Why do I find myself unable to write about marriage?
I think this is the thing that killed my blog posting this semester. Although this semester was insane, it was no more insane than the others during which I did find time to blog. But something about being married has killed my ability to write candidly about my thoughts.
Sometimes I think it’s because I’m scared of bursting the bubble I’m in. Marriage has made me so insanely happy that it feels unreal. What if by analyzing it I burst that bubble and make things harder for myself? But that’s not really true—I’m not in some idealistic phase where I think my husband has no faults. He’s great and cute, but he has traits that drive me crazy. And yet they don’t drive me crazy. When I look from an objective perspective, they should bug the crap out of me, yet when I see them in him, they don’t seem as important. In fact, nothing seems as important as he does.
Another thought I’ve had is that it’s simply so new to me that I’d rather experience it than write about it. There are some experiences you just can’t write about when you're still close to them, no matter how amazing the insights you’ve gained through them. And that's okay. Because they’re so intensely personal, they are not meant to be shared. This was a huge temptation for me at the beginning of our marriage. At each discussion and resolution, I would think in my head, "This has emotional power! This would make an awesome essay!" (Seriously, this is how my life has always worked: I live in order to write about it.) I didn’t write about it though, not just because the experiences would be difficult to convey but because every time I tried to write them, or even think about writing them, I felt like I was betraying my husband, selling out my marriage for worldly gain, though nothing would have come of it. Perhaps there is no way to share these experiences vicariously. Perhaps they are like our most sacred communions with God, something that increases the understanding between us but that will be spoiled by the retelling of it.
But I think the most true reason is not that I hold myself back from talking about my life, but that there’s no one out there to hear it. Ironically enough, marriage appears to be a taboo topic in Utah County, otherwise known as the marriage capital of Mormondom. I can’t talk about my marriage experiences with my single friends, no matter how cordially they ask me “How’s married life?” Anything I say would sound either like bragging (that I’m married and they aren’t) or harassment that they should get married (look at how great it is!). Even if I could by some magic coincidence of tone and mutual understanding get past both of these barriers, what could we really talk about? They obviously have no experience with marriage, which is barely less than the one esoteric experience I have. It would be like two librarians discussing what it’s like to fly to the moon: profitless speculations and wild leaps of logic. And for what purpose would we talk about marriage? To establish what (in general) it is like and examine its purposes, characteristics, and flaws? A discussion too dispassionate and impersonal to be worth either of our times. To talk about the specific ins and outs of my own marriage? Of what usefulness could that be to them?
Perhaps I’m being too overdramatic. I suppose that discussion could be useful, for although marriage is the most intense relationship of my life, it is nonetheless a relationship, which means that no one is without some analog to relate to what is being discussed.
Maybe it’s not marriage as a subject but the attitudes of people at BYU about it that make it such a taboo topic. Perhaps the fact that it is so important to us causes heightened emotions and fear to discuss it. During my single years at BYU, I was desperate to get married. It’s extremely hard to admit, but I thought enough about it during those years to certainly qualify as obsessed. I knew it was important and much harder to do once you left college. I was absolutely frustrated by the fact that it was so unpredictable. You couldn’t tell if you were doing “well” on the road to marriage until you were actually married because before then, who knew what could happen?
But of course, there was no way I could admit to or discuss any of this. For one, there nothing less attractive in the world than a girl desperate to have someone, anyone, so she knows she is not a failure. So actually pursuing marriage was out of the question, because if you looked like you were looking for it, then it was certain that you would never get it. Secondly, I could not discuss the importance of marriage in my circle of friends. I was part of the intellectual crowd at BYU. We were supposed to be women who didn’t depend on men for fulfillment; getting married before graduating would be a sign of weakness to our liberated, feministic ideals.
Which I find an extremely interesting paradox: we learn and firmly believe at church that the way to happiness is not to follow worldly ideals of success, because in the end such things are illusory. But then what is the path of happiness? As soon as someone mentions family, you’re sure to have several liberated women in the room defy (at least inside their own minds, if not vocally) anyone who would “lock them up” in a house and forbid them to pursue self-fulfillment through a career.
I recently read a post on the bloggernacle responding to Sister Beck’s talk saying that they object to anyone who says that a woman’s fulfillment should come wholly or even primarily through raising children. Here’s a news flash for you: the Church doesn’t say that about women. It says that about everyone! Does the Church say that men should get a career for self-fulfillment? No, a career is clearly shown as necessary for the support of a family. Our leaders time and time again point out that men who focus on their career at the expense of their family will come out empty-handed. Why do women feel satisfied in saying they are an exception to this rule? Don't we want to be treated equally?
I guess this gets me right down to the reason I am afraid to write about marriage: I believe in it. Every last traditional gender role, anti-feminist part of it. I have come to receive a witness that the pattern of a father working and a mother running a household is not only a social necessity, but a divinely inspired pattern. This heretical thought came to me for the first time as I began going to the temple. I had read vague hints that many feminist women were less than satisfied with the temple, and when I arrived there myself, I could see why. My first time through the endowment, I noticed the gender differences with curiosity and wonder. In subsequent times, I could not keep myself so neutral: I felt a rise of resentment and questioning rise in me at those times during the ceremony. It poisoned my mind so I could not think of anything else through the whole two hours: why in such a progressive world did our church have to be so backward? Why couldn’t it just concede to the truths that were so obvious?
Then I came to wonder: why am I judging sacred things by the secular instead of the other way around? Why is the thought of the scholars of the world my standard for judging the gospel? If I really believe in God, shouldn’t I be able to trust His standards? I began to wonder if feminism—in the sense that women (and people in general) needed to seek fulfillment outside of the home and family—was merely one of the philosophies of men, one that I had been indoctrinated with since childhood, one guised under the mask of equality, but in reality having little to do with it. To me, it seemed that this movement was not so much about equity as it was about finding happiness. Women had forgotten how to find happiness. We saw the men in successful careers and said, “That is why we are not happy, because they don't let us have what they have.” Little did they realize that the men weren’t happy either. No one was happy because they weren’t looking in the places to find happiness.
And so I find myself at peace with the temple, but at odds with the world. How could I possibly justify or defend this position? It was so simple. I must be missing something critical if there were so many intelligent people who disagreed with me.
But maybe again that’s caring too much about what the world says. I for one agreed with the substance of Sister Beck’s talk, yet the only thing I could think during the whole thing was “Oh man, the girls over at Feminist Mormon Housewives are going to be livid about this.” And I felt guilty for agreeing with her. Guilty.
03 January 2008
Why do I find myself unable to write about marriage?