After Falling For A Man Outside The Jehovah's Witnesses, I'm Learning To Balance Love And Faith

One woman's story of secret love, being 'disfellowed' from her faith, and the way back, as part of a collaboration between The Moth and HuffPost UK
Davin G Photography via Getty Images

It was my 33rd birthday. I don’t celebrate my birthday, because I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I know it’s my birthday.

Hitting your thirties as a single woman can be tough, but hitting your thirties as a single woman who’s a Jehovah’s Witness is brutal.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d heard a statistic that confirmed something every single Witness girl already knows: the ratio of single women to single men in our organization is nine to one. Yeah. So that’s tough.

When you factor in the rule that we cannot date or marry outside our faith, it gets even tougher. So this was weighing on me as I was sitting with my gorgeous, funny, smart, single girlfriends.

I had dreams. I had things I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to put myself out there. I wanted to find love. But the idea of finding a mate had become such an unattainable goal, such a pipe dream, that by extension all my dreams seemed unattainable. I felt, at 33-years-old, as though my entire life had already passed me by and I’d missed it.

I’d lost my joy, and joy is a fundamental requirement of being a Jehovah’s Witness. Only joy can get you out of your bed on a freezing-cold Michigan Saturday morning to go knock on people’s doors and try to talk about God. You have to have joy, and I’d lost mine.

I talked to the brothers in my congregation about it. They told me to read the Scriptures, to meditate on them, and I did. I prayed. I read the Bible. Wasn’t really working.

During this time there was one Scripture that I meditated on specifically, and that was Philippians 4:8: “Whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatsoever things are pure, think on these things.”

And I did. I kept myself busy, so that I wouldn’t think about what I felt was missing in my life. But I thought about other things, too. Like what it would feel like to have a life partner and what it would feel like to wake up in the arms of a man who loved me.

So on my 33rd birthday, surrounded by all my gorgeous, funny, smart, sexy, single girlfriends, I made a decision.

I decided I needed more than Scripture.

I needed more than prayer.

I needed Tinder.

Tinder, for the uninitiated, is neither chaste nor lovable nor pure. It’s also a visually-based dating app, and that presented a problem for me because I couldn’t have my face out there.

Can you imagine going to someone’s door, knocking, saying, “Hi, I want to talk to you about God’s—”

“Aren’t you that girl I saw on Tinder?”

“No, no, no, no, no.”

It’s a sure way to get caught.

Remember, Witnesses can only date other Witnesses, and that’s not a suggestion, that’s a rule. And if you break that rule, there are consequences.
So I’m a planner. I launched a plan.

I put on my best wrap dress, I took a really flattering picture, and then I cropped my head out and prayed for the best.

There were some creepy responses to a headless torso on Tinder – there were. But there were some, the gentlemen of Tinder, who were nice, and one of these nice gentlemen was a guy named Josh.

Josh and I hit it off immediately. We’re both obsessed with Parliament-Funkadelic. He had great taste in music, he was funny, he was smart, he was witty, he was not a creep. Best of all he was a grad student – he was doing his capstone – so he was perpetually busy and four hours away. That was perfect for me, because we became texting buddies.

Most guys on Tinder, they want to text one day, maybe two, before you meet and get the show on the road. Josh was always busy and far away, so we texted, and the texting was delicious. All that flirting. I was sizzling, I was vivacious. Here was a man who saw me as a woman, not as a spiritual sister. It was awesome. I had a pep in my step, and it spilled into the other parts of my life. I found the joy in my ministry, I was friendlier at work, I wasn’t the wet blanket at parties anymore.

People noticed, but I kept the reason to myself. I had to keep it a secret, because Josh wasn’t a Witness.

So one day I get a message from Josh, and he writes, I’m in your neck of the woods, what are you doing?

I happened to be home by myself that day, and I had this rush of boldness.
I texted back: I’m home alone. do you want to come over and make out for 15 minutes?

To which he said, yeah.

And I immediately started to question every life choice I’d ever made, because I am not this girl, this is not me.

This is the start of every Lifetime movie ever made. My roommate’s going to come home and find my dead body splayed on the living room floor, and what are my parents going to think?

I’m spiraling. But before I can cancel, Josh is at the door.

I open the door.

Wow. Tall, dark, and handsome.

I let him in, we sit down on the couch, I set my timer. He makes small talk because he’s a polite Midwestern boy. And then he leans in for the kiss.

That kiss was magic, it was electric. I felt it in my toes. I’m telling you this story years later, and I feel it in my toes right now. My whole body was buzzing.
And then the timer was buzzing, our time was up.

I thought, Oh, no, I want more.

But I stood up dutifully and said, “Okay, thank you.”

He said, “Really? Okay.”

And then he said, “Can I see you again?”

I told him I’d have to think about it, and I did. I had to think about it, because the texting, the flirting, that was good and fine, but we’d crossed a line. I knew where this could go, and I knew what the consequences could be. But I also knew I wanted more. It felt good. So I started carving out time to be with Josh.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, we have a big culture of accountability. If you miss your meetings, people will text you or call you and ask where you were. If you have a roommate and you’re out late, that roommate might call you and say, “Where are you, what are you doing?”

So I had to start lying. I started “going to the gym” a lot, I started “working late” a lot, to carve out time for me and Josh. We’d meet and we’d go to a movie or we’d cook a meal together.

I remember one time we ordered takeout and watched Sherlock at his apartment, and I was so deliriously happy. I wanted to call my parents and my friends and tell them how happy I was. But I couldn’t do that because, not only was Josh not a Witness, he was a lapsed Catholic altar boy who questioned the existence of God. And if you googled Josh (like I did), the first thing you would see is an article he wrote while he was attending MIT about leaving religion behind altogether.

Yeah, this is not a guy I could take home to my family.

I realized I was falling in love with Josh when my youngest brother got engaged and my first thought was, I can’t wait to dance with Josh at the wedding, and my second thought was, Have you lost your mind? You can’t take Josh to this wedding!

So I launched a four-part plan.

Phase one, introduce Josh into conversation: “There’s this really nice Midwestern guy. He keeps asking me out. I’m dutifully rebuffing him because of my faith.”

Phase two, and this one was tricky: convince my family to convince me to take Josh to the wedding as my date.

And I did it. Here’s how: I called up a couple of escort services and priced how much it would cost to rent a date, then called my family and said, “Listen, guys, it’s about three hundred fifty dollars an hour – can you pitch in?”

When my mother picked her heart up off the floor, she said, “Why don’t you just ask that nice Midwestern boy to come with you?” Mission accomplished.

Phase three was simple: take Josh to the wedding, keep it platonic, have him charm the pants off everybody. That’s easy, he’s a really lovable, affable guy.

My grandmother fell in love with Josh. She’s not a Witness – she’s a little old Cuban lady – but the Grandma Seal of Approval? Super important.

Phase four, I will admit, maybe I didn’t plan it out as carefully as I should have, but here was the general idea: We would get back, I would wait two weeks, and then I would announce that I had decided to start dating Josh. He wasn’t the big bad wolf anymore – people knew him, they liked him. I knew I’d take my lumps and maybe lose some friends, but I didn’t think it would be the end of the world.

You know what they say about best-laid plans. By week one of phase four, a Witness friend had put two and two together. She says to me, “Have you been secretly dating Josh?”

I was exposed. The lying, the dating, the intimacy, all of it. I couldn’t ask her to hold that secret. I knew what the next steps were.

So I called the elders in my congregation, and I told them everything. The decision was made to disfellowship me. So for those of you who don’t know what disfellowshipping is, it’s a disciplinary action that Jehovah’s Witnesses take when someone is an unrepentant wrongdoer, a fornicator such as myself.

What it means in practical terms is your family can no longer talk to you, your friends can no longer talk to you. You walk into a room full of people who’ve been your only social network your entire life, and they can’t even say hello.
Some of them won’t even look at me. It’s not to be mean, it’s because they’re hurt.

So now, for the first time, everything is on the table. On the one hand, there’s my family, my friends, my community, my God, my faith.

On the other hand, there’s this man who loves me, and his parents, who have my picture on their mantel, and his friends who have welcomed me, and the wedding we talked about, and the life that we wanted to build together, and that feeling of joy that he gives me. It’s time to strip everything down to zero and come clean to myself about who I am and figure out what I want.

I break up with Josh.

In the absence of that culture of accountability, where no one is checking on me and no one is calling to see where I am, I surprisingly find myself still going to my meetings. The doctrine feels insurmountable, but I keep going, and I realize that I believe, I really, truly do believe, what they’re teaching here. And, to my shock, I want to be a part of this organization. I want to find my way back.

There is a path back. You go to all your meetings, you pray, you study, you stop doing what you’re not supposed to do, and then you meet with your committee.
And it was interesting, because I didn’t just go to my meetings. I went to my meetings, and I marched all the way up to the very front row, and I sat there. I made sure everyone could see me. I wanted them to know, I’m human, I fell short, but I’m still here. I’m not giving up.

But I missed Josh. I missed him so much it hurt to breathe, and I’m not one of those girls, I never have been. So, four months into this ordeal, I called him up and I said, “This is how I feel. How do you feel?”

And he said, “Whatever it is, we can figure it out together. This is not insurmountable.”

I had to believe that the God who loves me wants me to have love, too.
So we decided, “Why not?”

Josh and I got engaged in June. I’m still disfellowshipped. I’m still going to my meetings. We’re figuring it out together. It’s messy, it’s work, but it works for us because we love each other.

There have been times through this journey where things get dark, and I feel like giving up because it’s hard. And in those moments Josh has never once said to me, “Why don’t you walk away from this faith?”

He’s never asked me to give up my religion. So I have to have faith that, if this man can make room in his life for my faith, with time my community will make room for him in my life.

So Saturday, two days from now, Josh and I are getting married. I’m still disfellowshipped, so it’s going to be a small ceremony. My family will not be there, and I’m not going to lie, I’m sad about that. It’s a small sadness, though; it’s a tender spot that I know will heal with time.

I’m excited about the prospect of being reinstated with time. I’m excited to be part of the congregation again. I can’t wait to go knocking on people’s doors again.

But what I am most excited about is that Sunday morning I’ll finally get to wake up in the arms of a man who loves me.

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book, Occasional Magic, for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.