"Your job is to make your wife happy."
~ Temple Sealer
We were in the sealing room in the Jordan River Temple.* The sealer was imparting some words of wisdom to my former wife and me. He first told the story of Adam and Eve, about how Eve partook of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, but Adam did not partake. When Eve “confessed” to Adam, he steadfastly refused to partake, citing “Father’s” commandment not to do so. Eve then points out to Adam that if he refuses, she will be cast out and he will be left a “lone man” in the garden of Eden.
The sealer arrived at his point. Addressing me, he said, “And Adam said, ‘I see that this must be so.’” Gazing intently at me, the sealer continued, “There will be times when you will turn to your wife after she has given you counsel regarding a difficult decision and you will say, ‘I see that this must be so.’”
Then came the clencher. “Your job,” he said, “is to make your wife happy.”
As far as I recall, the sealer said absolutely nothing to my wife about what she was supposed to do for me. There was, of course, no exchange of vows. No mutual promises to love, honor and cherish, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, in the closet or out of the closet. Merely, I was supposed to listen to her counsel and make her happy. That was my role.
The problem is, I took this charge very seriously. If this mandate had been given to another man, say a heterosexual man who was very confident in his sense of self, he might have rolled with it. To me, however, plagued as I was by self-doubt and an inner sense of self-loathing because of my (by then) 15-year-long experience of attraction to people of my own gender, it was a command (not the only one) to offer up all of me upon the altar of marriage. My job was to make her – not me – happy. Only by completely surrendering myself to this marriage could I have any hope of redemption.
Parenthetically, even if I had been heterosexual, however, this assertion that I was responsible for my wife's happiness, played into and turbo-charged very unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that I had brought into my marriage from my own childhood and dysfunctional family of origin, wherein I had experienced role-reversal with both of my parents and had been made responsible for their happiness. It wasn't until years and years into the marriage, however, that I gradually began to understand what was going on.
Meanwhile, over the years, I grew increasingly disturbed by how the Church as an institution and as a culture treated women (and, consequently, men) and how it encouraged men to treat their wives. Put up on a pedestal, in a gilded cage, women were and are treated by the Mormon Patriarchy as "special." Men are the virile protectors and women are the subservient, weaker dependents.
I have frankly been disgusted over the years as I have heard various local church leaders refer to their wives as their “sweethearts,” and publicly fawn over them – as long, that is, as they stayed in their gilded cage. Mormonism makes such a fuss over women and mothers; Mother’s Day was almost unbearable for me, there was always such a gush of saccharine goo.
Father’s Day, on the other hand, was typically treated almost as an embarrassment by the men who were running the show. Why is that? The most important calling that a man can have on this earth is supposedly that of father … yet fatherhood is never discussed in human terms in priesthood meetings, sacrament meetings, or elsewhere. Rather, the myth of the heroic Mormon father holds sway, and as long as we read our scriptures, say our prayers, don’t look at pornography and pay our tithing, all will be well.
And heaven help the homosexuals, because they cut to the very heart of the Mormon myth of the heroic father. The Mormon patriarchal hierarchy despises homosexuality because homosexuality upsets the patriarchy’s view of itself and the natural order of things. It opens up the male persona to other interpretations that don’t fit neatly within the Mormon box.
Roles (using the term in its psycho-analytical sense), whether in the Church or in families, are not healthy. We are each here to fulfill the measure of our own creation, not fulfill a role that someone else assigns to us. And we are, ultimately, each responsible for our own happiness - not someone else's.
*This post was originally published on one of my former blogs (now closed) in August 2012. My mind turned toward it as I was reading Utah's arguments against marriage equality and the roles that the State (as an agent of LDS teachings on the family) seeks to assign to men and women.