The ancient pantheon
I was 23, so I don’t feel I can definitely say that I married too young. But I feel I probably married too inexperienced. I can count on one hand the number of girls I dated seriously–that is, those to whom I felt able to say “I love you.” And on both hands the number of girls I dated at all. I didn’t know myself very well. And I feel I didn’t know much about life, to say nothing of girls.
But I’m not going to blame the dissolution of my marriage on either my age or inexperience. Not that I necessarily hold them blameless, but rather that’s not the topic I want to address today. Instead, I want to talk a little about one particular member of my personal ancient pantheon of girls I dated. She was 22 years old and she was my Greek Goddess.
I met her while I was in Spain serving a mission for the church. Yes. I was a Mormon missionary. It pains me to admit it now. Feel free to ridicule me if it makes you feel better. But I was firm in my belief and ardent in my desire to serve my Savior by bringing souls unto him. As a missionary, I had dedicated two years of my life to the service of Christ’s only true church.
So when I met her, I couldn’t pursue a relationship with her. She was half Greek and half who-knows-what. The Greek is what stood out. She had an exotic beauty. She was optimistic and outgoing and always cheerful. She had a natural charisma. When I was around her, I always simply felt good. And she, too, was a missionary. During the last four months or so of my mission, she and I were assigned to work in the same city.
I was enthralled with her, so of course I studiously ignored her.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but she thought I hated her. She thought I didn’t approve of her. But really, I was just trying to observe the mission rules. That and I was really nervous around her. So when she would try to talk to me from time to time, I would answer as tersely as possible and excuse myself as soon as opportunity arose.
When it was time for me to leave the mission, I told her that it would not be against the rules for a current missionary to write a letter to or receive a letter from a returned missionary. That was probably about the longest sentence I had uttered to her. When I arrived home a few weeks later, there was a letter waiting for me. From the Greek Goddess.
I wrote back. We exchanged a few letters in the following months until it was time for her to return from the mission as well. And after that, we called each other on the phone. And then I flew out to meet her. Our first date. We hit it off pretty well.
I spent that summer dating her. We lived two states away, so we weren’t constantly in each other’s presence, but we talked on the phone often and we each visited the other a couple of times. Things were starting to get serious between us.
And then we broke up.
I don’t remember the exact details. She was getting tired of my inability to make a commitment to her. I was still pining over the girl whom I would eventually marry, a girl who was currently out serving her own mission. I was also a little worried about something else. The chemistry between me and the Greek Goddess was undeniable, and I was supposed to be a good little Mormon boy who didn’t even think about physical intimacy until after marriage. I was ultra conservative at the time, and I was bothered by the fact that when I was with her I wanted to do things that I had promised God I wouldn’t do before marriage.
So I’m not sure exactly how it happened. She kind of broke up with me and I kind of broke up with her. But probably it was more me breaking up with her. It was the first time I had ever broken up with a girl. I didn’t know how to do it. I was afraid of hurting her. So I totally bungled it. I blamed her for my burgeoning desire for physical contact. I took no responsibility for my own physical desires or for my inability to make a commitment to her while I still had unresolved feelings for another girl. I felt bad at the time, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
I was married a year later. I didn’t talk to her again. For years. I had children. I lived my life. I mostly tried to forget her. I wanted to apologize to her, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know if she’d be accepting of an apology. I thought of her from time to time, especially when I was feeling unloved or unappreciated by my wife. I knew it wouldn’t have been that way with the Greek Goddess. But I was still a good little Mormon boy. I pushed her out of my mind. I didn’t contact her.
But then I decided I was polyamorous. I got divorced. Suddenly I had no external reason not to contact her.
Only fear. What if she had been hating me all these years for the gracelessness with which I handled our breakup? What if the way I had treated her had thrown her into a depression and she had gotten mixed up with drugs and ruined her life because of me? (Hey, give me a moment to be egocentric. I might have been that good.) What if she were unhappily married and by contacting her I somehow convinced her to leave her husband? Or, maybe worse yet, what if I contacted her and she didn’t want to leave her husband? Or was she even married? What was her life like? Would she appreciate hearing from me? Or would I only complicate things for her?
But I finally contacted her last week. I tracked her down on a social media website. I “followed” her. She responded almost immediately. And it was a positive response. We exchanged a few messages and then she gave me her email address. We exchanged a few emails and then she gave me her phone number. I called. And the Greek Goddess answered the phone and transported me back to when I was 22 and madly in love with her and desperately trying to figure out what to do with my life.
I don’t know. In life, there are a lot of what ifs. You can drive yourself crazy with the what ifs. Even at the time, I was feeling very conflicted about my choices. There were some very appealing things about the Greek Goddess. She loved me intensely. She understood me. And I knew without a doubt that she would dedicate herself completely to me. I feel I could have married her.
And looking back, maybe I should have. Seeing how things turned out with my wife, maybe it would have been better, for both my wife and for me, if I had married the Greek Goddess instead. And maybe it also would have been better for the Greek Goddess. What if.
And you can’t beat yourself up over should-haves. Or could-haves. My life is the way it is because of choices that I and others made. I have things in my life that I treasure because of those choices. Things I wouldn’t have if I had made different choices. I have wonderful, beautiful, amazing children. Different choices would probably have given me children still. But different children. No doubt still beautiful. No doubt still wonderful. No doubt still amazing. But different. And it’s hard to want things that you love to be different.
Things that you don’t love? Yes. Give me different. But when that would also change the good things in life? That’s a tougher choice.
It’s also a completely academic choice, because it’s not one that can be made. I can’t go back. Even if I wanted to.
But in a way, at least in my mind, at least for a little while, I went back and imagined a different life. A life that involved the Greek Goddess.
We had a poignant conversation. It was bittersweet. It was difficult. And it was surprisingly easy. But most of all, it was healing. I learned a little about her life since I had last seen her, and I shared a little of my life. I learned what she had thought of me all these years. And I had a chance to tell her what I thought of her. We had never really given ourselves the chance to find a sense of closure, a sense of resolution of the love that we had shared that summer so many years ago.
And now, finally, we gave ourselves permission to have the conversation that allowed for that resolution.
And when it was over, we walked away. She returned to the solidity of her life, to her husband, to her beautiful children, to her religion, and to her monogamy. I returned to the uncertainty of my life. Our lives didn’t change because of it. But I think we both appreciated the opportunity to take the question mark that we had both felt in our lives at the other’s absence and replace it with a period.
I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe that any kind of god orchestrates our lives and makes everything work out in the end. I don’t believe that the mistakes we make in life were inevitable or that we’re better off for having made them. I don’t believe any of it, despite the fact that all of these things would be very comforting to believe. All I really know is that I wouldn’t even have to become a theist again to want to spare a thought–to want to touch my fingertips to my forehead and to my heart–every time I pass an altar dedicated to one of the Greek gods. Or goddesses.