Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekly Confession #2

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned. I married my wife for all the wrong reasons. Well, no, that's an overstatement. Several of the reasons for which I married my wife were not good ones. Rather than tell the whole story again, I'll copy and paste the narrative as I frame it in "Getting Out":

So I came home from my mission less sure that marriage and family were in my future. I’m not sure what kind of life I envisioned for myself—a lonely celibacy, I suppose—but for a month or two I’d resigned myself to it.

Here’s where Epiphany #1 comes in. This must’ve been in January, because I’m pretty sure it was before Jessie came home from her mission. I’d attended one of those BYU firesides where they tell you to get married. I pretty much tuned out the entire thing because it didn’t apply to me, but then I got home, sat on my bed, and had a distinct impression that yes, it did apply to me. Yes, I was gay, but that didn’t mean I was excluded from Heavenly Father’s desire for his children to marry and have families.

I thought of a sister missionary that had been in my district for nearly eight months and was coming home soon. I really admired her intelligence and her love of reading, and her complete disregard of whether people thought she was cool or not. She seemed like the type of person I’d like to marry. So I planned it all out. I’d email her when she got home, and we’d build our friendship while she was in Maryland. Then she’d come out to BYU and we’d start dating and then we’d get engaged and then we’d get married.

I think more than anything I liked this plan because it seemed like a Normal Mormon Guy type of thing to do (or at least a Normal BYU Student type of thing—it’s hard to distinguish after being in Utah Valley for so long).

What we have here, basically, is premeditated falling in love and courtship. This is at best creepy and at worst misogynistic. I think the truth lies somewhere between those two poles, personally, but since I'm the one confessing my sins and you're the one absolving them, I'll let you be the judge of that. I have acknowledged this creepiness before. In the paragraph immediately following the above, in fact:

To my surprise, the following months happened exactly as I’d planned. This is quite disturbing, now that I think about it. It must have disturbed me then, too, because on the morning of the day that we were to mail out the wedding invitations, I was still worried that I was marrying Jessie for the wrong reasons. I didn’t want to marry her just to prove to myself and others that I was normal, or to avoid hurting her feelings, or because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to marry her because I loved her and I wanted to be with her. Which I was pretty sure I did.

Now, I come from a literary school of thought that values subtlety, so when I'm acknowledging a bad quality in myself I generally don't come out and say "and this is a very bad quality, of which I am deeply ashamed and hope to rid myself completely" because I assume my readers are intelligent enough to figure it out. I assume that if I say, for example, "I am a narcissist," that everyone knows I don't mean it as a compliment. It's come to my attention, though, that the subtlety in the above paragraphs has been lost on at least one person, so I'd like to be clear about what I'm confessing to here. Among the possible motivations I had for marrying FoxyJ were:
  1. God told me to.
  2. In abstract, "she seemed like the type of person I'd like to marry."
  3. That was the way I'd planned it.
  4. It "seemed like a Normal Mormon Guy type of thing to do."
  5. To "prove to myself and others that I was normal."
  6. To "avoid hurting her feelings."
  7. Because "it was the right thing to do."
Let me be absolutely 100% completely and for totally sure clear: These are all Very Bad Reasons to marry someone. KIDDIES, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Yes, even if God told you to marry someone but you're not sure you want to, please take Emily Pearson's advice about "the danger of taking 'every spiritual experience ... at face value" in situations such as these" (as cited in Holly Welker's "Clean Shaven"). If the narrative of "Getting Out," framed as it is in the discourse of personal revelation, seems to excuse the Very Badness of the reasons listed above and makes them seem Not So Very Bad, then I have compounded my sins by representing them as That Which Is Good and True. Which they are not.

I said before that to say that all my reasons for marrying FoxyJ were bad ones is an overstatement, and I feel the need to clarify what I mean, even if doing so detracts from the purpose of confessing my sins. So here are the good reasons I had for marrying FoxyJ, some of which are present in "Getting Out" and some of which are not:
  1. "I really admired her intelligence and her love of reading, and her complete disregard of whether people thought she was cool or not."
  2. I was "pretty sure" that "I loved her and I wanted to be with her."
  3. She had said that she loved me and wanted to marry me.
  4. I felt happy when I was with her and could see that being with me made her feel happy.
  5. She and I shared many values such as our faith, education, family, liberal politics, and social justice.
  6. She wanted to marry a traditional Mormon patriarch no more than I wanted to be one. (That is to say, not at all.)
  7. Despite the strong feelings I had and knew I would always have for men, I had been surprised over the course of our relationship by how excited I was to be with her--the tingly sensation at first holding her hand, the butterflies before our first awkward kiss, the unignorable arousal we both felt once we finally figured that kissing thing out.
  8. She was not afraid to talk frankly about sex, to acknowledge that she was nervous and excited about having sex, and to discuss (or joke about, as the case may be) the logistics of our future sexual relationship. (One of the funnier discussions we had was about whether it's okay to have sex on the Sabbath. Or when you're fasting.)
  9. One of my happiest memories is driving home from a date with her and putting a mixtape she had made into my sister's car stereo. The first song was Lauryn Hill's cover of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." I felt giddy all over and almost cried at the realization that this very mature college student, this incredible person with whom I'd had so many intellectually stimulating conversations, would do something so teenage-romantic as making me a mixtape to say she was in love with me. And she'd used a Lauryn Hill song!
  10. Marrying her meant I wouldn't have to buy my own copy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
So there. I've confessed the Very Badness of some of my reasons for marrying FoxyJ, as well as the complexity introduced into the issue by the good reasons I also had. So what penance can I do to make up for these sins? How do I right this wrong?

I decided earlier this year that the bad reasons outweighed the good--it's easy when one wants to focus on the bad to ignore the good, or vice versa--and that the best way to make this right for me, for FoxyJ, and for our children was to divorce and start over. I would have a man who loved me, Foxy would have a man who loved her (the way that only a straight man could), and our children would have not only two parents who loved them but the added bonus of two stepfathers who would love them just as much. The problem with this plan was not that divorce is inherently bad or even that divorce is an inherently bad option for us. I believe that for the three months we were separated we did an exceptionally good job of co-parenting and relating to each other respectfully as formerly married friends--this is much more to Foxy's credit than to mine, as it is easy to be nice to the person you have wronged but not so easy to be nice to the person who has wronged you. The problem with this attempt at penance, see, is that just like in the case of my original sins I was doing something Very Very Bad: I was deciding for myself what was best for us. Divorce was never Foxy's idea; it was all me.

After realizing this grave error, acknowledging the complexity of my reasons for marrying her and the fact that I did indeed still enjoy spending my life with her, I regrouped with Foxy in order to come up with a plan together. We talked more honestly than we had ever before about the problems in our relationship. We discussed frankly what each of us would need to sacrifice in order to make this marriage work, and whether the benefits of the marriage would make it worth it for each of us. We considered together all the less-than-noble motivations that might underlie our mutual desire to reunite--chief among these questionable motivations was the financial stability our continued marriage would provide for the duration of my master's program and her doctorate. Ultimately we decided together that we had enough genuinely good reasons to stay together and enough faith in our ability to work through the difficulties that it was worth another shot. I am happy with that decision, and happy most of all that we made it together.

As penance for my past sins, then, I propose the following:
  1. I will continue to take intuition (what I once would have called God speaking to me) into account when making choices, but I will not do so at the expense of other factors and certainly not at the expense of other people.
  2. I will do my best to love FoxyJ not as an abstract idea of the type of person I'd like to marry, but as a real human being.
  3. I will not adhere strictly to plans I have made when those plans involve the lives of other people; rather, I will include those people in the making and evaluating of such plans.
  4. I will not do anything because it's the Normal Mormon Guy thing to do. At this point in my life, I think that goes without saying. In addition, I will not do anything simply because it's not the Normal Mormon Guy thing to do, or because it's the Normal Agnostic thing to do, or any such stupid reason.
  5. I'm going to stop trying to prove to myself and others that I'm normal, or that I'm anything. This one's a bit harder, because I tend to put a lot of energy into proving all sorts of things about myself, and really I just need to get over it. I'll do my best.
  6. I will avoid hurting Foxy's feelings, but not by thinking only of what I think she needs, but by listening to what her feelings really are and working with her to honestly address those feelings.
  7. I will not do things because they are the right thing to do. Rather, I will do things because I and others affected agree that those are the best things for everyone's best interest. This is a subtle difference, I know, but the important thing here is thinking through the consequences of choices I make and not objectifying others in that process.
I am sorry for these and for many other sins of my past and present life. I hope that through my penance and FoxyJ's continued Foxy-ness we can make the next six years of our marriage even better than the first six years have been.


J G-W said...

Well, since you confess being a narcissist, it will please you that on Saturday, you were the main topic of a conversation my partner and I had with a gay, non-Mormon friend of ours as we went for a nice walk at the Minnesota Arboretum.

I mentioned the fact that I had publicly defended your marriage on my blog, which led to this very interesting conversation whose topic was the EXACT topic of this post, namely, good and bad reasons for gay men to marry straight women.

I told my friend Jonathan that among the very good reasons were that you LOVED FoxyJ. That was enough to convince my friend of the potential goodness of the arrangement, despite the potential presence of very bad reasons (such as, This is what you're supposed to do).

But my take on this is a bit messier than what is implied by that kind of calculus. If we always insisted on a certain kind of purity of motives, there are many, many good things that would never get done. Often we do good things for bad reasons, and probably just as often, good results come from bad decisions. That's life. So what if you had some bad reasons for marrying FoxyJ?

One thing I will say is that though I dated quite a bit at BYU, I NEVER had any cool, tingly, wow-this-person-makes-me-feel-wiggly moments with any woman I dated. I'm quite certain that I could have found many good reasons to marry a woman that would have ended in disaster had I followed up on them. That's just a gut-level, marrow-in-my bones type feeling that I've always had. For me, marriage with a woman looked like best case scenario would have been the worst train wreck in history. So I hope there will always be room and respect for each individual to figure out what makes them tingly, and let them act accordingly. Only each of us can figure that out.

I made that decision back in the day, by the way, when Church leaders were still saying, JUST GET MARRIED. It will fix you, we promise.

The one final thing I would say has to do with something I read somewhere, where a gay guy in an MOM (mixed orientation marriage) was saying something to the effect that he could be quite happy in a same-sex relationship, but that he felt it was necessary to make a sacrifice in order to be worthy of exaltation. I don't care what your religious perspective, that's got to feel like a punch in the gut to be the wife who discovers that you're not someone's first choice, but a "sacrifice" that must be made for the glories of Heaven. In the top ten list of bad reasons, that has to be in there somewhere.

But, I don't know. Thank God that good can still be made out of bad decisions.

Mr. Fob said...

Thank you, John, not just for stroking my ego, but for sharing your perspective and insights. I don't like the vibe I get from some people that the choice that requires more sacrifice is inherently the more righteous one. I think sacrifice is necessary in just about every relationship, but not necessarily righteous, especially if it's sacrifice for sacrifice's sake. And I too hope that no person feels like she is the sacrifice made by her spouse.

TK said...

Being one of your fans, I probably don't have to tell you that I enjoyed this post. To me, it says 'growth'(or choose the word, 'maturity'). I think that IDEALLY we should all be able to make similar types of observations about ourselves. As we mature, we SHOULD all be able to see things more clearly (though we often don't, of course).

But I like to think that following our 'gut' or 'inspiration', even if we read it in a less mature or more selfish, way, has the purpose of 'carrying' us until we mature (or grow) enough to see and understand the more mature and selfless reasons for doing things. As John says, sometimes God can make good out of bad decisions. Or, as the Bible says, 'all things work together for good to those who love the Lord'. He saves us from our own ignorance, if we listen to him. I.e.: you may find fault, now, in your reasoning, but at least the choice led to an end result was that was good! :)

Scot said...

I’ll forgive you. For penitence you must additionally abstain from reading anything from the angry feminist for at least three months, and say 10 Hail Scotties.

I can’t say more than to echo J and tk. Even if you did wrong, so what now? What, really, do your detractors want from you? I know there are many folks out there who are absolutely certain I’ve made some grave errors in creating my family. Nevertheless, here we are.

Mr. Fob said...

Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel. You know, I was telling FoxyJ last night that I came up with this Weekly Confession idea as sort of a joke, mainly because I liked the sound of "Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned," but it's turned out I really like the confession format. There's something very liberating about acknowledging one's sins publicly, then moving on.

I accept your suggested penance, Scot. Should I say the Hail Scotties verbally, or online? And do I need to worry about being beamed up if I do so?

Kristeee said...

What a great tribute to you both that you're together and choose daily to stay together.

I'm glad that, although God can nudge us in certain directions, He doesn't force us in anything. I chose to marry my husband without having a solid answer (as I explained it to him, "I didn't get a 'no'"), which was disappointing to me at the time. But now I think that, at some later point, I'm going to really value the fact that it was MY choice; I could've walked away, but I chose to go for it. And a great choice that was!

Chris said...

This explains so much.

I've had time to reflect on my own Very Good, Bad, and Very Bad reasons for marrying and divorcing, and I can relate to a lot of what you have written here.

As always, I wish you and FoxyJ and your family nothing but the best and happiest of times.

Rebecca said...

Dude, laying it all out on the line. Awesome.