I feel the need to rant a little tonight. The inspiration behind the coming rant is a recent article posted to LDS Living, a magazine I once interned for and to which I subscribe. I like LDS Living, but I just don't know about this one.
The article is called "5 Ways to Find Your Eternal Companion According to the Family Proclamation." It's adapted from a book that has the same idea: study the Proclamation hard enough and live its principles, and you too can be righteous enough to get married, like the author.
Truth be told, I knew I shouldn't click on the Facebook link to this article, but I did because I do self-destructive things when I think my mind can take them. I am almost always wrong about that.
To be fair, LDS Living probably had to post this article because they're owned by Deseret Book, which sells the book that inspired the article, so it's advertising. I work in online marketing; I know how it works.
But here's what bothers me about the article. Starting with the first "way," I hear that voice I hear all too often from well-intentioned but ill-advised married Church members. They look at a single Saint's status and start pointing the finger of blame--at the single person.
The first principle reads as condescending, insulting, and discouraging. To simplify what the author states, I'll summarize it the way it reads in my head: "Hey, have you considered faith? I know it's the first principle of the gospel, but maybe you've never heard of it before. President Monson says you shouldn't be postponing marriage, so what are you waiting for? You're already at least in your mid 20s. Remember, you can't be exalted unless you have a spouse (as I do)."
Yes, I know that's not what the author is actually saying. But does he think I've somehow missed out on faith, the plan of salvation, words of living prophets, and the central importance of marriage as fundamental doctrines of the gospel? Believe me, you can't be attending YSA wards as long as I have without hearing about those principles. True, you don't have to adopt them just because you attend church, but you'd have to spend the entire three-hour block checking your fantasy football scores every week to not be aware of them.
And that brings me to a root problem of articles like this. They misunderstand the target audience. The people who will click on a "How to Find Your Eternal Companion in 5 Easy Steps" article are not the people who need to be reminded to have faith. Trust me--if we're still going to Church and holding out for eternal marriage, faith is a big part of who we are and who we strive to become.
People who most need to take the quoted counsel from President Monson to heart are not those who come to this article seeking comfort and guidance, so stop lumping all singles together and assuming we're ALL postponing marriage or forgetting how important it is. We wouldn't spend so many hours wondering about crushes or worrying about dates or crying over our delayed but promised righteous desires if we didn't have faith in the eternal, infinite, and personal plan of salvation.
That brings me to the other problem with this article, the reason I knew I shouldn't click on it. It's a listicle, a gross term for the numbered articles that have overtaken the Internet in the Buzzfeed era. I know because I write them every day in my job as a small business blogger. All listicles are filled with tips and tricks, shortcuts to achieving a desired goal.
Don't get me wrong; many listicles contain useful information. But, I don't think a listicle is an appropriate venue to offer dating advice to LDS single adults. That's because by clicking on a listicle, a reader feels like he or she will receive the piece of insider information necessary to achieve a certain end. Instead, readers in the faith-filled but still single category finish reading the article and find themselves thinking, "What am I doing wrong? What magical piece of the formula am I missing?"
Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way with eternal marriage. I wish it did--I'm good at following lists. But the more we encourage this checklist-goal mentality of marriage, the more disappointment potential we create in conscientious, faith-filled singles.
Recently, at a friend's wedding luncheon, I felt keenly the untruth of the notion that we can achieve eternal marriage by completing tasks on a list. Her husband's father stood up and said how proud he was of his son, who had always been able to set goals and achieve them. The father was using the hours-old marriage as an example of an achieved goal.
As I heard this stranger say those words, I sat there and let myself feel hurt. I'd set the goal for marriage, I'd worked to achieve it, but it had eluded me. I felt the Spirit try to comfort me and say that my mind was mistaking a proud father's words for doctrine, but my heart had a hard time accepting that comfort. Because I'd heard that before from well-meaning Institute teachers and local priesthood leaders.
The Spirit finally got through to me after several months of further mental anguish by reminding me of a scene from my own life with my own father. I don't live at home anymore, but I live close enough to my parents that I can visit several times a year. My entire immediate family lives in the same city, except for me.
When I go home, I love being around my family, but I have to admit that I struggle with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy when I'm there. I'm the oldest, but my younger sister is married. I love her; I love her husband. But seeing what they have leads me to focus on what I lack, my own eternal companion. Consequently, I often end up crying during my prayers on the last nights I have at home. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night, convinced that marriage will always elude me and that my loneliness will never cease.
As you can imagine, those thoughts are crushing. But on several occasions, my dad has been in the next room and heard my cries. And he comes in, gently places his hand on my shoulder, and speaks words of comfort. My dad can give long talks about spiritual matters, but I find his spiritual knowledge most meaningful in those conversations, which tend to last no more than three minutes.
What am I driving at here? I think many LDS single adults find more happiness when they come to understand that eternal marriage is not 100% dependent on exerting the correct amount of righteousness and faith--and when they stop clicking on articles that suggest otherwise (hint to future self). The way to receive that knowledge is through the Spirit, not through a listicle.
I have to acknowledge that the author finishes by saying the article doesn't actually offer a new idea or formula for finding an eternal companion. But I think that's part of why this article makes me feel empty. The title sets up one expectation, the content serves an entirely different purpose, and I am left confused and disappointed.
Ultimately, I think we need to accept as a body of Saints--myself included--that practicing principles in numbered lists won't automatically lead to marriage or other spiritual ends. "The gospel is not a checklist."
How can we fix this? Take President Uchtdorf's counsel and "Stop it." Stop writing articles that promise singles the secret to getting married. There is no secret, and Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew would be the first one to tell you that.