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The Boggart in My Closet

By Jessie Christensen

Crazy Cat LadyIn 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?

About Jessie Christensen

Jessie served a mission in Spain and graduated from BYU with bachelor's degrees in Spanish Translation and English, as well as a master's in Spanish Literature. She currently works full-time at a university library and nurtures her three children, one cat, and a fluctuating number of fish. She relaxes by reading, baking, canning fruit, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

17 thoughts on “The Boggart in My Closet”

  1. You are such an awesome BRAVE person! I think the older I get, the more I'm learning to actually like my weirdness haha. One of the best things I've found that helps me get past fears is talking to others about it. We aren't supposed to do everything alone! So thanks for sharing and encouraging us all to be a little braver!

  2. So well articulated. I am just recently learning my happiness must come from me and not my spouse. Life-changing concept! I'm still working on facing my fears.

  3. Thank you! I love how you refer to this as our bogart! And tell us that we can do something to overcome it! Sometimes when I am incapacitated worrying about what someone will think, or feeling that I am not good enough, I have to ask the Lord to 'please take this from me'. And it works!

  4. What a great paradigm shift, to refer to our fears as the bogarts they really are. My bogarts invariably tell me that I am not loved anymore, with an occasional refrain that I am not good enough because I don't have the skills of people around me. I will have to work on my Riddikulus charms!

  5. "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."

    I loved the whole post but especially this line. Feeling like there's only so many blessings to go around is definitely something I've struggled with, especially within my own life. (E.g., I tend to feel like if God gives me a blessing in one area, He won't bless me in another, even if I actually need that blessing more.)

  6. My daughter recently voiced the desire to not marry and not have children. So I have been confronting that concept. Is marriage and motherhood something I should try to talk her into or not? Prepare her for or not? I called my sister (single, no longer lds) and asked her to reassure me that single life can be happy. When she told others about this (non-lds) they thought I was rude and judgy, which she hadn't originally felt when I first called her.
    It is interesting to confront my fears as I think about my children growing up. What do I worry that will happen or won't happen for them? What do I think constitutes a good life for them or not?
    I love my life and my relatively happy marriage. But it always strikes me as odd when people want to date after divorce. I can't imagine wanting to date or marry again after divorce or death. Is that my privilege speaking, since I have a partner I forget what it is like to long for one? Or does my experience know that relationships aren't everything so getting entangled in something new wouldn't be worth the headache when there are so many other things in life?

  7. Yes, I think that is your "privilege" talking. It's lonely to be single, especially in the LDS culture, but lonelier still is living in a bad marriage. As a newly single LDS woman, I have zero desire to look for another romantic relationship, but I do understand the longing for partnership. We're designed to be paired, so it's only natural (in a good way.) My best (single) friend says, "If only God would just tell me I'll be single for the rest of my life, I could happily adjust. It's the not knowing that is so maddening." That's what I hear in your post, too, Jessie. To stay constantly open and vulnerable is exhausting, because how do you plan, or hope? Jessie, you are a strong, courageous woman, one of my true heroes. Be happy, whatever that takes!

  8. Thanks for the great comments guys!

    Sarah–you are right; hiding our fears sometimes tends to make them bigger and scarier than they really are. As I get older I'm also a lot less afraid of people thinking that I'm weird, and I've realized that other people are just as insecure as I am.

    Sage–good luck with facing your fears; I think it's a lifelong journey, especially since you never know what will pop out of the closet next

    Thanks, Cindy. I think that personifying my fears has helped me separate them a little from myself so it's easier to deal with them.

    Katya–I 've realized that fear can make things feel small and make me feel greedy. Learning to relax and trust the Lord can be hard.

    jks–I think it is interesting how people want different things, and sometimes at different stages in their life. When I was in high school I didn't really want to get married, and definitely didn't want to have children. I simultaneously did want someone to love me and I wanted to be wanted. People can be paradoxical, can't they? I've also seen people respond to divorce or widowhood in a variety of ways. Some never want to get married again, some jump into dating right away. I know that when I was married it was difficult to imagine what it would be like to be single, especially being single after someone you thought loved you has left you behind. I've been divorced for about 3 years and didn't initially want to date, but have been feeling that desire again. Like I said in my post, I was surprised by the realization that I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life–I didn't always feel this way.

    Lisa–Yes, I don't think we're meant to be alone. And being in a bad, emotionally dead marriage was probably worse than being single. I think that in some ways that adds to my desire to get married again–I see friends who have good, healthy marriages and I wonder what it would be like to have that. I wish I knew what God's timetable was too, because there's only so much I can do about the situation by myself!

  9. One of my more terrifying Boggarts is me being on a date! I would like to share my life with someone, but as you said, the odds for divorced LDS women to remarry (or any LDS woman to marry) is less likely than LDS men.

    When the fear rises up and bares its teeth at me, I tell it to rack off, because not having a husband isn't the worst thing that could happen. That, and if I marry again, travel to Europe and the US is going to cost twice as much!

    I try to keep hope, to have confidence that one failed marriage doesn't mean I'm useless or a failure (admittedly very hard to convince myself of sometimes), and if I start to seriously date and something comes of it, great, if not, great. I have hope and trust that God will do what He promised, and make all of this joyful and good.

  10. Jessie- I love your openness. And you are awesome, but I am with you on not seeing all the good you have around you and instead sometimes fixating on fears. I wonder have loved being with my kids but I fear not ever getting a handle on the career I would like to have because of the concessions I've made to be with them and facilitate my husband's career. While our choices and the results have been good, I'm still staring at my boggart every now and again, forcing myself to remember my life isn't over and my value isn't tied to a resume and paycheck, but it still eats at me. Yet, the only person who can settle this surge of fear and uncertainty is me. I have to make peace where I am and know I will figure it all out in time.

  11. I have never married and am too old to have children now. I bought the "you can be happy single" line for many years and forced myself to smile. As I approach 50, however, it gets harder and harder. How am I supposed to believe in a God that knows and loves me personally when the deepest desires of my heart ment nothing to Him?

  12. " How am I supposed to believe in a God that knows and loves me personally when the deepest desires of my heart ment nothing to Him?"

    I didn't grow up anywhere–my family moved around a lot (life circumstances, not the military which is everyone's assumption) and the longest place I ever lived was from 7th-12th grade. I assumed that my adult life would follow this same pattern because it was what I knew. Much to my surprise it didn't. My husband worked one job for 5 years out of BYU and then we moved to a place where he was able to change jobs several times without having to change locations. About 15 years in I noticed that we were still there and thought how amazing it was. I was so thrilled & of course decided that since we loved it so much we would stay there forever. Much to my surprise 2 years later my husband lost his job and there was not even the whisper of a job in the air in our entire state. We ended up moving from one coast to the other and to say it has been traumatic would be an understatement. I know that my trauma is nothing compared to what you describe–a lifetime of wanting a husband and children. But it still has rocked my world and even though we've been in our new place for 2 years I'm still working through things. I was so angry (SO ANGRY) at God for so long for ripping me from my happy place and moving me away. I was angry at so many people that were having different experiences and different trials than I was. But also some place inside of me there was a little bit of trust that something in his plan must be so much more important than my location and happiness. I wonder (often) if I'll ever know what it is/was. I suspect that this move was for my children, as they are thriving in our new place in ways they were not able to in the home I loved.

    I hope for you that one day you will be able to see that it was not that the deepest desires of your heart meant nothing to God, and that his heart broke at withholding them from you. I believe that one day you will know the reasons and even be grateful for the situations that bring so much sorrow now. And maybe you and I will find each other on the other side and form a club. We can call it "Who Knew!?!"

    (I hope that you don't feel this response to your comment is too personal or invasive. Your comment just hit me straight in the heart as I have struggled so much with my own situation.)

  13. Cindy:
    I appreciate your comments very much. I actually put that out there to see if anyone had any thoughts. I know there are many people with much worse problems than mine and I have the same question on their behalf. We are told to pray, God loves you, your are his child, you are important to him, he will answer your prayers. . . yada yada. It just doesn't seem like it.

    My mother died a painful death. When she was in the hospital just before she died she was given a Priesthood blessing in which she was told "Heavenly Father loves you. . ." The irony was like a stab to my heart and I still haven't been able to come to terms with it.

    I would be happy to join you in the "Who Knew?" club in the next life. 🙂

  14. Kellie–If I think about, I'm also terrified of actually being on a date too. I went to dance last fall with a friend, and it took me a while just to get out of the car to go inside. I felt so awkward! I've thought that in my case an arranged marriage might actually be nice so we can just skip to the married stage and get past the dating stage.

    Cindy and Sandra–I think those are great thoughts about learning to balance fear of the unknown with the desires of our hearts. Giving up what we want is really, really hard sometimes.

    Lily–Those are hard questions that we all wrestle with in life. If God loves us, why do we have to suffer? Why are righteous desires denied us sometimes? When my husband told me he wanted a divorce, I prayed for months that God would change his heart and keep our family together. Instead, the only answer I got was "this is going to happen, but you will be OK". I still don't know what "OK" means–it may not mean remarriage. Life is complex and I think that God is just as sad as we are about many of our trials–I see that sometimes with my own children, when they face difficult situations that I really can't change (or choose not to). I could write a whole other blog post about trying to remember the moments that I've felt God's love and holding on to faith, even through fear and discouragement. I recently read something about switching our prayers from asking God to change our circumstance to asking God to change our hearts to accept them–I haven't done a lot of that, but I'm getting to the point where I'm willing to try it. I wish you well with your journey.

  15. Lily your response gave me a wry grin. I have played the "there are many people with worse problems than mine" game more times than I can tell you in the last two years. 😉

    I don't have answers to your questions–they are hard ones and perhaps we each must come to our own answer. What I can tell you is my own experience. I was SO VERY ANGRY AT GOD for so long. I believed he had a plan, and I trusted his plan, and at the same time I was so angry. Angry enough that there were people in my life that gave me "you're not doing this right" and "you shouldn't let yourself feel this way" talks. One day I got brave and curious at the same time and I prayed about how I felt. I am not one to get many answers while praying, but as soon as I brought these feelings of anger to the God in prayer I felt peace like I cannot possibly describe to you–a feeling that He knew I was MAD and that it was ok for me to work it through in my own time. It was such a feeling of liberation–to feel accepted by God in my anger at Him! I truly feel like the fact that I haven't stuffed these feelings down but have gone ahead and had them is helping me to truly move through them. It's still a work in progress, but the progress I'm making feels genuine rather than forced or fake.

    I personally cannot wait to see my plan (and all those connecting it) laid out for my understanding on the other side. I am so curious to see the reasons, particularly for the things I have hated. To see what seemed significant that wasn't, and vice versa. I have a feeling it will be one big "Who Knew"!


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