Wednesday, January 19, 2022

I'd Rather Not Be Single

On December 8, 2021 Tom Christofferson posted on Facebook that he was going to begin dating men while maintaining the same dating standards that heterosexual Latter-day Saint couples follow. A number of my straight friends heard this news and asked me, “Why would he date if he knew he couldn’t get married? That doesn’t make any sense.” Then on January 15, 2022 David Archuleta posted a 50 minute video on Instagram explaining the conflict he feels as an LGBT Latter-day Saint. I listened to the whole thing. One thing he said multiple times is, “I don’t want a partner so I can have sex. I want someone to share my life with. This isn’t about sex.” That really resonated with me. 

I’m not advocating for any specific relationships here. I’m really not trying to tell anyone what to do with their lives. I’m just going to explain why I want a partner and why I don’t have one. I’m often pointed to as a “single, celibate gay member of the Church” and I’d like to provide another window into what that’s like. 

In December 2013 Jordan and I started texting a lot. I wasn’t dating men or looking for a relationship with a man, we just met and clicked super well. It all just sort of happened. At the time I hadn’t come out to him and he hadn’t come out to me. In my mind this was just a friendship. One day he texted me that he was going to a friend’s cabin and would be out of service for a whole day and not to miss him too much. I told him to have a good time and then missed him too much. 

The next day my phone dinged more than a dozen times in a row. The first message was from Jordan: “Since I can’t text you while I’m here, I’m going to write out all the things I want to text you and send them when I get service.” Then I read through multiple hilarious texts and I felt a feeling inside of me that I had never felt with any of the women I had dated. I felt loved and wanted and it was awesome. Jordan was thinking about me and wishing I was with him. It felt like I was his person and I liked being his person. 

Jordan's Skype face
I told my friends about Jordan and some of them were super supportive that I liked this guy who liked me back. One friend asked me, “So what is your endgame with Jordan?” I replied, “I don’t know, but I’m so much happier with him in my life.” Even though we lived in different states we talked every day on the phone or Skype and the consistency of that relationship and the regular love I felt was really awesome. Things with Jordan did not work out and I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book if you want the details. But for a time I felt like the kind of relationship I had been longing for might actually be possible. 

Two and a half years after things with Jordan ended the desire I had to have a partner still hadn’t gone away. There was this guy I had a crush on that I really wanted to ask out. He was handsome, funny, successful, a homeowner, all the things that typically make someone attractive. So 32 year old me set up a meeting with my bishop to ask about platonically dating guys. Not dating seeking to get married, but dating for companionship. This was in Arizona so the BYU Honor Code wasn’t on either of our minds. I wrote the following in my journal about the meeting with my bishop: “His basic response was, ‘You marry who you date.’ By that he meant that I shouldn’t date because it could lead to a same-sex marriage. This was the first time a church leader hasn’t encouraged me to marry a woman in this kind of setting, but instead said very clearly that I should stay single. It hurt more than I was expecting. I guess I shouldn’t have expected him to say anything different, but it still hurt.” A few sentences later I wrote: “Is staying [in the Church] even a viable option? Yes, it is, but it super sucks sometimes.” I decided not to date and never even told this guy I had a crush on him (although if he reads this he might figure it out). 

Later I was back at BYU as a student where I knew same-sex dating was prohibited and I 100% followed that rule. If I’m anything, I’m a rule follower. I had been away from BYU for six years and had had significant things happen in the interim that had helped me mature as a person. When I was a younger, closeted BYU student I would look at couples holding hands on campus and be mad at them. Maybe hurt is a better word. I was jealous that they could pursue the relationships they wanted and I wasn’t allowed that same opportunity. Now in my 30s I would see these young couples on campus and think, I hope you don’t take for granted how lucky you are

So I couldn't marry a man and I couldn’t date a man, but I also had tried very unsuccessfully to marry a woman and I didn’t want to be alone forever so what options did I have left for companionship? I decided I would settle for just a best friend that would also function like a partner. We wouldn’t date, but we’d also do everything together and, like, buy a house together or something. How is that different from dating? I don’t know, but this is what my brain was figuring out. And then it worked! I found the guy. He just showed up in my ward one day. He was also a BYU student, seemed to have similar life goals, I thought he was cute and cool, and by some miracle he thought I was cute and cool, too! 

This is my backyard, but you get the idea
About two weeks after we met we were sitting on my porch talking. If you haven’t seen my porch, it is gorgeous. Picture white lights wrapped around a railing covered in ivy on a quiet street with mature trees all around. I remember sitting with this guy on the porch talking on a warm September night and thinking, This is the life I want. I just want us to be able to sit together every day and talk about life. Part of me also thought that maybe God was blessing me with the kind of relationship I wanted because I’d been trying so hard for so long to be good. But it didn’t last. About a week later this guy got to know me better and quickly lost interest. We stayed friends, but the partnership I was hoping for didn’t happen. I was 34. 

Now I’m 37 going on 38 and I’m still partnerless. I have a super full life that I really love and I’m genuinely happy. But the desire to have a partner has never gone away nor do I expect it to. So what is a gay Latter-day Saint to do who wants companionship in his life but who can’t marry a woman and can’t date or marry a man? Many (and I mean many) Church leaders and members have counseled me to marry a woman and just not have a sexual relationship. “Marriage is about more than sex,” they say, “so you can get married to a woman and not have sex.” I agree with David Archuleta that I’m not seeking a partnership for sex. But these same people when I say that I’d be okay with a nonsexual, but committed relationship to a man are suddenly horrified at the very thought of two men loving each other. It’s like they can’t quite understand what it means for me to be gay. 

Here’s a brief paragraph from my book that bears repeating: “In recent years I’ve started to say ‘orientation’ more than ‘sexual orienation.’ Yes, I am sexually attracted to men and not to women, but it’s about so much more than that. I’m also emotionally oriented towards men, and romantically oriented towards men, and intellectually oriented towards men, and even spiritually oriented towards men. All the parts of me that yearn for connection are directed towards men. And I don’t feel that same orientation towards women. I think I’d make a great husband, but man, it would be hard if I weren't physically, emotionally, romantically, intellectually, or spiritually attracted to my wife. Hard for me, but perhaps even harder for her if she were physically, emotionally, romantically, intellectually, and spiritually attracted to me and knew that those feelings were not reciprocated.” The quote is on page 48 (it felt presumptuous to cite myself in APA style in a blog post). 

I mean it when I say that the desire for a partner has never gone away. In the fall of 2019 I was praying and telling God about my desire to have a partner and in response I felt prompted to write a book. When I finished the first draft of the book in January 2020 I again prayed about my longing for a partner and then felt prompted to start the “Questions from the Closet” podcast. Once that was up and running I again prayed about a partner in April 2020 and felt inspired to start a diversity class at BYU. A year into that I yet again prayed for a partner and felt inspiration to plan the BYU Belong concert. When that was over I decided that if I prayed for a partner again God was just going to give me more to do. 

I know I am supposed to be single now. I know that. I know that just like I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that I have Heavenly Parents who love me. Why am I supposed to be single? I don’t super know, but my hunch is that right now I’m not meant to have a me-focused life. Not having a partner means I have so much time to give to others which is why I so freely give my time to those who ask for it. Perhaps having a partner would get in the way of the work I feel called to do to build Zion. And maybe some day the purpose of my life will shift from this big, outward focused life to one that is more about me. I don’t know. But I know I’m living my best life right now. 

Charlotte and I
So what do I do with these very natural longings I have for partnership? I try to look for the ways that God has compensated for the things I lack. For the last three years I’ve lived with Charlotte. She’s 50 years older than me and one of the most important people in my life. Every day I come home and she asks me if I’ve had dinner. More often than not I already have, but if I haven’t she whips something up for me. Then we sit and talk about our days. She’ll tell me stories of her husband and their mission in Samoa, I’ll talk about some insightful comment a student of mine made that day, she’ll tease me and I’ll tease her, then we’ll open up the scriptures and do the Come, Follow Me reading for the week. And every day I have someone to come home to. Charlotte isn’t my partner, but she’s one of my best friends. And God sent us to each other so we wouldn’t have to do this part of our lives alone. And that’s pretty cool. If God is the author of this chapter of my life, and I believe He is, then it is a sacred time filled with purpose and tailored for me. 

So if you’re confused about why Tom would start dating men, or why David is considering pursuing marriage to a man, or why I tried to find a platonic best friend, consider the times you’ve been loved by a partner. What was it like to have someone you could count on? What was it like to have someone who would be there for you? What was it like to think about tomorrow and not wonder if you were going to have someone to spend it with? What does that kind of stability feel like? From the brief times I’ve had it it feels pretty good. 

Now imagine that you were told that you couldn’t have the kind of partnership you wanted. You weren’t even allowed to try for it. What kind of mental gymnastics and rationalizations would you entertain to just have something similar to what you were yearning for? 

Remember that guy from a few paragraphs ago that lost interest in me when he got to know me better? Well, I shared this post with him to make sure it was okay to share that story and he sent me this insightful comment: “A car needs gasoline to run, but it also needs five other liquids to work (oil, transmission fluid, etc.). Just because my gas tank (or friendship) tank is full doesn’t mean that my car can run. We each have spiritual needs, romantic needs, physical needs, etc. And it really hurts when people metaphorically tell us, ‘You have a full tank of gas. That’s enough.’ Well, it isn’t. Having a person, a special one makes such a difference. A shocking difference! And it’s not about sex. It’s about having a person who consistently and genuinely cares about being there and listening to the things that don’t really matter but that matter very much.” 

I’m not lonely. I’m really not. I have a wide breadth of friendships that are super important to me. But what I’m lacking is that one, deep intimate relationship. It’s odd that life can be so full and still feel incomplete at times. I know Tom well and I love him dearly. He’s been a great mentor, friend, and support to me. And I honor his agency to take the path that feels right to him. I don’t know David much at all, but I’m sure that if I did I’d love him as much as I love Tom. Two very good men who are striving to make the right choices. And if you want to add me to that number, you have three men who are trying their best to do what is right and who are making different choices. I have not chosen to date men, but I completely understand why they have.

34 comments:

The Romig Chronicles said...

You are so real, personal and see the view from all sides. I appreciate your vulnerability to write the beauty and the difficulty.

You are a gift. Keep writing and sharing. I learn much as you do

Brooklyn said...

Thank you for sharing! I'm straight, and I know I'm so blessed to pursue partnership without a second thought. I know I don't know how you feel. But my heart hurts so much for you, David, and many of my friends trying to reconcile faith and orientation. I struggle and cry about it because the conflict feels so strong. I don't know what to think. But I really appreciate reading your experience and I wish you all the joy possible in your life.

Vanessa said...

❤❤❤ I wish I could write and express myself as well as you do. All I can say is thank you for all that you do, all that you share, and all the sacrifices you have made to be so spiritually knowledgeable. I have learned so much from you as to how to be a better child of God.

هيذر آن said...

Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your experiences with us. You are very amazing. It sounds like it is really hard to want that one deep relationship and to be doing all those mental gymnastics. Thanks for sharing to help others begin to understand and listen to what that must feel like. I wish for you to have joy and happiness. Hahaha it sounds like many people have been benefitted by your prayers about a partner and the new projects God inspires you with!

Meghan said...

Beautiful, poignant, and heart-breaking. That you for sharing such tender feelings so that others can understand. You are a beautiful soul, Ben.

Emma said...

Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable. I admire your love and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the perspective you bring.

Mina said...

Ben, thank you for sharing your honest, real feelings—we learn so much from you and love you without ever having met you. ❤️ I just want to say that you can have a significant other/spouse and still accomplish ANY goal you want, serve others, and be unselfish. Married people do it all the time, but also have the support of their spouse and someone to help fill their cup when it runs low. I believe to my core that you deserve the same with the person of your choice, man or woman. I pray every day that future generations of LDS LGBTQ people don’t have to sacrifice martial happiness and family to be able to be fully accepted/included in all aspects of their region.

Abbie said...

I really loved reading this. I am straight, married and have kids and believe the church. I have always had conflicting thoughts on the church’s position with homosexuality. I loved your honesty about wanting a partner and not looking for sexuality. Knowing that you are happy and doing well makes me feel like maybe it is still okay for the church to have the position they have with LGBTQ members. It’s so hard. Really a difficult church topic for me to process.

Dr. Todd Corelli said...

I love this. Thank you for opening my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben, we've only met once or twice but I'm still in the closet, so I'm posting anonymously. I'm the gay spouse (female) in a mixed orientation marriage, and so I'm pretty familiar with everything you've described (or what you anticipated experiencing had you chosen to marry a woman). Having been in my marriage for over 20 years, that feeling of knowing you can't reciprocate or love the other person the way they deserve to be loved doesn't go away and doesn't get any easier. Honestly it just gets harder. On the flip side, my desire to have all of the emotional, spiritual, physical, etc. connections are very real and very unfulfilled. It's a tough spot to be in and one I would never recommend to anyone, no matter how possible or optimistic it seems! I just wanted to share my perspective with you and your readers. I deeply respect you, your commitment to the gospel, and how your are so generous with your grace and understanding of others, regardless of their choices. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I am equally as resigned to live my life single, but I have never experienced love. I've been used, robbed and manipulated. That's not love. I left the church for the same reason: when not even God can love you then what else can you do but live as honorably as you can.

LinBeat said...

Hi Ben, I don't know you personally, I live way across the pond ... but I have read your book, I follow you on social platforms, and I am learning from you.... I am a married mother/grandmother who is trying hard to understand my LGBTQ community and you are helping me with that. THANK YOU. I am grateful for your faith, your openness, and your willingness to share yourself to help others. THANK YOU. You are a sweet soul, and I hope and pray you find what it is you seek, and that Heavenly Father will bless you in abundance. x

Larry said...

Well Brother Ben...
I've shared with you my circumstance & frustrations before, so I won't get into that now. I just want you to know, you got my tears flowing about half way through. "Romantically, emotionally, intellectually, even spiritually"...yep. I get that.
I look forward to heaven, because I think all those things are there.
We'll feel them.
We'll understand.
We will finally feel a "belonging" that escapes us here in mortality.
We're creatures of the flesh in a fallen world.
One day, we'll see clearly & our hearts & the holes in our soles will be filled with love, light & belonging.
Love ya Ben.
Thanks for ALL you do.

Suzie Petunia said...

I think you and David need to meet 😏

Holly Decker said...

Love reading your thoughts and feelings. Thank you for being you- you impact my life in the best way. ❤️

Jennifer Lovell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Lovell said...

Ben, thanks for linking this post to your instagram account :). Every time I read about your experiences, I feel so many things—my heart cries (and sometimes my eyes do too) when I read of your struggles, and my heart rejoices when I read of your authenticity, your gratitude, and your faith. Thanks for sharing yourself with the world. I am better because of you. I wish you all the happiness you can dream of.

P.S. I’m still laughing about the time you said in your book that your tears fell onto your pants in the shape of a heart. <3

Kyle said...

Abbie, Perhaps I am misunderstanding Ben's words, but I do not hear him saying "I am happy and doing well, and nothing needs to change." I read it as "there is indeed happiness in my life, AND ALSO there is a gaping hole in my heart that can never be filled under the current understanding of Church theology." To me, that does NOT mean it is still ok for the Church to have the position they do with LGBTQ members.

Just because some plants can grow in certain conditions doesn't mean those are the only true and correct conditions for all plants ever. Some plants will die if you try to raise them in the same conditions as others. Some plants will look ok, but will never bloom like they would elsewhere.

The way the Church's current stance is, they support the idea that some plants have the God-given capacity to bloom, but maintain that it is more virtuous to stifle the divine beauty than to actually nurture and grow it to the full measure of its creation.

To me it is a question of: are we allowed to have a personal revelation before the Church itself knows a thing? And my testimony is: YES. For a long time in Church history, black people couldn't go to Heaven, because "God said so." Would someone be wrong for believing: "that doesn't sit with me, I actually feel God loves me equally and wants me to go to heaven too"? Of course they wouldn't be wrong about that. But there was a time the Church would have said "sorry, you are wrong about that."

We are in the same situation now, where the Church has created a dynamic that people feel they need permission about what kind of relationship they want to create, even when God Himself is telling them through divine personal revelation: "THIS is YOU, THIS is how I created you, THIS is the happiness and path I want for you, THESE are good fruits, please have joy."

To me, the way I can best support my friends in the same boat as Ben, is to say: you are valid, your feelings are valid, God wants you to be fully happy, I am right there with you as you bravely follow the truth you have found in your most earnest searching, even if the Church hasn't caught up to you yet. And I'm going to be as much of an advocate as I can to create a healthy place for you here in your home Faith. And I want to know how I can be a better support to you.

To me, this lines right up with the wonderful and unique interpretation we have of the creation story (from the Temple and scripture): God created humans who loved each other, they realized their relationship was so important that, even though it contradicted some of the current rules in the Garden, they were willing to live with the consequences. And God himself was like "yay! That's what I was hoping you'd do all along! That's the whole point! I'm now gonna reveal some accomodations (a Savior) that will make this whole plan work beautifully."

Elder Stephen James said...

You are literally one of my heroes Ben! Thank you for writing this and, as always, articulating yourself so well. Thank you for your constant courage and goodness.

The Mathews Family said...

Ben, once again you provide us with a much needed window into the experience of LDS and LGBTQ+. I respect you so much and how you make all your decisions that I know that no matter one’s orientation, relationship status, or religion, we can all learn a lot from that alone. Thank you for sharing. I love your words. I love your heart! ((((❤️))))

Britt said...

I appreciate your thoughts Ben. You're a wonderful human being. I'm so grateful for those of you who are willing to share some of the really hard things you go through because I have learned so much and have really been able to have more compassion and understanding. I truly hope for things to work out for the best with all your desire in this life. Your relationship with Charlotte is so sweet. What a blessing you have each other.

David said...

Hi, Ben...

Thanks for this! You've captured exactly how I've felt for quite a long time. Brigham Young said any young man not married by 25 is a menace to society and it's been since about 25 that I've had this crazy desire to settle down and build a home and family. Like you, I got close a couple of times but could never go through with it because I knew it would ultimately be unfair to her.

Also, I love the Church and the Gospel and I know it's true. I have an amazing family, great friends, and a wonderful ward...but it's just not enough, unfortunately. Like your crush so perfectly said, while my gas tank may be full, my other tanks are woefully empty. I want a partner, kids, a home...and all the joys and trials that come with them. I sit in church meetings sometimes and it can be painful to see what I want so much but don't and can't have.

Anyway...thanks again!

SrStewart said...

I very much appreciate what you have said here. I love the insight, the positive nature mixed with reality. You have articulated the many fears I have had over many years for those I love who struggle through this difficult journey. I feel similarly for those I love who are straight that are in a similar position (not married, no companion, getting older, living God’s laws) … it is hard, lonely, emotionally wrenching.
I will tell you, as I think you know, God loves you, knows who you are, and knows your struggle. I love that you are striving to know how you can do what he wants you to do, and find joy in that. May Gods continue to bless you.

MJ said...

Thank you Ben!!! You have helped so many of us in so many ways!!! You are amazing!!! May you continue to see the Lord’s hand in your life!!!!

Anonymous said...

I loved everything you said. I loved it, thank you for being honest. I just left the church...for a lot of different reasons..."death by a million paper cuts" is how I view it. I'm trying to figure out my own path and what I believe...I can't help but wonder....have you ever considered that the church isnt true? What if this life is all we have? Certainly you can be a moral and good person without the gospel? What if this life is it and you live alone for all it...and it turns out it isn't true. Don't you have more to lose that way? I'm curious what someone with your expirences thinks about that. Completely ignore this if it's out of line to ask.

Bryan Tanner said...

Thanks, Kyle, for the new thoughts on gardening and the Garden!

Bryan Tanner said...

I’m totally resonating with the car fluids analogy! (Thank your friend for me!)

Isaac Gammon said...

I loved this post, Dr. Schilaty. Thank you!

Drew Wolsey said...

Thank you for sharing, Ben!
I really enjoyed your thoughts.
As you also said in your book, "Healing comes more readily when we invite others to share their feelings and then listen and love them as they do."
Thank you for helping increase my understanding.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful post. I just discovered your podcast and have really enjoyed listening to the episodes. I am grateful you are increasing awareness, love, and dialogue through sharing your thoughts. I have often said that an extra burden of certain challenges is having to educate others, in addition to just living it yourself. It is emotional labor but hopefully it will pay dividends in the future.

I am not part of the LGBTQ+ community but I am 38 and single. As I have grown up into my desire for partnership and companionship (and yes, sex!) I have come to see how this is a core human need and desire. I applaud you for living whatever path is right for you, but empathize with the challenge of living without the partnership that is such a core part of life.

Thanks again!

Amy said...

Ben,
I appreciate you sharing these thoughts and feelings. As someone who doesn’t have the same life experiences, it helps me find greater understanding in your struggles. Although I have not experienced the things you have, there was a time in my life when I too felt companionship, trust, love, and stability lacking. As my first marriage was failing, and after it ended, I found myself alone raising 3 little kids, wondering if I could ever have that again. But as my trust in people, my ability to connect, to feel loved, and to have that one intimate relationship lacked, my relationship with my Savior grew. When I read your questions “What was it like to have someone you could count on? What was it like to have someone who would be there for you? What was it like to think about tomorrow and not wonder if you were going to have someone to spend it with? What does that kind of stability feel like?” my thoughts didn’t turn to any earthly relationship, but to my relationship with Him.
This month as we’ve learned about Adam, Enoch and Noah walking with God, I’ve again been thinking about my relationship with God, and with my Savior, and how this one relationship, nurtured, can fill all of my needs.
Again, I don’t pretend to know the emptiness that you feel, but maybe this relationship is the one that can fill yours too. I know that He is “a person who consistently and genuinely cares about being there and listening to the things that don’t really matter but that matter very much.” ❤️

Anonymous said...

But, what if it is true? Hope for Eternal Life when all unfairness is compensated for.

Anonymous said...

I loved your post and it has given me a lot to think about. I do however think many desire a partner that can give one all of those connections you talk about, but I think it is unrealistic. Most heterosexual marriages certainly don't meet that criteria. That is what friendships, family, neighbors are for, reaching out to others we find all sorts of love and connections. To think unless we can find that one person we can connect with on all levels is the only option or nothing is misleading. I wonder if this is why many who are gay still find peace and joy in a hetero marriage. They aren't looking for everything, but value eternal families, and found someone who they connect with in many of those ways you mentioned.

Kim Siever said...

Thanks for writing this, Ben. As a queer, active member of the church who is married to a woman, I wonder sometimes about what my life would’ve been like had things turned out differently. Had I not been closeted for over 40 years, for example, and had ended up married to a man. Or if my wife had died and I had ended up later falling in love with a man. I honestly have no idea what I would do. I know my current relationship comes with a lot of privilege. I’m grateful that people like you are making your voice heard and reminding people how challenging it can be to be queer while also trying to adhere to the church’s restrictions.