I was a teenager when it began, maybe as young as 13. I'm not sure. But I just remember having this feeling that something wasn't right. I still went to church and Young Women's activities and everything else like I was supposed to.
I had moved from Arizona to Utah when I was about 12, so things were hard enough as far as adjusting went. At church, there was a group of girls who I thought were the greatest, coolest people I'd even seen. I really wanted to be friends with them. I did everything I could to hang out with them at school, church and Young Women activities, but despite my efforts it seemed that all they did was tolerate my presence. I didn't understand. They were different from the kids I knew back in Arizona--I didn't' realize it then, but they were what one might call your typical "Utah Mormon" girls. They were very selective of who they would hang out with, and cared about looking spiritual and innocent on the outside (especially in certain circumstances) but they were ultimately superficial. All they talked about with each other were boys and spent a lot of time giggling inanely. At church or activities they would let this sappy spiritual side show, but as soon as you saw them at school they had done a 180.
Anyway, I kept trying to fit in with these girls but didn't have much luck. I never became part of their "group." What really gets me is that even though they wouldn't accept me into their group, they still did their 'duty' as members of the Beehive presidency and would kindly invite me to the Young Women activities, as though they cared that I attended. When I did come, they ignored me and just stuck with each other. I was really confused. Soon, I gave up on trying to be their friend and decided instead to hang out with the only group that had accepted me when I moved in--a non-Mormon girl and the two or three boys that she hung out with at recess. I tried to find excuses to not attend Young Women activities, to my mother's dismay, and often I would be mysteriously sick on Sunday when it was time for Sunday School and Young Women. I just couldn't stand to be the outsider, so I tried to avoid painful situations altogether.
It wasn't just the people, though. It was also the ridiculous activities, the monotonous and repetitive lessons, and the expectations that I was to live up to. Personal Progress? What a heap. I didn't want to "invite a non-member friend to church" or "study and pray over a particular chapter in the Book of Mormon" just so I could put the desired 'x' by enough things for me to get a charm. Yeah, rewarding girls with jewelry...that's an interesting way to keep them coming to church and following all the 'rules.' I hated doing just about everything in that Personal Progress book. It just didn't mean much to me, and many of the activities I was expected to do were uncomfortable or just so beyond what I would normally do that I found it very difficult. As for the activities, we baked cookies while the Young Men went rock climbing. Once in a while we did fun stuff, too, like ice-skating or hiking or biking, but even then I didn't have anyone to be hang out with at activities so I never wanted to go and be the loner in the group.
I continued to hang out with my new group of friends at school. Most of them were Mormon, but the leader of the group, A., was most certainly not. I think she was surprised by how easily I accepted her. Sometimes I am, too. Her parents smoked and drank alcohol and coffee and swore and watched rated-R movies, but although I was shocked at first when I came over to her house, I realized that I really liked these people. They were not bad because they were 'sinners.' I was lovingly taken in to her family and they really cared about me. Surprisingly, they were as understanding of me and my morals as I was of them and theirs, so we got along. We didn't judge one another.
I'm pretty sure that that realization was a catalyst in my way of thinking. I had already had many non-Mormon friends in Arizona, but for the first time all harsh, judgmental feelings went out the window with A. and her family.
More in Part 2.