Sunday, April 17, 2022

A 1/4 Romance and the Choice to Not Be in Love


This is definitely an odd and awkward post to follow my previous post detailing all my same-sex romances (which totaled one and a quarter). It’s been a few years since I’ve had a real crush on someone. I mean, I’ve had plenty of little crushes, but not like a real crush. Until last month. His name is Mark.


When I was 23 and in the closet I read dozens of blogs written by gay Latter-day Saints. One was written by Mark and it ended up being my favorite. I’ve even been sharing a screenshot from a post he wrote in my fireside presentations for years. He really helped me through a tough time. Then he stopped posting, seven years passed, and suddenly I was 30. 


In August 2014 things with Jordan had just ended and I was an emotional mess. I was playing volleyball at the Tucson Institute on a Tuesday night and stayed after to chat with a new guy who had just moved to town. As we chatted in the parking lot I came out to him which felt like a huge deal because he was the first person I casually came out to. I was not prepared for his response, “I’ve got a gay friend back in Florida that I’d like to set you up with.” I politely declined telling him that I wasn’t looking to date. Then he showed me his friend’s picture and it was Mark! I said, “I don’t want to date him, but I do want to meet him.” He gave me Mark’s number. 

I don't of a picture of us from that
trip, but I do have a picture of Mark
 standing in fun Laura's shower


Mark and I texted a bit and then talked on the phone once. He told me he was going to be in Phoenix for work in a few weeks and offered to come down to Tucson for the weekend. I was thrilled. Mark stayed at my house for three days. He goes to bed way earlier than I do, which meant he wanted to get up far too early to go on adventures. One evening I lied and told him that an attraction he wanted to see opened later than it actually did so I could sleep in. He was understandably annoyed when he found out–and has never let me forget it. 


Mark was the first gay member of the Church I’d really talked to about being gay aside from Jordan. It was nice to share my feelings with someone who understood what it was like to be me. It was really nice actually. But we didn’t click romantically. I misinterpreted his jokes as rudeness. My love language is words of affirmation and his love language appeared to be pushing all my buttons. And then he left. And I didn’t miss him. But that visit changed me. Mark inspired me to walk away from shame and self doubt and toward honesty and productivity. I came out publicly a few months later. 


Over the next seven years we’d occasionally text, but we weren’t really present in each other’s lives. Then he started listening to “Questions from the Closet,” and would text me about episodes he liked (like I said, my love language is words of affirmation). In one episode I mentioned how I covered all the podcast expenses myself. He messaged and said that if I needed any money for the podcast to let him know. I told him we were planning a live event and asked if he’d pitch in to help cover the cost. He asked how much I needed. I said $20-$50, not wanting to ask for too much, but told him how much I had paid for the event. Mark then Venmo’d me $1 because he thinks he’s funny. A minute later he sent me all the money for the event. It felt like a miracle. 


At the live event I told this story. I told how Mark had helped me with his blog back in the day and how now my podcast was helping him. I testified that God brings people into our lives for a reason and it was the best part of the event for me. The moment was completely spontaneous and Spirit-driven. I remember Sarah the moderator shouting “Yeah, Mark!” and then everyone applauding this person that they didn’t know. And I felt grateful that our paths had crossed again. 


Then at the end of 2021 we were planning our next live event and I told Mark he should fly out to be there in person. And he came. This was only the second time we’d seen each other. The day of the live event I was super stressed. He ran errands for me to lighten my load. He walked to my office and walked me home after work and told me I would do great. On the car ride to the live event he put on music he knew I would like and we belted the lyrics to calm my nerves. Although I offered to give him a shoutout at the event, he declined and sat in the back by himself. And then after the event he waited more than an hour for me while I talked to people and signed books and then he helped me carry stuff to the car. 


Me and Mark on the bridge
I don’t have a best friend here in Provo. I have a lot of great friends, but not a best friend. You know, the kind of person that you just do whatever with and they’re always down. There’s this new bridge in Orem that crosses the freeway I’ve been wanting to walk across for a long time, but never have. For months I’d drive by it and for some reason it reminded me that I wanted a best friend. When Mark was in town, we walked it together. It was incredibly loud, but it was fun to be there with Mark. 


That weekend was a confusing mess of emotions for me. When I invited Mark to visit I had zero romantic feelings for him. And I assumed he felt the same way. And then I kind of liked him, but I wasn’t sure. And he seemed to maybe like me, too? But he was hard to read and I didn’t know what he was feeling or what I was feeling. He kept joking about us getting married, but he was surely kidding, right? 


The night before he left I wrote this in my journal: “When Mark has his walls down he’s pretty reMARKable (I’m even punny in my journal). I asked him if he really wanted to marry me, or if he was just joking. He said, ‘I’d like to get to know you better.’ I feel the same way. And it sucks that we live in a world where us dating isn’t even an option for me. I super wanted to kiss him tonight, but I didn’t. Mark and I definitely need to learn to communicate better. But I think if we worked on things we could have a really lovely relationship. But we won’t get to know. So Mark is leaving tomorrow and I have a crush on him and he might have a crush on me. And I also think he’s super rude and annoying from time to time. Is that what love is?” 


Mark and I texted after he left and I just kept liking him more and more. And then that Friday I drove to St. George and we talked for an hour and a half on the drive down. I wished we could’ve talked the entire drive. And then I realized what was happening. I was treating Mark like a boy I wanted to date. 


Two days later I drove back the three and half hours to Provo and called Mark again. After we chatted about our days and joked about dumb stuff and teased each other in ways that I imagine people who like each other do, I abruptly changed the subject. I told him I wanted to be his friend, but that I couldn’t let anything romantic happen between us. I jabbered for a bit and apologized profusely, but definitely not enough. I then said, “Okay, those are all my feelings. What are your feelings about my feelings?” He said that his feelings are usually just a jumble and are hard to put into words. I asked him to try. “I’m sad,” he said. 


When I got home I pulled out a copy of my book and reread the chapter I’d written about Jordan. I noticed so many similarities between what happened with Jordan and what was beginning to happen with Mark. And I was kicking myself for hurting another person. I hadn’t meant to, but I had. It had just happened. I had let it happen. I had allowed myself to open up my heart to liking someone again, and I let him like me, too. And now we were both sad. 


It’s hard to explain what happened in the week following this, but I spiraled. All the insecurities, frustrations, shame, questions, anger, longing, and sadness that I’ve felt in the past bubbled up inside of me again. I really love my life, but suddenly wishing things were different brought up all these feelings that I don’t usually feel anymore. And it crushed me. 


Mark and I at Temple Square

Mark shared with me the imagery in Exodus 17 when Moses struck a rock and it broke open and water flowed out. I felt a bit like that rock. Violently struck so that water could flow out. And what was that water for me? It was remembering what it was like to yearn for a partner. It was remembering what it was like to want to kiss someone. My goodness, it had been so long since I’d actually wanted to kiss someone. Somehow in all the years since I’d really liked someone, I’d forgotten what all of that felt like. And I realized how dismissive I’d been of Charlie when he started dating Ryan. I had forgotten what it was like to have to make that choice between following rules and building a romantic relationship. A little extra bit of compassion flowed out of me because of this crushing experience. 


I’m sharing all of this just to let people into my life a bit. I want people to see what wrestling with all this complexity is like for me. And I imagine after reading all this you might be having some reactions. Can I guess how you’re reacting so that you don’t have to write it in a comment or email it to me later? Does this sound accurate: “Ben, this is so tragic and ridiculous. Mark is so cute and so cool and he obviously likes you. Just leave BYU and date him. You deserve that.” I tried to write that in a nice way, but you might be feeling angry, or hurt, or frustrated with my choices. Okay, here’s another reaction: “Ben, you are a child of God and He loves you! Don’t let Satan distract you from staying on the covenant path. He’s got you. Stay close to Him. I’m rooting for you.” Aww! Thank you! That is super kind! 


I share these imagined reactions because I realize that my life sits precariously in the middle ground between very strongly held beliefs and that few people are pleased with my life choices. But I’m just doing my best to live my values and follow the guidance I receive from God. And although life is usually beautiful and wonderful, it’s also sometimes sad and messy. Thank you for allowing me the space to share those four adjectives with you in this post. 


I don’t envision a future in which I would make choices that would separate me from the Church or BYU. I really do love the path my life is on. But man, sometimes that path is rocky and making choices can really suck. And sometimes I wish I didn’t have to choose between the things I want. A recent episode of “Questions from the Closet” was titled, “What happens when you fall in love?” In the episode Charlie talked about the two of us giving a fireside and being asked that exact question. It threw him off and he didn’t know what to say. But I remember exactly what I said: “When you fall in love you have to make a choice.” I’d forgotten how hard that choice can be. And now that the number of same-sex romances I've had has gone from one and quarter to one and a half, I remember a little bit better. 


As I write this it’s the Saturday before Easter. Today I was reminded of a passage in Jacob: A Brief Theological Introduction by Deidre Green: “Some Christian theologians assert that believers often move too quickly from the crucifixion to the resurrection, without adequately appreciating all that can be gleaned by reflecting upon the absence and uncertainty of what lies between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: the in-between symbolized by Holy Saturday. By viewing the duration of Christ’s death, we witness and embrace loss that has not yet found resolution” (p. 24). Absence, uncertainty, and loss describe pretty well how I’ve been feeling. But as I sit in this space between two things, my own Holy Saturday, I am gleaning. And trusting in resolution. 

My church building on Easter Sunday






44 comments:

Unknown said...

Oh Ben…I just love you. I admire your testimony and strength so much. I admire your desire to just do good and to do what you feel God wants you to do no matter what the cost. That’s not an easy thing to do and no one should fault you for sometimes doing what you want to do. But I also know from following you and learning about you that you love your Savior and your Father in Heaven so much and that inspires me to do better in my own life. You are an inspiration to me. Just know that. Thank you, from an unknown friend <3

Jill said...

You're just the best Ben! Thank you for opening yourself up with all of us! πŸ’—

Jenn Chamberlain Schmidt said...

Thank you for this♥️. You don’t Owe us your personal life, but it helps so many. Thanks for letting us in and I appreciate all you do. Loved your book, blog, & Q from the closet. Basically, I’m here for all the content you createπŸ˜‚! Happy Easter!

Shawna Noyes said...

Ben. You are miraculous. Very inspiring and very realistic. I always appreciate reading your heartfelt stories. It puts so much into perspective for me. I appreciate that more than you can know!

Elizabeth said...

This is beautiful. I love the thought of that holding space of faith, the Saturdays in our lives, the questions and heartaches not yet resolved. Your faith strengthens mine. Thank you for sharing this.

Mariana said...

Thank you so much for sharing this so we can understand your journey better! Best wishes to you, my friend. You're loved!

Marion McClellan said...

Thank you for being so candid about your journey. I’m sad that you have to choose between your faith tradition and a loving partnership.

Stickerless said...

Hi Ben! I’m not queer myself but I have a sister who is and who I support fully in her life and in her relationship. I love her love, and I also love the church. It has felt like an impossible situation to be in- to try to be an ally/support and stand by my sister fully while also trying to be a faithful mormon. I feel like I have one foot on each side of the fence. I’m a pretty straight-arrow person, so feeling like I can’t plant my feet fully in either camp is a new cross to bear and the burden of it has surprised me. I feel the weight of words that get said in conference or at church that I never would have noticed before. I don’t feel like I fit in the way I used to. That being said, these feelings emphasize to me even more the difficulty that would come with being queer in the church. What I am dealing with is such a small taste of what it must be like. I just want you to know how much your story has meant to me. Your faith increases mine. You give me courage and hope that I can stay. Thank you thank you thank you, friend. Prays and love for you on your journey πŸ’—

Becca B said...

Once again your words move me to tears. Your blog comes after a tough conversation with a family member. Thank you for the reminder to honor that waiting space in between when the only thing to do is to hold onto hope in Christ

Britt said...

I love you Ben. In the messy Saturday uncertainty. I wish you a beautiful sunday with joy and revelation and love

Holly Decker said...

You’re my favorite. Thank you for sharing your heart πŸ’œ

Anonymous said...

Beautiful insights. Consider yourself hugged (if that's ok with you). Thanks for sharing the part about Holy Saturday.

Briant said...

I'm restraining myself from offering my 2 cents. I'm a gay man and a little further down the road (68) and probably would have done a few things differently. I love this post. My guess is it probably results in all of us loving you more.

Unknown said...

Wow.i just love this.

Ashtyn said...

Echoing those who thanked you for sharing your story as it helps inform/ inspire so many. Thank you for sharing these difficult decisions and being so vulnerable in your thoughts. No matter what you choose or feel, I’m rooting for you!

Unknown said...

No words just πŸ’œπŸ’œπŸ’œπŸ’œπŸ’œ

Heidi Higley said...

All the comments! You are so very loved and I hope you feel that. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are a light to all. ❤️

Lauren Forson said...

I adore you! I’m so sorry for the pain you’re feeling. Sending you so much love!

Fernanda said...

Thank you!

Jenn Odei said...

I’ve never thought about holy Saturday! What a profound thought and so fitting for what you’re going through! You’re an inspiration!

Erin said...

You are an amazing guy! There is so much about life that is in the uncertain in between. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You are a beautiful human!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your perspective Ben. Thank you for being vulnerable. I learn so much from you.

David said...

Thanks for this, Ben! I too am in that limbo space, trying to be a good member but missing having someone special and all that comes with it. It’s so comforting to know there are others in similar shoes. Ultimately, He knows us and our needs and will provide.

Riah said...

Literally nothing I can say that will help. I can't. But I can thank you for helping me understand. Thank you for being beautiful you. ❤️

Shar Petersen said...

Words are so insufficient, but I can’t read what you bravely and eloquently poured out and not respond. I hate when people say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” - because He does! All the time He does! And my heart is breaking for you in this. But I also know He gives us more than we can handle because we’re not meant to deal with anything alone. I hope you are able to feel supported and strengthened and guided and loved in whatever choice you make. Hugs.

Etus said...

Thank you for sharing this! πŸ’œ

Wilson 5 said...

Random stranger here whom you will most likely never meet: I told my husband last night that I don’t dare journal anything because I don’t want my posterity to go finding it, and read it without me to clarify my thoughts and have them leave my journal thinking, ‘sheesh, she is a doubtful, unfaithful, hopeless, negative Nilly!’ I’d much rather write a journal like Nephi did, where I’m the star of the family…πŸ˜‰. Anyway, two days ago I fell apart again. One (so far) of my kiddos is gay. He seems to be far less worried or speculative about his life and future than I am. I am incredibly caught off guard at the anger I have, the anger I have about the anger, the grief i feel for the loss of the future I saw for him. And I realize most people don’t live the future parents saw for them….but….in one of your recent podcasts, you and Charlie shared that when people try to comfort you by talking about the wife you will find in the next life, and that having a wife was incredibly unappealing…..it hadn’t occurred to me that the idea of eternity with a wife wasn’t comforting. The entire situation is so incredibly aggravating!! I imagine my behavior between when Jesus died and was resurrected; would be embarrassingly doubtful. I wish so badly I had more answers. And I just don’t. And today, that’s ok. The mom in me wants to just wrap a shield around my kiddo and block all the crappy stuff flying at him. I wish a lifetime of stepping in legos and goat heads for those who hurt him. And still, I’m supposed to be the pillar of strength for him. My home needs to be his safe house. So, I put on a strong face, and use humor WAY TOO much. But man, I’m mad. I’m sad. It’s not fair!! (Imagine stomping 3 -year old girl….but a cute one) But, I do know, if I make it to the celestial Kingdom, I’m not gonna be sitting there pissed. So it must all work out one way or another. When/info get to create worlds, there will be no reptiles, PMS snacking will not add adipose tissue and each kiddo will get a once a year phone-a-God, in which you will get an immediate answer.

SilentQ said...

Great post, Ben! Now I know you're an excellent writer in addition to being an all-around stellar human being.

Mamie Coffey said...

Ben, you know all the things. So I will just add that I love you (like a sister- I’m not old enough to be your mom!). My meditation is often, “Be still and know that I am God.” It seems applicable here, too. Sending hugs and love ❤️

Jacob said...

Thank you for sharing the “messy middle” (as my mom likes to call it) — the in between. I won’t pretend to have opinions or advice on something I don’t know anything about. But I would be willing (we’re strangers, I realize, but stay with me) to sit in that middle space with you and be silent. I hope you have people like that — ones that will just sit and say “I’m sorry for the sucky parts”. Thanks for sharing so we can all develop more empathy and compassion!!

Camille Packer McConnell said...

You are so honest and hilarious!!

Camille Packer McConnell said...

Best comment ever!!

Bryan Tanner said...

Thanks for sharing your four adjectives, Ben. A written reaction doesn’t adequately convey my desire to feel with you, but here’s my best shot: [Insert meaningful words of comfort, supportive, and affirmation.]

Tarlton Ferrin said...

Hi Ben, I very much appreciate what you have and continue to share. Thanks for being so willing and generous to share this openly - for what it's worth I think it makes a big difference for people in many different ways. For me your experiences have definitely helped broaden my still limited understanding. I appreciate your writing and word choices a lot.

Some of my thoughts. Sometimes leaning into the messiness of our lives is the only way to get to a greater level of clarity. Other times it seems like messiness largely exists to try our faith. The hardest questions must be when our deepest values, experiences and beliefs are in conflict. I treasure when I feel like I get some direction of whether to lean into that conflict or to lean out of it but sometimes I feel like I just get thrown into it. I was reading today in Alma 32 about the relationships between humility, faith and being blessed by the Lord and how sometimes answers to our questions could actually be detrimental to us. I am trying to remember that the Lord is very intentional with us, and has reasons why he might not resolve some questions. I don't share this because I think this is something you needed to hear but more as something I needed to think about for myself.

Peter said...

Hi Ben, I really value your words. So many times your posts have made me feel less alone in this life. Never stop.

Angela said...

Your reply made me laugh and cry! I have had so many similar thoughts that you were able to beautifully articulate. I think we'd be bff's if we know each other! I'd love to hear more of your story and journey. (ajhthomas@yahoo.com)

Anonymous said...

Wow, beautiful, while also painful, post. Thank you for sharing this and for how you have chosen to live your life despite uncertainty and pain. You have done so much good and will certainly continue to do so much more good. Thank you for your light!

The Staker Family said...

Ok, so there are a very small percentage of members of the church that are gay and choosing not to be in love, but this makes me sad. There’s 2 reasons. First, my heart is broken for Mark and for you because my relationship (heterosexual) is the thing that brings me the most joy in this world, even though it can be hard too and I’m sad that you will not get that and I think you deserve that. And the second reason is all of the members of the church who now use your story to try and tell their loved ones that it’s the right decision for them. I realize that that’s not your intent, but unfortunately, that will be what happens. I agree fully with what Stickerless wrote about feeling torn. I love the gospel, but I also love my gay family and friends and want them to fully be able to love and have a family. I don’t know where that puts me in the church and that makes me sad too.

Mr.Moonflower said...

This whole thing is just sad. No wonder you feel so wrought with emotions and turmoil all the time. You're going around catching feelings for other people and then creating romantic feelings between each other only to turn around afterwards and dutifully let them down. Do you not see the turmoil you are making? Do you not see the damage you cause towards others all to tickle your emotional well-being? You want companionship and emotional sentiments that are a few steps beyond friendship but then you want to turn around and break hearts... All the while you say to yourself in repeated mantra "I'm trying to live like Jesus..." This is sick. This is wrong. You're being hypocritical and selfish towards others. You wanna walk the line at all costs then do it and go for it for yourself. But don't toy with others and create feelings with other people or cause emotions to come about with others only to draw it out or end things abruptly and run the other direction... These are single gay men you are interacting or causing feelings with--not straight males or heterosexual woman! If a female friend catches feelings for you and you're a gay man then that's an accident and obviously un-intended... But when you're a single gay man and you want to run around with other men who are homosexual that's just stupid and trouble waiting to happen. That's like asking the snake not to bite while wrapping your arm around it. You should know better. Its a snake... its in its nature... Its only natural! If it weren't an animal I'd use the phrase "its only human!" ... You are using other individuals to service a very particular set of single same-sex oriented needs and your doing such with the wrong individuals! Make friends ideally with those you aren't tempted to cross boundaries with. Join a platonic group. Go out with group events with other people. Directly spending your time individually with another who experiences your same-sex orientation especially when the two of you are single or attempting to hold yourself to religious standards and requirements seems selfish and self-serving. It seems disloyal and manipulative. Your toying with your self and your own limits (which is fine) but at worst your also toying with another delicate person's situation and their own emotions! Its asking not to get burned while desiring to play with fire. It might not be guaranteed to happen but the odds nevertheless are VERY likely... Do yourself a favor and find another outlet besides other single gay men or otherwise if not then perhaps change your situation. Asking other single and gay individuals to not "catch feelings" for you while nonetheless seeking to hang out with them seems like a self-inflicted situation. This would all be fine of course if it wasn't attached or affecting of another person. You really need to be called out on your lack of mindfulness towards others and their feelings when you continue to desire these same situations. If I was one of these guys and I was brought into getting to know you and spending days and evenings or mornings and weekends or hours with you etc only to be let down in the end--I gotta admit I'd honestly be pretty pissed... I'd be heartbroken and sad and of course I'd feel embarrassed and somewhat undervalued and emotionally upset and conflicted, but more than anything I'd honestly just be upset at you and really pissed with your lack of mindfulness to get us mixed up like this only for you to do this. If you wanna be LDS then be LDS. If you wanna marry then marry. If you wanna be single then be single... But don't bring heartache and frustration to others who dont already need it especially when you of all people should know how difficult and tough it is being a single gay individual can be in a world surrounded by couples and companionship success stories etc.

BrianG said...

This last year my family and I left the church. It was a scary step, but one that had been brewing for a long time. I will refrain from giving you any advice, although I am sitting on my hands because I want to so badly. I will say though that we don't regret that choice. My wife and I hugged each other and cried after meeting with our bishop and discussing with him our concerns and our decision to leave. We wept and it reminded me of Adam and Eve when they left the garden. I had a lot of good experiences in the LDS Church as a missionary, at BYU, in callings and wards around the US and we love the LDS people. Just don't be afraid. It is a beautiful world out here. There is a lot of love and support here too.

Anonymous said...

I’m glad we get to see this side of you Ben. It’s not often that you seem like someone many can relate to. Sorry you’re hurting. The plan isn’t to hurt. Hopefully you find peace wherever you land.

Anonymous said...

My friend, I think you need to listen to his podcast again or re-read his post. Ben certainly doesn’t need people to defend him, but I’m gonna defend anyway. You are suggesting he chose to love someone and hurts them. He didn’t choose anything but to live his life and follow the savior the best he knows how for him. And the only person to critique that and judge him, is the Savior. If the people in this world would approach life, friendship and parenting in the same manner Ben exemplifies, we would certainly be a whole lot closer to joining Enoch. Anyway, I raise my eyebrows in disbelief when peeps accuse others of unchristlike….they usually do so in a very inchristlike manner. Do better man.

Anonymous said...

I resonate with this so much even though the particulars in my life are so different I know that ache for something good and having to wait...maybe a whole lifetime. Most of the time it's fine, and God's got me, but almost out of nowhere I get gut punched and I have to find him again. The food part is I've never regretted seeking him first. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

The food part and good part are interchangeable πŸ˜†πŸ˜…πŸ˜‰