Sunday, June 10, 2012


...that there may be a direct correlative relationship between my relationship status and the amount of time I spend looking up fashion shows on YouTube...

... And this means you'll probably be seeing about 17 hours worth of fashion-related posts in the coming weeks... 

Listening To: Courtney's alarm go off over and over again.
Things Going On Today:  First Sunday single.  Return and Report.  
Blessings:  Seven Peaks, trips to California at opportune times.
Learned:  What "yolo" means.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Marriage vs. Cohabitation: A lesson on Faith

I like talking about relationships a lot, and I'm sorry.  It's just such an important part of my little Mormon life.

This is gonna be a deep post.  It touches on a concept I've struggled with for a very long time.

I knew a boy back in high school that I really, REALLY admired. We became good friends, but we didn't always see eye to eye on things.  One day, we were talking about sex before marriage. He said something that would fascinate me for years:

"I don't think I really know if I love someone until I see her naked."

Yes.  That was what he said.  He went on to explain his feelings a bit more, and what I got out of it was that you really need to know an entire person in order to really love them.  You can really like a person a lot, but if there's no physical attraction, you really can't have the ideal romantic relationship.

This statement irks me on so many levels, but it also has left me with a lot of confusion and it made me really think about what I believed in regards to marriage, relationships, and sex.

 To set the record straight, I think it is wrong -- nay, downright sinful -- to participate in physical intimacy outside the bonds of matrimony.  God has told us not to do it, and if you do do it, there will be consequences.  Some of them you can get out of with repentance, but some you can't.  If that belief offends anyone, I'm sorry.  But I care about what God wants more than what anyone here on earth wants.

I do not apologize for this belief in the slightest, but I know that there are reasons why people break this commandment.  For one thing, it's super hard.  I know. Staying chaste is one of the biggest challenges people can face. I'm not ignorant of the fact that those feelings and desires to engage in such activity exist.  God meant for them to exist.   It's not like murder or stealing because it really can be a good thing in the right circumstances.  Good Mormons have sex.  You're supposed to have it when you're married.  It strengthens the relationship, makes you feel good, allows you to have the joy of children...  So many good things!  And as an added problem, Satan knows the stakes are high, so he's really upped his ante in making the sin look irresistible.  Remaining a virgin until you are married is a big sacrifice when the rest of the world is pressuring you and looks down on you for it.  I'm not ashamed to say that I have had to make some serious, difficult sacrifices to keep myself chaste.

It is hard, but it is so possible, and it is so worth it.

Within the past couple of decades, society has come to accept this idea that couples can live together and engage in sexual activity without making the commitment to marriage.  Some couples manage to co-inhabit for years.  Sometimes they eventually do get married, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes they stick together til they die, sometimes they don't.  From what I've gathered, people who adopt this lifestyle have sort of the same attitude that my good friend from high school had.  "I really don't know if I want to marry them yet.  Maybe we should live together for some time and see how we feel in a year or two.  Let's 'test the waters' and figure out if we are sexually compatible.  I'm not ready to commit for good, but can't I at least enjoy the complete extent of our relationship while I do have feelings for this person?"

Now, I'm a logical person. When I heard Mr. High School Buddy explain this mindset to me, I thought it seemed pretty logical.  Marriage is a super important decision.  And, at least in the world I grew up in, marriage was for eternal keepsies.  You don't go back on marriage.  Once you marry someone, you're with them.  Divorce isn't an option, except in rare circumstances.  Before I make this HUGE decision, I'd like to do my homework and really get to know the person I'm planning on marrying.  If I don't, I could end up with someone I'm not really happy with, and then my life will be miserable.  I don't want my life to be miserable!  Maybe the test for physical compatibility isn't as far-fetched as my leaders make it sound.  Yeah, you shouldn't be having sex all over the place with just anyone. But what if you really do have legitimate feelings for someone, and you're at least willing to commit to them for a time, but you're still not sure if you're ready for forever?  Marriage seems like an awfully big risk if you don't even know if you will really love that person, inside and out, with and without their clothes on.

But of course, I can't deny that the revelation speaks otherwise.  Physical intimacy is meant for a man and a woman who are united under holy matrimony -- whether it be in the temple or otherwise.  You need to be married before you can have sex with a person.  It's super important that you do so.  I had a testimony of this fact, but I didn't quite know why it was that important.  And that little hole in the logic really got to me.  How can I really have a testimony of the Law of Chastity if I don't have any idea why it's important?  I suppose God tells us to do things without telling us why all the time, but this one seemed too big of a deal to go without any real reasoning behind it.  I prayed for answers, and I sort of lived on that prayer for years, vacillating between feelings of doubt and anxiety and feelings of hope that God would indeed answer my prayer someday.

Last week, at Institute, we talked a little about the Law of Chastity in a class called "Preparing for an Eternal Marriage."  There was a discussion about some of the customs that are accepted by worldly standards, but not God's standards.  Someone brought up the notion of non-marital co-habitation and I started having that battle with myself again...

But then it came to me:  Faith.  Faith is the answer to everything.

I think you can have faith in God, but you can also have faith in a marriage, because marriage is of God.  Maybe faith in marriage comes from having faith in God.  Either way, faith is the answer.  As we read in the scriptures, faith is the knowledge or hope of things not seen.  Faith can mean an expectation of something that will happen later in the future, or it can be the belief of something that currently exists but that is just not seen.  Faith is the opposite of fear.

I think people who choose to put off marriage while still enjoying its benefits are not acting out of faith, but out of fear.  They aren't willing to make the ultimate commitment because they fear that they will be making a mistake if they do.  I don't think God's plan is designed for people to fear.  We need to have faith.  We need to remember that God will always be with us in our marriages.  If you have faith, you have a hope that a relationship will work, even if there are unknowns.  If you have faith, you don't have any need to fear the future.  If you have faith in God, you know he will help you, even if things get rough down the road.  If you have faith in your marriage, you maintain a belief that it can work, even if you and your spouse aren't completely compatible in every way.  I believe, then, that marriage is the ultimate act of faith.  Marriage is committing to your belief that the marriage will work.  It's like saying, "I don't know what the future brings, but I believe that this can last forever.  And I'm going to give up my single life completely to co-exist with someone completely.  In sickness and in health, for better or for worse, for time and all eternity.

I'll keep using that "test the waters" analogy.  There is no need to test the waters if you have faith that the waters will be just fine.  More often than not, they will be.  People who get married usually have their relationships last longer than those who simply live together.  But what if the water isn't fine?  What if, three months later, you realize that the water's a little more frigid than you're comfortable with.  Maybe it's the sex, maybe it's just his nagging personality, or maybe you just feel like you've settled and you could have had better.  No matter what the issue is, there is a way to make the relationship work.  If you include God in your relationship through faith, God will give you a way for your relationship to work.  Maybe he'll heat up the water, or maybe he'll just help you change your attitude about it.  No matter what the issue, things get easier when you have faith that God will help you.

Now that I've learned this, I have a very different attitude toward that statement that my friend made long ago.  Not only do I believe it isn't true, I also find it to be rather insulting.  I can now imagine how I would feel if someone said that about me.  If a guy can't know he loves me without seeing me naked first, that means he has no faith in me and no faith in our relationship.  It means that the physical aspects of a relationship are the only things to him that matter in a marriage.  That's just stupid and shallow.  Marriage is much more than just the physical.  Yes, it's important, but once again, if you approach your marriage with the right attitude and with the right amount of faith, you can be happy with anyone in every aspect.  I don't think my friend will ever truly love someone if he approaches his relationships with that attitude.

So... bottom line.  There's no need to not get married yet if you have faith.  Faith is the answer to everything.  Faith is the way you can keep the Law of Chastity until the day you die.  With God, all things are possible, and all marriages are possible.

Listening to:  Candlelight Carol by BYU Women's Chorus
Things going on today:  A fireside, lots of homework.
Blessings:  Periods only come once a month, not once a week.
Learned:  Laughter can actually provide lots of ease from menstrual cramps.

A Lesson My Parents Probably Don't Know They Taught Me

Alright... Opposites.  I have seen tons of couples out there.  Some are made up of pretty similar people.  Others, it's like they're from different planets.  My own mom and dad are pretty opposite.  Mom is bubbly and social and very giving of herself.  Dad is quiet, reserved, and careful.  When mom is upset, she cries and blames herself.  When dad's upset, he yells and puts the blame on other people.  Mom likes to watch movies and go to plays and read books.  Dad does NONE of those things. He has no hobbies.  Hobbies are expensive.  Mom likes to treat herself to restaurants and new clothes.  Dad never likes to spend money, even if he's spending it on something completely worthwhile.  They even LOOK different.  Mom is tan and blonde and HAWT.  Dad is tall and dignified and would look good only according to eighteenth century nobility standards.  

My darling Parents.
I think a lot of their differing personality traits stem from very different pasts.  My mom, Wendy, grew up in a very active church family in Provo stinking Utah.  Provo was a college town, an established urban metropolis.  My Grandpa Gardner, even though he has Alzheimer's, still manages to find the energy to tell my Grandma Gardner how wonderful she is.  Every day.  Mom had two older sisters and three younger brothers.  Grandma G was a pianist and taught mom the importance of music and performing arts.  Grandpa was a very smart and successful man.  He worked at the University of Utah, served on the State Legislature, and worked with experiments that led to today's modern development in rocket science and computers.  The Gardner family could afford comforts for their large family, like the newest computer modems (with punch cards!), a nice grand piano, and a big house.  Mom was surrounded by members of the church, got tons of dates all growing up, and got a chance to study abroad in Europe during her short secondary education.  I'm not going to say my mom's life was easy, but as you'll see shortly, her lifestyle was very different from my father's. 

My Father, Erik, grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota, one of very few members of the church in a much smaller school in a sprouting country-turning-suburb.  Dad came from a part-member family and had an older brother and two much younger sisters.  The Johnsons were a poorer family.  Grandpa Harlan worked in a small business, and for a while had to work two jobs to keep his family living in the same home they began in.   Grandma D. also worked really hard, kind of putting together a DIY home out of what they already had.  Dad learned quickly that he, himself, would have to put in a lot of effort in order to be successful.  He ended up getting a Master's Degree and joining the family business. Grandpa Harlan is Catholic.  Grandma Doro grew up in the church, but she herself was from a part-member family and took sort of an apathetic approach to governing her children's spiritual lives.  Dad and his older brother Ty sort of had to find testimonies on their own, and weren't given any support by their peers or parents. Grandma Doro and Grandpa Harlan are like the opposite of my Gardner Grandparents.  In my dad's teenage years, they ended up getting a divorce, and it was in no way pleasant for anyone. Even when it happens later on in a person's youth, the experience of divorce is one that can alter your life forever.

So, when two completely different worlds combine, there are bound to be some adjustments you have to make.  My Dad was a little put off by how outgoing and "Mormon" my mother is.  To this day, Dad still teases her about how she bursts into impromptu song and dance at the most unnecessary of moments. 

A big thing my Dad had to learn is that my mom is a Words Person.  She expects to be TOLD -- not just SHOWN -- how much she is loved.  Remember, Grandpa Gardner was a words guy.  He tells everyone how much he loves my Grandma and how proud he is of his kids.  Dad isn't much of a words guy.  Grandpa Harlan wasn't a words guy.  Harlan showed his love by going out and working as a school janitor for a second evening job to provide for his family.  I'm sure Grandpa loved his kids, even with the divorce and everything, but he just wasn't the mushy-"I-love-you"-type.  So Dad learned not to rely on that kind of communication.  When he met my mom, he had to CONSCIOUSLY RESOLVE to tell her he loved her every day, because he found out very quickly that it was something she was used to.  And it wasn't just words.  Mom likes gifts.  She likes getting jewelry, flowers, fancy restaurant dates, and vacations to all places tropical.  I'm positive that my father thinks those things are a complete waste of money, but because he loves her, he uses his precious, hard-earned money to her stuff like that all the time. (My favorite gift: A trip for her to see Daughtry in concert last summer.  The card said, "Dear Wendy, please find someone else to go to this concert with you. Love Erik.") 

In my own childhood, I remember often thinking that my father didn't love me.  He didn't ever give me a lot of praise or verbal affirmation, and he often had trouble communicating his feelings to me in a "loving" way when he was disappointed with me.  He also wasn't home as much as I probably would have liked.  BUT, now that I'm older, I can see all of the things my Dad HAS done for me because he loves me.  He's worked hard, sacrificed a lot of time and money, and he's stepped quite a bit out of his comfort zone to give me the praise and verbal affection that I so greatly desire.  I've learned from my Dad that we need to be aware of ALL of the things our family does for us, even if they aren't what we find obvious.

I'm sure mom feels it too.  Sometimes I would come home and the house would be a mess.  I remember seeing my mother, almost in tears, hurrying to try and get dinner made while at the same time trying to tidy up the kitchen.  "Please help clean up!" she would say.  "I don't want your Dad to come home from work tonight to such a messy house!"  You see, while my Mom is a words person, she is NOT as much of a service person.  She must make a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to do things for my Dad that he would appreciate. Things like cleaning the house, making dinner, and not spending too much money when she goes to Target Some of those things are outside her comfort zone, but she does them anyway because she loves her husband. 

I'm a lot like my mother.  I like words and gifts and quality time.  I always thought that I would want to only date guys who would satisfy those needs.  Guys who would express their feelings verbally all the time, guys who would be as emotionally charged as I am and express their passions the same way I do.  Some of the men I've dated have showered me with praise, given me wonderful gifts, and have invested a great deal of time on me.  But others, including my current boyfriend, don't speak those love languages as well.  My boyfriend is wonderful.  He's so humble and patient and accepting of me.  He reminds me a lot of my Dad.  He, too, is quiet, reserved, and careful.  There are days when I get frustrated at him because he doesn't express his feelings for me in those specific ways that I particularly appreciate.  But then I remember the things he DOES do.  He puts off homework for me all the time.  He asks for my advice.  He listens to me.  He buys me Slurpees. And he, like my father, has done a lot of stepping out of his comfort zone.  He's holds my hand in public.  He  tells me what's on his mind.  And he's learning about my needs and he's changing for them.  No doubt, we'll have a few periods in our relationship where we will disagree and we'll have to explain each other's expectations, but we've already been through enough for me to feel like this, too, shall pass.  

I've always liked this picture.  Check out that girl's socks. 

I think about my parents' relationship a lot, now that I'm dating myself.  I know not every couple is going to be exactly the same, but I do feel like my parents have taught me correct principles of patience, understanding, and sacrifice.  Despite what the fairy tales say, love ain't a picnic.  There is a ton of work involved.  They say opposites attract, and it's true some couples seem like opposites.  But really, if you think about it, there's always going to be something "opposite" about the person you are dating.  No one is exactly like you.  No one is exactly like your spouse, either.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's probably very helpful.  If you both have exactly the same "love language" and expectations, you aren't really learning anything new about each other.  What if my boyfriend and I were both only service people, who never really expressed affection verbally, or even expected the other to do it.  One day, if I get married and have a child, that child will have his own personality and agency.  Maybe HE'LL need verbal attention.  If anything, my differences from my boyfriend teach me how to show love in a variety of ways.  That's valuable.  

I have a theory:  Love is a willingness to put one's needs and desires first.  Love of yourself is a willingness to put your wants, as well as your needs, in the foreground, while love of others requires you to forsake some of those wants and maybe even rethink and adjust your needs.  A healthy relationship involves love of yourself as well as love of your partner.  Your partner must also love you as well as him/herself.  Ideal love is a balance of these four different states of feeling between two people.  When looking for a spouse, it is important to consider if you both can even come close to maintaining that balance with each other.  My parents have it down to an art, and they set a high standard for me to pursue.  I have faith that I can do it. 

Listening to:  My dear Women's Chorus singing a version of "True Colors."
Things going on today:  Break the Fast, doing ALL the homework.
Blessings:  ...........................................tampons.......................................... (forgive me.)
Learned:  Captain Kirk was on the original series of Star Trek.  Picard was on the Next Generation Series.  I can feel myself getting nerdier by the minute.