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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Boyfriends and Dating: the beginning of my career

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

disco ball and reflective lights on the walls and ceiling in a darkened room

“Even small children are known by their actions,

so is their conduct really pure and upright?”

(Proverbs 20:11)

NOTE: Again, names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty

Innocent family member: “Good morning!”

Me: “What do you mean by that? Who are you trying to fool? You don’t really care about me; you just want something from me!”

I was a teenager trying to figure myself out—especially in my relationships with my Mom and siblings. I was definitely touchy. I certainly acted ugly at times. This couldn’t have helped my self-perception.

In the last chapter, I mentioned my neighbor Jed’s treachery and how it made me consider what my own actions had been. Actions that prompted such an assumption and meanness on his part.[1] Upon reflection, my actions had been pretty self-centered and thoughtless.

I also mentioned in the last chapter how meeting Boe might have changed things positively for me had my church girl “friends” not deviously intervened. Boe came along at the end of Junior high, after my first “real” boyfriend at school (mentioned in a much earlier chapter).[2] These two were favorites among many heart throbs and “boyfriends.” Too many.

In junior high especially, I was super self-conscious and had low self-esteem. Now, I know this is a fairly normal developmental phenomenon most young humans experience at some point. But as a teenager going through these things, I felt like I was the first and only one who had ever suffered the agonies and anxieties of loneliness and wanting—desperately needing—to belong. I was sure I was ugly and undesirable. And maybe I was for a time, both physically and spiritually.

Junior high was the hardest transition time. I did start out stylishly awkward at a school where a lot of the kids were from wealthy families. “They” were not one of many kids from a frugal home, as I was. Their parents could afford to give them the latest fashion in hairstyles and clothing. They were cool. I was not. I’ve mentioned how I sewed my own clothes, created my own miniskirt, and so on, in an attempt to fit in with the “in” crowd. At one point, I gave up my long, straight hair and frontal braids to cut and perm my hair into an “afro.” I did get a lot of attention from doing this, including being teased unmercifully by some of my guy friends. They called me Squirrel and held me upside-down by my feet in an attempt to warm me off of going to such extremes. (By the way, this did not earn them any points or get me to listen to them.)

I also got a boyfriend after that, who asked me to “go steady with him.” He was one of the cool guys. However, our first kiss wasn’t cool or romantic at all, just supremely gross, as this boy practiced his terrible French kissing on me. That “relationship” maybe lasted a few days, at most. I was relieved to be done with that boyfriend, even though he was the one who broke up with me.

Toward the last semester of Junior high, after the afro, I tried a different hairstyle that apparently made me appear a lot prettier to the guys and more acceptable to the “cool” girls. A high school student, Chad, who was hanging around our junior high school with friends, singled me out. He rode a motorcycle, which I thought was exciting and exuded wonderful possibilities. He let me ride with him around the parking lot a few times. My guy friends told me Chad wasn’t a nice guy and that I should avoid him. I thought they were misjudging him based on the friends he kept. He had assured me he was different than they were, and I believed him. My friends didn’t really know him, so how could they know? I didn’t stop meeting up with Chad.

Eventually, he asked me out, but I told him I couldn’t go out with him because I wasn’t old enough to date yet by our church standards, so my dad probably wouldn’t let me. He asked me if he could at least have my phone number and address so he could come over to see me at home with my parents there. I thought that was sweet and safe, so I gave him both. Then, for a week or two, he didn’t come by the school or call. He gave no explanation. I was heartbroken. My guy friends told me I was better off. After yet another week of his absence, I was starting to believe them.

Unexpectedly, one evening he rode his bike out to my house. I was ecstatic. However, I still wanted to know what had kept him away and what was going on. He invited me to come with him on a spin around our large, rural neighborhood so we could talk. He helped me get up behind him on the seat. We rode a couple of miles up onto the flat top of one leg of the Mesa. Up there, we and all the well-spaced-apart houses looked down on my home and lots of others in the hills of our large neighborhood. Also, the city of Boulder could be seen in the distance, sprawled out at the base of the foothill of the Rocky Mountains. It was a glorious view. It was also exhilarating to be riding double, with my body so close to Chad’s, my arms wrapped around his waist, and my hair blowing back in the wind. I was in heaven. I could have ridden like that into the sunset, happy forever after.

Chad leaned us through the last turnaround with houses, but before heading back to my home, he took a paved road that led out into a very large empty field where more houses would eventually be built. He stopped the bike in the midst of that field so we could “talk.”

I really wanted to know where he had been. He gave me some lame excuses that I believed for the time being, as he coupled them with some heart-stopping kisses and caresses. I have him to thank that afterward, I was on guard with all the boys I dated, as he then tried to go too far, too fast. My conscience quickly and loudly overruled the sensations in my flesh. It helped immensely that I knew we’d been gone longer than we should, and my family—namely my dad—would be wondering where we were. I moved his hands from where they shouldn’t be and asked him to take me home. Thankfully, he did. (I’m pretty sure my dad was praying concerning us!) The ride home wasn’t nearly as wonderful. I felt a little dirty and used, especially when my dad was there waiting for me outside the front door when we returned. I could tell he was upset and concerned. Guilt rose up within me, and not only for riding off without permission. Still, I pretended we’d only had a fun ride and all was well.

I still liked Chad and wanted to see him again, but he didn’t come around the school or my home or call for what seemed a very long time. I was desolate. It had felt so good to be so blatantly noticed and wanted by someone. He hurt me—or rather, he hurt my pride—terribly. But I finally began to see that what my friends had told me about him was true. He was just using me; he didn’t really care about me. When he did come around again later, I was able to withstand his charms. What I didn’t know is that Chad’s callousness was a blessing in disguise. Because this happened before my dating years began, I wasn’t so green going in as I would have been. Still, this didn’t stop me from hoping for “true love” or from being flattered by attention from guys.

At the start of summer, some of the cool girls from my neighborhood invited me to go with them on a daytime swimming outing at the pool in Boulder. A good-looking guy, Joe, from another school, singled me out there and spent a lot of the day with me. We had a lot of fun playing and flirting with each other in and out of the water. He also asked me out as Chad had. He got the same response and asked for the same information. He would be getting a new motorcycle soon, and he also wanted to come to see me. I had a choice. I took a chance on him being a nicer guy. And, after all, he was hanging around with the cool guys.

Joe called me almost every day for a couple of weeks before the river trip that I mentioned in the previous chapter.1 He wanted to come out to my house to see me after my return. He was the main reason I’d held back from a commitment to Boe at the end of the river trip. When Joe was riding his new motorbike out to see me, in a hurry because he was late, he skidded and crashed it on our gravel road. For this reason, he was even later getting to my house. We didn’t have cell phones then, so I was wondering if he had stood me up.

When he finally arrived, I didn’t know what to say. He was really late. But then, instead of apologizing, he started fuming at me. It took me a minute to understand what had happened. And that he, himself, wasn’t hurt too badly, and his bike still worked, but it had some major dings in it. And, Joe was very angry at me for his bike accident and the dings in his new motorcycle. Now his new, expensive bike was going to need some expensive repairs, and it was all my fault. Everything I said made things worse. He fussed and raged some more, and not long after he’d arrived, he left. And that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. Not only did he see me as a possession that belonged to him, but he also clearly put that bike and many other things before me. It was demeaning and frustrating. It soon came out, by mutual but grudging, angry consent on his part, that honestly, I wasn’t the girl for him.

Since Joe hadn’t worked out as a boyfriend, Boe was definitely next in line. But, a little later that summer, I was easily tricked into believing I was not special to Boe either. I would have been “true” to him. He would have been my next and first “real” boyfriend, despite being long-distance. I’m pretty sure. But after the false disappointment of believing I was just one among many, I began to consider invitations to attend church dances again. Maybe church guys would, like Boe, be nicer.

As active members of the LDS Church, we weren’t supposed to date until we were sixteen, but we were allowed to attend these dances by age fourteen. Someone’s parents or older siblings would have to drive us at that age. These church-sponsored dances were held almost every weekend somewhere in the greater Denver area at one of the myriad, identically-built “stake centers” (larger church buildings). They would be held in the “cultural hall,” and a toned-down disk jockey would be in charge of the music. Sometimes they’d even arrange to have a disco ball or disco lights. We weren’t supposed to dance too close in the slow dances or get too wild in the fast dances. Parents and church leaders took turns chaperoning. Some chaperones were stricter than others, and, of course, the kids could tell the lay of the land right away—what we could get away with depended on this.

It seemed like at every dance, the guys I wanted to dance with were interested in other girls, and the guys I wasn’t interested in wanted to dance with me. Every once in a while, someone I thought I’d like to get to know would ask me to dance. However, half of these guys ended up being a “one night stand”—in a church dance, one kiss stolen in the parking lot, sense. And half of them were too needy or demanding and wore me out before any meaningful relationship could get off the ground.

That summer, two non-member brothers came to a dance. The older one was dating an LDS girl. Mack, the younger brother, and I hit it off. Afterward, he started calling me and sometimes coming over to my house. We’d sit in his car and talk since I still wasn’t old enough to date or go anywhere with him. (I believe that’s when, unbeknownst to me, my younger siblings began spying on me and my dates—or in this case, my not-a-date date). These rendezvous with Mack happened for a little while, but then they suddenly stopped without any explanation. He called less frequently. Then there was a long while when I didn’t see or hear from Mack at all.

When high school began, I and many other LDS students started attending early-morning “seminary” (classes) before school. There I met a bunch of guys (and gals, too) who were in the Boulder First Ward, now a large ward full of guys I didn’t know. I was excited and flattered when three of them especially glommed onto me. They each wanted my phone number and to go to the next LDS dance with me. Since Mack and I had cooled off toward each other (or so it seemed to me), I accepted the invitation from Pete, Sam, and Cal.

On the night of the dance, all three guys came together in a carload with some other kids to pick me up. We were pretty squished in. They sat one on either side of me, and one in the back, directly behind me. Each one of them was “discreetly,” yet indiscreetly hanging onto me, the two on either side of me holding my hands, and the one in the back with his hand on my shoulder if his arm wasn’t around my neck! They told me, for everyone’s sake, I had to choose one of them by the end of the dance. I replied that I hoped I would be able to, but they would all at least be my friends for sure.

I was certainly getting the attention I craved! At first, it was thrilling—like a sweet but unreal dream. After we arrived, I danced with one after the other, giving turns to Pete, Sam, and Cal. That was until a little way into the evening; Mack showed up along with another guy from Longmont who had considered himself my boyfriend for a time (whether I wanted him to or not!). At that point, a fight erupted between the guys from Boulder and the guys from Longmont about who got to dance with me. This was too much, even for me! I felt terrible that all these guys were fighting over a dance with me.

My dream quickly turned into a nightmare. They started getting physical—bumping each other in the chest and pushing each other around until a chaperone had to intervene. I was horrified. It was awful.

When the chaperone learned Mack wasn’t a member of the LDS Church, in an angry tone and with harsh words, he told Mack to leave the dance immediately and not to come back—end of conversation. Mack tried to explain he had come with other guys. The chaperone wouldn’t listen. Mack was furious. He left the building in a rage, but he couldn’t leave the grounds without the other guys, and he said he wouldn’t leave without talking to me first.

I went outside to try to calm him down and to explain the chaperones weren’t all like that. I didn’t want him to leave hating the LDS Church and all LDS people. He did calm down enough to talk to me.

He wanted to know what was going on. He hadn’t been in touch because he’d had some family things to deal with. Couldn’t I understand? I said, “Well, maybe I could have if you had communicated any of this with me.” And on it went. I wouldn’t give him any guarantees. The bottom line was that I didn’t believe he was telling me the whole story—but I couldn’t tell him that without him flipping out again. Finally, the Longmont guys gathered themselves together, and, to everyone’s relief, they all left.

Being the center of attention had lost all its glamor. I was much less enthusiastic about re-entering the dance room. Still, I had to go back in. I sat out most of the dances after that. Pete, Sam, and Cal sat out with me. I had more “sympathy” from them than I ever wanted. By the time I arrived back home, I had not decided on any one guy from Boulder First Ward, and I didn’t want to. Nothing in my past had prepared me for dealing with this kind of thing, and there wasn’t anyone I felt I could talk to.

Eventually, I did choose—the one among Pete, Sam, and Cal, whom I considered to be the coolest—the worst choice. This relationship lasted a few weeks until we both realized we had absolutely nothing in common. Meanwhile, there was a lot of making out (kissing)—mostly at his house on the lunch hour (he lived near the high school), but probably no “necking or petting.” I never fully understood what this phrase meant. I just knew that according to our church’s standards, we weren’t supposed to do it.

The baseball analogy was another one I never fully understood. I would hear guys and sometimes girls talking about it. I guessed “first base” was kissing; I knew a home run was “going all the way”; but I was never clear on what “second” and “third” bases were exactly. I received conflicting information on these details. First base was pretty much my limit anyway in these early years of my dating career.

Looking back, I see that’s exactly what boyfriends and dating were for me—a “career.” According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, as the term is used here, a career is “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life.”[3] Though the initial goal was acceptance and belonging, the ultimate goal in my mind was a Celestial Marriage. Nothing less would do in the end.

I wanted to marry my one true love in an LDS temple where I believed we could be “sealed for all time and eternity.” LDS Church doctrine teaches there are three kingdoms or degrees of glory, each one higher than the other, and one kingdom not of glory but of perdition or hell.[4] I wanted to earn the highest degree or kingdom of glory to dwell with God the Father and my future husband—forever. Ultimately, this strong desire—along with God’s grace and my parent’s prayers—is what kept me a virgin (technically, though surely not in spirit) until I was married despite all the dating and boyfriends I went through in the decade or so before I married.

Ironically, the first “long-term” boyfriend I ended up with was Mack—a non-member. After Pete and I broke up, Mack started coming around again. He got tired of just sitting in our driveway in his car talking and finally talked me into going on a date with him before I was sixteen. We snuck out to go to a concert. I told my parents, “I’m going to a concert with a friend, who’s picking me up at our mailbox because they’ll be in a hurry to be on time.” Not a total lie, though it certainly felt like a big one—and so it curbed my enjoyment some and kept me from doing it again before I was sixteen.

Eventually, Mack did end up joining the LDS Church, but I don’t think he would have done it without my relentless “persuasion.” I highly doubt he is still a member today. Altogether, we dated for two years. Our breakup is for another chapter.

My takeaway from these pre-dating years is that using people—even by mutual consent—to get attention, to belong, to be cool, or for any other reason is wrong—even if it feels good for a time. It is not cool with God, who knows us inside and out and still loves and values us thoroughly and unconditionally. I was using guys just as much as they were using me, only in different ways. I didn’t care about any of them personally or because of who they were.

Even though we were mutually attracted, our relationships couldn’t be anything but superficial because they were so self-centered. This was a graceless, empty, unhealthy way of dealing or communing with another human being. I know I was young, and no one should take themselves too seriously; but I am still not proud of the way I thought of or treated these young men, who were someone’s son, brother, grandson, and possibly future husband. I am not proud of a culture that encouraged this behavior.

I am grateful I grew up with aims and church standards—as misguided as they were—that constrained me to some degree; and parents who loved and prayed for me even while I was touchy and difficult to live with, lying to them, and doing things behind their backs they would not have approved of. (When I look back on my dating years and see how God protected me overall, I think it must have been because of my parents’ prayers.) Most of all, I’m grateful for God’s grace and His forgiveness through Jesus of all my transgressions, including these. He has set me free and taught me to follow His Spirit to love people more truly and purely for who they are and in a more self-controlled and self-sacrificing way.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you,

do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

~ Jesus (Matthew 7:12)


[1] See the blog: [2] See the blog, “To Have a Friend”: [3] Merriam-Webster, “career,” (noun, second definition), accessed 6/22/2023, [4] To learn more about this doctrine see: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Topics and Questions, “Kingdoms of Glory,” accessed 6/22/2023, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Doctrines of the Gospel: Student Manuel, “Kingdoms of Glory and Perdition,” accessed 6/22/2023,


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