It was freeing to leave home and chase down my dreams, but I still wanted to live up to my family’s expectations. I also felt like I was supposed to be Mormon, like it was too late to be anything else and I didn’t have a choice in the matter. So when I got to New York, I stuck with my faith. I went to church every Sunday. I didn’t drink, smoke, have coffee, or do anything with guys besides kiss sitting up. Dating was the hardest: No one wanted to go out with a virgin, especially as I got older. But eventually, when I was 25, I met a Mormon guy and we started dating.
His name was Travis and he went to Brigham Young. When he told me he wanted to get married, I panicked. If I said yes, I’d have to move to Utah and give up all the dreams I’d been pursuing in New York City. More than that, I’d have to become a Mormon forever, with him, or at least that’s what it felt like. I wanted God to help me make the decision. So I went to a Mormon temple and I prayed and asked God if I should marry Travis. I closed my eyes and felt my body rock back and forth like it had that time in the woods. I heard a voice say yes, and I knew that’s what I had to do: say yes.
When I got to Utah, I was miserable. Travis and I fought for two weeks straight. And then, no big surprise, he broke up with me. I was devastated at first. I felt like I’d sabotaged the life I was supposed to have. I moved back to New York and started writing and performing again. Eventually the feeling that I’d screwed everything up wore off and I started to see that relationship more clearly. Travis and I weren’t compatible. As my best friend put it, Travis liked me in spite of the best things about me. I was lucky I hadn’t married him. If I had, I’d be a boring, miserable, Mormon housewife in her mid-20s. Like something out of Mad Men—aka 50 years ago.
But a question kept nagging at me: Why had God told me to marry Travis when it was so obviously the wrong decision? I thought about this a lot. Eventually a new idea occurred to me, something I hadn’t thought, or let myself think, before: What if it wasn’t God? I’d felt a lot of pressure to marry another Mormon. I’d been trying to find a Mormon guy who wanted to date a freethinker like myself since I was 15. Travis was the first one to ever take the bait. In fact, he was my only Mormon boyfriend ever. Marrying him would’ve made my parents happy. It would’ve been the “right thing to do.” That’s when it hit me: What if I answered myself and told myself it was God?
This was perhaps the most revolutionary idea I’d ever had. And after I came up with it, it snuck its way into everything I thought regarding church. All the moments where I believed God was answering or listening or talking to me shifted; I wondered if I was just doing it all myself. I’d still pray, I’d repent, I’d seek help, but it was different from before: I was sitting on a deflated life raft and pretending it was full of air.
It took another year and a half, but eventually I gathered the courage to take a break from being Mormon. I called it my rumspringa, after the Amish tradition where teenagers get some time off from being Amish to go out into the world and try whatever it has to offer. At the end of this time, they can decide to return to the Amish faith without religious repercussions, or they can decide to stay out in the world and quit being Amish. I was questioning my faith for the millionth time when it occurred to me that I didn’t know what it was like to not be Mormon at all. And so I decided to take one year off to do whatever I wanted.
It was hard. Trying alcohol for the first time at 27, smoking a cigarette, learning how to order a latte correctly, and of course, fooling around with guys—none of it came naturally. The main reason I took a break, I will admit, was to have sex. I wasn’t terribly interested in alcohol or drugs, but sex was exciting. I also felt like, if I had sex, it’d open up a whole new realm of relationships with guys who didn’t want to date someone they couldn’t fool around with. (Although, to be honest, for a long time, even when I was a Mormon, I pushed the limits of what I was allowed to do sexually. Mainly because the limit was NOTHING—I wasn’t allowed to do anything beyond kissing sitting up. I’d slip up every now and then, the first time being at 16, when I let a boy show me his penis in my grandparents’ motor home. I was really hard on myself about these indiscretions. If I masturbated or let someone fondle my boobs, I’d immediately repent to my bishop. He’d make me describe the indiscretion in detail, which was always awkward, and send me home with literature on repentance and chastity. I thought my sex drive was a huge character flaw. Now I realize it’s a part of me—a good part, if used wisely.)
At first, I couldn’t go through with it. For Mormons, sex before marriage is considered the second most serious sin. Number one is murder. (Murder: a horrible crime. Sex, as it turns out: pretty enjoyable.) After rumspringa, the Amish kind, you get to go back to your faith if you choose to. But for me, as a Mormon, sex was the point of no return. If I let someone touch my boobs, I could repent for it and in a few weeks I’d be allowed to take the sacrament at church (the Mormon equivalent of communion) and be forgiven. But if I had sexual intercourse outside of marriage I could be excommunicated from the Mormon faith—it’s that serious.
And so, instead of having sex, I’d set up a situation and then freak out. Early into my break, I went on a date with this really hot Italian guy. After dinner I went up to his apartment, and we started making out. As a Mormon, I was a master of the make-out. But this guy took it further: He unbuttoned my blouse, pulled off my bra, and started kissing my boobs. I tried to act like I was used to that sort of thing. And I did a pretty good job of it, until he started shouting, “Oh god, oh god, oh god,” because I guess he was turned on. It was easily the worst possible thing to say to a Mormon girl on a break. I grabbed my shirt and fled. I remember looking back at him as I walked out the door. He was so shocked that I was leaving that, no joke, he got on his hands and knees, and said, in a thick Italian accent, “I beg you to stay. Let me make love to you.”