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Thanks for tuning in to Oh My Heck, where I stories of my Mormon past and answer listener’s questions about Doctrine and mormon Culture. You have a lot of choices out there for podcasts, and I’m [MORMON VOICE] just so grateful that you chose to listen to mine. That’s a rich, Hurricane/Laverkin accent for you there.

One of the drawbacks of Mormon Culture—a term by which I mean the culture that mormons and mormon-adjacent folks who live in Utah and surrounding Mormon-concentrated areas like Idaho and Arizona engage in—drawbacks of this is the expectations for a life that isn’t really based on reality. It’s an idea that if you live life like a character in a ’50’s television show, that “Aww shucks, I’m meeting Penny and Skip at the Frosty’s for a malted!” mindset, everything is going to turn out perfectly.

Your fellow citizens provide your laugh track, which means you need to up the hijinks. At first you think this Leave it to Beaver episode is going to be fun, but when you look at it through the lens of reality, you start to wonder where Mrs. Cleaver hides the hard liquor to cope. It’s only through thinking back on those formative years where I developed my tastes and preferences in dating that I can see how it really set me up to fail in finding my Perfect Mormon Husband. (Spoiler alert: I never did.)

Recently on This American Life, there was a terrific podcast about elaborate gestures to show love, from the silly to an incredibly disturbing story from the early 1900s that I’ll say is like Norman Bates’ version of Sleeping Beauty, to author Elna Baker’s disastrous (and one not so disastrous) attempts at forcing herself and her friends into making huge romantic gestures. Here’s the link [LINK: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/610/grand-gesture?act=0#play], and It was utterly fascinating, highly recommend. Naturally, since two of the stories centered around Utah kids, it took me right back to my dating years and led me to some harsh realizations about how it’s affected me over the years.

Something I genuinely loved about Utah and Mormon culture were the playful attitudes that surrounded the mating calls of the opposite sexes (remember this is Utah, and unfortunately those are the mating overtures currently allowed). And as they pointed out in the podcast, they’re not always romantic. Some of them serve as a sort of practice for the Big Show for when it’s going to count. Your neighbor asks you to the dance because you’re pals and the people you really wanted to go with are going with other people, so… Why miss out? I like that.

You’ve probably heard of the idea of a “Promposal”. There’s a show on MTV about it, Glee had a Very Special Episode with one, but let me set the record straight: Utah has been doing this for decades.

Growing up in Texas, this whole concept of The Big Ask was completely new to me, this elborate method in asking someone to a dance. You don’t just stomp over to Brexton and ask if they’ll go with you to Women’s Preference. It’s a production. There are planning stages, shopping trips, glue guns and possibly macrame beads, I don’t know your style and I don’t want to judge.

These aren’t just “promposals”. This concept is used for just about everything. Any outing not organized by the Church where you’re going to have kids old enough to date (usually not until your 16 for solo dating, maaaaybe 15 if your parents weren’t super strict and it was a group of kids from the church your parents knew), these outings were up for the poster board proposal.

That’s entry-level asking, for the record. You’ll need to bring your A-Game to compete with the folks in Happy Valley, Utah. And it’s absolutely a competition. It’s like doing it for the Vine. You’re absolutely doing it for the bragging rights and the Instagram post.

Back in the ’80s when my cousins and I were old enough to accept invitations for dates (16 in our houses!), my cousin Shauna and five of her closest friends were “kidnapped” by a group of boys and were asked to one of the many dances that are always going on. Seriously, there was a dance every weekend. If it wasn’t at the church on Friday or Saturday, it was a Victory dance or a formal dance at the high school. It was awesome. This is when I, their Mission Field cousin—that means I was living outside of Utah at the time—learned that I was being denied one of the great ideas for a school dance. I’m talking about MORP.

First, Morp is prom spelled backwards. So everything about it is backwards. The girls ask the boys. Couples go in their pajamas, and usually travel in big, fun groups. There are formal pictures taken and everything. You go out for breakfast for your dinner, do silly activities like sack races, whatever is in en vogue at the time. Fun, right?

There are a LOT of these female-driven dances, by the way. In addition to Morp and Prom, there’s Sadie Hawkins, the Winter Formal, Sweetheart Ball, Women’s Preference, Homecoming… lots of dances.

In the ’80s, my cousin was getting kidnapped for Funsies. By the time we were in college, things had started becoming a huge production. I was in college in Southern Utah and had my eye on a boy. His name was Lance, he was broad-shouldered and tall, he had a jaw that could cut glass and eyes like the sea after a storm. He was also a Return Missionary (automatically making him Desirable Number One) and played for the school’s football team. Basically, a girl-asks dance was going to be my once chance with this guy, and I knew it.

My roommate and I wrote out notes “Will You Go To Morp WIth Me?”, each word on a separate page. We then slipped each note into a plastic bag. I then spent my week’s food budget on melons. We cut little slivers into the sides of each one and fed the wrapped notes inside. Then, we took all of this and a broomstick to his house—he was a Townie, too. I assembled on his lawn a totem pole of melons and put a final sign on this with his name and instructions to smash the melons and read the notes inside. My roommate and I thought it was awesome and I just barely escaped using the HORRIFIC pun, “Honeydew… you want to go to MORP with me?” Barely.

It took him a few days to get back to me, during which time I convinced his best friend that I would get him a date if he nudged Lance in my direction. This should have been my first clue to lick my wounds and move on, but the technique seemed solid: do something wacky, ask them to an event, they say yes. Mormons are nothing if not aggressively positive, and I was pretty dang Mormon at the time.

I got the best friend Dave a date and then had it confirmed Lance would go with me. I’m fairly certain it was a pity date from start to finish, but because of how handsome I found him and how he checked all the Must Marry qualities on my How to Win as a Good Mormon Girl list, I accepted his pity for the chance to slow dance just once to Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” If we slow danced to a romantic song, surely he would realize how wonderful I was and fall in love with me. I mean, that’s the script.

He evidently did not get a copy of the script, as that was our one and only date, and we didn’t even make it through to the end of the dance. A girl from my dorm who also liked him, came stag, and cut in while he and I were dancing—Not to Boyz II Men, because that’s a hair-pulling offense, I think we can all agree. So she cut in, like literally elbowed her way between us, did the whole hair-tuck behind her ear batting eyelashes thing and asked him to dance while we were still dancing, and he kept his arms around the both of us for a few awkward moments until I fumbled away, confused and angry. That was that. The dance was across from my dorm, so I just went home, dejected and crushed that I got this wrong somehow.

I don’t miss dating in Utah. I do miss the fun, but not the dates. I also had next-to-zero ability to pick guys who would actually like me in return, so some of this is on me. And to be fair, Lance probably didn’t like being left to clean up smashed honeydews and watermelons off his sidewalk, now that I think about it. I didn’t quite know the rules and rituals that Utah-born Mormons had for dating, so I was usually on the outside, just wrong enough to make you tilt your head. It was a few years of frustration, to be sure.

But I want to share the ultimate elaborate gesture for a Mormon girl, and I’m telling you right now, there is no topping this. Remember that these HUGE gestures are done for the opportunity to accompany someone to a church gym where there will be colorful streamers, paper cups filled with butter mints, and cheap apple juice spiked with off-brand ginger ale, which is also known as Mormon Champagne.That’s all this stuff is done for. Or is it?

This story belongs to my friend who was interested a boy named, and he’s a descendant, too, Joseph Smith. If you know anything about Mormonism’s history, just you wait. [finger kiss sound] I just kissed my fingers. It’s that good.

My friend had her brother dress all in white robes and “appear” in his bedroom in the middle of the night. (The two guys were good friends, by the way.) Her brother did the whole flashlight, unearthly visage thing and directed Joseph to his backyard, where he was told to dig and unearth a box.

In the box, were “special glasses” for translation and paper plates that had been painted a metallic gold and affixed to each other to make a book. In that golden book, written to look like King James scripture, was the message, “Will you go to Sadie Hawkins with me?” I think she even added, “And it came to pass that he did, and there was much rejoicing.”

Freaking awesome. That is the most Mormon way to ask out a boy named Joseph Smith, I just can’t even. By the way, they’ve been married for more than 20 years and have six beautiful kids.

Pranking and this kind of playfulness is such a huge part of every day life in Utah. It makes sense that this bleeds into the dating culture. It keeps everything lighthearted. The pranks aren’t cruel—they’re short-sheeting your brother’s bed or pop-corning someone’s door, which is when you tape a sheet of plastic over a door, fill the gap with popcorn, ring the bell, and haha! Popcorn explosion into your house.

In college, we’d have themed group-outing night—some people were paired up, otherwise it was just a big group of us hanging out to go roller skating, rock climbing, or to go-karts. So we’d have a theme of everyone dressing up in Disco clothes or weird hats and eyewear… Half the fun was preparing for the outing instead of the actual outing. Disco Saturday Skate was a thing for an year, in fact. It got to the point where I had a costume box that the group would borrow from for all of these ridiculous events. I have a photo album that’s nothing but my group of friends playing dress up for all of these outings and dances.

Yes, I understand this is not typical for college, but… it was fun. Since we were all devoutly Mormon, we didn’t drink or smoke or mess around, so… what else are you going to do but dress up in velour pant suits and crazy wigs for go-karts? We kept out of trouble, didn’t worry about being weird or out there, we just goofed around. It’s interesting in retrospect, because you end up in a competition with previous events and previous gestures. Everything has to be huge and more fun, more wacky or whatever.

And that’s when it becomes about the gesture. Thinking back on this, I can see the damage this does, especially when it comes to dating. It becomes a situation where you train yourself into thinking there must be a gesture. Without it, they must not really care. Or worse, I personally had a tendency to fool myself into thinking that because there was a gesture, that they cared, instead of remembering that this was just what was done. He would have made glittery posters and stuff for any girl he asked. It wasn’t because it was me he was asking out. That’s the part I kept missing. And they never were interested in me for anything other than a fun person for that night’s event. (Remember, we’re all super Mormon, so there’s no “hooking up” happening. It’s almost literally going to a dance and then going home.)

Obviously there are times when it works out to be more. My friend and her husband and their sprawling family, for example. But there was a boy, one of those perfect boys that made my heart kind of flutter, made my eyes kind of blur… His name was Jason, he was six-four and built like a hockey player with thick, fantastic hair. We had a whirlwind first date that we didn’t want to end. The most perfect 24 hours ever. He lived a few towns over, we both worked and were putting ourselves through school, so we had to make the most of the time we had.

Worse than the distance: He wasn’t Mormon. I could work with that, though, because it’s a Missionary Church, right? At one point on this whirlwind first date, I asked him if we could stop by some place so I could grab something, and he muttered, “Anything. I’d give you the moon.” Well, hello. Cue the Sixpence Nonethericher…

Three days after this date, I had a box delivered to my dorm. Inside was a t-shirt of his I’d admired (oh god, it smelled like him, and I wore that every night to bed for a week, don’t you judge me), some incredibly sweet and charming letters, a box of macaroni-and-cheese, and a poster. The poster was of the moon. It had a note, “Told you I’d give it to you if I could.”

Are you kidding me with this? Come on.

The macaroni-and-cheese, however, was my favorite part. He was a stocker at a grocery store, and the day after our date, he was restocking the Kraft when he thought of me, and was found by a co-worker just staring at the shelf with a goofy smile on his face, after who knows how long. So he took that box (I’m pretty sure he didn’t steal it, he was such a good guy) and added it to this little package for me. I never did eat it. Oh, and because this was the early ’90s, of course there was a mixtape, and it was so good. Anytime I hear those songs, I still think of this guy. That’s a hell of a mixtape.

I was head-over-heels for him like immediately, and Mac—we’ll call him that for short—even converted to Mormonism for me. I mean, talk about a gesture! Huge. Maybe… too huge. I was a little overwhelmed by that. I felt really responsible for his eternal soul. That’s a lot for a 20 year old to feel, I think. Just after he converted, and I mean within a week, the boy I’d been writing letters to while he was on his mission—up until I started dating Macaroni, that is—came home. Any Mormon listening to this right now just said, “Uh oh.” Yeah.

My “missionary” returned, full of the spirit and all that rot, and drove six hours to show up at my dorm with flowers. Somehow that seemed bigger than joining a religion. I’d told my missionary in a letter that so sorry, I’d met someone, and here he was at my door, ready to fight for me, I thought. In my young, dumb, twenty-year-old mind, that was the Important Gesture

And I broke up with Mac. I saw my Missionary in my doorway, and I hugged him, invited him in, turned and immediately wrote Mac a letter to break up with him right then and there to clear the way for what was surely an epic romance about to happen. I made my missionary walk with me downstairs to make the day’s mail. And I knew he’d get it the next day because he was only two towns over.

I am so shame-faced right now.. Even after all the years past this stupid act of mine, I still feel utter shame over that. Because of course, my Missionary had another girl he’d been writing, he explained after hours of hugging and catching up and holding hands. See, he’d come all that way to talk to me about her and to ask my opinion on how to proceed.

The letter was already gone. I tried to call Mac and explain, but the damage was done. I’d done that to myself and to him. Mac would never talk to me again, and I don’t blame him. It’s taken me years to figure out how to recognize real intent behind playfulness and exaggerated statements. It’s not that there’s something wrong with a grand gesture, as long as they’re about the person for whom it’s intended.

I think about movies where the best friend admits right as the Wedding March plays that they’ve been in love with the groom all along, and I think that is so selfish. You had your chance. So much money and effort and energy and emotion went into the wedding, and for what? So the friend could finally “get it off their chest” and damn the consequences? I loathe those movies.

But then in Say Anything there’s Diane curled up in her room, sad and confused by what she wants versus pleasing her father, as Lloyd Dobler silently stands outside in the rain playing the song they first made love to. He’s only asking that she remembers what they shared. That moment defined a generation. Oh, it was so defining, that after I broke up with Mac and tried to talk to him, he said to me, “I gave you my heart and you gave me a pen.” And then hung up on me.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t have these wacky promposals or that people shouldn’t go all out to really express themselves. They’re fun and generally are harmless. Plus, if it works out, you have a great story to tell the grandkids. But I do think it’s important to wonder if you need a velour jumpsuit for your five best friends in order to serenade that girl in math class before she’ll go out with you. Sure, it’ll be hilarious, but how are you going to feel after the whole class films it and she says no? Did you even consider that she might? A lot of these feel like forethought without the afterthought, is all. There’s an inherent promise in “happy ever after” because they’re marketed as a key part to romance. But they don’t always work out. Some people don’t want the gesture but feel compelled to take your dumb melon-strewing ass to the dance out of politeness. Or the gesture isn’t the gesture you thought it would be in the first place.

In the podcast, Elna Baker talked herself into the romantic idea of flying all the way to Africa just to see a guy she thought could be “the one”, only to have him gently push her away when she went in for the Big Kiss, shocked and uncomfortable. In a movie, this would have been perfect. The music would swell, the two would kiss, and the quirky best friend would turn to the audience and sotto voce an “It’s about dang time!”

But life isn’t a movie. It isn’t a perfectly set-up sitcom where everything works out in 22 minutes. Things don’t always turn out the way you expected, but rather in a mess of melon on the sidewalk, a blister on your thumb from the hot glue gun, and your food budget blown. Or worse, trapped in a new religion with a Dear John letter as thanks.

Just… be prepared. Sometimes that guy standing in the rain with the boombox is just looking for directions for someone else’s house.

Of course, the onus is on me for my own choices and interpretations of other’s behavior. I can just see—with the benefit of that 20/20 hindsight—that setting expectations to such grand heights will inevitably lead to a breathtaking crash. Unless, of course, you can top giving a Joseph Smith some golden plates and getting a life-long relationship out of it.

…we’re gonna need a bigger glue gun.

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Be sure to tune in every week to Mormon Mondays on my home site, laura-stone.com. Every share and reblog and tweet means an angel gets its wings and a puppy gets a nose boop, so don’t be a monster! Have a question or a story request for me? Leave a comment on the website! Until next time, thanks for listening to Oh My Heck!

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