Three weeks after I got married I wondered whether or not I had made a mistake. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. Things didn’t “feel” right. There were even times when I would look at my wife and feel nothing. No attraction. No desire to be near her. I wasn’t even sure I was in love with her anymore. After that it got worse. That’s when the anxiety hit.
It was quite a change from last January when I began blogging about getting married to the girl of my dreams. Everything was going smoothly. There were signs everywhere that our love was made in heaven. We were compatible on virtually every level. We never had a shortage of things to talk about. Our faith lives meshed perfectly. We “got” each other.
Less than two months after our first date I proposed. Less than nine months after that, we were married. Somewhere around a month-and-a-half before the wedding I began to feel the stirrings of doubt. Was I actually ready to commit to one person for the rest of my life? Was I actually ready to raise children if God blessed us with them? I was 45 years old! I was set in my ways! What made me think marriage was for me? Why get married now? Of course, as stressful as these moments of doubt were (they were often accompanied by a cold sweat), they were very brief. They usually happened in the small hours of the morning and lasted about 5 minutes. And they didn’t happen every day. It wasn’t until the week before the wedding that I noticed I was more often anxious than not.
The thought of backing out never occurred to me, but I began to imagine a life of boredom and regret. A life where I would make do, where I would learn to love my wife, but where I would have no true joy. I wondered if I had the fortitude. I wondered if I was about to ruin two lives.
The night of the wedding rehearsal I got angry at myself. I was in my hotel room getting ready, and I began to talk to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. “This is crazy! You love her! You were made for each other! You had 10 months where everything was okay! Man up!” And it wasn’t just my own voice I had to listen to. I had prayed often before the tabernacle and had heard God tell me “Marry the girl.” Clearly there was a disconnect between my gut and what I knew to be true. I knew I had made a good choice, but my gut was telling me it was wrong. It told me I was about to ruin two lives. My gut told me to turn tail and run.
And there’s the problem. The gut. We’re told that we should always listen to our gut. We’re told to let our feelings be our guide. It is true that our feelings are valuable, but they are rarely a good indicator of what is true. And this causes loads of misery in modern relationships because we have come to believe (mostly because of the popular culture) that if we are not happy, or if things don’t “feel right,” then something is objectively wrong.
I lost track of how many first dates I had gone on with CatholicMatch contacts only to pass on further exploration because I “wasn’t feeling it.” True, I might not have met my wife if I had pursued someone else. Who knows? The point is I realized that my whole life had been lived that way. If I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t do it. Not always of course, but more often than not, I did things because I wanted to do them and avoided situations that seemed risky or tedious.
My parents’ generation didn’t do that. They didn’t always do things because they felt like it. They had a less romantic view of things. “Of course you won’t always feel like you’re in love. Where did you get that idea, anyway?” my mother asked me when I told her of my anxiety.
Somewhere along the way the fireworks diminish, or the fluttery romantic feelings dim or disappear. But they’re replaced by something else, if you take a mature view of love. We’ve all heard it before. “Love” is a verb. It’s action and sacrifice and it can be very, very hard work.
So I’m telling you to beware of your gut. Yes, pay attention to big red flags when it comes to relationships such as abuse, addiction, serious personality disorders, or a misalignment of faith, values and core beliefs and life goals. But if you do have alignments in those important areas, and if you do find the person attractive, don’t be so quick to turn tail when you find you aren’t “feeling it” anymore.
At some point when I was yelling at myself in the hotel bathroom mirror, a light went off in my head and all of my anxiety washed away. Certitude returned, all was well in the world, and I rushed to my bride-to-be to rehearse our big day. The certitude lasted through the wedding (much to her relief).
But as I indicated at the beginning, those anxious feelings returned shortly after the wedding, and they returned with a vengeance. I had still not come to grips with exactly what was happening to me. When I did, it was a surprise. A dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross put it. But that’s something I’ll tackle in the next post.
Editor’s Note: Check back next week for the second post in a series about anxiety.