Almost two years into my marriage (with a man I’ve shared virtually all of my adult life with), I realize that I got it all wrong. It’s a relief, really. Not worrying anymore about the questions and the answers and the what-might-be’s. Like them or not I have my answers, and I am finally coming to terms with them.
Let me back up.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with love. I blame Disney, really, and their classic portrayal of a damsel in distress, being rescued by a Prince she’s never seen but somehow already loves. They kiss and get married and ride off into the sunset to begin their perfect life together, worry (and presumptively debt) free. I’m not the only one who feels this way. There is an actual theory out there of how exposure to this dynamic at such a young, formidable age affects us and shapes our idea of what the future will be. Chick flicks don’t really help either… nor do romantic novels (not the dirty ones, I mean legit, respectable(ish) literature with very strong romantic elements)… nor do television dramas with beautiful but flawed female leads… really nothing in pop culture helps this. Sorry, ladies, it seems we are doomed from the start and there ain’t much we can do about it.
As I got older I would watch these movies (or shows, or read these books, or listen to these songs… you get the idea) and I became so obsessed with the idea of this crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, know-it-at-first-sight LOVE. I just knew that my “person” was out there, and that that feeling awaited me. I was so anxious for it. I would look around and see people in committed relationships, engagements, marriages, and be in awe of how wonderful they must feel every morning when they woke up because they had found that BIG LOVE.
Eventually, my turn came. I was 19, and I met him at a friend’s house. It sounds dramatic, but I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him before I even knew his name or spoke a single word to him. I flirted, I charmed, I gave him my number (but I didn’t call him first… I was a lady!). Everything moved so fast from that point. When I fell, I fell HARD. It was like nothing else in the world mattered or even existed. I suppose, early on, there were some warning signs that things weren’t quite as rosy as I made them up to be in my head. But, I ignored them, because in my version of events there was no way our story didn’t end (or begin?) with us kissing, getting married, and riding off into the sunset to begin our perfect lives together, worry (and God-willingly debt) free. I mean, how could it not? We were so in love – even though we hadn’t said it yet, but the feelings were impossible to ignore, at least that’s what I let myself think – we had THE kind of love, and no one just walks away from that. Even if they do, they realize two days later what a mistake they made and then race through traffic to obnoxiously pound on your door, tell you they never should have let you go and beg your forgiveness, and you’re right back on track (bonus points if all of this happens in the rain).
The sad truth is, our lives are not a Hollywood story, some people DO walk away from that love, they DON’T realize they made a mistake, and you NEVER get back on track. So ends the story of me and my “big love.” I was broken, of course, and I didn’t think I would ever be quite the same after that (and for the record, I wasn’t, but in a good way). Obviously I healed, in time, and finally was ready to let someone love me again.
Enter my husband.
We had been friends for a long time. I was comfortable around him. He already knew most of my bad qualities (and 19-year-old me considered this a plus), and the jump from friendship to relationship was very easy, drama-free, and comfortable. Yes, I’m aware that that’s the second time I’ve used that word in as many sentences. If someone asked me on the spot to describe my marriage in one word I would say, comfortable. Not exactly a synonym for crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, know-it-at-first-sight LOVE (which, at the point I began seeing my husband, I no longer believed in and determined that the feelings I’d had in my previous relationship were misidentified and really stemmed from the idea of love rather than love itself. I was also lying to myself, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I should interject here by saying that I am extremely independent. Yes, yes, I know… the average millennial female is a single, hard-working professional who takes pride in her self-reliance and is quick to tell anyone who will listen that she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man (insert sassy snapping of fingers here). Let’s just say, I identified with these characteristics before they were cool. Actually, independent is an understatement; I am fiercely independent, to the point it is almost a fault, and I don’t like the idea of needing anyone to help me do anything. In the early stages of our relationship, I didn’t even like it when my husband (then-boyfriend) would offer to carry my groceries in from the car, or change my oil. It wasn’t a feminist thing, or a sense of needing to prove anything. It didn’t even make my angry when he would offer those things. It was just, simply, that I was so self-reliant that I literally did not NEED him to do any of those and it never crossed my mind that he should. I’ll carry in my own groceries, thank you. Nope, don’t need that oil change, I’ll just go to the garage this Saturday and have it taken care of.
I speak of these things in the past tense, as though things have changed, when really they have not. Sure, we work together to make our household run smoothly by splitting up the chores, sharing the errands, taking our respective turns at paying the bills and balancing the bank account, and all of those other fun things that make up a marriage. But my self-reliance, that fierce independence, my do-it-myself-attitude… all of those things are so ingrained in me they are just part of who I am. Maybe I was born with those traits, maybe I developed them, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, they’re here to stay. And for the most part, I am okay with that (or at least, I’ve learned to accept and appreciate it).
A few weeks ago I started to feel this…. I’m not sure I can find the right word for it… lull, maybe? Let’s go with lull. A lull in my comfortable marriage. Honestly, though, it seemed kind of natural. We’ve been together for almost seven years. Before we know it, we’ll be coming up on our second wedding anniversary and no longer in that “newlywed” stage (although I would argue that we never really were, but that’s a story for another time). This just must be what happens, right? We’re figuring out this whole marriage thing. We’re letting the dust settle. We’re reorganizing our priorities. We’re staying comfortable.
After a few days of thoughts like this, old friends started to visit me in the form of voices in my head saying, But what about the BIG LOVE? Are you just going to be comfortable the rest of your life? Where’s the crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other BIG LOVE? And after a few days of thoughts like this, I started to worry a little. I didn’t worry that my marriage was in trouble, or that I didn’t love him, or that we wouldn’t last, or anything even remotely along those lines. Sometimes I feel as though my heart literally beats for my husband, maybe just not in the same way that I once imagined it would. I just started to worry that, maybe, I had fallen too far into this “comfortable” love and I had completely missed out on my BIG LOVE. Granted, years ago I had tried to convince myself that the BIG LOVE didn’t exist, at least in the way I’d pictured it, but did I really believe that? I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t like thinking about it. So, like any mature, well-adjusted adult would do, I buried it way down deep and decided not to dissect it any further.
Ever heard the phrase, When it rains, it pours? Lately, this seems to be a recurring theme in my life. If adulthood has taught me anything so far it’s that everything moves in cycles. If things are going great, enjoy it, but just wait; you never know what is coming right around the corner.
Within a span of about 10 days, I’ve been double-whammied. There’ve been a couple instances where I had to make some tough decisions and face some hard truths and, overall, find a way to react to these things in a way that left my dignity intact. The one thing no one really tells you during adolescence is that sometimes, being an adult flat-out sucks. Sorry, but there are no two ways about it. You’re going to have some really amazing days, and you’re going to have some shitstorms.
During this most-recent round of shitstorms, as I sat on the couch crying because I had so many thoughts swimming around in my head that crying was the only way I could express or process them, my sweet husband took my hand and said, “I’m here. And I support you, no matter what. It’s you and me.” Now, I am sure that during our seven year history together he has said those words – or at least something similar – at least once, but I honestly don’t remember any of them. But this, I will remember forever, because it was in that moment that I realized, I had never fully allowed myself to need him. Never before had that fierce independence allowed me to legitimately need someone to help get me through something. I used to (and by used to, I mean as recently as a few days ago…) say things like, “I like to do things myself,” or, “I don’t need help,” or, “I get myself through things.” I know it sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true and equally painful and embarrassing to admit: As much as I relied on him to help me with the laundry or run trivial errands, I never actually let myself need my husband on an emotional level.
Maybe I’m having what they call a psychological breakthrough. Now that I’ve realized this wall exists (and that I am in fact capable of taking it down), I’ve seen my husband in a whole new light. All those feelings I had a few weeks ago of falling too far into a “comfortable love” and never having the connection I had so dearly longed for have gone away as quickly as they came. The vulnerability of allowing yourself to need someone is scary and wonderful and crazy and liberating all at the same time. After seven years I didn’t think there were many more new emotions for us to explore (aside from having children), but I was wrong. It’s a whole new connection that has allowed me to fall in love with him all over again and realize that my BIG LOVE was here all along. I was just too busy standing in my own way to see it.
I say his words in my head, over and over again when I’m feeling overwhelmed: “It’s you and me.” I don’t think it gets much more crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, in-LOVE than that.