Yesterday I got home from work and the first thing Wife said to me was, “How did you like her haircut?” I didn’t fully hear the question, and thought maybe she was asking how I liked Wife’s haircut, so I stood there for a second looking at her and finally, not seeing anything different, realized maybe she was talking about Daughter. “Whose?” I asked. “Don’t tell me you didn’t see it. How did you like it?” Confused, I again asked, “Whose?” She again replied, “I know you saw it. She probably sent you a picture.” I asked, “Who?” and she said, “You really didn’t see it? She cut it all off. As short as a boy’s haircut.” I said, “Are you talking about Girlfriend?” And she said, “Yes. Are you telling me the truth? She didn’t send you a picture?”
That’s the problem with not being completely honest. Now she doesn’t know whether to believe me. “I haven’t had any communication with her since Saturday. She hasn’t sent me anything.”
I saw her a little later. I went to the church for the youth activities, and she was there picking up her son. She was almost unrecognizable. If I hadn’t known what her car looked like and that she had gotten a haircut, I’m not sure I would have known it was her. Her sunglasses were on, and though I stopped for a second across the street from her car, she didn’t acknowledge my presence. I didn’t get a very good look, because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself standing and staring at her, and I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. So while I didn’t see her very well, I thought she looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.
Later that evening, Wife and I went to see the Stake President. He wanted to talk alone with Wife first. She was in his office for nearly 40 minutes. When she came out, she looked very angry and when she saw me she rolled her eyes. I wasn’t sure what to do. She walked briskly away toward the main doors, and I asked her if she wanted the keys. She whirled around, said, “Can I have just a minute?” and went back into his office for another five minutes or so. When she came out again, she looked just as angry as the first time. I asked again if she wanted the keys, or if she wanted us both to go, but she ignored me, and the President invited me into his office.
His focus in the interview was on the marriage. I thought was a little odd how he was treating the subject like it was a sure thing that our marriage was headed straight to divorce. I didn’t know what they had talked about, but was surprised at how dire the situation sounded. He didn’t specifically say it was dire, but the way he talked about working on it, I got the impression that things were much worse than I had known. He asked if I wanted to start over on marriage. I didn’t understand if he meant to get a divorce and find someone else or if he meant to start over on the current one, to press the reset button so to speak. He assured me he meant the current marriage, and we spent some time talking about that.
I assured him that while we didn’t have a perfect marriage, I felt we had a strong marriage, and that I didn’t think any of our problems, although difficult, were unsolvable. He wanted me to commit to working on the marriage, and I said that I would. He asked a few questions of me that I felt were probably clarifications he was seeking from his interview with Wife, and I thought that was a bit odd, but I answered as best I could.
He then asked me to put the letter on hold, saying that there were probably a lot of things in the mix and that it would be better to focus on the marriage and leave the question of my membership on hold for a while. I told him that I was willing to consider that, that in fact I had originally not intended to submit the letter this quickly, and that I didn’t see any harm in taking a little more time. But I also pointed out that I didn’t expect anything to change, that if his goal was to wait so that I would maybe eventually not want to leave the church, that there was no point in leaving the letter for later. He assured me that he didn’t have any expectations, but throughout the rest of the interview, he kept making comments expressing hope that I would still be a member. I told him that although I didn’t want to accuse him of manipulating me, that I didn’t want to think back on this interview and feel that I had been manipulated into postponing my resignation from the church. He assured me that I was in control of that part of the process, but that he wanted me to put it on hold so that I could focus more completely on the marriage. That in the meantime, I could choose my level of activity in the church, and I could proceed with the resignation at whatever point I wanted.
I asked him what he thought were the benefits of postponing my resignation, asking specifically what would happen with my calling if I remained a member. He then issued a release and told me that they would make the change in the ward on June 17th. He told me that I was welcome to be there, and that he usually asked the departing counselor to say a few words. I told him that I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything that he would be comfortable having me say, so he agreed that he wouldn’t ask me or the new counselor to speak. In response, I told him that I’d probably like to be there for it, although thinking about it some more today, I’m not so sure any more. He thanked me very sincerely for my service, and reassured me that he didn’t care about what anyone in the ward thought, he didn’t care about having to find a new counselor for the bishop, that his whole focus was on what was best for me, and said again that I could be as active as I wanted to be in the ward.
From there he went back to the marriage, and asked if I would be comfortable inviting Wife back in for a few minutes so that he could talk to both of us together. We opened the door and didn’t see her there, and wondered briefly if she had left. She was sitting in the foyer, jotting down notes, and reluctantly agreed to join us, but again asked for a private interview first. I waited a few minutes, and then joined my wife. The Stake President apologized to both of us for his role in offending her, and said that his intention was not to offend, but to help. He then lectured us a while about marriage, repeating most of what he had said to me earlier. He kept drawing a triangle on the table with his hands, and saying that the beauty of eternal marriage is that we each first create a strong bond upward to Christ at the top of the triangle and then form a strong bond laterally to each other. Then as we get closer to Christ, we will also end up drawing nearer each other. I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t help but think, “And how does it work if one of the partners doesn’t believe in Christ?”
He might have finally sensed or realized that, because then when he drew the triangle again, he spoke about the three legs of a stool being faith, hope, and charity, and how the stool would fall without one of the legs. I think the idea was that I was eroding the faith leg, and maybe that Wife was eroding the hope leg, and so we’d better really focus on the charity leg, or something like that. He made it sound much nicer than I am able to. Honestly. He said that he was hoping that we could delay any more erosion on the faith thing for a while by ignoring the letter, and then later if the marriage was strong again we could take another look at the letter.
I took that as an opportunity to talk about the letter again. I think he had just assumed that we would delay it without seeking confirmation that it was okay with me. I asked again what would be the point of delaying the inevitable. He said that he felt that we shouldn’t act in haste, that perhaps all these things I was going through in my life at this time were not completely responsible for my questions about the church but that it would be unwise to reject them as factors in my decision, and that taking things slowly wouldn’t do any harm and might do some good. He said, “You can’t say with certainty what you’re going to want in a year. Let’s not undo something that will require us to jump through a lot of hoops to fix later.” Then almost as an afterthought he added, “And be careful. You don’t want to do anything that would require church discipline later. Yes, it’s fixable. Everything’s fixable through Christ. But don’t make mistakes you’ll regret later.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I think the assumption is that if you don’t have the church, or even a belief in it, you can’t possibly make moral decisions on your own.
He never did give me an opportunity to say that I was okay with him not taking action on the letter. I stressed that I didn’t see much difference between resigning now or in a month from now or in a year from now, and didn’t really see the point in waiting since the letter was already written. But I did agree that being unduly hasty can lead to mistakes. He assured me that it would be easier to focus on my marriage without the added stress of my church membership, and that was pretty much all that was said about it. I could have brought it up again, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have. Maybe next time.
He asked us about our willingness to make the marriage work. I expressed my optimism that we had a great marriage and that we could work through this. Wife said everything was great except that I was only committed to her 90%, and that Girlfriend had part of my heart. While I was thinking of how to respond to that, the President jumped on her and told her that she needed to be more understanding of what I was going through. I appreciated the sentiment, but I thought his approach was a little abrupt. It felt in a way like we two men were uniting against her, and I didn’t want her to have a bad taste in her mouth about that. Women have little enough say in the church as it is. I didn’t want her to feel that men get off easy on things. But when I said something about that, she dismissed it immediately, so I don’t know if that was a concern of hers or not.
Ultimately, she said that the church part has nothing to do with her dissatisfaction in our marriage. That she only wants my heart, and she wants all of it. I couldn’t say anything but that she didn’t have all of it, and that I was willing to work on that, but that when I felt she was forcing me and giving me no control over my life, that it was harder to want to turn to her alone. I didn’t know how to say it, but I kept wondering how they expected me to completely turn away from someone who has been a beautiful part of my life. Just ignore her? Pretend she’s dead? I don’t have any better ideas, but I just don’t feel those are very reasonable approaches. How do you stop liking someone that you like just because you weren’t supposed to have started liking her in the first place? I don’t know how to do it.
The Stake President asked me if I thought depression played any role in what was going on. I told him that I was generally a very happy person. That perhaps recently I had seen a few signs that could possibly be indicative of depression, but that I saw those as symptoms rather than the cause of my questions about the church. I told him I thought it was completely understandable to experience some amount of depression when you find out that everything you believed your entire life wasn’t true. He told me that I had lost hope in the gospel, and I realized that I had lost more than that. “I’ve also lost any hope of eternal reward,” I told him. “I believe now that this life is all we have, and I’m not as willing to make sacrifices now and get the rewards in the next life. I want to live my life the way I want to.” And then I realized: “And I don’t even know what I want. All my life I’ve only wanted what I thought I was supposed to want.”
But Wife was immediately helpful: “You want Girlfriend.” And I realized she was right. But at what cost? I don’t know if I’m willing to pay the price in terms of the happiness of my children, or even that of my wife. And I know that she isn’t willing to pay that kind of price in her own life for me. So what’s the point? It’s not a choice that is open to me. So I said, “I want you, Wife.” She replied, “Only 90%.” I agreed. “90%.”
The Stake President gave us each an assignment and said he’d see us in a week. My assignment was to research depression and see if I would benefit from medical intervention. I’ve done that. I’ve taken a few online self-assessments, which I realize are by no means conclusive, but even when I was generous in my troubles, it said I was not likely a candidate for antidepressants, but that if I thought the test was wrong to consult with a qualified medical professional. When I answered more honestly (or perhaps more dishonestly, since I admit I could be fooling myself about my happiness), I was completely on the not-depressed side of things. I’d say I’m just experiencing life, and handling it rather well, at that.
I’m still a Mormon, though. Oh well. As long as they don’t expect anything from me because of it….