Moving to Utah has been simultaneously one of the most enthralling and challenging experiences in my life. Every day, I look around and stare in wonderment at the beautiful landscape. I catch myself being humbled and moved by the majestic mountains. While the landscape is breathtaking, the culture is suffocating. The culture strangles its occupants with its judgmental attitudes, inauthenticity and high level of superficiality.
Moving to Utah, I understood it was predominantly Mormon, 66 percent to be exact. I never anticipated it having any sort of effect on me. I respect most religions, as I believe there are valuable lessons within each. I knew plenty of wonderful people back home that were Mormon. Coming from a melting pot of backgrounds, ethnicities and religions, I was not prepared for how far-reaching the religion was into all aspects of life, even those who are not Mormon. Whenever you have a mecca of any religion, it can have a large effect on the area, for example, the deep south. I have learned it is not the values and gospels of the Mormon religion that are evident here but more so a culture that has transcended as judgment and superficiality.
I am ashamed to say I became engulfed by the culture. I wound up going through some life lessons. I recently had to face the mirror, look myself in the eye and do some major self-evaluation. I was no longer proud of the person I saw. It is scientifically proven that the brain changes depending on its environment, for better or worse. When I first started dating the man I was seeing, a little over 8 months ago, he said a favorite characteristic about me was that I was always positive and never said anything bad about anyone. I have lived in Utah about a year and a half but the first ten months, I didn’t spend much time within the culture. I had just moved across the country, I was working in a new field, I was in grad school and spent a great deal of time traveling. I slowly started seeing the superficiality and judgmental culture. I would listen to people talk about who they knew that was more famous or well-recognized than you, how much more money they made than you, they type of shoes they had that were better than yours, the type of cars they had that were nicer than yours, and more. It seemed to be everywhere, all the time. Once I started dating him, about eight months ago, I truly became embedded in the culture for the first time. The first four months I was able to stay true to who I was but I quickly lost it. I became miserable. The toxicity affected my relationships, my health and my mindset. I always considered myself to be stronger than that but this situation has been beyond humbling.
I am both an empath and an ENFP (Myers-Briggs personality types). That means I absorb the energy around me. I very sensitive to the moods and attitudes. It’s very hard for me to be around fake people. It literally drains me. As I became embedded in the culture, I met a handful of people who were wonderful. The rest were consumed with the fake, judgmental, superficial culture. I would sit down at a table with a family or friends for dinner. They would say a prayer over the meal and within fifteen to thirty minutes were saying some of the ugliest, judgmental things I’ve ever heard. I would listen to these people making fun of anyone who was different than they were. My blood boiled when I listened to these people make fun of a man with Autism. I was sickened when I heard them creating a judgment about gay people. They would bash everyone. Many of these people claimed to be Christians. What’s worse is the way friends and family treat each other. I would sit and listen to all of these friends, even best friends, lie to each other, gossip about each other behind their back, call them names and more. They make jokes about the friend who doesn’t act masculine and question if he’s gay behind his back. The girl who hangs out in their friend group, they call a slut. They talk crap about their friend goes to church on Sunday and passes out drunk in the alley on Friday. A friend spread lies that her married friend was having an affair. They bash other couples for their relationship issues. They make slights about where their friends live. The siblings treat each other poorly. They take advantage of each other. They do selfish things. They try to exercise their opinions over their siblings and control them. Even many of the parents and grown children don’t have good relationships. It’s superficial. They talk openly about which of their children are their favorite and which is their least favorite. They will spend money on expensive toys but say it’s too expensive to fly to another state to see their children. They aren’t close to them but try to control their decisions and behaviors, even as adults. There are married couples who have terrible things going on behind the scenes but put on a fake charade to the rest of the world, all the while judging other people. Guys in the gym are making fun of other men and women. Women are glaring or giving dirty looks across the room. They are comparing their Lululemon workout attire and the level of perfection. One day there was an elderly woman with an oxygen tank working out in the gym. She was struggling to get the equipment adjusted. I watched and no one tried to help her. I walked over and helped her get situated. She was so appreciative. I couldn't believe one of the other dozen people hadn't stopped to help her.
I’ve been around catty women before but never to the degree, I saw here. And what was even more shocking was the cattiness of the men. Listening to the awful comments they made about women or other men was tiresome. I remember in the beginning, I’d constantly say, “be nice guys,” or “oh that’s terrible to say,” or something along those lines. I would casually bring up my concerns about the things that were being said or going on. Each time, I was dismissed and disregarded. I was frustrated with what was going on but I wanted a sense of community and belonging, so I kept trying to fit in. I became depressed for the first time in my life. I would try to find happiness anywhere. I wanted so badly to have a genuine connection. Being around all of the fake, horrible interactions took it out of me. When we would go out of state, the guy I was dating noticed I would light up. He said he thought Utah was sucking the life out of me. And it was. After a while, I finally started acting just like them. And at times, even worse. I was beyond tired of hearing the hate that I was combatting it with hate and bitterness of my own. I lost all grace. I became the worst, ugliest version of myself.
At first, the people around me made me feel like I was crazy and I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable in this beautiful state. I started talking to dozens of other people and I have read hundreds of blogs and discussion threads. Both Mormon and non-Mormon. Both transplants and non-transplants. I was quickly relieved to hear the majority of the people I talked to felt the same. Stephanie Buschardt is a transplant from LA. She moved here to take care of her ill mother. “I know my value and worth and I am hard-working and talented,” she said confidently. “So when the people here are condescending and judgmental- it makes me second guess myself, which is something I never did.” Moving from LA to Utah, you would think the opposite scenario would be true. She says sadly, “I have never felt so insecure, scared, and lonely, and I truly miss making genuine connections with people. Who knew that would be so challenging in Utah of all places.”
To understand how this culture started, you need to understand the layout of Utah. I never would anticipate talking about a state’s culture and combining it with a religion but it’s impossible to separate the two here. Utah started with a Mormon foundation. Most of its history, it has been almost solely Mormon. There has been a little diversification and the state is currently 66 percent active Mormons. However, the majority of the people you meet who are not Mormon are either transplants or they grew up Mormon and are no longer active. Those that grew up Mormon and are inactive, still tend to show the same negative tendencies but many make an effort to change. Every conversation always brings up Mormonism. I’ve noticed there are no boundaries here. Never in another place has someone walked up to me and initiated a conversation by saying, “Are you Catholic?” Yet, here there is a daily occurrence of someone asking me if I am LDS. One of the first group outings I went on in Utah after first moving here was unsettling. I sat at a table of mostly divorced Mormons. After a few minutes, the gentleman at the end of the table looked at me and said, “So are you LDS?” I politely smiled and told him I wasn’t. He followed up with a drill of questions. “Why not? Is it the rules against drinking, the rules against sex, what is it,” he badgered. I was beyond uncomfortable.
In a conversation about the Utah culture, it’s key to understand Mormonism or the Latter Day Saints (LDS) religion. Utah’s population is 66 percent Mormon. The Mormon pioneers settled in Utah while it was still a territory for the Republic of Mexico. They were fleeing persecution in Missouri. Mormons are a Christian-based faith that have a theology pushing them for daily personal perfection, in this life or the afterlife. As Abby Hay and Kjersten Johnson mention in their article, “That quest can become toxic if it morphs into self-righteousness and judgement of how well others meet one’s own internal standard.” Many Mormons talk about how happy, warm and friendly they believe themselves to be because they are taught “happiness is the object and design of our existence,” and “men are they might have joy,” that they are following the “great plan of happiness,” and that those who follow that plan enjoy a “blessed and happy state.”
Ironically, behavior is of utmost importance to them. With the groupthink in Utah, that has evolved to mean they seem to think they have the right to judge everyone else's behavior, even when theirs is flawed. There are no second chances in this culture. They keep score. They keep track. Even while they are far from perfect, they hide their imperfections & point out everyone else's. The first time a person makes a mistake or acts in a way they don’t believe to be correct, they judge them and dismiss them. There is no forgiveness or grace. From a culture that is so heavily rooted in Christianity, a faith that is based on forgiveness and grace, it is a very interesting dynamic. It is also a very legalistic religion. Some Mormon friends of mine will joke they like rules so much, they create rules about their rules. However, this often segways into them critiquing everyone’s behavior around them. They decide if a person doesn’t measure up to their standards or the person isn’t worthy. They typically will just dismiss them and treat them poorly if they don’t agree with them. They validate their poor treatment of others by saying they don’t like something about them so it is okay for them to treat them in such a way.
If you don't act, talk, walk or behave exactly as they think appropriate... you're not worthy. If they deem you unworthy, they can treat you however they deem appropriate. Typically this happens in a passive aggressive manner. The women seem to have a strong desire to control the men. A gentleman I've been working with recently told me he was born and raised here, along with his wife. They even raised their kids here. Until recently, they didn't realize how judgemental and terrible they were. Now, they've realized how they are treating people. They've sat down & called out their personal faults and made a plan to improve. He told me he sees the prevalence with women more than anything. The women hold others to such high expectations, they want men to follow their every command. They pull the wool over the men's eyes & continue to manipulate them. I saw this. I saw how terrible it was, yet I ended up turning into that same type of person.
I was going on a trip to California with a guy I was dating last year. My coworker, a Mormon male in his thirties proceeded to ask me if we were going to share the same hotel room. I was taken back. First of all, I was a 26-year-old adult. He asked me if we had previously engaged in sexual intercourse. I told him I wasn’t going to answer that. I was really taken back at this point. Not an appropriate question. I have never felt so uncomfortable in my life. He proceeded to tell me as a father of young girls, he felt the need to father me and let me know how poor that dating and life decision was. I have never felt so uncomfortable, awkward and judged. I have noticed within my self, I being in this environment, I have started acting the same way in certain situations. Just as these people were sharp with their criticism and judgment, I have become sharp with mine. I often say things to people and afterward, I am ashamed that I said something so sharp, cross or judgemental. I don’t always realize it in the moment but after, I am so disappointed in myself. That is not what I came from and not how I want to be.
It has become a culture of bullying, meanness, and exclusion which is not what the religion set out to do but is what the whole culture has evolved towards, both Mormon and non-Mormon. The church has started recognizing the negative behaviors. A few years ago, a high-profile leader in the church, Dieter F. Uchtdorf called out the members for their behavior. He urged them to stop the hating, gossiping, hating, ignoring, ridiculing, grudge holding and wanting to cause harm.
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and his children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” We must recognize that we are all imperfect- that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy for our souls for mercy - to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed? Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? My beloved brothers and sisters, should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven? The people around us are not perfect (See Romans 3:23). People do things than annoy, dissapoint and anger. In this mortal life, it will always be that way. Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.
Utah has continually been ranked as the state with the highest mental illness, particularly depression, in nationwide studies. They also are consistently topping the charts of suicide. “Happy Valley” apparently isn’t so happy and has the highest prescription drug abuse rate, double the national average. Many studies claim these side effects are from the high pressures of conformity, denial, social pressures and guilt. When I first moved here, I found it important to understand the religion and culture. I have a few good friends and coworkers who are Mormon and would chat occasionally about the principles. I didn’t feel comfortable forming an opinion on something of which I wasn’t educated. I also attended a couple of sacrament meetings (their Sunday church service) and I have been to a baby blessing. While I don’t agree with everything they say, I appreciate many of their values. Not to mention, they have the most well-behaved children I have met.
I have met a handful of incredible Mormon and non-Mormon people since living here, both professionally and personally. I have also seen a lot of hypocrisy. Alyssa Godwin was born in Utah and raised within the Mormon church. “Mormonism in Utah is just a nice facade. Judgement hidden behind smiles.” She continued, “I pushed back so much, questioned decisions that went against every fiber of my being, and was cast out, judged for questioning the establishment.” I was seen as a rebel, then judged as “evil” when I left. Even now that I have renounced the religion I was raised in, I ask the question to my Mormon friends ‘do I deserve to go to outer darkness?’ and they cry ‘well of course not,’ knowing I am a good person. They are adamant on this point, yet I am an apostate, the worst of the worst for leaving the church. My very existence angers and brings judgment from Mormon Utahns and it confuses those who have accepted me as I am.” Even when looking outside of Mormonism, she said the culture envelops the whole state. “There is a reason why Utah women are known specifically for being beautiful here… and beauty is only skin deep.” She said there is a mentality among women from a young age to catch a man. There doesn’t seem to any authentic friendships between women, for the most part, just superficial and cattiness. She said it has had a huge effect on her friend circle and who she chooses to have in her life.
One of the biggest reasons Utah seems to have this culture is the lack of diversity. Most people I’ve talked to that live outside of Salt Lake County or even those on the rim of Salt Lake County said they only went to school with one black person or maybe one Tongan person. Other than that, they are all the same. The majority of which were raised Mormon. According to 2010 United States Census projections, the racial and ethnic makeup of Utah are as follows:
- 88.6% White or European.
- 13% Hispanic/Latino (of any race).
- 1.8% American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
- 2.8% Asian-American.
- 1.3% Pacific Islander.
- 1.6% African American.
- 6.9% Some other race.
Nearly half of the non-white population lives in Salt Lake County. The majority of transplants I’ve met have told me they hated living in Utah until they moved downtown or within Salt Lake County since that is where the majority of the diversity lies. For the past year and a half, I lived in Utah County. It was beautiful. I loved the views. I lived near an area referred to as “Daybreak.” I’d often take my dog there to walk around the pretty lake. There and other places in Utah County, if I had on a tank top in the summer, I’d get glares and disapproving looks. When I mentioned this to people who grew up around there, they’d always so it wasn’t really happening. Then I met a girl who has lived in Utah on and off since she was little. When she moved back from Colorado, she noticed the same thing. Both while she was Mormon and when she left the church, she felt the judgment throughout the culture. She said from Provo to the edges of downtown she’s seen those disapproving glances if she’s in a tank top or shorts. She’s felt the difficulty of finding authentic, empowering friends. It has been so nice to meet others who have experienced the same things and have someone to relate with. I moved downtown about a month ago and my colleague told me he saw the light come back in my eyes. He watched over the past 8 months as the life was sucked out of me and I was surrounded by negativity. Now that I am living downtown around more diversity and meeting authentic people, my soul is happier. I am happier. I realized how far I had fallen from the type of person I wanted to be.
The judgment here isn’t just passed to non-Mormon’s. It is also passed to active Mormons. I’ve talked to dozens of transplants, both Mormon and non-Mormon and they all echoed similar thoughts. It is a depressive, judgemental and superficial place. This makes it hard to assimilate. I’ve been asked multiple times by Mormons and non-Mormon transplants alike why I would move to Utah. They tell me they can’t wait to get out of here. It’s a very depressing story to hear. Cait C. is an active Mormon transplant from the East coast. The first time I met her, she told me she had a hard time with the culture here. She mentioned that specifically within the church, there seems to be such a high importance around status and money. In regards to Mormon-specific realms, she said, “The biggest thing I’ve noticed within the Mormon culture since moving to Utah is a loss of community. I lived in a town on the east coast comprised of only 2% Mormons.” She said since they were such a minority in the area, they grew together as a group. “Our main friend group was our “ward” [congregation] and we were like family with them and any Mormon who has lived outside of Utah will tell you the same thing. It’s nice to know you have a big group of people who know you and love you.” She said they walked into a very different situation in Utah. “Most people are from here for generations so they have family close by. They have no need for that tightknit community because they already have one in their families." She continued, "It is very lonely to be a Mormon in Utah if you aren’t from here. We are used to being invited over and welcomed into a ward when living outside of Utah but when we get here, oftentimes, no one even notices or acknowledges. It’s very common to be left behind and ignored socially.”
Her husband echoed similar thoughts and said there doesn’t seem to be an emphasis on developing deep, meaningful personal relationships. “Here it feels like other members of the ward are viewed as numbers instead of people,” he said. “Since the community isn’t tightknit, people focus on things like church attendance, callings and things that can be put onto paper, rather than how someone is doing or what is going on in their life.” He continued, “A Mormon from out of state who is used to finding a friend in their ward gets a rude awakening when they come here and no one is really interested in getting to know them.” These tendencies carry over to the general population even outside of the Mormon church.
One of my former coworkers moved here from California. Like most of the transplant Mormons I have met, he is much different. He is very genuine, down to earth and non-judgemental. I would often talk to him about the frustrations I experienced with the culture here. He said when he and his wife moved from California, his wife struggled with the culture shock and she was Mormon. It made her question the religious culture in Utah and want to leave the due to all of the judgment and superficiality she saw.
Even some of the most church-going outwardly Mormon people I know are hiding coffee and alcohol in their closets, comparing high-priced heels, comparing expensive cars, binge-drinking and passing out in alleys and so on. All the while, I listen to them pass judgment to other Mormons and even non-Mormons for their lifestyles. I once had a former coworker tell me I was creating a sinful habit drinking my coffee while he was slurping down his third diet coke. It is so interesting to see all of the hypocrisy.
There is a newer term called ghosting across the US. I have seen a dramatic prevalence of ghosting in Utah. Rather than have a mutually respecting adult conversation with someone, they just disappear and stop speaking to someone. It is beyond rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful. I see men who have dated dozens of women. Each one of them, they simply ghosted. They stop speaking to them and act like they don’t exist. If they see each other in public, they pass by like they don’t even know them. This ties into what Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed in his speech urging people to "Stop it." He said stop ignoring and treating people like they don’t matter. I brought this up to a family one night as we were all sitting around a table. I mentioned how disrespectful and immature it felt. The women said they thought it was perfectly fine and it was easier. They went on to say, you don’t owe anyone anything until there is a ring on the finger. I was shocked. How do these “Christian” people who just prayed over their meal think it is okay to treat people so terribly? Yes, those conversations are not fun but they show respect and character. When I first met the guy I was dating, the week before I had been on a coffee date with another guy. Once I met the new guy and it clicked, I told coffee date guy I thought he was a wonderful person but I met someone I really liked so I couldn’t see him anymore. He told me how refreshing it was that I was honest and respectful enough to have that conversation. Recently, a few people have asked me on dates. Again, I told them I thought they were nice guys but I am not interested in dating. They told me again how much they appreciated the honesty and the respect to tell them that. It’s really not difficult to treat people with respect. While I originally made the effort to be respectful and transparent, and am getting back to those values currently, that is not to say over the past eight months I didn't fail. I became a rude, ugly, disrespectful person and there were many people I didn't speak to honestly or respectfully.
I had one woman judge me and ask how can I get lip injections one day and then ask about natural makeup a couple of weeks later. She would have known the reason if she would have asked before passing judgment. A week after I had lip injections, I found out I had Hashimoto’s Autoimmune Disease, SIBO, adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalances. I started seeing a naturopath and found out one of the biggest things that lead to hormonal imbalance is makeup because they can essentially put anything they want in the makeup. In my attempt to get healthy, I started switching most of my makeup and household products out for natural alternatives. Rather than learn that, it was easier for her to pass judgment and make rude comments about me. It turns out, I’ve been sick for years but the added stress and toxicity around me brought my symptoms to a whole new level. There were days I struggled to get out of bed. I would sit and listen to these women judge everyone for everything. If it did not meet their standards, it was disgusting, appalling and awful. It was mind boggling to me. And many of these women are “Christians.”
I am an empath. I pick up on the energy around me. It wears on me. It seeps into me. I need deep, meaningful connections to be happy and fulfilled. I do not do well when I am around negativity and superficiality. Rather than find a way to combat it, I absorbed it and became an ugly version of myself. I was so busy trying to point out how judgemental and awful these people were, I fell right down there with them. In my attempt to point out their judgmental ways, I became judgemental, lacking all grace. I became a hypocrite. I became just as bad as they were. They say you become most like the people you surround yourself with. I have watched that happen. I always thought I would be stronger than that but unfortunately, I wasn’t. This culture is consuming.
From the beginning, my mom taught me to never speak ill of other people. She showed me to try and understand them rather than judging them. I always thought I did well. Until I submersed myself in the culture here. I became everything I claimed to dislike. I started spending more time around all of that toxic negativity, meanness, and judgment and it made me someone I don’t recognize or like. I became mean, ugly, judgemental and miserable. I felt so miserable and I knew it was from the environment but I didn’t know how to get out of it. So I started seeking happiness in all of the wrong places. I wanted to connect with people who were positive, empowering, open-minded and loving. I was chasing down that connection anyway I could get it. But I went about it the wrong way and ended up hurting people I love. Living in Utah, it’s like the only conversation starter is gossip or judgment. No one is talking about their personal, professional and spiritual goals. No one is having positive, deep, authentic conversations. Instead, they are focused on judging everything around them. Rather than treat those people with sympathy, I met them with anger. Instead of compassion, I had contempt. Instead of smiling at the grimaces, I grimaced right back. When I should have shown immense grace, I showed immense judgment. I am far from proud of myself. I am pretty embarrassed actually but now I am aware and can undo all of the negative. I got so far away from who I am and I am looking forward to getting back there. I am working very hard on losing my pride, becoming more graceful and becoming more humble. It takes daily work, but as with all things, the best things usually take the most work. If you want the rainbow, you have to deal with the rain. You’re supposed to love the difficult people, not the people just like you. That’s true character. I lost that. I am making it a goal to continue to love even the most difficult people.
We make loving people a lot more difficult than Jesus did. We have all hurt someone tremendously by intent or accident. Learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. We fall down. It’s how we learn. It’s inevitable. Grace is having a relationship with someone’s heart not their behaviors. Charles M. Blow said, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.” So here is to being more graceful, understanding and loving to everyone. Here’s to becoming a better version of myself.