Damsels in Denial

Thursday, February 14, 2013

As LDS women, we are in a crisis… an identity crisis.

Too often in our race to the happily-ever-after finish line, we jump that chasm between Young Womanhood medallions and temple marriage without ever really examining its depth. Perhaps too much of our worth is derived from Facebook relationship statuses and ring fingers. As little girls, we are submerged in vibrant, melodious romps through fairytale kingdoms and magical forests, we are indoctrinated by plotlines with outcomes dependent upon a princely savior, and we are bludgeoned with piano lessons and casserole recipes for the deliberate purpose of transforming us into human dowries.

I hold romances partially responsible. Few women can resist the lure of being swept off their feet by a handsome hero, every trouble eliminated at the prospect of being valued by an individual other than oneself. Is it really such a surprise that some of the most poorly written texts ever to be published have somehow evolved into national bestsellers due to their seductively liberating and reality-averting material? Even in renowned, well-written literature with “independent” and “feisty” heroines such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, the leading ladies are reduced to roles in which the resolutions to their own stories depend upon another character, namely the love interest.

Another culprit is the dark side of Mormon culture. Separate from the gospel, the stagnation that accompanies the locus of our population breeds social norms we feel obligated to comply to. We’ve breathed life into and given flesh to this idea of success and self-actualization through a young marriage after a rapid courtship, fueled by hormone-induced domestic yearnings and the narrow interpretation of a rather ambiguous and wide-ranging commandment: multiply and replenish the earth. How shameful that, in our haste to comply with the norm (to feel like good Mormons, of course) we lose sight of our potential within. There is not a cell in my body that believes our Heavenly Father would have blessed us with so many talents, prospects, capabilities, ideas, and interests if He did not intend for us to spend a significant amount of time exploring and developing them all.

Too often, we are told to get an education or some sort of basic training “just in case” we are, by some frightful, husband-disengaging circumstance, called upon to provide for our families. Can’t we see how damaging this kind of mentality is? Don’t we see how puny our subsistence must be if that is the only reason we would choose to educate ourselves? No, no, and no again! We deserve to be educated, not because we might end up old spinsters, not because we might need to someday provide for our families, and not even because we are women, but because we are human beings… and for that simple reason alone, we cannot justify an existence without it. We must learn for ourselves and through ourselves and to ourselves and by ourselves, and not for any other person. We must seek after all the education we can in order to become like our Heavenly Father.

That gap between life roles that so many young women are too eager to jump expands with education. It colors with exposure. It develops texture with experience. It deepens with wisdom and life lessons learned. How sad that so many girls blindly leap without daring to explore the jungle of possibilities beneath. Life is so very vast—we must not cheat ourselves out of a world rich with adventure because we are afraid of being alone.

Being alone is essential to knowing oneself and forming an identity. True personal identity is constructed totally independent of others; attempting to form your own identity around another human being is like trying to build a sand castle that partially resides on the back of a turtle. Being alone can be scary, though, and is often looked down upon in our society as being undesirable. It takes a lot of bravery to forge your own path, build your own future, and form your own identity independent of others. So many women in our church sidestep this refining process because it seems so much easier to be with someone else. The other person becomes the savior from the misty, vague lands of the unknown. In reality, the knight in shining armor does not save the damsel in distress from a fearsome dragon, but rather a damsel in denial from cutting her own path in a boundless and unfamiliar world. Yet, what a monarch is the woman who brings herself happiness with her own presence, her own choices, her own skin! We emphasize self-love, but we must also make ourselves into something we would love. To achieve the kind of self-respect that comes with contentment of only God’s and one’s own approval of self is a rare and priceless triumph! Let every human being seek for that level of satisfaction in their own value.

It must be understood that identities are not formed in relationships—identities are fused in relationships. Whatever is built between two people will be ripped apart if the relationship does not last. It is for this reason that women must realize how they jeopardize their sense of self when they seek to fill the holes within themselves with another person. Holes of hurt, doubt, fear, dissatisfaction, brokenness, and unhappiness can only truly be filled by the one who retains them… using another person as a band-aid may mask the pain for a short time, but in the long-term impedes any true healing from occurring. Too frequently do women use relationships with men as masks to disguise the sometimes painful tasks, problems, and questions that lurk internally.

I hope I have not misrepresented the divine roles of wifedom and motherhood in my promotion for identity and emotional independence. I believe that to be a wife and mother, and to belong to a family, are the greatest things one can do upon the earth and in the eternities. Yet, they must be entered into for the right reasons, and they are not the only great things we can and must do. We only have one life to live—why rush it?

Not as women, but as human beings, we must learn to forge our own identities that we can love and be proud of. We must cease to be in denial and face ourselves and our futures with bravery and hope. We must learn to heal our own wounds. We must learn to fix our own problems. We must learn to save ourselves. We must become the heroes of our own stories.


  1. Hmm...I agree, and I disagree.

    I agree with the first part, that we neglect the crucial part of our lives between childhood and marriage. (Although I don't buy that it's a female-only issue in the Church--men are similarly pressured to get married the moment they're off the mission, and they're encouraged to make themselves "marriageable" too.) It is an important part of life that shouldn't be overlooked, neglected, or rushed.

    But as someone who is part of this group of young women who supposedly rush into marriage in order to "comply with the norm" and to "feel like good Mormons," I have to defend myself and others you've generalized. Yes, I think it's true that there are plenty of girls out there (especially at BYU) who spend too much of their time wishing they were married and that their "knight in shining armor" would come along. I, too, would tell them to focus on discovering their own identity, immersing themselves in education, and appreciating this time in their lives.

    But it doesn't follow that those of us who get married young (I got married two months ago, a month away from my 20th birthday) are in an identity crisis or are simply trying to fit in with the Mormon norm.

    Frankly, I never saw myself getting married at 19, nor did I want to. I was happy with where I was in life, and figured I wouldn't get married till I was closer to graduation, after I had had more life experiences and done more things. When I was trying to decide whether to marry my then-boyfriend, my initial reluctance mainly came from my unwillingness to part with my single life and all the possibilities that came with it.

    Obviously, I came to my decision after a lot of pondering and studying and prayer, but my decision partially came from realization of the fact is that marriage is not, actually, the end of the world. It's not a prison cell. Married women can still get an education, have professions, and have their own adventures. Actually, since I've been married, I've found even more purpose in doing all these things. Life isn't just about having fun and doing whatever I want anymore. I feel that there are actually MORE possibilities for me now than I ever had before.

    I don't see marriage as leaving everything behind; I see it as sacrificing certain possibilities for other possibilities. Yes, it's important to establish one's identity before getting married, but there is no one age when everyone is ready to do this. Some people might be ready at 18; others might not be ready until they're 35. Nobody should be rushed, pressured, or criticized for their choice of when to marry.

    I think that the damsel in distress/knight in shining armor mindset is often present in the Church and should be recognized, but I don't think marrying young is a result of it. (Sorry this comment got so long...thanks for the thought-provoking post!)

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I did not wish to generalize when speaking of the age, but rather the intent. I know of many girls who marry young for the right reasons and are happy, but this post is about girls bent on attaching themselves to another because they are not content with/are afraid of being on their own. The choice is, of course, a personal decision that varies according to the situation. However, there are a frightening number of girls who marry too early for the wrong reasons. There are too many young marriages in our church that end in heartbreak and divorce because of this. I don't wish to speak of the damages this can cause to relationships, but to individuals. I know my views are not traditional in our church and I don't wish to offend anyone who disagrees. Thank you for your comment, though!

  3. I think most people who have been married when they were young would agree that getting married when you are young is a scary thing! I don't want it for my daughters, I want them to love life and just enjoy who they are and develop themselves! That being said, I got married when I was twenty at BYU, so I fit right along with all the statistics. I came from a broken home and the spirit strongly strongly strongly encouraged me to marry my husband, otherwise I would NOT have made it to the altar. The spirit also told me "no" to going to grad school even though I had, and still have awesome plans for my formal education. For a "long time" I struggled with the fact that I had a baby when I was 22 and literally gave up living life for myself. It's only now that I am 30 and have five kids that I actually appreciate how the spirit led me along and it was the path that I would have wanted to take if I had seen the end from the beginning. I see the wisdom in God's plan for me because I KNOW how important it is to have a mom to take care of the kids because my mom was so mentally ill my little heart yearned for a mom to love me. So now I want to mother every little child I can. I want to have more kids and I just realized if I had followed my plan, I would have started having kids around age 27, realize how hard it is to have so many so fast with the body I have especially being "older" and would have ultimately only had four or five kids instead of feeling like with the rest of them I can pace myself. So, waiting for marriage and babies might not matter for other people, but I see how for my life plan it was vital to accomplishing what I truly what to in my heart, and not what my mind thinks would be very fulfilling and a lot of fun. My whole point is, be wise, but also follow the spirit.

  4. Thank you for this post! Learning to navigate this life as a faithful LDS woman is challenging. It is hard to discern what is and is not in our control especially when it comes to our emotions. It is hard to discern good, better, best. Sometimes there are so many options! Sometimes there are so few options! It is hard not to believe Satan's lies that this, that, or the other golden ticket is the key to our happiness. It takes great faith to find joy in our journey regardless of which stops or experiences are and are not included along our personalized path to Eternal Life. Although I do not understand all things, I have faith that God has given women these challenges because He loves us and He will use the challenges that are unique to our gender to mold us into more wonderful daughters of God than we ever could have been without them.


site design by designer blogs