Last week I was going through my old high school keepsakes (mine fit in a hatbox, my husband’s span two countries, but this is neither the time nor place for that complaint) when I came across what used to be one of my most valued possessions. It’s a list in my 16 year old sparkly pink gel pen handwriting entitled “The Man of My DREAMS!”, the result of a Mutual activity planned with extremely limited resources and no imagination. In lieu of doing anything fun, we did this. Before we set to scribbling, my friends and I were charged by our leaders to treasure our lists, never settle for less than what we knew we deserved, and try to become the women these men were looking for, which would be good advice were it not for the darkly implied “AKA DON’T TOUCH WIENERS OR ELSE YOU WON’T BE.”
My list is a full page, front and back. There are a couple of fleeting moments of something bordering on insight, but for the most part it’s embarrassingly materialistic, unnecessarily specific, and clearly parroted from EFY talks. To name just a few:
RM and worthy priesthood holder – honors it (Frankly, I’m impressed with teen me for not saying “Returned with Honor!”)
Makes me laugh
Wears a watch
Appreciates EVERYTHING about me (Everything…? Teenagers are so dumb.)
Good taste in clothes and music (my favorite music circa the time I wrote this: Avril Lavigne, Creed, the Crossroads soundtrack)
Isn’t afraid to compliment me (“I really, really want to tell her I like her shirt…BUT I’M JUST TOO SCARED!”)
Republican (In my defense, it was beaten into me ad nauseam by my leaders that it was of the utmost importance to marry someone with your same political affiliations, and I didn’t know mine, so I wrote down my parents’.)
Could wear a hat, but doesn’t 24-7 (…?…………????)
Dances with me – even if he’s no good at it (I’m sorta surprised “good dancer” wasn’t a requirement, at this rate.)
Wants to take care of me (And there it is. The most embarrassing one.)
Loves children (One of us had to.)
Older than me (This one makes me snicker. I don’t think I quite had a 10 year age gap in mind when I wrote that.)
Wants a dog
Can take me to the temple (Let’s stop using this wording.)
Lets me choose the ring
Buys me stuff (Ugh.)
Makes me feel better about myself (Double ugh.)
Someone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with without getting scared (Clearly my leaders’ marriage obsession was subconsciously terrifying to me.)
I was super into it – after all, I’d been taught that marriage and family were an inevitability for me, so why not plot out the details at 16? – but I distinctly remember having the thought, as I so often did as a female Mormon teen, “I’m sure the Young Men aren’t doing this.” (Just like sweeping the dusty trails of Camp Liahona, a required daily task at girls camp despite the very real risk of hantavirus exposure. “We are ladies! We might be camping, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still strictly observe gender roles to the detriment of our health!” When I asked a couple of Young Men if they had to use a broom on the trails at scout camp, they looked at me like I was simple.)
For the sake of full disclosure, I was married at 19 to a man who ticked nearly every box on my list – no watch though – and we are still happily married 9 years later. So, to my single brothers and sisters, a suggestion: Have you tried writing a list of qualities you want in your future spouse, and cherishing that list, and trying to become who that person is looking for?? I mean, it worked for me.
Wedding-centric Mutual activities pepper most Mormon womens’ memories, I’m sure. My cousin’s wife told me about an activity from her youth gone horribly, and hilariously, wrong. Someone thought it would be a good idea to set a gaggle of Mia Maids clad in their mothers’ wedding dresses loose on the temple grounds for a photoshoot, and a concerned citizen called the cops. I had assumed those sorts of activities were a relic, but it turns out that was optimistic of me. About a year ago, I accidentally arrived early to Mutual. The worst. I burned time by skulking in a dark hallway waiting for someone I recognized to show up. A bulletin board for the Young Women in a different ward caught my eye so I moseyed thataway and was greeted by a photo of a grinning girl in a wedding dress and veil, holding a plastic bouquet, her braces glistening. She couldn’t have been older than thirteen.
As others arrived for Mutual that night, I pointed out the photo and expressed my concerns to leaders and youth alike. At first some people were defensive – “It’s just a fun thing to do!” – and the wheels didn’t start turning until I asked, “How do you suppose this looks to investigators?” One leader admitted it could be off-putting, then continued, “But someone could post an explanation underneath.” Uhhhhhhh………what explanation.
I am so fortunate in my calling as an advisor to six intelligent, engaging, spiritually gifted Young Women. My Laurels talk about college plans and careers, they talk about extracurricular activities, they talk about missions. They discuss how to share the gospel with friends, they are inquisitive about the scriptures, they bear testimony. I could never imagine interrupting those conversations with, “But are you spending enough time thinking about your future husband and what your wedding dress will look like??”
In conclusion, please, no.