Recently, a reader of ZD (who would like to be known as “Jack”) sent me an e-mail, wondering if I was going to make the topic of divorce part of my series. I told him I hadn’t planned on it, not because I don’t think it’s an important topic, but because I’ve been grounding the series in my own personal experiences, and I don’t have any experience with divorce. I liked his idea, however, and I encouraged him to share some of his thoughts. So, here is Jack’s story. I think it raises some tough questions not only about the place of divorced people in the church, but also about the pressure singles feel from people and the culture around them to get married. A final note: please feel free to share your own experiences with this subject, and as with past posts in the series, this is not an opportunity to judge the decisions of Jack or anyone else.
I grew up in the Church. I never really dated much as a teen, so I never really
knew what love was, and I grew up in an austere environment where love wasn’t on the radar for our family. We weren’t the wealthiest people either, and so I was very self conscious about that. In my final interview for the Mission, the President told me to get married ASAP. My Stake President basically said the same thing and gave me a blessing to do so. I got a calling extended from the Stake President and he told me I would have this calling until I got married.
I believed him, so I dated a bit. I live in an area where girls aren’t so it was hard to date. But I met someone who I had a bit of a crush on. We dated for about two months, and honestly I wasn’t in love. I just wasn’t. I didn’t like her much either but once you’re in the vortex of the situation, it’s hard to get out, and being a people pleaser I couldn’t. I bought into the marriage, work, school, job and calling “doctrine” that I heard so much in my life. The bishop put so much pressure on us and others to do things, and I think he gave advice to further his ego. I caved into the pressure and got married. We were not happy from the beginning. We had a child quickly because I was taught that birth control is selfishness. There was never any abuse, adultery, or anything like that. She announced a year or so into the marriage that she was quitting the Church. We were married for just under three years. We were simply not happy and just not compatible. We married when she was 21 and I was 23.5.
So here I am at 31—divorced, single, and with a child. I have grown a lot since
the experience. I would say the Lord eased me into this phase of life by
blessing me with good friends. One of them is an old childhood acquaintance who has become a dear, dear friend of mine. Talking with her is a real, genuine blessing. I suffered severe panic attacks after the divorce and talking with her has eliminated that. I also have some excellent guy friends who are easy to talk to about being a divorced male and that helps. I really believe God puts people in our lives to help us and to me that’s how the atonement works for us and how God succors us.
What is it like to be a divorced man in the Church? I feel like marriage will
never happen again for me because of what happened in the past—you are the guy people settle for. People think you’re on the prowl for women. I was asked to leave institute because the Bishop thought my only reason for being there was to pick up women, which was not the case, and if it was, it wasn’t any of his business anyways. I sometimes get the sense that people are surprised I am still active. Yet I also hear how sometimes that they aren’t surprised that more people aren’t divorced in the Church. I feel passed over for callings: “oh he can’t do that, he is divorced.” It’s like you have to fit this mold, and if you don’t fit it, you are not on the righteousness radar anymore. I was asked by someone I did not know if I was excommunicated because I had been divorced! I think you, as a male, have to be married and successful in the Church to meet expectations and exceed them.
Not all people get divorced for the same reasons. Not every guy is a
scoundrel, adulterer, wife beater or lay-about. I don’t drink, smoke, use drugs, watch porn, gamble, or play video/computer games. I think people who don’t know you or your ex assume that you were selfish or you weren’t doing enough “Church things.” Another thing is some think you are inferior to them because their marriage is working out. How do people view me? I would say on the surface people to my face are generally okay, but sometimes people treat me like I’m blighted, and because of this, I feel left out a lot of times. The lessons on marriage are the same, and no one mentions the fact that not everyone stays married, not everyone is happy in marriage, or that there are divorced people hearing this.
Navigating the world in the Church as a divorced male is like you were on one
shore of being single and never married, and then you were on the other shore of being married, and now you are in the middle with a child. You know what both shores have to offer, but the only people who come to you in terms of dating or friendship are either divorced themselves and/or are genuine friends from before or you met after. You get largely passed over by the never-married or already-are-married. It’s disheartening to hear about get-togethers, parties, or other functions that you weren’t invited to because “it would be weird for you.” How about I make that decision? The only ones I get invited to are the ones I make or with the other singles. Yet it’s strange that I am the guy other guys take out places when they want to complain about their wives. I want to say: “I would be so incredibly deliriously happy to have a wife! Count your blessings!”
I wish that ten years ago I would have known what I know now and that I would have had my child with someone else. Sometimes I feel so burned and ripped off. Although it’s better being single and happy most of the time than married and miserable, I see how others are and they didn’t hear or just ignored what “advice” they were given when I just accepted it. I struggle with others saying that God told them not to go down streets with their cars but I wasn’t prevented from getting involved with this certain woman, and sometimes I think as a result my life is ruined. I want to date and get married again, I really want to be happy with someone, and I really want to be in love with someone and have someone love me. I just don’t want to lose that hope.