Tacky costumes. Generic fruit punch. Awkward slow-dances. Forced conversation and the delirious search for “The One”. So begins the journey of author Elna Baker in her best-seller, ‘The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance.’ A mouthful to be sure, but a more than worthwhile read. In her debut autobiography, Baker single-handedly put to shame an entire generation of adults encouraging the age old tradition of keeping taboo subjects “hush-hush”. The chronicle follows Baker through flashbacks of her early childhood growing up in the Mormon Church to her journey into adulthood as a single woman living in Manhattan. She puts into writing what many young people in religious and conservative communities have begun to express over the last decade or so: sex is not and should not be taboo. Speaking of sex is not and should not be taboo. Whether a young person wishes to abstain or participate is their own decision and talking about the frustrations of either choice with an adult or peer should never be frowned upon. After an adolescence rife with the struggle that comes with a closed door society, Baker hit the nail on the head with her relatable, witty and raw tome.
With this is mind, fans of Elna Baker’s ‘Mormon Singles Halloween Dance’ should prepare to open their schedules for an evening or two to peruse the pages of Nicole Hardy’s ‘Confessions of a Latter Day Virgin’. After a wildly successful publication in the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column in 2011, Hardy was given the opportunity to turn her short work into a lengthier discussion. Hardy’s words, though not fashioned as comically as Baker’s, ring true in a tone of a different color; in ‘Confessions’, Hardy explains in detail the struggle of ascending one’s twenties and thirties a virgin. She elaborates on the whiplash back and forth between her own parents’ confirmations of love and their simultaneous consternation over her giving up salvation in the hereafter (or, in LDS terms, the celestial kingdom) for worldly forays.
In one particularly moving chapter, after packing up her life in the States and moving to Grand Cayman to escape the pressures of a celibate singlehood, Hardy recalls sitting in the local church, gathered with a small group of fellow Mormons to view the Church’s semi-annual General Conference addresses, which give counsel and spiritual leadership to members worldwide. Normally a four hour service, Hardy explains that, ‘This time […] I can’t make it through the opening hymn”. As she looks on the bright, wide-eyed choir of Young Single Adults, she questions how these peers pass each day, faithfully living for a future with an eternally promised spouse or, the other daunting option, a lonely life of sexual and romantic abstinence. “I can’t sit through the sentence, ‘I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you’,” she protests. “‘After the tears of our faith, we will triumph’.”
In strained sentences, she further describes her thought process as a game of “wouldn’t it be worse.” Wouldn’t it be worse, she insists, “to have a sick child, ailing parents, or a flesh-eating virus? Wouldn’t it be lonelier to be trapped in a dying marriage, scarier to have crippling financial problems or to spend one’s retirement fund on failed in vitro treatments?” Her words begin to falter as she wonders, “Wouldn’t it be worse to live a life absent of faith […], absent of the love of God?”
On this day in question, however, Hardy describes her subsequent frustration and her refusal to submit to a game of self-flagellation, panic suddenly ravaging her body and mind. She escapes the room to the outside steps and the blinding sunlight, only to scream inside her own head, “How can I explain the futility I feel, and the fear? How can I explain the terror taking root in my stomach, hungry for the faith I want to keep believing? […] Could I forgive myself, if I turned out to be too weak to endure? Could God forgive me, if I quit, if I fail, if I fall?” Hardy’s definition of a Church so narrowly spent on emphasizing to its women the importance of marriage (at one point she quotes a former prophet’s pleadings to “never lose sight of this sacred goal. Peacefully prepare for it and live for it.”) may burn slightly to those still associated with the religion, but anyone who has fitfully grown up in this shadow can, and most likely will, empathize with it.
‘Confessions’ is not just another tantrum-induced celebrity autobiography. It is a realistic wash of originality and heart that will push this work to the front of your reading list, a vivid and credible account of the unlock-and-lift-away that true peace brings.