I’ve come to a surprising realization recently. Mormons, it turns out, may not be very good at making friends.
I know you’re already thinking of plenty of objections right now. You have lots of friends. Your kids have lots of friends. You live in a super-friendly (Mormon) neighborhood. When you moved your new neighbors (also Mormons) really made you feel at home.
I get that. But it also illustrates the problem. We’re really good at making friends with each other, with our fellow active Mormons. But we have a lot of help in that regard. There are ward activities, programs for the youth and children, home and visiting teaching, callings, potlucks, organized “compassionate service,” holiday parties, shared family home evenings, and Elders Quorum movers. On top of all of that, we spend three hours together each Sunday discussing our shared beliefs and values, including – sometimes – our deepest spiritual yearnings and experiences. In both behavior and belief, the Church provides TONS of opportunities to make friends within.
Unfortunately, one perverse consequence of all this may be that our personal friendship skills may atrophy. Without this structure and clear signals that we share beliefs, we struggle to cultivate friendships. I’ve noticed this especially since my wife left the Church and we moved to a new ward. Though plenty of people have expressed an interest in “getting to know her,” few have made any visible effort to do so. A visit from the RS presidency was much too formal and church-oriented. Other invites have come laden with incorrect assumptions about her availability and interests – based, as they are, on almost non-existent information. And, of course, they are all to church activities. They seem to be trying to reconvert her rather than get to know her.
When we moved in and met the family next door, a nice non-Mormon family, they told us the neighborhood was very quiet. Not unfriendly, but not friendly either. I suspect the ward members (which ARE the neighborhood) don’t think of themselves this way at all. They’re always busy doing things (mostly at the Church). But since most of their social lives are structured by the church, inviting non-Mormons is always a missionary effort.
In my experience, ‘missionary work’ has become our primary lens for viewing all our social interactions with those outside the Church. Which is a pity, because that becomes one more barrier to friendship. If the only ways we socialize are church-centered – including official Church activities, informal activities where everyone else will be members, or events where the Church will be the primary focus on conversation – we’re robbing ourselves of opportunities for broader friendships.
This is, of course, not only a problem for Mormons. Plenty of individuals (myself included) struggle with social skills. Plenty of communities struggle to reach out beyond their boundaries in meaningful ways.
Insularity is common. But insularity is also a sin.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt. 22:37-39)
Love is active. If we’ve not actively loving our neighbors , we are failing to keep the second great commandment. Like all commandments, this one will take some practice to get good at, to make it meaningful. But how wonderful would it be to both individually and collectively be great at the second great commandment?
Photo credit: “Mormon Friendship” by the More Good Foundation (Creative Commons License)
Probably varies by area, but I have noticed the same in my current ward.
I am in a position that allows me to interview members of the Ward. I often ask them what their favourite part part of the Ward is. They usually respond by saying people are down to earth and there are no cliques. When I ask them what their last favorite part of the Ward is they respond by saying they don’t really have any deep friendships in the Ward and that they are not really socially integrated.
Both point towards the same attribute of the Ward – we lack deep relationships. Just about everyone is an acquaintance, not a friend.
I think you’ve observed a key paradox: On the one hand, all that shared experience and belief can be powerful in forging a broad friendship. On the other, if we only interact on that one plane, deeper friendships will be more difficult to come by. Any thoughts on what to do about that?
Probably depends on where you are located – truer behind the Zion Curtain than elsewhere. In most of the world you’re the only LDS in your neighborhood and your social life doesn’t revolve around the Church calendar.
I think that’s true, to an extent. I’d say that – at least as a youth – I didn’t have to be in very populated Mormon territory to still have much of my social life/time revolve around Church activities. That necessarily meant that was the case for my parents as well. On the other hand, I’ve been in even less Mormon-population areas where travel time, etc. prevented as many activities and thus probably negated this problem.
I have to agree that this may be true in Utah or Gilbert, Az. But I grew up in Phoenix and this was not the case at all. My mother’s two best friends are not Mormon, and I only had one Mormon in my circle of friends at school.
I grew up in Phoenix too! It’s hard to judge precisely based on my youth, but I think this still was a problem. My mom was also very good at socializing and making friends, but I think she was probably the exception. Even with her reaching out, most of our family friendships were other Mormons. I’m glad your experience was more broad.
I once heard a grandfather lament that he couldn’t talk to his “inactive” grandchildren since they didn’t attend Primary or Mutual. He was unable to think of anything else to talk with them about. This man did not know how to make friends, even with his relatives, without the structure of the church supporting him. He never did figure out how to talk to them and they grew up without a real relationship with him.
Thanks for sharing this example. I think within families is where this is particularly tragic.
The Latter-days is about increasing diversity. This is a great doctrinal key. When we become too particular with what we decide to tolerate around us, when we are only loving, patient and long-suffering to a degree, we become afraid. This is when we become “fake-friends”. I want my friends to bother me until I humble myself, fess-up and repent and become accepting of their weaknesses. I hope they feel that way about me.
I grew up in Colorado. The general vibe there is way more open and friendly than in Utah.
Yes, I was in Aurora and Evergreen CO, and it seemed different when coming to Sandy in that every day was “how to manage our participation in church and Mormon cultural activities day”. Had to be on our best behavior so as not to be the “black-sheep” house in the neighborhood. That’s kids for you, but it shouldn’t be so much that way with Latter-day Saints.
If you are an introvert then you make fewer friends but what friends you have are deep and rich. Perhaps you read too much and scare the extroverts away with the material and questions you ask about the church history etc