Due to length, I’ve decided to split this article into two parts. Watch for part two of this article. It will be published within the next couple days.
As a young single adult member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am under constant pressure to find a suitable female counterpart to marry in a temple. The obligation I am under surely does not stop there, as I am confident that upon espousing a Mormon lady my next imperative would be to impregnate her as soon as possible, getting right down to the “multiply and replenish” business. This should sound all too familiar to the young single adults of the Church.
I’m sure this is all well-intentioned. To quote one of my former stake presidents, “Marriage is not what we want from you, it’s what we want for you.” I really appreciate that perspective, but honestly that’s not the vibe I usually get. We’re told that choosing the right person to marry is the most important decision of our entire lives, and in the same breath we’re told to make this decision as fast as humanly possible. These mixed messages regarding temple marriage are exhausting.
I have just a few things to say about relationships that I wish were talked about more often. This is a list of things I would include if I could wave a magic Mormon wand and rewrite the entire curriculum on the topic of marriage directed to young single adults of the Church. I think we should be taught a lot more of what it means to have healthy relationships, and why we should want those kinds of relationships, instead of being pushed toward marriage without the tools to make marriage successful. Pushing us toward marriage without teaching us what it means to have a good relationship feels like being blindfolded at the start of an obstacle course.
- My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke talked a lot about relationships in terms of solitude. This may sound paradoxical, but romance itself can be very paradoxical (i.e. we are close, yet far apart; we are one, yet two; I love you, but I can’t stand you; etc.). Relationships sometimes threaten to swallow us whole. It’s easy to lose oneself in the beloved. Rilke once wrote about this in a letter to a friend:
“In marriage, the point is not to achieve a rapid union by tearing down and toppling all boundaries. Rather, in a good marriage each person appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude and thus shows him the greatest faith he can bestow. The being together of two human beings is an impossibility… Yet once it is recognized that even among the closest people there remain infinite distances, a wonderful coexistence can develop once they succeed in loving the vastness between them that affords them the possibility of seeing each other in their full gestalt before a vast sky!”
Rilke says our highest calling in a romantic relationship is to protect the solitude of our partner. But what does it mean to be united with someone in protecting each other’s solitude? To me, this means being two whole and beautiful individuals who allow for seeing each other completely without barging into each other’s identities. Romantic love means safeguarding the beloved’s wholesome individuality, not destroying it.
And if you really think about it, there’s nothing more romantic than accepting and loving someone entirely as they are without expecting them to change. Ironically, it is often this kind of unconditional love that inspires the greatest changes human beings can achieve that are not possible, or even conceivable, under any other circumstances. It’s another one of those precious paradoxes of romance.
- Kahlil Gibran is another of my favorite poets. His book, The Prophet, is the last sermon of a prophet named Almustafa to the people of the city Orphalese that he had been living with and serving for twelve years. I cannot overstate how much I love this book. This book is so good I want to memorize the entire thing.
Here’s some of what Gibran wrote in The Prophet about marriage:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
This resonates beautifully with Rilke’s comment about protecting the solitude of the one you love. The “moving sea between the shores of your souls” described here sounds exactly like the “vastness” Rilke referred to in his letter.
My favorite image in this poem is the different strings of a lute vibrating together in the same music even though they are two distinct strings. And doesn’t it make for a more interesting and beautiful song if two voices harmonize together instead of always singing the same notes? There’s a lot to be learned about what it means to have a healthy relationship from these few lines of poetry. The idea is to complement one another, not dissolve into each other. This kind of love is true compassion, not a weird narcissistic self-love projected onto someone else.
It’s easy to talk about this in abstract terms, but what might this look like in a practical situation? Here are a couple examples: you may sleep in the same bed, but you have designated sides; you spend a lot of time together, but you also make time to spend alone or apart with other friends; you share some spaces in your home, but you each have designated work spaces, cupboards, and storage. The main point is that you respect each other’s boundaries. People have boundaries, even when they are in a relationship, and those boundaries should be respected and protected by their partners.
And don’t be that couple that merges all their social media into one account. I mean, that’s just weird.
- Fun fact about this next guy: his life is exactly like the plot from Dr. Strange. I’m not even joking. He was a surgeon who got in a bad car accident, then started practicing healing people through ancient mysticism instead of medical science. His name is Don Miguel Ruiz, and he’s another one of my favorites. His books are usually found in the self-help section, but they read more like poetry or philosophy. His book, The Mastery of Love, is all about relationships. There is so much to take from this book, but I’ll just share this:
“If you take your happiness and put it in someone else’s hands, sooner or later, she is going to break it. If you give your happiness to someone else, she can always take it away… We can never make anyone responsible for our own happiness… That is the mistake most of us make right from the beginning. We base our happiness on our partner, and it doesn’t work that way.”
The first time I read this, I had just left a relationship I hoped would make me happy. Ruiz’s teachings presented a complete paradigm shift for me, but it rang so true. And I think this is what Gibran meant when he wrote, “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.” Other people don’t have to love me for me to be happy. The love I already have inside me that I share with others is what makes me happy. My happiness is my responsibility, no one else’s.
If you’ve read this far, you might have noticed a trend throughout this advice. It’s all from poets and mystics. There’s nothing from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve. Well, maybe young single adults should be getting more advice about love from poets and mystics. David O. Mckay often referred to the great poets of literature as “the lesser prophets.” Prophets need poetry as much as we do. Maybe more. The best talks about life and love that come from general authorities are often laced with literary references. A great example is the October 2008 talk from the late President Thomas S. Monson. In this talk, President Monson shared quotes from the American composer Meredith Willson, the 20th century author and journalist Arthur Gordon, the author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, the playwright and novelist Thorton Wilder, the writer Sarah Ban Breathnach, the philosopher Horace, and the greatest wordsmith of the English language of all time William Shakespeare who said, “They do not love that do not show their love.” But most importantly, President Monson quoted Jesus Christ, “As I have loved you, …love one another,” which alone has many applications to relationships.
So, let’s change the curriculum on marriage to YSAs. There’s a lot more to the beauty of relationships and togetherness than being commanded into marriage.
If you were in charge of a new curriculum on marriage for YSAs, what would it be? Let me know in the comments at https://www.facebook.com/postmodernmormon
Thank you for reading! Be sure to come back and read part two of this article.