Having a night to sleep on what I just posted yesterday I have some more thoughts regarding the themes involved in the discussion. But, to not get to off subject, I want to say more about the three I mentioned in the last post because those are very necessary to this book.
First, I will give my overview. Nicole Hardy spans across at least 4 decades of her life from birth to early forties, but primarily she focuses on the bumpy, difficult years of 20 to 30. As well as her thirties. Nicole displays, what one reviewer called ‘Cognitive Dissonance.’ The reviewer wrote: “Cognitive Dissonance is described as: “The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.”
She struggles through her twenties with the idea of finding her sole value and purpose in two things: marriage and having children. Rather, she wants to stay true to her dreams and desires. She wants to be a writer and spend her time being creative. I relate heavily to wanting to write and be creative. The first 200 pages are full of Nicole sticking to her convictions and having trouble in all her relationships. She struggles with liking the non-Mormon or LDS(Latter-Day Saints) guys because they want sex after a few dates. And she struggles with the seemingly impaired LDS guys who seem to think that women are a means to an end. That we should be in love, but really I need you to bear me some children.
Nicole has a real crisis of faith at 35, nearing almost 36. She decides to stop caving into the pressure and the boundaries of marriage before sex. She succeeds at writing, at diving in the Caymen’s, and being herself. This is where that cognitive dissonance thing comes into play. How hard is it to stay pure outside of marriage? It is hard and I am not trying to champion what parts of this book I wouldn’t do myself. I said in the first part, that as hard as it is God’s boundaries are there for a reason. And we need to press through the lies of culture and value God’s word above people’s comfort. Doesn’t it say-in the end of the age-men would be lover’s of pleasure, rather than God? She comes to grip with these many tensions. And I greatly appreciate someone opening up about how hard purity can be, but also how confusing the “religious dating scene” can be. I put up quotes cause I don’t know what else you would call it. Dating, just by itself, is not easy. Its not the movies everyone. In the movie the guy is at the party with his bros and he figures out who the best looking girl is in the place and goes for it. Next scene: girl and guy wake up the next morning. And people would say: well, I guess the guy got the girl. No. The dating scene is more like this.”Hey, you don’t look your ChristianMingle picture at all?” Awkward…
She does give in and she does lose the label of “virgin” and then it just ends with her getting published in the New York Times.
To discuss the three points from the last post. Along with some added thoughts:
This book does reveal the many tensions between faith, purity, conviction and wondering: what is the right thing to do?
Nicole has been raised Mormon. She doesn’t know anything outside of that way of thinking. She says: the Mormon church is a system of absolutes. There is only one right way to live. One complete truth. Either I believe the doctrine of my church was revealed by God to a living prophet, or I don’t. And if I believe, I must live the way I’ve been commanded. I must endure to the end. If I am floundering, drowning, or desolate, my faith should be the solution.”
She struggles with the relationship she has with her friends. They seem to think her convictions aren’t translating over into real life. She says: Even after all this time, my friends don’t get it. They think my belief system can be fluid. Can be edited, revised, or altered to fit…they say ‘you being Mormon, is not working.”
Point #1 The Role Of Women In The Church
Throughout this book the cognitive conflict goes between doing what the Mormon( and even Christian) church has to say about women. Nicole captures very well the pressure, and much of it superfluous, of being Mormon and being a women. She says, “I first heard in 1988 from Ezra Taft Benson said, “I would like to express the hope we all have for you, which is so real, that you will be exalted in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom and that you will enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage…Dear sisters, never lose sight of this sacred goal. Prayerfully prepare for it and live for it.”
And she also says( of women in the church): “These women want me to receive all of God’s blessings, many of which can be bestowed only after my temple marriage, which should be my first objective. Everything I have done so far( my two graduate degrees, my international travels, my teaching career, my friendships, my creative pursuits), is “preparing.” Treading water, keeping time, staying busy until real life begins.”
But this one, on page 101: “Like Eve, your motherhood began before you were born…it is the essence of who you are as a women. It defines your very identity, your divine stature and nature, and the unique traits your Father gave you.” I think this came from her mom. Many in the church assume that you can’t be happy single. Or that singleness is just a phase that everyone should eventually grow out of. I honestly believe, that a lot of that is true. Its clear in the small amount that we know of Adam and Eve. We see that Adam obtained unhindered( no sin yet) communion with God. There was no pain, suffering, especially no shame, fear, or guilt. Those three destroy our closeness with God. Adam was walking with God in the cool of the day, plucking the very few weeds that existed, and naming the animals until he realized that something was missing. God, then created women. It is not the purpose of women to serve man, or to be his maid and do stuff for him. That was not the purpose. God used this to show all of creation and humanity that this is what love is. Two people that will sacrifice themselves for each other. Its more than just ‘filling the earth’ with children. Its a picture of the heavenly Trinity. The way that God sacrifices we shall do the same. The way that God extends His family, is the way we ought to extend our family.
Marriage is valuable. Children are valuable. Mothering and fathering are the greatest ministries anyone can be given. But no one should feel ‘less than’ if that is not what you want. If you want to be single and not have children. And that is the point that she makes. The church can put added pressure that can come across as ‘judgmental.’ I think that is her point. But I think, some of the pressure comes from that ‘father knows best’ feeling. It seems that we have that marriage and family pressure because their is something in having that in your life that is connected to happiness. Having kids causes you to get your focus off of yourself, as well as marriage too. Just my opinion on that.
This is how she gets stuck, a little. She says: “The terrifying loop of the if-then: If I want sex and love, then I need to get married. If I want to attain the highest level of exaltation, then I need to get married in the temple. If I want to get married in the temple, then I need to find an LDS man, and be worthy of a temple marriage. If I want to be worthy, then I need to keep the law of chastity. If I am going to be able to keep the law of chastity, then I need to get married soon.”
Point #2 The Conflict Of Sex And Culture
I had said in the last post that there are tensions that we live in when we try to mesh together religious conviction with our innate desire for sex. Unfortunately, the assault of pornography, the ‘hook-up’ culture, and just the fallen nature of men and women has created obstacles to purity. The example of what is called pure, Holy, within God’s commandments has been very hard to attain to. I have grown up with too many movies before me telling me the exact opposite of what I have also read over and over in scripture. I think the reason for such conflict lies in our misconception of holiness and purity. When people think of someone who is pure or someone who exhibits Holiness we think of someone who is not cool. The pure people. The virgin. The girl or guy who is waiting til marriage becomes some pariah, especially in junior high and high school. How many movies capture the dorky guy with no friends, labeled a virgin that makes it his end all be all to conquer his so called “shortcomings.” Do women like to see men in films conquer them like its a man’s mission in life to do so? No wonder there is so much misogyny in our culture. Do men actually think women want to be treated like sexual objects or pages to add to I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.( I have never, nor would ever want to read-sadly, its exists)
Nicole’s struggle is very real. She says it the best, she says: “Because the more deliberately I have tried to disconnect from my body–shove desire down and lock it in like a clown in a tin box–the more forcefully i jumps out in sudden, terrifying blast”
Going along trying to suppress the God given desire is not what God intends and has for us. We have misunderstood the not so cool kids at school. Someone losing their virginity is a task for frat boys to conquer and if they don’t, they get kicked out of their fraternity. Taking something so special from someone has gotten reduced to someone wanting a cool story. Is it really true that every girl out there grows up and wants to be Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon( and the remake in 2012)? Or some twisted tale in The Virgin Suicides?
Is that really everyone’s fantasy? To be stranded on an island with some hot guy and then that’s it. No waiting for anything, just doing it on an island. I don’t feel very qualified to talk about this stuff but it is on my mind and because of this book the tensions of religion and sexuality are hard to discuss but need to be talked about. I want to be the example. Holy and pure is not uncool. Religion has crept its way in and caused people to think its just ‘absolutes’ and ‘doctrine’ and ‘rules’ for no reason. Most don’t see God as good and kind and ourselves as His primary love and affection. God sets the standards to keep us safe. God is after love. God is after pure and Holy so we will experience His love to the fullest capacity. If God created humans then God made sex. Then God authored it and knows it purpose. Its beyond just filling the earth. Its design is for ultimate pleasure. Its this drive for pleasure that humans have been given.
But because of the fall of man our desires are perverted and distorted. We now have to face all the lusts of the flesh in us. We are in desperate need of God’s grace, or God’s power to help us walk in His commandments. The culture goes against all that God has established and created but with our hearts understanding more of who God is we can see that its God’s way or its a road that leads to destruction. Accept or reject. Nicole Hardy’s struggle is not that she was wanting to reject God’s commands. She upheld it for 30 some years, it was that it seemed almost too hard to go without something that we aren’t meant to go without. Intimacy with God. Intimacy with people. Closeness is what we were made for and God is too good, to jealous for us, and to kind to mislead or misguide us. He does not desire that we take what he created for good and turn it into an idol. Turn it into what it is not meant for. Only with God’s blessing can we be happy. His greatest blessing to us is not material possessions but is enjoyment of Him.
The answer to these tensions is found in trust. Trusting that God’s way is the best way. And trusting God in singleness for the right people to both be our friend(s) and also to love. If we lack trust then we can slide into the ways of the culture.
Point #3 This Story Is Human..And I Would Add..The Dating Scene is Tough.
I have Taylor Swift’s song 22 playing in my head(Ok–admission, I own it, so there). But in her own Taylor Swifty language she sings: (about her adult friends)”We are happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time, its miserable and magical!” The part I mentioned in the first post about prolonged adolescence..well there is a lot to be said about that and this is already a long post but I will say. It doesn’t help men or women if our generation continues its path of not growing up. More movies have been made about men and women having later in life identity crisis’ and realizing it would just be easier to be a kid. Adults want to relive their teen years. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church in Sideways represents that crisis very well. Two grown adults in anguish and pain not wanting their lives. Driven by unhappiness and deep dissatisfaction(To quote Steinbeck). Adulthood seems like, in our culture, that life begins when you want it to. Women are always throwing their hands up in frustration over the lack of real men. And most of the time they are right. I don’t mean to be negative but their is some truth to that. As a man not wanting to hide in my basement, or my mom’s basement and play hours of Call To Duty, or Halo, or who knows what is popular now. It is a sad truth that the average age of most video game buyers is 35. In this book Nicole honestly expresses that dating is difficult in both the American culture of people not wanting to grow up with all the tensions that come with having your faith as a conviction. Meaning, most people over spiritualize relationships. If you like someone you have to check with God first and ask Him if that is the right thing to do. If God wasn’t involved and you liked someone you would probably just like them and not worry about needing permission. There is clearly a better way to go about it. God does desire that we date and our obedience to Him is important. But sometimes, with wisdom, it is better to just let yourself not be scared of liking someone. I just appreciate someone telling their story and talking of many failed attempts. Her struggle really shows more so that it is hard to meet someone who does share the same convictions as you. We need to trust God that everyone can get that. Singleness is not some prison you are stuck in. It is the time to go as hard as you can after God and hopefully, with great trust in our creator, we can all experience the joys of being in love, and close, and intimate with others.
In conclusion, faith and sex, religion and rules and growing up all are involved in this honest book. I read it and write this because its a stretch for me to just up and talk of this stuff. I do do more then just write poems 🙂 I am not a Mormon but I do think they share some of the same principles as to what I have been raised up in as a Christian. It is my goal and aim to speak ‘the truth in love,’ as Paul says. I want to love truth and know that you might not agree with any of this but their are those out their that are upholding these boundaries. And I say to those people do it and do it well. Continue to trust God for the best things in life. Hard and difficult will always be on the road less traveled but in light of eternity it will be worth it. God sees. And those two words can change your life. Hearts of purity. Honoring women. Choosing to be men. These are the things that I want in my life. And I pray you desire those things too.
Here are some good quotes from the book:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”–Anais Nin
“I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it’
On the value of marriage for a women in the Mormon Church:
“I hear the voice of our prophet in my head:
we earnestly pray that our single sisters will desire honorable marriage in the temple to a worthy man and rear a righteous family, even though this may mean the sacrificing of degrees and careers. our priorities are right when we realize there is no higher calling than to be an honorable wife and mother.”
The question is not what you look at, but what you see—Henry David Thoreau
“My theory is that many LDS men have never learned how to treat women properly because they have always been the supply to an unrelenting demand…there are plenty of smart, successful, well-mannered men outside the church who want to date us, but with them we’re pressured to lower other standards.”
“How can I teach myself? says the voice in my head. Not to feel what my body feels, not to need it?”
“No man stays long enough to fall in love.”
When something is right, everything will fall into place.”
“A soul crushing lonliness is a small price to pay, given the big picture. Everyone suffers Lonliness is the human condition. And after the tests of our faith, we will triumph.”
“But the true poems will come when you write about what you fear.”
The mom kind of hiding behind religious language and not getting what Nicole was going through. Her mom says, ‘everyone has trials, honey. You just love God. You keep the commandments, and you say your prayers.”
More pressure from church to have kids:
“Her bishop gets her to teach five year olds, he says ‘it will good for you, to be around the children..as if I am suffering from some deficiency, need a weekly does of toddler therapy.”
On changing and learning to deal with it
Nicole says, ‘what I need—access to my sexuality, a less prescriptive definition of womanhood, a wider view of the world, time and solitude to write, respect for my current life and creative pursuits—may never have entered her consciousness…does she get that sex does matter—about her mother-who was abused.”
Reflecting on Mormon faith and culture:( in talking to her parents)
“How do I say I don’t believe sex is important enough to take on such an epic role in LDS peoples lives? That this one element of our humanity shouldn’t be so magnified that it becomes destructive for those of us whose lives don’t fall into the perspective model. How do I bring up the disproportionate number of gays LDS youth who kill themselves? Of the fact that Utah leads the nation in online pornography subscriptions and prescription antidepressants?”
She closes(the book) with : ‘you are the first, the last, my everything!-Barry White
All quotes from: Hardy, Nicole. Confessions Of A Latter-Day Virgin. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.