Stand Together; but Not Too Close

old couple


A month ago, my wife and I were at a beautiful beach wedding in the Dominican Republic. The groom’s father stood up to give a toast, and instead of a speech, he simply read from the works of a turn of the century poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran.


The essence of the poem is found in the last stanza,


be pilars“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart”

(“On Marriage,” The Prophet)


I was honestly bugged by that poem.


I mean, shouldn’t you stand by your spouse no matter what and be their everything and have them be your everything? Isn’t that the point of marriage for two to become one? A complete trust in giving your heart?


The poem and my confused frustration stuck with me until we found ourselves at another wedding sitting across from Lanor. She was a fast-talking, energetic, divorced New Yorker who had been a “shrink” for over 40 years focusing on family and marriage.


I asked her for advice. (…I mean, how could I not?!)


“Don’t make each other your sole source of happiness.”


That’s when it clicked.


It isn’t that we can’t spend a lot of time together and give of our hearts completely one to another, but that at the end of the day, we must realize that we are both human.

We both make mistakes.

We fall short.


As pillars holding up the short roof of the temple, we must remember that togetherness is at times apartness—for when one feels weak, the other can give more.


If our happiness is completely based on our significant other, then we’ll only be happy when we are feeling 100% and they are feeling 100%. Which happens far less behind closed doors than any are willing to admit.


Basically, we can’t rejoice in each other, but not rely on each other for joy.


Isn’t the scriptures even clear on this subject about not trusting in the arm of flesh?


If we first become content with ourselves and in our own individual happiness, then we can supplement that happiness with a companion and be more optimistic about life.


Because as with a mission so too with marriage—no matter how good life is, if the relationship is rough, everything is rough; and conversely, no matter how rough life is, if the relationship is good, everything is good (or at least we know it will be).


So as we stand in holy places under the temple marriage roof, truly, we must remember to stand together, but not too close.



Dating Never Works Zack Oates
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Why I’m Afraid of Marriage: Confessions of a Single LDS Man

happy newlywed


At the start of this year, I got tired of not being able to see the world. So, as some of you may know, I’ve been traveling a lot lately.


When I share this with my married friends, they usually say, “Get that all out of your system now, because when you’re married . . .”


Then they trail off into an assumed negative statement of common knowledge about how marriage means that life isn’t fun or something. (I’m not sure because no one ever finishes that sentence.)


Sure, it becomes more expensive and more difficult (especially with kids). But does excitement have to be drained out of a relationship because of family?


In pondering over that question, I realized one of my biggest fears about marriage is that life will become audaciously ordinary, banal—dull. 


Of the couples I have observed, there are very few marriages which look enjoyable to me. (Now admittedly, the couples in those relationships may be perfectly content; it just doesn’t seem like it would work for me.)


Not great odds. But determined to beat the odds, I started to consider the commonalities between the marriages I admired.

There were two factors I’ve noticed in marriages I admire:

1. They have respect for each other. They are friends.

2. They work for adventure. Not that they spend thousands of dollars a month traveling, but they share new experiences with each other.


To read the conclusion of this post, go to

What’s More Important: Love or Loyalty?

Loyalty locks love

“Did I make a mistake?”


This is the question that almost every single married person has asked themselves at some point (and something that single people ask themselves daily)


Death, bad choices, hurtful words, emotional funks, and irritations usually lead spouses to take a look at their relationship and wonder on….then, often, wander off.


So what keeps the other half of America from getting divorced?


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the van with 11 married men. Being the only single guy, everyone went around and gave me a piece of advice for life and marriage


While I undoubtedly will write about many of the things said, there is something that really stuck out to me–it centers around how marriages last.


The question of “successful” marriages came down to this: it is more about loyalty than love.


At the end of the ride, almost everyone in the van was in agreement: While love will get you married, it is loyalty that keeps you married.


As has been mentioned in previous posts, there is so much that changes after marriage, but it is that commitment to the marriage and to each other that will keep things together.


Even though there are difficulties and trials and the love will be there some days and irritation on others, if you have that loyalty to each other to stick it out, it can work


Now, there are obviously times when logic must triumph over both love and loyalty, but those cases are individual and should not be judged by any outside party.


But for those whose relationship doesn’t meet that logic level of lacking, when love is ebbing, fix firm on the resolve of loyalty…or so I’ve been told.

6 Words from a Dying Man that Changed My Perspective on Love

holding hands

Death was slowly reaching out his shaky fingers toward my Great Uncle Paul.

This dear man, a silent example of charity, was nearing the end of his year-long, bed-ridden battle with a degenerative nerve disease in his home—a home he built with his own hands for his barely budding family ages earlier. His body was feeble, and his words were scarce. In fact, he would say maybe three or four sentences a day.

I tried to visit him and his sweet wife, Della Mae, as often as I could—always finding myself a better person when I left for just being around their fairytale-like love (some people just have that effect on others, I guess).

When I stopped by one day, almost a week before he passed away, I had a life-changing experience (completely unexpected, as most are).

Della Mae was busily tiding up the living room around Paul’s bed. Unassumingly, quietly, and deliberately, Paul raised his gentle hand a few inches from the sheets where it lay.

“Della Mae . . .” It was too quiet; she didn’t hear. He rattled out a raspy cough. “Della Mae . . .”

She turned and rushed to his side, eager to accomplish any need of her beloved spouse.

“Yes, Paul?” she cheerfully asked.

I assumed he wanted something to eat, or some medicine, or just have his pillow rearranged.

But what he said surprised me. And his words forever changed me.



Give Up Now—You Will NEVER Stay Married to the Same Person

Change in marriage


I have a dear active LDS friend. She married her high school sweetheart after waiting for him on his mission and dating him for two more years. They were married for five years…before he filed for divorce and left the church.


My parents got engaged five days after their first date. They are still married.




How does that happen?


I thought it was so important to know someone before you marry them and then everything works out?


Well…not quite.


See, after a few basic traits of ‘must haves’ and ‘can’t haves’ for the sake of compatibility, the person you marry is of little to no consequence.




Because they aren’t the person you will stay married to.


In a study done by a Harvard psychologist, Dr. Dan Gilbert, he interviewed thousands of individuals about personal change and concluded that “all of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.” (Read the whole TED talk here) That is because it is easier to look back and see the changes that have happened than it is to look into the future and imagine inconceivable circumstances that will surely shape us.


That “illusion” that WE have already done most of our changing in life is as scientifically and rationally ridiculous as the “illusion” that we are marrying someone for the rest of our lives.


I, for one, have spent so much time trying to find ‘this specific type of girl,’ while completely ignoring the fact that she will be different in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years…and guess what…?


So will I.


And if marriage is a commitment, then, in effect, I have to choose to stay committed and married to a new person, as a new person, every day.


That choice is made by work.


Now what does some 29-year old single guy know about this? Not much. But what I do know is that my fear of marrying the wrong person is completely unfounded based on the fact that I will never marry one person.


TIME Magazine’s Theologian of the year in 2001 and longtime Duke professor Stanley Hauerwas said, “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is…leaning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married” (“Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and ‘Human Sexuality'” in the Christian Century, April 19, 1978, 417-22).


So what I’m saying is that my friend is to fault and my parents are to emulate?


Not at all. There are so many circumstances I can’t even pretend to understand about why one couple is together and the other isn’t.


What I’m saying is that we only have one choice…and that is to continually choose to be married to the same new person over and over.


And that, to me, is a lot less scary than I feared. (Actually, it sounds quite nice. Who knows…maybe I’m changing my mind on this whole ‘single for life’ thing; but then again, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?)


So after looking for compatibility, love and marriage is about finding someone who is committed to change with me as we constantly become new creatures in Christ. For in the seas of change, it is only on a sure foundation that we can anchor our relationships.


You Suck at Dating–And That’s Awesome

i suck neon dating

I was talking to one of my friends recently about her dating life.


She has been having a hard time.


And granted, she probably should.


After all, she is a pretty bad dater.


“Zack, I feel like there is a big neon sign saying ‘I Suck.’” she said, almost in tears, “I don’t know how to play the dating game. Can you teach me?”


As I was contemplating what I could say to her to impart, if but a parcel, of my bounteous wisdom [insert ‘gafaugh’ in an nasally pretentiously obnoxious laugh] in dating…I had a realization that stung me to the core with honest introspection.


All of the things that make her really bad at dating…make for a really good spouse and parent.

She is genuine.

She puts time into things.

She throws her whole heart into any relationship.

She is committed.

She is generous.

She is kind.


All of the things that someone may do to be “good” at dating…make for really crappy spouse and parent.

They use manipulation.

They pretend to be too busy.

They hold back their emotions.

They keep options open.

They get physical.

They don’t care.


One must ask, “What is the POINT of dating?”


Now there are the things that people do along the way, but the end game, the honeypot of dating…really, what is the point of dating?




And a good one, at that.


Let’s stop playing the dating game. Let’s start playing for keeps. Let’s unlearn the dating game.


So what was my advice to her?


While she may not go on as many dates, may not be as good of a flirt and might not appear to be as self confident as others who are ‘professionals’ at the dating game…she is much closer to marriage than any of them.


No, that sign certainly isn’t for her.


So if you are a good person, don’t worry about being a bad dater.


Daters gunna date (date date date date so shake it off).


The rest…well, I’m pretty sure that is what marriage is for.



A Classic Tale: Tinderella Meets Mr Right (Swipe)

Organic Love
In a 50 years from last Saturday, a bright eyed grandchild is going to sit at the feet of my cousin during a family gathering of her and her husband’s golden anniversary and ask, “How did you and grandpa meet?”

“Well once upon a time…” and she will proceed to tell a big flaming lie. (A story of a blind date will do just fine.)

After all, how is this young child in 2064 even going to understand a smartphone, an app, and especially TINDER???

This last weekend, I was able to attend the temple marriage of my cousin and, yes, her tinder match. It was a beautiful ceremony filled with family, love and two very “excited” over-dated LDS now-former singles.

In my reflection on each of our fairy tales, I realized that our glass slipper often slips between our fingers and our knight in shining armor gallops by as we are sitting and waiting for…for…well…for something else. 

What else, though?

Why not tinder? Why not a blind date? Why not long distance? Why not a leap of faith?

Because it is not what we thought it would be. It isn’t Godot enough. We ll we can wake up from that dreamland right now, because it hardly ever is Godot enough.

Look back at every good thing that has happened to you in life and tell me what percentage of those things were exactly what you thought they would be? For me, personally, it has been very very few. I have been so blessed by the most unexpected and have allowed some of the most amazing opportunities pass me by.

I haven’t found any magic beans, but the seeds of relationships that have grown organically have grown into something that I could have never fabricated through a calculated dating game. They happened in spite, or despite, of my efforts. (Granted, had I not put IN the efforts, nothing would have happened, but alas, this is another blog post.)

So if your heated relationships have fallen cold and now you have a burning urge to fuel the fire of love–find a potential match, strike up a conversation, and see if there are sparks to kindle a potential flame…even if it is on tinder (i’m just going to say, that sentence was a lot harder to write than it looks–11pts).

For in the end, waiting for what you are expecting can’t hold a candle to a 50-year start on a true happily forever and ever after.

To Ana and Christian, here’s to you and doing what no one ever expected (namely, getting Ana married before me). May this love propel you into true everlasting burnings.


How Do You Know You Still Love Your Spouse?


still love wife

About a year ago, I realized I had been lying to myself…I had been dating to date, dating to cure boredom, dating to spend time with fun people and, occasionally, even dating to blog.


But whatever I was doing, I certainly wasn’t dating to marry, as I had been professing.


An endless procession of tidy first dates would do the trick to keep the facade while hiding the fear.


When I realized this, I asked myself what my big fear was. What was keeping me from opening up?


And the answer was quite simple.


You see, I was afraid of falling out of love.


I was afraid of succumbing to the fate of no many around me. The rough bumps and ends to marriage inundated my social media while the low-lit bits of lasting love were locked in the layers of mild moments and simple smiles for which words seem too inadequate and public proclamations too cheap. I was barraged with the tough and blind to the tender.


So I set out to change my perspective, my heart and my fear.


With so many of my friends that have gone through so much heartache after faltering and failed marriages, I began my quest to find the magic hidden in marriage–understanding that it is never a fairy-tale. I set out to ask married people two simple questions:


“How do you know you still love your spouse?”

“What is the key to a successful marriage?”


I asked newlyweds of a week, widowers who had been married for over 60 years, taxi drivers, grandparents, my parents, friends–everyone who’s ear I could borrow. All in all, I have asked over 100 people during the last year.


To the second question I get the same answer over and over and over: the key to a successful marriage is work. Work to serve the other, work to keep things exciting, work to show appreciation…wonderful work.


The answers to the first have varied and have been fascinating, but before I go into what they said, I am curious to hear what you, here on fathers day especially, have to say.


If you are married, how do you know you still love your spouse?

If you are single, how would you HOPE to answer this question?


I’ll put together a follow-up blog post on all the results.


But I will say this much–after this last year of research, I am no longer afraid of marriage. It seems to me to be like a garden. A veritable heaven on earth that brings joy and happiness and peace…if, and only if, tended after.


#itwasmom Who Did What NO One Else Could

It was a wet cold spring evening in Ukraine.


I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had been out for three months at the time that Mother’s Day came around; one of only two days in the calendar year that I got to speak with my family.


While I had been having a tough time, I didn’t tell anyone or even admit it to myself.


I was tired.





I picked up the phone, dialed the familiar numbers to home and waited without a breath for the other end to pick up–I didn’t want to even miss one second.


The phone answered and…it was mom.


We spoke for almost an hour and then hearing the worry in my voice, it was mom who asked me if I was okay.


I could hold it in from my companion, from those I was serving in Ukraine and I could even hold it in from myself…but not from mom.


I broke down. My weaknesses and desperation burst from my lips as the barrier to honesty was shattered. I was beyond distraught. I just knew that I was failing.


Nothing could comfort me…except mom.


She heard me out and then gave me advice that changed my mission and my life. She said, “Zack, even in the Lord’s vineyard, you need to take time to stop and smell the roses. Don’t be so concerned about all that is going wrong that you forget what this is all about…just to look at the stars.”


And so I did.


It was mom who helped me to raise my vision from my problems to my potential, from the mundane to the magnificent, from the bitter to the better.


It was mom who helped me to walk once again.

It was mom who gave me life once again.

It was mom who cried with me once again.


That night I looked at the stars and I understood why my mom gave me that advice. For you see, I saw.


I saw the candles of divinity burning millions of light years away. I saw tiny little blips in the dark sky, which in reality constituted galaxies. But most importantly, I saw that somewhere out there, a loving God knew me and gave me a mom with whom He could share that love.


Ah, a simple phone call was all I had, but mom was all I needed.


So thank you, mother, for your kindness, example and love.


It was you who taught me that everyone is important.

It was you who showed me how to care when inconvenient.

It was you who gave my vision perspective.


From the moment I was born to the phone call in Ukraine to my fingers typing these very words–I know that forever I have a mother who will set my sights on the stars and my eyes on the prize.


There’s a reason my life is so wonderful…#itsmom.