Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the Interest of Furthering the Discussion

You really never know what you're going to get when you post, do you?

My thoughts on the previous post were running more along the lines of humor a la ward librarian, and instead this deeply introspective discussion has mostly revolved around the aside I almost didn't include. I was going to add the following remarks as comment #15 or whatever, but they became too lengthy and I felt like some clarification was in order before I mortally offend any reader who comes this way.

What I think is fascinating in this discussion is the overall theme that many different life paths still fall in the realm of "righteous" and that each is unique to the individual on that path. And yet, for all that we've come to many of the same conclusions, each of you here is so different! There are single women, married women with and without children in various numbers, returned missionaries, women who were married before age 20 . . . . heck, there might even be a ward librarian or two. Oh, and men. There are a few brave enough to wade into the middle of the sea of estrogen from time to time.

With my aside, I didn't mean to imply that women should wait until they are 21 to either get married OR go on a mission. I think what I was trying to share is that we sometimes unwittingly reinforce certain stereotypes among our young women. Even with my head rather firmly on my shoulders when I went away to college (I can say that--there are very few here who knew me then. Brooke, Mike and Rachel, you can all just stay quiet if you disagree.), I still was pretty anxious about the fact that I could count on one hand the number of dates I'd been on. As I saw the girls in my ward snatch up the "few really good guys," I was totally convinced that I would never get married. I WAS ONLY 19. For all my practicality and ambition and even some profound experience with personal revelation, I was nearly certain that I was going to be single always.

This fear of being alone prevented me from taking my guy-relationships for what they were worth--wonderful, life-long friendships. If there had been dating or attraction there, many of those relationships would be lost to me now. Another skewed idea that grew out of this fear was that I started to think that if ANY guy ever wanted to marry me, regardless of his religious situation, it would be better to be married than to be alone. (Again, no offense meant, righteous women marry non-members all the time; I'm just indicating that before I'd even had a chance to taste life I was selling myself short.) In addition, my fear caused me to spend a lot of time and energy on a man who ultimately cost me a lot of self-esteem.

In my post-mission, post-first-fiance months, I had a very difficult time just dating for fun. I was just a few months from graduation, and terrified of leaving college as a single. At that time, my grad school ambition was not immediate and the prospect of high school teaching didn't seem all that conducive to finding someone to marry. Most of my friends from my pre-mi days had moved on to lives and marriages of their own. Again, I was convinced that I'd NEVER be married. I was only 23. But again, for all the wonderful lessons I had learned in the alone part of my journey, I was still prey to my upbringing and the stereotypes read in novels and heard in so many young women's lessons.

Now, here is the personal revelation part, voiced so importantly by many of you. Chrisw was teaching school in another city. There was an opening at her jr. high for a science teacher. She told her principal about me and he, trusting Chrisw's judgment implicitly (how could you not?) said that he'd be willing to offer me a teacher internship position. What this meant is that I would bail on my fall student teaching, not have to find a mid-year contract full time job, and instead teach for partial salary the entire year at Chrisw's school. Not a bad proposition. Chrisw and I talked about becoming roommates (which, okay, would have been completely awesome), and she was saving her yen to backpack through China the next year (which, okay, would have been completely awesome).

I prayed and told the Lord this was my intention. I felt like hanging around USU another semester was the equivalence of waiting for the axe to fall on my marriage dream and that by moving in with Chrisw at least I'd be throwing myself whole-heartedly in to my life as a single. (Remember: only 23.) The next morning, I completely forgot everything I had to do in order to make the internship happen. And I kept forgetting. Also, things I remembered to do weren't smooth sailing, and bailing on my renter's contract was going to be expensive. I'd only had such stupor of thought once before--when I was 18 and chose to reject my acceptance to nursing school in spite of no clear alternative. So the next day I prayed again and told the Lord I'd decided to stay.

The peace was palpable.

I met Plantboy the next week at a job I would have left by that point if I had taken the internship.

But I think the Lord knew I might screw it up. By a strange "coincidence" he was also assigned to be my sister's home teacher at his apartment complex several wards away from where I lived. We might have met anyway.

So yes, absolutely, young people, men and women, need to be taught about receiving personal revelation. But maybe we also need to back off the primary use of examples that reinforce stereotypes that, albeit inadvertently, encourage early steady dating and poor choices of companions. I'm sure you all had a friend or roommate for whom getting married was so much more essential than marrying the right person that the result was disastrous. (I think this is what Mike's paraphrasing of the 70 was essentially about.)

If my previous post made anyone feel like I was critical of your life choices either concerning number of children, or marriage, or your spouse of the color of your kitchen, please understand that was not my intention at all. My intention was to encourage us all to create a place where our young people feel comfortable exploring a variety of choices and ambitions, and to remind them that their worth comes from them being children of God and not from their marital or dating status.

When my boys go out into the world to find their wives, I hope they find women who will be true partners to them in every sense of the word--women who have prepared themselves to stand equally yoked as partners in the gospel and truly understand that happily ever after means enduring joyfully long after the novelty of their first romance wears off. The age and life-experience of my daughters-in-law to be matters a whole lot less to me than their commitment to their covenants and to finding the Lord's will in their lives.

And I hope these remarkable young women find the same in my sons.


Jenny said...

YOU.are remarkable.

Jessica said...

i really enjoy reading your posts and the comments they generate. you have a definite gift for introspection and articulation of what you think and feel. thanks for sharing your thoughts on things.

TheDooleys4 said...

I heart you Nan....I think your head was very firmly planted. Well, except for maybe that one time.......

FoxyJ said...

That sounds like pretty much my experience as well. I went on two dates in high school, both of them because I had asked the guy. I went to college terrified that I would get married right away (because everyone told me that it happened at BYU). I spent a number of years with a weird mix of desperation that no one wanted to ask me out, and terror that someone might. I also wish I could have just been friends with the guys I knew instead of always wondering about whether it might turn into some sort of romantic thing. Ah well--hindsight is 20/20. And hopefully I've learned something I can pass on to my children as well.

Loradona said...

Sorry I am rambling on here, but I am going to post this comment anyhow:
I remember when I was 19 how I thought that just because I was dating a guy I had to marry him, even though I didn't care much for him. Thank goodness the revelation came like a bolt of lightning: I didn't have to marry anyone I didn't want to simply because the opportunity was there. That revelation has given me a lot of peace as I have yet to marry (and I am 29). I know that my Heavenly Father will tell me when it is right. That doesn't mean I don't experience the insecurity of being single and "old" in a culture where women are frequently married before their sophomore years of college. Because I do feel a little awkward at church sometimes, where most of the women my age have several children. But I am so glad I have made a life worth living.
And what if I had believed that I was going to marry young and put off my schooling? I would be without a way to support myself. But my education has made it possible to create a life I enjoy and a life that isn't just a "backup plan"; my life is THE plan, and many of my YW don't realize that there is no such thing as education as a "backup."
Oh, and as a side note, I had an institute teacher this week juxtapose education with a prophet's admonition for women not to work but care for family. His insinuation was that women don't need educations because their primary jobs revolve around family and children. Yeah, I felt great. I have long been thinking I should be done with institute at this point in my life, and that lesson might seal the deal.

chris w said...

I love you.

I was 19 before I dated, 21 before I kissed, and 27 when I married. I was an official Utah "spinsty". I look back and realize how blessed and protected I was. I was given the time to learn how to be myself. I got to travel all over the world, get a Master's Degree, and hold a professional position. I absolutely believe that until someone can be happy on their own, they'll never be happy in a marriage.

Having said that, I also know that I didn't truly find myself until I had my kids. Not because it was a fairy tale birds singing/sun shining/deer bringing me my clothes kind of a situation. As much as I love my children with all my being, I got smacked over the head with the lonliness and tedium of being a stay at home mom. (I don't know how many times I thought, "I got a Master's Degree to be a maid?") I learned to find myself by losing myself in service to other women who were struggling just like me.

One time it hit me about the story of Lehi's family in the wilderness when they had to eat raw meat. Laman's family was saying, "It would be better for us to die than go through this." Nephi then told how it was hard for his family as well, but they kept going and then the Lord made it sweet to them. I realized how over time, the Lord had made being a stay at home mom sweet for me.

I think we need to have a balance in what we teach the YW that we make sure they listen to the spirit, and make choices based on study and prayer, rather than emotions and feelings of need at the time. We also need to defend motherhood with all we have because we're the only ones they're going to hear that from. They'll get the other side plenty from other places.

I think there is a reason you are put in a position so you can share your stories and experience. I think you of all people can promote motherhood in an honest way.

chris w said...

I want to clarify one thing from my comment. I wouldn't want anyone to feel like I was saying the only way to find yourself is through becoming a parent. My point was just that I found myself through the struggle.

The end.

Genjunky said...

Amen to all so far...I thought we had struggles in the late 80s and early 90s, but what my 14 yr old will face in the next few years boggles my mind and makes me eternally grateful for the man I did marry, the Boy Scouts, and his (both spouse and the kid) YM leaders. It doesn't take a village - but I am glad to have additional support and it is always good to hear about your sons from others: that they are great kids. I hope he can be the kind of man that attracts the kind of daughter in law I'd like to have - since I have no girls!

And I wouldn't trade my degree for anything either.

Brooke said...

I can vouch for you, Nan. Your head was sitting squarely on your shoulders by about 8th grade, I think. NOJH PEP CLUB!!!!! Rah!

Really, I don't think you need to worry about having offended anyone. You are thoughtful and well spoken. AND entertaining. And all of us know you have a good, good heart.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

I wanted to further the discussion, but it is plain we could have left off at Jenny's comment. In fact, I may never blog again. ;)

I would dearly love to know which "one time" Rachel was talking about. Oh, yeah, I was such a rebel. And Brooke, I should just NOT allow anybody here that knew me in junior high. One day I'm going to track down every copy of the NOJH yearbook from 89-90 and have a huge bonfire to rid the world of the evidence.

FoxyJ and Loradona--thanks for sharing such personal stuff here. L's comment, "I'm so glad I've made my life worth living," is essential for each of us--regardless of our place in the spectrum.

ChrisW needs to guest post on this topic and tell about switching ponies midstream in her educational/career life only to find her husband waiting in the master's program she never would have expected to pursue. Now THAT is a great story.

mstanger said...

I hadn't intended to comment, but in looking over the post I realized my silence could implicitly be read as a disagreement with Nan's claim to have had her head rather firmly on her shoulders upon departing highschool, and I wouldn't want to be interpreted in that way.

When I think about where I learned personal revelation, and the hard kind, where you have to labor for a while to discern the Lord's will, I have to give mad props to my mission president and my mission experiences, and I suspect I'm not the only member of the church to feel this way. (Maybe another reason to encourage more of the YW to seriously consider a mission).

My mission president had, on multiple occasions, made major life changes, including drastic changes in careers, moving half way around the world (more than once), etc., based on listening to the whisperings of the spirit.

I'm pretty certain that, but for his example, when the time came to choose a law school, and I was faced with scholarships to the U of U, BYU, and Miami, I would have been much more hesitant to listen to the still small voice telling me to head south--Bienvenido a Miami! The logical choice was to stick with a local cheaper school that was more highly ranked, but the spirit was telling both of us that South Florida was the destination. Looking back, there have been so many blessings that arose out of that choice, and I am confident it was what the Lord wanted for us.

simple easy and quick said...

Glad I didn't date you at USU! I have know idea where most of them ended up.

Cathy said...

Loradona--a lot of those women at church would love to have you as a friend. They've probably experienced, as I have, the Catch 22 of badly wanting friends, trying to make them while caring for children, and having yet another promising conversation get killed by an attempt to save your child from eminent destruction. Just this morning, I had to exit a phone conversation precipitately because my one toddler was trying to eat mysterious bright red berries off of a weed in the back yard. And life is always like that. It must be easier to talk with someone who isn't running away to save their kid too! Not to mention how refreshing it is to talk about non mom things...