Monday, March 3, 2014

Mixed Orientation Marriages: Hammering Away At Our Souls

“We hammered away at our souls, efforts made daily that did nothing 
to stem the flow of futility from our core desire to love and be loved.”

“I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn't.”

In December 2010, I published a series of posts on my old Invictus Pilgrim blog about mixed-orientation marriages, and I received a lot of comments and some emails from both older men who were in a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM) or were younger gay Mormon men who were considering marriage to a woman. What follows is an amalgamation of a post originally published on 18 December 2010 and comments I received on that post.

First came an e-mail from a young gay Mormon who didn’t think he should comment on the blog because he didn’t want to inject his comment into what he perceived to be a discussion among men in MOMs. After reading his e-mail, I wrote to him and told him that, quite to the contrary, I think this discussion is extremely relevant and important to young Mormon men who are perhaps considering the concept of marrying a woman, thinking that perhaps they could find a degree of happiness in such a marriage.

I Loved Her, But Wasn't "In Love" With Her

With his permission, I am quoting from this man’s comments:
“I've only dated one girl in my life, and we were together for about a year and a half … I was hoping desperately that one day I'd wake up and *click* I'd be in love. But that never happened. I loved her, but wasn't "in love" with her … 
“I guess the point in emailing you is to let you know how relevant the MOM discussion has been for me. In that relationship, I was determined to just make it work, because I'd never dated before, and didn't know what a relationship was like. I was disappointed because all I was ever told about how great relationships are seemed to be false. I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn't. My willpower to resist and maintain my identity was slowly sapped away. When we finally broke up, I was broke up, because my identity as a straight guy was shattered. She was the foundation of that facade. (Of course, that wasn't her intention, she just was.) 
“Every once in awhile, that little voice sneaks into my brain and tells me that I should give dating girls another try. I could make the relationship work, and eventually marry. It tells me I could be happy, and maybe I would for a short period of time. But I think what makes me gay is, not only am I attracted to men, but my long-term happiness can only be sustained by one. In short, I want to be happy, and I think God wants me to happy to. So will I ever get married to a woman? I don't think so.”
I Was Not Formed To Fit Inside Of a Proclamation

Another commenter, Martin, wrote of the struggles he had in his MOM, which ended in divorce:  “There was practically no opportunity to gain perspective, living behind the Zion Curtain (sorry, Utah County). The script screamed to us, over and over, of what we must look like. And so, we hammered away at our souls, efforts made daily that did nothing to stem the flow of futility from our core desire to love and be loved.” 

The following thoughts were expressed by Martin in one of his comments:

I Stand As a Witness

I was not formed
To fit inside of a proclamation.

Rather, I am an explanation point,
Waiting to be examined
In all my complexity.

Not as part of a myriad of rows
Of Dutch tulips stand I.

Rather as a wonder of God's creative juices,
Humiliated not by the consternation of man.

Humbled by my own contemplation:
That this creation
Can never be reformatted
Into the image of your Thou.

Instead, it is I who must remain.

Your thorn.
My identity.
His work.

And somewhere in that intersection
Lies a brave new friendship.

Love Is All I Need

Many gay Mormon men enter into a MOM thinking that “love is all I need,” thinking that if I just work away at this hard enough, if I am selfless enough, if I focus enough on my wife’s needs, I can make this work. But this is a fallacy. In my opinion, in many if not most instances, love will never be enough in such a marriage, and the end result of selfless devotion to a marriage that is doomed never to be truly fulfilled and fulfilling is the death of self (to one degree or another).

This is not to say that MOMs cannot “work.” As has been discussed this past week, each MOM is different and is the product of a number of different factors, including in no small part the willingness of the man to forego fulfillment a fundamental element of his nature and identity. I respect each gay man’s individual journey as he comes to terms with his MOM in a way that is authentic for him. 

However, it simply will not do to cast such a soul-wrenching process as a struggle between focusing on one’s own desires versus selfless dedication to the marriage. This facile paradigm is simply not applicable to the terribly complex dynamics of a mixed-orientation marriage and, in my view, does a disservice to the men who struggle daily with the issues that have been described over the past few days.

One commenter wrote, “When both partners are selflessly focused on each other, that's when marriages make it.” This is what we are taught in the Church. And there is some truth and validity in this statement – when it is applied to a straight marriage or even to a gay marriage. However, in the context of a mixed-orientation marriage, it is, to one degree or another, a death sentence; for this approach, this mantra, requires that both the husband and the wife kill part of themselves for the “greater good.” The marriage becomes a mutual suicide pact, rather than an agreement to affirm the best in each other and create something new and beautiful out of the freely-given contributions of each partner.

I will reiterate that I honor, understand and respect the views and comments of gay Mormon men who are committed to making their MOM work. But I think it is critically important that the issues involved in mixed-orientation marriages be faced and discussed critically, honestly and openly. And this process in part involves recognizing and rejecting fallacies that, while perhaps applicable to straight marriages, contribute to and mask the destructiveness of mixed-orientation marriages.

Silent Hammers of Decay

I close this post with another comment received from a middle-aged man who had been in a Mormon mixed-orientation marriage. 

“I felt the pathos in the words Martin wrote,“And so, we hammered away at our souls . . .,” myself having somehow survived the “flow of futility” for 32 years. It reminded me of a Hodgson’s poem: The Hammers.

Noise of hammers once I heard,
Many hammers, busy hammers,
Beating, shaping, night and day,
Shaping, beating dust and clay
To a palace; saw it reared;
Saw the hammers laid away.

And I listened, and I heard
Hammers beating, night and day,
In the palace newly reared,
Beating it to dust and clay:
Other hammers, muffled hammers,
Silent hammers of decay.

"In his La Commedia Divina, Dante wrote:

In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in a dark wood
Where the true way was wholly lost

"I nearly waited too long to awaken. These silent hammers pounding away at my identity as I desperately tried to build from the “script” nearly destroyed me. And the specters of a life too-long-beaten down haunt me still a year-and-a-half after separating. Some days I have to fight very hard to dispel them. 

"I recommend a reading of Matthew Arnold’s The Buried Life. It is a bit long to include in this post in its entirety but I will end with these few lines and this advice: Don’t wait too long."

Fate, which foresaw
How frivolous a baby man would be--
By what distractions he would be possess'd,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity--
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey

But they course on for ever unexpress'd.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well--but 'tis not true!


  1. Joseph, Thank you for your thoughtful posts. I recently found your blog via Family Fellowship Facebook group. There are not many people out there writing about MOMs. Writing about my MOM would be very painful as I am still in it and do all I can to look at only the good aspects of it. Writing about the hard parts would bring the pain to the surface and who wants to do that? It is hard even to read your comments because they so accurately describe our marriage and feelings. It is somehow comforting to know that there are people out there who understand how much love and pain can exist in a MOM at the same time. It's persistent, exhausting and bewildering. Our children are almost grown so I take satisfaction knowing that they enjoyed being raised in an intact family. I worry about what it will be like when they are gone in a few years and it is only us two. Spouses who love each other should not have to worry about this, but such are the realities of a MOM.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. I have had the impression that not much is currently being written about MOMs, and you observation confirms this. I will continue to republish these old posts so that they will be available. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, and I certainly wish you well as you navigate this landscape.