My ‘Counterfeit’ Temple Marriage: Married to an Asexual/Aromantic partner
Growing up in the church, I learned that marriage was a big deal. God had a plan that included marrying in the temple, which was to be for eternity. Without this one could not get into the celestial kingdom. I didn’t need all the years of indoctrination in the Young Women’s program, I liked boys. As long as I can remember I had crushes on boys and wanted to grow up and get married. I did so at my first opportunity.
I had known him for over a year and we had a lot of similar interests and had spent time together on a BYU study abroad. The next step seemed natural. He never proposed, but we had a ‘defining the relationship’ talk that ended in a decision to marry. Within 3 months we found ourselves married. I was barely 20. We were extremely chaste. He didn’t kiss me when we were engaged, or even at the temple wedding. I thought he was super righteous and had excellent self-control. This was precisely what I had been taught was a worthy dating relationship, to prepare for a temple marriage.
We were naïve virgins. So, needless to say, the honeymoon was bad. When we finally had sex, I tore. It was mechanical and painful for me. I occasionally tried to act seductive, but he would ignore me and look away, so I blamed myself. I knew I must not be attractive enough. I did try to do a little reading to find out more, but I felt guilty for my curiosity about sex, even as a married woman. I spent so many nights in tears, while he ignored my silky nightie, rolled over, and went to sleep. For the first few years I tried to make myself into what he wanted. He asked me not to wear makeup or shave my legs. I complied with both of those for a time. I got rid of my clothes he didn’t like. I did all the cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking while we were both full time students and part time employees. Over the years, children came. I was exhausted and invested in caring for the family. I didn’t often allow myself the luxury of considering my own happiness in the marriage. I spent a lot of time studying how to be a better wife and wasted my time on things like “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”, which promised that a man just wanted a pretty and amiable wife to take care of his needs and he would do anything for her. I specifically remember the phrase ‘he will swim through shark infested waters to bring her a glass of lemonade’. That wasn’t what I wanted precisely, but I was needy. The advice was useless. If I put on makeup, dressed up, and flirted with my husband, he continued to laugh nervously under his breath and look away.
The years passed. I was married 17 years when my faith crisis culminated in a decision to leave the church to try to salvage my mental health. I feared it would mean the end of my marriage, but it didn’t end up doing that. It was such a relief at first. But leaving the church also meant my worldview was crumbling and I was finally being honest with myself about my life. I started to speak my mind to my husband instead of trying to ‘never complain’ like a righteous wife is supposed to do. I learned to begin looking at my own shadows and work on my issues. I also allowed myself to release the sexual shame I had been indoctrinated with.
I spent a lot of time investigating and trying to name the problem with our marriage. It wasn’t just that we didn’t date. He had always treated me as a roommate more than a wife. I had long suspected my husband was a homosexual, but he denied it. I got him to read a book of Carol Lynn Pearson’s “No More Goodbyes” which helped him lose his homophobia, but he still didn’t think he was gay. Two years ago I thought maybe he was asexual, but he didn’t think it was that. It wasn’t until last month that I got him to read about asexuality and he finally came to understand what it meant and admitted that did feel right to him.
He is asexual and aromantic. He just doesn’t have those feelings. Not for me, or for anyone. He has never missed me when I’m gone. He has never pined to be touched. He has never enjoyed kissing. He has never wanted my attention, has never wanted to talk to me and share his feelings, and has never wanted sex or thought about it during his daily life. He thought he wasn’t asexual because he could respond sexually on occasion, but he has never had any romantic feelings of any kind. He is indifferent. He could not receive my affection or give it in return. I had been pouring my love into a void.
So here we are. Almost twenty-one years into a marriage. My bucket has been so empty for so long. I have been depressed and lonely. My marriage feels like a sham. People see us together and assume we are in a normal relationship. But the fact is, although I am in love with him, he loves me the same way he loves his siblings or friends. He resents my emotional and physical desire for him in the same way I resent his cool distance and disinterest.
We were raised in a system that expected nothing less than eternal marriage. He was a dutiful Mormon boy, and didn’t ever have the curiosity about himself to find out that he was different from other boys. He still wants to call himself normal. And I guess he is. Asexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality. It is present in a certain percentage of the population, as is homosexuality, or bisexuality. Why would God make a plan that requires 100% of the people to be in a heteronormative marriage, and then make 10% of his children with different sexual orientations?
Where the only acceptable marriage is one between a man and a woman, mixed orientation marriage becomes necessary. Lately the church has stopped encouraging mixed orientation marriage as a way to ‘cure’ homosexuality, but it still hasn’t approved any other ‘plan’ for people who don’t fit the narrative. Bisexuals are in a privileged position if they are able to contract a marriage with a ‘suitable’ (aka: opposite sex) partner. The policy for gay people now is that they are to remain single, not even to date those they are attracted to. So though they have the same desire to love and be loved as most people have, the only acceptable marriage option is with someone of the opposite sex. This creates mixed orientation marriages. Within a church context, asexuals may fly under the radar if they recognize they have no desire for a relationship and don’t enter into one, but they will always be considered ‘singles’ looking for a marriage, because marriage is ‘required’ to get into heaven. It’s not just an option for people who would enjoy married life, but is considered necessary for salvation. But how can you hope to be happy together for eternity if you are miserable in this life? In a mixed orientation marriage, you are sacrificing your happiness to try and fit yourselves into a prescribed mold. I feel like I’ve spend more than 2 decades squeezed into the wrong mold. I ache to be loved as I love. And not just by anyone. I want it to be the father of my children. But he is not capable of that. And I can’t fix it. No matter how cute I make myself, no matter how well I cook, no matter how clean I keep the house, no matter how interesting the conversation, how charming the flirting, there is nothing I can do to make my husband love me, or for us to connect romantically.
At this point we are talking about divorce. I have been so unhappy for so long, but I haven’t prepared myself to take care of myself. I have been 100% invested in fixing my marriage. I have been caring for our 8 children. My youngest just turned 4. I haven’t worked outside the home for over 16 years. My husband doesn’t make a lot of money. Divorce is expensive. My health insurance comes through my husband’s employer. Housing in our area has doubled in price in the last 5 years. I fear I am economically crippled for the rest of my life from my years spent at home. I have no idea how to find the resources I need to change my life. Particularly now with 7 kids schooling at home during this pandemic.
How do you make a choice about which dream to grieve? I always wanted a loving marriage and nuclear family. I was taught to want these things, but I embraced those dreams fully. Do I divorce and give up the dream of the nuclear family in order to look for the loving partner? Do I stay with my husband in our mixed orientation marriage and give up the dream of ever being in a reciprocal loving relationship? I have not been happy throughout our marriage. It has never felt right. But there is no guarantee that I will find another straight man to love and be in a relationship with. The specter of complete loneliness and single parenthood scares me to death. The possibility of never being with someone who wants to be with me breaks my heart. How do I determine what is right for my children in all this? Where can I find hope?
I know the church did not make me marry this man. But it did teach him that he must marry. And he had to marry someone. Someone had to be sacrificed. And he didn’t know enough about himself to give me a head’s up and make an informed decision. I was young. I had never been in another serious relationship. I was taught to eschew a physical relationship before marriage, so I had no idea it wouldn’t feel right. I had nothing to compare it to. I was taught that marriage was the pinnacle of my religious duty. That the fruits of a righteous life were a happy fulfilling marriage and family life. How was I to know any better? And now that I do, how can I fix my life?
Church leaders have from time to time talked about ‘counterfeit marriage’. The first reference I found was in 1981 when Boyd K. Packer talked about living together as a ‘counterfeit marriage’. In 2006, David A. Bednar said “the devil has attempted to combine and legally validate confusion about gender and marriage. As we look beyond mortality and into eternity, it is easy to discern that the counterfeit alternatives the adversary advocates can never lead to the completeness that is made possible through the sealing together of a man and a woman, to the happiness of righteous marriage, to the joy of posterity, or to the blessing of eternal progression.” He promises that “The ultimate blessings of love and happiness are obtained through the covenant relationship of eternal marriage.” I find it so interesting that the church has coined this term ‘counterfeit marriage’. This description perfectly fits what it feels like to be in a mixed-orientation marriage.
I was sealed in the temple to a man. I was worthy and honored my covenants. I didn’t get the blessings of love and happiness through my covenant relationship. I feel like that temple sealing WAS a counterfeit marriage. We were coming from the paradigm we had been taught, that any righteous man and woman could make a marriage work. My husband was doing what he was taught, and marrying worthily in the temple. He never had the option of not marrying. But in being obedient, created a marriage where love and happiness became impossible for me. My self-esteem was eroded painfully over time. Every time I tried to talk to my husband about our marriage problems, he said he was fine and happy. It was gaslighting, even if he didn’t know it. I had been raised in a culture where I had been taught NOT to trust my intuition, and I felt there was something wrong with ME that I just couldn’t be happy and satisfied. The growing depression that stemmed to a great deal from my situation was MY fault. I started as a girl afraid and ashamed of my sexuality. When I matured and tried to embrace it, my husband was repulsed and rejected me. I hated myself. I became a shell, disgusted by my touch-starved and seemingly unlovable body. I didn’t feel any affection and eventually complained loudly. Why was I so undeserving of love from this good man who I so adored? Why would God command me to marry and never bless me with any of that marital happiness that was supposedly waiting for the righteous? I also viewed my husband as a broken straight person, instead of the perfect asexual man he is. I didn’t see that the occasional simulated acts in the dark were taking a toll on him, just as they were taking a toll on me. It was not just unpleasant, but corrosive and toxic. We were both taught to value long-suffering.
In 2017, Larry R. Lawrence talked about Satan’s counterfeits as well. He calls lust a counterfeit for love. I have to disagree. As a married woman, I have to say lust is a part of love. I wish my husband would lust for me. I want to be desired physically. I ache to be touched, and not just compulsorily or reciprocally, but spontaneously and tenderly out of a fullness of feeling. For me, that is part of a mature and loving marriage. Further, he says “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although his imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.” Bringing posterity has nothing to do with happiness and exaltation. Unmarried teenagers regularly ‘bring posterity’. My asexual husband and I have ‘brought posterity’. On the other hand, plenty of righteous couples end up being infertile. Why would conceiving children have anything to do with it? I am so tired of the church telling people who to love and promising that only one formula for marriage can bring happiness. I am sure some people will continue to say I have been unhappy because I did something wrong. But I didn’t. I was playing by all the church’s rules. Did Jesus ever say we had to get married and have children to get into heaven? I think he taught kindness. I think he said love one another. Perhaps he even taught us to question religious authorities. Listen carefully to the sermon on the mount, I don’t think he said “Only marry someone of the opposite sex and make sure you are both fertile”. LDS teachings on marriage and family are a false idol that needs to be torn down. Stop coercing unsuspecting people into mixed-orientation ‘counterfeit’ marriages. They lead to despair and heartbreak, sucking away life instead of giving it.