SALT LAKE CITY — Several years ago, well-known blogger and author Al Fox Carraway allowed readers to ask her any question they wanted, whether "it was stupid or spiritual."
Thousands responded. To the Carraways' surprise, about 90 percent asked about marriage.
"The Tattooed Mormon," as many have known Al, and her husband Ben had already started working on "Cheers to Eternity: Lessons We've Learned on Dating and Marriage" (Cedar Fort, $16.99). The survey motivated the couple to finish the project.
"We felt inspired to do it," Al Carraway said.
The book is already in bookstores. What makes it unique, the couple said, is that it's not a methodical, follow-these-steps formula for success, but focuses more on universal relationship principles that can apply to most situations.
"Maybe not everything will apply to everyone who reads it, but there are certain aspects in the book, no matter how long you have dated or been married, and you can get something out of this," Ben Carraway said. "We try to make it more personal, intimate things we've struggled with and things we’ve learned. We are not doctors majoring in family science, but sharing what we've learned in our own marriage and what we’ve seen in other marriages."
Al Carraway said they imagined their ideas would appeal mostly to singles and newlyweds. But already they've received positive feedback from longtime married couples who admitted to forgetting some things.
"It's been cool to see (feedback) from a different demographic," she said.
"Cheers to Eternity" opens with a fun, back-and-forth conversation of how Al and Ben Carraway met, got married and started a family. How they met and became engaged is especially entertaining.
While Ben was a full-time LDS missionary serving in Philadelphia he was allowed to proselyte online for an hour each day. It was there that he saw a video made by a blond girl with glasses named Al. He shared her video and they became friends.
Al was the first girl Ben called after he was released from his mission and in a short time they were dating. Their month-long courtship included many long drives and conversations.
As their relationship deepened, Ben wasn't bothered that Al "didn't look temple worthy" or that she "didn't come from a strong LDS family." In fact, he blindsided her with a fast marriage proposal atop Ensign Peak.
"I told him we couldn't get married because he hadn't even seen me mad yet!" Al wrote. "But what do you know, a few days later, I came around."
The week after they became engaged, Al published her hit blog post "The Tattooed Mormon." It received 1 million page views in one day. Ben had put a deposit down on a ring but almost called the whole thing off when he realized he was marrying a Mormon celebrity.
"She went from dozens of people who knew her to everyone knowing her and wanting her to come speak at a fireside," Ben wrote. "It was nuts. The same weekend the blog post was released, we went to general conference together and almost never made it home due to a line of people wanting to take their picture with her. I was off to the side by myself for two hours; I wasn't happy at all."
"We had our first argument that day. I'm glad we got that out of the way before we got married," Al wrote.
Eventually they worked things out and got married. Four years later, the couple have two children, Gracie and Christian. In addition to working full-time at LDS Church headquarters in social marketing, Al continues to write and is invited to speak at least six times a month around the country. She does it for free and covers her own travel expenses while Ben is considering where to pursue a master's degree.
"Time away from family is service," she said.
In the midst of their busy lives, they've learned lessons about being unselfish, communication, making time for physical and emotional intimacy, spiritual development, finances and resolving conflicts or problems. Remember your spouse is not a business partner, he is your best friend there to help you and make life an adventure, she said.
"We talk about some heavy stuff, things people shy away from like falling out of love with a spouse," Al Carraway said. "(The book) is a good balance of humor but also hard, serious things in a real way."
The main message is that marriage can be a happy blessing, Ben Carraway said.
"Some people get married and think the game is over, they have to change their lifestyle," he said. "I think marriage is cool because you have someone to go through life with you."
Al Carraway hopes the thoughts and ideas expressed in the book can serve as a wake-up call to live a better life and enhance a reader's marriage.
"When God gives us a resource like marriage why wouldn’t we use it? When God asks us to do something, it’s for the best. It’s to help us. It’s to make us happy," Al Carraway said. "If that’s not how we feel right now with our marriage, then some things need to change because that’s how it was intended to be — something to make us happier and help us."
If you go ...
What: Al Fox Caraway book signing
When: Saturday, Sept. 30, 6 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book — Flagship/Salt Lake Downtown, 45 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City