Before I was married, I created safety for myself in a handful of ways: first, by insisting everything go exactly according to my wishes.
Second, when things didn’t go according to plan, I created safety by imagining an escape route, replete with a hundred sound rationalizations for why running away, cutting this person out, moving to a new apartment or finding a new job, was the single thing that would finally make me safe once and for all. (Anxiety, anyone?)
If and when that didn’t work, I created safety by shutting down emotionally via a smorgasbord of delicious distractions. Alcohol? It’s just a glass or two each night. Shopping? This spa day will really be the one to change everything. And of course there’s always been food—all I need is a new diet, a new recipe, a new gadget.
Clearly most of these things are fine in their proper context, but after getting married, I had begun to rotate through them in such a subtle way that I couldn’t see how much I was numbing out. It seems all I’ve focused on was escaping the increasing vulnerability that is real married life. Can’t say I blame myself too much, really. Besides, who among us enjoys feeling incredibly vulnerable every single day? Uhhh ... not this gal.
Honeymoon? What honeymoon phase?
All this to say, the first six months of marriage have been a smidge, tiny bit, itsy bit trying.
Lee and I are in a unique spot: we are newly married after pretty solid single lives (31 and 37 years, respectively), and he is launching a company. Both ventures require a lot of risk, investment and time. Since one of those pays the bills (in theory), our marriage has had to stay on the back burner for the most part.
This means the plans in my head for how we would “establish a healthy routine” and “grow closer together” went right out the window. Are we exercising more? Nope. Are we eating healthfully? Nope. Are we connecting, expanding our social and spiritual communities? Nope, nope and nope.
Our quality time consists of a New York Times crossword puzzle before bed.
These "deficiencies" fly in the face of all the advice I’ve read about building a healthy marriage, investing in one another, prioritizing, etc.
And there’s very little I can do to change that (for now, at least).
So many people tried to prepare (ahem WARN) me: the first year of marriage is rough, it’s bumpy, it’s where the real loving part comes in. But there was no way for them to prepare me for my own crazy tonic of instability.
You see, all my mental preparation had been informed by reading how other folks had fought, thrown plates across the room, stayed at friends’ houses over shopping cart fiascos and whatnot. Shopping carts? We would never …
What can be offered, offer that
I’m beginning to suspect that the best way to prepare for marriage is to know yourself as best you can. And then do your best every day. And that’s it.
I'm finding that love, whether it's in the context of marriage or just regular life, is much less about being safe and much more about being set free.
Despite all the discomfort in our first months of marriage and seemingly endless anxieties and tremors (which Lee has journeyed through like a champ), it's this exact lesson which I needed the most.
Without choosing to bravely step into married life with him, it might have been decades before I began embracing love's latest "take it or leave it" lesson for me. Love isn't about seeking escape routes and remaining safe; it's about choosing to love even more deeply because there is no other way.
In the heat of my neurotic cauldron, a phrase has begun to float through my mind these days, and it helps reframe this whole messy, love-filled married life. It’s part of our wedding vows, and it re-centers me. The phrase is: friend of my life.
It reminds me that this is my life.
This is my one and only life, and Lee is my friend in a way that no one else on Earth will ever be.
This is exactly what we pledged six months ago: to be friends, to be companions.
To love one another through trouble and sorrow, the good and joyful.
And that’s what we are doing, however imperfectly.
When I stop to take a deep breath I remember why we chose these vows: we chose what was within our power to offer. Outside of that, the rest is just details.