The politically correct version of the story would be that one of us immediately realized that this was either completely wrong or at least unsustainable but the fact of the matter was that each of us somehow had enough issues to try to keep it going. It was our own little social experiment and for a little over a month, it was fine. We were all sleeping together in the Biblical sense (if you want more details than that, you’re reading the wrong guy) and we were all friends. Natalie was all but living at the house. Shannon and Natalie had a few classes together and they were hanging out together. At some level, we were embracing our periphery, living a double life, having our own little secret. We were living in a reality that made us feel special and unique and at some level privileged.
In the midst of all this, I ran for class president. I lost by one vote when there were tons of people and we moved on to the other positions. At this point, my ego was riding fairly high and so I wasn’t really interested in any other position. I wanted the position because I believed I owed PUC a big debt and wanted to serve to thank them but also the class president got a speaking slot at graduation and helped choose the speaker. Shannon and Natalie had both been there but after the vote for president was set, they both left to work on some project. I stayed thinking it was incredibly rude to lose and leave. By some strange account, the guy who had been elected had actually run without being eligible and so a second vote was held and I had a new opponent but I prevailed and was elected. The girls were very surprised about this when I got back to my place and we celebrated in very inappropriate ways with plenty of jokes about Mr. President.
At first, ironically enough, living this double life helped me have a distraction from the other double life I was living where I was espousing a far more conservative approach than I actually had at my churches. In a surreal moment, Natalie, not a regular church attendee, even showed up to hear me give one of my sermons. It took off the edge that I’d been feeling and for a while I was on top of my game. I was the captain of the cross country team and had picked up my pace so much from the previous year that I was winning races. I was in the best shape of my life, the lightest I’ve ever weighed and the fastest I’ve ever been.
Things kept clicking. The churches were running well and I was being embraced as a positive change maker. The senior class booth won first place in the fall festival and raised way more money than we expected. We even got the speaker that I wanted to for graduation (Bart Campolo). Essentially, I had both a wife and a girlfriend who got along with each other.
Nonetheless, this rosy outlook on life couldn’t hold out forever. My usual confidence turned into a bravado swagger. I even started regularly telling this joke about this old man who goes to confession and says to the priest “I am 83 years old but last night I took two twenty year olds home with me and had sex with them both all night long.” The priest tells him to do five Hail Mary’s and the old man responded that he wasn’t Catholic. When the priest asked him why he was telling him the story, the old man responded by saying he was telling everyone.
Natalie had a life of her own and so there were plenty of times were it was just Shannon and I. We continued to host both the theology department and the psychology department for study sessions and meals. In our own way, all three of us had decided that even though this was unusual that we were “capable enough” to sustain it indefinitely, even forever. I even gave Natalie a necklace replica from the Lord of the Rings. We got way too comfortable with this to the point to where Natalie even had a picture of her and I in her room up at all times including during the open house when all students and staff paraded through the dorms (Adventists schools don’t allow opposite gender people in the dorm during this occasion). She took it down after one of the vice presidents, Lisa Bisell Paulson, gave her a weird look about it. But still we were “in love” and had our own charming little habits like we were playing house. Natalie’s initials were NY and she suddenly got very fond of the New York paraphenelia that said I heart NY with my initial being I.
I got too comfortable with it, too arrogant and suddenly started spending too much time independently with Natalie, going with her to one of my favorite art museums, going with her to lunch. I started to see myself as exempt from the reality that everyone else inhibited and thought that just as I was about to pull off getting two degrees with honors in four years that I could keep two girls happy with full knowledge of the other. I had a full time job and a full class load and was still keeping a 4.0, why couldn’t I do this? This is not to say that I didn’t have strange bouts of weirdness about it but I was dismissing the doubt. Life was going so well on so many facets that I simplistically thought that if things were going that well it couldn’t possibly be that big of a deal.
The obvious question is how I justified this morally or religiously. Initially, this was harder than I thought but there is an old principle that if our actions and our thoughts contradict each other, we’re far more likely to change our thoughts. I turned to the Biblical patriarchs and prophets and some of those who were incredibly used by God had multiple women attached to them. It was incredibly immature but so was I and my weaknesses were ruling me.
I even told a few select friends about it and while their reaction was definitely that it was a series of stupid decisions, their approach of whatever works allowed me to keep it going. I was very selectively choosing who I told because I knew there would be those who would condemn it immediately. There were clues there that should have grabbed more on to me. Natalie was not telling her mother nor her father although I did have dinner with both of them during this time. I was not telling my best friends at the time or a single one of the theology majors. I was too involved now to want correction and the sex was a positive but the truth is that I now had both Shannon, my destiny the girl of my dreams, and Natalie, the gorgeous girl who had gotten away and now was back. It was a self fulfilling sickness.
However, the time that I was spending with Natalie alone was starting to wear me down as well. The double life couldn’t be sustained forever in part because Natalie and I were hiding how deep our exclusive affection to each other was from Shannon. Another reason was that Shannon got tired of playing house and while it might have been a fun game for a while, games needed to come to an end. I also started to grip the fact that to sustain this I would have to drop the lifetime dream of being a pastor but I wasn’t sure which one of the two, that dream or this lifestyle, I wanted to keep more. This came from an infantile and selfish place but I kept telling myself that I had worked against being selfish for so long that I deserved this exception, this alternate reality.
This stupidity was bound to fall apart but when it started to crack, I fought it tooth and nail. Shannon said to me that this was enough and that we’d had our fun but it was time to grow up and I was arguing with her that she couldn’t just take things away that she had allowed on a dime. It was now only a matter of what and when this would disintegrate but I’d grown so cocky about it I never saw it coming.