Down with Love

In the modern church, we posit that deep and romantic love for one’s spouse is most Holy. It is this love that is the beatific pinacle and is bound by the sealing power…Except that our history demeans romantic love. The 19th century saints taught that romantic love was not transcendent, but to be transcended.

The recent McKay lesson on Temples is a fascinating bridge between these quarters. He focuses on the eternal nature of love, framing our modern message of eternal romantic love as the fruit of the Gospel:

I love my children. I can have sympathy; I can have a desire to help all mankind, but I love her by whose side I have sat and watched a loved one in illness, or, perhaps, pass away…Why should death separate you when love will continue after death? It should not, and it need not…

Yet, in the next lesson his words echo back to our utilitarian heritage. “And I repeat that the very purpose of marriage is to rear a family and not for the mere gratification of man or woman.” In other words, not for love.

Contrasted against our modern romantics, Zina Young was interviewed by the New York World in 1869 and reinforced the convention of the time, stating that a woman “must regard her husband with indifference, and wits no other feeling than that of reverence, for we regard love as a false sentiment…” Such feelings were in exigency; but, let us not forget that this was the wife of the Prophet. She was the example.

This is a difficult concept, precisely because I love my wife so profoundly. I don’t want to conceive of a framework in which my love is superfluous. However, I can’t help but question our modern individualism when faced with the utilitarian variance of our progenitors.


  1. GreenEggz says:

    I think you misinterpret the word “mere” in David McKay’s quote. From what I’ve read and heard, he was deeply in love, romantic love, with his wife.

    Secondly, gratification is a taking. Whereas love is giving.

    I think you’re drawing a dichotomy where none was intended.

  2. I agree that he definitely loved his wife. The point is not that he didn’t. In the preceding sentences to the one above he stated, “[The purpose of marriage] is to bear children and rear a family. Let us keep that in mind.” The point is that while he upheld romantic love as an eternal virtue he taught that the purpose of marriage was to bear children, not to love each other.

  3. John Mansfield says:

    Love for a family member sometimes allows us to confuse our selfishness for selflessness. Putting the welfare and happiness of a spouse or child above all is not that different from putting one’s own welfare and happiness above all. Yet the family is the setting where we can best and most often sacrifice our own desires to serve another’s good.

    At your second paragraph, I considered that perhaps President McKay and his wife truly were the first couple sealed in the 20th Century.

  4. I don’t go to Sunday School because I’m in the nursery. I wonder how my ward would have interpreted that lesson.

    Love is over-rated. Well, that romantic, take your breath away feeling that comes when you’re first dating and falling in love. In my experience, it comes and goes in a long marriage. There are times I wish my husband would get run over by a bus and others when I think he’s perfect.

    What’s important is commitment. That’s the action part of the word love. Hanging in there, that’s tough, also crucial, unless he beats you or that sort of thing.

  5. I agree with GreenEggz that a false dichotomy is being created. The love Pres. McKay speaks of in the quote from the lesson is generated through the experience of his life with his wife (eg. sitting by her bed when she’s sick), not the sort of initial, take-your-breath-away romanticism we tout so highly today.

    It’s difficult to imagine how one could rear a family in righteousness and not develop that sort of bond–especially and most significantly–with one’s spouse, who we now know (if there was ever any confusion) is to be an equal partner in the raising of families.

    So yes, the love I read McKay advocating here–the eternal love that is the crucial linchpin of the temple (according to McKay in the same lesson) is part and parcel of rearing children.

  6. Zina wasn’t “the” wife of the prophet. She was “a” wife of the prophet, and the indifference/reverence attitude was one of pure survival. Women who deeply and passionately loved their husbands didn’t fare so well when those husbands were courting new wives. Those who were more detached were less distraught by the husbands’ wandering attentions.

    I agree with Anne, kind of. That romantic, take-your-breath away feeling that comes when you’re first dating is important, because it’s how we pair up. That feeling doesn’t last, but what replaces it can be much deeper, more mature, realistic and…holy. And that comes from commitment.

  7. So if the purpose for marriage is to bear children, should infertile men/women never get married?

  8. The McKay quote doesn’t say “bear children.” It says “rear a family.” Not the same thing.

  9. “[The purpose of marriage] is to bear children and rear a family. Let us keep that in mind.”

    I guess what I am trying to outline is the progression between the 19th century and today. If you asked Brigham young what the purpose of marriage was, he would not implicate love (just look at why he got married). If you ask most people today what the purpose of marriage is, I think most people would respond with some varriant of “true love” a la princess bride. McKay believed in romantic love, no question…but these quotes seem pretty strait forward. He answered that the prupose of mairrage was to have children and raise them.

    I don’t think McKay would be a contemporary to us any more than Brigham to him.

  10. “Ain’t no doubt in no ones mind that loves the finest thing around” James Taylor, Carolina on My Mind

    Ok, so I’m a James Taylor fan. I don’t consider him a prophet but those words are prophetic. Whether one ever gets married, or has children or raises a family, loving someone else is the best thing we can ever do. Loving usually involves giving, serving, selflessly sacrificing and generally dedicating our lives to the happiness of someone else. And loving someone else is greater than being by someone else, although that’s a good thing too. It is the basis of what the Savior taught. We can talk all we want about the purpose of marriage and the commendments to multiply and replenish the earth and we should consider those as commandments and all of our obligations as faithful disciples in that regard. But if we are searching for true happiness we should learn to love first.

  11. Edit my last comment to include “…loving someone else is greater than being LOVED by someone…” Thanks

  12. GreenEggz says:

    Like most prophetic statements, I don’t think President McKay’s was intended as absolutist and without exception.

    If the sole purpose of marriage was to “raise a family”, then couples could split up when their youngest is out of college.

    Or, looked at another way, perhaps they should continue to adopt children after their child-bearing years are over. (I know a couple that does that. They just love children.)

    If the _sole_ purpose of marriage was to raise a family, then elderly widows and widowers shouldn’t marry.

    I don’t think Pres McKay meant to imply the word “sole” when he said “the very purpose”.

    And the “not for the mere” before “gratification” means more “not only for”. Isn’t marriage supposed to be gratifying on several levels?

    Elder Nelson said at a CES/BYU devotional earlier this year, that leaders teach the rules, not the exceptions. Those are left up to the individual. That remark helped me get over some problems I had had from taking statements of the Brethren as absolute and without exception. In the past I had some real problems from expecting their statements to apply in absolute terms.

    In any gospel lesson or talk, for every point that is made, a thousand other related points and exceptions are left unsaid. Trying to make every statement into an absolute is what got the world a thousand different christian sects arguing over the Pauline epistles.

  13. annegb,
    I love it when I read your posts and think “this woman is so smart” and then I get to the bottom and I see that it is you! Its funny how our lives don’t exactly sound similar but we’ve got so many thoughts in common.
    Yup, the in love thing kinda goes up and down. Commitment is far more important. And because of the commitment, we have more trust and more love than ever.
    I was lucky to have the example of my parents marriage. They have a wonderful marriage, but it was not always perfect. They love each other, but there were times that their problems probably seemed greater than the love they felt. But the commitment was always there and all their hard work has given them a very successful marriage.

  14. J., I may be the only one, but I think you’ve put your finger on an important tension in Mo. rhetoric about marriage and family. We’ve gradually begun (maybe it started around McKay’s time) to use the language of romantic love, or at least emotional intimacy and fulfillment, in our descriptions of marriage, while maintaining notions about commitment and duty that come from an earlier set of ideas about what marriage was supposed to be like. I suspect it’s partly because once the definition of “eternal marriage” changed from polygamous to monogamous, we needed some new content for the phrase. The result, though, may be that Mormons feel a lot more guilt and disappointment about unhappy or just dull marriages than necessary–there are lots of marriages that would have seemed just fine by 19th-century standards, but fail to meet 20th-century expectations. Our somewhat incoherent rhetoric could be partly to blame.

  15. FenceStraddler says:

    I think LDS notions of love are also shaped by the temple sealing ceremony (no mention or promises of love between couples–just bearing children and loyalty to the kingdom–and the ordinances of proxy sealing.

    If everyone since time immemorial is sealed to their partner(s) with whom they bore progeny or to whom there was evidence of marriage, the percentage of couples who “loved” each other will be infinitesimal in the CK3. A smattering of people in the 19th-20-somethingth century, and that’s perhaps overshooting.

  16. Thanks Kristine. And thank you for the great analysis.

  17. Lightning Rod says:

    I’m currently in love, in the take-your-breath-away sense that Anne referred to. I’m engaged, which has followed a whirlwind romance with a woman I find really amazing.
    I’m 30 years old, and in the more recent years of my singleness, I heard a lot more messages from my Church leaders about looking for the inner beauty in women. I had a bishop who was constantly trying to set me up with girls who had not been on dates in a very long time, usually due to obesity. And he would always try to persuade me that attraction is very fleeting, and I should look forward to the kind of love that develops many years down the road. I tried very hard to take his advice to heart, but the idea of physical intimacy with an obese girl was so gross to me- I just couldn’t get over the images in my head. So I alternated between feeling guilty for having those feelings, and feeling more of a willingness to date outside the Church, where I figured I had better odds of meeting girls who share fitness as a personal value.
    Fortunately, I waited long enough and found an LDS girl who is fit but not obsessive, who will go on long bike rides and be active with me. These things make her physically attractive, and though I realize that a deeper love will develop between us over many years of living together and serving each other, I’m also really happy that the physical attraction is there and will likely always be there due to her understanding of the importance of physical fitness.
    I also stand in awe, however, of guys who jump straight to the long-lasting and enduring love and don’t pay too much attention to the physical. If I had a pair of permanent beer goggles like that, I would have fallen in love with some girl a long time ago. And if more guys had those, I think singles wards would significantly decrease in their numbers.

  18. President Kimball used to say that the CK was for lovers. I don’t think that commitment and eternal, breathless love are mutually exclusive, though I do believe, that, like all other things, love and life progress in seasons.

  19. I would love to see a quote for the “Celestial Kingdom is for lovers” remark. I don’t buy it, because if that’s so, we should stop doing proxy temple work immediately.

    How’s g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-granny gonna feel when she realises someone sealed her to the guy who took advantage of her as a chambermaid in 1312? And that if she wants to live with Heavenly Father forever, she HAS to fall in love with him, because “the CK is for lovers?”

    The ordinances come as a package, and of all the earth’s billions of couplings, marriages, pairings and relationships, only a tiny fraction of them were “loving” or between people in “love.”

  20. lyle stamps says:

    Margret: I think your view on sealings is slightly skewed. The ordinance work is done so that those that _want to_ can accept it; it doesn’t imply that they are forced to otherwise they get nothing.

    Dan: Can I get a bumper sticker with that quote on it? forget virginia…

  21. So, what do they get? If they want all the ordinances of the gospel but don’t want to be sealed to the person to whom they were married while alive, what then? How is my “view on sealings…skewed”?

    Besides, the topic was love and whether it matters. It obviously doesn’t to marriages/sealings in the church since we have no idea whether our ancesters loved each other yet perform these binding, everlasting ordinances on their behalf anyway.

  22. And a follow-up question:

    Is there a “cancellation of proxy sealings” ordinance too, the way there is for the living? If not, how fair is that? Born in the wrong century and you’re stuck with the person your great-grandchild sealed you too, even though your g-grandkid got married and divorced and resealed several times over.

  23. lyle stamps says:

    Margret: your assumption that your ancestors did _not_ love each other is appalling. How about trying optimism? It comes pre-approved from GBH.

  24. I think it’s obvious that of all the trillions of couplings and relationships that ever existed, including people sold into marriage, slave rapes, incestuous relationships, marriages for convenience, etc., we all have ancestors that didn’t love each other.

    This is realism. Why, exactly, is that appalling?

  25. Margret,
    You are, of course, right that many of our ancestors did not love each other. However, I still believe that the majority of relationships and marriages throughout history have been the result of love. And I think President Kimball’s statement (if indeed it was his — I confess that I don’t have a source to cite) is defensible if only because celestial people possess charity and are therefore much more likely to love others. Let’s agree that when we have sanctified ourselves like Christ, we are much more likely to get into the CK, and let’s also agree that only those who do so will possess the CK. On that basis, the quote (whether apocryphal or not) makes sense to me.

  26. Until just over one hundred years ago, women in Western society were still considered property. In this, the 21st century, in some of the most populous areas of the globe, women/wives are often treated as pack animals who propagate.

    In today’s society, where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, even when the spouses “love each other” to begin with, what sense does it make to seal unknowns together as a complete “ordinance package” when all the other ordinances are individual and not dependent on whether a now-enlightened wife still chooses him?

    I wonder why living couples don’t wait until after this life to be sealed (and let all of their family, even the “unworthies” view the ceremony) just like everyone else, and let God sort it all out, just like everyone else.

    I don’t believe most marriages on earth, at any point in time, are based on love, romance, etc. It’s a great thing to work towards, and there are periods in life where love happens, and it’s a wonderful thing. However, to say that somehow everyone on earth who is sealed and accepts all the ordinances of the gospel will automatically love their spouse–for whatever reason they married or had kids–is truly, shockingly naive and presumptous.

  27. lyle stamps says:

    Lol…the old pessimism/’realism’ vs. optimism debate. Why don’t we worry about current concerns rather than _potential_ or _possible_ doctrinal mysteries that don’t have current answers?

  28. THis does have present-day implications. I don’t see why people should be bullied or even encouraged into doing proxy work if most of it will not be efficacious anyway; I agree–why not just worry about current concerns and let the dead bury the dead?

  29. Cheers, Margret! Your perspective on this is even more reasonable if we consider the time required to actually complete the ordinance work we’ve set for ourselves. There are about 6,459,222,203 people alive on the earth right now (Census web page estimate). By contrast, there are about 4,000,000 active Latter-day Saints (some of whom are children or not temple-worthy, and thus excluded from the temple-going universe). That’s about 1614 non-member endowments per active Mormon. If we allocate 2 hours per endowment (a conservative estimate, really), that’s about 135 24-hour days of endowment work per member to cover the people who are currently alive. (I know we do work for the dead–but all of these people will eventually die, and most won’t have been members of the church.) In light of the overwhelming math of this, it seems reasonable to focus our attention for the time being on things that are definitely helpful, no? This may mean temple work for people who definitely loved each other, or it may mean helping your neighbor with child-care…

  30. lyle stamps says:

    RT: I get it…you think we should just have a 2-fold, rather then 3-fold, mission of the church. Sounds logical and rationale; except that it doesn’t come from the top. So…cheers for logic, but tears for what we’ve been asked to do?

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