When we first got together, I loved the feelings of safety and security I felt when I was with him. He seemed to have all the answers to life’s big problems. Nothing felt insurmountable with him by my side, guiding and directing me, making it easy to ignore the chaos of the outside world. It felt good to envision my future, our future, together. Back then, if you had told me that he would someday break my heart, I would not have believed you. Our love, a love that began with pioneer ancestors and grew strong at Girl’s Camp testimony meetings and filled the margins of worn scriptures, our love was the real deal.
Plus, my parents loved him.
I don’t know when I started to notice the tiny annoyances. Every relationship has its quirks, after all. He doesn't put the toilet seat down; she never calls when she’s running late. Nothing we couldn't overcome. Nothing he couldn't explain away, nothing I couldn't pray away, nothing I couldn't fix with an increase in righteousness.
It’s not like he was mean. Even when he bothered me, I knew he did it because he loved me. Like sometimes, always so lovingly, he would speak for me. Answering questions in my behalf, and worse, answering my questions wrong.
Sometimes I wondered if he even knew me. If he really knew me, he wouldn't say those things about gay people, or working moms, or the ERA. One time he said he felt threatened by feminists. One time he said women who dressed “immodestly” (I still don’t know why he hates shoulders and knees so much,) were like “walking pornography.” I didn't have the heart to tell him I liked the way my shoulders felt in a sleeveless shirt, how I smiled every time a new freckle appeared after spending too much time in the sun. I couldn't tell him I was a feminist, because I couldn't stand the idea of not being together. I loved him so much, how could he see me as a threat?
Plus, all my friends loved him.
Sometimes he wouldn't let me talk to my friends. He promised to pass the message along to God (so long as I paid my tithing,) and in the temple, he sent a message through my husband. When I asked him why, he told me it was because I was special. I liked feeling special, so I wondered if I really need to be equal. After all, all good relationships require compromise.
But one day I wore pants and someone called me fat (apostate!) and he didn't say a word, and I could tell he kind of agreed. That wasn't a compromise! How do you stay with someone who says you look fat (apostate!) in those pants?
He’s seeing someone else now. She’s nineteen, and he showers her with gifts. Mission calls earlier than ever before, blessings of the priesthood (without the responsibility of holding it! How chivalrous!) He tells her she’s incredible. I tell her she doesn't know what she’s getting into. I didn't know. I didn't know what it meant to go through the temple at age 20. I didn't know what I was promising when I told him I’d never leave, and he promised me the world, maybe even my own world.
Plus, I loved him.
Sometimes he dates feisty Mormon feminists. I see their pictures all over Facebook, and it hurts to see he’s moved on so quickly. She promises that he’ll change if she just loves him enough. I shake my head. Women always think they can change their man. But he gives her a prayer, and he broadcasts the Priesthood session (and even though that’s not what she asked for, she thanks him profusely, because she loves him.)
Maybe someday he will change. I imagine running into him at the park. He’ll be on the playground with his wife and their kids, and he won’t preside and she’ll bless the baby, and they’ll be happy. I’ll wonder, “what if?” What if I’d waited just a little longer, what if I’d just been a little more patient, maybe it would be me. I’d be the one blessing the baby. What if?
Even when you know you’re not meant to be, you never forget your first love.
I remind myself, as all single girls do, that it is important to enjoy being single. I’m dating myself these days, thanks very much. Maybe someday I’ll even feel that thrill of anticipation as I go on a first date with someone new. Someone who doesn't answer for me, who counts the freckles on my shoulders after a long summer day, and isn't threatened by my gender or my power.
Or I’ll grow old all on my own. Surrounded by friends who still answer my calls without an intermediary (I lost a lot of friends in the break up, but not God, so that’s good.) Who see me as special and equal. I’ll get a cat or take a trip. I’ll be okay.
And someday, maybe, I’ll even see him as my friend. We’ll laugh about our crazy young love, and joke about how disastrous it would have been to stay together. I’ll wish him and his wife well, and I’ll mean it. After all, I loved him.