In the world of Harry Potter, a boggart is a shape-shifting creature that hides in enclosed spaces like closets or cabinets. When released, the boggart takes on the shape of its victim’s worst fear. At school, Harry and his friends battle boggarts that look like giant spiders, disappointed teachers, or bloody mummies; in one particularly poignant scene towards the end of the series, Molly Weasley confronts a boggart that keeps turning into each of her family members dying, in turn. I’ve got a boggart in my closet, and it seems to change shape too. Sometimes it looks like the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons, spouting gibberish and flinging cats at anyone who tries to approach her. Other days I think it might be Eponine, patron saint of lonely third-wheels perpetually stuck in the friend zone. Perhaps it’s Miss Havisham, moldering away in her wedding dress.
I felt chagrined a few years ago when my boggart first appeared. “Really?” I asked. “My greatest fear is that no one will ever love me and I’ll die alone?” I looked around, embarrassed, to make sure no one else noticed what my boggart looked like. I’m a strong, capable single woman who has a good job, plenty of friends, a house, kids, and a very full life. Am I really pining away for a man? But then my boggart walked over and whispered in my ear, reminding me of my rather dismal dating history. In high school I was awkward and unsure of myself; when we had to create a list of qualities we wanted in a future husband for a Mutual activity, the first thing on my list was “Doesn’t laugh at me.” Although many people reassured me that dating in college would be different, it wasn’t. I met my first, and only, boyfriend after my mission and we quickly became engaged and married. Unfortunately our marriage didn’t quite make it to a decade and I was back to being single again.
Most days I feel happy and content and I don’t think about my boggart. Then I’ll open an unused closet or drawer and it pops out, taunting me with threats of eternal loneliness. When all the men at the dance ignore me or my online dating profile piques no one’s interest, it tells me that there is something fundamentally wrong with who I am: “maybe you should try wearing more make-up; don’t mention your master’s degree; buy some trendier clothes and lose some weight.” During a lesson at church about the plan of salvation, I hear the little voice saying “well, you’ve failed and there’s no hope for you since you can’t find anyone to marry you.” When my friends post about engagements or anniversaries on Facebook, my boggart tells me that happiness is like a pie and everyone else has already eaten all the slices.
The only way to combat a boggart is with a Riddikulus charm, which turns the creature into something benign and humorous. The fear that I will be single for the rest of my life isn’t actually that ridiculous. I know that the odds aren’t in my favor and it’s fairly likely that I won’t get married again. However, what is ridiculous is letting that fear steal my happiness now. It’s also ridiculous to assume that the fact that I don’t have romantic love in my life means I am unlovable. Confronting the boggart in my closet has also made me see that when I was married I put too much faith in the fact that I had a relationship. I let the fact that I was married give me self-confidence; this was dangerous, because tying my self-worth to someone else’s behavior is ridiculous and a great way to be perpetually unhappy. And then, when that person stopped loving me, I had nothing. Instead, I’m learning to love myself for who I am, quirks and all. Life would be a lot more fun with someone on my team, but my solo act isn’t the end of the world. Hopefully one of these days I’ll open my closet and a more reasonable fear will pop out. Spiders, maybe?
What do you do to talk back to your fears? How do you keep living your life with hope even after your plans don’t work out?