A Year in the Life, Week 19: Before and After

Yesterday’s A Year in the Life exercise was to write about a “before and after” experience. I wrote about getting married, which is the most recent dividing line in my life.

Before I got married, I thought a part of myself would become lost, that I would be swallowed up by being “wife” and would stop being Lacey. I also feared that I would get tired of Ivan. We were in a long-distance relationship and the most time we ever spent together was 5 days straight. I pictured near-constant resentment about undone chores, afraid our house would look like Ivan’s neglected apartment. One night while we were engaged, we lay in the darkness of Ivan’s bedroom and asked each other what we feared most about marriage.

Ivan said, “That I’ll do something to hurt you. I don’t want to, but I’m afraid that I’ll mess up and I will anyway.”

I said, “We will hurt each other. It just depends on what kind of hurt it is, and how we work through it.”

I told him that what I feared most about marriage was always having my emotions so close to the surface. Loving him made me feel so vulnerable and raw sometimes, kept breaking through the walls I could keep intact with everyone else in my life. I was afraid living with him every day would leave me feeling perpetually raw, my emotions always too close to the surface, so that a forgotten commitment or a hurtful remark would cut me to the core … and I’d have nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, because he would always be there.

As much as I loved him, I loved my life as a single person, too. I loved the freedom, to do whatever I wanted, but also from romantic entanglement, or entanglement of my emotions, period. At the end of the day, I could always retreat to be just with myself, and I didn’t know how I’d cope with periods of emotional upheaval without that.

While we were long-distance, I still maintained a semblance of being single in our time apart. Not that I flirted with other people or thought of myself as single, but for those few days a week I was still essentially the center of my own world, with no one I had to answer to.

The day that divided before and after.

After being married, I realize that a lot of that fractured and raw feeling came from how unnatural it was to maintain a life separate from and beside my beloved simultaneously. Rather than cope by retreating, I have to be honest with myself and with Ivan when I’m upset and vulnerable–I can’t hide from him or myself, and so I’ve been forced to realize that that never was the optimum way to deal with stress. I also didn’t account for the fact that marriage would make our relationship more secure, as all the masks fall away one by one and we’re still both here. I didn’t account for how much more I would love him for spending every day together, and that with that love would come additional safety that I once thought I could only find within myself. There have been difficult moments, but in the midst of them, there’s been a sort of beauty, too, the recognition that those moments of pain remind us both how human and imperfect we are, and that what we’re living here is something real, not some romantic fantasy. And I see in those experiences a further refining of my own soul and our relationship.

I don’t feel that marriage has taken a part of myself from me, or that I’m no longer the same person, but that now I have a new context in which to learn about who I am, in which to deepen my spirit. There are times when I subvert what I want for what’s best for “us”–but rather than resent it, I remind myself that it’s worth putting the needs of our marriage first, that this has brought me so much good that I want to do what I can to keep it in my life.

Rather than losing part of myself, I feel more whole.

I thought marriage would make us take each other for granted, that the intensity of our feelings was related to the fact that we couldn’t be around each other every day. Instead, being with Ivan every day has only driven home how much I want to be with him. I look forward to his kiss welcoming me home, and I still stop what I’m doing to connect with him when he comes home. We still lead our own lives and spend much of our days apart–for me, as an introvert, he’s become even more precious to me. For there’s nothing I love more than being home, and now he is home to me.

Marriage has allowed me to face many of my fears and realize that they loomed larger in my mind than in reality. So many people go into marriage with this romanticized idea and then find themselves disillusioned by the reality; I went into it with a lot of doom and gloom fear and found the reality of it to be sweeter than I could have imagined. Sometimes, I even feel like perhaps we’re doing something wrong because being married just seems so easy. But really, it’s because I did something so right by accepting Ivan as my partner on this journey, with his optimism and his patience and humor and warm, strong hands. I knew these things about him before we married, which is why I said yes. But I couldn’t fully appreciate the depths of these gifts until after.

[I didn’t write this as part of my initial response to the exercise, but I was also thinking about how there’s a certain level of freedom that comes from being married. When I was single, although I was free to imagine thousands of outcomes for my life and act on any of them, there was always this part of me that worried and wondered about whether I would ever find “someone.” My radar was up when I was in social settings; I felt the need to constantly be “ready” or “on alert,” and then disappointed when I felt I’d let a good chance “go by.” I never realized how draining all that not knowing was until it was gone from my life. Now that Ivan’s here, I can truly focus on the rest of my life, and feel a sense of stability as I go forth. And stability brings a whole new, wonderful sort of freedom.]