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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

The Biggest Breakup

photo of a broken-hearted young woman with her face in her hands and a tear on her chin

“...You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:17)

I didn’t think anything could hurt so much. Never in my life had I imagined so much pain to be possible. After almost two years of dating, it was suddenly over. Well—almost suddenly. There had been hints that I’d chosen to ignore or explain away because his excuses for not writing or calling had all seemed totally valid. And yes, excuses, not reasons. I think I knew somewhere deep inside that he was making excuses. Nothing keeps real love apart—right? He was really good at making himself believable, and that is how it was from start to finish.

Who was this young man who had won my heart so thoroughly? It was the same Mack[*] who had shown up at an LDS Church dance with his older brother. The same Mack who wasn’t LDS, and then was LDS, who had gradually worked his way into my life and affections. The same Mack who’d come over to my house so we could sit in his car and “talk,” since I wasn’t allowed to date yet. The same Mack who for a longish (to me) while, didn’t call or come over, but then a little later came to another dance and got into a fight with my Boulder First Ward seminary crushes, insisting I was his girlfriend. The same Mack who talked me into a first date before I was sixteen. The one where I told my parents I was meeting a “friend” at our mailbox down the road so we could get to a concert on time.

Mack and I started dating in earnest once I was sixteen. Besides LDS Church dances, he took me to several of the formal dances at our two high schools: his senior year homecoming dance, and my prom and Winter Ball.

He taught me how to play tennis and ski. The skiing lesson at Winter Park was memorable. His brother came with us on this date. First, while his brother was skiing, Mack gave me a few pointers on a bunny hill—basically, how to stay standing while going downhill on skis and how to stop. Then he told me I was ready for the slope. He told me how to get on and off the lift. Then he and his brother helped make sure I didn’t hurt myself making my first attempt. Once we (barely) cleared the lift, the real lesson began.

Mack said: “follow me and do what I do.” At first, he went slowly, and I could somewhat follow his motions. But then he began to go faster, and I couldn’t keep up.

His brother helped me learn how to get back up (this requires skill!) after my first spill because Mack was too far ahead to notice I had fallen. Mack’s brother also gave me a few pointers on maneuvering moguls, by bending my knees and leaning around them, as the run was full of them. Somehow, I finally got down the slope without falling again or killing myself or anyone else. Then we did it again—and again—until it was time to go.

By then I was starting to get the hang of it and didn’t want to stop. Mack told me he was proud of how quickly I’d learned. However, skiing was super expensive, the daylight hours short, and the roads chancy in the winter, so I didn’t question that this was our one and only time skiing together.

During the many months we dated, I was hopeful Mack would eventually join the LDS Church so we could be married—sealed for “time and eternity” in an LDS temple. For that to happen, he would have to convert, be baptized under LDS authority, and get himself “temple ready” (by keeping all the LDS Church’s commandments). I didn’t consider whether I was “temple ready” myself.

Mack had been born and baptized Catholic. His sweet mom and imposing (big and tall) dad were always kind to me, but I’m pretty sure they wished he would date a nice Catholic girl. He went to church with me a few times and insisted, since he’d gone with me, I should go with him to his church as well. I went at least once. His folks appreciated that. The standing, sitting, and kneeling, then the communion ceremony were all bewildering to me. I couldn’t identify with any of it, and I wasn’t able to follow it. It all seemed pointless and purely ritualistic. I didn’t want to go again.

Several times, Mack asked me to run away with him and marry him. A few of those times were after he showed up at my house slightly inebriated. This was when he was the most insistent. But thankfully, because I could tell he had been drinking, I rightly assumed his judgment was also off. I was offended he would ask me such a serious question when he wasn’t sober. This seemed like a huge setback. A good Mormon doesn’t drink or get drunk. I was determined I was going to hold out for a temple marriage. I wasn’t going to bend on this one thing. These were especially trying occasions for me.

One of the scariest dates we ever had was after one of his slightly-off proposals one night. He had shown up with alcohol on his breath. He said he had a surprise for me and gave me a beautiful silver ring with a large heart-shaped, deep blue sapphire in the setting. Then, after my refusal to run off and marry him, he drove us out to some country roads. He wanted to show me what he and a friend had been practicing—getting up to and going over 100 miles per hour on these “barely-used back roads” he knew “like the back of his hand.”

It might have been thrilling if he hadn’t also been tipsy, if I could have trusted his judgment, and if I knew for sure other cars wouldn’t be on the road. I had never been so scared in my life before that. I began to pray, asking my Heavenly Father for His protection! It was a ride at high speed into the unknown with a crazed boyfriend. Obviously, we lived through it. God did protect us. We didn’t come to any harm, nor did anyone else, but I was never so relieved to be dropped off at home later that night.

Mack was the boyfriend who came with my family on the camping trip that ended with the birth of my baby brother in the back of our station wagon.[1] That memorable trip was a turning point for us all. A lot of love and care was poured out on our family by the members of the LDS Church—complete strangers—who lived in that area where Nate was born. They provided food and a place to camp, wash our clothes, and shower. The whole long drive home after that “vacation,” we were all floating on the joy of my mom’s good health after all she’d been through, our new baby brother, and the love that the locals had shown to us all while my mom was in recovery.

It wasn’t long after that momentous event when Mack had an announcement for me. He had decided to join the LDS Church. I was elated! One Saturday, he was baptized and the following Sunday he was confirmed a member of the LDS Church. His parents must have been disappointed; they didn’t come to either event. Mack’s joining the LDS Church in some ways made me feel closer to him, though I didn’t notice any real change in him. I don’t know that he stopped drinking. Somehow his conversion never seemed fully sincere to me. However, I trusted myself to him more than I had before.

This led to one of the biggest mistakes we almost made. Thankfully, I was having my monthly cycle and there was an impediment, or I would have lost my virginity to him that day. I felt so guilty for what surely would have happened if circumstances had been different, that I insisted we go together to confess to my ward bishop. At first, Mack didn’t want to go. He didn’t see the need. But eventually, for my sake, he went with me. I don’t think Mack ever felt guilty or sorry. I was totally contrite and felt enough guilt and shame for both of us. For me, it was as if we had done “it.” There was some relief in confessing. The bishop counseled us not to see each other anymore, or to make sure we were with other people when we were together. Mack didn’t like his counsel at all. I didn’t know what to think.

We didn’t have to worry too much though; Mack was going off to attend college at BYU soon. Mack promised to call and write often, and he did—at first. During Christmas break the weather was terrible for driving, so he didn’t come home, but he called a few times. My best friend, Gina,[†] and I planned a spring break trip to Utah so she could check out BYU, and I could spend some time with Mack. He set up a place for us to stay. It was with a BYU cheerleader he knew. Her roommates would be away for the break, so we could stay with her. Gina and I were so excited about making the trip together and spending the time there.

Not long after we arrived, Mack asked me to take a walk with him. As we walked, he confessed to me that he and the cheerleader were a couple. It wasn’t her fault; she hadn’t known he was already dating someone. It wasn’t something he had planned, it “just happened.” How long had this been going on? Almost since the beginning of school last September. He apologized for leading me on and not telling me sooner.

He tried to make me feel better by also confessing that he’d embezzled funds from his employer before leaving for college. He hadn’t simply “quit working” for that company—he had been fired. He declared, “See, I really am a worthless scumbag. You can be glad you’re clear of me.” Like that was supposed to be a consolation.

And (still attempting to console me), he told me even though he’d won exclusive tickets to a Bread concert, he was going to give them up so that I and a cool date escort—he had already arranged—could go instead. A limousine would arrive to take me and this blind date to the concert the next evening. After the show, we would get to meet Donny and Marie Osmond, who were also going to be there.

This last “prize” was apparently supposed to fully reconcile me to his betrayal. I was even more upset. I felt railroaded. Like a train had run back and forth over my heart and emotions. One Mack train.

The last thing I wanted after this news was to go on any date with anyone, let alone a blind date. Not even to a Bread concert. Not even in a limo. Not even to meet Donny and Marie Osmond. But Mack knew me; he guilted me into it for the sake of the innocent guy (the blind date) in the equation.

The time leading up to the date was excruciating. I was utterly miserable inside and I did not want to go. But in the end, I tried to put on a good face for the sake of my blind date. It turns out, I needn’t have bothered. The limo pulled up, and I was greeted by Mr. Surly. Apparently, the guy wanted to go on this date about as much as I did. The guy was not good-looking and his attitude made him even uglier. He only had negative comments to make the whole time. He was totally self-absorbed and unfriendly. He was “cool” alright, just as Mack had said, but not a desirable kind of cool! Mack had wronged me again, far more than I cared to think about.

Despite our great seats and a few especially great Bread songs, none of it helped me to forget myself or my situation even a little—though by then, I really wanted it to.

After the show, we waited around for what seemed like forever to see the Osmonds, only to be informed that the meet-and-greet was canceled because one of them wasn’t feeling well. We never got to see either Donny or Marie (which was just as well considering my state of mind by then). Waiting around for nothing with my “cool” date was the cherry on top of the worst date ever. The limo finally returned me to where I was staying, and even though I didn’t want to be there either, it was the far better alternative.

The next day, Gina and I left. When Gina found out what Mack did, she was super angry with him. I still wasn’t sure what I was. Anyway, she was very empathetic and willing to return home earlier than we had planned.

Back home, I fell apart. I was in so much pain. I didn’t know how to even begin to process Mack’s behavior or words to me. I was at a complete loss. I had been crying and biting my bed sheets and then myself, but I just as quickly knew that more crying, pulling my hair, banging my head on the wall, or other self-harming would not help me in the least. Nothing could hurt worse. Nothing could come close. There was nothing for it. I wanted to die.

It was then I did the only thing I knew to do when there was no other help. I fell on my face. I poured my heart out to God—silently, because I couldn’t put it into words. My soul moaned to Him how very, very much I hurt and that I didn’t know what to do.

Then, the sweetest thing happened. The Lord simply, gently, lifted the pain away and filled my heart with peace and quiet. And that was it. The pain was inexplicably gone. And it never returned—ever.

I didn’t have to understand what had happened. I was just glad it had. I could live again. I saw that God cared about my pain and that for whatever reason He had seen fit to completely relieve me of it at the time. (He never has done that again in the same way.)

This taught me how God understands. How He is, above all, a true and personal friend like no one else could ever be, full of mercy and grace. This was brought home even more when I learned that, at the end of the semester, Mack and the cheerleader eloped. This news did not cause any soreness of heart. Instead, I only felt sad for them and what they were doing to themselves in their hurry. I marveled at this and was immensely grateful to God and comforted by this added kindness to me, which I knew was from Him.

Later, when I received the unsurprising news that the cheerleader’s parents made them annul the wedding, I wasn’t glad of it. Again, I was sorry for them and their families and all the pain they must have caused each other. It was then I realized how truly and completely God had healed me. With this discovery, I felt another great wave of wonder, gratitude, and relief for God’s incredible goodness to me.

“Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)


[*] Not his real name [†] Not her real name

[1] See the Spiritual Journey chapter/blog entitled: “Family Excursions,”


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