Overall, my transition from religious to not religious went relatively smoothly. In the middle of so many changes, letting go of my faith was in many ways the most liberating and the least confusing. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that it took so long.
When I realized what was happening, I told my friends, because that’s what I do. This was a major thing for me to tell people. I was frightened of how they would react. I was nervous about having to defend my choices, when they still felt so new and raw to me. I could understand why the few Christian friends I still had left might feel any number of things. They might feel betrayed or deserted, they might feel shocked, angry. I didn’t really know. Big changes are hard to cope with.
But I live my life more or less all in a single piece. If you know me, you know all of me. I’ve gained a few more layers over the last few years. There are a few things that maybe only certain people know, and maybe even a few things that I keep to myself, but for the most part I expect this will always be true. Being my friend is being a part of the journey I’m on. I don’t really know what TMI is and I can easily divulge what seems like very personal information without actually being all that personal. I process by talking. I can show you my thoughts without showing you my feelings. It allows me to say a great deal and sometimes not actually be saying that much. But that’s not what this was.
To tell my friends about what had happened, I would have to tell them about my feelings. I would have to tell them that I was nervous and afraid. I would need to explain but they would need to know more than my thoughts here. It seemed only fair.
I agonized over it for a few weeks, maybe close to a month. For me this is essentially forever. I had a group of people who needed to know. About 8 people in all. Most of them got emails. The only ones who got face to face conversations were my brothers, and they had to wait longer before I was brave enough for those.
For the most part it worked out okay. A couple of my friends had a harder time with it than others, but we’ve hesitantly worked through it. Sometimes when I go to dinner it’s awkward but it’s okay. Most of my friends were amazing and supportive and wonderful. Overall I found out what wonderful people I had in my life. But there was one thing I didn’t see coming.
I lost two friends.
I really never thought that would happen. And understand, it wasn’t angry or an immediate writing me off. Initially I just got awkward emails back. They were “concerned about the emotional risks” in my current romantic relationship (a concern that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, given that it seems like you run an emotional risk in any relationship, whether it’s monogamous or not). They admitted they were surprised. That it would be hard to adjust to because, after all, our previous relationship had been so based around this. And that was true. Because they were my former pastor and his wife.
It is hard for me to over-state how much I owe to J. & R. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that I would never have been in a position to be where I am now with David (and the Superhero) if it wasn’t for them. They were both incredibly supportive of me when I was a complete mess. I sent them horribly disastrous emails, I cried in their home. When I went to get on meds for the first time, R. came to the doctor with me because I was so scared. J. was the first pastor that I ever actually trusted, and he was very kind and patient with me. Beyond just being the first pastor (although that had a significance of its own), he was one of the first men that I trusted just saw me for a person he liked and not an object in a sexual, or potentially sexual sense. It was a tremendous gift. They let me play with their kids, they let me come to their home often. It was in their house that I got an idea of what it might feel like to be safe. To not be a danger or in danger.
They moved when J. got accepted at a school in the middle of the country to get his Master’s of Divinity. He wanted to be a full on pastor. He believed that was his calling. I even went to visit them once, only six months or so before everything changed. It was a good week. I had a great time. It felt like home. I was planning on coming back maybe around Christmas. I had no idea that everything in my life was about to be turned over.
The thing is that I also never would have imagined that anything could cost me that relationship. I knew our previous interactions had been primarily Jesus-centric but I thought that they would be willing to enter into this with me. I was still me, after all. We could talk about this like we had talked about everything else. It never occurred to me that being part of the tribe was a pre-cursor on our friendship.
As I said, there was nothing violent about it. I would email, and only J. would email back. The emails weren’t the same. They were distant, they were friendly but not engaged. I saw the two of them once when they were back visiting. We went out for lunch. We didn’t talk about anything but movies. Eventually I just stopped emailing. I knew that once I stopped, neither of them would reach out. It didn’t hurt at the time when I was right. I had David and the Superhero. My life was good and I was happy.
My life is still good and I’m still happy, more now than then, in fact. But the whole situation leaves me hurt still. I wish it didn’t, but it does. J. posted today that he’s accepted a position in Ohio, and when I read that I realized – I always expected them to come back. Initially their plan was to move back to somewhere in this area after he finished school. They’re from here and they like it. But they must have decided that God has another plan. And reading that, it hit me that I will probably never see them again. I’ll probably never get to tell them that it wasn’t really okay what happened. I know life happens and I know that all of us got really busy. Distance is hard to deal with. But that’s not what happened here. It turned out there was a line I couldn’t cross. And not a line of harming someone or even myself, but a line of leaving the tribe.
I think I wanted to say that you missed out. We all missed out. I was 29 years old, struggling with this brand new life and you could have shared it. I don’t think I’m actually being arrogant when I say it’s been a good ride. I am so happy and so much better than I was when you knew me. It started because of you and you should have been around to see it play out. You should have been around to wrestle this through with me. It would have been good for all of us. There were a couple of other Christians who did stick by me and that helped a little but you pulling away left a scar. It could have been different. I think it should have been. I can’t say I’m not still angry or that I’m not still hurt. I’m still both of those things. You owed me better than that. At the very least, you should have been more honest. And if someone in the future comes to you and says they can’t stay? I hope you treat them better.
Sometimes you can’t keep everyone when you make the choices you have to make. That doesn’t make them choices not worth making, but it also doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. I’m still grateful for much of what happened in those relationships, but I hate that how things ended made me question things. Tonight, I just needed a minute to be honest about some of that.