Monster in Our Midst
(Originally published in the Winter 1980 issue of Exponent II. For length purposes, we have shortened the article slightly. A link to the original full version of the article will be available shortly.)
After long hours of consideration and investigation, I have decided that we are living with a monster in our midst…
Who is this dragon, and where did it come from? I call it “The-Way-Things-Are-Supposed-To-Be,” and I think that we’ve collectively given birth to it over many years. As a teenager, I was fiercely determined not to be like all those other girls who were snagging boyfriends, fully determined to marry them either shortly before or after graduating from high school. Even so, on the eve of my twenty-third birthday I sat with my sympathetic roommates, wondering what had gone wrong – I was supposed-to-be-married. Then there was my friend, the new Relief Society president. Once quite vocal about the importance of molding programs to meet individual needs, she now extolled the virtues of the homemaking meetings she had previously refused to attend because they didn’t meet her needs, since that was what she was supposed-to-do. Or there was the ward I once lived in where everyone very, very impressively fulfilled charitable duties well into the second mile, but none of the women were close friends. By their own admission they were afraid to let people find out what they were really like – the inside just might not match the supposed-to-be.
For years, I wasn’t absolutely sure of the dragon’s existence. I only caught glimpses of its shadow and sometimes felt its fiery breath upon my neck. But one day, during a particularly trying period at school, feeling that awful presence strongly, I turned around very quickly and caught the dragon full face. Rather than relieving me at all, I was terrorized by my discovery. I became fully aware that something other than my own consciousness and feeling was governing my life. I became aware that I was essentially living two lives – the real me and the supposed-to-be me.
I felt for awhile that I was very alone, but as the problem of my dragon-terrorized life came to obsess me, I began to notice some interesting things. Other women also bore testimonies made up of a combination of stock phrases from the Church vocabulary. I heard others answer questions with the expected answers that didn’t quite ring true as having been cycled through their own hearts and minds. I began to suspect that other people were being intimidated by the dragon, too. A few exploratory ventures on my part into the world of saying-what-I-thought tended to confirm my suspicions – a few people would want to talk privately to me about what I said, while others were appalled to the point of speechlessness that anyone would say such things in public.
…. The dragon was hatched and growing large long before many of us were born. But it is still growing – it grows every time I let the dragon decide what I’m going to say or how I’ll act. It grows every time one woman encourages another, however subtly, to react the way she’s supposed to rather than the way she really feels…..
The blame cannot, then, be placed on any one person or even any one source. I am not responsible entirely for that dragon’s existence in my life, and neither is any other person entirely responsible for its existence in his or her life, I am responsible, though, for the nourishment I provide it and for the acquiescence that I give to its existence. Every time I gush about the spirituality derived from a meeting that I traditionally daydream through or refer to my “good husband” in phrases that we hear over and over, I make it a little bit harder for someone to see around the dragon to the person – the soul – on the other side whom [s]he would really like to communicate with…
I have learned, though, that inasmuch as I differentiate carefully between my feelings and those of the dragon, it is easier for me to consciously choose to act as I wish, rather than to react to the dragon’s ominous rumblings. I don’t know if it is entirely possible to eliminate the dragon, but I’m up for stopping the inadvertent feeding of this beast and for working towards relationships which are unfettered by this monster in our midst.