Mormon girls are raised with the knowledge that their role on earth is to marry a worthy priesthood holder in the temple and provide a happy home for as many children as possible. And I don’t fault that. Most little girls do grow up hoping to be mothers someday. The problem with Mormon culture is that marriage and motherhood are the only roles toward which girls are directed, and marriage is not a goal over which a person has total control. Nice-looking, intelligent, personable women often fail to attract marriage proposals. And the competition for males in Mormon circles is intense. Mothers-who-know enroll three-year-old daughters in dance because without an early start, adolescent girls don’t make drill team or cheerleader—and the girls who do get the boyfriends.
No alternative to marriage and motherhood is considered for Mormon girls. Girls who haven’t snagged a husband by their mid-20s are counseled to be patient. The possibility that Heavenly Father might not have a potential mate lined up to take every Mormon girl to the temple is never acknowledged. Girls who fall in love with a non-member face intense family pressure to break it off—no matter what sterling qualities the guy may possess. After all, didn’t President Joseph F. Smith say he’d rather lay his daughters in their graves as spinsters than to see them marry outside the Church?
Many girls panic in their mid-twenties or even earlier and settle for an eternal companion less compatible, less intelligent, less capable of earning a living than they’d hoped for. And too few single girls invest in education for what may be a lifelong career. A friend, Passen D’Prime, is typical. A returned missionary in her late 20s, she clung to her BYU ward after graduation, racking up huge credit card debts for clothes, make up, and gym fees. Despite her well-groomed physique, 18 and 19-year-old girls entering the ward each year snatched up the most eligible guys. Preoccupied with dating strategies, Passen missed the opportunity to obtain a doctorate. Still single in her 40s, that doctorate would have opened career opportunities and given her the financial security she lacks.
Well meaning relatives and church leaders often counsel a girl in her late 20s to be less picky, but they never mention alternatives to waiting for that temple-recommend-bearing prince (or frog) to appear. By the time girls reach their 30s, a glimmer of reality pierces the fog of institutionalized thinking. Choosing temple marriage appears to be choosing no marriage—at least no marriage in this life. Faithful single LDS sisters are promised marriage and children in the next life—for what comfort that’s worth.
Marrying outside the church is never suggested to a single LDS woman no matter how slim her chances for temple marriage. Dating non-LDS men is a line most Mormon girls can’t cross—not when they’ve been told their whole lives that marrying anyplace besides the temple courts marital discord in this life and a lesser reward in the next.
I’d like to see Relief Society lessons incorporate Chieko Okasaki’s marriage experience. As a Japanese-American living in Hawaii in the 1940s, Chieko recognized that the limited supply of eligible Mormon men in her area meant she might not marry. She met a non-LDS man with compatible values and the qualities she deemed essential in a husband. Prayer confirmed that God approved her decision. She married—not with the expectation that her husband might someday convert to her church (which he did), but with the knowledge that they would have a good marriage and family life even if he never changed his religion.
We need to free young LDS women to consider another option: marrying a good man who will be a good husband and father even if he never joins the church.