A lot can happen in a year. Some years seem to pass without much changing. Other years, you’d never guess at the beginning of it that your life would be completely different 365 days later. For me, this past year has been of the latter variety.
Today is the 365th day I’ve been keeping this blog. I started it because I felt like I needed a safe place to work out my thoughts and my confusion. I was just coming to the realization that the church I had believed in my entire life was not true. I was beginning to question almost everything that I thought I once knew. In the past 365 days, I’ve figured out quite a few things, changed my life in several fundamental ways, and confronted new questions that I’m still struggling to figure out. I thought I’d take a moment today to highlight a few of those things.
I picked out new underwear. Mormonism just plain isn’t true, folks. To most people, this isn’t really very shocking, but to a true believer like I was, this was devastating to learn. I had been a child of God; no, more than that, like Melchizedek of old, I had been a High Priest of the Most High God. I had been through the temple, participated in the most holy ordinance of a temple sealing, and had, together with my wife, earned my place as a King and Priest in His Kingdom if I would but continue faithful the remainder of my days. I would live together with God in eternal splendor and glory. And in just a few months of heart-aching study, all of those promises, all of those dreams dissipated under the hard light of reason. I had been among the few, the chosen, the elect. I had been the elite, and now I was just another nameless face lost amid the dredges of the mass of humanity. I took off my white magic Mormon underwear and donned the multicolored heathen boxer of the unbeliever. I folded up my garments, stacked them neatly in the drawer, and quietly shut the door on my eternal exaltation.
I bid adieu to a dear friend. If Mormonism wasn’t true, what else had I believed growing up that was going to prove false? Where else would I turn for truth? I examined the truth claims of the Bible and of mainstream Christianity, and found them just as lacking as the truth claims surrounding Mormonism. My world was falling apart even more. Where before I had a powerful and trusted ally who knew me completely and knew what was best for me and would work in my behalf, I was now abandoned. In how many lonely moments in the past year did my heart cry out to an empty sky? It was similar, I imagine, to losing a friend to death. In unassuming moments, in happy moments, in needy moments, my thoughts would seek out God, and only then would I remember that He was forever lost to me.
I opened my heart. If marriage was ordained of God, and God was a myth, what did that mean for marriage? Was it just society that told me I could love only in approved configurations? I was first a human, and second a member of society. To deny my feelings because other people thought I should–especially when they only thought I should because of social convention–no longer felt right to me. I decided that I would love whom I loved. While I would do so in a way that was as respectful as possible of other people’s feelings and desires, I would not be untrue to myself for the sole purpose of appeasing others.
I broke society’s rules. If I could love more than one person, and if my love wasn’t a finite quantity to be measured out in small doses and distributed to those close to me, then how could monogamy be the only valid way of developing deep and meaningful relationships with the people that come into my life? I discovered in polyamory a new approach to life that resonated with my understanding of myself and of other people. I rejected the tenets of monogamy and decided to live my life by my own relationship rules rather than those imposed upon me by society.
I became a pariah. By rejecting my faith, I became persona non grata among those whom I previously called my friends. By rejecting society’s normative relationship structure of monogamy, I became persona non grata among those who embraced monogamy as the ideal. In both cases, I experienced rejection and exclusion, sometimes overtly, but most often in much more subtle ways. This surprised me to some extent. And it saddened me more than I expected it to. Perhaps that was the most surprising thing about it–that after rejecting society’s mores I would then be saddened to be rejected in turn by those who hold to those mores.
I moved into a tiny apartment. When my wife continued to hold to the ideals of monogamy, our different approaches to life turned from a minor disagreement into irreconcilable differences. We decided that a separation was less painful than trying to live together, and so I found a little tiny place I hoped I’d be able to afford and moved in. Life has changed dramatically from being in a large house with lots of people and plenty of chaos to being in a tiny room that never gets disorganized. I went from rarely having a free moment to myself to almost going crazy from the now-ubiquitous solitude.
I divorced and lost a friend in the process. My wife and I divorced as we realized that we had fundamentally incompatible beliefs about what was important in life and in relationships. Since we both still loved each other, for some reason I thought we could continue to be friends. But apparently that isn’t the way it works. She was my closest and my longest friend. And now as I awkwardly interact with her as we handle co-parenting our children, I wonder if we will ever be friends again.
I broke promises. I did things I thought I’d never do. Things I promised myself I’d never do. I drank tea. I drank alcohol. I swore. I changed my mind about gay marriage. I divorced. I engaged in extramarital sex. I even voted democrat in a few races in the last election.
I struggle with existentialism. I moved from being a believer, to thinking I was agnostic, to finally becoming more comfortable with the atheist label. Now, though, I’m becoming a little hesitant to define myself in terms of what I’m not. I don’t believe in god, but what do I believe in? I’m drawn to secular humanism as probably the only reasonable path forward for society that also maintains the morality and goodness that some people claim comes only from religion. But I’m also drawn to the logic of hedonism, even though it’s probably almost as maligned and misunderstood as atheism. And some days I can’t help but wonder if there is even any reason to keep breathing. Suicide sometimes seems like a logically valid response to the realities of the universe. But even as I admire the soundness of its logic, I find I can’t quite embrace it, because the fact is that I want to live. I’m emotionally invested in continuing my existence, even as bewildered and meaningless as it sometimes feels.
I wonder about balance. There is a scale somewhere that weighs the needs and desires of society against those of the individual. I find myself questioning what the proper balance is. When my desires and the desires of others conflict, is it my duty to step aside? My tendency is to do so. But I don’t think it’s always a defensible position. I think the individual has as much right to seek his or her own happiness as society itself does. And since society is stronger in many ways, the individual plays the part of the underdog most of the time. While I don’t know if I’ve settled on where the balance point lies, I find myself constantly thinking about it.
I keep trying. There are countless examples and innumerable theories about what monogamy looks like and how it works. Anyone who wants to engage in monogamy has a pretty clear path forward, as defined by current cultural norms. Yet so far there isn’t really a consensus on how to make polyamory work. We aren’t surrounded by people who are working toward the same thing and who provide support and examples of both success and failure. In addition, those of us who are trying to figure out how to live a polyamorous lifestyle also have to contend with sometimes deeply ingrained cultural training toward monogamy. We’re not only up against society and its prevalent standards, but are often unwittingly up against ourselves as well. Yet what can I do but keep at it? I’ll either get it or I won’t. And the times when I don’t, hopefully at least I learn something, so I can keep trying.
I’m a different person today from the one I was a year ago. While it’s impossible in just a few words to fully explore what this past year has brought me, I feel like those are the highlights of the past three hundred sixty-five days. I’m eager to see what the next 365 bring. I have gone through a lot of changes, and I’m not sure I’m done yet. Is it any wonder my ex-wife doesn’t feel she knows me anymore? Who will I be another year from now?
In some ways it’s scary. I’ve spent a lot of time this year wondering if I even know who I am anymore. Knowing that I may yet change both frightens and thrills me. I want to be able to define myself according to my own terms. I want to base my decisions on what I believe. I’m happy I understand I no longer have to try to fit myself into a box that someone else designed. I’m becoming more comfortable accepting myself just as I am, rather than trying to force myself to be someone I’m not.
I’m me. I’m not perfect. I’m not the smartest, not the strongest, not the best. I’m just me. And that’s enough.