I will be married in a few months. And until now I have this horrific, horrific doubt in my head. My fiancé is a wonderful man, Cary. He’s kind to me, he has a steady job, and he cooks dinner for me even when he is tired. Also, I got attracted to his life story. He was married before, but his wife died during childbirth, along with the child. Yet when he speaks of it, I see no trace of bitterness or anger. Not even sadness. I got attracted to the fact that here is a person, who, through the bleakest period of his life, managed to keep his sanity, his faith and his humor intact. And I can’t imagine a better partner to go through life with. He’s also very funny and charming, and I feel that he truly loves me.
Here’s the thing: I grew up with this idea of my future husband and he’s just. not. it. I grew up thinking I’d get married to a man in uniform, maybe a doctor, or lawyer, what have you. He would be witty and brilliant and also cook well. I would be the supportive wife, the wind beneath his wings.
Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
My fiancé is a wonderful man, but he’s just nowhere near my ideal man. First of all, our backgrounds are so different, socioeconomically, and he’s one of those people who are uncomfortable in social situations especially with VIPs and upper-class folk. He’s just a simple man, who’d rather stay home with the dogs. I, on the other hand, am not. In fact my job requires me to be surrounded by upper-class folk whom I genuinely genuinely like and who are genuinely nice. I’ll never be able to attend corporate dinners or social dinners with my husband by my side. But I will get to go home to a lovely husband and a lovely home that smells of pot roast in the oven. Secondly, I am the one who makes more money, and this shift in gender roles is something I’m unprepared for. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something that I am still grappling with. He’s not a lazy bum, though, so what now?
There are days I want to kick myself for being so shallow. I tell myself, he’s a good man, a kind man and many women would absolutely kill to have him. I also tell myself another thing, that at my age, and with my quirks, and with my relatively checkered past (I’ve slept around, dated married men, nothing too criminal, but still) and my history of not attracting men, I should just shut up and be thankful someone wants to spend the rest of his life with me. But there’s still part of me that thinks, what if … what if … what if.
Cary, sometimes I’m at peace, sometimes I’m not. It’s driving me crazy. Please help me.
Dear Doubting fiancée,
There are countless lives we could live in addition to the life we do live. That is our condition and our fate. The unlived life is there in the next car on the freeway nodding to us; it is up there in that jet taking off for Provence; it is in the bar onstage we pass by on our way home; the unlived life, the life we might have lived, is all around us, and one of our tasks as vibrant, growing, fearless people is to see that the life we have is the life we chose, and to honor the fact that we chose it and not that other life. We have to remember we chose it for good reasons, not all of which are on the surface. Some of the reasons we choose things are secret. They have to do with what we need, not what we want.
But something bothers me. I am concerned about him. What bothers me is his demeanor concerning this tragedy. The fact that he is so serene about it bothers me. This man lost his wife and his baby in childbirth. “Yet when he speaks of it,” you say, “I see no trace of bitterness or anger. Not even sadness.”
Why not? Might he be still reeling from that event in ways that are not apparent on his face? Might hidden effects emerge later? Perhaps you know all about him. I’m just concerned, somehow. Watch for ghosts in his life. Watch for what sadness and grief may lie behind his apparent serenity.
Also ask yourself, What is it about that story? A part of you loves his story. How much of it is about the story and how much about the man? Why do you love that story so much? Is it because it represents stoic heroism and strength? True, it is storybook romantic and sad. But be conscious of the quite unpoetic and unromantic harm that it actually may have done to him. After the rush of love and the wedding, he may experience unexpected grief.
I don’t know enough to say more, except: If you like hobnobbing, then hobnob. Be honest about what you like and find somebody to hobnob with. Maybe a girlfriend, maybe a male friend who also likes to hobnob.
There will be a pull to stay home with him. But a part of you needs to be out there doing these things. Do not sacrifice that part of yourself. If you do that, you will be unhappy.
Find a friend to go with you. It’s OK to say, My husband doesn’t like these things but I do. Now bring me a cocktail.
No one partner can give us everything. It’s complicated who we pick and why. We’re drawn to people, and it’s not always the conscious, world-beating “us” that is drawn and does the choosing; sometimes it’s the silent part of us that picks, and sometimes people don’t get why we’re with the person we’re with; they don’t get it because they don’t know that side of us. We see things in people that we love that other people don’t see. That’s the beauty of it. People who love us, likewise, see things in us that others don’t see. Sometimes we don’t even know what it is in us that others love. That’s the mystery of it, no? That part of us, that other part, may seem dormant until it sees what it needs and then it exerts a shocking strength when its few but fervent needs arise.
You know what I mean? Like that it’s your soul that picked this guy, because this is what you need. So go for it and don’t screw it up and watch for signs of unexpected sadness and hang out with the swells until your feet hurt.