For worse before better


We didn’t have the first year everyone talks about, the newlywed year, the one where you have sex on the dining room table and then eat on the kitchen floor. The one where you buy pillows and stand for hours in the store aisle, playfully arguing the merits of various washing machines. The one where you learn each other chapter by chapter, in a linear and logical way. We didn’t wade in to our marriage.

Instead, Jake and I bypassed the warm, shallow waters and jumped from a higher and rockier place, where the water below was deep and cold, heavy and isolating. Where it was every man for himself. Jake wouldn’t have jumped, but I didn’t stop to think. I needed to be in all the way, immediately, for worse before better.

That first year was a dog paddle. We fought about everything, struggling to maintain ground and trying not to change. It was touch and go. We took turns being clingy and distant, and I was demanding in a way even I didn’t know I could be. Sex came in waves, too much and then stretches with none at all. I remember the things Jake broke—the phone, the bedroom door, and the leg of a kitchen chair. He wasn’t abusive, ever. Just incredibly frustrated by my inability to relax into our life.

Looking back, I can see I was testing to see how far he would stretch, determining his breaking point. How much would he take? It was a question I asked myself multiple times, both fearful and defiant. But Jake was like a pliant rubber band. Nothing I said deterred him permanently, or kept him from coming back to me with arms outstretched, ready to say sorry, willing to make it right. Even when it should have been me issuing the apology.

It took some time, but I came to understand that I could trust Jake with any feeling and any half-baked thought. I could be negative and insecure and stingy with my affections, and he would still come back for me. I was safe.

This was new. Unsettling.

Photo Credit: Jon Neal (National Geographic)

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