HILDEGARD: Shortly after I married my husband, I had a troubling dream. In that dream, I had been carrying on an affair with an anonymous priest—an unknown man wearing a clerical collar. Waking up to wracking sobs of guilt, I felt like I’d been disloyal to my husband, like I’d betrayed him without even trying to.
I had no real understanding of the dream world, and I was new to the world of sexual activity. I felt the need to confess to my husband, so, as hives erupted on my body to accompany my tears, he listened and consoled me that it had just been a dream, and I’d done nothing wrong. Even my horrified reaction was a testament to my loyalty. We talked and laughed and mentally filed it away under “Weird Dreams and Learning Experiences.”
Now, more than fifteen years later, I think there was a message in that dream.
Who did I think I was marrying? We had such a quick period of dating and engagement, that although we worked together well (and still do), we really didn’t know that much about each other. We didn’t even know ourselves at such young ages, although we thought we did—and we probably understood as much as our hormonally-driven young minds could handle.
Did I really marry my husband? Did I marry him, for him? And did he really marry me, for me? We thought so.
But we each married a role at least as much as a person.
Our temple sealing was a joint bestowal of blessings that also included a brief verbal acknowledgement of me giving myself to my husband and him agreeing to receive me. In the time-honored tradition of “fill in the blank” legal forms, I assumed the place of The Woman, and he assumed the place of The Man, and together we were declared another standard-issue Adam-Eve pairing.
What that feels like now, is that together we agreed that our religious duties superseded and should rightly subsume our individual identities.
That’s what I wanted. Or it’s what I was taught by myself and others that I should want. I believed that my duty- and role-centered commitment to God was far superior to the individual-centered rituals of some other faiths or civil ceremonies. It wasn’t about me or my husband, and I believed it shouldn’t be. It was supposedly all about God, who wanted us to just, please, conform, so we could be truly worthy of his love and blessings someday.
But this role-centered, contractual view of marriage is the antithesis of hearts merging, and it doesn’t start with the sealing-wedding combination ordinance.
It’s in every admonition to young women to “find a returned missionary who can take you to the temple,” based on the mistaken belief that a young man’s missionary service is sufficient (or requisite) evidence of righteousness. Individual characteristics and compatibility come in a distant second to that visible achievement.
It’s in counsel to young men to be “worthy” to participate in preparing or passing the Sacrament. And if you’re not worthy, there’s a replacement in another compliance-indicating white shirt on the next row.
And in my estimation, it’s a big part of why the church doesn’t know what to do with LGBTQ members: it doesn’t have a pre-defined, presumably-eternal role to assign them.
In LDS culture, we too often let our roles speak for us. And this role-prioritizing sows innumerable relationship issues because we allow our roles to draw boundaries defining which parts of us are acceptable: the ones that are most compatible with our roles, of course.
But what happens to the rest of our parts when roles are such a foundational part of the relationship?
What often happens to the dynamic career woman when she takes on the role of Wife and/or Mother? What happens if a Husband loses his job? Or, more fundamentally, what if one of them experiences a change in his or her understanding of God that is perceived to compromise the role of Righteous Priesthood Holder™ or Good Mormon Wife™?
The role-centered relationship is thrown into turmoil. Turmoil hurts.
So to avoid that pain, we lop off the wild limbs of our psyches and cull the non-conforming portions of our Divine Natures, and we pretend we still have a marriage. Our roles are safe, and they are safety, so whatever sacrifice is necessary to ensure our eternal role, is worth it.
Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gods—who embody and organize endless variety on, above, and beneath this one earth of infinite worlds—want their children to fit neatly into tiny, mortal boxes.
Taking this approach is mortally misguided.
I think our Heavenly Parents want us to truly be One—with each other and with them. And contrary to popular cultural notions that the sealing ordinance officially binds our hearts, I don’t believe our hearts were made One in that brief sealing ceremony. In fact, I know they weren’t, because they still aren’t One. We can’t be One with someone we don’t know, or when we are afraid to be known.
For me, what has replaced that simplistic idea of instant, externally-granted Oneness is the hope that our hearts are made One through time and growth, through love and learning and desire toward each other for who we are. It’s not an event; it’s a process of becoming.
So did I marry my husband? Yes and no.
I married him and not another Righteous Priesthood Holder™, and he married me and not a different Good Mormon Girl™, because we work together well. We took on our respective roles, as expected by ourselves and others.
But as time has passed, I’ve come to understand that he’s much more than a role-filler, and so am I. That years-ago dream of an affair with a role instead of a person communicated something crucial to me, and I’ve grown to see and appreciate the lesson.
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6 Replies to “Wedded to What?”
This reminded me of a dream I had when I was still single at BYU. My parents had arranged a marriage for me, and while he was handsome, our “honeymoon” was to be in my childhood bedroom in my parents house. He came out of the bathroom to meet me wearing flannel pajamas with horse heads on them, like a child from the 1950s. I knew my duty but there was no chemistry with this stranger. He wasn’t my choice, and I realized that now that I was married, my life was basically over. Now I was tethered to this person I hadn’t chosen.
I suspect lots of women from lots of religions with marriage expectations have fraught dreams about their partners. The stakes are high, and the advice we are given is full of heuristic thinking. Any worthy person will do? *shudder*
Angela C, wow. That’s a fraught dream for sure! I had a couple different-but-related dreams; I remember reacting to one with acceptance and feeling “spiritually mature” for my submission. Sigh…
And I bet you’re right about this being a common issue with patriarchal religious cultures, since our identities center so much on our roles. The “any two worthy people can (and will) just make it work” idea is quite a persistent, pervasive, bad idea. We learn to process ourselves and others as our roles/placeholders first.
Roles can be useful identifiers for business and legal transactions, but not for heart-centered relationships; I wish we learned to differentiate between those things more often.
Wow, and yes. This is a beautiful post, thank you for sharing it. I resonated with so much of this.