July 11, 2021

My all-time favorite TV sitcom is "Coach." When I was watching it in my twenties back in the 1990s (when it was produced), I just thought it was a funny slapstick comedy with great one-liners and zany characters. It certainly is all of that. But when I watched it again in my 40s, I realized that it was deeper than that too.

Coach Hayden Fox is a college football coach and a divorced mid-single. In Season 1, soon after the show begins, Hayden's 18 year old daughter Kelly comes to go to college where Hayden is coaching. He has been a pretty absentee father up to this point, but has a chance to reconnect with Kelly. Some of the funny moments of Hayden overreacting, as he is prone to do, come from being an inexperienced parent who truly loves his daughter and is trying to make a relationship with her. Very soon in Season 1 Hayden also meets his girlfriend, Christine Armstrong. A big part of the show's plot is about Hayden overcoming the fears and demons of his divorce to create a beautiful relationship with Christine. Hayden has achieved a certain amount in his career, and some of the show is about his thirst to achieve more. But the thing that really makes the show is how he explores human relationships and becomes a less selfish and more enlightened person while he struggles with midlife crisis.

There is one episode on the show where Hayden's best friend and defensive coordinator, Luther Van Dam (a 60 something never married man) begins dating a quirky woman named Lorraine. Luther is plenty quirky too, so it's a great match. All of a sudden, one day, he tells everyone that he's sick of Lorraine being so clingy and controlling. He thinks he's losing his manhood and that Hayden is a "girl-boy" for being so devoted to Christine. He forces another assistant coach, "Dauber" Dybinski to go fishing with him late at night, even though Dauber is sick with the flu.

Later that night, Luther comes pounding on Hayden's door, desperate for advice. Rather than all of the machismo excuses he used before, he drops his pride and decides to be vulnerable with Hayden. He tells Hayden that, in a recent encounter, Lorraine said, "I love you Luther." It made him very uncomfortable and he frustratedly asked Hayden, "What is there in me for her to love?" Have you ever asked the same question? Have you ever started to mistrust a relationship when your partner started to express deep feelings for you?

Hayden tells him that he can't tell him whether breaking up with Lorraine was the right decision or not. "I wasn't there," he says. He tells Luther that, if he wants to feel most safe, he can just keep living with his pets. They will never let you down, and sometimes people do. Hayden also tells Luther that he is out in the living room talking to him, when he'd rather be "back there" (in the bedroom with Christine). Calling on his relationship with Christine, Hayden observes, "there are some people who, when they say they love you, they mean forever."

Those are pretty profound words for a middle-aged and divorced football coach--even on TV. I believe that's why most of you are in this group. Whether you are married or single, you want to be with the kind of person who says he or she loves you and means forever. That is what our Latter-day Saint Doctrine promises.

The price of deep love and connection is vulnerability. Luther remained a bachelor into his sixties because he was afraid to take a risk. He once said, in a different context that he had always lived in an apartment because he was afraid to buy a house, he always stayed an assistant coach because he was afraid to get fired as a head coach, and he never got married because he didn't want to get divorced. He lamented the chances he didn't take in life.

In our faith community, divorce has a very negative stigma. It is viewed as a sign of immaturity and failure. I would like to add another perspective. Divorce is living proof that you bravely took a chance on love. For those of us who feel we got burned the first time around, it is tempting to be bitter and refuse to try again. Some think they have "learned their lesson" and adopt the solution of retreating into a cocoon of safety, rather than risking rejection and loss again. A lot of us are a lot like Luther Van Dam. Perhaps we are even so insecure as to wonder "what is there in me for her to love?" We might bluster about not wanting to lose our manhood or saying that someone we care about is clingy and controlling, when really we are just scared that we are not enough and that she really doesn't mean forever.

Friends, when I saw that episode in my 40s, it resonated with me. It kind of helped me to understand that this fear and insecurity from being a 40-something divorcee was not uncommon. In a funny way, it helped me feel understood. What Hayden and Luther were both experiencing as they experimented with love in later years required them to navigate some treacherous emotional waters and face some sea monsters in the process. Why would we do that? Because life's sweetest reward is on the other side of it.

Friends, I have been where many of you are. I know the sense of loss you have felt and the pain that went along with it. I know it left scars. The right partner will see those scars and love you all the more.

Remember, "there are some people who, when they say they love you, they mean forever."
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