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Does Chastity Lead To (Manipulate People Into) Marriage?

by Caroline

art by Megan Duncanson

art by Megan Duncanson

I have some non-Mormon girlfriends whom I love and admire. These are some of the most thoughtful, kind, and ethical people I know. They also, not surprisingly, are sexually active.

These friends are in their early 30’s and aren’t married, though they would like to be. They fall for men easily and sometimes sleep with them within a few weeks of meeting them. Some of these relationships do turn exclusive, but within a few weeks or months, they end. Sometimes the man’s unwillingness to commit to a serious relationship triggers the end for them. The Mormon part of my brain wonders if getting so involved so quickly lessens the likelihood of the relationship working out long term.

I sometimes contrast their experience with mine. My husband and I had a pretty chaste courtship (due mainly to my iron-willed husband), and our path to marriage was relatively smooth. We both wanted it, we were excited about the future, and we were willing to jump into the scariest of commitments in our mid 20’s. I think our chastity played a big part in that, since we were both excited to not be celibate anymore. I’m left wondering if the chastity advocated by our religious leaders is at least partly a brilliant manipulative social tool to get people excited about marriage. (Not that that always works out great – I know of quite a few young Mormons who married and divorced quickly. And, of course, those Mormons that don’t marry have a brutal road of perpetual celibacy in front of them – not fun.)

Was your desire to leave celibacy behind a huge motivating factor in your decision to marry?

Do you think you would have married when you did if there was no social or religious pressure to be single and celibate?

For those that are not married, do you feel celibacy is an obstacle in forming serious relationships with non-Mormon (or Mormon) men?

And finally, what do you advise your non-Mormon friends to do about sex?  


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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No Responses

  1. Betty X says:

    OK–my answers in order. 1) h*ll yes. 2) no–though we would have moved in together. 3) Married so n/a. 4) I don’t have those kind of conversations. In a way, my life is a sort of sermon. They know I’ve been married since I was 26 (I am 40 now) and they see the Ford Econoline full of children and they get a pretty good idea of my method of expressing my sexuality. What could I say to them? Big vans are cheap right now because of the depression? Besides, only Mormon men have an Edward-like ability to control their fang.

  2. MoJo says:

    1. Yes.
    2. No; I had emotionally thrown in the towel and was ready to cross the line.
    3. I got married at 34 and yes, it was a HUGE obstacle.
    4. I preach the gospel of discrimination, street smarts, and good sexual hygiene.

  3. RoAnn says:

    Interesting post. But hasn’t the historical model in most societies been for women to remain virgins until marriage precisely because if there were no social or religious pressure for at least the women to remain celibate until marriage, most men would not choose to take on the obligations of marriage?

    The old warning that is still sometimes passed on to young women by older ones is to remember that men are apt to think, “Why buy a cow if you can get the milk free?”

    And if society does not support a stable marriage system to raise succeeding generations, it usually disappears. So, yes, chastity strongly leads to marriage.

    But for LDS, I think the desire to form an eternal union that leads to Exaltation is an even stronger encouragement to marry, and being able to have sex while remaining chaste is only one part of that whole eternal marriage package.

    Answers to questions:
    1. Not nearly as huge as my desire to start an eternal family.
    2. Absolutely, no question—I wanted to be in an official wife-husband relationship.
    3. I was married in my mid-20s back in the 60s, and even then the answer was “yes” with most non-Mormons and many “inactive” Mormons (although not all), and “no” with most “active” Mormons (although not all!)—and for my unmarried children the anti-chastity pressures now are far greater.
    4. If they asked, I’d explain why I advocate chastity until marriage, but I wouldn’t offer unsolicited advice.

  4. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the responses. Very interesting.

    Part of my mind sees the wisdom of that old saying about getting the milk for free. But something about thinking that way makes me uncomfortable, and I think that may be rooted in the potentially manipulative aspect of it.

    I never quite know what to say to my non-Mormon friends who talk to me about the men in their lives. I want to advise them to slow down and wait until they know each other really well, but I wonder if it just doesn’t work like that in the real world, if most men would just quickly move on if my friends did move slower.

    I agree that it’s not just about hormones for a lot of Mormons. We come from a marrying culture with lots of emphasis on the importance of eternal marriage, and I can see that that would also be a huge motivating factor.

  5. ESO says:

    I am going to skip the questions because I have boring answers, but I have bought into celibacy outside of marriage. I want it. For all those reasons your YW teacher said: I want it to be a special thing and I really do believe that casual sexual relationships cheapens sex.

    One of my gay friends was talking to me one tome about relationships (one of his had just ended and he was trying to figure out how to do it better next time) and when I offered dumb “take it slow” advice, he jumped all over it–it was like a revelation to him. “That makes so much sense–yeah my friends who do that seem to have much longer, stabler relationships.” It really made me wonder–I know he grew up in a conservative household and would have been taught that, but he had thrown all that out when he started living a different life than his parents had wanted for him.

  6. JM says:

    I don’t think chastity is a manipulative tool
    to get people excited about marriage, but more
    a teaching that can help us avoid conduct that
    would trivialize sex and/or marriage and/or
    result in unwanted pregnancies. Does this
    teaching sometimes backfire and lead to
    improvident marriages or unhealthy attitudes
    about sex? Certainly. But, even though navigating
    the law of chastity has been extremely difficult
    for me at some points in my life, I’m glad
    that it was my framework.

    That said, I do not think that strict
    adherance to the law of chastity is necessary
    to have a healthy sexual and/or marital
    relationship. Of course, adherance is necessary
    if one wants to be a Mormon in good standing,
    but I do not want to imply all those who do
    not follow the law of chastity are doomed to
    lives of unhealthy relationships, just as
    adherence to the law of chastity does not
    guarantee a good marriage relationship.

    As for answers to the questions:
    1. Definitly a motivating factor, but more
    than just wanting “sex,” I wanted a complete
    emotional and physical relationship with a man.
    2. No. I think I would have had a longer
    courtship or engagement.
    3. Although I am married, I will answer Yes.
    I recently married a man who is not Mormon.
    The law of chastity was completely foreign to
    him, and it was a difficult issue.

    4. No friend has ever sought such advice, but
    if asked, I would say to take things very
    slowly and that at a minimum, there should
    not be sex until the two people love each
    other and are committed to a long-term

  7. RoAnn says:

    ESO & JM, cheers to you for resisting the zeitgeist of the time!

    Caroline, I am also uncomfortable personally wth that “cow” analogy, and I only included it because I heard it mentioned recently as a reason why women nowadays shouldn’t wonder why they can’t get a man to commit to marriage. As with many “folk sayings,” it embodies distortion as well as truth, and certainly doesn’t apply to everyone.

    It does highlight the controlled test conditions we encounter during our mortal probation: lots of chances to make choices, many bad choices forced on us by others, but sufficient opportunities for us to discover what we truly desire–even if we don’t get it until God, in mercy and justice, makes all things right in the distant future.

    I think that the fact that we can have many of the obvious benefits of a spousal relationship on earth without making any secular or religious covenants is a necessary part of the testing process.

    Marriage is great, but it’s not effortless to maintain, nor is it possible to escape unpleasant consequences if it ends in divorce.

    If there is no societal pressure to marry, it’s not hard to see why many people might choose to look for sex and companionship in a succession of less demanding “relationships.”

  8. Starfoxy says:

    About the buying the cow thing, there are several parts of that folk wisdom that are in my opinion a bad way of thinking about relationships.

    For one, it erases the idea that women want and enjoy sex, and replaces it with the notion that sex is something men get (or take) from women, or that women give (or lose) to men. Which turns sex into a competition, where when sex is avoided the woman wins (for now) and when sex is had the man wins (for now). Which is unhealthy and a load of bunk.
    And for two, it turns marriage into a business arrangement. One that it, at essence a long-term exclusive trick, where the wife is the prostitute and the husband is the John. He pays her with a good name, and room and board and she pays him with sex. Again unhealthy and a load of bunk.

    I think happiness in relationships comes down to shared values. With a celibate lifestyle you can weed out the guys who are only interested in free milk, so to speak. On the other hand you may also end up attracting guys who are only interested in buying cows. With a non-celibate lifestyle you can deal with guys who don’t want to make life changing decisions with their hormones, and who don’t think that women are devalued by sex. Or maybe guys who don’t see any reason to make life changing decisions in the first place.

    I think that one’s decision to, or to not have sex does not make up the entirety of their values towards sex.

  9. mraynes says:

    Interesting post, Caroline. I don’t think people mean to use chastity as a manipulative tool but it can certainly be used as one. There has always been lot of focus on marriage and normative heterosexual sexuality that seems to stress the idea that only the worthy deserve to get married and have sex. If you are worthy, then you are dating (not hanging out) and sexual intimacy is the reward for getting married.

    I think this is a really dangerous way to approach sexuality for a couple of reasons: 1) Not everybody will have the opportunity for marriage, or may not be meant for heterosexual marriage. By focusing so heavily on marriage, we are alienating individuals who want to be part of the body of Christ but may not exactly fit in. 2) The “marriage is exalting” and sexuality is part of that exaltation rhetoric makes individuals rush towards marriage in an attempt to follow the prophet and be righteous but they may not be ready for marriage. This has long term consequences in the quality of marriages and the kind of home their children grow up in. 3) There are people who reject the idea of “chastity/marriage is worthiness” because good reasons are not given and so will become sexually active out of rebellion (I have someone very close to me who has done this).

    I think if we focused on the benefits of chastity instead of “marriage is a means to an end” we could avoid a lot of the emotional and spiritual fall out of using sex as a motivator. If somebody could have explained to me in an articulate manner the beauty of being in a mutually fulfilling, committed sexual relationship…if I knew the peace and self-actualization that comes from being intimate with another individual, I don’t think I would have been so flippant in my attitude about sex. It was a miracle that I managed to stay chaste until I got married. I was told a lot of don’ts and consequences for being unchaste but never given any positive reasons for chastity. Consequences are always the least effective motivators; we can do better than this.

  10. jks says:

    If we hadn’t been LDS and celibate, my husband and I would have moved in together (we were spending every waking second possible together anyway) and then we would have broken up because we didn’t have any sort of real commitment like marriage and so when things got tougher we might not have made it.
    I am glad that our religion and culture encourages marriage, rather than pre-marital sex.
    I think celibacy does encourage marriage earlier. I think marriage instead of less committed relationships turn out much better for everyone involved (women, men, children)
    I think it is hard for someone in a non-mormon American culture that thinks pre-marital sex is the norm. If they try to “take it slow” they have a harder time finding a relationship because the other personal is looking for the norm.
    LDS men in their twenties are socially encouraged (somewhat) to look for a wife. Other American men are socialized to look to get laid. WIthout societal pressure to look for marriage, they might rejoice to be in love with you, but it might not translate to marriage because they think they aren’t ready for marriage.

  11. steve-o says:

    1. Nope. I had already slept with a few women by the time I met my wife. Oops.

    2. No, but I’m thinking more about cohabitation than celibacy. If it had been acceptable for us to live together before we got married, then I think I would have just done that. I had a job lined up outside of UT for after I graduated, and fearing that I wouldn’t be able to meet any LDS women where I was going, fast-tracked my relationship with the woman that became my wife. If I had had a crystal ball and known I was going to leave the church a couple years after that, I would never have done that. My disaffection has not been easy on my wife.

    3. N/A

    4. It’s been many years since I last had a friend that talked to me about sex. Kind of sad, now that I think about it.

    I never believed that chastity or celibacy were used to manipulate people into getting married quickly, but definitely felt that they played a role in the phenomenon of Mormons getting married younger, and in the supposedly real phenomenon of BYU students getting married in Vegas on Friday night, having sex all weekend long, and then having the marriage annulled on Monday morning.

  12. Caroline says:

    ESO, thanks for the anecdote about your friend. I hope his next relationship really works out.

    JM, Good point about how one does not have to strictly adhere to chastity ideas to have a good marriage or healthy relationship. I certainly have other friends that fall into that category.

    “If there is no societal pressure to marry, it’s not hard to see why many people might choose to look for sex and companionship in a succession of less demanding “relationships.””
    Yes. I see no reason why I wouldn’t have fallen into that category if I hadn’t been born into the culture I was born into.

    Starfoxy, you nailed the problems with the cow saying. That’s exactly why I’m uncomfortable with it.

    mraynes, awesome analysis of the problems of approaching sexuality in that way. And I definitely agree that it would be nice to have the benefits of chastity itself talked up more in church, rather than negative consequences. You wouldn’t believe the talk I heard about chastity in sac meeting last year. The speaker actually got into the “disgusting pustules” that form on genitalia because of STDs. Totally trying to scare everyone straight.

    jks, I also think it’s kind of nice that LDS men and women do tend to marry a little earlier than the average. One reason for that is I see the stress some of my friends feel when they are single and hit their 30’s and feel their biological clocks ticking.

    Steve-o, yes, I’ve heard of that Las Vegas phenomenon too. Definitely a result of strict chastity mores and raging hormones.

  13. miles says:

    1.Yes 2. No, we would have lived together because we wanted to be together, but probably wouldn’t have had a ceremony 3. married pretty young, so I really didn’t have much time to get into relationships with non-mormon males, or maybe that’s a Yes answer, now that I think about it. I would hang out with some non-mormons, but nothing moved into dating, or such. 4. In recent years I haven’t had that kind of conversation.

    In high school a good friend of mine approached me about my beliefs on sex. I remember telling her I believed in waiting until marriage, even though it was hard and sucked. I told her if her decision was to have sex to use more than one type of birth control to protect herself better. She really couldn’t understand that. I talked to my dad that night about it. He told me I was completely capable of having sex, but that the intimate connection was so strong that I was too young for it and questioned if I really want that kind of connection with the boys I currently knew. This idea really made waiting make much more sense and helped me stay celibate. I wanted a deep connection with a person I truly loved and was ready to commit too. After that conversation, I would have waited to start a sexual relationship until I was out of high school and really in love, even if I decided not to wait until marriage.

  14. Jessawhy says:

    Your dad is brilliant,
    “He told me I was completely capable of having sex, but that the intimate connection was so strong that I was too young for it and questioned if I really want that kind of connection with the boys I currently knew.”

    I played by the rules and waited for sex until I was married, at 20. Looking back, I wish I had waited and experienced more fun as a young single person. Yes, sex was a big part of my decision to get married, and to start that part of my life, the married part.

    This subject is very touchy for me right now because my 19 yo sister is getting married in a week (they moved up the wedding). She’s selling herself short in a lot of ways and even though they’re not getting married in the temple, they’re waiting to have sex until marriage (at least that was what I last heard, who knows now). The lease on their apartment starts Feb 1 and she’s explained that she has to pay half the rent, so why wait to get married? She seems to just want to get it over with. Of course, maybe that’s more healthy than a fairy-tale wedding and then the reality check of life.

    As for my advice to her, “Two forms of birth control are never enough. Use three or four!”

    Even for non-Mormons, safe sex is a lower risk option.

  15. E.W. says:

    I am an unmarried, 40-something year-old woman. I served a full-time mission and watched many of the elders in my mission go home and marry immediately. Twenty years later some of them are now divorced. There was a period of time after my mission when I would have had sex and worried later about my membership in the church. I don’t know that it’s really a matter of sex manipulating us into marriage – I think it’s more of a case that sex manipulates us… period. And sometimes the world manipulates us into having sex.

    Sex is a basic human desire, but when it starts manipulating our actions, then we are exactly where the Lord warned us of being. That’s why there’s so much talk in the church about overcoming the natural man. Do we control our desires or do they control us?

    Certainly, I would love to be married and have an intimate relationship with a man. However, I have come a long way since being in my twenty’s and just wanting to have sex. My perspective is completely different now than it was then. I want healthy relationships based on mutual love and respect. I want ALL aspects of intimacy: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. One doesn’t have precedence over another. And I wouldn’t give up any of those just to have good sex. But I also wouldn’t sacrifice physical intimacy for any of the others. They are a package deal.

    I’m glad things worked out the way they did for me. If I had been married when I was young I would have married for all the wrong reasons based on my emotional neediness and desire to be desired. I have grown a lot as a person over the years and now feel like I could have a healthy relationship with a deeper understanding of intimacy and of truly being one in all aspects of our relationship.

    I do think that Mormon culture is such that we feel pressure to get married young and start families. For some people, it’s too young. They don’t have a deep enough appreciation for real and all-inclusive intimacy.

  16. G says:

    ditto what starfoxy said.

  17. Starfoxy’s explication of the cow saying is brilliant.

    1. No. I had a pretty satisfying sex life, even while remaining a technical virgin.

    2. Yes. I got married shortly after I turned 29, and even apart from my age, I knew that I had found the right person and wanted to commit to him.

    3. N/A

    4. Ditto what MoJo said, although honestly it rarely, if ever, comes up. My friends are mostly over 35, and pretty smart about these things.

  18. Kristee Chandler says:

    1. yes it was. being a 27 year old virgin was hard because I wanted to know what I was missing. Now divorsed and doing the single thing again has made it that much harder because now I know what I am missing.
    2. no I would have taken my time and followed the norm of the world standards. Have fun, have many and make it a good time.
    3 yes, yes, yes…… I just had a guy dump me because I refused to put out. per his opinion I wasn’t worth getting to know if he counldn’t get any in the process. his loss…..
    4. I am in a social psychology class this semester surrounded by young adults and this question about sex has become my term paper topic. Per some of the young men they are glad a girl doesn’t give it up so easily. It will be interesting to see my results once I have done all of my surveying.

  19. maverick says:

    1. Sex was a huge motivating factor in deciding on my first marriage. I remember thinking specifically that I wanted to know what it was like, and I was sure everything else would sort itself out. It didn’t, we’re divorced. It was a mistake to marry him to be able to sleep with him.

    4. I advise my Mormon and non-Mormon friends to get sexual experience so they realize that sex does not make relationships good or bad on its own. I am remarried now and I wish I would have known before my first marriage what I know now–sex is not a reason to marry. Sex does not make a marriage. Sex is great but it is not what the relationship is about. It is part of it, but it is not it. I think I thought sex was IT because in YW we never talked about, for example, how to talk about difficult things in a realtionship, how to be open and honest with yourself and your partner, how to recognize and negotiate power in a relationship, etc etc…only about NOT HAVING SEX and then HAVING SEX…. it is so misleading and shortsighted.

    I haven’t ever experienced this dynamic you’re talking about of men wanting sex and not being willing to commit once they have it…. I guess that’s a stereotype, but I really haven’t seen any men act like that. I think there are LOTS of men who want intimacy and commitment. And who want sex to mean love and intimacy and not just a fulfillment of their sexual needs. I think that stereotype is a disservice to men who aren’t like that… and feel sorry if there are lots who are who have earned the stereotype.

  20. Kelly Ann says:

    There is something that has been left unspoken here, brought to my mind by the following quotes:

    “I don’t think people mean to use chastity as a manipulative tool but it can certainly be used as one. “ MRaynes

    “Of course, adherance is necessary if one wants to be a Mormon in good standing,” JM

    “There was a period of time after my mission when I would have had sex and worried later about my membership in the church.” EW

    My question is beyond the simple principle of chastity, what is the impact of the threat of church discipline on the issue as well as ourselves? Is this how we are “manipulated”?

    If I was to give you the answer I learned in Sunday School, I would say that the purpose of church discipline is to call a sinner to repentance, to protect the innocent, and to protect the name of the church. I can see the purpose of excommunication in criminal cases – instances of murder, rape, or incest (like the Church Handbook suggests). However, what scares me is how it can be used in cases of adultery or fornication – where an endowed individual (stereotypically male) had sex outside of marriage.

    My question is why is it necessary? Yes, we believe sex outside of marriage is a sin. But why is church discipline necessary in these cases. I believe in a personal God. I pray and receive personal answers and revelation and forgiveness for my mistakes. Why is it that forgiveness cannot be achieved by the individual even for such a large mistake? What bothers me in particular is when an endowed female eers and is called before the high council composed of all men. My mom has a friend who was ex’d for adultery and absolutely humiliated in the process. What does this do to a woman’s sexuality who is already apparently struggling? Furthermore, let’s say a young 20 year old something sleeps with her boyfriend. Even the thought of having her go before a bishop’s council bothers me. Why does she have to go before men even if she has already felt forgiveness from God?

    I would be interested to know your perspectives as it seems to be something we just casually accept.

    As for my answer to question #3,

    Last year, I had two relationships with non-members that eventually dissolved because of the tension that resulted in differences in physical intimacy expectations. To them, not only was it not normal not to wait to have sex, but the other lines I drew (French kissing, petting, etc) were more problematic. To the world, the “for the strength of youth” standards are very prudish. I came to understand, even if foreign and not-compatible with my own and the churches standards, that it was normal for them to seek a sexual dimension “in a less demanding relationship than marriage”. That having sex doesn’t necessarily doom relationships outside of the church, which is what you hear within the church. Kind of like how drinking an occasional glass of wine was also normal for my ex-boyfriends, having sex wasn’t an open act of rebellion like it might be for some within the church (as MRaynes suggests).

    I have only recently come to appreciate how much the idea of chastity has shaped my identity. You could say that I almost feared any type of intimacy, for where it could lead, and I did not so much as hold hands or kiss until I was 28. I consider this a mistake. Even while “bridling passions,” I finally learned that some level of physical intimacy is important in building a connection with someone. While I will argue that the balancing act continues into marriage “where sex is allowed,” maintaining that balance in dating is extremely difficult.

    I also realized that I needed to not be so much of a prude to embrace my own sexuality. That while there are merits to “bridling passions,” that it is important to recognize we are sexual beings – in that it is normal to crave intimacy, particularly physical intimacy. I eagerly await the day where I can have all levels of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy in the ‘package deal.’ I want sex but I don’t want to get married for sex (because it is a common trend).

    And I appreciated all comments in regards.

  21. Caroline says:

    E.W, JaneAnne, Kristee, Maverick, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I love reading different perspectives on this.

    Kelley Ann, you bring up such good questions. I think maybe we should do a whole post devoted to your questions about church discipline related to sexual sins. (If that’s ok with you.) Stay tuned until next week…And thanks also for your sharing your experience with dating non-Mormons. So interesting.

  22. Kelly Ann says:


    I think that is an excellent idea. Because frankly there are a lot of aspects of church discipline I don’t understand (not just in terms of the law of chastity).

    Quite frankly, I think it manipulates us into a lot of things – including not willing to speak up for fear of being labeled an apostate.

    Whether or not said actions would even merit church discipline.

    I get uncomfortable when people joke “you know you could be ex’d for that.”

  23. kris says:

    why would this be the only sin or not to do this sin talked about in the temple?

  24. Flygirl says:

    I’m not married, but in my twenties it was a big reason why I wanted to get married, and why some of my friends marry.

    As I have started dating non-Mormon men in the past couple of years, it seemed like it could be quite an obstacle, because that is something that is a normal part of many people’s lives before marriage. I never quite got to that point while trying to observe the law of chastity. The fact that I didn’t drink usually threw them off enough. I have decided at this point in my life (31) that I would like to make sex a component of my life, and no longer want to wait till marriage. I am being quite careful and selective on who I take things further with.

    This is a fascinating post to me, as I have had 4-5 friends who have left the church as well in the past couple of years. We are all in our late 20’s, early 30’s, with no obvious marriage prospects, but feeling like sex is an important part of life we have been missing out on. For some of my friends the chastity/marriage thing has been one of the main reasons they have left the church. While not really the case for me, I think we do many people a disservice by viewing the law of chastity in such black and white terms.

  25. lucysophia says:

    When I was a teenager, there were no LDS boys to date. I dated Non-members a handful of times. Then I went to BYU, met a non-member, quickly became attracted, mutually, he joined the church and we became intimate ie: heavy petting. clothes on. OF COURSE we got married!!! Went to our Bishop, who said it was a good thing you got married and that was the end of it. WE had no thought for maybe there was another alternative. we did what was “right.” Except that sex was a huge component in our marriage, resulting in marital rape over the years, lots of kids (no to BC) and eventual divorce. I truly feel that our sexual conduct (really not too serious) before marriage led to our quick marriage and X’s sexual exploitation of me. Took me 29 years to finally tell someone – marital rape is called Sexual Abuse and is a felony if prosecuted. THEN I met new husband. Older, never married, same values. Our dating and engagement was chaste and sweet. Lots of kissing (no frenching, hand-holding and hugs. Sex is important PART of out total relationship of friendship and love. I never knew marriage could be like this. I now love my 50-ish body, like sex, etc. X is still single and doing without…So I do think there is some pressure on young people who experience some sort of sex before marriage to GET married as the only way to repent/make it right. And maybe that isn’t the best for either party.

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