My Reputation

“My Reputation,” New Era, June 1990, 49

My Reputation

I didn’t want to be hassled anymore, so I came up with what I thought was a great plan. But all I did was smear my own reputation. It turned my life into a lie that took years to live down.

It’s funny how you never really appreciate something until it’s gone. At least, that’s how I felt the day I realized that my reputation had become quite ugly. I guess I better back up a bit and tell you how I came to that point.

I’ve been LDS my whole life, and I was always a basically good kid. Then I entered ninth grade. Everything went downhill from there. I was so tired of being teased about being a goody-goody. I never intended to ever do anything really wrong. I just didn’t want to be hassled anymore. So I came up with what seemed like a great plan. Looking back I realize it was pretty stupid.

I decided I would lead a double life. When I was at church or with LDS friends, I would act the part of a perfect Mormon. When I was with my nonmember friends, I would go wherever they went, talk like them, and try to seem like one of them. I figured that as long as I didn’t drink their beer or smoke their pot I was still okay. Unfortunately, I was living a lie with both groups of friends. You can’t get away with a lie for very long. It wasn’t long before my LDS friends started to keep their distance. One girl told me that her mother had told her she couldn’t hang around with me anymore because I smoked pot and drank. She didn’t want her daughter being influenced by me. It just wasn’t true! But how do you convince someone of that when all of your actions point to a different conclusion?

My friends from school started seeing the lie too. My first kiss was in the backseat of a stranger’s car with a boy whose name I didn’t even know. He wanted to go farther than I was willing. Later, his friend told me it was time I started following through on the life I was claiming to live. My partying friends decided that it was time to prove I was one of them, so they planned a little pot party in my honor for the last day of school. I didn’t go to school that day. It was the coward’s way out, but deep down inside I knew they weren’t really my friends.

That was when I realized how foolish I’d been. I had destroyed my reputation in six short months! My LDS friends didn’t believe a thing I said, and my nonmember friends thought I was a jerk—all talk and no play.

What took a short six months to destroy took years to rebuild. For the next full year I worked very hard to prove to the good kids that I was one of them. Every time I thought I had succeeded my past would come back to haunt me.

The summer after I was in tenth grade our girls’ church basketball team won the regional play-offs. We would be going to the area play-offs 1,000 miles away. We would be traveling with the boys’ team that won the regionals. I couldn’t believe what my coach said about me after that trip. She said that when we left home she had been sure she’d be sending me home early. After all she’d heard about me, she was just sure that I would get into some kind of trouble. She said she was surprised and pleased to discover that I was the best-behaved girl on the trip. I couldn’t believe it! I realized people were still judging me by the friends I’d had over a year ago. I’d never done any of the things people were saying I’d done in the past, but because of the people I’d associated with, the places I’d been seen, and the way I had dressed, everyone assumed I’d done the same awful things my friends had! I was guilty by association. Everywhere I went people were watching, testing me, judging me—all because of some choices I’d made in the past. It was so unfair, yet something I had to live with. You can’t fix a ruined reputation overnight.

Even in my senior year I had to defend my reputation! I met a boy that I really wanted to go out with. Finally, things clicked and we were really talking, the kind of talk where you feel so good and so close to someone. Then he shocked me into reality. I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting there hearing him tell me that he really liked me, but that he couldn’t date me because his standards were different than mine! He wouldn’t date someone who didn’t live the gospel. I was totally speechless. He had heard about things that I had supposedly done over three years ago. It took me several months to prove to him that the stories from my past were rumors and falsehoods. I am amazed to this day that a ruined reputation could have such far-reaching effects. You never know how the things you are doing—or even just pretending to be doing—are going to affect your tomorrows! It’s so much better to keep your reputation clean and intact than to play games with such a valuable possession.

I’d like to be able to say that the story ends there, that I went to college and left my blemished reputation behind me. But there is one more unfortunate chapter. What did my six months of spoiling my reputation do for me? Four years later, it nearly had disastrous consequences. A boy who knew me in ninth grade had moved away from our town to a different state just after ninth grade. He ended up at the same college I did, and when we bumped into each other one day, he introduced me to a friend. I’ll never know what he told him about me, but somehow his friend decided that he had found himself an “easy” pickup. One night, after going out with the friend I’d assumed was a good guy, I found myself trapped in a car with a person who was not prepared to take no for an answer. He actually had the gall to tell me that he “knew all about me” and he wasn’t going to let me go without “his share of the goodies”! I will forever be grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who inspired a campus policeman to patrol the stadium parking lot, “just one more time.”

Please, oh please, learn from my mistake. No number of “friends” or invitations to parties, no degree of “popularity” is worth the years of heartache a ruined reputation can cause you. However, if you find that your reputation is worse than you are, remember that Heavenly Father knows you very well and his judgment is always fair. If you sincerely try, you can eventually reclaim your good name. But how much richer and fuller your life can be if you never let your reputation slip. The value of the gospel in your life is far greater than the cheap, temporary thrill of a moment of being “in.”

Photography by Welden Andersen; photography manipulation by George Gruber