15 February 2009

Not Quite Valentine's Day Musings

I spent Valentine's with my grandparents this year. I probably should have gone to my ward Valentine's Day Dance but for some reason I'm feeling stubborn and would rather spend my time lounging around in my pajamas. Which is more or less what I've done all day. I watched all four hours of Jane Eyre this morning. Mr. Rochester is utterly wonderful.

Which leads me to a long-overdue blog post. I've been sitting in front of the computer for about two hours trying to decide between watching a movie on Hulu and (I know, you can mock me later), rifling through various fan-fictions I used to obsess over a few years ago. I got a good laugh at myself and decided I ought to do something more productive.

Partly due to the season and partly because of a (brief) increase in romantic activity in my life I've been thinking about the curse of being single in Provo. It all reminds me of one of Bill Cosby's sketches where he says something about how parents love their children but they want to get them OUT of the house. That is, as far as I can tell, a common experience in the Single's Ward life. Not all wards, mind you. My ward right now isn't nearly as bad as some I've been in. But in the Facebook universe we live in where people can advertise their relationship status to infinite numbers of people with the click of a mouse, it's starting to feel like we're creating our own tabloid lives with a relationship obsessed audience. If you're single people expect you to either be defensive about it and to make fun of your status in an attempt to say you don't care(guilty) or expect you to mope or . . . I don't know. And if you're dating someone, wahoo! Congratulations! How long has it been? Have you looked at rings yet? What kind of cake are you getting?

The reason I bring all this up (yet again) is because of a discussion we had in one of my classes on Friday about the way girls in the church are educated and the huge dichotomy it brings up, especially in such a concentrated area of people scrounging around for their mate. I can't speak for boys of the church (obviously), but it seems to me that most of the girls and single women of the church are taught that their virtue and worth is greater when they are virgins. Who hasn't been to a lesson where a well meaning teacher has chewed up a piece of gum and then offered it to someone by way of object lesson. "No one wants your chewed gum." Ouch. Not that I'm condoning sexual promiscuity. But there is this extreme that is rather stifling - a tug of war between one definition of chastity as being equal to virginity and the push to graduate from Single's Ward High eternally tied. But everything should happen in the right time and the right place. Isn't that a better definition of chastity? Participating in activities at the right time and in the right place?

Which is my point for the day. It's no wonder so many girls I know are simultaneously obsessed with dating and completely terrified of it as well. The pressure from outside forces and the ever illusive Facebook status change and online relationship obsessed stalkerazzi wanting to know your every move is huge. If you let it get to you. (Her relationship status changed! Oh no! I wonder what happened?! I'm going to send messages to half of her friends to figure out why.) (Again. . . probably guilty. No one is immune!)

Sure - it would be great to have celebrated Valentine's Day with my sweetheart, but there will be many years ahead of me at some point for that. I am happy with where I am. I'm excited for what the next year has in store for me. I have a family that loves me and good friends. With that in mind, I wish you all a belated Happy Valentine's Day and hope that whatever your situation, you spent it with people you love.


Cathryn said...

Interesting thoughts, Joni, and something I've spent a lot of time thinking about before. It's too bad that our hyper-romanticized culture seems to become so obsessed with relationships--as you adeptly pointed out, both Facebook in all its voyeuristic glory, and also some aspects of Church culture that seem to degrade any status in life other than "happily married" as a less-than-acceptable spate of fortune (or worthiness).

The question of defining "chastity" troubled me for a long time--as you said, I didn't like the "used goods" perspective of teaching that so many otherwise well-intentioned young women's leaders push on these already hormone-addled girls. It always seemed wrong to me to construct such an important aspect of the choices I make on a foundation of aversion and disgust, especially since I knew that sex was later on supposed to be an important part of healthy marriages. But I also knew that fundamental gospel principles necessitated a push towards strict adherence to the "standards," such as they are--what a contradiction! How do we talk about this elephant in the room in ways that incorporate its dual nature? The rule of "complete abstinence before marriage, complete fidelity after marriage" sounds simple enough, until you try to actually teach it to squirmy Beehives.

Notice, though, that I've got things in past tense. I finally came to complete peace with the Law of Chastity (ooh, capital letters) when I went to the temple. There, it's given in clear, plain English, in one sentence, in a way that both sets a clear dividing line between when it is kept and when it is broken, but also allows room for situational personal agency. I don't feel comfortable repeating the exact temple language here. But this definition below is copied & pasted from lds.org's lovely Gospel Library section, and I will say this: certain parts of it come pretty darn close to what you'll hear on the third floor of the Provo Temple.

"Chastity is sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage."

Why can't we teach our daughters that? Why can't we consistently teach chastity with the simplicity of "no sexual relations with anyone but your husband?" If we need to expand on the doctrine, I feel like it should be in the area of purity--chastity doesn't just mean virginity. It means purity of thought, of speech, not just of action. If our girls (and ourselves!) are living that portion of the law, then we don't have to worry about chewed gum analogies.

In my book, we need to change the way we talk about personal worth with these poor teenagers (boys and girls alike). We need to remind them that their personal, individual worth can never be altered by any action they do or do not take; it is an eternal principle, an inalienable aspect of their eternal selves, based on the fact that they are literally the daughters and sons of God. Chastity talks that equate sin with a reduction in personal worth dishonestly represent the way God sees these kids. Sin doesn't diminish your worth as a person; it simply makes it harder for you to feel God's love for you and to get back to his presence. Sin widens the gap between the body and the spirit, the mortal and the immortal, the individual and God. It doesn't constitute a demerit or a reduction in the worth of a soul. And until we can stop thinking that it does, we're going to have those feelings of guilt associated with so many aspects of life and the gospel that make it harder for us to be the happy, obedient, service-oriented people God wants us to become. Repentance is a gift, not a punishment; sex is a beautiful part of the most sacred union known to man--eternal, covenant-bound marriage--, not a dirty secret that our young women leaders should be afraid to talk about honestly.

Whew! Sorry to soapbox! Thanks for sharing your musings, and letting me pontificate in the comments. :)

Joni said...


Thanks for your comments! You've managed to say what I was trying to come up with on a tired should have been in bed state of mind. I agree with you completely. You're amazing :)

Allison said...

Rather than posting something deep and insightful, I shall do the opposite (something shallow) and just say: Hey, I missed you at the ward activity. Wink.

Iowa Newmans said...

Joni: Thanks for telling me about your blog entry, your thoughts and the thoughts of your friend, Cathryn on the topic. I believe you both have a very healthy and accurate view of reality in the church. It is unfortunate that for the most part, we are taught from an early age that sex is naughty, nasty, immoral and makes you unworthy. Shame, shame, shame....oh, until you are married, then it's fine. All I really wanted to say is that this creates a potential problem with a healthy relationship, particularly right after marriage. It's wierd. One day sex is nasty, nasty, bad, and the next (after your temple marriage) all of the sudden, it's encouraged, OK and NOT nasty, rather completely ok. It's very hard to grasp, unless you have the perspective you and Cathryn describe. If you keep that view, it will be a beautiful thing that will be an important - part - of your marriage. Yes, a "part" not "the" important part but a part. There is obviously so much more, infinitely more that is important to a successful marriage. So there you have it. I'm proud of you for your healthy perspective on such a sensitive topic. Cheers!