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Should Mormon Men Have Retreats Too?

Last weekend , Brooke, Amelia, and I went to the Rocky Mountain Mormon Women’s Retreat in Colorado. Despite the nearly two full days of travel it entailed, I loved it. There were about 40 women there, ranging from age 28 to 70-ish. We ate, we met people we only knew through cyber-space, we told our stories, we walked in the beautiful Colorado mountains, we listened to panels and presentations. A great time. This was my second LDS women’s retreat. Two years ago I attended the Exponent Retreat with Jana and also loved it. There, as well as at the Colorado retreat, I could feel various women’s relief as they talked about questions, feelings, and experiences they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with other Mormon women in Church-sponsored settings. It was cathartic for many of them to be figuratively held in the arms of this small group of Mormon women as they told of their spouses’ divergent spiritual paths, or of the sadness of knowing that their singleness has prevented them from ever having children. And for me it was a transcendent experience of empathy as I listened to them and tears freely rolled down my face.

As I boarded the plane home, I couldn’t help but wonder why Mormon men don’t also have retreats. (or do they?) Is it because so many of them are already overstretched with professions, church callings, and families? Is it because they feel like they can say everything they want to say in Church-sponsored settings? Is it because they just aren’t all that interested in bonding emotionally with other men?

And if you are a woman who has enjoyed retreats, what about them has been appealing to you?


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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20 Responses

  1. JohnR says:

    Great questions, Caroline. Regarding bonding, I can think of one obstacle and one opportunity that many Mormon men experience:

    I think that devotion to Church and family often keeps LDS men from having the time to bond with other men (esp. with non-LDS men). I was always amazed at how much time my non-LDS coworkers spent going on fishing trips or to Vegas with male friends. I don’t know if LDS men leave their families very often to bond with male friends. I haven’t seen it.

    At the same time, LDS men have the opportunity to connect with each other through service and shared spiritual experiences (I know that some of my Evangelical and Muslim friends have similar opportunities). These give LDS men more options for connecting to each other in deep, meaningful ways that your average American guy may not have access to. I could write a chapter here, but I’ll just leave it at that.

  2. bigbrownhouse says:

    I attended Exponent retreats in New Hampshire in ’93 and ’94. They were wonderful experiences, largely because the old-timey New England camp was gorgeous, the company was lively and intellegent, the food was good and cooked by someone else, and there were no children. (I take that back. I brought a nursing babe with me the second year.)

    I do my best thinking through conversing. I like hanging out and talking talking talking with women I like. If there is good food, so much the better.

  3. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your comment. I think I agree that Church and family do present serious obstacles to male bonding time. And I also agree about service as being one way for males to get that bonding time. I remember one bishop’s wife saying that those five years were the loneliest and most spiritually depressing of her life – in contrast to her husband who was having spiritual highs with his counselors.

    I also have belatedly realized that men do have retreats sort of. Scouting trips and father-son outings, though I imagine there’s a lot more physical activity and a lot less communing there. And it’s Church-sponsored.

  4. Caroline says:

    I loved the exponent retreat too. And like you, I feel most fulfilled and happy when I am conversing and communing with other people.

  5. JM says:

    I think our retreat is the church hallway during priesthood or sunday school.

  6. Rusty says:

    I have them all the time. It’s called Xbox Live.


  7. Shah says:

    It’s called “Menrichment” in our ward.

  8. Ana says:

    Shah, we used to joke about the Elders’ Quorum sponsoring a Garage Night. It’s not a bad idea, really.

    My husband’s eq has had some good social activities: an anarchic Pinewood Derby and a paintball day. But they are really not about conversation and bonding. They are more about blowing things up. (One of the derby cars was, um, powered by M-80s.)

    • mike says:

      Please tell me what ward this is……sounds like fun. I am an E.Q.P. In my ward always looking for new, and exciting activities for the quorum.
      We tried roman candle tag at the beach, that was fun. The Relief Society donated band aids and neosporin to that activity.
      Thanks again for the good idea.

  9. AmyB says:

    I love retreats. The Exponent retreat last year still looms large in my experience and I deeply treasure the space that was created there.

    One thing I loved was that it was completely run and planned by women. That doesn’t sound all that remarkable, because women do things like that all the time out there in the world, but within a Mormon context it felt quite remarkable and a bit subversive.

  10. Janna says:

    The entire church experience is a Mormon Men’s Retreat. The reason we *have* to have Mormon women’s retreats is because that space does not exist. A Mormon men’s retreat would be superfluous.

  11. Caroline says:

    Jm, The same goes for a lot of women in my ward too.

    Shaw, Rusty, and Ana, your comments confirm my suspicion that there might be less emotional communing when men get together.

    Amyb, you’re right, the fact that these are entirely planned by women is very, very cool.

    Janna, I tend to agree with you, particularly since the vast majority of leadership positions do involve males getting together to talk about serious subjects.

  12. dangermom says:

    My husband has often felt the lack of male bonding–he would love a Menrichment night. (Not that he’s planning to start one himself, mind you.) He does have more opportunities than many American guys, but they’re not huge. Most group service seems to be moving people, which he can’t do, though he does quite a bit of service on his own.

    Another factor to consider: we have two daughters. Many male-only activities in the Church revolve around father/son bonding. My husband has definitely felt like a second-class dad sometimes. Perhaps we should discuss that as well?

  13. Maralise says:

    One thing I have noticed is not the lack of “male activities” in the church but the lack of intimacy within that setting. For me, meeting with women in Relief Society is much different than being candid and open with another woman in a safe, comfortable setting.

    Not being an man, I am hesitant to say why I think this trend exists (or even be too adamant that it does exist), but I would be interested to hear more male perspectives on what I perceive to be a lack of intimacy within men of the church.

  14. Caroline says:

    dangermom, that’s a great point. Fathers without sons probably do miss out on some male-male bonding. I’d never thought of that before.

    Maralise, I think you’re right that the average Joe mormon man doesn’t tend to have a lot of opportunities at or through church to be intimate with other men. I do, however, think that men in power (bishops, quorum leaders) do get quite a bit of that through meeting and talking with their counselors.

  15. madhousewife says:

    My husband has many times tried to organize social activities with other men–nothing formal, just going out for food after the General Priesthood session or similar male-only church meetings–and the obstacle he runs into is that many men’s wives resent the time they spend away from home. They think men get enough adult interaction through work and church responsibilities. Even if the wives aren’t pressuring the men to stay home more, the men feel guilty about going out to socialize because they already spend so much time away from their families because of work and church responsibilities.

    I don’t think men necessarily need the same amount of “emotional communing” that women do. I’m sure that for some men, getting together and blowing stuff up is about as intimate as they want to get (most of the time). I agree with Janna that the church framework provides opportunities for deep connections between men. But men also need more opportunities for simple socializing, doing guy stuff–emotional communing not necessarily required.

  16. Paula says:

    For a certain part of the population, I think that Sunstone serves as a male retreat. It’s not as heavily male-dominated, or as cliquish as it used to be, but still does serve as a get together and bonding time for a lot of men on the leftish end of the spectrum.

  17. Anonymous says:

    “The entire church experience is a Mormon Men’s Retreat. The reason we *have* to have Mormon women’s retreats is because that space does not exist. A Mormon men’s retreat would be superfluous.”


    “Janna, I tend to agree with you, particularly since the vast majority of leadership positions do involve males getting together to talk about serious subjects.”

    I’d like to call bull**** here. Or call it overreaction, broad-brush-painting, or failed comedy, even.

    _Having_to_ go to work a second job (church callings) which involve more meetings (which we get plenty of in office-worker-life) is not a “retreat” in any sense of the word. Sorry, but leadership callings are _work_, not social-bonding. Due to my second-job in the church, I have to arrange to go to male-time movies with my friends after work, home/child care time in the evenings, calling-time, and then wife time. If I were getting such great “bonding experiences” and friendship experiences at church meeting time or out-of-church-calling-time, there wouldn’t be a quarterly or semi annual “late night/post wife’s bedtime evening at the movies with the guys” event with my ward friends.

  18. Likely says:

    What about church sports? My husband plays on church basketball teams and he also gets together with other men to watch BYU football or BYU basketball or other sports games.

    HE practices every wed night with them and he plays every thurs. night
    during “season”.

  19. Joe says:

    I agree with Anonymous, two comments up. Even leadership callings are not necessarily opportunities for male bonding. There wasn’t much in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency I was part of when I was single. And at BYU, where most people in the married student wards do not have children yet, there is a sense that one is supposed to do things with one’s wife, rather than with male friends. Activities with friends tend to be in mixed groups. Add to this the American aversion to male intimacy, and you cut out any kind of male bonding. For me, there was more of that when I was single, mostly with roommates. I do miss that and would appreciate something like a retreat, although I think the character of such a thing would be completely different than a women’s retreat.

    The atmosphere at church changed for me once I got married. I do not regret getting married; it’s wonderful–but I did notice a decline in my relationships with other guys at church.

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