Saturday, November 4, 2017

What Is the Point of it All?

What the future is holdin' in store
I don't know where I'm goin' I'm not sure where I've been
There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin', I don't need to see the end

~~ John Denver

Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist, has had an enormous influence on my emerging career as a mental health professional. He explores some of the most fundamental dilemmas which have faced humankind from the moment they became sentient until the present time. These dilemmas are namely: 1) freedom, 2) aloneness, 3) death, and 4) purposelessness. This post focuses on purposelessness, and finding a purpose which makes life worth living. Religion purports to supply answers to these four problems, but when religion fails and falls apart, one is left to wrestle with these issues outside the umbrella of faith.

When I left organized religion over five  years ago, I experienced what many ex Mormons experience. I had relied on Mormonism to define my life and my role for me. My grand purpose was to be a wife and mother, to live faithfully, to raise my children to be Mormon, to serve the church, and eventually to leave mortality and to stand by my eternal husband along with his other wives as he created a world of his own, and then to help him populate it with spirit children. When Mormonism crumbled around me, so did my purpose and my identity.

If religion does not provide a grand purpose for one's life, it is left to each individual to discover or create a purpose that makes life worth living. Individuals process this reality in different ways. Some feel the need to leave behind an important contribution to humanity, whereas others are content with small, everyday joys, and most people are somewhere in between those two. I know many who seek a purpose, especially those who are in the middle years, who have successful careers, whose children are grown, and who suddenly have no eternity in the Celestial Kingdom to work towards. That search can be overwhelming and disheartening.

In ensuing years since leaving Mormonism, I, personally, do not have the need for a Purpose with a capital P. I am flooded with joie de vivre every morning when I see the sunrise, each day when I drive through farmland and vineyards, each evening when the sun sets, when the moon shines through scattered clouds, when I cook a meal for my family, when I sit with a client and make a human connection. It is enough for me that I am free from the guilt, fear, and shame of Mormonism. Each day is a beautiful gift, each flower  is magical, each rainy day  is cleansing, and each cup of coffee with a friend is cherished. As I listened to this John Denver song this morning, it occurred to me that others may be seeking and searching for the Purpose of life. During this search, remember these words, "My life is worth livin', I don't need to see the end". You do not need to have the answers now.

I end with the words of Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Christlike Atheist

I originally wrote this post in June 2014 for a blog called the Ex Mormon Mavens, which is no longer available.  I thought that the post was lost forever with the demise of that blog, but I inexplicably found it on my laptop today. I am happy beyond words and emotional to have found this tribute to her. She meant a lot to me, and I wish that she was here to cheer me on in my journey in life. I will miss her with every breath that I have and for as long as I live. Thank you for being a great example to me, as I have moved into my own role as mother-in-law and grandmother. I love you dearly.

The Christlike Atheist

My mother in law was a beautiful woman.  She wasn’t a supermodel, didn’t wear fancy clothes nor have a trendy haircut.  She wasn’t slim, nor concerned with fashion, she was quirky, a little weird, and sometimes cranky.  She was generous and kind, and had a very soft spot in her heart for animals.  She loved birds a great deal, and her front yard is filled with birdfeeders of all kinds.  She was very organized and tidy, and she never forgot a birthday or anniversary.  She was a knitter, and taught me how to knit, which sparked my interest and turned me in to a knitting fanatic.  She made hundreds of blankets for needy children, and served the community in many ways.  Whenever we would visit, she loved to bitch about the goings on in their little community.  Her personality amused me and endeared her to me.

I say all of these things in the past tense because she died suddenly last February, with no warning, and left a huge hole in our lives.   As I have struggled to cope with her loss, I have reflected a great deal about the kind of person she was and the kind of life she lived.

As long as I have known her, which is since I was a teenager, my mother in law was an atheist.   She had no religion to shape her values or to help her determine how she should treat people.  She raised two sons, who are tremendously moral people, and very successful in life.  One of these sons is my husband.  She taught them to respect women, so be kind, and to always try to do the right thing.  Her sons are a tribute to her life and a testament to the goodness inside her soul.

I was Mormon for all of my life, and I was taught to be Christlike, and to treat others as Jesus would, and yet many of the rules I lived by were not very Christlike, even though I was both expected to follow those rules and be Christlike.  For all of my life, I had been hyper focused on following rules and being obedient, and not at all focused on thinking and reasoning in order to develop a sense of morality.  When you concentrate too much on obedience to authority, you lose the ability to evaluate a situation in order to determine right from wrong.  You become very good at following rules, and very bad at doing the right thing.

As my husband and I began our marriage, we did something that hurt her very deeply and yet this atheist never spoke a single word of her pain to us.  We were good, obedient Mormon kids.  I was raised in the church, while my husband was a convert.  We were high school sweethearts.  My husband joined the church when he was 18, served a mission, and we got married 6 weeks after his return.  When we got married, we did it the “right” way, following the rules, and married in the temple.  The problem is that in following this rule, we failed to make the right moral choice and include my mother in law in our wedding.  This loving mother, who happened not to be Mormon was deemed “not worthy” and therefore excluded from her oldest son’s wedding because she is not allowed to enter the temple, and all good Mormon couples get married in the temple. 

We could have gotten married in a civil ceremony elsewhere and been sealed in the temple after one year’s time, but I had been taught all my life about the dangers of doing this, and that should one of us die before that year is up, we risk not being together forever.  So, we chose to do the “right” thing without even thinking for a second how wrong it was.  This is one of the least Christlike rules I have ever heard of, and yet it’s a rule of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  A church that claims to have Christ at its head, and to have a prophet who speaks to God, and for God certainly has a lot of rules that don’t seem very Christlike to me.

My sweet atheist mother in law endured this pain silently.  She always treated me well.  She was not highly critical of me, and as far as I could tell, never held a grudge towards me for the horrible thing I had done to her.  She and I shared a love of cooking and knitting.  We exchanged recipes and gave each other cookbooks for gifts.  She truly embraced me and loved me as her son’s wife and mother of her grandchildren.  She exhibited many more Christlike qualities than I did, even though I was a Christian.

I find solace that she was able to see my husband and I leave the church 18 months before she died.  I was able to apologize for the things I had done.  I judged her harshly sometimes for superficial choices, such as drinking alcohol.  The day we told her that we were both leaving the church, she cried and we cried.  I was able to make things right.  Since then, we shared a drink with her, laughed with her, and poked fun at the things I once thought were so important.  I am grateful for her example to me of what a good mother in law should be.  I’m thankful that she was part of my life for nearly 30 years.  She showed me that what I thought was Christlike, was in fact unkind and cruel.  She showed me this by behaving more like Christ than I ever had.

You will be missed, but your mark on this world will never end, my beautiful mom.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

All Freedom Is My Freedom

Yesterday I joined over 100,000 of my fellow human beings in downtown Portland for the women's march. Most of us were women, though many men also joined our ranks. Never in my life have I done anything like this, but I hope to participate in innumerable future events before my time on this planet is through. 

I come from oppression. I grew up as a little Mormon girl. I am the oldest of eleven children. From the moment of my birth, my life was scripted for me. Good little Mormon girls learn to cook and clean, take care of children, serve the lord, their children, and their husbands. Good little Mormon girls obey priesthood (male) authority, even if the authorities are wrong, because god will bless the good little girls for their obedience. Good little Mormon girls don't dream of careers, travels, adventures, activism, or independence. I was a good little Mormon girl. I did was I was told. I became what I was supposed to be, until Mormonism suddenly just wasn't true anymore. What?? My entire role, the scripted play, was based in a world that's even less real than Narnia?

I woke up. I put my script in the fire. I became the playwright of my own life. 

One step in becoming my own woman was taking part in the women's march. My voice was added to hundreds of thousands of other voices, one drop in the ocean of change. As I gathered with my friends, old and new, most of whom I will never see again, I felt a swirl of emotions. I stood with tears welling in my eyes as I looked at the women around me, the beautiful faces, the smiles, the heartache, the passion, but above all, the fierce determination to say to the patriarchy, "This is not acceptable to me." I experienced a spiritual awakening unlike anything I ever experienced inside Mormonism. I sang, I chanted, I laughed, I cried, I walked, 

Our movement is not "anti-man", but anti-patriarchy. There is a difference. Men are welcome in our movement. We have men and boys at home and in our lives who we love very much. After the march I came home to my husband, who had cooked a delicious pot of chicken soup in my absence, and I baked some of my famous homemade rolls to go with his soup. I talked to my boys and men about why we marched, and the importance of this historic day. I have no daughters, but I do have a granddaughter, and I want her to live in a different world than the one in which I grew up. A woman's place is wherever she chooses to be; in the boardroom, in the oval office, in the kitchen, or in the seat of a fighter jet, and I want her to feel that in her soul.

We marched to tell the world that all people, all children, every single one, can seize their dreams and make them come true. Unfortunately, we do not yet live in that reality. Children live in poverty, women and children are abused, women fear for their safety when walking alone at night, families live in war zones, babies cry from hunger, and too many die. Women live roles dictated by patriarchal religions and enforced by fear of eternal damnation at the hands of a male deity. Living in fear will never be freedom. The opportunities available to me are not available to everyone. Even though I grew up in oppression, I still grew up privileged in countless ways that many dare not even dream of. As the sign in the photograph says:

"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." ~~Audre Lorde

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Letter to a Friend

An open letter to our former Mormon friends. I hope that this letter can help someone else save a friendship that is worth saving.

My Dear Friend,

I was thinking about you today.  I was recalling the circumstances surrounding the end of our friendship. I am sad. I am angry. I am hurt.

We were good friends.  We traveled together, we spent holidays together, and we raised our kids together. We laughed together, we mourned together, we rejoiced together, and we celebrated together. We have been through hard times, heartbreaking times, and fun times. We were friends for a long, long time.

Until.  Until we left the Mormon church. After a while, you stopped calling us back. You made excuses to avoid going to dinner with us. No more movies, or holidays, or vacations. No more inside jokes, misadventures, and goofy evenings eating ice cream in the grocery store. We drifted apart, and before we knew it, we hadn't seen you for over six months. Eventually you sent me a letter ending the friendship, stating that I wasn't the same "my friend Heidi" that I had been. You're right.  I'm not that same Heidi, and I think that's a good thing.

When we met for dinner two years ago, not knowing it would be the last time I saw you, you said the following to me: "You wear whatever you want, say whatever  you want, drink whatever you want, and think whatever you want. I see enough of that in my job at the high school, and I don't need it in my friends." That night, I was apologetic, almost desperate to save the friendship, but the more I thought about it, I got angry.

Damn right, I can say, think, wear, drink, and do whatever I want.  I follow my heart and my own conscience. Before you judged me and dissolved our friendship, did you even look at my heart and my soul?  Did you see that I am much less judgmental?  Did you see the kindness that I show to strangers? Did I start gossiping, being cruel, dishonest, or violent? Did you look at my moral values, or did you judge me based only on superficial changes in me? Did you set aside your Mormon yardstick for a moment, so you could see me with unbiased eyes?

Sure, I curse from time to time, I got a tattoo, I drink wine, I have three piercings in each ear, I wear shorter skirts, tops with no sleeves, and sometimes I have cleavage. I think for myself and I do the things that I think are right. I have a kind soul, I care for others and the earth, I love my fellow man and I am a flawed human being, but I'm a better version of me than Mormon me was. It's a shame that you didn't stick around to see it. My life is rich and full of amazing people, but I'll likely always be a little sad that you aren't part of it.

I wish you the best.

Your free-thinking friend,


Saturday, October 10, 2015

The General Conference Talk that Should Have Been

At last weekend’s Mormon General Conference, Jeffry R. Holland delivered one of the most disturbing talks that has ever been uttered over the LDS pulpit.  He worked every mother of a wayward child into a panicked frenzy over the lost soul that was her son or daughter.  His words and those of other LDS general authorities amount to nothing more than a war cry towards apostates.

The Mormon Church is losing members at a rate that is sending shock waves of alarm among the glorious fifteen rich, white, privileged men who run the corporation masquerading as a church.  The membership is dropping, and by that I mean that people are actually resigning from the church in droves.  People are packing up and leaving, whole families even, and these are not the people on the fringes of Mormonism. These are the stalwart, temple recommend-holding Mormon poster children type families.  Poof, gone!  Along with their money, time, and talents.

Now, the church has two choices.  They can choose to sooth the fears of the parents of errant children by taking a gentle stance of Christian kindness and unconditional love, or they can choose the gestapo route.  I had hoped, when I left the church three years ago, that they would choose the former, but unfortunately, with every passing conference, it’s clear that they are choosing the latter.

Here I present the Conference Talk that Should Have Been:

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am humbled to stand before you today to speak about an extremely sensitive topic.  Many of you, maybe even most of you have a son, daughter, or other loved one who has left the Mormon Church to pursue another path in life.  I say firmly to you, to each of you within the sound of my voice that you have only one option, and that is to love your wayward loved ones with the absolute unconditional love of Christ.  

Now, we speak of this term a great deal in the church.  What does it actually mean?  Unconditional love is exactly that.  Love without conditions, acceptance, kindness, and inclusion.  Do not weep and tell them that you are praying for their lost souls.  Do not exclude them from family events.  Do not gossip about them because they do not wear clothing that is in keeping with Mormon standards.  Do not judge them for drinking alcohol, smoking, getting tattoos, multiple piercings, being gay, or living with their significant other outside the bonds of marriage.  After all, didn’t God instruct us to let him do the judging?   This means that you do not get to judge them.  Period.

Which is a greater sin?  To stray from the straight and narrow path than is Mormonism, or to judge another who strays?  I say to you that it is a greater sin to judge, because God himself reserved that privilege for himself.  Is it not enough that you quietly live your own convictions, and leave others to live their lives as they see fit?  God only expects of you to concern yourself with your own thoughts and deeds, not those of your loved ones.  

I speak now, especially to the mothers.  These are your children.  The little one you cared for, loved and taught the best you knew how.  You spent sleepless nights while they burned up with fever.  You mended their scraped elbows, and dried their tears.  You cooked countless meals for them.  You rocked them, sang to them, read to them, taught them to pray, and took them to church.  They were a gift from God to you.

Now they are grown.  It is their time to live a life of their own choosing, even if it is not the life you would choose for them.  The beauty of our time on earth is that we all have the agency to choose the life we want to live.  Do not mourn for them.  Rejoice that they are living the plan God set in place.  God gave them the right to determine the path for themselves.  You have done all you can, and now is the time to set them free.

If you are going to pray for them, pray that they find happiness and joy in whatever they pursue in life.  It may not be the ideal life for you, but you can love them and support them as they make their way in this world.  Some will be doctors, scientists, athletes, musicians, artists, philosophers, teachers, and I pray that all of them will achieve truly great things.  Pray that they will find peace in serving their fellow man.  Pray that they will find solace in your arms, that they will trust you and love you because they know that you will never judge them.

Most of all, pray for yourself, that you can find peace and acceptance in your own heart, free from guilt, fear, or remorse for any failings that you might burden yourself with.  Be confident that you truly did the best you could, and did your utmost to raise your babies to be loving human beings.  I say to you that everything will be okay.  I believe in a loving God, who cares just as deeply for your children as he does for you.  God is just, he is kind, and he is forgiving.

Weep not, worry not.  Be of good cheer as you wrap your children and loved ones in your comforting arms as only parents are able.  Trust that God knows you and knows your children, and after all, the Lord looketh on the heart.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Becoming Myself

When I saw my therapist last Friday, she said something that got me thinking. I was telling her about having purposely severed a longtime friendship, and some family relationships, and all because of the church. She said that it seems that in Mormonism, development of self and personal identity comes secondary to faith in the church.

It's so very true.

When I was Mormon, I wouldn't cook with wine, or order a wine dish at a restaurant in order to stay as far away from "evil" as possible. If I'd used my rational brain, I would have realized that a little wine in a food dish isn't going to turn me into an alcoholic, and it's not unhealthy, which is supposedly the point of the Word of Wisdom. In reality, Mormon rules are more about exerting control over the masses than anything else. If you can control people's diets, sex lives, wardrobes, money, what kind of TV they watch, who they marry, and how they spend their private time, you control their very existence and their psyche.

It's rare to find an LDS woman who was raised to be strong, and to find her passion in life. Little girls are taught from an early age to desire motherhood above all. Girls are not taught to find something that drives them and to go for it. Girls feel defective if they want something other than the standard issue Mormon woman's life. Girls are not free to develop their identity, whatever that be, without the oppressive expectations of Mormonism. A young girl isn't free to say that she dreams of being a Navy pilot one day. She may not even admit it to herself, even if it's the most amazing thing she's ever heard of. She definitely wouldn't admit it to her parents, or church leaders. The pressure to conform is intense, and it takes a strong, rebellious personality to break free. Unfortunately, that rebellion is undesirable, and harshly punished.

"Good" is determined by the religion, not by the person's own intellect and moral code. Often, the religious person has a warped moral code, based entirely on Mormon minutiae such as wearing of garments, having a beer at a party, saying fuck, or wearing a sleeveless top, rather than things that really matter such as honesty, loyalty, kindness, and compassion. Some of the best people I know have foul mouths, tattoos, piercings, and drink beer (one of these people is me), all of which would make them “bad” people to Mormons. This judgement, from what I can tell, is based entirely on superficial adherence to rules, rather than being based on deeper moral character traits.

I recently came across five glaring examples to demonstrate my point:

  1. Brent posted a story in a Facebook group about his father. When the grandchildren in the family turn 8, Brent’s father, who is an artist, would paint a portrait of the grandchild. In the Mormon religion, children routinely get baptized at the age of 8. Brent’s youngest daughter, Maggie, had turned 8, but since Maggie’s family had left the Mormon Church, Maggie was not getting baptized, and therefore, was informed that she would not be receiving a portrait from her grandfather. This little girl was devastated. An artist in the group offered to paint the little girl’s portrait, and Brent has given me permission to use his photograph of the painting for my blog post. This act of service and kindness from a complete stranger touched the hearts of many. If you are in the market for some beautiful art, please consider purchasing something from this wonderfully caring woman.
  2. My friend, Clark, found himself divorced after leaving the church. He and his wife had four small children at the time. His ex-wife posted on Facebook that nobody should judge Clark, that he was the best husband and father anyone could ever ask for, but that she had her own reasons for the divorce. Those reasons? He didn’t believe in the church. He no longer fit the “Peter Priesthood” role that she expected him to fill, and therefore was disposable.
  3. I recently came across a manicotti recipe. The recipe actually looks disgusting (Velveeta, blech), but the comments on the recipe were a clear demonstration of the childish mentality created by Mormonism. The recipe called for a jar of vodka sauce. The women fretted and debated back and forth about the dangers of using this sauce and whether it would cause them to break the word of wisdom. The exchange was quite humorous, and I’ll let you experience it for yourself here.
  4.  My friend Angela posted on Facebook that her daughter, Kimmy, had recently turned 8, but did not plan to get baptized. Angela’s parents were relentless with the nagging, pushing, shaming, and constant Mormon sales pitch towards Kimmy. Finally, in frustration, Kimmy yelled out, “No means NO!!” The grandparents were horrified at the disrespect, but Angela pointed out that they were the ones being disrespectful of Kimmy’s right to choose.
  5. Some decades ago, a woman, Tracy and her family left the church. They announced to the family that their son would not be getting baptized. Tracy’s in-laws sent a letter stating that it would have been better for Tracy’s entire family to have died in a fiery car crash than to have left the church because at least their eternal salvation would have been secure. When my husband first left the church, I thought something similar, and blogged about it here.
In the absence of religion, would any of these five situations have occurred? Would a loving grandfather refuse to paint a portrait of his granddaughter? What could an eight year old child possibly do to incur such wrath in the real world? In the real world, would Clark’s wife have divorced him, even though she admits that he is a great husband and father? In the real world, are women so terrified of alcohol that they are afraid to use a vodka sauce, or order chicken marsala? What kinds of things do grandparents in the real world expect of eight year old children? Politeness, kindness, respect, enjoying their company, sending a thank you note for gifts? Would rational people in the real world really wish people dead rather than leaving a religion? When people who have never been Mormon hear these stories, they have a hard time believing that the tales are not exaggerated. Yet I read and hear many stories just like these every single day.

This is why we have a difficult time dealing with Mormons after we leave. We are constantly measured by friends, family, and spouses by the yardstick of Mormonism. We sometimes have to cut people out of our lives due to the relentless judgement and criticism. We know that we are good, moral people. We realize that you don't need any religion, much less Mormonism to be a good person. Mormons think that Mormonism is the most important quality to determine whether or not you are a good person. Being Mormon is the ultimate in "good".

Only it's not.

Now I am free to soar, to become whoever I want to become.  I'm free to judge the merits of others based on how they treat me and their fellow human beings.  I'm free from dogma and fear, and I'm free to find out who I am.  Freedom tastes incredible!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Our Marriage Redefined

I've been married to Mr. Pink Hedgehog, my high school sweetheart, for 25 years.  Like all marriages, we've had our ups and downs, seriously stressful times, and years of absolute bliss.  We've come through a lot together, and somehow managed to cling to each other instead of pulling apart.  That is, until the unthinkable happened.  In 2013, our neighboring state of Washington legalized gay marriage.  Suddenly, a sense of foreboding filled our home, and we knew that it was only a matter of time until our own state of Oregon followed suit.  We wondered how we could possibly grasp the remaining threads of our relationship and attempt to keep it together, what with all of this redefining going on.  Then the absolute worst; Oregon legalized gay marriage as of May 19, 2014.  A cloud of doom settled over us and simply will not leave.  How can we continue with our loving relationship, knowing that people of the same sex can now enjoy all of the privileges we have enjoyed for 25 years?

I've heard this argument, ad nauseum, from my religious friends, that redefining marriage somehow harms heterosexual marriage.  When I ask how, exactly, the harm is caused, they are at a loss for words.  It's a tired cliche that they hear at church and on Fox News, and repeat without even thinking about what they are saying.  For one thing, since when is redefining a term a bad thing?  Redefining merely clarifies, expounds, extends, or evolves, it's neither good nor bad, it just is.

First of all, how many times has marriage been redefined in the course of history?  Too many to count.  How many times was marriage redefined in the Bible, for goodness sake?  Concubines, women sold as property, women given as gifts or as bargaining chips in a land deal, just to name a few.  Hell yes, let's redefine!  I'm nobody's property, I'm not some gift to be given or traded.  The fact that marriage, for the most part, has been relatively recently redefined as one man and one woman marrying each other for love, and of their own choice doesn't make that kind of marriage the "traditional" kind of marriage.  There are more traditions of marriage than I can count on my fingers and toes combined, so what makes this most recent tradition the correct one?  God said so, you say?  Um, God said lots of other things as well, such as Abraham taking a concubine, and then another wife after Sarah's death.  God also told Mormons to grab as many wives as possible, even if they are young teens and you're a middle aged man.

Anyone know what Mormon scripture says about wives and women?  I do.

I won't bore you with the excessively verbose and flowery language that Joseph Smith used when he made up this "scripture".  D&C 132 essentially says that women are the property of the men who marry them.  It also says that the highest form of celestial marriage is that of polygamy, and that anyone not entering into polygamy cannot attain the highest degree in Mormon heaven, aka the Celestial Kingdom.  In addition, if a man commits adultery, his wives can be taken from him and given to another.  Thank heavens that marriage has since been temporarily suspended by the Mormon church, though most Mormons probably don't realize what Mormon doctrine and scripture actually says.  Mormon practices and Mormon doctrine are two different things, apparently.

As a child, I always hated the thought of polygamy.  I was scared that I'd have to live it, and I didn't want to.  It was one of those things that I chose not to think about because it was too disturbing.  It was an incredible relief to me to leave Mormonism behind and to realize that the "doctrine" of polygamy was nothing more than Joseph Smith justifying his unwillingness to be faithful to his wife, Emma.

In support of my LGBT friends, on this, the eve of the Supreme Court addressing the issue of gay marriage, I say let's redefine.  Let's and embrace and support anyone who wants to spend a lifetime loving each other.  Enough of the "God said it's bad" argument.  "God" said lots of things in the Bible and Mormon scriptures that people choose to ignore.  Let people live and love and have basic human rights.  If there's some kind of sinning going on, why not let God deal with it, and we all just go about the business of loving each other?