Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An Epidemic of Loneliness

The day I heard that the Church was going to broadcast the Priesthood Session of General Conference over the usual broadcast and internet channels, I made a quip on Facebook: "This will be the death of the only Elders Quorum activity in our ward that has any draw."  I say I quipped, but I was dead serious, too.

While scanning some blogs today, I came across a post by Rebecca at By Common Consent in which she laments the loss of one of her husband's1 favorite traditions: the Priesthood Session after party.  She then puts in this nugget, which I have observed before and completely agree with.
It’s harder than you might think to coax adult Mormon men into attending a guys’ night out; many of them feel obligated to go straight home and “spend time with their families” or whatever.
This is absolutely true.  The men in the Church almost never get together.  The only successful Elders Quorum activity in my ward2 is the ice cream social where you show up to the chapel and get an ice cream sandwich before the Priesthood Session that you were going to anyway.  But everyone is dressed in their Sunday dress and no one actually interacts on a level any less superficial than the way they interact at the usual Sunday meetings.

And now, this little tradition may be dead.

But why?  Why shouldn't the men continue to go to the chapel for Priesthood session?  Probably because "many of them feel obligated to go straight home and 'spend time with their families'."  Or whatever.

The fact of the matter is that we've developed some notion that any second a man takes away from home life that isn't absolutely necessary is a disservice to and neglect of his family.  I suspect that if the Elders Quorum planned a quorum activity once every 2-3 months (the usual frequency for Relief Society activities) and had a statement made over the pulpit that "Women are asked to babysit3 their children so that their husbands may attend"--well, I envision a pretty big uproar.  How dare we take the husbands and fathers away from their families so often?

I think a lot of that reaction is rooted in stereotype.  Men get to socialize and interact with people all day at work while women are stuck home with their kids.....blah blah blah4.  What we need to understand is that, while yes, we get to interact with other adults at work, interacting with adults at work is not equivalent to making deep, lasting bonds of friendship.

So this is where I'm going to air some dirty laundry from my ward.

A couple of months ago, we had what I thought was a very interesting lesson in Elders Quorum.  I don't remember the topic (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but the instructor was comparing the level of sociality of friendship in the Relief Society to the level of sociality and friendship in the Elders Quorum.  What caught me off guard was that he started crying when he stated that he was envious of his wife who has so much more opportunity in the Church to build deep and lasting friendships with her peers.

Such a show of emotion is rare in Elders Quorums meetings.  We're too caught up in the stoic, testosterone fueled bullsh--er, stereotypes--to allow our vulnerabilities to show (which is precisely why priesthood lessons suck a lot of the time).  But this display was telling.  I had sometimes suspected, and left this lesson convinced, that there is an epidemic of loneliness among our men.  And we're too cowardly to admit it.

My home teachers came over that afternoon (I love my home teachers by the way.  If the Elders Quorum presidency ever assigns me someone else, I may start refusing home teachers.  Joe and Brandon have been absolute lifelines of sanity for me, though I doubt they know it--I'm too cowardly to admit it).  One of them is in the Elders Quorum presidency, and I shared my thoughts with him and made a case that we need more Elders Quorum activities.  We talked about LAN parties, board game groups (Dungeons and Dragons anyone?), encouraging the book group, hiking days, to name a few.

Not much has happened yet.  I hope something does soon, though.

Perhaps I should be more proactive and just set some things up myself.  Maybe I still will.  I definitely think something needs to happen, and I'd be more comfortable just doing it if I knew I had buy-in from the Elders Quorum presidency.

But before I really start agitating for this, let me ask some questions and sincerely request some feedback.

To the men:
  • What activities would you be interested in attending? 
  • Would you be more interested in whole-quorum activities or localized groups?
  • How comfortable would you be having an activity once every 2-3 months and being asked to attend an activity at least once a quarter?
To the women:
  • Do you recognize this as a need?
  • How burdensome would it be for you to help make arrangements for you men to attend?
  • Do you believe that strengthening your husband's friendships outside the family would benefit the relationships within your family?

1 Not to be confused with - one of her husbands' favorite traditions
2 Thanks to the diligent efforts of one brother, there is a gathering at a restaurant before the meeting that is probably more socially productive than the ice cream, but I think it gets limited attendance.  (Full disclosure: I rarely attend this as I'm very often on a trip with the scouts.  If I'm not on a trip, I've taken to skipping based on that fact that I haven't stayed awake through a session of Conference in over 5 years, even at the meetinghouse)
3 Don't get me started on the impossibility of babysitting your own children; but for some reason we say this to our men all the time.
4 Please don't interpret this as dismissal of the strain and frustration stay-at-home parents experience. I just don't want to rehash all the details that are so broadly known and think that what has been said is sufficient.


  1. In order:

    1) While the season for it is limited I'd enjoy just a good old fashion weenie roast (or foil dinners) or other 'man-food' centered activity. Combine it with a hike and it'd be delightful particularly this time of year. Include some shooting and well, I might even procrastinate some school work to go. Our ward has the occasional father-son camp out and I always lament that I either have other things getting in the way or the weather is atrocious (though maybe I just need to suck it up).

    2) Localized groups. I'd enjoy some RPGs or gaming or the like but I suspect you'd have a hard time getting most of the EQ out for it, at least in my ward. It's a good idea for smaller groups within the EQ, but you run the risk of complaints of cliques. While cliques exist, and are bad, I wish as a culture we could get away from the mentality that unless everyone is interested and involved it is a bad thing. Sure we share the Church, but that doesn't mean we share interests. You end up feeling obligated to create activities with such broad appeal that they often have no appeal if that makes any sense. I'd be interested in attending a hike and weenie roast but I'd move heaven and Earth to get involved with a good RPG group in my ward.

    3) I'm fine attending an activity every 2-3 months but I'm always leery of committing blindy to activities. If I trusted the activities would be interesting and work with my schedule that would remove a lot of my leeriness. Also, the localized groups are easier to commit to, I think it is a diffusion of responsibilty thing. That and the whole crossing the threshold from broad appeal to no appeal issue.

  2. Glad your blogging again -

    1) BBQ, Hike especially if it involves slot canyons, shooting, paintball/airsoft, rock climbing, even just a pickup game of ultimate frisbee. I would think that we could even come up with some activities that the kids could tag a long to once in a while (i.e. daddy daughter picnic or maybe an activity fishing at a local lake)

    2)I would love to try localized groups. I'm not necessarily a fan of RPGs and the like, but if it gets me out doing something with other men from my ward I would still be willing to go and give it a try. Maybe I would find yet another activity which I enjoy.

    3)Attending an activity every 2-3 months or quarterly wouldn't be an issue. As I stated before, I would be willing to attend an activity that I am not super excited about just for the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the other men in the EQ, many of whom I don't really know on a personal level.

  3. This is why I joined the Masons. Not that Elders' Quorum wasn't good, but it didn't have a lot of fellow-feeling. And even an introvert like me needs some of that.

    Plus, you know, solid moral teachings, funny hats, and a globe-girdling shadow government. It's a one-stop manhood shop.

  4. Our quorum has "Manrichment" once a year--this year they went out shotgun shooting for a couple hours (I skipped that since, in spite of my conservative stance on gun control, I actually hate the things), then came back to the cultural hall for BBQ and video games.