Thursday, April 30, 2015

Expectations

When my children have expectations, and those expectations are not fulfilled, there are problems.  Sometimes they get upset, angry, disappointed, or feel that they have been unfairly treated.  But often I think the problem is more in the expectations than the situation.

Everyone has expectations of all kinds.  I grew up with the expectation that I would serve a mission.  I was able to do that, so that expectation was fulfilled.  I had expectations about my occupation, and was able to work out that to fulfillment, too (actually, I lowered my expectations, and that didn't work out, and opportunities arose to meet the higher expectations).  I had expectations to be a father, to have my own kids.  I wondered if that one would ever be fulfilled because I was attracted to boys rather than girls.  I dated girls often, but that felt like hanging out with friends -- nothing romantic.  I again lowered my expectations -- thinking that I might just have to marry a girl who I had a tough time being romantic with.  And if that was the case, I was going to get schooling done first, including grad school, before I entered that situation.  But again, my lowered expectations were not what happened.  Rather, my higher expectations were met.  I love my amazing wife and we have a largish family.

So what am I trying to say?  Maybe we don't need to lower our expectations.  But also, it's not good to be too fixated on our expectations or it can lead to trouble, disappointment or frustration.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Except if You are Gay

Marriage can (and should) be challenging.  That's true of all marriages.  In fact this article has a great list of challenges that people often don't realize are a normal part of marriage.  However, it is written with a "regular" marriage in mind, a marriage between people with straight orientations.  I want to look at the advice from the view of a so-called mixed orientation marriage.  If at any time you catch yourself thinking "this is true except if you are gay" then you might be holding a dual standard, expecting more from a marriage if one spouse's orientation is not aligned with the other.  That's not healthy.  Let's look at the ten points from the article.

1.  Marriage doesn't complete you.

This is battling the myth that Hollywood portrays about marriage.  Marriage is not a union of two half people who need to be together to be whole.  It's a partnership of whole people.  If one partner's orientation is gay, this is still good advice.  In fact, this is one of the main reasons why getting married to "cure the gay" doesn't work.  So don't expect marriage to fundamentally change who you are.

2.  You won't always feel attracted to your partner.

The problem with this fact is that many in mixed orientation marriages will blame this on orientation, despite the fact that it is a perfectly normal in all marriages.  How often have I heard "I thought we could make it work because I sometimes thought I felt attracted, but I couldn't keep it up all the time; it was because I am gay."  There's an expectation of more in a marriage than real marriages have.

3.  You won't always like your partner.

It's sometimes easier to like your friends, who you aren't around all day and night than it is to like your partner, who you have to put up with all the time.  That's a normal part of marriage and will not be different if one partner has a gay orientation.

4.  Being in love is a stage of a relationship that doesn't last forever.

Infatuation only takes a marriage so far.  If it's easy to fall in love, it's just as easy to fall out of love.  It's just a stage, not a permanent situation.  In fact, the article points out that "if you didn't have an infatuation stage, it doesn't mean your relationship is doomed! Some people have it and others don't, and there is absolutely no correlation between having an infatuation stage and the success of a marriage."

5.  Love can grow with time and effort.

Basically, this says that in a heterosexual marriage, the love you start with is not all you have.  Love is something that grows when you sacrifice your time and effort into helping it grow.  This is true of everyone, regardless of orientation.

6.  You don't have to feel love to give it.

Sometimes you have to show love for your spouse when you don't feel like doing so.  This is some of the sacrifice that all married couples make.  For a gay-oriented spouse, it's no different.  It doesn't mean that your marriage is worse because of different orientations, but that your marriage is normal.

7.  Sex is a sacred act of giving and receiving.

It's not just a fun fling, but a sacred part of the marriage relationship.  In particular, the author says that healthy sex is not "something you use to gain approval, validation or security."  This advice is especially true in a mixed orientation marriage, where the temptation to misconstrue sexuality is ever present.

8.  Marriage is a crucible designed to help you grow.

Again, we have to avoid the temptation to say "except if you are gay, in which marriage problems are all due to orientation mismatch."  This dual standard is not healthy.  Marriage is the beginning of a great challenge, like climbing a mountain, that offers great rewards for those who put in the right kind of effort.  And this is no different for those of a gay orientation.

9.  Your first blueprint for intimate partnership informs how you approach your marriage.

Basically we learn from our parents.  This is sometimes harder in a mixed orientation marriage because we didn't see our parents struggle with our own problems.  But we can learn from seeing their success and failures.  Examples of courtesy and love can be followed, and unfortunate cases of abuse and dysfunction can be recognized and carefully avoided.

10.  Life with young children is stressful.

Adding another member to the family will complicate relationships.  You have to somewhat prepare yourself for this upon expecting children, regardless of orientation.  Be ready for strains on your relationship.

Overall, any marriage relationship is both a challenge and a blessing.  But it takes work.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don't take it personally.

Early on in General Conference, there was a decided focus on the importance of marriage and family.  Many in the gay Mormon community felt attacked.  But I don't think the messages were intended to be anti-gay.  Rather, I think there is good evidence that these values are eroding away before our eyes.  Consider, for example, this article from CNN which demonstrates the changing view of marriage in the developed world.  If we successfully de-family the population, will we be better off? The leaders of the Church don't believe so, are worried about what is happening.  That's the reason for the focus on marriage and family in general conference.  I think it's important to look at the big picture and not allow ourselves to take what is said personally.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Traditional Family Values

As I watched general conference, I would occasionally check on the reactions from the gay community.  Almost universally, people were upset about the focus in the early sessions on strengthening the traditional family.  In addition, many were upset that there wasn't a talk somewhere that specifically spoke to them, that addressed homosexuality.

But I'd like to look at what the focus on traditional family values actually does.  I would say that any family member that withholds love and acceptance from a child, brother, or sister for any reason is not following the council of the leaders of the church.  The conference talks make it clear that we are to always extend love to our family members.  Those who reject their children due to sexual orientation harm their families, and this often leads to youth homelessness and suicide.  The church can take a stand by promoting family values and love in the home.  So I welcome messages designed to strengthen the family.

I wish all gay oriented members of the church had grown up in a family that, like mine, communicated unconditional love.  I never doubted that my family would love me regardless of my situation.  I still haven't admitted my orientation to my family, but their love for me was never in question.  I never felt as if rejection were a danger.  Disagreement, lack of understanding, these kinds of issues would certainly had come up if I had ever come out of the closet.  They are definitely there for other issues.  But they would never withhold love and acceptance.

That's the nature of a strong traditional family, and it is (or at least should be) the backbone of the church structure.  Other family situations (single parent families, for example) can certainly have love and acceptance, but they can be supported in the church by being surrounded by strong traditional families.  So those traditional families need to be talked about, need to be nurtured, need desperately to be encouraged during general conference.

So please don't be offended when the leaders of the church talk about supporting the traditional family.  They are trying to make things better for everybody.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Love Those You Serve

I recall in the MTC, the president pointed out that there were surely those among us who were there because their girlfriend would only marry a returned missionary.  He pointed out that this was okay, as long as it led to missionary service, because by serving as a missionary, they would develop love for the people they served.  As missionaries sacrifice for others, they learn to love and value them.

Throughout my life I've found that to be true.  When we sacrifice for others, we develop strong love for them.  Parents sacrifice so much for their children, it's not surprising that parental love is often so very strong.  When I have opportunities to serve members of the ward, I really feel stronger love for them.

I think the same is true for spousal love.  True love is built on sacrificing for one another.  For many people, the initial reason to sacrifice is born of their infatuation for each other.  In cultures past, arranged marriages didn't necessarily have that infatuation, but couples would sacrifice for each other for cultural reasons, and in so doing would develop strong bonds of love for each other.

I think one of the reasons marriages often fail is that one or both of the spouses fail to truly sacrifice for the other.  When the infatuation wears thin, as it sometimes will, have they sacrificed and built the bonds of love that will carry them through?  If one partner expects to be repaid, so to speak, for what they've sacrificed, then it wasn't really a sacrifice, it was a bargain.  But two people willing to sacrifice for each other truly have the capability to develop a lasting and almost magical marriage.