Yesterday at the combined 5th Sunday meeting, our bishop, after a brief introduction, spoke about the importance of dating. I think it must be addressed by hundreds of bishops on 5th Sundays all over the world.
Normally talks like this are from the hip, and are simple encouragements for men to date more and women to be more willing to date. But this time he referenced a number of recent talks given by the Brethren that, taken at face value, were pretty incriminating against single men who aren't actively dating... and my ward is full of them. The end message: If you aren't moving towards marriage (which means dating), you need to repent.
Whenever I listen to discussions on dating and marriage, I find myself asking, internally, which parts apply to me and my life. None of the discussions on marriage I've ever heard have referenced those of us who live with same-sex attraction. I guess it could be for multiple reasons. Maybe those speaking don't realize that some of us are in the audience. But my bishop knows about me, and probably others in the congregation. Perhaps the situation is too complicated to really address, and he's just teaching something that applies to most, but not all. Or maybe the encouragements to date apply to us as much as anyone else.
The few times the Brethren have spoken about homosexuality and marriage, they have very clearly said that marriage is only an option in some cases... which means that for some men and women, it's not an option. Deep attraction to a member of the opposite gender is one of the requirements. But they don't talk about dating. My takeaway from those discussions is that, no matter what I face, I need to be preparing for marriage. And if I do what I should, the Lord will make sure it happens. In my case, I need to be attracted to a girl for marriage to be an option - something that hasn't happened before.
That's complicated enough, except that Church YSA culture is totally different. No one knows that I live with same-sex attraction, which means that everyone, from family to friends to well-meaning strangers have thoughts on what I should do to make me more marriageable. If only they knew. I'm not married, which means that, in many people's eyes, I'm doing something wrong.
That's compounded with the issue that dating, even if it's nigh unto a commandment and expectation in YSA culture, brings with it implied social contracts. Most men don't ask out someone they're not attracted to. The thought of even doing that sounds hollow, false, and cruel. Welcome to my world of dating. When I date, I realize that the girl I take out is going to have a totally different experience because there's no physical attraction on my part. In every case, that has been a huge blow to her. I don't tell girls that, because they then infer that it's just about them unless I tell them it's all girls (which isn't a current option), but it's not that hard to figure out. My dates are as platonic as they get.
To beat the issue, and soothe my conscience, traditionally, I'll only take out girls who are really interested in me (and I'm usually oblivious to interest unless it's extreme) - after they've gotten to know me somewhat, and after I warn them, upfront and openly, that relationships with me can be painful. We have a DTR before we even start dating. Really. I take this seriously. None of them believe me, and it's always painful if the relationship ever goes anywhere. But they all say it's worth it, and at least I know from the beginning that I was open.
So the Brethren teach that all post-mission righteous men should be dating to get married. You can't be a bishop or stake president or professional seminary teacher without being married. Then they speak to us and say that marriage may not be a possibility for some of us... who look totally normal on the outside. Church culture says that if you look normal and you're not dating, you must have something wrong with you - and most of the time the projected sin is pride or fear of commitment. (btw: Are there people who are really afraid of commitment? If I found a girl I loved, I'd drop anything for her. Man up, guys.) And then girls themselves expect you to be attracted in relationships, from the beginning. Pressure from every side.
I think this, and the huge pressures that men face during the post-mission years on this topic, may be why so many men and women with same-sex attraction leave the Church at this time of life. Telling your ward, family, and others that you're gay quickly cuts the pressure to date (in most cases), and leaving the Church distances you from what the prophets teach. And if you ever do date a girl, then she already knows that you're not attracted. You just like that she can keep good conversation, or you want to ask her questions, or you just want someone to talk to.
Someday, I hope that something changes. I don't see the pressure to marry ever abating - it's a vital doctrine. But I'm also not seeing a shift where coming out would be accepted soon in my life or Church culture, though. It looks like a catch-22, where I have to march to the beat of a number of different drummers. It's possible to take a step only when they all beat at once. But, for long stretches, I have to just listen and internalize the dissonance while everyone watches.