“I want out of my marriage,” my friend recently told me. “But I can’t. Nobody will let me. I feel so much guilt even thinking about it.” I didn’t respond. I’ve learned it’s just best to let people keep talking sometimes. “I’ve wanted out since the beginning. We knew it wasn’t right when we got married and it’s never been right since, no matter how hard we both try or how much we both give. The whole world thinks we have this perfect marriage and we don’t.”
I knew exactly how he felt.
And then he said something that haunts me still. “Why isn’t it my life to do what I want with?”
“There’s no way,” a different friend said to me so matter of factly one day. “My mom and dad would never forgive me. My brother would freak out on me. They’d all hate me.” She was talking about her desire to leave her church behind in search for a truth that she deep down felt existed elsewhere.
Somebody else I am friends with confessed to me the secret life she lives. The life that makes her truly happy. The life she hides from everybody she loves. Because those who love her would never accept her if they knew.
“I hate this job. I can’t stand coming to work every day. I wish I could start over and pick a different path,” my colleague once lamented during a business lunch. “How did I end up here?”
“I got married when I was 19,” another friend once said. “I was a kid. Why should I have to be stuck in a life that I don’t want based on a decision I once made when I was so young and naïve? I didn’t know anything about the world back then. I didn’t know what I really wanted. And now I’m stuck. And I’m married to someone who feels the same way.”
I could go on. For pages. But you get the gist.
Over the past two years, I’ve learned that there are a lot of unhappy people in this world who feel completely stuck in their current situations. They feel trapped by the guilt that comes from those who surround them. They feel chained down by the expectations of others. They feel so small as all of the “perfect” people around them tell them exactly what life should be, how they should think, and how they should behave.
And most of us don’t even know it.
Most of us don’t see the people around us for what they’re really feeling. For who they really are. For who they really long to be.
So many of us have become masters of disguise. We’ve learned to pretend to believe, to act, and to be the very things we doubt, dislike, or even despise. And we do it for two reasons.
We do it to avoid the judgment of others. And we do it to maintain the support of others. The entire human race has evolved in this dysfunctional way.
I left my church a couple years ago. A church that I had been born into and if I’m being honest, one that I had seen do much good in this world. I got divorced months after that from a really beautiful woman. A few months after that, I walked away from a career that I had been building for more than six years. It was a lucrative and successful career.
And for the next 18 months or so, it was a struggle. Spirituality was difficult as I experimented to find what I really believed. Love was impossible as I learned quickly that there is more to love than a pretty face. Money was non-existent as I struggled to learn how to turn this new writing path into any kind of a paycheck.
And to understand why it was all so worth it, perhaps I should rewind a little further and paint a picture of what brought me to such moments.
I was born into an LDS family. And not just “kind of” LDS. An extremely LDS family. There was no question of how we were to live. It was laid out for us every jot and tittle. And if we didn’t live it, we paid for it. My parents were also born into extremely LDS families. And I’m pretty sure my parents’ parents were as well. And so in this family (immediate and extended), it’s just the way it’s done. Nobody questions. Out loud, anyway.
When I got married again, it was to an extremely beautiful woman. When you’re LDS, sex before marriage is a big no-no. And I’ll tell you this much… When you’re not allowed to have sex before you’re married, it’s amazing how fast you not only think you fall in love with a person, but you become convinced that you need to spend the rest of your life with them. Your desire for one another becomes so intense that you become certain you’ve found your soul mate.
And so it was with us, and we got married. And we finally got to… you know… And when we got that out of our systems, we suddenly saw each other without a wall of hormones coloring our perception of one another. And what we saw wasn’t what we thought we would.
And my job… As much as I was getting paid, I hated it. I had loved my career to that point, but before that job I was working in more hands-on management positions, running and hiring teams, training managers, working with others every single day… it was incredible fun. I’m a people person. But my new job left me sitting in my office alone all day every day doing the job of ten men.
And I didn’t enjoy it. And then I’d go home to a wife that I didn’t like and who didn’t like me. And I’d pretend to be a strong member of a religion that nobody knew I didn’t believe in.
Because, you see, where I lived, people make good money and nobody ever struggles financially. Where I lived, people do not get divorced. For any reason. Where I lived, people do not leave their religion. They don’t even question it.
Because when they do, it is social suicide. The rumors start. The whispering takes over.
It was my neighborhood. My friends. My family. And none of them even realized it. Or at least they didn’t talk about it. And I was as big a part of that as anyone else.
And eventually I couldn’t breathe anymore. And something happened one day that triggered some very life changing and unobscurable emotions within.
I came home from church and told my wife the words I had been desperate to say for at least sixteen years.
“I don’t want to be a Mormon anymore. I don’t believe it. I never have. And I’m done.”
That was the first truly brave thing I think I’ve ever said.
The next bravest words were, “I don’t want to be married anymore.”
And then finally, “I am turning in my two weeks notice.”
And I’ll tell you right now. A lot of the world thought I was wrong in each of those decisions. A lot of the world thought I was going down a horrible road. A lot of the world thought me a quitter, weak, and lost. Many there were who thought the devil had gotten me once and for all. A lot of the world did put pressure on me to change, come back, or be the person they thought I should be.