As a single almost 31 year old member of the LDS faith, it is safe to say that my opinion of “true love” has become a bit…shall we say….cynical over the years. I use to totally buy into the whole Saturdays Warriors concept of love and I fully believed that when the time was right, the man who I was meant to marry would show up in my life and we would have one of those “I’ve seen that smile somewhere before” moments and the rest would be written in the eternities. Flash forward to me at 31, still single, and now having been privy to a multitude of divorces and marital strife courtesy of my numerous friends and family. Put simply…
I’m a little jaded and every so wary of anything or anyone who claims to have the market on “true love”. However, all of that changed when I met the Mansfields, and I realized that what I always believed “true love” to be couldn’t have been further from the truth.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Mansfields, they are an LDS couple, married, with children, both highly educated and articulate, but with one significant stand-out variable. Ty is an openly gay member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and even though Ty acknowledges his same gender attraction, he made the choice to marry Danielle, (a hertro-sexual female member of the church) start a family, and live a “typical” Mormon life. Ty also wrote a book In Quiet Desperation in which he details his struggles.
The Mansfields became relevant to my life when, Russell Stevenson (a.ka. The Mormon History Guy) invited me to join him in interviewing Ty and Danielle Mansfield for a podcast he runs (a podcast you can–and should!–listen to here). Prior to sitting down with the couple to conduct the interview, all I knew of Ty specifically or of their relationship in general was limited to the overview I just provided above. While preparing at home for the interview I found myself trying to decide just how personal and probing I wanted to be about their marriage. I thought about asking questions like,
“So tell me Ty, are you able to become sexually aroused by your wife, or how does that all work?”
or even something like,
“So tell me, don’t you feel to whatever extent as though you are living a lie or some measure of self-delusion?”
It is obvious by the kind of questions I was preparing to ask that my initial judgement of the legitimacy of their marriage was in question, at least in my mind. However, whatever it was that I was expecting to observe about this couple turned out to be miles away from my actual experience of them.
What I thought I was going to see was a couple of well-intentioned LDS people who, even though it wasn’t what they really wanted, had decided that getting married and playing by “the rules” was the right thing to do and so they just went ahead and did it. Perhaps I expected it to be a more a marriage of obligation, rather than one based in “true love.”
Now when I say “true love”, I think it is important to explain what I mean. When I say that I didn’t expect them to be truly “in love”, what I mean is that I fully expected to see a marriage utterly and totally devoid of that wild, intense, chick-flick, sexually-charged, epic Disney romance kind of love. You know, the kind of love that Hollywood has practically brainwashed us to believe is the only true kind of love that exists.
And I was right.
The love that this couple seemed to share didn’t appear to be the kind you see when watching programs like The Bachelor or even The Jersey Shore. No, the love that this couple seemed to share was something…different, it seemed more…mature, more…evolved maybe?
When I asked Ty what drew him to Danielle he told me that being with her felt like “Coming home”. This struck me to my core because it is a feeling that holds deep spiritual significance to me, though I have only felt less than a handful of times in my life. To me, the feeling of coming home is the closest thing I can describe to experiencing heaven while still on earth. It is a kind of recognition coupled with feelings of overwhelming peace and belonging. To put it simply, it just feels right.
Towards the end of the interview Ty made several profound statements when I asked him to describe what “true love” meant to him. He also made it a point to say that even though he doesn’t believe that he and his wife share a “perfect” marriage by any means, that he believes what they do share is a deeper understanding of what it means to truly love another human being. He went on to say that things such as sexual attraction and intimacy are parts or aspects of love, but they are not love in and of themselves. As far as I could interpret, I believe that what Ty was trying to say was that there are many things that could be considered manifestations of love, or actions that may lead to love, but that none of those things independent of anything else can be considered love by themselves. In other words, love is not what many people make it out to be.
A man may desire a woman for a sexual partner, but that doesn’t mean that he loves her (regardless of what hollywood would have us believe). A woman may be captivated by the prestigious job or position of authority a man might hold and as such wish to insert herself into his life, but this also is not love. You may get butterflies every time you see that special someone but even these feelings (as wonderful and sought after as they may be) are not in and of themselves true love. These things may lead us to love, or inspire us to want to love someone, but if they never develop into true love, then the relationship will last as long as it takes for the novelty to wear off.
If a man marries a woman based solely off of sexual attraction, but that attraction never blooms and matures into real love, then what will happen to the marriage if there ever comes a day when he isn’t sexually attracted to her anymore? Or how about a woman who marries a man for his money, only to have him lose his job?
We have all heard the tragic stories of people who divorce because the claim that they “fell out of love”, but what does that mean exactly? To say that you can “fall out of love” implies that the feeling of loving another person is something that you have no control over. By this logic, “love” is something that happens to you, instead of something that you choose to do.
Here is where I had my Ah-Ha! moment. While listening to Ty talk about what he meant by true love, I felt as though someone turned a light on in my brain and the concept of love and marriage began to make sense to me for the first time in my life.
I now believe that the cause (at least in part and to varying degrees) of why so many marriages in and outside of the church end in divorce is that the kind of “love” that we are practicing one with another is not, in all reality, true love.
What the Mansfields seem to know and understand more than many (myself included) is that Love, real, true, and pure love is not something that just happens to us, it is not something that infects us like a virus and then sticks around as long as the other person continues to make us happy, or fulfill our needs, or fantasies, or expectations. Love isn’t contingent upon the other person constantly enacting romantic scenes from (insert any chick flick here). Love is not how much you want to do that other person or how much they want to do you. Love is not a matter of finding the “perfect” person or “the one” and then everything will be happiness and rainbows and unicorn farts after you do.
So then what is love? What is it that the Mansfields seem to know that the majority of us do not?
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
And to this I would add 1 Corinthians 13:
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
May I propose (pun intended) that perhaps the point of marriage is not merely so that someone can come along and make us “whole”. Perhaps love and marriage aren’t even about finding someone who you can build a life with so that you don’t have to die alone.
Perhaps the purpose of marriage is so that we can have one person upon whom we can actively practice charity day in and day out, until the day we leave this mortal life.
This is not to throw out the doctrine of eternal families or the importance of human connection, but just as love cannot be simplified into only one aspect of itself, neither can the purpose of marriage be reduced down to the single goal of procreation. Children, like so many other things, are an expression of love, they are a manifestation of love, but they are not love in and of itself. True love, the pure love of Christ is, what I believe, the lesson we have been sent here to learn. Put simply…Charity is the point. Without charity there can be no lasting connection, no true sacrifice, and no real love.
The Mansfields may have an unconventional dynamic, and to the outside world it may seem as though they would be better off to just embrace who they “really are” and live a life more conducive to their predispositions, but as I learned first hand after spending only a short hour with this amazing couple, this assertion is so overly narrow that it all but misses the point completely. Regardless of biological factors, predispositions, or any other variable one can conceive of, the reality is that these two individuals have chosen one another to practice the pure love of Christ with and upon for the rest of their days, and God willing, for the rest of eternity. If that’s not real love, then I don’t know what is.