I was raised Presbyterian in Tennessee, started dating a Mormon boy, and was baptized in August 2003 at the age of 17. I dated him for two years, until I found out he had been cheating with numerous other girls–and in a town this small, everyone knew but me. I was embarrassed and hurt, and I hightailed it to Utah. I am now 25. After graduating from BYU, I have moved back to this small town in Tennessee and am now living in the ward I was baptized in with my husband of two years. (My ex-boyfriend eventually served a mission and is now happily married.) But I am still mortified to be surrounded by his mother, cousin, brother, aunts and uncles, and friends. My family is here, and I have a job with benefits, so I can’t move. But I serve on the ward Christmas party committee, and four out of six women on the committee are related to my ex-boyfriend! I know this sounds childish, but it really is driving me crazy. Help?
Let me tell you a true story. There once was a Mormon boy who was cute and smart and perfect, and a Mormon girl in his ward who was a few years younger and also cute and smart. And from the time she was seven years old, the girl was totally crushed out on the boy. Dedicated. Destroyed. Wrote about him in her journal. With hearts and stars around his name. Froze when he whispered witty remarks under his breath during Sacrament Meeting. Fast forward: same ward, eight years later. On the eve of leaving for college, after dating every other no-count female in the stake, boy shows up on girl’s doorstep and admits that he might like her back. And what does she do? Fifteen year-old girl fumbles. Miserably. Then cries. Fast forward: same ward, eight additional years later. Mormon boy’s mother holds a wedding reception for her son and his new bride. Mormon girl is too nauseous to attend. Fast forward another decade, stake reunion: Mormon girl has a smashingly happy marriage and an interesting, adventure-filled life. She enters stake youth reunion prepared to exhibit smashing happiness and adventurousness but finds herself instead utterly speechless when Mormon boy strikes up a conversation at the punch bowl.
Ah, wards. The small towns of Mormondom. No matter how far I travel, when I return to the Orange, California Stake, I might as well be fifteen years old and sporting a bad perm. And I tell you this story from the Ask Mormon Girl personal archive to help you feel not so alone. Inside every one of us lives an utterly mortified teenaged girl. You can move across the city. Grow out your perm. Dye your hair. Change your name. Marry. Travel the world. Earn degrees. Win prizes. But she lives on—awkward, moody, embarrassed, and self-despising. And ready to leap out at the most untimely moments. There’s nothing we can do but pity her, pity ourselves, have a good laugh with a girlfriend, and then move on.
But there’s a crucial difference between your story and mine. I was mortified by my own desperately poor communication skills. You were mortified by the rank perfidy of a no-good boyfriend! You were a sweet young thing, and he was a lothario! You have nothing to be ashamed of! And you have returned to your hometown victorious: with a husband, a job, and (most impressively) health benefits! You win! When you enter that ward Christmas party in a few weeks, I want you to say a few reassuring words to that mortified teenager inside of you, but forbid her to speak. Hold your head up high. Be your most charming and delightful self. Behold your ex’s relatives with a regal but undetectable form of condescension. They are, after all, the relatives of the young scoundrel who ruined his family name by running around with all the girls in town, and you are the girl he wronged years ago, and this, my dear, gives you one of the most powerful forms of cultural currency in the Mormon universe: rightness. Use it sparingly, and with mercy, for you must remember that inside every one of them too there lives a mortified, self-loathing teenager. We all have embarrassing elements of our pasts. The most gracious gift we can bestow upon our fellow wardmembers—the fellow inmates of our Mormon small towns—is to pretend we remember only the good parts. We call that gift dignity. Claim it!
What about you, dear readers? Any mortifying moments your inner LDS fifteen year-old is dying to admit? What words of courage do you have for Mortified?
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