You Can Pick Your Friends....

I think one of the reasons that I had so many problems being a Mormon from such a young age is that the LDS church is so centered on socializing. From infancy you're taught that you're supposed to have friends that share your beliefs, so the church does everything it can to make sure its members are friends. From the toddlers in Sunbeams class to the cantankerous old bats in Relief Society, there is a constant assault of socials, parties, activities, meetings, and assigned duties designed to force church members into seeing the same faces often enough that familiarity becomes confused with friendship.

It seems harmless on the surface, creating a community that fosters friendships based on deeply-held personal beliefs. But truthfully, it's just the church's way of ensuring that it keeps its numbers up. A large percentage of people go to church meetings simply for the socializing rather than the doctrine. And I suspect a large number attend just so their "friends" won't turn them into the next "reactivation project".

As a teenager, I loathed "Mutual" nights. It often felt like my only options were: A) spend a couple of hours every week with people you hate doing some kind of incredibly stupid activity, or B) rot in Hell for all eternity for skipping a church meeting.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration.

Some of the activities weren't that stupid.

Like when we went bowling.

But truth be told, I don't really like people. I'm pretty selective about my friends. I'd rather hand-pick a few people that I really get on with then have a large pool of people I can't stand who I just happen to see all the time.

All through my growing-up years, I never kept friends very long. With very few exceptions, one or two years seemed to be the maximum amount of time we'd have before even my closest friends and I drifted apart. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that the majority of my "friends" were not actually people whose company I sought, but people in whose company I often found myself.

In school, I always had plenty of friends in each of my classes. I'd get along with a lot of people from a lot of different social cliques. I always had someone to eat lunch with and to walk the halls with and to ditch classes with. But I rarely had people that I would hang out with outside of school.

So the weekly Mutual activities which I hated became my primary source of extracurricular socializing. And I resented it. People I avoided the rest of the week, people who avoided me, were suddenly my buddies every Wednesday and Sunday.

Granted, some of those kids I probably could have been friends with in another world.  What I truly resented was knowing that I was expected to be friends with them simply because we were in the same ward.  I was allowed to choose my friends at school, but my friends at church were pre-selected for me based on only age range and local geography.

It's like when mothers arrange playdates for their very small children, except that we were teenagers with minds of our own who didn't base relationships on who had the coolest toys.

And so I didn't get along with a lot of them.  I hated spending time with most of them. But I had to, because I knew that if I didn't I would be labeled one of those "inactive" kids, and that everyone else would bake me cookies and stop by to invite me to come back to Mutual.

Not because they wanted to be friends with me, but because the Prophet told them to be friends with me.

In the last year or so, since denouncing my Mormonity, I've met a lot of people who are outside of the circle I would otherwise be enclosed in. And I'm pleased to say that I've felt like a large percentage of them are people I could potentially be friends with.

That's a big step for me.

The next step will be actually spending time with these newfound friends.


Maybe in another year.

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