Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Honesty and Dating, or, This Mormon Life

My friend Chris had the idea to try and create a Mormon analogue for the amazing radioshow, This American Life. To that end, he created a group blog that explores a single topic each week. The topic is dealt with by a variety of individuals, all of whom hopefully approach it in a different and creative way. Last month was a discussion of honesty and dating, particularly in the Mormon sphere. While the discussion takes place with that narrow scope, I think most of the principles are applicable whatever your personal creed. Anyway, since I haven't posted anything substantial for some time, here is my bit from last month. If you do have comments, which I would love to hear, I would ask that you please post them over at the website where the original article was posted. I think you might enjoy the blog.

On Honesty & Love in Dating

David Sedaris has a lot of stories about hitch-hiking. He said it started out as an easy way to get to the other side of town, then became a cheap way to get to the next city, and then became a way to enjoy the thrill of being able to recreate himself. With every new driver he got the chance to fashion a new identity, an opportunity to become someone more interesting; someone more exciting; someone more, well, new.

One of the places that it is easiest to become someone new is, of course, the internet. Take, for example, the first girl I ever chatted with over a modem. Back in the days of BBS’s and direct computer-to-computer connections, we met and chatted about various things. Eventually she sent me a picture of herself, really without prompting.

While everyone on the internet is obviously not a liar or sexual predator, it does become very easy to misrepresent yourself and be dishonest. I was recently at a coffee shop with my friend Linezolid.1 She, along with about fifteen other friends, has been telling me I should look into the world of online dating. The implications of this on my personal life are best saved for another day. This did, however, lead to a very interesting conversation about dating. She told me of an older man she came across on one of these sites. His profile was different because, well, it candidly disclosed the fact that he had a sexually transmitted infection. One of the permanent kinds. I did not ask if it was as serious as HIV or as (relatively) benign as genital warts, but that is really beside the point. What was interesting was that he was so candid, so up-front and open about it. Almost in-your-face about it. While his staunch rejection of the easy opportunity to be dishonest is laudable, was this stark honesty the right approach? Sooner or later, the woman he ends up in a relationship with will find out, anyway. Hopefully from him, and not from her physician. If the disease was going to be a deal-breaker in itself, we figured he was probably just trying to weed those people out early. Really early. Before even meeting.

But what if it was not going to be a deal breaker? How many people would this early disclosure, this preemptive strike, drive away too early? How many that, after knowing him better (or at all) would have otherwise still accepted him, warts and all?2 After all, none of us are perfect. Such blunt honesty is not only awkward, it is almost dishonest in itself. Are there others on this online dating site whose profiles include “anger issues” or “horrible with directions?” “Compulsively late” or “commitment issues?” Before knowing someones shining points, how can you really judge their weakest ones? If there is such a thing as too much honesty, I think this is it.

But isn’t that basically the point of dating? I mean, dating seems like some sort of complicated dance where we slowly reveal portions of ourselves to each other as we become more and more intimate. And I do not mean intimate in a necessarily sexual way, but rather the real intimacy. The intimacy only reached by sharing time together, talking, learning each others’ secrets, and holding those secrets close. Becoming aware of how the other person thinks, feels, and lives – that is intimacy. In that way, I believe that Internet-Guy-With-An-STD was on the right track, but jumped the gun. He was trying to be completely honest, but a bit too soon. At least of this sort. While he has probably had good reason to do so, likely by being hurt in the past because of late disclosure, he is skipping steps in the dating process, revealing too much, too quickly. And those steps are there for a reason. Maybe presenting your best face, which some may call lying, is not only appropriate but often necessary in dating. Dating etiquette requires phased honesty.

In unrelated conversations with a few other friends, the issue of honesty and dating was repeatedly brought up with specific regards to faithfulness within Mormonism. As many of you know, there are, in fact, varying degrees of Mormons within our community. There are Iron-Rods and Liahonas, there are the EQPs and FEQPs.3 There are Peter Priesthoods, Molly Mormons, and Jack Mormons. There are True Blue Mormons and Cafeteria Mormons.4 It is with some of these last type, friends who are quiet (and active) cafeteria Mormons, that this idea of honesty and dating has come up frequently. And the conversation usually gets pretty heavy, pretty quickly. I mean, what would you say if someone asked you, “Do I need to tell her that I don’t believe in revelation?” or, “How early should I tell my boyfriend/girlfriend that I can’t support the Church’s policy on Proposition 8 [or the stance on the role of women, or whatever]?” or “I may go to church every Sunday, but I don’t believe in God the same way everyone there does. When should I tell him that?” Is there a right answer to those types of questions? I didn’t think so either.

Another friend, Ember1 thought these dilemmas of faith (or lack of faith) an absolutely essential subject for discussion, at least as relating to relationships and Mormonism. Bishops, home teachers, or anyone else besides a boyfriend/girlfriend, are another matter. To her it was simply a matter of timing, not an option of whether or not to have the discussion at all. How early, though,one should “drop the bomb” was a little less clear. Should this timing relate to kissing? To dating exclusively? To discussion of marriage? The conclusion was that you should tell them as soon as you (or the significant other) starts to think seriously about the relationship.5

It seems, to me at least, that uber-bluntness is not quite the right approach. But neither is persistent deceit, whether by creating a new persona or hiding your true one. I think they both fail in relationships because they prevent that intimacy, that closeness, from forming. David Sedaris has a lot of stories about hitch-hiking. He said many of the stories involve lying through his teeth. He said that the feel of the cold gunmetal against his head felt exactly like he thought it would. He said that after the second time he had a gun pulled on him, he gave up hitch-hiking all together. Maybe he should have just tried being more honest while hitching. Then maybe he wouldn’t have had people lying to him, too. He might have even found someone who would drive him around for eternity.

  1. Name changed to protect identity or somesuch.
  2. Sorry. Horrible, I know. I couldn’t resist.
  3. Elders’ Quorum Presidents and Future EQPs.
  4. A cafeteria Mormon is one who chooses which teachings to believe, a la carte style. Not my term.
  5. In Ohio terms, I believe this is also known as “the first date.”

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