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How do Non-Mormons even RELATE to each other?

May 14, 2012

Today, I was having a minor personal crisis. I was wondering…if I had to explain a bit about myself, how would I do it?

I actually know my answer to that question. If I had to explain some things about myself, then I would pick from a small pool of topics, depending on whether the situation were sensitive or not sensitive. In a non-sensitive situation, then I would mention how I was raised Mormon. I’d probably mention not believing in it now.

The problem is that many situations are sensitive, however. Work, for example. Or when you just meet someone and don’t want to totally weird them out.

In sensitive situations, I have….fencing. And that’s about it.

As I was thinking, I realized something that many Mormons probably take for granted, and something that I’ve seen many ex-, post-, and former Mormons regret: Mormons have ready-made topics for discussion. Wards, callings, families, and so on. For ex-Mormons this is frustrating because every conversation has the potential of turning to these things when there is a lull, and not being able to keep up the beat (e.g., you don’t have a calling because you are not active in the church…), and at times, it can seem as if the church is a conversational crutch.

Well, I don’t know, but I sure would love to keep that crutch…

I don’t know how regular folks are supposed to relate to each other. What do we talk about? I mean…small talk. Chit-chat. Now, part of this may be just because I’m horrifically socially awkward and haven’t properly studied up on how normal people communicate, BUT still, I have these questions.

I get that normal people talk about things like sports…but that’s the thing…other than fencing, I’m not really a fan of sports. And I mean, I would love to tell people loads of stuff about fencing (or about my history with the church)…but even I can recognize that most of what I would have to say would be the infodump necessary to bring them up to speed on a topic about which they probably don’t care.

I get that normal folks do things like go to bars, talk about “stuff” over a few drinks…but that’s another thing…I’m not a fan of drinking. And it’s not even just a Mormon thing there…it’s because I get the sense, more and more, that alcoholic beverages either 1) taste disgusting or 2) are chick drinks. (And I think that is telling…that there exists an awareness that for something to taste sweet makes it…for women. I mean…is this AskMen post for real?) And you know, maybe I should just be socially awkward enough to realize that there’s no shame in drinking “chick drinks” (or that whatever shame that does exist doesn’t matter), but…eh. I feel the entire notion of “acquired tastes” is suspect.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand…when I was younger, I sometimes would say to myself that I would never date LDS girls. (I did not mention to anyone which part of the phrase “LDS girls” I was eschewing.) And I still feel that way. I feel the same way about BYU — when I was looking at universities, different people from my ward would say, “Oh, so are you looking at BYU?” and I wouldn’t tell them that I would never go to BYU, but…it’s very low on my list of schools to attend. (And that says something, considering that the school I did attend isn’t exactly a liberal bastion of progressiveness and acceptance.) I feel that I dodged several bullets by “disaffecting” before a) deciding to go to BYU because it’s “the Lord’s university”, b) deciding to go on a mission, and c) marrying. I just feel that there’s a lot of heartache involved with disaffecting (or being gay, mind you) in the middle of any of these three life events.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that the church makes these things relatively easy — if you’re lucky enough for the program to work for you without problem. Go on mission. Go to BYU. Shake and stir in a BYU student ward. ??? Profit.

Without this life plan set out in front of them…without this scaffolding…how do non-Mormons even do it?

…all of this having been said, I still think it’s important to note that all the awkwardness can’t be placed on being basically a Mormon (even if a non-believing one) in a non-Mormon environment. Perhaps more of my problem is the aforementioned social awkwardness, that I only appear to have well under wraps through great preparation and meditation before I attend certain events. I mean, at some level, I would consider myself an introverted person who works to present as more outgoing and affable than I am. I am perfectly content to come home from work and just read for the rest of the evening (if I’m not going out to fence.)

I like going to places with which I am already familiar. I am ridiculously habitual. Let me tell you a few stories: whenever I get a new album of music, I listen to it exclusively until I get a new album. And then I never listen to that older album, unless I’m on long car rides and want to mix things up. Another story: for lunch at work, I go to the same place and get the same food every day — although like with music albums, I try to shuffle, and then go to a different place and get something there for a long period of time. So, in the food court I attend, the workers at Subway, Quizno’s, Great American Cookie (which I’ve had to stop going every day, because I know that a double doozie every day can’t be healthy for ANYONE), Roman Delight Pizza, and Murphy’s Deli know exactly what few items I will be rotating to get from them when I decide to stop by.

Double Doozie Cookie

I sense that diabetes is in my future.

Even when I’m at different or new restaurants, I have “safe” foods…if cheesecake is a dessert, I’ll get it. If quesadillas are on the menu, I’ll get those…unless there’s fettuccine alfredo, in which case I’ll get that.

…and you know what? I don’t want to change that. But because I don’t want to change, I understand that means that I won’t be proactive in going out into new places. I’m basically just hoping to stumble upon something different, even though I know that’s unrealistic.


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  1. John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

    You could do what I do… Which is feel no shame at all in talking about whatever topic with whomever in whatever setting. It always makes for fascinating conversation.

    Or you can do what normal people do… If you feel uncomfortable sharing, ask lot’s of questions from whomever you’re conversing with. Pretend you’re Barbara Walters. People LOVE to be interviewed.

  2. Feeling no shame at all in talking about whatever topic with whomever in whatever setting leads to EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION.

    which even if you realize that and fight it, well, it’s the position you put yourself in.

    I guess this post is split evenly between personal issues and more of a professional networking context…

  3. What about gaming? A lot of the people I work with have various systems, enjoy various games, etc.

    I don’t mention I was raised mormon unless directly asked ( which has been never in 9 plus years at my current job).

    Talking about cooking is also a good topic. Some people say religion and politics are verbotten…because everyone’s got an opinion and often people end up offended.

    BTW, this is something career wise it’s a good idea to develop. A handful of subjects to discuss when you’re waiting for a meeting or in the elevator with the boss. It shows you have a life outside of work. It’s just as important as what you wear and turning things in on time (to my mind). You don’t have to be high social or anything, just have a few go to conversational topics. Good luck!

  4. I’m generally against just talking about whatever you want whenever you want to. In my experience, the people doing it feel like they’re being authentic and having fascinating conversations, but for people on the receiving end it often feels like being trapped in an info-dump and comes across more as profound self-involvement than as authentic self-expression. I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to bring up certain topics, but it pays to have a sense of your audience.

    I agree with the asking questions, though. It can be a great strategy for less social people who want to build a social or professional network–if you can learn to “interview” people well, you can meet people without as much pressure to come up with your own topics of conversation.

  5. aerin,

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my roommates, it’s that I’m quickly falling out of basic competency with the gaming scene. I had to say I’m becoming an old man, but I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation as well as I could have.

    Cooking is definitely a possibility though.


    I agree with the sense of feeling trapped in an info-dump…because I’ve experienced it. So I want to try to avoid that (outside of this blog. If you read this blog, anything’s FAIR GAME. haha)

    I think the asking questions thing is something I’ll have to look into developing…

  6. That’s interesting that you find yourself at a loss for small-talk topics. I have a whole list that I’ve kind of stumbled upon accidentally that never fail to start a lively conversation:

    * The Swiss!! Everyone who lives in Switzerland has an opinion or observation about the Swiss. Even the Swiss people do. And isn’t Switzerland an amazingly strange and intriguing little country? I can list the ways if you have a few hours to burn, and so can anyone who lives here. Or, if you don’t live in Switzerland, we can compare and contrast with whatever country you live in.

    * My job. Subtopics include: How’d I get to be a software engineer, and what’s it like? What do you do? Funny stories of crazy stuff that has happened at different companies I’ve worked for.

    * Learning German! Subtopics include: How’s your German coming along? Is it harder/easier than learning French/English/whatever other language(s) you speak? In what ways?

    * Public transportation: Compare and contrast with going everywhere by car. Some people prefer one, some the other!

    * My kids. What are they up to these days? What are other people’s kids up to these days?

    Many of these don’t apply to you, but you have alternate experiences such as your college experience (and how it might compare to other college experiences) and your blogging hobby. Actually, considering how prolific you are at coming up with topics and discussion online, I’m a little surprised that you’d ever be at a loss for words.

  7. p.s. I’m a woman, and I don’t like sweet drinks. That goes for alcoholic beverages as well as for other types of drinks. I don’t put sugar in my coffee or tea, for example. And one of my all-time favorite beverages is this tomato-yoghurt drink I invented:

  8. Bourbon is very sweet, and it’s one of the most manly of alcoholic drinks.

  9. Jewely permalink

    My only advice to you is to ask questions when your in a social situation. People love to tell you about themselves….ask questions about their family or were they work. Also you can talk to people about music, movies, books you have read, politics. All of these topics people love speaking their mind on. As for your loss in mormonism you need to get over it or go back. It seems to me if you are still so mormon crazy your feeling insecure about yourself. I recomend getting help for your now lost relgion because even this kind of loss can way on a persons heart and bring them down. While it maybe hard for you to admit you need to sit down and talk to someone about how your feeling.

  10. Jewelry,

    As for your loss in mormonism you need to get over it or go back. It seems to me if you are still so mormon crazy your feeling insecure about yourself. I recomend getting help for your now lost relgion because even this kind of loss can way on a persons heart and bring them down. While it maybe hard for you to admit you need to sit down and talk to someone about how your feeling.

    Whoa. Where did this come from?

    But that’s the thing. I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” anything. There’s nothing to go “back” to. But here’s what I’m saying — there’s not a whole lot of folks to “sit down and talk to,” precisely because not having been in the same situation, they don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

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