Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shocking Revelation

At the end of January, I finally worked up the courage to tell my dad that my girlfriend and I have been living together.  Of course, I only had the courage to do it by email, but at least I did it.

I tried to deliver the blow as softly as possible, mentioning that we didn't decide to move in together until we'd decided we wanted to get married eventually.  I tried to emphasize the fact that we were looking to spend more time together and save money instead of talking about things like how we share a bed.  I realized it wasn't going to go over big, but I hoped that I'd get a begrudging acceptance in response.

And I did, I guess.  But it came with some heavy-handed preaching that I really didn't appreciate.  My dad's response a few days later, included this particularly infuriating paragraph:
As to your living arrangements, there are other ways to enjoy the advantages you describe.  I wish you would have talked to me first...but I guess that is the last thing you would have done.  It's difficult to hear you state so proudly that you have stripped yourself of the principles taught to you by the two people in the world who love you the most and want your happiness, while you drink the rationalizing bathwater of a society who cares nothing about you.  I understand your perspective.  I have heard it many, many times from people...people who later had to deal with the downsides they didn't see and then kept trying to rationalize their regrets.
If he'd said that to me in person, I might have actually hit him.  Okay, probably not.  But I definitely would have thought about it.

I'm pretty sure there is no other way to get all the advantages I described without living together.  By sharing an apartment, we've maximized our time together and pooled our financial resources in ways we couldn't when we had separate places.  We're closer and more united than we were before.  You can't get that by living separately and paying separate bills and having to drive across town to visit each other all the time.

And the holier-than-thou warning at the end was misplaced.  He was referring to his time as bishop and stake president when he counselled couples about their living arrangements.  But those were overwhelmingly couples that still wanted some kind of connection to the church.  Of course you'll regret moving in with your girlfriend if you care what the church teaches about sexuality.  I suppose time will tell, but after almost three years of sharing an apartment with my girlfriend, the only downside was the one I did see--that my family would disapprove.

But the worst part, the part that made my blood really boil, was that, after all the effort I put into trying to explain the reasons why my girlfriend and I made this decision, he ascribed that decision to following the ways of society.  And he even uses colorful, Maxwell-esque language like "drinking the rationalizing bathwater."  It was our decision.  We made it together.  It was not an easy decision.  But it was reasonable, and I don't regret it.  Thanks for giving the credit to some massive faceless evil like "society."

I didn't respond to the email right away because I was still fuming.  A day or two later, I drafted a response, but I was still too angry, so I didn't send it.  I decided rather than engage him point-by-point, I'd just make him worry that he'd pissed me off so much that I wasn't going to speak to him again.

Then he sent me four text messages in a twenty-four-hour period that I still didn't feel calm enough to respond to.  He was asking if I was mad at him.  Eventually, I replied, "I don't even know what to say to you."  We then engaged in a very slow conversation (about one text per day) in which he apologized for upsetting me and I complained that the situation sucked.

"Anything I can do to make the situation not suck?" he asked.

"Don't judge," I texted back.  "Don't preach.  I'll never be able to tell you anything important if that's what I get for it."

He apologized again and asked if we could talk in person.  About two weeks ago I went over one evening and we had a very awkward discussion that got less and less awkward as it went on.  He apologized again.  I did not.  I was still mad and I had no intention of apologizing, not even for lying to him about my living arrangements, because I wouldn't have needed to do that if the kind of reception I reasonably expected was like this.  So he apologized.  I nodded.  And we slowly transitioned into other, less infuriating topics.  By the end of the night, we were both complaining about our jobs.

So the relationship between us is kind of back to how it was before.  Mostly.  But I'm a little unsure of how well I behaved through this.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm awesome because I pretty much text-bitchslapped my dad for being such an overbearing, judgmental jerk and made him crawl back to me begging for us to be friends again.  And then the other times, I feel like I'm an asshole because I manipulated my dad into totally backing down by making him feel like he was about to lose a relationship with his son completely.  Did I stand my ground and triumph or did I torture someone who cares about me over petty differences?

It's not an easy answer.  I think at best, this was a Pyrrhic victory. I established some important boundaries with my dad, but I may have done it through unacceptable means.


  1. You don't owe anyone a relationship (not even your dad). So, you aren't manipulating anyone, and you shouldn't feel like an asshole about it.

    That being said, it's a lot better if you can maintain a relationship, so it's good that he turned around...maybe this will lead to better things in the future?

    1. That's what I'm hoping.

      And even though I don't owe anyone a relationship, as you said, my dad hasn't done anything so horrible as to justify my cutting ties with him completely. I don't want to bring a nuke to a gun fight, you know?

    2. it's really a question of -- if every interaction was preaching and judgment -- would you personally be able to deal with that?

      I wouldn't take that. I would be so out of there.

    3. Haha, I get that! Luckily, that's not how every interaction is. Just the ones that are about big stuff.

  2. We learned a long time ago not to tell our parents anything. They still don't know we're inactive. I don't want to deal with the judging that'll come from it. I don't want every interaction to be preaching and judgment, and that's exactly what will happen if they hear a word of it. These are people who can't have a conversation without bringing up something about the church.

    It's interesting that he mentions happiness and implies it can only be had by being in the church. My transition out has been the happiest time of my life. My relationship with my wife is the strongest it's ever been. I'm happier at work as well.

    Congratulations for being able to do this. There's no way that was easy. But more than that, congratulations on finding a great girl to love and share your life with.

    1. Thank you.

      Leaving the church was in fact a liberating experience. I pretty much woke up and realized that I'd been subtly miserable my entire life and completely unaware of it. Transitioning out sucked, but I felt a lot more excitement for day-to-day living than I ever remembered having previously.

      The judging sucks. The preaching sucks. Obviously every family is different, so I doubt I could offer any useful advice. But I will say that I'm occasionally impressed with how unexpectedly cool my dyed-in-the-wool Mormon family members are about some of this. I've read stories of screaming matches and disowned children and ugly crap like that, but mostly what I've had to deal with is some mostly passive judgement and some awkwardness. It wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Even hardcore Mormons can surprise you.

  3. I've been enjoying your blog for a long time, but not sure if I've ever commented. I just wanted to say here that I've also struggled with judgmental friends and family, but that lately I've learned to accept it and allow it. It's not about me. If I'm reacting to it, I like to look at what exactly I'm in resistance to, or what I might be judging about myself, and then allow that to be okay, too. If someone treats me mean, I don't have to take it. I can step away. But I can also ask them why they are acting the way, share my truth from where I'm at, and hopefully some connection will take place below those beliefs, and respect can be felt. For those that can't, I've just had to let the relationships either remain superficial, or let them go completely. Good luck with your father.

    1. I've had a similar experience with dropping relationships or keeping them superficial. But I don't like either option when it comes to family. I can pick my friends, you know?

      Thanks for the helpful words and the well wishes!

  4. I was thinking about these quotes the other day, and you revealing your living arrangements to your dad came to mind. One of the problem's with your parent's generation in the church is teachings on chastity like the horribly destructive ones I'll list below. You'll notice that the church has since greatly softened its rhetoric in the area. I'm curious what your dad's thoughts on this are given he's been a Stake a President. I'm not insinuating that he would agree with these statements, because I don't see how any good, loving parent who believes in Christ's atonement could. I can't believe any prophet could say such things, but they did.

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine page 124.
    "Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of ones life - better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is faithful the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: 'I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.'"

    President David O. McKay is quoted in Spencer W. Kimball's book (The Miracle of Forgiveness) as follows:
    " . . . Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives. Do not tamper with sin . . . do not permit yourselves to be led into temptation."

    Heber J. Grant as quoted in Kimball's book:
    "...There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity -- realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world."

    Later in the same book, President Kimball again addresses the matter of chastity:
    "also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one's virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle."

    1. Those really are some horrible things to preach. I doubt my dad would agree with them verbatim, but he may agree with the general sentiments as opposed to the severe wording.

      But you're right. I don't understand how any loving parent could really believe those things.

  5. From what those quotes say, if you don't die trying to fight off a rape, you bear some responsibility and lost something that can never be regained. Plus, you've lost the only value that you have so it doesn't matter what happens to you after that. I think they're horrible, indefensible statements. They're harmful to the youth of the church, especially the young women. Where is the condemnation of the people who did it to them? The only condemnation is to the people who lost it.

    1. The underlying implication that your value can be determined by the actions of other people! seems pretty destructive aa well. There's no upside to those statements.