The Happiness Factor

Over the years, I’ve watched former mormon blogs come and go. And posters on various former mormon boards join and leave. (Kiley recently talked about it here). From what I can discern, there appears to be a cycle that some former mormons run through. At first there can be a lot of emotions; hurt, betrayal, anger or fear. But generally, after some time, people stop posting. In the least, they stop posting about mormon culture, leadership, history, etc.

Why is that?

My theory can’t be sustained by fact. After all, most people will say they are happy or content with their lives. Both mormons and former mormons have a vested interest. Most people (mo and non mo) have a strong inclination towards denial “it’s not that bad”.

Seth studied ex-mormon narratives some years back. I suspect that ex-mormon narratives are quite a bit like conversion narratives (I agree with runtu here). A person holds one belief (or hasn’t thought about it) and then revisits that belief (sometimes with severe personal consequences). Parents disown children; children disown parents. Couples divorce. Lifelong friends stop speaking to one another.

After some time, this social upheaval stabilizes. Relatives and friends accept that the original person hasn’t fully changed, although some of their outward beliefs may have changed. There’s an acceptance that they are no longer are true believers (if they ever were). They come to terms with the divorce (if one happened). Both sides either come to an uneasy truce or end the relationship (even a familial relationship).

Personally, I strongly suspect that it’s the social upheaval that creates the majority of the angst (if angst is the right word). It’s the feelings of betrayal (on both sides). One side thought love was unconditional (beyond faith). The other side thought a family member would be strong enough to remain in the faith, would overlook truth claims or political controversies.

So it becomes an interpersonal conflict, the personal becoming the political. And after a few years, everyone basically accepts the new reality (ex. aerin is no longer officially mormon, not married to a mormon, not going to raise her children mormon). While both sides may challenge the status quo, things stabilize.

And some of this prediction take into account mormons who return and mormons who leave and never write anything on the internet.

And despite all the protest to the contrary, most former mormons (who’ve gone through this process) appear to be doing just fine. They live different lives. They make different choices in relationships. They may go to a church, they may not. But just like mormons they find themselves content with their lives.

For me, it was hard at first to watch some of the bloggers that I have loved reading over the years stop posting as much. But then I realized that this appears to be a cycle of sorts. And that it’s healthy, in fact, for people of all backgrounds to grow and change. Sometimes that growth means not posting as much on the internet. What was fascinating is not as consuming as it once was.

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10 Responses

  1. I guess it’s all part of life. You go through a process of change and then you move on. I had reached a point where I was reasonably comfortable with my identity as a former Mormon. Life had started to stabilize and I had pretty much accepted the status quo with my family.

    Then I was hit by a car while walking across the street. The trauma (and resulting anxiety) of that accident ended up stirring a lot of un-resolved feelings and once again, I had to start sorting through my identity as a girl who grew up in a Mormon family and chose to leave. (And that, in a nutshell, is the story of why I write.)

  2. Gilroy says:

    Great post. Being active in the church gave me a built-in social life that eliminated the need for me to develop real social connections and interpersonal skills. Making the decision to no longer be active in the church has taken quite a toll on my social life and numerous relationships. I hate to admit this, but I’m the type to avoid conflict, so unless somebody brings it up directly, I’ve kept my “apostasy” on the DL. I think as time goes on and I’ve grown more distant from TBMs from my past, fewer people will care.

  3. Elaine says:

    In truth, I’ve probably never blogged *that* much about my journey out of the Mormon church, or about how I feel about the church and its theology (such as it is), positions, and all the rest. I’ve written about these issues occasionaly, but not as a regular thing.

    This does not mean I don’t have thoughts or feelings about these issues, or about the issues I still have with my time in the church and my feelings about all of that. However, I’ve been giving “leaving the church alone” my best shot, even if only to poke a hole in that particular rhetorical balloon that still-faithful Mormons wave around: that ex/former Mormons can leave the church but they cannot leave it alone.

    I’m rethnking that position, however, in light of MItt’s candidacy for president and the accompanying increased efforts by the church to look mainstream. Because, you know, it isn’t mainstream…not even a little bit.

  4. Daniel says:

    I’ve also noticed that people ‘move on’. It’s so normal that some people assume that if you’re still blogging about post-mormon issues years after deconversion, you’re somehow ‘stuck’ or ‘not adjusting’.

    Not me. I’ve got my phasers set to vaporise. Forever.

  5. aerin says:

    @postmormongirl – I think that’s life sometimes. I’ve found as I get older that I see things very differently than I did five or ten years ago. Different life experiences bring up different stuff.

    @gilroy – I’ve found I have to work at friendships, at maintaining friendships. At figuring out how to find a babysitter (not as easy as it sounds)! But developing those skills has certainly been rewarding.

    @Elaine – What does leaving the church alone really mean? I don’t know. I was never Roman Catholic, but I have strong opinions about many of their doctrines and political positions.

  6. chanson says:

    I think it’s pretty typical to need additional social support (from people who have been there) during this sort of transition. While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to retain an interest in discussing Mormonism for life, it’s not surprising if people want to talk about it more at the point where they feel like their life has been turned on its head.

    It makes me wonder what is the typical situation for people who leave Mormonism without blogging about it, though. (That was everyone, way back when I left, but I have no way to know which experiences are typical.) It’s possible that a lot of times it happens during another transition (like moving or a change in family structure like marriage or divorce), in which case leaving the church might not stand out as the biggest part of the transition.

  7. Faith says:

    Interesting. I just did a post on my blog, and saw that I hadn’t posted since early April. If my husband didn’t insist on bringing up the issue every day, I think I’m to a point where I’m happy moving on.

  8. chanson says:

    @7 — If you have written something relevant to the conversation, please don’t be shy about posting the link!! 😉

  9. aerin says:

    @4 – It’s tricky. I’ve been blogging over five years myself, not solely about mormonism, and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

    I think my original point is, after the first blush of raw emotion, things usually normalize out. Recently, I read a discussion recently where someone had claimed that former mormons criticize everything about current mormons – even the way they slurp their soup.

    Everyone has the right to their own opinion and perspective. But I would say, while some people might be hung up on things like soup slurping at some point in their lives, usually it’s not a long term thing. And most former mormons that I’ve read have sincere, legitimate concerns (usually lots of them) being aired. (Treatment of GLBT people, for example). It’s not trivial criticism, or even claims that aren’t true (mormons have horns or what-have-you).

    Of course there are all types of former mormons and current mormons, I can’t speak for anyone but myself. This is just my take.

    In the latest wapo article – I have found many discussions online that I could have never had in church on Sunday. And I suspect if I went back and was re-baptized, I still couldn’t have those conversations.

    @7 & 8 – thanks Faith and chanson!

  10. Elaine says:

    @aerin…I suppose it means different things to different people. Of course, people who are still faithful to the church mean in it the sense that they resent people who leave the church and then go on to criticize it on an ongoing basis.

    For me, it means that, while I think there are things that the church, as an institution, does and says that still bear examination and criticism, I’m now willing to pick and choose my battles with it, rather than making my criticisms a constant part of my life and my writing. I guess it also means that I realized that my argument are probably not going to sway anyone who is a true believer, that continuing to preach to the choir of disaffected and ex-Mormons might be satisfying sometimes but not really an efficient use of my time, and that people with no dog in the fight probably aren’t paying attention anyway.

    I’ll still write about the things the church teaches that I think have an effect on the larger society…its racism, its homophobia, its sexism, and so forth…but only when I believe I can add something to the conversation. At a time when it is vitually certain that a Mormon will be a major party nominee for the office of President of the United States, the issues arising from Mormon teachings and practice that will potentially affect the larger society has grown, which is why I’m rethinking my policy about when I comment on the church and its activities.

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