A Valentine’s Note to Ty & Danielle and “Impossible” (“Mixed-Orientation”) Marriages Everywhere

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

Every marriage in the history of the world reaches a moment of profound testing – a moment when one or both spouses are confronted with an exhilarating idea:

You deserve BETTER!  Whatever good you thought you had with this person, there’s someone out there who can give you more. So…what are you waiting for?”

It’s safe to say that no marriage has ever NOT been confronted by this sweet seduction.  It comes in a variety of formats and with diverse details – all of which invoke a visceral wondering: “Is there anything more important than finding true happiness? Surely even God above would want this for His children?”

About this precise moment of marital challenge, Robert Johnson writes, “on this day, two opposing armies in the Western psyche take up their swords and go to war” inside. On one hand is everything good experienced and felt in a relationship – including commitments, memories, peace and whatever potential we’ve glimpsed. On the other hand is a fervent insistence “that it is a wonderful thing” to search for something better “rather than settle for the flesh-and-blood [individual] that real life has put into [our] arms.”[1]

So is that search-for-something-better a wonderful thing? Or is it something else?

One of my buddies left his wife and three small kids a few years ago for a girl he met at work.

It’s hard to describe how deeply, profoundly rocked those kids were, to say nothing about their beautiful mother.

But his “true happiness” justified the consequences, right?

Of course, not. There are many reasons most cultures and communities do not honor or celebrate this kind of a choice – seeing it as a tragedy, rather than a triumph.

From the view of most people, there’s nothing courageous or heroic about such a decision at all.

So why would that change for people who identify as gay? That’s sometimes how things seem – that we are asked to believe that in this case, the entire equation looks different.

The divorce heard round the world. When Mormon “mixed orientation” couple Josh & Lolly Weed announced their divorce online, the celebration and hardly-contained glee that met the news was striking. From some of the thousands of comments:

  • “This is the most raw, honest, and enlightening description of what it means to be gay AND Mormon I’ve ever come across. Their grace as they have tried to maneuver their way through this impossible path is so freaking admirable.”
  • “It’s so profound, full of wisdom, and TRUTH….Thank you Josh and Lolly for your courage, love and truth.”
  • “So, so powerful. Please read this! I’m crying at the rawness, honesty, selflessness, courage, and wholeheartedness this couple are living and sharing – with each other, themselves, and the world.”

For some, this represented a kind of obviously damning piece of evidence against Mormonism. And for others, it was another vindication of gay rights as the new civil rights movement of our time.

The piece felt almost “too important not to share” by many.  One person wrote that the widely passed-along story “would make a difference. It will change hearts. Family divides will be narrowed. Compassion will increase.”

A good friend shared the blog with me, saying “I thought this quite beautiful and profound.”

Try as I might, I could find little about the blog post that was beautiful – aside from the precious faces of their young children. What did those faces have to say about the big news?

The one overriding take-away from the blog for me was how pointedly America’s dominant narrative of romance and sexuality plays out in the unfolding details of stories like this beautiful family.

The story of love we’re all in love with. As Robert Johnson writes, “true” love and romance today has come to be defined by a mutual adoration of “overwhelming intensity”[2] – with pleasures that are “virtually infinite” according to one study of contemporary pop music.[3] If loving romance is true – it should also enthrall us right from the beginning.  “You know if it’s right immediately,” another man explained. Attraction is thus expected to happen “right away,” reflecting what the philosopher Shopenhauer called “the wholly immediate, instinctive attraction.”[4]

Historians place the formation of this almost other-worldly expectation for transcendent romance back to a particular period in the 11-13th century in southern France, where an ideal of courtly love arose. In this cultural aspiration, a brave knight sought to “worship” a fair lady as his inspiration and the “symbol of all beauty and perfection.”[5]  It was a couple of hundred years later that the philosopher Rousseau first asserted that “a single human being” could be “experienced as embodying the greatest good and be worthy of the sort of love that was formerly reserved for God.”[6] The idea began to spread across Europe – with the French population by the mid-1800s beginning to speak of “marriage by fascination.” In one man’s letter to his girlfriend in the late 1800s, he wrote, “I breathe by you; I live by you.”[7]

Over time, a deeply held cultural ideal emerged – namely, that in the intimacy of romance could be found answers to some of our deepest, most profound needs. Regarding these “unprecedented goals for marriage,” historian Stephanie Coontzs writes that “Never before in history had societies thought that such a set of high expectations about marriage was either realistic or desirable.”[8] While some form of romance has been valued by cultures throughout history (from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, to ancient Persia and feudal Japan) the difference today, one scholar concludes, is that our modern Western society is the “first” and “only culture in history” that has come to expect its presence “all the time” as the “basis of our marriage and love relationships” and the marker of “true love”[9]

For many in an increasingly secular society, falling deeply in love came to be anticipated as the central transcendent experience of life, and an “all powerful solution to the problem of finding meaning, security and happiness in life.”[10] Speaking of this romantic rapture, Johnson says this was “what we had always longed for” – namely, “a vision of ultimate meaning and unity – suddenly revealed to us in the form of another human being.”[11]

This was the kind of uplift and self-fulfillment, Coontz continues, “that the previous generation had sought in religious revivals.”[12] For increasing numbers, romance began to replace communion with God as a primary source of transcendence. Thus Carlos Almarán would write to his lover, “You were the reason for my existence; to adore you for me was religion…a love…that gave light to my life…without your love I will not live.”

I wrote a book several years ago documenting how these kinds of expectations were crushing otherwise beautiful couples – and pushing great matches apart.

Could that be the case here? And could the narrative implicit in this viral blog post, by proxy, detonate other beautiful relationships as well?

I’ve observed and interviewed many examples of couples carrying the weight of this Romance Story – witnessing many ways that burden plays out over time (in subtle and significant ways mostly beneath our awareness), especially for those who embrace the Story as true and go after what it tells them is most important.

Chasing the passion. Once the intensity of romantic attachment is placed as the highest of aspirations, that commitment naturally begins to throw its weight around. It becomes the de facto standard by which all else is judged:  ‘this is how couples should feel, this is how romance ought to be, this is what true love must include.’

These standards can be so unattainablly high that not even Brad and Angelina seem to be able to find them in any lasting way. What chance do the rest of us mere mortals have to find it?

Rather than recognizing the connection and affection we do have, it’s easy enough for any of us to focus on how far from True Love we are, concluding, “well, we certainly don’t have THAT…”  Things can begin to look very black and white, with dismal views of our own marriage.  Thus it’s unsurprising to hear Lolly write in their coming apart post, “Eventually we realized…that we didn’t have romantic attachment….And that it was something that we never had and, hauntingly, that we never would.”

As reflected here, it’s common for people to begin re-narrating past experience through these new lenses.  As Josh points out, what they thought was attraction and romantic affection in their relationship turned out to be mere lack of awareness on their part:  “I allowed myself to believe that there were levels of attraction and connection on a sexual and romantic level that weren’t actually there.”

If that’s true – and there never really was (enough/any?) sexual attraction in a relationship, then the next steps are taken for granted in the dominant cultural narrative:  it’s one of the worst possible thing in world to not feel what you deserve to feel. Lolly underscores the point: “It’s one of the main purposes of life! God designed us to need and want romantic attachment.”

Personal details aside, this is the same essential Story that I have seen push many bachelors away from getting married to beautiful partners in the first place, insisting that they didn’t feel the passion they truly deserved. I’ve also seen many other marriages reach similar conclusions as Josh – justified by the rightness of demanding that passion.

That passion remains the highest end that we encourage people to seek. Thus, one commentator responded to Josh’s piece with a kind of prayer: “May you each find that precious romantic love that cheers you, blesses you, and gives you wings.”

Blessed by that otherworldly passion, all is well.  But without it?

Somber alternatives.  Josh speaks somberly about thoughts of ending his own life as what he came to see as the stark alternative to finding the romantic fulfillment, attachment and enjoyment he most wants.

He is not unclear about this point, and doesn’t seek to nuance it at all: “I want to make a definitive point here. This risk for death is higher, statistically, for any person who has no hope of orientational attachment—not to mention the higher risk attendant to internalized homophobia/transphobia. This is not just the case for me. This is the case for any LGBTQIA person who chooses, or is pressured, to forego human attachment. Your gay brother. Your Lesbian cousin. Your Trans nephew. They are all, by very definition, at higher risk of death if they are choosing to forego attachment for any religious or cultural reason. Literally.”

He also argues that something “wants to die in all of us when we don’t have hope for attachment to a person we are oriented towards. It’s actually a standard part of human attachment: when we don’t have attachment—and have no hope of attachment–our brain tells us we need to die.”

This is a sobering contention – namely, that the deprivation being asked is so hard, so bad, that it pushes people, directly and unquestionably, to suicide.

If that is true, no one could or should question a conclusion to end such a marriage. Regardless of the real happiness they admit finding together, this pointed argument asks that we think of this kind of marriage more like an abusive relationship – where one partner is being pushed to self-destruction.

If that’s what a deprivation of true romance does, at what point should other couples begin to examine their own relationships in a similar light?  Some commentators have asked that following Josh and Lolly’s own manifesto:  “what does this mean for…us?”

Prompting that sort of introspection seemed even to be part of their intention in writing.  So what would it mean if all couples adopted the same kinds of questions and expectations as the Weeds?  Is it not reasonable to think that many marriages could be pushed to similar angst?

“What am I doing sticking around…if I’m honest, I’m not feeling enough either.  And looking back, I don’t think I felt as much attraction as I thought either. Has this person ever completely fulfilled me?!”

Those are dangerous questions for any marriage that hopes to last.  Aren’t they?

But some will push back:  “But wait, these marriages you’re comparing are SO different.”

Yes, there are differences. Central to the gay rights movement is a conviction that Josh is a fundamentally different kind of a human being (which would make his experience in marriage completely different as well).

That belief runs throughout the entire divorce manifesto – something that could perhaps be acknowledged more openly.  Indeed, if we’re willing to start having a more productive (and honest) conversation about gay rights in society, perhaps we can begin to talk about something more than differences in love, faith or goodness underlying so many of our disagreements.

Maybe we can begin to talk more about the underlying differences in how we see the world: our sexuality, ours identities and our faith.

The diverging tales of two poster children.  At the center of Josh’s post was an admission of coming to more centrally identify (and embrace his fundamental identity) as a gay man – and acknowledging openly how that began to affect his marriage. Specifically, Josh began to see his marriage as impossible and dangerous for someone like him.  

In comparison, Ty Mansfield speaks about making a conscious decision to stop identifying himself as gay:  “I actually had a very strong spiritual impression that if I continued to identify as gay, I would limit my progression.”

Along with not seeing himself as a fundamentally different kind of human being, Ty also no longer saw his marriage as different in any fundamental sense: “I don’t think of myself as being in a ‘mixed-orientation’ marriage. I’m in a marriage. I’m a man, my wife is a woman, we love each other and we’re married.”

Could these competing conclusions be regarded as a legitimate difference in perspective?

Not from where Josh now stands.  From his new narrative, Josh clearly cannot see his old views as anything other than harmful and delusional: “Any degree to which I held on to the idea that I could be gay without being gay was, I see now, a manifestation of lingering internalized homophobia born of decades of being told this part of me was evil.”

Rather than acknowledging an honest difference in conclusion, Josh goes on to even deny the existence of anyone who was truly happy in a mixed orientation marriage:

  • “A bird cannot choose to be a dog….And a gay person cannot choose to live the life of a straight person—not without serious consequences to their mental health that will endanger their life.”
  • “The thing that’s funny though, and that I wasn’t seeing then but so clearly see now: unicorns don’t actually exist. The idea of our marriage as successful and healthy, we have finally realized, is just that: mythical. Impossible. Not real.”

The extent of absolutist statements in the blog post is stunning – enough so to call forth even openly gay therapists to publicly agree with conservative-leaning colleagues at the potential harm of Josh & Lolly’s manifesto:

It would be inappropriate for us to tell anyone that their desired path in life is inherently unreasonable simply because a prominent person failed at it. Reactions to the article suggesting that no mixed-orientation relationship can work are as damaging as suggestions that no same-sex relationship can work. These kinds of universal pronouncements about the possibilities available to other individuals or couples, particularly when attributed to a licensed mental health professional, are very problematic. They can create — and have created — distress and harm in the populations we treat.

In speaking with one of these professionals, he told me that he’s had to work overtime in recent weeks to deal with the hopelessness that many similar couples are feeling in the wake of Josh and Lolly’s widely shared post.

That hopelessness arises not from the story of abandoning their marriage, as much as how much they made sure to undercut this possibility for others.   Even while going out of his way to praise gay couples (already widely celebrated), Josh cannot seem to help but condemn the many who identity as gay or same-sex attracted who are still seeking marriage in the covenant path (already widely mocked). For instance, after recounting their many similarities as man and wife (including their certifications as licensed therapists), for instance, Josh stated, “If any marriage like this were going to be functional, it would have been ours.”

And Josh added: “The foundation we were building it on was a mirage. The most integrated, sound home will fall to shambles if it’s built on a sinkhole. Our marriage was built on a sinkhole. Gay people and straight people cannot attach to one another.”

As if to ameliorate the sting of his words, Josh later went on try and say to other marriages facing similar questions:  “I love you, I honor your choices. You are your own entity and my truth does not have to be your truth….I also honor the complexity of life and I recognize my own inability to know the particulars of each and every story.”

These are the kinds of things we like to try and say to be nice and make-up. But let’s be honest, Josh:  when you declare to the world that something is impossible, dangerous and not real – that’s not called “honoring.”  It’s called attacking

Inviting a more honest conversation. It’s been clear to many that your post goes well beyond “sharing your story” to an offensive against the very beliefs and practices you are now abandoning. It would be a tremendous step forward, in my view, if we were to just acknowledge the ideological warfare and rhetorical aggression actually happening (yes, on both sides).

It was my gay Christian co-author and friend Arthur Peña who taught me this.  He writes that current progressive “gay-affirming theology and traditional Mormon theology (and the superhuman authority it claims to represent) are irreconcilable, and they cannot both be correct.  One of these ideologies must win, and the other must lose” – in what Arthur calls  an ideological “battle-to-the-death.”

He continues, “We must, then, clear our heads of the deluded hope that broken hearts, shattered faith, and lost lives can be entirely (or even largely) avoided if we can just talk, if we can just meet heart-to-heart, if we can just ‘humanize the enemy’ and enter into dialogue. Instead, Arthur continues: “This may be a time not for ‘making peace,’ but for the clarification of positions, for the highlighting of the chasms that divide us, and for the taking of (well-informed) sides.  My only real concern is that people may take their sides without being fully informed, and with only distorted ideas about what ‘the other side’ really stands for.  Our goal then, is not to bring agreement, or harmony, or peace (at least not directly) but, rather, clarity…and a certain kind of mutual respect that can, in fact, arise as the result of clarity.”

“When the lines are blurry,” Arthur emphasizes, problems and more pain arise. “I therefore agree with Elder Christofferson:  it is not kind to be unclear.”  He continues, “Better, I say, to draw the lines clearly (even as we examine and talk about those lines)….Draw the lines – and fight. With charity and respect–and through dialogue – yes.  But fight.”[13]

That’s what I believe we must do…together.  In the spirit of openly clarifying the lines as I see them, I want to point out below what people like me see as happening here.  In the same moment Josh has downloaded the dominant narrative of romance (like all men and most women on the planet), he and Lolly have embraced whole-heartedly a progressive narrative of identity and sexuality that portrays him as a fundamentally different kind of human being.  From this narrative, the suffering of the gay community arises almost entirely from the existence of those holding another narrative (of identity, sexuality, God, etc.)From this vantage point, if people like the Mormons didn’t believe what they did, then the gay community would not suffer as they do. Right?  That’s exactly what Josh argues in fairly dramatic fashion:

This is what the church’s current stance does to LGBTQIA people. It actually kills them. It fills them with self-loathing and internalized homophobia, and then provides little to no help when the psychosomatic symptoms set in, instead reacting to this unexpected by-product (after all, living the gospel isn’t supposed to bring misery and death! It’s supposed to bring immeasurable joy! Right?) with aphorisms like “have more faith,” or “have an eternal perspective” or “be grateful.” And the LGBTQIA person is left even further alone, now having been shamed by having it implied that their unhappiness and lack of health is their own fault because they aren’t being righteous enough or trying hard enough. And so, they try harder. And they get sicker. And the cycle continues. It is a sick, pathological spiral. Worst of all, and what amounts to the very crux of the problem: the church also deprives them—us—of attachment, and a natural, verified, studied reaction to attachment blockade is suicidality.

There are so many problems with this conclusion that it deserves an entirely separate discussion.  But it’s impossible to not comment on at least one problem.  As a respected therapist who identifies as Mormon and gay pointed out to me:  While it’s true that lack of human attachment can be destructive to anyone, the idea that a lack of “romantic attachment” or “orientational attachment” (a new term that Josh uses) leads to suicidality is “one bridge too far,” and doesn’t have the “statistical” support Josh claims. He added, “We also need to make a distinction between attachment and romance, and attachment and sex. You can have sex without attachment, and we can have attachment without sex. The conflation of the two is pretty remarkable.”

By many other measures, Josh’s analysis overstates and vastly oversimplifies reality in a way that lines up with his underlying (but clear) resentments against LDS prophetic teaching. So much of what is written starts to sound like what anyone has to say in order to justify such a painful choice.

That analysis aside, here is the relevant point for now:  if that’s what you believe – how could you not walk away from a marriage? If you prophetic teaching has come to be seen as “merely flimsy, topsy-turvy opinions” and the covenants they encouraged are seen as literally soul-destroying, how could you do otherwise?

Just as we all live out certain stories, I’m arguing that Josh and Lolly are predictably living out a certain story about love, identity and sexuality, a story that invites people exactly to the place they have found: turning against their faith, and turning against their own commitment together. While Josh works hard to make his divorce as Mormon-palatable as possible – continuing to live close, continuing to attend church, continuing to love Lolly – on some level, it’s clear that he is consciously choosing to step away from all of these.

Living out two stories. If we were to have a more honest conversation, once again, perhaps we might talk more about how Josh & Ty are, in large part, living out two different narratives of identity – and, in a fairly predictable way. 

Depending on the diverging conclusions of identity, we also (as outside observers) are led to different evaluations:

(1) Was Ty & Danielle’s choice to marry “unfortunate” and sending a “dangerous” message to youth – OR is it what these youth precisely need to see modeled?

(2) Is Josh & Lolly’s choice to divorce sending the “right” message to couples – OR is it perpetuating a dangerous and unfortunate message?

While these differences are fascinating, they’re not typically equally represented in public discussion.  Most popular, is the perspective channeled by one commentator who expressed appreciation for Josh and Lolly’s apology, before adding:  “I hope they continue to help the countless people that were hurt by their promotion of a gay/straight marriage as some sort of realistic, healthy relationship that can totally end in a happy, healthy life. A marriage like that is just a recipe for disaster.”

A recipe for disaster:  that’s what many now call a freely-entered covenant marriage between two people committed to honestly loving each other!

A more honest conversation would have to acknowledge real differences about what “love” actually means, in this instance, as well as what God thinks about this all.

Another story of romance.  Comparing views of love is where the conversation gets super fascinating.  While preserving a wonderful place for attraction, affection, and passion, another view of romance underscores something deeper than feeling at its foundation.  One author compared a “commitment to passion” with a “commitment to a human being,” before suggesting, “in our culture we have these two feelings completely confused.”[14]

Rather than centering our trajectory around our own feelings, this other view of romance emphasizes the human ability to choose to prioritize the needs, hopes and desires of another, reflecting what President Hinckley once called an “anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.”

This can be done whether or not someone feels like it, and indeed, the famous psychologist Scott Peck writes about true love is best practiced in a context where romantic feelings are not overwhelming. That’s not even a possibility considered in the dominant narrative.

Indeed, rather than recognized this potential, “it is exactly at this point,” Robert Johnson writes, “where our possibilities are richest, that most people miss their opportunity…and jump to the wrong conclusions.” One or both partners begin talking about breaking up “in order to ‘find themselves.'” At this point, we decide that “it is clear that a dreadful mistake was made, we misread the stars, we did not hook up with our one and only perfect match, what we thought was love was not real or ‘true’ love, and nothing can be done about the situation except to live unhappily ever after [or separate].”

Love as a practice. By comparison, many couples allow a settling of feeling to become a backdrop out of which they assert their willingness to truly love each other – underscoring a real degree of choice and agency within love. “True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed….Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional,” writes Scott Peck. “The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love.” He adds, “This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. If it is, so much the better; but if it isn’t, the commitment to love, the will to love, still stands and is still exercised.”[17]

Dr. Barbara Lee Fredrickson writes about how she used to see love as this “constant, steady force” that defined her relationships. “While that constant, steady force still exists,” she continued, she now sees her relationship bonds “as a product of the many micromoments of positivity resonance that my husband and I have shared over the years.”

She went on to describe a study her own research team at the University of North Carolina conducted to put this kind of “love practice” to the test. One group of people randomly assigned to practice creating more “micro-moments of love in daily life” showed enduring improvement in the function of the vagus nerve which connects the brain and heart. Other studies have documented an impact of this same kind of loving practice on healthier immune cells: “Your immune cells reflect your past experiences of love” she writes.

These kinds of “small emotional moments” Fredrickson concluded, “can have disproportionately large biological effects” – especially over time. There’s a feedback loop at play, she points out: “Your micro-moments of love not only make you healthier, but being healthier builds your capacity for love. Little by little, love begets love by improving your health. And health begets health by improving your capacity for love.”[15]

In this way, love, affection and desire are cultivated over time tenderly.  As Zygmunt Bauman elaborates, “Desire needs time to germinate, grow and mellow.”

That’s what I’ve seen happen in my own marriage.  My wife and I didn’t “fall in love.” We’ve grown in love over time, more and more deeply.  And the joy we’ve found through the process is beyond what I could ever have imagined.  That joy has come not from finding more and more romance together, as much as other things.  Like other couples, we’ve been tormented by thoughts of how our love is supposed to be – and whether or not we would ever feel or find that together.

The turning point for us came in consciously placing our relationship entirely in God’s hands. No longer was it about my expectation – or hers.  It was about His. I’ll never forget the night my wife tearfully asked, “but what if things for us never measure up?” And I finally knew how to answer that:  “it’s not about what we believe or want anymore.”

Immediately a burden was lifted.  And immediately we began to move noticeably along a new, better, easier, happier trajectory together…seemingly freed from the weight of The Story of Romance that hung over us for many years.

I recognize this trajectory in literature such as Montgomeries words through the character Anne (of Green Gables), who said:  “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a [glad] knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways.”

And in a setting of comfortable and calm romance, where two people are committed to each other’s well-being, true love can flourish and grow.  Saraceno writes in her historical essay on Italian families about “tranquil affection” as something that used to be widely understood to develop over the course of a long-term relationship.[18]

I’ve lived that and seen it happen.  And I count it as the greatest miracle of my life. That’s why I’m passionate about helping keep this possibility open for others, and why I’ll fight if someone tries to close it off.  I’m worried that others might miss out on this same beautiful miracle.  And I fight because the beauty of this love is worth preserving, and honoring!

For many of us, however, it only arises over time and with great patience.  In a profound way, this kind of love becomes a sacred practice in its own right.  In this sense, “The art of love turns out to be very like the practice of Zen or the practice of any Eastern religious art.”[16] On the same Valentine’s I posted this, a Jewish author, Rabbi Manis Friedman, said in a Salt Lake speech, “Intimacy is an art, not just something that happens. It must be learned, cultivated and practiced carefully.”

Ultimately, this highlights a redefinition of love itself. Scott Peck writes: “Love is not a feeling. Many, many people possessing a feeling of love and even acting in response to that feeling act in all manner of unloving and destructive ways.”[17]

As Stephen & Alex Kendrick write in the Love Dare, “rather than following your heart, we dare you to think differently. Choose to lead your heart toward that which is best in the long run. This is a key to lasting, fulfilling relationships.”

But wait – what if we deserve better? That’s certainly what Josh and Lolly are hearing on all sides: “Oh, but Lolly, you deserve to be loved that way! You will find someone else who can love you like that. You deserve to love and be loved in that way!”

ALL partners in ALL marriages could feel similarly entitled to MUCH more, right?  But would doing that be right and good?  In faith terms, does God smile on this expectation as much as we think?

Disagreeing about God’s will.  Josh makes the claim that in divorcing, he and his wife are simply following “what God Himself had been telling us” – something that becomes an important part of his story’s gravitas.

The philosopher Immanuel Levinas once wrote, “truth comes through the face of the other.” If Josh & Lolly can look into the faces of their precious daughters and consistently see a reflection of the rightness of their choice, then I will honor it.

But that’s never going to happen, because I don’t believe those precious faces will ever send that message.  No matter what words they may say to please parents, the lived experience of children in divorcing families ultimately reflect the same truth as the long-term research.  Though obvious exceptions occur in abusive situations and though lessened when the couples are amicably separating, long-term research has shown devastating effects on children – far beyond what are ever anticipated by the parents.  This is one reason many believe that divorce should be avoided unless in cases of serious abuse, adultery, etc.

In the absence of that, many walk away from otherwise happy relationships – only to later discover that the happiness they sought later is far less than what they left behind as defective. Too late, many of us realize, “what was I thinking to walk away from that beautiful person?”

Celebrating true love. To all couples holding on to their marriage, despite similar questions and concerns, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Although primarily addressed to you, I’ve focused my note intentionally on an instance of ideological warfare I believe we need to recognize for its threat to any of our lasting love. I’ve already spoken of the hopelessness many couples have felt in the wake of this recent blog post.

If this well-intentioned couple ends up helping implode other families, I personally believe they will one day be held responsible for the impact of their words – perhaps with new, painful apologies forthcoming long into the future.

In the meanwhile, to any in their audience who feel hopeless, please ignore the attackers and the scoffers.  They don’t deserve any of our attention any longer.

Let’s place all of our attention, and all of our relationships, in God’s hands.  Let His expectations guide us – not our demands or hopes.

If you can keep moving forward, than you are the people deserving to be celebrated the world over:  couples showing us what true love is all about – and setting an example that we should cease to be ashamed of right now.

During some challenging times for my own marriage, I lived across the street from a man who taught me some of these lessons.  It was Nietzsche who said a person can be defined by his/her capacity to promise. Despite the ups and downs in their own marriage, Tyler & Rebecca held on to their relationship with unique intensity.  Date night was a sacred ritual that they never missed, even during some of their own painful times.

Now, Tyler has a brain tumor that Rebecca and her kids have accepted will take his life before Christmas. I’ve reflected on what Tyler taught me once:  “Sometimes I keep doing things because I love my family; sometimes I do things because it feels important to me personally. And sometimes I do things because I promised.”



[1] Johnson is a renowned Jungian therapist who specialized for decades in the psychology of romantic love. Robert A. Johnson, We: understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), 100-101, 129.

[2] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), xiii, 72.

[3] Sheff (2011)

[4] Simon May, Love: A History (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 180.

[5] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), xiii, 96, 99.

[6] Simon May, Love: A History (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 12.

[7] New Orleans lawyer Albert Janin – as cited in Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Viking Books, 2005). 147, 178.

[8] Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Viking Books, 2005), 15, 23.

[9] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), xiii, xiv.

[10] Simon May, Love: A History (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 13.

[11] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), 43, 55, 58, 60, 96, 99.

[12] Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage (New York: Viking Books, 2005), 179.

[13] Arthur continues:  “The war is unavoidable.  It is already here.  Blurry lines just encourage people on both sides to unwittingly stumble into enemy territory. There are real, irreconcilable enemies here on the memetic level; and, to the degree that people identify with those ideologies (which will not and cannot ‘back down’), there are real, irreconcilable enemies on the personal level as well.” He continues, “The death of one or more ideologies is absolutely certain–and necessary. And thus the death of certain kinds of hope and faith is also absolutely certain–and necessary.”

“It is not a question of choosing peace over war, or general well-being over general unhappiness.  The war is here, it is happening, and it is inevitable.  There can be no peaceful co-existence on the memetic level, and any attempt to arrange some kind of peaceful co-existence at that level will only lead to other kinds of hope and faith being destroyed.  People will only be led astray by holding out the vain hope of peaceful co-existence at the level of [ideology].”

“We cannot–and we should not–seek some sort of truce between gay-affirming theologies and SSA-rejecting theologies that are based on superhuman religious authority.  This only protracts the suffering, and re-shuffles the cards or the lottery tickets–merely changing who will be hurt, in what way, and when.

“I could perhaps reasonably be accused of advocating the ‘nuclear option’ here–a kind of Ideological Armageddon.  There may be gentler ways to ease people out and beyond the confines of the present culture war.  In fact, I am sure there are gentler ways.  I’m just not so sure that there are, in the final analysis, kinder ways.  In my experience, what passes for (and may truly be) “gentler” methods, usually involve the kind of “blurring of lines” I referred to above.  This may make it easier for some people (and may serve some strategic interests as well), but I believe it merely makes it harder (perhaps much harder) for other people.  It certainly makes it harder for me (which, of course, may make my concerns too self-centered to be of broader relevance or interest).”

“Better, then, in my opinion, to aim for the truth, as clearly and strongly and transparently as possible, and let the tragically inevitable (inevitable no matter what ‘way’ we choose) collateral damage–the broken hearts, the lost faiths, the lost lives–occur on a road that at least promises a deeper, cleaner, more definitive kind of peace-after-war, rather than half measures and compromises and blurry lines that are, I think, almost certain to prolong suffering in the form of a kind of ‘cold’ (and confusing) culture war that never ends.”

Arthur concludes: “May the truth win out. And may as few hearts be broken, as few faiths be shattered, and as few lives be lost along the way as possible

[14] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985), 102-103.

[15] Fredrickson, B. (2013, January 24). “10 things you might not know about love.” Special to CNN

[16] Robert A. Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (New York: HarperOne, 1985).

[17] M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled (Touchstone, 1988), 116-117, 119.

[18] Saraceno, The Italian Family, in Antoine Prost & Gerard Vincent, eds., A History of Private Life: Riddles of Identity in Modern Times (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1991), (Coontz, 2005, p. 487.

7 Comments A Valentine’s Note to Ty & Danielle and “Impossible” (“Mixed-Orientation”) Marriages Everywhere

  1. Summer Biehler Lazott February 15, 2018 at 11:13 am

    I read Josh and Lolly’s manifesto when it came out, and several of the comments/reactions that followed. I felt their pain and empathized with them to some extent (having suffered my own attachment issues)…but, I could not agree with the narrative they were pushing. And it made me sad to see so many people agreeing with it. I don’t think the attachment disorder pain that Josh (& probably also Lolly) are experiencing are exclusive to LGBTQIA identifying individuals (and yes, there is danger in identifying oneself that way) as they seem to think. And I don’t think that divorcing and pursuing romantic love based on sexual orientation is going to heal their hearts. In this blog post you have eloquently articulated so many things wrong with this narrative that is becoming widely accepted by our LDS friends that I also find concerning. And you’ve made obvious some things that I had missed. Thanks for sharing your insights on this important issue of our day. (P.S. I know there have been dark times in my life when doing the right thing, not because I felt like it, but because I’d promised was what got me through.)

    1. jzhess February 16, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Thank you, Summer. Beautiful! That sorrow in seeing so may people agreeing with it is part of what motivated me to write that.

  2. Becky February 16, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Amen, Jacob. Thank you. Bennett and I feel the same way and had the same reactions to the Weed’s recent post. We celebrate Ty and Danielle, and all other married couples who are working hard together, and with the Lord, to create a celestial union that will last through the ages. <3

    1. jzhess February 16, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      Love to you, Becky. I feel a wonderful spirit about the kinds of things Bennett and you are sharing.

  3. Kathleen Ralph February 16, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Thank you for expressing the feelings of many in my family. Josh and Lolly are in our stake and she was in tears during our women’s conference last month. My heart breaks for their children as I have witnessed the devastation of divorce on children. As we heard too many positive replies to the destruction of a covenant relationship, I was concerned that no one could see the danger of this type of behavior. Thank you for clearly articulating the other options.

  4. Tanya February 21, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Beautifully said. Thank you for this.

  5. Marianne Meiners February 24, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. After I first read their break-up post, I had a moment of questioning…”Is this it? Is this the only option for people in their situation?” I struggled and wrestled. The next morning a scripture came clearly to my mind, “for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

    That was my answer. For reasons I am not fully aware of, God has asked us to refrain from homosexual relations. (I can guess at many reasons, but I can’t claim to have THE answer). God would not give us this commandment if it would inevitably lead to suicide! I simply can’t believe that. If you believe God is like that, that’s awful. The choice about whether to marry someone in the covenant when you are gay is personal and I could never judge an individual’s choice to marry or remain single in this circumstance. But I agree with you–there are certain commitments that override individual desires! All of the things you said about love are true. I majored in Marriage and Family Studies at BYU and I remember discussing Coontz and her writings in my classes.

    Thank you for refusing to become entwined by the compelling dialogue of our society! Life you referenced, the lines are getting harder and harder to see, and it is hard for people to know what is true anymore. But we have been given everything we need. I could go on and on, but THANK YOU for being a voice of truth in this world of confusion. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for acting and not being acted upon.


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