A Peek behind the LDS-strogen Curtain

Sutton, Aleesa. Diary of a Single Mormon Female. Published by the author, 2012. 237 pp. Introduction, photographs, appendices, funeral potatoes recipe. ISBN: 978-0-9917003-1-8.

Reviewed by Chris Webber

First, I would like to congratulate Aleesa Sutton on her bravery. Sutton’s Diary of a Single Mormon Female is a sociological bird’s-eye view that captures the peculiar awkwardness of Mormon adolescence and mating games. It also exemplifies the emotional and spiritual arrested development that occurs in Mormon culture if one doesn’t get married. That giggly, naïve innocence toward romantic love is felt from Chapter 1 to Chapter 36.

Sutton does a very fine job of establishing the sense of duty and obligation Mormons feel toward marriage. Marriage is so basic to Mormonism that you literally cannot progress in the eternities without a mate. One finds it in the temples, the Proclamation on the Family, and the scriptures (D&C 132). It’s drilled into the youth—particularly the young women—from the time they start attending primary at three years old and sing “Families Can Be Together Forever” (whose lyrics read, “While I am in my early years I’ll prepare most carefully, so I can marry in God’s temple for eternity”). It’s not just expected; it’s the pinnacle of Mormon existence. As Sutton puts it, “Nobody will reach their eternal potential without a companion.” She understood this at a preteen age, and it’s consistent with the teachings of the gospel.

Inevitably, problems arise when one teaches a ten year old to start planning for marriage with an idealized notion of eternal romantic love. Sutton’s young life was a painful cycle of falling into crushes with the idea of each person being an eternal mate. Over and over again I relived this adolescent excitement as I turned the pages of her book. It may be because I was once that little girl, but her stories were so familiar to me and could have been written by me at this stage of my life as well. This journal, like my own, likely mirrors every young faithful Mormon girl’s mental/emotional transition through romantic love. Sutton was so in love with the idea of being in love that she overlooked considerations of compatibility. The early dating rituals so carefully documented in her journal were clearly a product of animals acting out their biological and tribal urges. “Only get crushes on members.” What an extraordinary culturally driven goal.

Sutton writes with candid honesty and poignancy. It is clear she is a bright, caring young woman, and I felt sadness every time a pending love fell through and she was left to plow through the growing frustration and disappointment and find the energy to move on to another prospect. I laughed and cried as Sutton chronicled her father’s affinity for the story of Johnny Lingo. I wondered what it was like to cyber French kiss over a chat on the internet. I smiled when she said, “Food: it’s pretty much the only indulgence Mormons have.” I was horrified to read of a lesson about “Satan’s Battle Plan.” Sutton does a great job of injecting humor into what was clearly a frustrating cultural position for her.

It wasn’t until Sutton was journaling at the age of twenty-five that any sexual awakenings were addressed. In the real world, inevitable sexual awakenings are occurring during the teen years. I know that it’s Mormon tradition to keep journals clean and positive and free of potentially embarrassing details (because three generations down your great grandchild will be reading it, dontcha know, and you must keep everything faith promoting). But this again is a telling statement about the arrested emotional and spiritual development that occurs to young Mormons during this time of their lives. Sutton’s entries about holding hands and kissing were cute, but what about the feelings associated with growing sexual awareness? Nowhere. Sex was only talked about as a taboo.

One important contribution of Sutton’s book is to draw attention to the emerging demographic issue faced by Church leadership as the number of singles increases. The marriage age continues to get older within society at large, and certainly there’s a growing trend to delay marriage within the Church itself. Three decades ago the Church leadership, in growing alarm about premarital sex, suggested double and group dating as a healthy safeguard against harmful sexual pairings. Now leaders have swung the other way, and are pleading with the men to stop doing group dating and find a healthy, faithful female to pair with and marry. These mixed messages can be confusing for single members. Sutton packs Appendix 1 with practical suggestions for how the Church can be more supportive of singles in their congregations, and her suggestions have real meat to them.

Diary of a Single Mormon Female is a must-read for anyone sociologically interested in the impact of religious doctrine about marriage and family. It’s an easy, enjoyable, heartfelt read, and one comes away with an admiration for the faith and fortitude of the author. Diary of a Single Mormon Female is also a must-read for every Mormon male looking for a mate: a peek behind the LDS-strogen curtain.

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Worlds Without End is pleased to present this guest review by Chris Webber. Chris is a seventh generation Mormon who has been actively involved in the hybrid/postmormon movement for the past twenty years. She is well versed in the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, having filled an LDS youth mission at the age of 16 and begun teaching LDS high school seminary at the age of 18. She studied philosophy and graduated from BYU with a degree in psychology. She is married with four grown children, manages a food blog (From the Lilypad), has been a food critic since 2004, and currently resides near Seattle where she works as an IT Professional for EMC. She won two Brodie Awards in 2012: Best Philosophical/Theological Discussion: Froggie’s Creed, and Best Recipe: Froggie’s Autumn Cookies. She is an avid reader.

Comments

A Peek behind the LDS-strogen Curtain — 7 Comments

  1. If you’re going to talk about “arrested development” or LDS youth being “stunted” or “warped” by LDS dating and courtship expectations, or about LDS marriage emphasis being harmful, etc… Then you have to acknowledge that such designators are relative. Relative to the rest of the wider culture.

    In your review, the author doesn’t seem particularly aware of this comparison, nor of much of the devastating, degrading, and crippling social problems afflicting the wider romantic culture.

    Which makes both the book and this article seem like yet another exercise in grass-is-always-greener syndrome. At the least, it gives no reason to view Mormon culture as any worse than the wider human culture. My suspicion is that it’s actually doing much, much better.

    Prove me wrong.

  2. @Seth #2:

    Agreed. This kind of thinking really just takes the current state of courtship/dating/marriage cultural norms of the modern American middle class for granted (which have seen enormous and rapid change over the last fifty years, with no way to really take a good evaluation of where things are, where they are going, and whether it’s all such a really good thing).

    Consequently, it’s almost useless. It is basically saying, “[norm set x] is different from [norm set y], so [norm set x] is destructive!” without really even appreciating that [norm set y] is a set of norms that are not somehow self-evidently prescriptive, but just taking [norm set y] for granted.

  3. I find it odd that anyone would call another person’s experience and insight useless. Just because this person’s experience is affected by a larger culture both secular and in the church does not discount personal experience. These are interesting times with unique factors and influences to consider and while the secular world is increasingly accepting of singles, the church is not. Singles are viewed as immature, iherently flawed adolescents in the church and it is driving them away. Which is probably just as well as we don’t believe they’re qualified for heaven anyway.

  4. Clever title.

    I suspect that if I read this book, I would cringe my way through it because it would hit too close to home.

    Is Aleesa Sutton poking fun at her own culture? Is the humor subtle and witty like Jane Austen’s, or is it exaggerated, like the humor in the Mormon films, “The RM” and “Singles Ward”? If the latter, I probably won’t read it. If the former, I definitely would.

  5. Maggie, why not turn it on its head and say that the rest of society is increasingly intolerant of stable married life and increasingly insisting that all the “fashionable” people ditch such restrictions in favor of more fluid and non-binding single relationships? Why not say that it is Mormon married family culture that is under threat and being persecuted?

    Who is being oppressed by whose expectations here?

    Which culture is the truly screwed up culture here? Or could it be that neither of them are or are not?

  6. Julie M. Smith. Yes. I served a youth mission (when youth missions were still an option) the summer of my 16th year. I served for six weeks in the Arizona Holbrook/Phoenix mission on the navajo reservation in Lukachukai, AZ.