Image courtesy of Montana State University Library
I loved my mission. I returned happy and exhausted with absurd ideas about the blessings to which I thought I was entitled for my service. I quickly became engaged to the boy who waited (faithfully or not so much; I didn’t dare ask too many questions), and began college just a week after coming home. All seemed to be going perfectly, and then my life fell apart. Thankfully, very few specific wedding plans had been made, but there was a brand-new $800 white dress sitting in my closet and no ring on my finger.
It might be true that Elizabeth Bennet’s father told her that, “Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.” But, in truth, being jilted is just really icky, and it seemed there was nobody with whom to commiserate. My close friends from my pre-mission days had all long moved on, married or out-of-state. For economy, I was living with a delightfully understanding grandmother who lived close to my university, but at the moment my dumping seemed so humiliating that I couldn’t bring myself to tell anybody but my mother for days.
I wanted to rage and cry and curse and fall apart. I deserved a meltdown—the ex proved to be a real piece of work. But a lifetime of work and achievement wouldn’t let me completely collapse. I couldn’t let his choice ruin every aspect of my life. There was a scholarship to keep and things to learn. I had a job with responsibilities and expectations that wouldn’t wait for me to feel sorry for myself.
So while I cried for a bit, I stuck tenaciously to the practices cultivated from an early age and refined during my mission. I rose early and studied scriptures every day. I spent a lot of time on my knees. I was in bed by 10:30. I attended the temple every week. I religiously kept study habits with proven effectiveness: a zillion flashcards made from meticulous notes, graphic organizers for every textbook section, two hours of study for every hour in class. I walked into every test prepared; my assignments were perfect. I had a schedule for everything I did. I ran. And ran. And ran. I stuck to a budget so austere that a dollar for lunch was a splurge.
The habits of excellence and discipline carefully honed over many years saved me from becoming completely undone. I pulled all A’s and one A- that term. Though these grades were not markedly different from those I had achieved in other terms, I am prouder of that GPA than all of the rest–especially the A- achieved in a beast of a botany class in which the ex’s cousin sat next to me every day to ask me how I felt about things.
Later that summer, I ran into the ex and his fiancé, to whom he became engaged just three weeks after we broke things off for good, and I held my head high and smiled. I looked good. I felt good. I was good.
A couple of years ago, I worked with the young women on a Wednesday night to talk about study skills as they headed into their high school finals. I shared with them this story. I told them that the decision to develop habits of mind and body and spirit isn’t just about self-improvement, it is also about establishing a pattern of living that sticks with you even when the chips are down. I hoped to help them see that it shouldn’t be boyfriends or ex-boyfriends that give them distinction among their companions, but that they should distinguish themselves by their own hard-earned achievements.
When I was a young woman, I would too often see my talents, habits and hobbies as sort of a dowry that would make me marriageable—that the be all and end all of so much preparation was a hazy event that would happen sometime in my (very) early twenties. But what I understood the day I flounced away (yes, you can flounce even in an era when women don’t wear flounces) from the ex and his fiancé was that I had won the biggest prize of all. I had mastered myself. I would take whatever dragon-like trial life presented me and fight my own battles, thank you very much.
When my eventual husband showed up in my life a few months later, I was ready to meet him. And though our marriage has brought me immense joy and I count him as a great blessing in my life, I have also learned to be intensely grateful for those long, difficult months after my mission, too. During that time, one of my favorite scriptures became the one in Alma 38 where he tells his son, “Bridle all your passions that ye may be filled with love.” I had always viewed this as a scripture about chastity; but my experience showed me that bridling passions also meant to channel my depth of emotion in a direction that was productive and healing, instead of towards a loss of hope and perspective. How empowering to learn that even when others let me down, I didn’t have to let myself down! The love of self and Father that I found during that time was a far greater gift than the hollow imitation of romantic love I had sought.