A few years back, Carl and I had some family friends in town to help us with some house projects. They’re best friend’s with Carl’s parents, and they’re the couple who did our pre-marital counseling and then married us. Chris was Carl’s youth pastor growing up, and he and his wife Amy have quickly become some of my favorite people.
Chris is a professional, well, everything when it comes to construction, and a way they wanted to love us was to help us with a few house projects we’d been wanting to do.
On the list: Replacing our master bathroom door with a sliding barn door, and putting up some tile backsplash in our kitchen. I was SO excited to have their help.
For weeks leading up to them coming, I was pinning like crazy. White subway tile with white grout? Chevron pattern with grey grout. A white barn door, a dark brown barn door. I was trying to get a mental picture of the changes we were making to the house, and trying to figure out what was best.
Dealing With Doubts
The night before Chris and Carl started on the projects, I began to have some doubts.
I was afraid I’d made the wrong decision -- afraid the long, white subway tile would look terrible, afraid the barn door would change the look of our room for the worse.
I totally had cold feet, and I told them so. I was afraid of changing our house because I was afraid I’d never be able to change it back. I was afraid of committing to one decision because I was afraid it was the wrong one.
Oh, and I totally hate change.
Chris laughed as he told me that if I really hated what they did, he would totally change it back to normal.
And then he asked me, “Steph, are big decisions really this hard for you? How in the WORLD did you get married?”
Carl and I looked at each other and groaned before I said, “Only after MONTHS of tears and anxiety.”
And I totally wasn’t kidding.
When people start dating, and get engaged, and get married -- all we see from the outside are the happy parts. We see the photos of the proposal, hear the funny stories about registering for gifts, and ask one more time to hear the story of how they met.
And those things are totally a part of mine and Carl’s story. His proposal was perfect, registering for gifts was fun and weird all at the same time (you’re shopping, without money, and you don’t get to take anything home, but you can ask for whatever you want! Weird, and awesome, and weird.) We are so happy we found each other, and we were SO excited to spend the rest of our lives together.
But that also wasn’t the full story.
Fear and Anxiety
The full story is that in the time in between when we first talked about wanting to get married, and when Carl actually proposed to me, I started having the most intense, debilitating, insane anxiety I NEVER could have imagined.
That’s a part of the story we rarely hear, right? And that’s why I want to tell this story today.
My fear honestly had very little to do with Carl. My fear wasn’t pointing to any red flags about him, or about our relationship. My anxiety wasn’t telling me to run for the hills, or that I was about to make a bad decision. Trust me, I checked, and re-checked, and re-checked a thousand times.
I even signed myself up for therapy because I was convinced there was some dark side to our relationship that I just couldn’t see, or even if there wasn’t one, I just wanted a professional to come in and give me a second opinion.
But it wasn’t Carl, and it wasn’t our relationship.
One time I told my therapist a story about a big fight we’d gotten into. And as I told her how we resolved it, her eyes filled with tears. She said, “I just love y’all's relationship, you guys are better at this than couples I see that have been married for 30 years!”
What I did say was, “Oh, um … thank you!” but what I wanted to say was, “Listen lady, your tears and praise aren’t helpful. There’s got to be something wrong here, can you please help me find it!?”
But truly, it wasn’t our relationship.
My anxiety was coming from the fact that I was about to make the biggest, most permanent, most totally un-undoable decision of my entire life, and it was a decision I felt totally unqualified to make.
When I looked back at my past, there were several times I thought I’d found the one. My high school boyfriend proposed to me with a promise ring when we were seniors -- I was sure I’d found the love of my life. And then it was my college boyfriend -- the best relationship I’d ever had to that point. He had to be my husband, right? But neither of those relationships worked out. Then there were the jerks I thought I’d marry, and the fact that I was utterly convinced that Justin Timberlake would wise up and marry me instead of Jessica Biel.
My track record for picking a husband was a mess. Shakespeare said, “Love is blind,” and I was a living testament to how true that really is.
So when Carl and I started to seriously talk about getting married, I started to freak out. I didn’t want my romantic heart to talk me into marrying him. I wanted to make a good decision, wanted to make the best decision possible.
It felt like I was getting a tattoo on my forehead, and I wanted to make sure it was the right one.
Which, of course caused months and months of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had.
The 5 Words I Needed to Hear
Carl and I were on a date one time at a restaurant in Atlanta. We were sitting at the bar while we waited for our table, and as I looked at him, my heart started to beat faster. It beat faster and faster and my face grew hot, and my palms were sweaty, and he started to zoom in and out in my vision as my thoughts raced, “Is this my husband? How do I know? How does anyone know? Am I making a horrible decision? Is it too late to get out? Should I try to get out? How do I know? I can’t make this decision! How is anyone supposed to make this decision! It can’t be undone! What am I supposed to do?!”
You guys -- I was positively freaking out. There was no other way to put it.
And the worst part of it, the thing I was more afraid of than getting married, was the idea that maybe the fact that I was anxious was a sign that I really was making a bad decision.
I looked around at the other engaged couples I knew. They looked like they were already loaded up, ready to ride off into the sunset together. Nobody else was scared, nobody else was anxious. It was just me, and that HAD to be a bad sign.
So I didn’t tell anyone. I just kept it in, because I was afraid if I let it out, someone would tell me not to marry him. I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to be told that. Because while I was afraid, I also madly in love with him, and really wanted to spend the rest of my life with him!
And finally, one day in a back room of our office building, I opened up to the right person -- my dear friend Chantell.
I knew I could trust her, for some reason. I just did.
And so I told her the whole story. I told her exactly what I was afraid of, the exact thoughts that were going through my head. I told her everything bad I could possibly think of about Carl, just so she could tell me honestly if they were red flags. And I told her that I was afraid my anxiety was a bad sign.
And when I was done -- when all of the messy thoughts had become words -- she leaned over, gave me the tightest hug, and then said, “Steph, I was scared too.”
In that moment, something switched in my heart. Those five words were like a pin to my fear -- piercing it and letting some of the air out, bringing it back down to size.
With those words she told me that I was normal. That truthfully, lots of people are scared of getting married, it’s just that nobody knows how to talk about it.
She told me that it makes SENSE to be afraid of getting married. It is a totally life-changing decision, and it’s a decision that we need to take really seriously!
And then she told me, having heard all of the bad things I could possibly think of about Carl, and knowing him like she did, that I was making a really good decision in choosing him. I really was. She told me, “The things you just told me are Carl being a person -- not red-flags or reasons not to marry him. I know you know that, the reason they feel so big is because this is a big decision, and one you’ve never made before.”
She was totally right.
And with my fear deflated, I could see him and our relationship more clearly than I ever had.
I started to look back over the last several months that Carl and I had together. I started to think of that moment in the bar, and the night in the Chipotle parking lot when I told him how scared I was to marry him, and the time in my apartment when we sat on the floor together while I sobbed for hours because I was so afraid. We sat on the floor (never mind the perfectly good couch nearby!) as I sobbed, and as he comforted, and as he wiped the drips of teary mascara that had made their way all the way down to my shoulders.
And I remembered how patient he’d been with me -- how no matter how hard I’d pushed, he’d never given up for even a second. The fact that even when I wasn’t sure we could do this marriage thing, he still was. How even with mascara on my shoulders, and even with words like, “I don’t know if I can marry you!” out on the table, he still wanted to marry me.
I realized that through my fear and anxiety and panic, I’d gotten to see the man Carl really is, and the husband he would be to me in times when life got really hard. He’d be there for me, see me, know me, understand me, listen to me, comfort me. He’d be strong when I just totally wasn’t. He’d love me no matter what.
And though that lens, I realized I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to marry him. I was really, really sure.
What I Would Tell My Past Self
Something I think about a lot is what I would say to myself if I could go back and give myself some advice at different points in my life. I think about what I would say, and then think about what it would have felt like to hear it at the time. (That’s why I love the verse Habakkuk 1:5 so much!)
But now, sitting almost two and a half years into marriage, if I could go back and tell my tear-stained self something, it would be:
“Marry him. Marry him x100000. You will wake up every single day more amazed by the man he is than you were the day before. Marry him because this is his character -- he will walk with you through the good days and the hard days, and some days he’ll totally just carry you. Marry him because the guy you think is your best friend is totally 100000% your best friend, and being married to him is just as much fun as you think it will be, but 10000X more. Marry him because how much you love him today will multiply exponentially over the next few years, and that’s only the beginning.”
Marrying Carl is hands-down the best decision I’ve ever made (next to following Jesus, but that’s the only one before it!). But it was absolutely the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Not because of Carl, but because marriage is a big, stinking deal, and I wanted to do it well.
You are Not Alone
And I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who wrestled with that decision, or fear about getting married -- in fact -- you may be wrestling with it right now. And if you are, here’s what I want to tell you.
1. You are not alone. Getting married is a really big decision, and one we want to make well. And so if your reaction to that decision is anxiety, you are totally not the only one, and it doesn’t mean you’re broken. I promise!
2. While it doesn’t mean you’re broken, I still would take some time to really think through the decision logically and with someone who can help you. For me, my anxiety didn’t mean I was making a bad choice, but sometimes it does. Sometimes we feel anxious because we are doing something that on some level we know isn’t right, or on some level we know we’re ignoring red flags.
While I didn’t find any, I’m still really glad I looked. Because love really makes us so blind, and this is a decision you don’t want to have to try to undo. If you’re feeling afraid, or anxious, or even if you’re not — make sure you have some people in your life who can help you along the way. If your parents and friends have serious concerns about the person you’re marrying, it’s absolutely worth listening. This is a decision you really want to make with as much wisdom as possible.
3. In the midst of your anxiety, and just in life in general, pay attention to how your boyfriend/fiancé treats you. Hard moments are an amazing time to see his character, what kind of man he is, a great way of seeing how he’ll handle hard situations in the future.
4. Remember that this is a leap of faith. It really is! It’s one of those things where we need to make the wisest, most informed decision we possibly can, but we really don’t have any way of knowing what life will hold for us five years, or 50 years in. So once you’ve made your decision, grasp onto his hand, and jump together. Marriage is a wild ride, and a wonderful one. And if you have a great partner, it’s a journey beyond anything you could ever ask for or imagine.
I hope this helps, sweet friend! If you’re feeling scared right now, you really are not alone. And it doesn’t automatically mean you’re broken. But bring some trusted friends and maybe even a counselor into this with you. It helped me tremendously, and I hope it does for you too!
All my love,
P.S. Just in case you were wondering, I plunged forward with the backsplash and barn door, and they turned out amazing. 🙂