Guest Post: Marrying Young?

By Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro is navigating a midlife crisis. She obsessed about light and is overwhelmed by shadow.

About two years ago parents and youth in our stake were invited to a fireside with our beloved Stake President. Our daughter had just turned 13, and we left the younger kids with our 11 year old and we both attended with her. The main thing I got out of the meeting was that we should stress the importance of marriage to our youth – missionaries should be getting married after their missions. Even though they are now coming home at 20 or 21, our church leaders feel that no time should be wasted in finding an eternal companion and settling down.

I was really kind of appalled. He asserted that it is better for our young people to marry and start their family life together right away. Apparently there are returned missionaries that move back home with their parents and play video games all the time – and this is why we are getting this counsel. I guess married life may be beneficial for many young men, but I argue that it is not beneficial for young women. Why? Because when they are married, the church machine expects them to prioritize their husband’s education and career above her own. Not only that, but his interests and well-being, as well as those of any future children, are expected to take center stage for the next several decades of her life. He may have an easier time finishing school and working when he has someone keeping house and feeding him, but what about her?

NO! I rebelled in my mind. I do not want my daughter to marry too young. Why? Because I was married too young – and it made me miserable for years! I became engaged the week I turned 20. I was married 3 months later. I went through the temple the night before my wedding, and the first sealing I attended was my own. I gave myself to my husband, before I learned that he would not be giving himself to me in return. I covenanted to submit before I knew that was what would be required in the temple. I entered into marriage with the first worthy priesthood holder I could get the attention of. After all, most of my conditioning in my early years of church had directed me toward that goal. I was to get a man who could take me to the temple and then make babies. This was supposed to be the best thing I could do with my life and make me supremely happy – and I embraced it with my entire being.

Early marriage was more that challenging. Because my husband hadn’t lived at home since before his mission and really wanted one last summer with his family,he convinced me to marry right after winter semester and live the summer with his parents. No one counseled me against it. Within the first week of married life, I found my husband would run off with his siblings without consulting or informing me . When I told him that made me feel like he didn’t care if I was there or not, he said “I don’t”. This was among the most hurtful comments he made. I felt trapped. I couldn’t let my temple marriage fail, so I tried harder. I knew no one in the entire state and had a hard time getting a worthwhile summer job. We both ended up working and saved up some money, but then our lemon of a car died on our way back across the country to Provo and we spent pretty much all we had saved on the repairs.

We had no money, in fact my husband was saddled with a large student debt. Back at BYU in the fall, we began to tackle that. He would take out no more student loans. I made sure we both worked to pay off his previous loans as well as continuing to pay for school (he had never worked while going to school before). But that meant rarely seeing each other. I worked mornings, attended school and was home by 6. He attended school and worked evenings, often until midnight.I managed to finish school, and was morning sick with my first child at graduation.

For the next 15 years I have been home having many babies and caring for the household. My husband had another 7 years of school after me, and still he doesn’t make much money. We buy our kids’ clothes second hand and eat a lot of rice and beans. It is not impossible to be happy when you are poor, but the church emphasizes prosperity for the righteous.

For years I blamed myself for my unhappiness. I bought into the myth I was raised on – that obeying everything taught by the brethren would make me happy. I struggled with depression, but felt it was due to my unworthiness. I tried to comply with every commandment and counsel, then tried harder and harder. Meanwhile I was saddled with guilt, growing depression, and anxiety that poisoned my marriage and my life. I took to heart every statement about selfishness and figuratively whipped myself about my pride. I continually felt my unhappiness was because I wasn’t righteous and unselfish enough.

It is only in the last 2 years I have decided that in spite of doing a decent job of compliance, and still being miserable that I had been sold a fairy tale. The script I was conditioned to follow was not a magic recipe for happiness. Only now have I given myself permission to not listen to every piece of advice I hear over the pulpit and punish myself for wanting something else. Trying to obey perfectly nearly killed me. I let it erase me and silenced my own desires – always trying to please God in the way I was told. Now I am committed to letting myself be a person again. I am finally getting medical attention for the depression I’ve carried for my entire adult life. Now I will give myself a voice in my life and not tell my children to blindly obey authority, as I was taught.

I am so tired of the glorification of early marriage and martyr motherhood. There is nothing innately galvanizing in beginning life together in poverty or suffering through each other’s immaturity. Marriage is hard enough. I hope my own daughter will not marry until she feels ready. Not have children until she wants to. Not listen to the brethren unless she happens to agree. I will encourage her to seek answers to her own questions to plan her own life.

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77 Responses

  1. A Happy Hubby says:

    I love your closing paragraph. I have read much of the studies and marrying early is a huge risk for divorce. I have encouraged my kids NOT to quickly marry, but kids will be kids. So far half have married younger than I would have suggested. But they are not following the script as much and they are much more equals than I see in my generation. Even in my own marriage, I would agree to the feeling of, “I was sold something that I have to honestly say has not been much of what I was told it was going to be.”

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      Let us hope that trend continues! I really think people are happier when they write their own script and feel equal in their marriages. If young people are taught to think critically and plan and make decisions on their own rather than follow a prescribed pattern, they will likely be able to make adjustments as needed as they go along. the myth of happiness and prosperity for following a righteous pattern needs to be shut down.

  2. KC says:

    Boy does this hit home. How I wish that the message I received as a teen/young woman had been different. I wish I had known to look for what I wanted in a man, not what I believed the church told me to want (returned missionary, as if that guaranteed something). I married young, had children young…always believing that because we did things the “right” way we would be blessed for that. Divorce is not what I was expecting, but my “righteous” RM husband had other ideas (including affairs).

    Maybe things would have turned out exactly the same, but if the message from church had included education, being prepared to take care of myself, knowing what to look for in an eternal companion beyond the RM fairy tale, and being automatically blessed for doing the right thing, then perhaps I could have made better choices for myself as a person. I’ll never know that, but I hope that our young women are hearing a better message now.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      Yes! as if a mission were a fail-proof for scoring a righteous husband! I would like to see the church support education for girls to expand their interests, horizons, and improve their marketability. I always heard “education is good, but career is only ‘in case something happens to your husband’, not a worthy goal in itself. I would like to see the church ‘teach correct principles and let the people govern themselves’; teach that families should love and care for each other and be responsible for caring for temporal needs as well as nurturing emotionally, etc. – and let families decide what that looks like in their own home, rather than being commanded in all things.

  3. EFH says:

    So sorry for you to have gone through such a burden. I agree with you that early marriage is often more detrimental to the individual than beneficial. I hope you can put yourself into a position where you and others can start investing in you.

    It is important to get to know yourself by giving yourself opportunities and time to explore the world and yourself. This process also allows for every person to identify what kind of people and experience make him/her happy and healthy.

    The church encourages people to marry early because it is convenient for the institution. Men become family men and fathers and women work hard to raise families in the church. But religious life is not the only life a person should live. It should be only part of someones’s life, only one aspect. Happiness is a balance among all the aspects of one’s life, a balance among all the desires and needs. As we allow religion and spirituality to guide us in other aspects of our lives, the vice versa should happen too. The knowledge we accumulate from life can also enrich our spiritual and religious life.

    So timing in marriage is important but it is not all. It is about living life conscientiously and passionately before and after marriage.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      I kind of feel like the church is trying to keep me from having time to explore the world and myself by keeping me busy. Busy with childrearing, callings, supporting husband and children in work/school/callings/yw/scouts/seminary. it is so difficult to carve out time and quiet space for the kind of exploration I want.

  4. Lily says:

    When I was in seminary in 1983 they were giving the ole’ “have as many kids as you possible can speech” and the thought popped into my head: “you will have to live with the consequences of any decision you make – so they are yours to make.” To this day I believe that was personal inspiration and it has saved me a lot of heart ache.

  5. I love how you point out that this is counsel from males that really reflects the male point of view. Your priesthood leaders are worried about male returned missionaries. They think that marriage help young males to be more productive members of society. But what will it do to a young woman if she becomes married and pregnant while she is still so young? Especially if, as many do, she drops out of college and supports her husband through school instead of applying herself to preparing for her own future. We really need to change this pattern of males counseling women to behave in ways that benefit males, to their own detriment.

  6. Need to be Anon says:

    I worked at a lousy job for nine years while waiting for my husband to get a job that would enable me to be a SAHM. When it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen, I went back to school myself( I had a BA) and got a teaching credential. I made twice what he did. I got us health insurance. I got us a good retirement. I supported the ton of church service he loved doing. He is a kind, hard-working person, but we needed my skills to make things work. I gave up nine years of my life waiting for the “ideal” to be real. Every woman needs an education and permission to make life work on her own terms.

    • Libby says:

      YES. And we need to feel worthy enough as individual beings to believe we have the right to make life on our own terms. Much of church rhetoric says that women don’t have that right.

      • Need to be Anon says:

        Thanks! I really appreciate the college education that my parents paid for (bless them!). It gave me the options I needed.

  7. Kathy says:

    This is so heartbreakingly honest: “Trying to obey perfectly nearly killed me. I let it erase me… Now I am committed to letting myself be a person again.” Thank you for sharing.

  8. Amy says:

    I wish I could express how much this hit home. I didn’t marry until the ripe old age of 23 and my marriage was largely born of a a desire to Do The Right Thing. I often wish I had enjoyed myself more in university rather than feeling like I was constantly selling myself to find the perfect Peter Priesthood for making babies.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I had never thought of it in this way before (young marriage being good for men and good for the Church but not necessarily good for women) but it rings pretty true for me. I’m encouraged when I see women and couples who prioritize her education and career, but I think they definitely have to buck against lots of cultural messages (within the Church and outside of it) to do it.

  10. Jenny says:

    Amen! Thank you for being authentic and brave in sharing this story with us. It is a story that resonates so much with so many mormon women. So much of what you described is also my story of becoming a young wife. I love that we can share our stories and know that we are not alone. Or strength in bonding together will make a difference for future young women in the church. Thank you for sharing your voice.

  11. kebbie says:

    Yes! I remember as a 13-year-old in YW (not even old enough to go to stake dances) making a wedding time capsule. I had picked out my wedding dress, temple, and husband (in theory) by junior high. But you know…no career nights or things like that. It’s fortunate that I got the healthy balance of “college, goals, job” at home.

    I married young at BYU – I was 20 and my husband was 23. We’re very happy after five years so far, despite the stresses that come in when you’re both in school, both young and learning, neither one with a full-time job, and your spouse has expensive health problems. That said, just because it worked out for me does NOT mean that I would recommend it for others. I can easily see how young marriage (or really marriage, period) would be awful if you weren’t both prepared and committed and mature and with a strong support system – or if you end up unexpectedly married to a scuzzy dude.

    ALSO, I think a lot of our happiness and relative stability now is the fact that we waited (and are still waiting) to have children. I think it’s been hit on well in the post and other comments here, but a huge factor in the issue of young marriages isn’t the marriage itself but the pressure to have kids more or less immediately. That’s often what ends a woman’s education and/or career. That’s what starts her down the path of (frequently) unhealthy self-abnegation and creates more support for the benevolent sexism in the Church.

    We resisted that urge and I think we’re both better for it. I graduated school and have a stable career in my field which I love and which has enabled my frequently ill spouse to be able to get through school with fewer stresses. I’m carrying the burden of breadwinner for now and getting to be my own person and achieve those goals I’ve had since I was a girl and it’s been great.

    THAT’S the advice I’m gonna give my daughter. Don’t feel pressure to marry young, but if you still choose to do it, WAIT on those babies!! We preach preparation for everything in the Church except starting a family. We demean the worth of any other pursuit besides that of our own four walls (well, except for men). But these are other human beings we’re bringing into the world, not just collectible righteousness stamps.

    Self-imposed poverty is not a virtue and self-care and personal goals are not sins.

    • Libby says:

      I want to put your last sentence on my bathroom mirror. Well said!

    • Sarah W says:

      I am so glad you discovered your last sentence young. It took me until my late 30s to get the message. I am older than my husband by 4 years, but we have always been equal breadwinners, in school and out of it. He is waiting to hear if he got a job that will finally make him the main breadwinner. We have been married 21 years. I am lucky that my parents provided me with the skills to make my living working from home and that my mother insisted I get my education and use it. It has saved me. I love this post and comment threads so much!

    • Lonicera says:

      I want to put your next-to-last sentence on my bathroom mirror.

  12. Emily U says:

    “We preach preparation for everything in the Church except starting a family.” and “Self-imposed poverty is not a virtue and self-care and personal goals are not sins.” Amen! Well put.

  13. Andrew R. says:

    I can’t help but wonder, as I read the posts here, how much of this is Church, and how much is Church Culture.

    Yes the brethren want RMs to marry quickly – for some obvious reasons. It doesn’t always mean married and 20 though. 18 is the earliest you can go, and for about 50% that is over 18½ since school has to finish also. And not all go then either. My son went in April this year, and turned 21 in July. He will be nearly 23 when he returns and if he got engaged within six months of his mission would likely be 24 by the time he married.

    But the scenarios so often posted here are not true in the UK. None of my daughters has been encouraged to find a husband quickly. My eldest is single and 30 on Sunday. Both of my married daughters did so at 21 and 20. The first had her first child 2 years later. the second just over a year later. The other daughter of marriage age is 26 and unmarried.

    My younger two are 16 (today) and 13.

    My wife and I married 31 years ago yesterday. I was 26 days from being 20 and my wife was 20. I did not serve a mission ( sorry to burst the bubble of TBM some of you have of me ) I chose to marry instead. My wife had always wanted to be married and have children. She had no desire to study. This was not because she couldn’t, or due to Church pressure – she joined aged 10 and already had motherly desires.

    I am sure that there is a much more culture driven expectation in the higher density LDS populations. In another blog post today the “ideal mormon family” was referred to as “Two RM’s, BYU graduates, etc.”. That is most certainly not the case here in the UK.

    So whilst I do appreciate this post for the experience of the writer – and many she knows – it is not the experience of most LDS outside of the US, and probably the West of the US.

    Indeed I have always heard the Church teaching our YW to get as much education as possible. The elder of my married daughters, with three children, was told in her Patriarchal Blessing to obtain nursing skills – not for employment specifically, but for her family and service.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      If they were raised on the same curriculum as I was in YW, they were instructed that marrying in the temple was their top priority. They probably have had fewer opportunities to meet eligible young men than many areas in the United States, (where I live). I acknowledge that church culture and location definitely play a part, and certainly parents have some influence as well. Are you aware of all the pressures and messages your daughters have received in church – implicitly an explicitly? Particularly in regard to marriage? It seems presumptive for you to assume your daughters don’t get that message unless you have heard all the young women lessons, firesides, single adult meetings, etc. It is certainly possible they are not getting as strong a message as I refer to in the youth fireside my daughter attended, but if you pay attention in Women’s session of conference and YW, etc. I think you will find that for females, the main goal in life as taught by the church is to marry in the temple, and that they are specifically told not to wait for education, money, etc.

      • Andrew R. says:

        For 3½ years of my daughters’ time in YW I was the bishopric member for YW – I know the lessons.

        For 6 years I was on the high council – and I attend all firesides they go to.

        I speak with my children weekly about what they are learning.

        I am currently Stake Sunday School president with responsibility stake wide for Come, Follow Me.

        I have also taught Institute at stake level for a combined period of 6 years.

      • Chiaroscuro says:

        I am impressed that you are informed of everything your children learn at church. I can hardly get a word out of mine. I completely recognize that things are not the same everywhere, as I have also lived in other countries and observed different choices. In fact, my next exponent piece mention that. But I feel like you are trying to invalidate my experience with your challenge. I never claimed my experience was universal. Even if it was only me who felt this way, it was real to me and its hurtful for you to try to excuse it with “its just culture” or any other flippant remark. Your service to the church does not give you the right to say that my experience wasn’t real. I thought this was a forum for women to share their experiences with Mormonism.

      • Andrew R. says:

        In no way am I trying to invalidate your experience. In fact my point is that it shouldn’t be that way. But I just think that cultural norms are possibly more the cause of your experience that the Church/Gospel. Yes, it happened in Church, by your leaders. And I don’t think that was right. What worked for one person, generation, etc. should not be pushed onto others.

        I do believe that we should encourage our children to marry in the covenant. I don’t believe this is a magic way to ensure a perfect marriage, but I do believe it is a good start.

        But, I also think that the Church Policy on Birth Control says it all in terms of when, and how many, children we should have.

        “Birth Control

        It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

        Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.”

        Maybe I am more informed of my children’s Church education that others, I don’t know. We talk very freely about everything.

    • Jess R says:

      FWIW, I grew up in various states the East coast of the United States, and had a similar experience to Chiarocuro. I’m also 26, so my YW days are not that far behind me. The first time I knew something was wrong with the gender structure of the church was when I went to a combined YW/YM ‘college night’ activity where the YM president spoke. He told the girls that they needed to put finding a husband as the first priority, and be willing to sacrifice school if necessary to support their husband’s education/career. He then spent the next 45 minutes telling the boys how important and meaningful college is.

      I also think it’s problematic that we tell girls/women to get education as a means SOLELY to serve their families, and teach boys/men that it is a means to earn a living. While both are good and true, there is something to be said for learning for it’s own sake.

    • TT says:

      I too come from a European country. I was taught the exact same thing that can be read about here. I married at age 24, which was considered very old (all my friends were already married), and I pretty much “settled” with what was left, feeling desperate to get married and live the fairy tale dream I had been taught. I held on to that disaster of a marriage for 25 years, until I finally managed to get out. An excruciatingly painful experience, especially when you have been married in the temple.

      Now one of my daughters, who married at age 21 to a wonderful young man, and who gave up her college education to move (to another European country) to support her new husband while he finished school – she could have in many ways written the original post.

      My daughter has a wonderful husband (and she knows it), two beautiful children, but they are now on the brink of divorce. My daughter is depressed, unhappy. She doesn’t feel she loves her husband, and now questions whether she ever did. He was just a good priesthood holder who wanted her, so she too settled for the first candidate. And now as she is realizing the fairy tale she too was taught at church never came true, it’s also making her question the church as a whole.

      My heart is breaking as I see her beautiful family fall apart. But I also get why it is happening.

      So no. This is not just true in Utah! Maybe you as a man can not see it from a woman’s perspective. And just because things seem to be working out OK for the women in your life, does not mean the narrative is not being taught to the women in your area!

  14. Andrew R. says:

    “I will encourage her to seek answers to her own questions to plan her own life.”

    That is the only advice we can truly give. No one, a parent, bishop, stake president or even the Prophet, can tell another what they should do. They can advise, give examples, quote scripture, etc. But in the end it is our life, and our Plan of Salvation. Only God knows what He expects of us, and the timing of those expectations. And only He can tell us.

    (NB use of He is by convention and is not meant to rule out that some may commune with HM)

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      But they do. Unfortunately, for many young women in the church they are instead taught ‘obedience is the first law of heaven’ and ‘get as much education as you can unless you can get married – then get married and have as many babies as you can as soon as you can’. The only proviso is that it must be done in the temple. Where words of church leaders = word of God, she feels it is her responsibility to sacrifice her desires to do the work of the church as she has been taught. I wish church leaders would not ‘command in all things’.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Well, my daughter of three years marriage, with a nearly 2 year old daughter, is about to start her second year of her university degree. She is fully supported by her husband who works very hard to support their small family. They are about to buy their first house. She will hold off on future children until she is further along with her studies. Despite this apparent divergence from the “norm” their stake president seems to find no harm in having my son-in-law as a member of the stake Young Men presidency (he is an RM).

      • Chiaroscuro says:

        Andrew, I really don’t understand the relevance of your son-in-law’s calling, but thanks for being interested in the discussion.

      • Andrew R. says:

        The relevance is that despite what you and others have, and continue to, experienced I believe that opinions are changing. If his strange president was hooked into the idea of pumping out babies my SIL would not be a good example for the YM.

        In my own ward the new YMP is a stay at home Dad.

        Realities are changing, with them experiences, and those experiences will mean different advice in youth classes.

    • Cynthia M says:

      Wow, I feel so blessed in the way I was raised in Arizona. I heard some of the YW lessons that are mentioned here, but I always knew the decision was mine. I served a Mission, finished College, then got married and after 2 years had my first child. My problems were never from what I was taught, but from my husband himself. It’s been a difficult road, but we are still together and still trying to progress. In fact, by the time I was ready to settle down, all the good ones were already taken! It’s not perfect and never will be, but looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t blame my leaders for my choices. I’m sorry that others have had more pressure in their experiences.

      • ruthiechan says:

        That reminds me. When I was a beehive I had a lesson from the beehive president about praying who to marry and following that prompting is so important. She said that a friend of hers had prayed about marrying this guy and was told by the spirit, “if you marry him you will become a battered wife.” She didn’t believe it and became a battered wife. She really focused on praying about all our big decisions, any decision that we feel is big in our lives, and to always listen no matter what the spirit says. It has really helped me in my path of spiritual independence.

  15. When I was a teenager in the ‘70s, my parents shelves were loaded with advice-to-teens books that came out in the ‘50s or ‘60s. These books were written by general authorities and Mutual-Improvement-leader types.

    They emphasized an optimum age for marriage, neither too young nor too old. They dedicated many chapters to what to look for in a mate, how to judge character, be sure to observe the person under stress, etc.. They warned readers that it wouldn’t be all romance after the wedding.

    They were wonderfully practical and encouraged young people to think and deliberate.

    Sure could use books like that now.

  16. Vickie Eastman says:

    The Church has given young women so much bad advice through the years. I see the effects of that bad advice in my own life and first marriage. The leaders focus only on what is good for the precious priesthood holders, never considering the ill effects on the women. Thanks for such an eloquent expression of this huge problem.

  17. meg says:

    afreakingmen

  18. Dani Addante says:

    Great article! Yes, it’s definitely bad to get married too young. Also, it’s up to the couple to decide when to have kids. No one should pressure them to have kids right away.

  19. Suzanne says:

    Andrew, each of your comments above have been to directly refute the real, lived experience of a woman in the church. I am actually happy that you or your family seem to have not had to deal with these issues. However your insistence in this (and previous) op ed comments that any of these issues are false is , in a word, insulting. You obviously will never understand and I seriously don’t know why you keep on insisting on trying to “correct” these intelligent, strong, thoughtful women. If you can’t bring yourself to believe what we are saying is real, then at least try and have some empathy for what are in fact others lived realities.

    • Andrew R. says:

      I have not said they are false. I have said that they are not consistent with my observations. And I believe that this is in part due to the fact that I have not experienced living in the Church outside the UK. As such I wondered if this difference is perhaps more cultural than actual Church leaders.

      The majority of members of the Church when I was growing up were converts. The YM and YW leaders in my time, and that of most of my children, were converts. They were not steeped in the traditions of their parents, leaders and teachers. They did not have the passed on advice of previous generations.

      I am only positing the idea that what is obviously a major problem in some areas of the Church may not be as general as is indicated. i could be wrong – but I hope I am not. I hope that the introduction of new members in to the Church brushes away the idea that there is a “One Size Fits All” solution for every young woman and young man to follow. I have consistently taught in my time a EQP, bishopric memberm, HC, Institute Teacher, etc. that our Endowment is personal. The expectations (or Calling and Election) that each of us has to follow is completely personal and can only be fully understood by us. If we are to make that Sure then we need to know what it is, and do it.

      So, the Church teaches that all worthy YM should serve a mission. That is a teaching, and I believe there would be few for whom it would not be the case.

      It also teaches that we should marry in the covenant, again for the majority this would be true. However they have been, and will continue to be, very good exceptions to this that bring about the Lord’s work.

      Having children is fundamental, it is an instruction in the sealing ordinance. But nothing there says how many, or when. And the Handbook supports this. Anyone teaching otherwise is not authorised to do so. They may detail their experiences, of course. But we are different.

      So, if I have come over as showing I do not believe the OP, I am sorry. I do, and I believe that there have been many lessons, taught by well meaning Saints, that should not have been taught as they were taught. But I further believe that that happens the closer you are to SLC. Why? Because that is MY experience. And my experience is not less valid than yours, or the OP.

      • Brb_someoneswrongontheinternet says:

        In a women’s forum about a women’s’ issue, your experience is actually far less relevant than that of the OP and the other women who’ve echoed her experience here. Even with your extensive church leadership CV, you can’t know what it’s like to be a woman in the church in the US, the U.K., or anywhere.

        I also don’t believe the gospel of Jesus Christ would teach women to get married and have children young, but the church absolutely does explicitly in manuals and in general conference. I turned off general conference once in tears because, despite various reasons for not having children young (not the least of which was infertility, I found out later) I was being reprimanded again for not having them. A general conference talk is meant to be scripture, even if it reflects culture.

        And to say, “it’s it the church, it’s church culture,” as if that makes things any better, makes no sense to me. The church *is* its culture, whether or not it should be. It may slightly differ from region to region, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging to the people who experience it.

      • TT says:

        No! You are wrong! It IS being taught to women all over the world!

        You are a man, so of course you have not heard the same lessons. If things have worked out for the women in your life, great. But that does not mean this is not a problem.

        Please, step back, listen and learn. So that when one day you run into a woman (whether it be your own daughters, or as a leader at church) you can actually have some empathy for her situation.

  20. Ziff says:

    Great post, Chiaroscuro. I’m sorry for all the difficulties you’ve experienced, but I love your conclusion. I also think you’re spot on with your point that Church programs and concerns seem to be directed toward keeping men in line, and women are important only inasmuch as they serve this end. I love your realization that following all this male-directed counsel from males isn’t necessarily a good thing.

  21. Jen says:

    Your story is very similar to mine and I completely understand where you are coming from. Thankfully both my husband (Yep, the one I married at 19) of 21 years and I have both consistently taught both our daughters that education, education, education and life experience will give them a better chance at successfully navigating life and eventually marriage if they chose. We left the LDS faith in order to be able to do this but we don’t regret it for a moment! I realized that if my oldest daughter was me she would be coming home from University this very week end and announcing that she was engaged. Unreal, instead she is loving her studies and meeting tons of new people. Whew!

  22. Ruthiechan says:

    What is missing in all of these admonitions and lessons and talks is one of the main tenets of our religion. Personal revelation. What happened to praying about who to date? About when and where to go to school? Praying about your major? Praying about whom to marry and when to marry? We need more lessons about having a personal relationship with God and getting guidance from God about the direction of our lives.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Amen

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      I completely agree. Somehow I completely missed absorbing that amidst all the lessons on following abc’s. I never learned to trust myself (or even think about what I wanted) much less trust that God had a personal interest in me and would tell me anything, i trusted that the leaders were his mouthpiece.

      • Ruthiechan says:

        We have this idea that every word out of their mouths is a directive from heaven when speaking to a group of people. This is not the case. We also forget that we have the right to get our own confirmation from the spirit about what our leaders say.

  23. Amber says:

    Wow. Just…wow. just because you’ve had a hard life does not mean is the Church’s fault. I’m not saying it’s your fault either. Some people are dealt bad hands or bad spouses. It happens. Marrying young is NOT for everyone, but it IS for some, including myself (not that I was going around LOOKING for a proposal). Married at 18, and now married almost 11 years and happy as ever.

    • Ruthiechan says:

      Thus is why personal revelation is so important. How do you know early marriage is right for you if you don’t pray about it and get your own spiritual confirmation about it one way or the other? You can’t.

      The issue isn’t early marriage, it’s the assumption that it’s for everyone and leaving out praying for the answers to our life path ourselves.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      I am saying that I think a lot of my life decisions were based on trusting leadership in the absence of personal revelation. The message I always got was – “This is the pattern to follow.” not “Seek revelation for how to construct your life.” I don’t want others to unnecessarily suffer (such as my daughters) because they never learn to trust their ability to construct a meaningful life on their own terms. I feel like even if I had made the same choices, it would have made a difference if I had come to it on my own after studying it out instead of just doing what I thought was expected of me. Does that make sense? Fortunately, I was not ‘dealt a bad hand’. My husband and I were just immature and did the best we could, but I think we could have been much better prepared if we felt like we didn’t have to follow a certain pattern. I’m glad your decision led you to feel happy, but not every woman will feel happy and fulfilled in the same exact life and I don’t feel like the church experience I grew up with taught me that.

      • Samantha says:

        I have to agree with Ruthiechan. The whole point of the restoration of the Gospel is the opening of the heavens, of thinking for oneself, acting and not being acted upon, of seeking out a receiving personal revelation. “Choice and accountability” is a YW value. I’m also very sorry for you, and for your experience, but every general conference session I’ve ever attended has spoken to the incredibly crucial practice of developing a personal relationship with God and acting upon revelation. I’ve had good YW leaders and bad ones, good family advice and bad, but the doctrine of the church, the apostles of this church teach that the individual’s most important relationship is with God, and that all the covenants we make must be made of our on free will and choice, that we are personally responsible for our choices.

        Every choice I have made, including marrying at 18 (to a 22 year old), having our first child at 19, supporting husband through his education and career(s), has been a decision jointly and prayerfully made through revelation from our Heavenly Father, not social pressure.

        Ten years in, I have no regrets.

        I don’t want to teach my children to “do what you think is best.” I want to teach them to develop a trusting and loving relatinoship with God, a desire to seek out and act upon personal revelation that they may do what God thinks is best–because I don’t want to see them blaming the church or anything/anyone else for their problems or life choices midlife. I want them to own their choices in true stewardship–to know it, to know God knows it, and to have the reality of their loving, teaching Father in Heaven to be their rock. Social pressures, whether real or conceived, are a flimsy foundation for a life.

        Revelation is not.

      • ruthiechan says:

        And the thing about personal revelation is that not everyone is going to receive the same revelation about how to govern their personal lives. I personally know someone who had several opportunities to marry and he would pray about every opportunity but it didn’t happen because the answer was always a “no.” He didn’t get married until he was in his thirties. There are stories of other people who have had similar experiences. I also personally know someone who was told by the spirit to marry someone who was not Mormon (much to their surprise) and it has been a huge blessing in their lives.

        The issue is when some families and some teachers and congregations hammer the “follow the counsel of the prophets” and only do a hat tip to personal revelation because they assume that all personal revelation will reveal that they need to do what the prophet counseled, like marry early and have lots of kids. It’s not for everyone. There are so many variables and only God knows our hearts and what will be needed for us to complete our life mission.

      • Chiaroscuro says:

        Samantha, I appreciate your comment. I understand that personal revelation is a big important thing. Here I am at nearly 40 and can’t honestly say I recognize having personal revelation. I feel like a completely broken and useless human being in the church because when I pray and study the heavens are silent. What can a person do when they don’t feel like they get answers?

      • ruthiechan says:

        Chiaroscuro, May I make a suggestion to help you reconnect with the Divine? If yes, read on. I have found that breathing meditation and loving-kindness meditation to be very helpful in opening myself up to not only self-love and self-acceptance but also to Divine-love and Divine-acceptance. I am more receptive to the Spirit and better able to act instead of react. (I meditate every day now, it used to be only once a week at best.) I want you to know that you are worthy, right now, to receive Divine direction, help, and comfort because you exist. You are worthy of being connected to the Divine, to our Heavenly Mother and Father, simply because you exist. They created you and thus your soul is a beautiful loving expression of Their Minds and They Love you. Feel free to email me.

  24. S. Barnhart32 says:

    I come from a long heritage of Mormons plus a big family of girls/women. Short answer; yes I was pressured into marriage. Five children and twenty years later we had to divorce. Trying to live the Mormon life was impossible. Impossible for everyone to be perfectly perfect all the time “earning” their way back to an invisible heaven and other world. I held about every calling in the church throughout my 40 years as a member. I was a temple worker too. If you care about truth, if you care about non-whitewashed history, if you care about living an authentic life of reality, check out mormonthink.com and/or cesletter.com Best of everything to you as you discover what life can be like without delusion.

  25. Keri says:

    You just wrote my life in a nutshell. I am now getting divorced, my “eternal companion ” no longer wants responsibility as he never had his own time to explore. He was even giddy about getting his own apartment, where he now resides. I still go to the Temple but I feel like there was pressure from those around that getting married is just what you do. I wasnt ready. I chose someone in a rush. And now I get to spend my days single for the rest of my life, or lose half of his military retirement and all medical benefits. Go me!

  26. sally says:

    From my earliest memories I wanted to be a scientist or doctor. As a young girl I shelved all the prophetic counsel that my highest calling was to be a mother. My giddy girl mind let me believe I could do both….somehow. In college I finally started to see that my very demanding career goals would make it impossible to be what the church told me I should be and I began to doubt that I should pursue my career. Still I studied hard and was the top student in most of my classes. Then my last semester at BYU (I was married by this time), my Biochem teacher called my into his office to tell me that although I had scored in the 98th percentile on the national biochemistry exam, he needed to talk to me about something else. He told me he noticed that I did not always follow the dress and grooming standards and that I was on the wrong path for motherhood. That I was going to be a terrible mother and my future children would suffer from my poor example. He destroyed me. I considered him an ecclesiastical leader as well as my professor and while I hated him for his words, my conditioning as a mormon woman told me I needed to listen to my priesthood leader and humble myself. I didn’t go to grad school or med school. I left the church about 20 years after that incident and have finally given myself permission to realize that the church had no right to make me feel like a career and motherhood was an either/or choice where one choice was more righteous than the other. I was not a person that felt I received “personal revelation” even thought I’d tried very hard and felt that to be safely righteous I needed to follow the counsel of the prophets and my priesthood leaders. The men counseling these girls are at least a generation gap away from them and preach to them from a different time and mind set. It needs to stop. (PS I did go back to school in my 40s and am working on a good career now and am much happier for it.)

  27. Nina says:

    I am truly sad that so many women feel like they got the bad end of the stick. I don’t have an answer for each concern raised here. This is why I believe in the Gospel as a whole and in personal revelation within the teachings of the Gospel. People love to give bad advice, even well-meaning people do, because they do not know your situation nor do can they predict the future. Lessons like the one the author mentions are taught to a group, not to an individual; yet even when we sit through such lessons, we can listen for the Spirit and understand what the Lord expects of us as individuals.

    I remember a few years ago Pres. Hinckley stated in a General Conference talk, speaking to women, “get all the education you possibly can.” I combined that with what the Spirit told me, and that was enough for me. All other opposing and doubting voices had to be ignored, and there were many of them, including my own.

    Now a confession. I married young. I was 18 years old. That was the best decision I made after joining the LDS Church a year earlier. I had to leave a university in my home country and move half-way across the world in order to marry. He had a B.A., and I had 3 semesters of college credits. We worked together throughout all of these years. Now he has a J.D. and and L.L.M., and I have a Ph.D. He is now a stay-home dad, and I am a college professor. How did we get here? We planned for the rule, and listened to the Spirit. We planned for me to stay home, we did what was in our power to get there, but we were told otherwise. So, the lesson I got from all of this is the following: study the scriptures, keep the commandments, pray to find out the will of the Lord for you and your spouse.

    Several people in their comments here stated that the role of personal revelation has been downplayed in light of what leaders said to them. I am not going to criticize the leaders. Again, they are doing the best they can–at least a vast majority of them is. None of them is in their callings because they wanted to be there. In any case, all the leaders can do is state a general principle. The general principle can be correct. Our responsibility is to figure out exactly how this general principle applies to us personally.

    For this reason, I would refrain from blaming the leaders for our decisions. I’ve seen this happen in many contexts, not just marriage, and it’s wrong every time. Again, the role of a leader is to state a principle. Our job is to find out the will of the Lord in our lives. It’s great when they coincide 100%, because then we can avoid a cognitive dissonance. More oftne than no, however, there’s going to be a standard deviation due to our individual circumstances and what the Lord intends for us personally.

    Now about the video-game playing RMs. Unfortunately, marriage is not a cure for a gaming addiction. But that’s a story for another day.

    • ruthiechan says:

      Pointing out areas that need improving is not the same as criticizing the church leaders. No one is saying these men are terrible leaders and aren’t doing their best. We’re saying they have some serious blind spots when it comes to the lives of women in the area discussed. We can’t improve as an institution if we refuse to talk about what needs improving under the guise of not criticizing our leaders. It’s constructive feedback, not belittlement, that is being done here.

      • Andrew R. says:

        You are correct in so much as these things come from broken down clips from GC talks by GA’s. However, having been told in this thread that as a man I can’t know what goes on in the inner sanctum of a YW class (because my girls must have sworn secret combinations not to reveal it) that the majority of this bad advice has come from women teaching YW.

        Of course they did it well meaning, and used (in the past) the well worn stories in the well worn manuals.

        However, we now have Come, Follow Me. The whole purpose of our Youth teaching now is that the Youth experience the learning, and are not simply told what to do. The emphasis should be on what they feel the Lord telling them as the build their testimonies.

        What I have not mentioned thus far is that I do go to a fair amount of YW classes. I attend them as a travel around the nine units in my stake as Sunday School president. I do so to find best teaching practice so that I can use it in training those not so far along in their teaching. I don’t know about the rest of the world but it is taking a while to get Come, Follow Me working as it should – though in part that is probably due to the very few YW and YM we have.

        I completely agree that YW activities with lists of the ideal husband, and “my life plan”, can be really bad for those who are in less than ideal situations.

        All I want to see out of the youth programmes is Young Men and Women who have gained the elements of a testimony, and know how they got it. I want them to know how to test convictions and know when the Lord is with them in the choices.

        Knowing that Asher was the second born son of Zilpah and the eighth for Jacob is nice, but it isn’t going to improve your life much!

        Knowing how the Lord communicates with YOU is however vital as it can help to avoid some of the sad things mentioned in this post.

        Of course, following the Lord’s will does not mean we will have no tragedy in our lives – but it does mean we will be more prepared for it.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Amen

  28. Melissa says:

    I too heard the messages to get married, and internalized. Fortunately for me, nobody would marry me. Ha ha ha So I travelled, and met my husband because I travelled. I was old at 25 when I got married! (I’m from a rural farming community, though, so even the people who weren’t Mormon thought I was old. Ha ha) 3 kids later, my husband is now supporting me through grad school. While I wouldn’t trade it, I wish I had known more about how having children can have a tremendous negative impact on the mother’s health. And I wish the stories of women having more children, to the detriment of their own health weren’t glorified. How is being physically or mentally unable to be a good mother glorious because you were doing it in order to have more kids? Not that I don’t believe in big families where people are able, and feel so moved. For the love of Pete, if you can’t function to be good parents, is it really prudent to have more?

    I love my husband tremendously, and he is a very good man, but we’ve had to have some serious and painful discussions about the fact that I’m not a baby factory. It was social conditioning, we both thought we’d have a huge family. After baby two, I was ready to be done. Husband felt we needed to have not one, but two more! I said that I wouldn’t until I felt so moved. Not so funny, I ended up pregnant to both of our surprise. It was a HUGE problem for me at the time, as I’d only had six months between pregnancies. It worked out fine. Better than fine, I love my children. But it was a hard time in our marriage because I hadn’t any desire to be pregnant, and my husband couldn’t understand why. Not only that, but he kept telling me that every one he knows who stopped at three kids regretted it. No, no, no, no. I ended up with post-partum issues because my body was just ran down, and my husband began to understand that it is a very serious thing to ask a woman to just keep having more babies. He has apologized profusely, and has promised, of his own accord, to never bring it up again. That was a very painful journey, though, and I still have a wound in my heart over it. that wound is healing, and we are in a much better place now, but it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. People should not feel compelled to have more children. We know the church says we shouldn’t compell each other, but it does still happen.

    Tangent: I am pursuing a master degree in health and nutrition, and am focusing on hormonal health and fertility. I’d like to see classes in communities about healthy child bearing, including fertility issues. I’d like to see certain things made public like the fact that women tend to want babies around the time of ovulation… biology folks, we are wired that way. I have wondered how many times women felt like they were being moved by the spirit to have a child when it was actually their biology telling them they wanted a baby. I’m not saying every feeling to have a baby is biology. I am saying that knowledge is power, and real knowledge about our hormonal cycles and how they influence us would do us all well and could prevent problems.

    P.S. Nina, I totally agree with you on marriage fixing problems like that! Marriage does not fix addiction!!

    • Andrew R. says:

      I do not disagree that that is what was taught, back when I was a youth. But how we teach our youth has changed, you have had to go a long way back to find a leader giving this message.

      If YW lessons are still encouraging our young people to marry young, and have lots of kids straight away, then that is because the sisters teaching them are perpetuating the message.

      • Melissa says:

        The OP stated that it was also the stake president who made this message.

      • Chiaroscuro says:

        I have taken the Marriage and Family Sunday School class 2 or 3 times during my married life, and it uses all of these old talks. Additionally, the Marriage & Family class at BYU uses these old talks as text. In my attempts to improve my family life over the years, these are the sources I looked to (resources provided by the church for the purpose of improving family life). Also, it was my current stake president just 2 years ago that gave this fireside to my then-13 year-old daughter.

  29. Chiaroscuro says:

    Andrew, I am sure you will have some reason to disagree, but this short video ties together many of the talks I refer to by authorities who regularly share messages directing women that their place is in the home bearing children and rearing a family, and that it should be the foremost priority of their lives.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Sorry, this should have gone here, not above. Doing it on a phone is never a good idea.

      I do not disagree that that is what was taught, back when I was a youth. But how we teach our youth has changed, you have had to go a long way back to find a leader giving this message.

      If YW lessons are still encouraging our young people to marry young, and have lots of kids straight away, then that is because the sisters teaching them are perpetuating the message.

  30. Andrew R. says:

    Or course, being expected to do certain things as a member of the Church is not exactly new, nor is it gender specific.

    As a young man I was expected to go on a mission, I didn’t. I married 26 days before my 20th birthday – in the temple, so I could have served. That was 31 years ago and I still carry a small amount of guilt and what if that I didn’t. I wonder if the Lord had something in store for me that I didn’t get because of that choice.

    This doesn’t over whelm me, but the first ten years was tough. And of course in every exchange with a new person there is the “Where did you server your mission?” question. And recently with my son going on his mission explaining to non-members that it is an expectation for them to go and then explaining that I didn’t go is difficult.

    I know it is not in the same league as missing out on education, although I did that too. Having married children came one year later. University was not an option, I needed to support my family and my wife needed to stay at home. I finally obtained a BSc 16 years after marriage, via correspondence course. By then I had being doing graduate level jobs for 10 years and didn’t need the degree, but my sister had one (BEd) so I did too!

    I genuinely have seen a difference here in the UK from those days in the late 70’s and early 80’s. But we have many first generation members teaching our youth now, their in trenched values are different, and they didn’t see SWK in conference. The expectation of a mission is still there of course.

  31. Stephani says:

    I think your feelings on this matter are biased because of your bad experience with it. Plenty of people get married young and have amazing lives because of it, myself included. I’m not advocating for young people to just up and get married to anyone they can, but I do see the benefit of getting married younger. A lot of men and women nowadays are waiting until they have had all their “fun” before settling down and getting married. My brother in law is one of these, and because of that he has a lot of problems in his marriage. He got too old and too set in his ways and now he expects his wife to conform to his way of things because that’s the way he lived for almost 30 years, so why would he change? Whereas my husband and I were married just months after turning 20, and while we had a few years of struggle, we’ve been able to really grow together and learn each other and come together in a marriage. I don’t think age has much to do with the success of a marriage, but rather yours and your future spouses maturity levels, and how willing you are to make a marriage work. Because every marriage takes work. Having a successful marriage is one of the hardest things you will ever do because it takes sacrifice and selflessness, and it can be especially difficult if your spouse doesn’t share the same values and goals as you. With my own children, I haven’t advocated for getting married super young, but I also stress the importance to them that getting married and having an eternal family is one of the greatest things they can do and I try to prepare them to be a good spouse regardless of when they decide to get married. I think the purpose of the church pushing a younger marriage nowadays is because too many people are putting it off for selfish reasons and not because they just haven’t found the right one to marry. I think it is our responsibility as parents to prepare our children for a successful marriage, and to try to help them be ready for it whenever it comes.

  1. December 31, 2016

    […] 4. Guest Post: Marrying Young? […]

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