel and love and dedication to me has stemmed from this part of who he is. It has lead both of us to question what we truly believe about what makes a lasting love, marriage and family, and come to answers that we would have never come to otherwise.
I think this is important. Gay members are not broken straight people. They are beautiful people with a wonderful and unique perspective on the gospel and on love and life. We should listen to them no matter what path they choose to take.
People are complex and see things differently. My husband followed the path of having a same-sex relationship for a time and then decided that wasn’t the right path for him. He has chosen to live in a mixed-orientation marriage because that is the path he believed would bring him personal fulfillment. Let’s not box people into one choice, let them make their own decisions based on what they believe will be best for them. Sometimes it will work out, sometimes it won’t. But here is the thing: One path does not work for everyone!
So by all means, lets continue to hear experiences, including Josh and Lolly’s experience. But let’s not pretend that their path is anyone else’s path. Their journey is theirs alone to make. Just like Chad and my journey are ours alone to make.
P.S. Quotes that didn’t make it into the post, but tha think are super-profound.
In a sense, the calling of the prophet may be described as that of an advocate or champion, speaking for those who are too weak to plead their own cause. Indeed, the major activity of the prophets was interference, remonstrating about wrongs inflicted on other people, meddling in affairs which were seemingly neither their concern nor their responsibility. A prudent man is he who minds his own business, staying away from questions which do not involve his own interests, particularly when not authorized to step in– and prophets were given no mandate by the widows and orphans to plead their cause. The prophet is a person who is not tolerant of wrongs done to others, who resents other people’s injuries. He even calls others to be champions of the poor. It is to every member of Israel, not alone to the judges, that Isaiah directs his plea: “Seek justice, Undo oppression; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” (Abraham Heschel, “The Prophets”)
We should place great value on the people who connect together disparate teams. These are not just Erdos-style free spirits, but people who have worked intimately with more than one group, whom several teams regard as ‘one of us’. Rather than play a mere bridging role, they sit in the intersection of the Venn diagram. They are both bridging and bonding simultaneously. The role of these people is to knot together the teams and to build trust. (Tim Harford, “Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives)