our dating story (part two)
It’s been a year since I’ve written the next chapter in “The True Un-cut Diaries of Tyler and Kara Leigh!” I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath since I left you on the cliff hanger in my last post about the story of how we met on our Mormon mission in Washington state. I’ve gone George R. R. Martin on you all!
Truth be told, this isn’t for anyone else to read really (unless the person reading this is Tyler or our future children!) I’m writing this so I can have an account of how This Thing We Call Love went down! As I said before, I’ve not put pen to journal in about 2 years…. Although I’ve taken enough pictures during that time to make up for it, right? That being said, most of what I’m writing today has never been journaled before (because I haven’t been great at journalling since I MET Tyler - which I present to the court as evidence of my love: “I’m simply too infatuated with Tyler to bother about things like that!” ;)
Enough chatting, let’s get down to the deets. I’m going to pick back up when I returned home from my mission (an awkward transition to be sure - like a nun that’s told “go be one of them now!”) Here we go.
I flew home to Kentucky from Washington, full of memories and hope and sadness and satisfaction and pride. After the reunion with my family and a few days into the Reintegration Phase (I’ll probably write a post about my mission/Mormon experience more later…. Can’t stop here for details just yet), I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my sister Alyssa over Facebook. She was “updating me” on everyone’s life of the last year and a half (since I wasn’t able to use social media while I served). After she dished out the latest Hot Goss - it was my turn. I clicked through friends' profiles who I’d just left (those still serving), and then began “introducing” her to people I’d met on the mission. Since I HAD to show her my partner for all the musical performances - I clicked over to “Tyler Alden” - a name that felt super foreign considering I’d only ever called him “Elder Alden” up until this point. My eyes raced over his latest pictures, catching that rush of social media neuroticism I’d forgotten. I saw pictures of Elder Alden, ahem, Tyler hanging out with other girls, doing college things, and looking really really handsome. I scrolled and giggled with my sister as I said OUT LOUD for the first time - “Man, I’d love to marry this guy!”
But, I was in Kentucky. He was in Utah. And I had just got a job at KFC.
I was stuck there for an arduous two months! Agonizing about the life that was going on without me. It’s hard enough to be a “returned missionary” where everything from movies to staying up late to being alone feels surreal and almost immoral, but believe me, it’s worse when you’re throwing fried chicken into buckets for hours on end. It felt like I’d fallen somehow. Life was SO. MUCH. BETTER. on the mission - people loved me, I had purpose, I had friends, I didn’t have chicken-grease fingers. But there I was, trying to save a few dollars to get back to college and *hopefully* back to a life. In the three months I was there, Tyler and I sent one single message back and forth - a simple “hi, welcome home” and a “thanks, it’s weird,” was probably the basic transcript.
Finally the day came, I flew back to Provo, Utah for the spring semester at BYU. Like a sprinter poised for the gun blast, I raced off the plane and back to “real life” (I guess I viewed my Kentucky time as a sort of waiting room… or limbo). Now, here’s where things get spicy. Within ONE WEEK of my arrival in Utah the following things happened. Reminder: ONE WEEK.
-Got into a new apartment, yada yada, saw some old friends, yada yada…. GOT INVITED TO TYLER’S HOUSE!?! Yep. The second day in Utah I found myself at Tyler’s house in Park City for some mission buddy hang. I still remember I put on my tight (but still knee length) pencil skirt because I thought it looked really cute. Tyler and I talked a bit, but not much. I left a little disappointed to have not made a better *after-the-mission* connection.
-Next day though - Tyler calls me. I wish I could do justice to the twitterpated-ness of my reaction, but it was something akin to EEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIAAAHHHHYAHHH! He asked me out on a lunch date! He asked what food I liked - Sri Lankan or Mexican. Of course I answered Sri Lankan because #moreadventurous. The following day I watched him drive up to my apartment street from my 3rd story window. I watched him get out of his bright red car, headphones around his neck, and totally swagger his way up to my door. We went for a take out lunch date drive up to the mountains. Reminiscing about the mission was the main topic of conversation, and I think it might have been somewhat meh because I don’t remember much more, and Tyler has told me that he left that date thinking “well that was a fun catch up.”
-The next day we sort of got set up by some mission friends to double date. We had a nice dinner and when we parted ways with the other couple, Tyler asked if I wanted to go for a drive. We drove up to an abandoned gold refinery and climbed around the rubble (You can actually see it in this video we made to announce our engagement ***SPOILER ALERT!****) As we hopped and climbed around the rocks, you better believe there were LOTS of opportunities for hand holding, arm grabbing, holding tight to each other, and also watching a sunset. Tyler offhandedly asked if I’d ever long boarded (such a Provo thing to say.) I said “of course - live in Provo and am trying to meet a male” (okay, I didn’t add that last bit). He was surprised I actually had my own board so we went home and grabbed our boards and sailed down the canyon trail together in the moonlight. We ended up climbing a tree and sitting for a couple of hours and talking. This is where the conversation got good - we finally moved past mission memories and into actually getting to know each other. I remember feeling really connected to Tyler and appreciating that my intuition and gut feeling about this guy had been spot on. I thought I liked him before, but I was falling head over heels out of that tree.
-He invited me to a family get together. Yeah, I know - 3rd date in and we're hanging out with his Grandma & Grandpa! It was a blur of new faces, and I can't remember many details, but after a bit we left to drive up the mountain to Park City. We continued our awesome conversations and shared hopes and dreams and plans and ideas (basically what we do now haha) We were so engrossed in the conversation that when the car slowed and Tyler exclaimed “oh no, I’m out of gas!” I was actually okay with it! We sat by the side of the interstate as the air got cool. Tyler’s mom rescued us with a can of gas and a “okay, next time check the light huh?” I remember we poured in the gas together, but I don’t remember why... maybe we just wanted to hold hands more and that seemed like an obvious time. We continued to Tyler’s family's home - located up on a mountain. It was still really crisp at night and we lit a fire and sat and talked some more. Somehow it came up that both of us had kept “List Journals” on our missions & we pulled them out to compare (I have no idea why I had mine with me!) We looked over lists about “Things To Do Before I Die” and “Skills to Develop” and “The Person I Want To Marry Will Be…” It might seem strange to most, but this was a pretty adorable moment (albeit very Mormon missionary). I mean, at this point it felt like we talked more about our hopes and dreams and goals and plans than most couples do in the first 2 years! One of my lists was called “Before Kissing” and was literally - I shit you not - a list of things that needed to happen before I kissed a guy. (Man I wish I could scan a page of that in here… too bad the book is in Utah) It had things like "know he’s a worthy priesthood holder", "must be a returned missionary", "hold hands with him first", and "go on three dates", and be officially committed to exclusively dating each other" (all before kissing. I made these “rules” for myself to avoid some situations I’d had before my mission where I’d felt taken advantage of, so though this was super conservative, at the time I felt it was for the best!) We laughed and cuddled as we looked over our lists.
-After that, Tyler invited me to watch a movie with him in the basement and we put on "Up." I still don’t know the details of that movie because I was too busy trying to cuddle just right and read Tyler’s mind. About thirty minutes in, Tyler sits up and looks at me and says “So this counts as our 3rd date right?” I immediately knew was he was getting at, and I felt a rush of excitement *my first kiss in almost two years!!!* but then I remembered My List! “Well, I suppose we can count this, yeah. But you know, (I hope at this point the look on my face was flirty and not pious), we’ve gotta be official first.” Tyler blinked for a second… probably thinking “is this girl cat-fishing me?!” And then, deciding he had no reason to say no, said “Yeah! It’s official!” - and went in for the smooch. [The rest of the night is censored for strong graphic content involving pecks and kissing with a small amount of tongue] I slept over that night in a spare room and in the morning Tyler woke me with a bowl of blackberries and I was confused and dazed for a solid 10 seconds wondering - is this guy Prince Charming in the flesh!?! And then remembering… I think this guy is my boyfriend!
-That day, after the dust had started to settle - I got a phone call from the Missionary Training Center (goes without saying - but it's a place where missionaries learn and get ready to go on their missions). I had interviewed there earlier that week and had been waiting to hear back from them. The phone call was to offer me a job as a teacher at the MTC - my dream college job! I was almost more excited about that than I was to be dating Tyler!
We had a ton of fun together that summer. We both were falling head over heels and tripping on each other as we fell. We took a trip to Moab with his family - the first time I’d really hung out with most of them. We mountain biked and dune buggy’d around and I realized that I might like Tyler’s family just as much as I liked him! They were adventurous and free spirited and really inclusive. Tyler and I got to really prove our team work to each other on that trip since we had to drive an RV in the middle of the night (and brave an exploded flat tire on the way). We also set up the Dune Buggy together and got a taste of problem solving side by side.
I was working as a waitress that summer. Tyler kept coming up with fun trips for us to take, or spontaneous things to do - like driving up to Washington to visit our mission buds. I kept asking off for days and weekends and occasionally calling in “sick” to the point that in just a few months I got FIRED! Fired for being in love!
One day, Tyler called me and said, “I know what we’re doing next semester!” We’re going to do the BYU study abroad in Jerusalem!” My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t afford that program, much as I’d wanted to go. But I was at a fork in the road. Either our relationship likely dies, or I scrimp and save my way into paying for it. (I should add here, that independent of our relationship I had desperately wanted to do this program!) Tyler’s confidence and invitation were enough to push me to the side of “well here goes nothing!” I applied, got accepted, AND luckily got about half of the tuition paid in scholarships and grants! The other money I saved from my job (oh wait I lost that) and pulled out of savings from ye old KFC! (Remember that one?) It was amazing how quickly all the pieces fell into place.
Before we went on the study abroad in Jerusalem - Tyler went on an extended trip to Chile after we’d been dating for two months or so. We Skyped every night and texted all day. He was gone about six weeks. It must be true that absence makes the heart grow fonder - because during these weeks was when we had our first conversation about the M word. Since Mormons practice celibacy before marriage, three to six months is standard time to talk marriage, and most people meet and get married in under a year. So, we were right on track! We even picked out a “temple date” - basically a marriage date set to get married in one of the Mormon Temples. Our timeline had us getting married within the next six months.
While Mormonism certainly sped up the process of commitment, I do think that gave us each more trust in our intuition and gut. We were super happy together. Sure, we may not have known each other intimately, but there was an innocent beauty in extending feelings of commitment so early in our relationship. It truly deepened our bond.
Then we went to Jerusalem.
I’m convinced BYU’s Jerusalem Program is the single BEST VALUE study abroad out there. We lived in an immaculate center on the eastern side of the city (you can see it here), ate like kings, and constantly traveled around being taught by some of the best teachers I’ve ever had. While it was centered in religion, we received a very historical education and got a first hand view of current events in Israel. We went all over Israel, visited Turkey for a week, and trekked around Jordan. Truly an amazing experience.
Tyler and I were unfortunately placed in different field trip groups so sometimes we had to sneak off to see each other. One time we had been wandering around a hotel in Turkey when we found an open linen closet. We started kissing But, while in the city or the BYU Center we had most of our classes together and were basically attached at the hip.
There’s a funny rule against students dating in Jerusalem, even though plenty of us violated it. You couldn’t go outside the center without a group of 3 (makes pairing off, off limits you see?). Tyler and I tested this rule and innocently went to the Israel National Museum together. We probably wouldn’t have gotten caught, but we were dumb and missed curfew by 10 minutes! We got grounded for two weeks which meant being stuck in the center, missing trips (luckily it happened during midterms and I think we only missed a minor outing). We laugh now at the irony of punishing the two of us for pairing off by confining us to a basically empty Palace On The Hill while everyone else left. Many make outs were had.
This is the part of the story that I could either gloss over in a paragraph OR write an entire other “chapter” about. I’ve decided to just continue on - here's to hoping this doesn’t get too long!
Around this time, Tyler had an important phone call with his family. Tyler was very pensive the day after his late night convo (time zones meant he’d stayed up til the middle of the night talking). When we finally got a chance, he told me he learned of his parents’ developing doubts about the truthfulness of the Church. He didn’t go into details, because I don’t believe his parents had gone into details. All I knew, was they felt the claims of the church were in someway untrue. While I broke down with sadness and grief for them and let my mind spiral around what this could possibly mean for us… Tyler reassured me that this was an opportunity for him to educate himself and be able to help answer their questions (if not for them, then at least for himself). The next few weeks I felt like I had a constant lump in the back of my throat. I would catch a glimpse of Tyler, brows furrowed, reading the Book of Mormon and cross checking with books and articles. Or watch him schedule meetings with a few of our religion teachers in the Center, and feel disgruntled and confused after leaving. He didn’t bring up any of the things he was researching or thinking, and I didn’t really ask. It felt like we were both holding our breath. I think I was mostly scared. Scared I would loose him. Scared I would loose the church and my beliefs if I wasn’t careful.
I assumed after a few days, maaaaybe weeks, he’d shut his book and look up smiling and confidently proclaim “It’s true! It’s all true! When shall we marry, my love!?” That didn’t happen. The temple date that we had so hopefully planned for slowly faded out of existence.
Weeks before the program ended, Tyler decided he would double up on study abroads and go to London the next semester. As we talked while sitting on the tables in the windowless laundry room of the Center, he said he needed space away from home to continue to research and think. He was afraid if he went home his parents would have too strong an influence on him, whereas if he stayed away he could isolate the issues and try to reason and pray and fast on his own. While that made sense to me, and I 100% supported him figuring out his feelings, I felt strongly that we should break off the relationship to give space for that.
The next semester we were apart (he went to London, I went back to BYU), and yet we might have talked more than ever before. FaceTiming each other every night hardly felt like a “break” and while this was an emotionally strenuous time for both of us - I think this time was what deepened our friendship to a whole new level. I had so much faith that this time**** would heal him - that he would get his beliefs in order and come back home and we’d get married in the temple and forget the whole mess. Tyler had flung himself head first into church in London - serving, reading, and even helping the missionaries baptize. And yet, many nights, he’d be up at 3am crying to me that he felt dead inside. We would talk about faith and prayer and fasting. We read scriptures together over Skype many mornings. I just knew eventually he would snap out of it.
There was never a moment during this time that we actually talked about what was giving Tyler so much trouble. From my perspective - it truly seemed like something broke inside of him and if he just did this one more thing, it would be fixed. After so many late nights watching his face contort in anguish and pain and confusion - I felt helpless. None of the tools seemed to be working. He was “doing all the things” and seeing no results. I believe it was here that I experienced a real cognitive dissonance. How could “Elder Alden,” leader in our mission and stalwart and faithful man - be this broken. Every night I looked at his eyes on my phone screen, I had to try and reconcile the fact that there was actually some information out there that could cause someone this much spiritual doubt.
We met up in Italy for a trip with Ty's family. Though it was fun, we had an weight on our shoulders the whole time. Tyler and I were returned back home in Utah. We tentatively planned a temple date again - although Tyler cautiously restrained expectations of his faith. He made it clear that if we went ahead, I should know he had significant doubts about the truthfulness of the Church’s claims. At first I leaped at his compromise - eager to finally get married to the guy I loved - all too shortsighted. It took less than a week for reality to sink in. I realized how stupid I would be to go blindly into a marriage without a real knowledge of what his concerns were. I knew bullet points, but I hadn’t done much of my own research - fearful of the path it may take me down. In an effort to arm myself with the facts and be able to truly dissect the issues and create a dialogue between us, I decided to research for myself. I spent months reading book after book, listening to podcasts, pouring through scriptures, talking with everyone who would talk with me. I continued to go to church, to the temple, and to pray. Tyler and I broke up again and agreed that whatever the outcome of my research, I should arrive at my own conclusions.
Slowly, it started to unravel.
Joseph Smith and his wives, the many stories of the First Vision, problems with the validity of the Book of Mormon, issues with the priesthood narrative, questions about the masonic rituals in the temple ceremony. It felt like a bottomless pit of new information***. The testimony that had me gripping the pulpit while testifying a year ago, gradually weakened, until one day in church while listening to talks I realized I no longer had the same capacity for belief. No matter how hard I willed myself to flip the switch back on... I just didn’t believe. I didn’t feel fear. I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t even feel that sad, to my surprise! It was a magnificent phenomenon (I still am in awe of the human brain) that something that had meant the world to me, just a few months later could mean so little. It wasn’t true. As soon as I acknowledged that in my brain, I took off my garments and moved on.
Tyler and I got back together and started rebuilding what had been deconstructed. This was a beautiful time for us. We felt like we had a blank canvas in front of us and a newfound trust in our own instincts. I think this was the first time I experienced true humility - I marveled at how little I knew & how easily the mind can change. I lost some of my ego and assurance that I WAS COMPLETELY RIGHT, and instead discovered this new posture towards the world - one of wonderment and acceptance. I felt a weight of judgement (towards myself and others) lift off my shoulders. I felt the power in admitting “I don’t know,” and feeling peace.
Tyler and I had conversations like never before. We approached each new topic almost as children, not knowing the right answers, but free to express and challenge thoughts. Hearing “what are your thoughts on ________” and feeling the words “YOUR THOUGHTS” ring powerfully in my ears. I might even say this was my favorite part of my life so far. Open. Free. Unknown.
Completely shedding the skin of Mormonism took a while (and many heated and intense conversations with my family and friends). We had long talks with Tyler's parents throughout this time and started discovering supporting groups of questioning or non-believing Mormons. It was comforting to know there was still a community for us. While we kept many of our dearest Mormon friends, we were able to discover new friends and even reconnect with old ones.
We started planning marriage again, although with much less stress and no time crunch! I think we spent that whole summer talking - dreaming, planning, re-building. Tyler had his pilot’s license and we would fly around the West from Idaho to Arizona adventuring. We had an amazing hike in the Tetons, and some fantastic trips in southern Utah. Talking, talking, talking the whole time.
Eventually we got engaged.
And then married.
But those are stories for another time.
This post took quite a while to write. I know many reading this are believing Mormons, and I hope that those of you know that I have no ill feelings towards you or your beliefs. While I dislike many of the practices and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I recognize it gives hope and meaning to so many of you, and I am happy for your happiness. I hope that in my recounting, you don’t read offense or animosity. I’m always willing to talk. Tyler and I both have had many conversations with both sides throughout the last five years. We’ve had old mission friends and college roommates reach out with their own concerns or doubts, and we’ve had positive conversations with believing family members or past church leaders. We welcome all conversation and are ready to be a listening ear or answer any questions you may have.
Happy 3rd anniversary Tyler Vale. I certainly did marry adventure.