The heartbreaking ballad of white evangelicals . . . I mean, Aunt Linda

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You’ve got an aunt Linda, right?

Linda ran into some rough patches in her teens and twenties—that time when you form your sense of whether or not the universe is hostile. Aunt Linda was popular for a spell, a smart and beautiful young woman, who, though she maybe tried a little too hard, still seemed to have the whole world in front of her.

Alas, she took up with a guy who appeared polite and clean cut. But when nobody was looking, he abused her. Grandpa and Grandma loved him. But they never knew the truth.

The lesson aunt Linda took from that bad relationship was that, to reacquire her popularity, she just needed to find the right guy. After a string of self-absorbed jerks and mean drunks, her search became the narrative arc of her life story. But she remained convinced that she just hadn’t found the right guy, the one who could help her once again find the golden glow of the spotlight.

Everybody noticed. “Linda, why do you do this to yourself? This is self-destructive behavior. Listen to the people who love you, and quit trolling for guys who make big promises, only to suck your soul and trample your dreams.”

But aunt Linda figured that all the concern came from people jealous of her potential. What did they know? She’d told herself for so long that she deserved the adulation of the crowds, all the while remaining certain that the missing piece was someone who’d validate her understanding of herself as a woman of importance.

Then along came “the one.” He had a big smile, and even bigger hair. When she went out in public with him, she saw how people treated him . . . like somebody, like the person she wanted to be. People thrilled to stand in the same room with him, telling him what an unparalleled success he was. Aunt Linda loved how she felt when she was with him.

She always figured that the world should hitch its wagon to her star, but after things got so bad for her, she contented herself with hitching her wagon to his star—as a matter of convenience, of course. It's not like she really needed him. She was a star in her own right.

At least that’s what she told herself, during the long nights lying in bed waiting for him to come home. So many people wanted a piece of him that he often didn’t have much left over for aunt Linda. Still, she persuaded herself that he really loved her, and that everything would be fine after they got married.

Nothing. It didn’t matter how many “friends” told Linda, “You don’t understand. He’s using you. He doesn’t care anything about you. How can you not see that? He’s a good talker, sure. He says all the things you want to hear, but that’s because he needs some arm candy. Once he thinks you can’t do anything for him, he’ll take up with somebody else. Have you not heard about his reputation as a philandering narcissist?”

“That’s not true! He loves me. He tells me all the time that I’m the only one.”

“Look, I don’t know how else to say this to you, but you’re making a fool of yourself. And after he dumps you, who will want anything to do with you anymore? For God’s sake, Linda, if both your friends and your enemies are telling you that you’re being played for a fool, don’t you think maybe everybody else can see what you can’t see?”

“You’re just jealous of what we have together. You were always resentful of the attention I got. This is just another ploy to try to take my spot.”

“That’s what you think? You think I want to be you? Linda, you have nothing I want. I care about you. I think in many ways you’re a well-meaning person. So, I’m just trying to keep you from getting hurt. Because when it's over with this guy, nobody will ever trust you again. Your judgment is so whacked, you may never get another date.”

But white evangelicals aunt Linda crosses her arms, sniffs at the air, and walks back into the house to play footsie with Donald her boyfriend.

She’s your aunt. Why don’t you say something to her? Maybe she’ll listen to you, because she’s certainly not listening to me.