When I started writing about relationship anxiety, I sent my husband an early essay. Though I have shared over the years, I had never been so explicit or concrete about what it looks and feels like to be regularly consumed with doubt about our marriage.
When I instant-messaged the piece, I felt like I had removed my clothes for the first time. Would this be the thing that breaks us? Could he absorb the fact that after all these years, I still doubt and question and struggle with what it means for two people to bring their lives together, balancing our selves and the institution? Would he finally say, “this chick is bat-shit crazy” and be done with it?
None of those things. None of my worries manifested. When we talked about the essay later that evening, Mitch said, “I think it’s normal to question the choice of a life partner. Thinking people think about their lives. The trick is not to get caught in it.”
Ah, to not get caught in it indeed. But some of us do get caught in it. For some of us this is our golem, the unfinished part of ourselves that may take a lifetime to complete. How to love and be loved? How to soothe this scared monster of uncertainty while also doing this most risky of things, which is to sign up for guaranteed heartbreak, whether we stay together for six years or 60, whether we are separated by circumstances or death.
But what’s the alternative? To live alone? To jump from partner to partner in an attempt to find the one who doesn’t spark doubt or reload the dishwasher after we've finished? Or do we love the one we’re with, the one who grows and changes in ways different from the ways we grow and change so that we end up having different relationships with the same partner as we find new and better ways to love?
Not long after Mitch and I met, a film came out called Joe Versus the Volcano, which ends with a couple (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) jumping into the mouth of an active, bubbling volcano. The film is impossibly weird, but this is exactly what it feels like to begin life with someone else--like jumping through a portal into an unpredictable universe, one that could destroy or transform. Of course we’re scared when we take this leap of faith with another human being as fallible and mortal as we are? How could we not have cold feet when facing 1,100-degrees of seething, molten rock?
“So what are we hoping for here,” Joe asks his bride as they stand on the precipice of everything.
“A miracle,” she says.
And they jump.
(To see how Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fared after diving into the crater, stream the movie.)