This is part seventeen of the Homey and Me Love Story. It is when I was living life as a divorced mom – a while before I met Homey, but an important part of the story, nonetheless.
A few weeks after my initial separation, a friend from my church invited me to go to McDonald’s with her and her children–the kids would all play in the Playland together while we talked. It sounded like a nice idea. She stopped by and picked me up, and we went to Mickey-D’s together.
For the most part it was a nice outing. She asked me how things were going. She asked me what I planned to do both in my immediate and long-term future. I was open with details. I told her that I had started divorce proceedings and that the timeline would be several months before we were divorced. I also explained how I was looking for jobs and once I had a job, I’d save some money until I could afford to move out of my mom’s house and find a place.
“So, you think that you’ll stay around here? In Pennsylvania?”
“Yeah. I really can’t imagine going anywhere else.”
“True. That will probably make it hard to date LDS people later on, though.”
“I know. I’ve thought of that. Sometimes I think that maybe I’ll move to Utah, but I don’t know anyone there. It’s hard for me to guess what I’ll do. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
“When can you start dating again?”
“Well, my divorce won’t be final until the end of summer, or so. Which is good-I honestly can’t imagine it right now.”
“That’s true…you know, my husband often goes to the singles ward with his calling*, most of the people in the singles ward are pretty young, though.”
“Like in their twenties.”
“Oh…well, I’m only 26,” I replied.
“Yeah, but…they don’t have children. Most of them haven’t been married before.”
“I figured that. I’ve thought about it, though. I don’t really mind dating anyone at all–even if they haven’t been married before.”
“I’m sure that you don’t mind, but do you really think that a young man who hasn’t been married before will really want to date a woman who has been married and has had children?”
Obviously I had thought of this before. I even told the Bishop that I felt like “tainted meat.” But I had been assured that everything was fine. I knew that I needed to trust in the Lord. I wasn’t tainted meat, I was a daughter of God. My past didn’t matter–the only thing that mattered was who I am. It took me a while to really believe this, then there at McDonald’s it all came crashing back down.
I knew that she didn’t mean to hurt me, so I just listened to her without saying a word. (If I had, I would have started crying)…She gave me “ideas” like moving to Utah where there were more divorced members of the church, talking to the Bishop who probably knew of a few other divorced members, or waiting out my life as a single woman. None of her suggestions involved getting to know some of the young Mormon men – who lived near me but had never before been married- and went to the singles ward.
When I got home, I called Spunky, and saying, “I’m tainted meat!” part jokingly, but mostly serious. (Heck, I was crying).
Life as a divorced, Mormon woman was going to be tricky.
One evening, at a ward party, when I was still pretty recently separated, Brother Stone asked me, “Where’s Rusty?”
“He’s not here.”
I knew that many people still didn’t really know that we were getting divorced. There were some people who had caught on, but it’s not like the Bishop was going to go up to the pulpit and announce, “Catania and Rusty have gotten a divorce, people…”
I’m not idiotic enough to think that people are going around and talking about me in their spare time. But I also didn’t want people to feel like they had to dance around this issue or feel uncomfortable around me based on some rumor that they may have heard. So, I decided early on to take a painfully blunt approach.
When Brother Stone asked where Rusty was, his wife shot him a look.
He looked back at her with complete confusion. I knew that he was honestly wondering where Rusty was–that he had no idea why Rusty wouldn’t be at the ward party with his family.
“Rusty’s in Utah.”
“No. He lives there now.”
“Are you guys moving back?”
“Nope. We’re getting a divorce.”
He looked shocked. I didn’t want him to sit there and suffer, so I continued, “Not to sound rude or anything, but I found out that Rusty was living a very interesting life, so I asked for a divorce. When I asked for a divorce, he moved back to Utah.”
Brother Stone still looked pretty uncomfortable, like he was sorry for bringing it up.
“Hey. Don’t worry about it. You didn’t know, and I’m not sad. I’m gonna be fine!” We exchanged more pleasantries, and I could tell that both Brother and Sister Stone got it, they didn’t need to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, and neither should they.
While I was single, I was serving as the Primary Chorister*. For the most part, I loved that calling. The kids are cute. You get to stand around, act silly, and sing. However, it wasn’t always easy to do while I was going through such an emotional time.
One Sunday, I had to begin teaching the children Families Can be Together Forever. As I sang the song, I caught a glimpse of my own two daughters and thought about how my marriage, our family, was – in a way – ending. It was impossible for me to teach without crying. Thankfully, the kids were already somewhat familiar with the song. They couldn’t hear my voice cracking as I sang.
My social life with church friends also changed. I was working full-time, so I didn’t go to quilting club. I didn’t have time to read for leisure anymore, so I stopped going to book group. I was already away from my kids 40+ hours a week, so I stopped going to “Ladies Night Out.”
We didn’t have dinners with families anymore, and my kids didn’t go on as many play-dates. It wasn’t because people were being judgmental. It’s because life had changed. Sometimes that was hard. But I want to write about this because if you are a single woman, especially a single mom in the Mormon church, I want you to know that it is okay. It gets better. People know you and people care about you. Some people might insensitive things, but it isn’t on purpose. People become uncomfortable when someone gets divorced because it wakes them up to how vulnerable their own marriages are. Now, I know that some people truly are jerks, but for the most part…they’re not.
I was assigned a new Home Teacher. His wife would come with him. We talked about running, and the Tour de France. They listened and laughed when I told them about crazy guys that I dated. They always said hi to me in the halls at church. They even had me over to dinner.
I knew that they were my friends.
As time went on, many of the people in my ward started feeling more comfortable with the fact that I was single and that I was okay. More than once, I had a conversation that went like this:
“So…how are things going? Are you dating?”
“ehhh…it’s kind of hard to date here if you want to date Mormons.”
“But it’s okay.”
“You know…I have a brother. He lives in California, but he is single, and he is so cool. I wish you could meet him. I’m going to have him come out here and visit. If he does, would you mind if I set you up?”
“No problem,” I’d say (with a laugh). “Let me know when he’s in town.” For the most part, these didn’t pan out. But it was nice to know that people cared about me and liked me enough to want me to date their brothers and friends. It is a little cheesy, I know. And sometimes I had to fight the temptation not to get annoyed. I learned to see these offers as compliments.
One day at church, the primary pianist and I were chatting.
“You’re really looking good, Catania.”
“No…seriously…Have you lost weight?”
“Yeah…actually…about 200 lbs.”
“What? No. You–you weren’t that big before?”
I started to laugh, “Well, about 180 of that was my ex.”
We laughed together and she gave me a “You go, girl.”
Another week, at church:
“Catania! I saw you the other day–running. I honked, but you probably didn’t realize it was me.”
“Where was it?”
“Over on Glenside.”
“Yeah…I think I remember. You drive a red van, right?”
“Yeah…Glenside is quite a hill. Did you run the whole thing?”
“Awesome!” Meg, the woman talking to me, exclaimed. I genuinely accepted her excitement because I knew that she was a runner. She continued, “You’re a pretty serious runner, huh?”
“I don’t know. I just like running. It really helps beat stress.”
“That’s true. But I’ve got to say, I saw you running a few months ago, too. And it was only 25 degrees. Only serious runners go when it’s 25 degrees.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling.
“Have you run any races lately?”
“I’ve run a 10K.”
“You should run a marathon.”
“I don’t know about that…” I said, with trepidation.
“Oh…you can do it. You already run outside when it’s cold. And you can run up the hill on Glenside. That hill is no joke.”
“I know, but a marathon is so…far.”
“What is your longest run that you’ve run so far.”
“Ten miles, actually. I ran ten miles last weekend…it was amazing!”
“Ten miles! Then a marathon will be no problem for you. Just a little more training. You should do it!”
Another week at church:
“Cute skirt, Sister Ryan.”
“You always have the cutest clothes! I want to go shopping with you!”
“Thank you so much, Martha!”
(It was a young woman who said this…any woman—any Mom— feels cool when a cute teenager compliments you.)
And another week at church, I was leaving the building with my kids to go home. Sister Kunz was also walking out. I have to admit, I’ve always looked up to Sister Kunz. She is faithful, smart, and talented. We made small talk as we left. I told her how much I enjoyed teaching her son Matt in primary. He was a cute kid.
“Thanks,” she replied. Then she asked, “So…how are things going?”
I knew that she was referring to my life as a single mom, the divorce, etc. “Actually, they are going really well.”
“You know—I can tell.”
I smiled as she continued. “I mean, you look great–obviously. Whatever you’re doing is working.”
“I have lost some weight… I started running!”
“No. It’s not just that. You look really happy. You look lighter-like you aren’t weighed down anymore, but are free.”
“It’s true. That is how I feel. Even though a divorce is a sad thing, living a lie is even worse. Even though I’m alone, I’m so much happier now.”
“That’s amazing…You’re a strong woman,” she said, with a tear in her eye.
I had one in my eye, too.
Even though things were kind of uncomfortable at first, over time people in my ward got used to my being single. Nothing was ever “the same”, but that was okay. My life wasn’t the same. Everyone accepted me as I was, and I felt grateful that there were so many people who cared about me and were cheering me on.
The Singles Ward
Okay, I have to be honest, I never actually became a part of the singles ward. Since I had two children, I always stayed with my home ward. But, when I was finally officially single, I started going to singles functions. My first singles activity was institute.*
Sister Schmidt, the institute teacher, was going out of town. She called me and asked if I’d substitute. I said yes…so my first singles activity wasn’t just going to institute, but it was teaching an institute class. It was kind of interesting.
I can’t really remember what I taught about, but I remember that the lesson went well. The students seemed receptive. And I remember telling myself not to check out the dudes while I had to teach the class…Just teach the lesson…afterwards you can flirt.
I noticed a few guys. One was a smart-allecky kind of guy–funny, but not my type. One guy looked like he was 18, a baby. One guy kept falling asleep during my lesson! One guy was super nice and had contributed a lot to class. He had a really preppy look: naturally blonde hair with blue eyes. He wore a golf shirt, tucked in, and Sperry top-siders. He had contributed a lot to the class, and had an infectious smile. His name was Dan. Then there was this dude who was in an orange and white striped golf shirt–with the collar popped. He didn’t seem anything like the other dudes. He almost seemed European. His eyes were icy-blue a -la Daniel Craig. He didn’t say much during class (and by much I mean anything), but he seemed to listen intently.
Of course, I noticed these dudes while I was teaching class, so I didn’t really get to talk to or interact with anyone until after the class.
When class was over, everyone scattered. I gathered up my papers, and Dan came up to me, asked me a few questions, and told me that I had taught a really great lesson–that he had felt the Spirit very strongly. His compliment was genuine, and I smiled and talked to him for a while. Maybe I could have a crush on him? 🙂
Everyone else started to migrate out to the gym. A bunch of the guys were playing basketball. Other guys (and girls) were hanging out on the stage, talking. Dan introduced me to the group. He had to get somewhere, so he left, and I stayed and stood around–listening to all of these people talk about whatever was going on. There were a few people in this group that hadn’t been in the institute class. One was this guy, that was almost cute. I could tell he was staring at me. Finally, he asked, “You don’t look young. You look like your in your twenties.”
“Yeah…” he cut me off.
“Let me guess. You’re twenty-fi…six.”
“Actually, yes.” I said. (Just so you know…most of the girls in this singles ward were really young. Most of them were nannies from Utah. So…I kind of stood out.)
“Well…you’re pretty. So what’s the deal? Why are you twenty-six and single? What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked, incredulous.
“You have to admit…most Mormon girls that are thin and good-looking don’t make it to the age of 26 without getting married.” I was simultaneously humiliated for myself, the girls who were around us, and him.
“Well…I’m divorced.” I said
“Figures…why? What happened?” I couldn’t believe it. I still didn’t know his name! He hadn’t asked for mine. I was getting so annoyed! Did he really want to know my situation? Did he really care? I figured that the least I could do was make him feel uncomfortable for asking me.
“Well…let’s see. I guess the reason why it didn’t work out is because even though we got married in the temple, even though he was a return missionary and we always held a temple recommend, he decided he was a sex addict and then cheated on me with several women.”
He stood there without saying anything. I guess he wasn’t expecting real baggage.
“So, after seven years of lies, and finding out about the truth, I got divorced. The way I see it is that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. There was something wrong with my ex, and I didn’t have to deal with it anymore…That’s why I’m here now–26, cute, and unmarried. Is that satisfactory?”
“Yeah…”he said sheepishly. “I guess that’s a worthwhile reason.”
I wasn’t sure about this whole “singles” thing.
It was getting late, and I had two children at home, so I excused myself.
As I left, I saw the Euro-looking dude in the hall–getting a drink of water.
“Hey, good lesson.” He said. He had an accent. I was right about the Euro-look.
“Thanks,” I said.
He wasn’t in his orange and white shirt anymore, but had changed, and he was about to walk into the gym. Before he did, I said, “Wait…weren’t you wearing something else?”
“Yeah. I changed…I’m going to play some basketball.”
He was wearing a tee-shirt that said Toulouse, France. Even though his accent didn’t sound French, I couldn’t place where he was from.
I pointed at his shirt, “Are you French?”
“French?” He looked at his shirt, “No…this is where I served my mission.”
“Oh,” I said. “I bet that was a beautiful mission…So, I know that you’re not French, but I can also tell that you’re not American.”
“I’m not.” he said.
“Well, where are you from?” I asked, with a smile.
“Germany.” he answered.
“Awesome. Well, I hope you’re having a good time here. What’s your name?”
“Markus,” he replied. “You?”
“I’m Catania…nice to meet you.”
“Good to meet you, too.”
Markus went into the gym, and I went to the parking lot and drove home. I had survived my first night at a “Singles” event.
*In the Mormon church, we call our local congregation a “ward.” Sometimes, if there are enough people, the A ward will be created specifically for Single Adults. Additionally, all of the priests and other ecclesiastical leaders in the Mormon church are lay-people. We have no paid clergy. So many people are called to serve either in their own ward or they may help with other assignments as needed.
*In the Mormon church, we have an organization for the children ages 3-12 called Primary. On Sundays, after we meet for our services, the primary children go to a Sunday School class where they sing songs and learn about the gospel. I was called and chose to accept the calling to volunteer my time to be the chorister for this group. It was a lot of fun.
*Institute is short for Institute of Religion. These are religion courses for adults (usually college aged). These classes are not a part of regular Sunday worship. In Pennsylvania, they usually were held on a week night.