I’m back in the LDS ward I grew up in, and my mortifying teenaged past haunts me. Help?

Dear AMG:

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? 


Dear Mortified:

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?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.




Filed under Love, Mormon Youth, social connectedness

6 responses to “I’m back in the LDS ward I grew up in, and my mortifying teenaged past haunts me. Help?

  1. RachelJL

    This may or may not help, depending on his relatives:
    Try and remember that those four people, although related to him, aren’t him. Hopefully they won’t talk about him when you’re around. I’ve been very grateful that, since my divorce about seven years ago, my ex-husband’s relatives don’t talk with me about him. We keep our conversations about my kids, their kids, their lives, etc. I know all situations aren’t that ideal, and I do count my blessings for it.

    When I went through my divorce with my ex-husband (and I use that situation because I think it might have some similarities), I vowed I wouldn’t say anything negative about him to others, whether they knew him or not, except with those whom I’d chosen to help me get through things. It’s helped me a lot. Although these people are related to him, hopefully they don’t have all the same character traits that he had back then, and if they do, hopefully not in the same amount. As you work with them, try to see their good qualities, and to stay focused on them. If they do have not so positive characteristics in them that bother you, use your husband or other friends as a sounding board to keep you on track and in perspective so that you can deal with it, if you’re afraid your own perspective might be out of focus. If they are a bit on the defensive because of the past, if they see that you want to move past it, they may be more than willing to move past it too.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’re stronger than you know. And don’t be afraid to lean on others.

  2. Linary Kingdon

    Wow! I’m sorry both of you experienced such drama. Good advice, Mormon Girl. Life….it’s just so……sometimes odd, sometimes fascinating, sometimes terrible, sometimes wonderful, etc, etc. I say enjoy the happy times as much as possible and during the hard/sad/whatever may be going on that is less than comfortable times, remember the good times and believe they’ll come again. And yeah, don’t let others and their potential judgments impact you. If they’re passing judgments, they’ve still got some personal work they need to do. Maybe just set a good example and be patient with them.

  3. chris

    Well, I suppose you could consider this following in the footsteps of Jesus! (?)

    “a prophet hath no honour in his own country.”

  4. Ted Michael Morgan

    Wow, you don’t even have to be Mormon or a girl to affirm this response. Bless you, each of you.

  5. John Paladin

    Great answer Joanna

  6. Mommy2Bof3

    I know this is a few months late, but I had a VERY similar situation. I dated a guy for 2 years before he went on his mission. He had actually proposed to me before he left, and we were “unofficially engaged.” 6 months into the mission, he wrote me a letter telling me to date other people and, if I was still around when he got back, we’d pick up where we left off. I was super close with his mom, brothers, and his little sisters were the little sisters I never had. I mean, his mom and I had been picking out rings and wedding dresses and such before I got that letter! I was devastated, but decided to go ahead and do as he had asked. I got accepted to BYU, dated here and there, and when I came home for summer break I met my husband. While we dated, my husband and I would attend my home ward, often sitting in the pew behind or in front of my ex-missionary’s family due to the small size of our building. Thankfully, I went back to Utah after a few agonizing weeks. My husband and I got married 3 weeks before this missionary got home, and his homecoming was the same weekend as our reception. AWKWARD. Especially when the bishop of our ward (who the missionary and I had been extremely close to our whole lives) got up and asked us both to stand up. He then said this: “Two years ago, I had these two young people in my office. I asked them where they wanted to be in two years. *Missionary* said that he wanted to be returning with honor from a 2 year mission, and *Me* said that she would like to be preparing to enter the temple. Now they stand before us, a missionary returning with honor, and a young bride who just went through the temple and was sealed for all of eternity. These young people had goals and they achieved them. I encourage all of the youth here today to make the same goals and strive to achieve them.” Now, I know the bishop meant well, but this was a SMALL, tight knit community. EVERYONE knew of this missionary’s and my prior engagement, none of them (except his family) knew of the “Dear Jane” letter I received from him, and it was just so mortifying to stand there in the spotlight with someone I had at one time been sure I was going to marry. My husband and I (thankfully) lived out of state and were only home for that weekend, but we’ve since moved back to my home ward. I thought it would be just as horrifying as before, seeing as HE now lived in the ward with his new wife. My husband finally told me to calm down. He said that I was probably the only one making a big deal about it. He also said that by worrying and dwelling on how they saw me was distracting me from feeling the Spirit. And he was right. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a little awkward at first, because it was. But I did as my husband suggested and focused on the Spirit. His mom and I have rekindled our friendship, his little sisters still come to me for advice, and his wife and I are friends. It isn’t awkward anymore, because we all know that we are where the Lord wanted us to be.

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