A couple of years ago, my daughter and I went window shopping at the Gateway Plaza. We were still living in Utah, so a trip to the outdoor shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City was a treat that we could easily afford. As we browsed through the shops we passed a display of t-shirts that poked fun at Utah’s Mormon culture. Usually I poke fun along with the best of them, but one t-shirt grabbed my attention, making a sad commentary on the general sacrificial perspective of those who have been raised with the should/should-not attitude of the pervading culture. It said “I Can’t– I’m Mormon.”
As a child, I had been taught not to smoke, drink, do drugs, or engage in premarital sex. Those were the things that Mormons are not allowed to do, and if I was going to be a good Mormon, I was not going to do them either.
I remember those days, while still in the general naivety of my youth, when I felt that I could dance around the edges of moral purity, and trifle with with the physical urges of the boys I dated, while remaining chaste enough for that coveted temple marriage. I particularly enjoyed what my dad called “huggy-bear and kissy face.” I believe that the generally accepted term in this generation is NCMO (a.k.a. non-committal make-out, affectionately pronounced “nickmo”). NCMO is too often given the wink and nod of ward-level church leaders who have “been-there, done that.”
I do know that even as I write this, I am treading over the general line of offensive opinion, but I make no apologies– general authorities have warned repeatedly against it, but many church members (such as myself) make excuses and allow for an occasional drift over the line, reminding themselves that they can “always repent.” I see it most often in the guys and girls who look for romantic commitment (and/or physical satisfaction) at incredibly young ages, because they haven’t learned how to bridle sexual urges. I understand it, because I was barely 19 when I was married the first time. I knew at the time that my husband-to-be was less than consummate, but those physical urges were over-powering, and being less than perfect myself, I naively believed that a temple marriage would save us from the disappointment of divorce.
Thirteen years, and four children later, I sat in my bishop’s office, with tears streaming down my face. I simply could not understand that my marriage could fail when I had done everything in my power to be the wife I thought my husband wanted. People close to me kept telling me that “it takes two” to make a divorce. Looking back, I believe that they were just as ignorant of reality as I was. I repeated this platitude to my bishop, and asked “I don’t get it, what did I do wrong?” My bishop leaned forward, took my hands in his, and said, “I don’t know, Marianne, what did you do wrong?” I thought for a minute, and suddenly the light went on– “I married him!”
I think now that it would have been better for me had I simply joined the ranks of godless fornicators. I had lied to myself, my family, my god, my husband, and created a home where abuse and irreverence abounded. If I had simply fornicated, I could have eventually repented and avoided years of intense misery. I’m not saying that fornication is preferable to marriage, what I am saying, is that temple marriage for the sake of base gratification is worse than fornication because it hurts everyone involved, including the resulting children. The sin I speak of is harder to understand, much easier to deny, and even harder to forsake.
The worst thing is, that many young people entering into the sanctity of temple marriage, don’t even understand the difference between true love and sexual attraction. The two are easily confused. I have learned through sad experience that the attitude that comes along with such behavior promotes a general disrespect for self and one’s partner. Along with this general disrespect comes a lack of understanding for true love. I am continually amazed at the number of young people who have confused physical attraction for love. I wasn’t confused, but if you’ll excuse the banality; just horny, and in denial.
To sum up my exhortation, I am trying to explain my new attitude. I remember a good friend that I had in high school who had decided that he wasn’t going to kiss any girl until his wedding day. Sometimes I think that I should have held out for a man like that. More often though, I believe that physical affection is important in a burgeoning romance. It helps to define and express the true love that comes from a deep emotional respect and spiritual commitment.
Hugging, kissing and holding hands are important in romantic ventures, but NCMO is more than just that. It begins with nuzzling and cuddling and progresses to pawing and heavy breathing. The worst part of it is what I call the PDA (public display of affection). PDAs begin with a good-night kiss (never on the first date), and by the fourth or fifth date the couple is sitting in the back seat of the movie theater (not watching the movie), and irritating the rest of the movie-goers . In subsequent dates, they end up in the back seat of the car. Honestly, people, the parking lot near the BYU dorms is not a good place to be on a Friday night. The ugliest part of PDAs, is that they happen everywhere– always with young people who haven’t yet learned that the rest of the world doesn’t want to participate in their bedroom behavior.
I admit that in my past I was often guilty of PDAs. NCMO was nothing more than a way to satisfy those urges, and convince myself that I was worth something to somebody. Now, I’ve learned that I am worth something: I am a child of God, and I am better than that. When I finally find my soul-mate, I will know that he has decided to be better than that too.
Avoiding moral transgression is not something we are told to do, it is something that we are taught. We do have a choice, and I am making the choice as a result of personal decision, not because someone told me that I have to.
Jesus said “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 3:5). Many protestant religions understand this and make a spiritual rebirth a prerequisite to baptism. We would do good to remember that, at the very least, the spiritual rebirth is more important than a baptism in that, a baptism is simply a symbol of the physical and spiritual birth. A physical baptism may be necessary to enter into God’s kingdom, but it does not diminish the necessity of a spiritual rebirth. It is this spiritual awakening that I speak of.
My t-shirt is going to say, “I choose not to, I’m better than that.”