Giving Up Love-Bombing
There’s a lot of talk in the post-Mormon world about how to rebuild “community.” Mormons do community well, that’s what they say. And in some ways, it is true. No matter where you move in the world, it seems, there is a Mormon ward to greet you. They will likely help you move in (actually physically carrying boxes for you), bring you casseroles, and greet you with smiling faces when you show up to church on Sunday. They’ll also be quick to put you to work with callings in the ward that will help you feel integrated and useful, not to mention the fact that there will shortly be some segment of the population you will know by name and by personality — even if that segment is the nursery kids under age three. In addition, you’ll be assigned what is now called “ministering brothers and sisters” who will check in with you on a monthly basis to see if you’re in need of anything, if someone is in the hospital, or anything else.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? I remember wondering in my old uber-Mormon days how people who weren’t Mormon managed moves. Not just the physical job of carrying boxes in, but the social job of getting to know a lot of people in your neighborhood in a short period of time. When I was diagnosed with autism, I began to understand why this had always been such a problem for me. Mormonism’s strategy of assigned friendships, sometimes formal and sometimes more informal, was a real selling point for me. I needed there to be a framework for friendships. Or at least, I needed that to have anything like what looked like a normal social life.
Nonetheless, I rarely kept friends from ward to ward when I moved (one reason I hated moving) or even when ward boundaries changed due to structural changes within stakes that had nothing to do with physical location. The one exception to this was when I was at Princeton for graduate school. I’ve kept many friends from there, perhaps because of a similar interest in intellectual pursuits?
Leaving Mormonism, I spent some months in a kind of shell-shock, unable to figure out how to keep up friendships with most of my Mormon ward members and frankly unsure if I wanted to. I spent Sundays alone in my house while my neighbors attended church together without me. I started to write more on Sundays (something I’d stopped doing when writing became a career) and to do chores around the house. But I missed the specialness of Sunday, and I suspect, looking back, the social contact with other people.
There is an ex-Mormon(ish) community. It can be wonderful and terrifying. But it is not the same as a Mormon community — and I suppose it shouldn’t need to be. Sometimes, people help you move, though it may feel awkward to ask. I’ve had some help from ex-Mo friends who stepped up to help me search for jobs and revamp my resume, as well as deal with ordinary issues like needing things for my new place and well, therapy. But no one tells you what to do. Yay, right? Well, yes and no. Not having callings means it’s harder to feel like you’re useful, like you fit in, like your life has meaning. And it turns out those are deep human needs.
The world is becoming more and more secular and I suppose we’ll eventually figure this out. (Maybe? Please?) The pandemic may not be our best example of this, however. It is isolating and for me, combined with the loss of a Mormon community, is excruciatingly painful. I know, I know. Everyone says you’re so much happier after you leave Mormonism. And I keep pushing back on it and saying that it hasn’t worked that way for me. In some ways, maybe I am and in other ways I definitely am not. Wishing to go back to the Garden of Eden, I suppose.
Of all the things I miss about Mormonism, the hymn singing, little kids in cute Sunday clothes everywhere, casseroles and jello salads and potlucks and even prayers, the thing I miss most is what I suppose experts would call “love-bombing.” It’s a real thing and when people say they don’t understand the appeal of Mormonism, I am truly baffled. You don’t understand how good it would feel to be smiled at, greeted by name, told how important you are to the entire history of humanity, and brought gifts and checked in on regularly? Well, I am not an extrovert, but these things are hard to let go of.
I’m still working on this thing, rebuilding whatever a community around me is going to look like now. But whatever it will be, it won’t have love-bombing in it. And it won’t have that clear shape that Mormon wards have. For better or worse, this is a brave new world. I liked feeling like I was part of a “team,” working against some visible or invisible enemy or evil. And somehow, I either have to let go of that desire or I have to make it into something else because it’s true when they say you can’t go back. I don’t fit in there anymore, and the love-bombing, as much as I miss it, doesn’t feel good anymore. It’s just the memory of it that feels good. Make of it what you will.