Over the past few years, I’ve lived in 5 different places (from DC, to Logan, to SLC), had, like, 6 different jobs, and traveled in several different states. In other words, I’ve met a lot of people in a lot of places. One trend that I’ve noticed is that if I meet someone who is also LDS, the question of mission serving always comes up pretty fast. Which puts me in an exceptionally awkward position.
Here’s the thing: when you’re first meeting someone, you wouldn’t ask them for their political party or what religion they are. You wouldn’t ask them if they’re trying to have kids or if they got a college education or how much debt they have. If you find out they’re LDS, you wouldn’t ask them if they got sealed in the temple, or if they’re currently temple worthy. All of those things are personal and aren’t appropriate to ask an acquaintance. So why do we ask about missions? For some people, a mission is an amazing experience that they’re willing to share, for others it’s something they may have wanted to do and never been able to and being asked is a painful reminder, and some people may have returned early and don’t like to think about it.
Also, let me be clear: I’m not saying we should never talk about missions. If you served a mission, by all means, tell me about it! I love hearing the stories. But I want you, the one who has the stories and experiences, to freely offer them. I won’t ask to hear them. And I don’t want you to ask me.
When a stranger asks me if I served a mission, I basically have two options (and trust me, it’s pretty much just these two. I’ve been answering this question for a few years now): I can say yes, and then have to answer the follow up questions in which I get to tell complete and total strangers about my anxieties and depression and early return, stressing that it was honorable and clinical because I’m prideful and care what strangers think of me. Or I can (lie and) say no, which is easier, but also not true. I don’t like telling strangers about my depression. It’s not because I’m ashamed of it. I’m pretty open about it, honestly (hence why I’m mentioning it on my blog). But I don’t really like that being in the first interaction I have with somebody because my depression and early return don’t define me. I’ve got so many other things to offer (like, hey, I’ve read about a book a week for the past six months, and I’m trying to teach myself to like running, and I really love food and TV shows, and I’ve got a dog and a husband I adore, I studied Political Science but work in the tech industry, and I love to travel!) so why should that be what strangers are asking me? Why does a mission tell you who I am?
As another anecdote, Andrew didn’t serve a mission. When he is asked, he also has to make a decision about opening up about a painful time in his life where he wanted to go (had even opened up his paperwork) and got diagnosed with cancer. If he says no, he didn’t serve, with no follow up explanation, people tend to assume the worst. It’s not fair that strangers are putting him in a position where he either has to tell them about an illness or he gets to be judged unfairly and unduly.
In short, when you meet a new person, it’s best to stick to the small talk for a while before diving into more personal information. *gracefully steps down from soapbox*