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Taming the Fear


by Maddie Eisenhart, Digital Director & Style Editor

The funny thing about this post from APW Associate Editor Maddie is it’s not the post she set out to write. She told me she wanted to write something lighthearted and funny about wedding planning. Turns out, she wrote about marriage and death (oops). But what she wrote nails everything. It banged me over the head with a new perspective of what getting married and creating a family is and why it really can matter. It single handedly answers the question, “Why even bother getting married?” Let’s discuss.

Taming the Fear | A Practical Wedding

Earlier this week, as I was preparing to write my post for today, I kept burning through draft after draft, amassing a small digital pile of crumpled papers in my computer’s trash bin. Nothing was sticking. Nothing felt right.

But then I read Sara’s post, and on that same day stumbled on a video for a grieving center that my mother and sister had participated in back home, and it was like the universe was telling me to get over my desire to write about wedding dresses already and just write the damn thing it wants me to write.

What Sara, my sister, and my mom reminded me about was just how f*cking scary marriage really is. I know that popular wedding and marriage conversations would have us believe that the worst thing that can happen to our marriages is that they end in divorce (always spoken about in the abstract, too—Divorce, like it’s the same for everyone) and if I didn’t have the morbid mind of a kid who attended one too many funerals in her youth, I’d believe that was true. But for me, the reality of marriage is that it represents the constant risk of loving someone with all your heart while knowing full well that the universe might break it. To me, that is the scariest of scaries. And it terrifies me on a daily basis.

When my sister Stephanie passed away almost thirteen years ago, my family fell into disarray. My younger sister feared that she’d contract the same illness that had taken Stephie’s life; my mom was doing everything she could to keep our family together while coping with her own immense grief; and I shut myself off from the event entirely.

My grief manifested itself in the form of perfectionism and control. Amid the chaos of my family’s coping mechanisms, I saw the ability to manipulate the tangible artifacts of the world around me as a means of mitigating the tornado of feelings present in my house, while simultaneous providing me with the false sense of empowerment that I could prevent further tragedies from befalling us. I was a perky, overachieving robot who had cut herself off from reality, and as a result, from feeling anything at all. Which to me, was all the better. No feelings meant that you couldn’t feel anything bad.

And then came Michael. Who ruined everything. Being with Michael granted me access to feeling again. (I’ll never forget the first time I cried during a sad romantic movie. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with me.) I finally understood what it meant to care for someone with your whole heart, which is something that you can’t do when you are a closed-off robot. But in opening me up to that kind of caring, Michael also opened me up to The Fear. Anyone who has ever lost something precious knows about The Fear. It was the thing that made it so difficult for my mother to let me leave the house after my sister died, because she no longer had faith in the universe to send me back.

At first, I tried to micro-manage The Fear. I thought if I knew where Michael was at all times, that if I could keep him from doing too much, experiencing too much, that the world would keep him safe. But we all know that you can’t foster a relationship when you let The Fear dictate your actions. It builds resentment and stifles relationship growth.

So, slowly, I trained myself to push The Fear down. I forced myself to trust that the universe might let this happiness be mine. It was like a training exercise. If I could look beyond all of the horrible tragedies that might befall my relationship, if I could see past The Fear, then I would be granted the awesome experience that comes from building a family. Over time I’ve been successful in this activity, and The Fear has been reduced to a whispering nag that lives in the back of my brain.

But the thing I know to be most true is that, small as it may be, The Fear never actually goes away. If you’ve ever suffered an injury while doing a physical activity, you know this. You’ve probably fallen off your bike before. It sucks, it hurts, and you get back up again and you ride. But after that first fall, you know you will never be the same. It takes greater courage to ride again, because you now possess the knowledge of how much it f*cking smarts to fall off a goddamn bike.

Which is why it makes me so angry whenever I have to defend my decision to get married (which I do, seemingly over and over again). When I was working in the entertainment industry, it was a favorite question of the older males in my office (the ones with long-term committed girlfriends, oddly enough). “Why are you even getting married? What’s the point when half of them end in divorce anyway*?” they’d ask. And I’d laugh and respond with some bullsh*t answer about taxes or the ring on my finger, but inside I’d be fuming.

Because what they don’t know is that my choice to get married is a daily exercise in bravery. It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well be living under an active volcano for the sake of the lovely ocean views.

So when people try to talk to me about how crazy it is that anyone would get married these days, I want to shake my fist at them and tell them “You don’t know the half of it!” I want to stand up for the people who enter into the institution of marriage because it takes such bravery to commit yourself to caring about another human being, for better or worse, ’til death do you part. And while suffering a great loss may have made me acutely aware of life’s potential for heartache (and let’s face it, in a way I probably wouldn’t wish on anyone else), I don’t think I’m alone in my bravery. I think we all deserve a small badge of courage for staring life straight in the eye and daring to be happy.

So here’s to us. I’m raising my morning cup of tea to you. Because marriage is f*cking scary. And we’re all laughing in the face of danger.

Photo by: Julie Randall (APW Sponsor)

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • One More Sara

    Is it Til Death Do We Part week? love this post though. Since becoming a mom and almost a wife, i have been significantly more afraid each time i board a plane. not so much for my own well-being, but the knowledge of the fact that i have my own baby family that i’d be leaving behind. this fear can get really annoying, esp since i live an ocean away from my family of origin. i guess thats just life for ya.

    • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

      Yep. Pretty much… The Fear was so bad when Baby was brand new; I didn’t even like to walk by stairs when I was holding her – in case a sudden gust of wind came and knocked us over? I don’t know. It was a daily struggle not to sink in to those sad “what ifs” but, like Maddie’s, it’s become a tiny voice in the back of my brain now (at 10 mos). Much more manageable!

      • Maddie

        Ah babies, I’ve been led to believe that that’s when The Fear really hits you. And it really is a constant struggle to let that beautiful creature meet the world.

  • Anon for today

    Thank you for this post. My fear is about cancer and death. My father died
    young and I barely remember him. And I fell in love with a hard smoker, of course. He has no health problems so far, but I’m so, so scared of losing him and spending the rest of my life alone. We’ve chosen to take care of each other, though, and we’re building our baby family. I’m in, and it’s so rewarding that most times I manage to keep the Fear at bay. Laughing in the face of danger, actually.

    • Septca

      I hear you. My dad died from leukemia at 32. He left behind a very happy marriage of 12 years, a grieving widow who didn’t know how to be alone, and two young children. As an adult, I strangely don’t worry about my as-yet-unborn children losing a parent, I instead cannot get over my empathy for my mother’s position. My husband – who I love more than life itself and accepted, almost rebelliously, in the face of THE FEAR – turned 32 yesterday. Today, THE FEAR will not let me alone. Today I have a very healthy husband who just happens to be 32, but that number will not let me alone and I am absolutely paralyzed by the scars of my past.

      • Anon for today

        Hugs to you. My mum also was left alone with 3 kids. She’s a very private person so her solution to survive was working hard and not (showing she was?) thinking about it. Only now that I found a person I want to grow old with I understand the size of the abyss she must have gone through. And, also, I very much fear the day my man will be my dad’s age, even if It won’t be for a few years.

  • Rachel

    I cried when I read this because I needed this post so badly. It is so comforting to know that I am not alone in my sometimes intense fear of losing my partner, who I love so much and can’t imagine living without. I have had times where I’ve burst into tears because some awful scenario of him getting terminal cancer or being in an accident has malevolently crept into my brain, and in those incidences I’ve often felt crazy.

    I feel like this fear is worsened because I’ve watched it happen in my own family and community. My uncle died of a heart attack when he was quite young, leaving behind his wife and young son. A friend from university married a year ago, and he and his wife just had their first child, a son. Thirty minutes after giving birth, his wife had a seizure and they found a brain tumour. She’s been diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer that only has a 4% survival rate after 2 years. When I see these things in front of me, it’s difficult to be rational and remember that it’s incredibly, incredibly rare for this kind of thing to happen, especially to young couples, but it’s so hard to be rational when intense love is involved.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Richelle

    Maddie: you are one wise woman. I also have The Fear but have never been able to describe it or attribute it as eloquently and accurately as you have here. And you know what? We really are so brave! Thank you for the reminder. I love your analogy about living under a volcano for the ocean views. It is so true. Hugs

  • Rachel

    What a beautiful post… Thank you so much for writing what I have been feeling for so long. I completely agree that The Fear is at times so overwhelming. I work in family court so all day long I process divorces however the scariest part about marriage for me is losing my love. I think you said it perfect that you have to have faith that the universe will let you have this happiness… That completely sums up how I feel. Growing up I have never seen a stable, safe home… However I feel as though that’s what my baby family is with my husband and I am terrified that it will be taken from me. That love and security don’t exist. Thank you for helping me believe we can be happy and we have to overcome The Fear.

  • MAYA DU LAC

    I’m delurking to say thank you thank you thank you for this post. Because it articulates something I’ve been feeling but unable to describe. I’ve met my Person (the one I see the rest of my life with) and meeting him and finally wanting that future has brought with it The Fear you describe. The Fear that it might not happen, not because he’s not committed or I’m not committed, but because life can sometimes tear down what we have in a split second. Some friends of ours lost their 3-year-old, perfectly healthy little girl a couple of weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. How bad things do happen, every day, without warning, and how there’s nothing I can do to stop it if fate decides to throw something like that at me, and how loving someone as much as I love my Person opens me up to that in a way I haven’t experienced before. We’re not engaged (yet!) but your post totally helps me understand exactly why getting married to him seems so important. It wouldn’t just be making a commitment to him, but it’s also a commitment to look at the sh*t the world throws at people and say, hey, we’re going to risk this because we think it’s worth it.

    APW rocks. :-)

  • http://robyntheblogedition.blogspot.com Robyn

    A co-worker of mine lost his healthy, happy, 38 year old wife very suddenly two weeks ago to a mystery cause. It shook me up pretty bad and drove home that that is definitely my worst fear in my own relationship. But if the fear owns me, the relationship will suffer, so I don’t let it own me. I just make sure to say “I love you” a lot and don’t let fights drag on too long.

    • Maggie

      I’ve posted this quote on APW before, but it seems to sum up my feelings on this topic better than anything else (I know the fear much too well). Your comment called it to mind again:

      “There isn’t time–so brief is life–for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” (-Mark Twain)

  • KOTF

    Nothing profound on this end amid my nods of agreement and tears. Thank you for this, and exactly a million times over.

    For me, the Fear was the ultimate loss of innocence and unawareness. Suddenly the automatic faith I carried with me that things would be okay (even amid my vague worries) was shattered. One random, traumatic, statistically improbable event had me spiraling into thoughts that if this one bad thing could change everything, what was stopping more bad things from happening? I lost my comfort that everything would be okay, because suddenly everything wasn’t.

    This, though, is exactly right-on: how it is a blessing to cultivate enough bravery and joy in order to “accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better.” It’s a new kind of faith, now. A faith that the Bad Things and the Fear are always out there (and always have been) but that All the Good Things are out there, too, and certainly worth stepping out into life for.

    This is about marriage and about so much more! Thank you.

    • Maggie

      “For me, the Fear was the ultimate loss of innocence and unawareness”

      Yes. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that sense of innocence, that vague trust everything will be okay, because it always has been. At the same time, I know it was only a matter of time before some event shattered this notion for me. All love entails risk, loss.

      “A faith that the Bad Things and the Fear are always out there (and always have been) but that All the Good Things are out there, too, and certainly worth stepping out into life for.”

      Well said.

  • Lesley

    Yes, The Fear. I lost a brother 9 years ago, and part of me will never recover. My fiance has never lost anyone close to him (his grandparents died before he knew them), so he doesn’t understand my occasionally irrational fear attacks. It’s somehow comforting to know that I am not the only one who might be having at least monthly nightmares of losing my soon-to-be husband to various illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters.

    As much as I hate The Fear, I also believe that it allows me to appreciate the loves in my life more than before I had this nagging beast.

    • Maddie

      Ah yes, I am also married to someone who totally doesn’t understand The Fear. But I think it makes us a good pair. Michael constantly reminds me that he is just as aware of what can happen, but he chooses not to expel energy worrying about it. When he puts it so plainly, it makes me take a step back and reevaluate whether my fears are rational or not. It’s a good practice for both of us.

      • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

        Forrest is always reminding me that the world is NOT out to get me and that the world is mainly good.

    • Lady Lou

      This post made me cry. The Fear, I has it. It is a true thing. My Person doesn’t have it, and sometimes I feel like I need to run off and find someone who does, because it’s not fair to my Person, or something like that. Or like I need to run off, because The Fear is too scary and I don’t want to f’cking deal with it so I will be a spinster without even a cat, because a cat might die.

      • Tina

        Speaking of animals. I tend to do this very thing with my dogs. The oldest one is only 4, but I already am pondering her end. I’ve had the same things with my partner as well. The realization that one day they may cease to exist. Not all the time, but it certainly creeps into my mind. I thought there was something wrong with me, but now I’m realizing that it could very well be the poduct of watching one too many loved ones be taken before their time. Beautiful post. Thank you!

    • Jamie

      I lost my maternal grandfather when I was 10, and my maternal grandmother when I was 17. Along with a slew of other family funerals at a relatively young age, and a mom who has a brain condition and has had 5 brain surgeries so far…I am no stranger to The Fear. My fiance is just starting to deal with this, as his grandfather is in a nursing home and declining rapidly due to Alzheimer’s. I am trying to be a rock not only for him, but his family as well, because I know what it’s like.

      The Fear reared it’s ugly head for me recently when my fiance went on a business trip to China. I am not a fan of planes, and I’m sure I drove him crazy asking him to check in as much as physically possible.

      Thank you thank you for this post….I am so happy I discovered this site, and I’m glad I’m not that only one that has these “crazy” thoughts from time to time.

  • http://www.myhonestanswer.com/ my honest answer

    What a great post. I’m going to stop reading the comments now though, because all these stories of how The Fear came true is making mine so much worse!

    • mimi

      I feel the same way… :(

  • Gillian

    Amazing. This is one of my favourite posts in a while, it’s really resonating with me. (And that’s saying something, because they’re all good!) Thank you, thank you, thank you, for re-framing marriage for me as brave. Your last line is going to stay with me all day. And hats off and hugs to you for being so brave in the face of what you’ve dealt with.

  • Florence

    Thank you for this post (is it crying week at APW or what?), I think you’ve captured the best reason why anyone should be married, and why the people who choose not to are maybe choosing not to live their life fully and let themselves be controlled by The Fear.
    I wish you and your husband, and your whole family, a lifetime of happiness with no more tragedy.

  • carissa

    Yes, yes, yes. After experiencing my mother’s long battle with mental illness and eventual suicide, and my younger sister’s chronic life-threatening illness, I know The Fear. As soon as my husband and I got engaged, I experienced a significant shift in my feelings towards him. While I had always cared about his safety and well-being, once I knew we would be together for the rest of our lives it became extremely important to me to keep his life as long and healthy as possible. I know what it feels like to dread That Call, and to get That Call. And I think the shadow of those experiences will always hang over my marriage and my feelings towards him. It is easy for my mind to go to a dark place in imagined scenarios. You are so right, Maddie. It takes incredible courage to love someone with your whole heart, knowing what can happen. Thanks for writing this post.

  • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

    Thank you for writing about this!

    One of the most difficult parts is that once The Fear becomes normal, you keep trying to bring happier situations into your equilibrium. I finally was able to confide in my father about it: “But I feel like now that the deployment is close to over, now that the hurdle is nearly past and things are falling into place…now I feel like something will go wrong.” My father looked at me for a moment, and then said, “Sometimes, I worry that I scarred you by bringing you up as a Red Sox fan.” And then gave me a hug while I was crying and laughing.

    Now that’s what I think of when I start to get scared.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      I love the Red Sox, I love your Dad for being so awesome, and I love this comment.

      • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

        I’ll pass that along to him – I think he’d be glad to know he made other people laugh a little, too! :)

    • Maddie

      This made my day. Because not only do I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about (why do we worry the most when things start to get good? What kind of torture is THAT?!) but also because I grew up in a Red Sox family. Such a roller coaster. :)

      • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

        Oh, the Red Sox … /sob (They did beat the Rockies the year my parents moved to CO, though, so that was fairly epic.)

        And yes, it is so unfair of our brains!

    • http://armyamy.wordpress.com Army Amy*

      This is exactly how I feel right now! My husband is 75% done with his deployment, and I feel like that somehow makes it more likely that something bad will happen. Part of me knows that’s not true, but the louder part of me is very scared.*

      • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

        I opened and closed the webpage three times before I found the courage to type it out to begin with – I feel so superstitious about confiding it in people and giving voice to the fear.

        *hugs* Hang in there!

    • ItsyBitsy

      Hah! As a Red Sox fan and someone who suffers from The Fear myself, this completely made my day.

  • carrie

    THANK YOU for this. I commented on this feeling in Meg’s post about when she and David drove the rest of their trip to see family over Thanksgiving, because it was something that was consuming me and I didn’t have a safe space to talk about it. Except with David, who tells me that he doesn’t want to live with the Fear, he wants to live everyday. I had a particularly crazypants day in February thanks to a long day of travel – east coast to west coast, for work with my super type-A colleagues – combined with PMS, and I ended up sobbing on the phone to David while sitting on a bench outside the San Francisco Courtyard Marriott (PEOPLE COULD SEE ME) because my calf was hurting and I was half convinced I had a blood clot and would never come home. There is still a small part of me that never wants him to leave the house unless I’m with him because if something happens, we would be together. Most days I am not like this.

    And it’s so interesting that it comes up because I’m so happy. So thank you for framing it in the context of us being brave when we marry. It’s true.

  • Kess

    I sometimes feel really, really stupid that I do have that fear of loss and abandonment as I seriously have never lost someone I really cared about. I wasn’t close to my grandparents and their passing was only sad because of the way it impacted my parents. My brother did have leukemia a few years ago, but he is now officially a ‘survivor’. While that was 100% horrible, it turned out ok.

    I actually know a total of one couple who got a divorce. One. And despite the fact that they’re my aunt and uncle, I don’t know them very well. While I know other people who have been divorced, they were divorced long before I met them.

    So why on earth do I still have this paralyzing fear? Heck, the worst that’s ever happened to me is that I was a geek in a typical American high school and was therefore marginalized or ignored – never even really picked on.

    Ergh, sometimes I wish I understood feelings.

    • christa

      Be glad for that. The emotional knowledge that comes with terrible life experiences isn’t enough for me to wish it on anyone.

    • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

      I’m in a similar situation to you re: divorce. I only have one cousin who is divorced. Out of 2 sets of grandparents, 7 sets of aunts and uncles, and 21 first cousins, that’s it. I think my fear comes from waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s like in the Sex and the City movie when Charlotte is afraid to run because she’s afraid something bad will happen to the baby even though her doctor said it’s 100% fine. It’s like everything is great and my life is fantastic, so there has to be something bad that will happen, right?

    • Steph

      Sometimes it can be family legacy. My grandfather died when my father was a child. I never even knew him, but that one event is so ingrained in our family dynamic — how he was a father, how you can never take anything for granted. I’m grateful to have never lost anyone directly, but The Fear is still a part of my family legacy…

      • ItsyBitsy

        EXACTLY to the “family legacy” bit. I have been fortunate enough not to experience hard loss in life so far, but I learned The Fear from my mom who lost her brother when she was 10.

  • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

    One of the things my wife and I do with the Fear is that when it strikes, we picture the other surrounded in a love bubble-shield and bad things touching the shield and shooting away (if there are other Pagans on here, essentially, grounding and shielding… but shielding the other person). It makes us feel better.

    • MARBELLA

      This makes me laugh because when I was little and scared of the dark or monsters, I would get my sister to ‘place a forcefield around me’. She would go ‘zoom! you are are protected!’ or something to that effect, and I would instantly feel safe. Ha ha! I will have to try this next time I am feeling the fear! :)

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    This is a beautiful post, Maddie.

    On a totally unrelated note: repeated use of the phrase “The Fear” makes me want to go read THE RUM DIARY immediately.

  • Another Meg

    I want to exactly this post a million times over. Sometimes I feel like an immense idiot for even trying to tie my life to another- but then I see my parents, who’ve been to hell and back and might be the strongest relationship I’ll ever get to witness. Worth it.

  • http://warrenpimp.blogspot.com/ Contessa

    Beautiful post which reminds me that the fear doesn’t mean the marriage is doomed. Sometimes I think if it were “right” I wouldn’t be scared, but today (right now at least) I can believe that getting married a second time makes me brave and human and aware.

  • http://bridezillatobebecky.blogspot.com/ Becky

    Thank you for this post. I have a family history of depression and chronic illness.Most of my grandparents died at a relatively young age. I have watched these facts wreak havoc on members of my family and, much like Maddie, become incredibly controlling about everything left in my power to control. After my spouse and I married, I found myself laying in bed at night, unable to sleep and scared to death about… death. The sense of time slipping away and the inability to control (some aspects of) our future left a painful knot in the pit of my stomach. It was a new experience for me. The past few years with my spouse have been the happiest of my life. I have so much more to lose and it’s terrifying. This post and the many who have commented with shared feelings makes me feel less alone and less neurotic. And empowered to talk to my spouse about it, something I haven’t had the courage to do yet.

  • Jackie

    I’ve been reading APW for years now, but never commented. But this, this is it. My father passed away in a tragic accident when I was ten, leaving my mom a widow at 29 with three kids. It was a hard time for all of us. I thought I had dealt with this in my adolescence, but the fear reared its head as soon as I agreed to marry my wonderful husband. The thing is, sometimes the Fear is tricky, and disguises itself as other things which can cause trouble. I have tried, but I have never been able to explain this as well as Maddie did, so thank you. Its nice to know that there are other people out there who feel like I do. Its nice to know that I am not the only person who views living with the person you love until you are both old and gray as a luxury, not a given.

  • Julie

    “Because what they don’t know is that my choice to get married is a daily exercise in bravery. It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better. ”

    This. This. Oh, a thousand times, this! After a ridiculous first marriage and the loss of several close family members, I swore I would never allow anyone to get close enough to hurt me. Thank God my new husband is a patient man, because it took years to get over the fear that I would let him in, only to be destroyed again. Even if it ends sooner, rather than later, (as everything does) I am a far better person for having opened up to this. No matter how bad the pain will be, the whole experience will have been worth it.

    (My workplace is so cynical that any wedding is referred to as a pre-divorce ceremony.)

    • MAYA DU LAC

      Pre-divorce ceremony?! Wow. That *is* cynical.

  • http://blindirishpirate.blogspot.com Blind Irish Pirate

    Damn right. What are you, the better half of my brain?

    Like you, someone in my family seemed to die every year, so I guess to a degree I’ve been cynical from a young age. But it was my grandma’s death that jolted me into a fearful realm… something about seeing my grandpa left behind and torn apart after 60 years just made the prospect of marriage terribly unappetizing. You tried to control it? I tried to RUN from it.

    Which is why if this is “Til Death Do Us Part” week, then I want to be in on the “For Better Or Worse” week. Marriage is scary. But marriage is hard, yo. … and worth it.

  • Hazel

    It seems to me that when we open ourselves to the possibility of love we open ourselves to the possibility of being hurt: but there’s something beautiful in that vulnerability. My thoughts are with everyone here who’s had to cope with such painful things.

  • 39bride

    “It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well be living under an active volcano for the sake of the lovely ocean views.”

    Oh, you nailed it. I wasn’t quite as successful as you at being perfect after my father and five others in my life died within a couple of my childhood years–the severe depression got in the way–but I certainly tried. And I eventually did shut down my vulnerability (and thus my ability to feel too much in certain directions).

    It took my dear SO well over a year to begin to break through those walls. And now the walls are down… and I’m hanging over a canyon. But I’m hanging with him. And I wouldn’t want back the life I had without him.

    Just this month I lost someone else and it was awful. But it was also the proof for me that instead of mourning the loss of important people in our lives, we celebrate that they lived–we wouldn’t have wanted a life without them and so we will accept the pain because having them in our lives was worth it.

    That’s what I tell myself when The Fear stalks my thoughts of the SO. I wouldn’t want to shut him out just so that the possible pain doesn’t touch me. It took a few decades for me to learn, but the pain of needing what comes from that openness and vulnerability but not having that need filled because you won’t allow openness and vulnerability is worse than the pain of loss if/when loss happens.

    It’s an old cliche but it’s true: Life is for living.

  • http://workoflove.wordpress.com Shaelyn

    My father passed away when I was 11, and I watched my mother unravel in the years following his death. It has always been in the back of my mind, then, that loving someone and building a life is full of good things, but also opens you up to unimaginable heartache. It is an act of making yourself vulnerable.

    I’m not very good at being vulnerable, and I am trying to reconcile my desire to have a full and loving life with my husband with my learned instinct to keep him at arm’s length. It’s a daily fight in these first months of marriage, but I am hoping I’ll be able to squelch the fear, too.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    I think that’s part of what loving someone is: looking at the Fear and being able to say “even if that does happen, loving this person and sharing my life with him/her is worth it.”

  • ambi

    Wow, what a wonderfully-written post. Your comparison to physical injury was just so vivid and perfect. A few years ago, I tore my fingernail off while making a bed (weird and gross and traumatic, I know), and not every single time I make the bed, I instinctively move my hands differently, more carefully, to keep from getting hurt again. I think you are SO right that this is how we are in relationships and in life, too.

    My friends and I were recently talking about how we kind of collectively have this fear. There is a group of us, all happy and healthy, everyone (except me) happily married with kids (I am happy partnered, no kids). Everyone’s kids are healthy, everyone’s jobs are stable and our lives are just fairly calm and comfortable and nice. Right now, everything is just going too well, too happy and drama-free, and we are all kind of waiting for the bad stuff to happen. Because it will. We talked about this just the other night – we look at our parents’ friends, and they have all experienced tragedy – illness, car accidents, infidelity, divorce, loss of jobs and homes. It is just like, and we know that, and so I think we are, as a group, waiting for the shoe to drop.

  • katieprue

    I don’t really feel like I have anything meaningful to say at this moment, but I had to say: Maddie, wow. You know you did a great job on this, right? I hope you do.

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      Ditto. :)

    • Maddie

      Thank you. :)

  • Molly

    Of course, we’re all going to die, right? I think that’s one of the things that makes the vow of marriage so profound. I remember having the intense realization on my wedding day that either I am going to watch her die, or she is going to watch me die. To me, that is one of the deepest realities of our love for each other.

    • http://shewearsboots.blogspot.com Megan

      Molly, yes, this is exactly what I was thinking as I read this post, and precisely what I remembered in the midst of my wedding vows. That IS the contract. It’s not just that we fear that loss, but ultimately, inevitably, that loss will happen. If we’re lucky, we’ll have had many, many years together, and we go peacefully as we’re old and gray. But the fact of the matter is, marriage is a promise to see someone through, to the End. Their (or your) ultimate end. It is a frank, scary, and for me inspiring reality of our love.

      • Emmy

        One of *our songs* has the lyric “Let’s grow old together, and die at the same time”. I don’t think my husband realises quite how much I want this to be true and how much it hurts when he doesn’t take his health seriously.

  • Denzi

    I think the worst thing about The Fear is that a part of it is true. We will all lose our partners: by dying, or by them dying, or by a death of the marriage to circumstances, or by a death of love. It’s uncontrollable, and unpredictable, and I would venture to say that most of us want to control it or predict it or *know something, somehow* to prepare ourselves. And in lieu of that, to shut down and protect ourselves now, so that the loss later won’t hurt as badly.

    So living in the present moment and being open to love, even though you know it’s going to bite you in the ass, painfully, some day (and all you can hope for is later rather than sooner, and that it’s worth it): yes, terrifically brave.

  • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

    People need to get smacked when they ask an engaged person “Why would you ever want to get married?” Ugh. That is so rude.

  • http://leahandmark.com Leah

    <3 to you, Maddie! You are so fantastic and this is such a beautiful post.

  • Amy

    “… to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better.”

    Wow. I love this line so much and I have always felt that way towards life, but never towards marriage. I think that is a fabulous thing to say to someone who is all, “why get married if half of ‘em end in divorce.” Screw you hypothetical cynical stranger.

    Thank you for sharing your story Maddie.

  • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

    Maddie, this a million times. You’ve articulated exactly what I fear most. I’ve never even worried about divorce, but I have always had The Fear of losing one of my closest family members. I’m an only child who is fiercely close to her parents, and The Fear of them dying is huge. And then my husband came around, and The Fear grew to include him. You’re right about it being manageable but impossible to get rid of completely.

  • Hils

    Four days after I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) his brother-in-law died suddenly. His sister had married him a mere seven weeks before.

    To say that has shaped my view of our relationship, of our permanence as a couple, is a complete understatement.

    My immediate reaction was to hold on tight to him and never let go, but it’s not practical to live that way. So it morphed into all kinds of things, hypochondria, paranoia, superstition. Those aren’t that practical either, but they’re manageable. Mostly. Last Sunday, we were outside gardening, and I felt so content. So sure of my life and the choices that had led me to this man and this house and these plants in that ground. And then I had a sudden image of his getting shot and my not being able to save him. I shook it off fast. Faster than I used to be able to, but still, my head is not ready for contentment. There’s too much guilt — and the Fear, as Maddie says.

    I tried so hard not to count the seven weeks after our wedding, to not mark the day when suddenly we’d gotten to be married longer than they had. It’s passed, of course. Our wedding was… four months ago? I’ve lost count. Which is good. But I don’t know that I’ll ever feel secure in the world the way I did before H. died.

  • http://www.corinnekrogh.com/blog Corinne

    You said it in a way I never could have. So f*cking scary, to the point of having to turn to distractions to prevent reoccurring panic attacks. When I was single I was afraid of dying, but now that I know my partner I’m afraid of him leaving me, or him having to be alone. I can’t imagine what I’ll feel when we have kids.

  • http://Designflourishes.com Sarah

    I have been managing my fear by imagining the funeral of my partner. It sounds counterproductive, but it helps calm me down. After my brother died, I was devastated. His funeral was so surreal, but it is the framework I use when I think about John’s inevitable death. My partner is 14 years older than me. His father died relatively young. Odds are that I will be widowed. It is not morbid to plan for likely events. It is perhaps premature, but it helps with the fear.

    • 39bride

      In military circles these days, wives call it “Anticipatory grief.” It’s a healthy (if morbid) coping mechanism. While their husband is deployed they mentally plan for the worst and imagine what it would be like if it happened, because then they begin to convince themselves it’s survivable.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      Sarah, I have a similar situation with my partner being 11 years older than me, and I’ve got women in my family who lived to over 100. There are odds that with the age difference that are very difficult to think about too much. He likes to make lighthearted jokes about my likely eventual widowhood; we had to have a conversation about why I needed him to stop. We do, though, talk about life After, every now and again. And I’m sure it will be something we spend a lot of time talking about in the future.

      Thing is, though, yes the ODDS say one thing. But life (and death) aren’t things that can be predicted easily.

      On the flipside though, being reminded so much of how fragile and brief life can be really reminds us to appreciate every moment we have together.

  • Marie

    Oh dear, now I’m crying at work. Thanks for writing this post Maddie, and thank you to many of the previous commenters for sharing their stories. I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels like this sometimes.

  • Beth

    Wow this resonated so much with me… this is a line from my wedding vows:

    “I have also learned that loving and losing are inextricably linked, and so to truly and completely love another is nothing short of an act of courage.”

    Thank you for posting this.

    • HH

      That. Is. Beautiful.

      • Beth

        Thank you :)

  • http://www.desertlaura.blogspot.com Laura

    “…she no longer had faith in the universe to send me back.”

    I appreciate your honestly in telling us your inner thoughts and fears. My situation is quite new, and I’m still surrounded by the grief and trying to figure things out. Our baby son was stillborn at 8 months and I understand having the most beautiful thing in your life taken away from you without your consent. Recently after his death, I would cry when my hubbie would leave the house. I remember driving home from work to “check on him” because he didn’t answer his phone when I called. I’m surrounded by fear and uncertainty.

    It takes courage to let go of your fears, because there are no guarentees in life. Your post gives me hope that I can move past this one day and learn to let go of the unknown and just be so thankful for the gifts I do have in my life.

    Laura

    • HH

      Oh, you poor dear. My heart goes out to you. I wish you strength and am keeping you in my thoughts.

    • ItsyBitsy

      Would that I could reach through the internet and offer a hand to hold. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m also keeping you in my thoughts.

  • Stephanie

    Wow. This post is a great example of why I direct all my friends — single, engaged, married, divorced — to A Practical Wedding. Maddie — I was sorry my now-husband and I had to cancel on our free engagement session with you in Maine last spring, and now I’m even more sorry, since you are obviously (in the words of Anne of Green Gables) a “kindred spirit” (and a wise one, to boot). Watching my husband’s aunt hold the hand of her terminally ill husband in the front row of our wedding while we swore “’til death do us part” was a sharp reminder of what that means. I am thankful for this forum in which to discuss that piece of marriage/partnership.

  • http://magpietrousseau.wordpress.com Magpie

    Oh, man.

    This hits home today.

    Last week, the husband-elect and I were in a terrible car accident. We were OH SO LUCKY to walk away with injuries that will heal just fine. He was driving my car, and it is a total loss. If the other driver had struck us just a few feet further back in the driver’s side door, not the front wheel, he would have been very badly injured, and he doesn’t have health insurance right now.

    I know I should feel relieved that things weren’t worse…and I do. But I also have this crippling anxiety – I could lose him at any time, with no warning. Or I could lose him slowly with no way to get him needed health care. I am not in that situation now, but that narrow escape last week has made me hyper-aware of just how tenuous life can be. It’s terrifying.

  • rebecca

    thank you for sharing, maggie. i, too, first felt this immense fear and urge to shelter my husband just before we got engaged and like you said, making it a smaller voice in the back of your head is a huge step forward. growing up, i watched my dad take care of my chronically ill mother and she passed away just before my senior year of hs. i tried to pretend that what happened to my mom and family wasn’t affecting me…i was strong and motivated and healthy. More than anything, i hate(d) that experiencing the decline and then loss of a parent shaped my world-view and family-view BUT i also think it helps make me, and anyone else who shares this tragic experience, love more than we could ever imagine. For once we open up our hearts and feelings, it’s in the deepest of ways. thank you again for sharing your story…our story.

  • Montclair

    I love this post, and I relate to it so much. Thank you!

  • http://lezgethitched.blogspot.com Diana

    My mom died when I was 13. I have an image burned into my memory of my dad’s profile while adjusting the thermostat the next day. He looked dead too; his whole face appeared to have given up its fight with gravity. He didn’t look like he’d ever be happy again. That’s why I have the The Fear–an exaggerated version that’s landed me in therapy, and one that I worry will be with me forever.

    Thank you so much for this post, Maddie. It is so validating to read.

  • AnotherCourtney

    I’ve read a lot of articles on this website that I can relate to, and I’ve read quite a few that I can’t relate to in particular, but I know other people can. I’ve never, though, read an article that hit me in the gut the way this one just did. I was in tears after the third paragraph.

    Thank you for writing what I couldn’t figure out how to say. My husband laughs at me every time I frantically ask if he’s ok when I hear a bump in the kitchen (“Yes, dear. I just dropped a fork.”) or each time he leaves for a trip and I make him promise to drive carefully. But you said it exactly: “I forced myself to trust that the universe might let this happiness be mine.” That’s what I’m working on. Every day I’m afraid the universe will change its mind and take that happiness away, and every day that thought made me feel morbid and weak.

    Thank you for calling me brave instead.

    • Amber

      Thank you for helping me understand why my husband always tells me to “Be safe!!!” when I text him that I’m driving somewhere.

  • Allison

    Shortly after we got engaged, it hit me on one beautiful, sunny afternoon that I had found the person whose hand I would be holding when one of us died. And then I realized that I loved him so much that I hoped I would either die first (again, at a very old age), or not long after him. (I’m nine years younger and come from a family with good longevity, so it seems likely that I’ll outlive him, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to spending my final years on my own.)

    My childhood piano teacher was a lovely older woman who led an active life, directing the choir at church and teaching generations of kids how to appreciate music. But when her long-time husband died, she was gone within six months. For the first time, I think I now understand why she died so soon after he did. She just didn’t know how to live without him.

  • http://armyamy.wordpress.com Army Amy*

    I needed to read this today. My husband is currently deployed, so I feel like I’ve got The Fear on steroids. Before Stephen left, I told him that I hadn’t gotten enough time with him. He thought I meant the month we spent together before he left, but I meant the 10 years we had been together. It’s just not enough time when you love someone. *

  • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

    Maddie, I love that this was not the post you originally intended. I’m currently trying to write my post-grad post, and I think it’s turning out to be not at all about the wedding.

    • Catherine B

      Looking forward to your post-grad post however it comes out!

  • http://breannajai.tumblr.com breannajai

    So many people have already said how wonderful this post is, so I wont bother to repeat all of that.

    I wish I knew how to push down that fear and deal with it better. I’m trying, but I seem to be mostly failing. My mom passed away 2 years ago, about 10 days after I turned 20. And the day after D and I became exclusive.

    In dealing with my grief, and learning to be in a long-distant relationship, there were some problems and we broke up for about a month. Breaking up was not at all the same as losing my mom but it sucked too.

    Since getting back together, and getting much more serious, I am terrified that something will happen and I will be alone. Im not close with my family and all of my friends are back in my home state. I would be very alone here, if not for D. I don’t know to push that feeling away so I don’t. I just try to manage everything all the time… he rarely gets to go out alone and when he does i have to have texts when he gets there and when he leaves and maybe during too. When he has to travel for work, he has to call twice a day at least, even though time zones get difficult. He does it because he loves me, but the times that he forgets or something goes wrong, we have the worst fights.

    Even while fighting and hating him so much, I know it’s not his fault. I know that I’m just scared of losing him and going through that again. But I don’t know how to handle it any better/

    • K

      Oh, I feel for you. I have been in the situation of moving to be with someone and then being very alone except for them. It is truly very very hard. And with your mother’s death on top of that you are dealing with a lot. It sounds like you have a pretty clear idea on what’s causing your reactions of trying to manage everything. Have you tried therapy at all? It can be scary getting started and maybe hard to find the right person but it might help you find ways to manage you fear. Hugs and I hope things get better for you.

  • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

    Yes. yesyesyes.

  • http://www.koruwedding.com Koru Kate {Koru Wedding}

    YES. Life is precious & life has no guarantees- a lesson I learned at 13 when my Dad died in an accident. It took me so long to open up to love. & now that I have it, my biggest wish is to grow old together & be one of those adorable, wrinkly, life-well-lived couples.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    We are constantly reminding each other that the other has to live for at least 30 years. And even though we’ve been married over two years now, that 30 year time limit still stands.

    When we finally got pregnant and then it ended with a miscarriage, I knew there would be no going back. Our innocence about pregnancy was already shattered with how long it took us to get there. Trying again after that was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. To know that we could hope that hard and have that much joy and know it was possible for it to all be ripped out from under us, and yet willingly open ourselves up for it, was the impossible thing we did. We got up, we tried again, we lost again, and we keep going.

  • Mandaloo

    Oh my goodness YES! Thank you for this post! It made me cry tears of relief that I may not be crazy after all!

    Future Hubs and I are coming off a really tough year…no one thing in particualr, just a string of totally mundane and common things that the universe throws at you every now and then. But it just seemed like the universe threw them at us all at once! Then, we decide we’ve had enough of just reacting to all these setbacks and we are gonna TAKE CHARGE and get married! Yay! Positive Intentional Change! Take that Universe!

    But then The Fear set in. For me, it’s been more like a dizzying array of “What do we do if…?” scenarios, and Will be able to handle it? Will we stick together? Because marriages fall apart all the time (albeit not at the rate the naysayers would have us believe), and no one goes in thinking that it won’t be forever. And the idea of living without him is just unbearable. So I just talk to him about it (sometimes in fits of hysteria) and he always listens and proves to me every single time that we will stick. And it’s getting better. Whew!

    Maddie is right. I, too, have been training myself to push down The Fear. Lucky for me that I have an amazing and patient partner to help. And the ocean views under this volcano really are lovely. Thank you Maddie for this incredibly reassuring post.

  • sarahrose

    Thanks for this post, Maddie. I’m the youngest of anyone I know that has found a life partner (still in college), so most of my friends are still in the stage where they’re basically invincible and they think I’m losing it when I tell them about the Fear. It’s nice to have a reminder that it’s actually pretty normal (and brave!) to deal with it.

    I have lived a pretty sheltered life; no one directly close to me has died. But I know exactly what Maddie and many others have talked about, how when you meet your partner and realize this is the person you are (hopefully) going to grow old with, it cracks you open. Even never having experienced death, I was suddenly struck with The Fear from all directions. As time has gone on, I have gotten better and pushing it down, along with the morbid, paranoid scenarios, but it definitely doesn’t go away.

    I do have an example for beating it, in my partner. He lost his older brother (who was sixteen) when he was ten, and though he still misses him, I’ve never met someone so ready to take on life and all of its scary wonderfulness. I’m trying to be like him, but it’s hard.

  • Anon

    It is strangely reassuring to know that so many of you have The Fear, I don’t feel so alone or so different. Thanks Maddie and all of you for that.

    I had a brief, intense experience of mental illness and thought I would lose absolutely everything in the course of it. The worse feeling was the thought that I might lose my SO and the chance to have a simple happy life with him. I’m 100% better now, but I have been left with The Fear, and like a commenter above, I feel anxious whenever he goes on a car journey etc. I have to give extra hugs to people before they leave anywhere. I am also now even more terrified of dying.

    In some ways it is the first step to a liberating consciousness – that life is precious and fleeting and that we must live it fully! Many people don’t have that gift.

  • Granola

    This is my new answer to “why would you get married?”

    “Bravery.”

    Thanks Maddie!

  • Jess

    Oh my stars. This is EXACTLY my feelings on the subject. I lost my father when I was barely a teenager, and didn’t even go on a date until ten years later. My only sibling and brother had a near-fatal accident two years after my dad died. So, needless to say, this lady has some issues.

    I can’t even describe the sheer terror I have in my heart on a daily basis. I have been courageous and accepted the love given to me by my partner, returning it willingly and happily. But then comes real life. Living every day, worrying if he’ll die in a car accident, or while getting his wisdom teeth out, or just a random little defect in his heart popping up and POOF! The center of my world crumbles again.

    I wish I could live my life free of the knowledge that I will be putting him in the ground (most likely, as women in my family live into their nineties regularly). But, I can’t change what happened to me. All I can do is love fiercely, acknowledge the fear, and know that loss will come, so just live as best I can. That’s all anyone can ever do. I wish I had a better answer to that, but there isn’t.

    There are scores of women who have your back, Maddie, who are in the trenches with you right now. Hopefully, we can all start owning up to the bravery of our own choices in public, in the hopes that we can re-train people around us to not ask such stupid questions like “Why the heck would you get married? It’s worthless! It’s just going to fail!”

    This little act of courage will beget other little acts of courage, and before you know it, you’re living courageously. That’s the hope, anyway. :)

  • Whitney

    “…my choice to get married is a daily exercise in bravery. It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better.”

    Wow. Thank you for saying what I feel but couldn’t put into words.

  • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

    I just decided this morning that perhaps we are overwhelmed by the good, which makes us unable to do the good all the time. And perhaps the risk is why we are overwhelmed. Because feeling something deeply then opens you up to that loss, as you so eloquently described here. But opening our hearts allows us to live the most beautiful lives… so… that’s my goal. It’s a daily struggle of course – to love your partner deeply and freely knowing things could change… and to love the world the same way.

  • Laurel

    I don’t really have anything specific to say about this. Just, <3. Way to be brave. Etc.

  • Amber

    My fiance has an incurable disease. One he has lived with for nearly ten years. One that is precancerous and the cancer already runs in his family. My fiance lost his best friend to an aggressive cancer two months before he proposed to me. The kind of cancer that was discovered and took his life all in the span of six months. The affect this had on my fiance was immense to say the least….planing our wedding without his best man has been difficult but it brings up a lot of conversations and we have had very involved talks about his illness and about death and marriage.

    Just last week as he crawled into bed beside me and in a cracked voice he said “I don’t want you to ever be alone.” That sentence filled with so much more meaning than just those few words…. Having lived with his condition for ten years, there is The Fear that any day now it may go from living with, to suffering from, to the inevitable.

    Our wedding is September 2nd, which is also our 7th anniversary and even with The Fear very much a companion as we prepare to say our vows, I cannot wait to marry this man and to bind myself to him and to give him all the love I can for as long as we have together.

    “It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better.”

    Thank you for writing this, for putting into words what I emotionally have known but have not been able to form into a solid entity. Thank you for showing that we are brave and not ignorant to the truth. That in fact we have looked the truth square in the face and we have told it not today my friend, today I will simply love this man with everything I have.

    • Maddie

      THIS.

      Also, you are amazing. Big hugs to you and your partner for your bravery.

    • Phillipa

      Thank you Maddie, and Amber, and everyone else who has commented on this incredibly insightful post.

      My husband of 2.5 months also has a life-threatening illness and The Fear is very real, but it certainly doesn’t control our lives. He has very firmly decided to *live* his life, and I am trying my very best to follow his courageous lead. He is 9.5 years older than me, and before The Diagnosis, I had fleeting thoughts about how I would cope when I was old and grey and alone. Now the timeframe has changed and I know just how precious our every minute is. It is impossible to be optimistic and cheerful 24/7, to “make every moment count” etc. I try to acknowledge The Fear when it surfaces, then let it depart, because it is not going to ruin my day with him! I have been going to meditation classes (thoroughly recommended if you need some help to focus on the present) and my wise teacher often says, “thoughts are not facts”: just because you think something doesn’t make it true, doesn’t make it happen.

      “today I will simply love this man with everything I have” – an excellent ambition I share with you Amber.

  • Eva

    Just want to point out that this isn’t just true of marriage, it’s true of *any* relationship. Like, I don’t think that *getting married* is the brave act in the face of that fear, but the act of *loving* at all.

    It brings to mind this quote: “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
    ― Louise Erdrich

    And this applies to ANY loving relationship, not just marriage. Choosing to marry someone over these fears is certainly an act of bravery, and I think that falling love with the person in the first place and building any sort of relationship and life with them is already enough of an act of bravery itself.

    (I think I get a little bristly when I sense an implication that the marriage itself *means more* than the committed relationship or goes above and beyond it in some special/symbolic way, as a queer person who is on the fence about marriage. But I think the message of this post is really important!)

    • Laurel

      Yes. Definitely. Also, love Louise Erdrich.

      Although I think there’s something really brave about making a commitment to someone in the face of fear: when my partner and I decided to get married it was like closing the door, saying this is it, we’re done looking.* Before, we had been careful to leave ourselves exit options; now, we’re more focused on what’s right for the two of us in the relationship regardless of how it affects leaving, because we’re not planning to leave. That’s hard. It changed our relationship. We’ll see if the actual wedding will — I kind of think not, which is fine — but the decision to get married made us really decide about the commitment. Even though we’re queer and marriage-skeptical and stuff.

      *(Obviously there’s always the option to reopen the door. But we don’t organize things around it.)

    • Maddie

      Oh I completely agree! And I definitely don’t want this post to come across as a “marriage means more” post. Especially since I think you can be brave and give your heart to many people over the course of a lifetime, and it is equally difficult each time (it doesn’t even necessarily need to be in a romantic way either).

      I do think that sometimes marriage is met with more raised eyebrows because it is such a public display and because it implies forever. But what I’m really talking about is the commitment. I’ve seen non-married couples who take exactly the kind of plunge I’m talking about. And then there are people like my aunt, who was engaged for 15 years and could never actually get to the marrying part because she just couldn’t let go and give in to the unknown.

      But I’ll never prescribe any implied hierarchy to relationships. Especially since it does take an immense amount of bravery to love someone as you’ve described. Whether or not you decide marriage is for you, you’ve already done the hard part.

      • Eva

        Yes, this: “Especially since I think you can be brave and give your heart to many people over the course of a lifetime, and it is equally difficult each time (it doesn’t even necessarily need to be in a romantic way either).”

        Thank you :)

    • Stella

      I wholeheartedly agree with Eva’s comment. Including the bristly part.

  • CC

    Wow, I just understood something.

    I grew up very sheltered and was extremely naive. In college, I volunteered as an emergency medical technician. Part of the reason was to at least get rid of some naivete in the medical area. However, sometimes thinking through scenarios gets a bit scary, because you not only have to think about the worst thing that could happen to people, are present for some of the worst things, but also need to do something to help, right at the moment. It’s empowering, but also exposes a naive person to all the possible bad things that could happen.

    I’m recently engaged, and two weeks ago, I had several nights of dreams where my SO was hurt in some way and I had to save him. Seeing this post made me realize that I was trying to deal with “The Fear”. Thanks for making me cry.

  • http://knockedupknockedout.com/ one soul

    Wow. This resonates.

    Excellent stuff, and so very, very true.

  • http://upupcreative.com julie green

    love it. thanks.

  • Jennie

    Long time reader, but first time poster. Best article to date! I’m adding this to my Pinterest :)

  • Caroline

    I definitly feel the Fear. People tell me all the time, why rush? You have so much time. (We’ve been together 6 years, but are very young to even contemplate marriage here. My response is always “I don’t know that! G-d willing, I will have decades and decades of life with my partner. But I might have only a few years. Or weeks. Or DAYS, G-d forbid.” We’re sure that we want to spend our lives married to each other, whether those lives are short or long, so why wait? In this unpredictable world, we have no idea what life holds, and I know I want him by my side, and recognized by the community as my partner and family, through whatever life may hold.

  • MARBELLA

    Maddie, thanks so much for writing this. I fight the fear daily and my husband thinks I am crazy for having these thoughts and feelings.

  • Sarah

    How is it that APW always posts something that is completely related to what I’m going through at THAT MOMENT? My fiance is about to take his first of many planned trips to Taiwan this year, and every time he travels, The Fear sneaks in. And it stays until he returns. It sometimes goes away for a little while, but it always comes back. I thought I was the only one who suffered from this, but I’m so relieved that I’m not. Thanks for sharing, Maddie!

  • Krista

    Thank you for writing this.
    Whenever these thoughts creep into my mind (and I am so glad to know I’m not alone in this!), I get carried away for a few moments, and then think: “Stop thinking about this RIGHT NOW or else it might come true, and then how would you feel?!” which then immediately makes me feel crazy, and I have to give my head a quick shake.

    That was more of a confessional. The point is: thanks Maddie, and I love APW!

  • Laurel

    Thank you so much Maddie! I totally get the idea of being surprised about crying during a romantic movie, because that is not something I used to do.

    Thank you for describing the fear. My husband spends all winter competing in extreme skiing events (and now it’s part of the summer, too). A lot of competitors have passed away either in the competitions themselves or doing the (sometimes) more intense things they do on days off from the competitions. Every time he leaves for a trip, I have to overcome the fear, at least long enough to send him out the door with a smile on my face.

  • http://againstthegrain2013.blogspot.com/ Skittle

    You know, I read through this entire post and a good third of the comments, thinking to myself, “Huh, I don’t have The Fear. I wonder when It will hit me.”

    And then I realized it already has, and it’s been with me so long that I’ve sort of just accepted that it’s The Way I Am.

    My dad – who is, thankfully, comparatively healthy now – had serious heart problems from about the time I was 7 years old. I’d wake up late at night and hear him in the kitchen, and just KNOW we were going to the emergency room because he was having a heart attack. He had quadruple bypass surgery when I was 7, and had his first heart attack when I was 10. He had another when I was 11, and several while I was in middle school and high school. Plus, he has angina, and has multiple stents in his heart (most of which he’s acquired at separate times).

    When I went away to college, I would get a call on my cell phone from a number that was a Maryland number, but that I didn’t recognize, and I would just KNOW it was my step mom calling from the hospital. Or she’d be calling from home (and we never spoke often) and as soon as I heard her voice, I knew to ask, “What’s wrong?”

    I try not to be crazy about it, but if I’m expecting my soon-to-be-fiance home at 6, and I haven’t heard from him stating otherwise by 6:15, a slow panic creeps into my chest, and I am assaulted by all the What Ifs. What if he was in a car accident? What if someone went on a shooting rampage in his building (I, of the generation of Columbine and the DC Sniper and the Virginia Tech shootings, to name a few)? What if Something Happened, and I am completely helpless because I have NO IDEA?

    I’m lucky, because he’s incredibly patient with me, and understands that my need for him to check in isn’t out of distrust, it’s out of experience. This post made me realize that I have been living in constant fear of getting The Call, and am so used to it that, for me, it’s just par for the course.

    On Tuesday my step mom and I got into a fight over the phone, and I heard my dad telling her to drop it in the background, and after we hung up, I was too raw from the fight to answer the phone when it rang again ten minutes later. I didn’t hear from my dad until yesterday evening, and so for 48 hours contained the fear that he had gotten worked up over the fight, and ended up in the hospital.

    I’m scared, because I never really articulated the idea that loving someone is one of the greatest acts of both bravery and vulnerability you can choose, that *that* is what is significant about it for me. Laughing in the face of danger sounds a bit too risky to me, like I’m just asking for it all to go wrong, but perhaps danger and I can at least walk peacefully together.

  • http://jesselynblogs.wordpress.com Jesselyn

    I didn’t read all the comments but I also wanted to share the sentiment that this resonated with me.
    I have never been through a death yet (knock on wood) but the thought that I might lose my husband sends me to my knees.
    When we first started dating it took me so long to give him my heart not because he was anything less than perfect for me but rather because I knew I love him so much that I knew he was the person before all others who had the ability to shred my heart into tiny pieces.
    Of course, then I didn’t even think about the fact that God or other circumstances might take him away from me.
    Bravo for this article.

  • Autumn A.

    “Because what they don’t know is that my choice to get married is a daily exercise in bravery. It is a decision to go against all of my better judgment, my knowledge, my experience, and to accept the risk of possible devastation for the reward of something better. As far as I’m concerned, I might as well be living under an active volcano for the sake of the lovely ocean views.”

    One of my favorite paragraphs ever on APW.

  • Leslie

    I love your honesty, all of you. And you are all truly so brave. I’m really commenting though because I kind of wanted to take this idea and flip it upside down. Because oddly, to me, it is the fact that death is going to happen, to all of us, one day, no matter what we do, that makes dealing with The Fear so easy to do. What I really think makes living with The Fear daily worth it is because the terrible alternative is not fully experiencing The Love, ever. I read a travel blog this week that said the number one reason to travel is simply because “you are going to die.” (http://www.vagablogging.net/the-ultimate-motivation-to-travel.html) That really resonated with me and I think the same goes for marriage – you can’t let The Fear keep you from true love and happiness, and if it is, you should seek professional help so that one day you can let someone in who will (as Maddie so eloquently put it) ruin everything. Thanks, Maddie!

  • efletch

    This past Christmas I was sitting with my grandfather when he started to tear up because he was thinking of my grandmother not being with us. They spent 60+ years together before he lost her to dementia. It was that moment that I first felt the fear knowing that even if we made it to a ripe old age together one of us will still lose the other.
    When I found myself curled up in a ball paralyzed by that fear two months later it was so difficult to talk to people about it. I felt like by admitting I was afraid I was invalidating my own relationship. I’m so grateful for this post and and the subsequent discussion because I was feeling so alone in my fear. I salute you all for being brave in your life and your relationships.

  • http://sarahayars.com sarahayars

    Thank you Maddie. I needed this more than I can say.

  • http://www.stefaniedebestphotography.com Stefanie

    This was great! thanks Maddie :)

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  • SimplyMEM

    Something that keeps me going and calm when faced the fear is something my Great Aunt said (who is a woman of few words): “It’s [life] not as good when you lose your life partner, but it’s still worth living.” This. Was someone who lost her son at 6 months and later her husband to Leukemia that he kept a secret for many years from his family.

  • http://hannahafner.wordpress.com Hanna

    “So here’s to us. I’m raising my morning cup of tea to you. Because marriage is f*cking scary. And we’re all laughing in the face of danger.”

    Oh this post hit me deep! I know The Fear all too well. My relationship with my now-fiance started only a few months after a two-year boyfriend dumped me. That, plus experiencing too much loss as a kid, made The Fear control a lot of my current relationship. Even now! Thanks for talking about this.

    I wrote about something similar on my blog: http://hannahafner.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/what-i-think-i-know-about-marriage-so-far/
    Please check it out if you have the time! I’ve been blogging about being engaged and would love to write something for you guys if that’s an option!

  • L

    This post hit me hard. I am becoming all too used to The Fear. My fiancé and all both have chronic depression, and it’s so much harder than I ever expected. I have years of experience dealing with my own depression, after all, but it’s somehow worse when it’s him who’s depressed. It’s not just that he’s hurting, though I hate that too, it’s the knowledge that not only will he die eventually, as we all do, there’s a significant chance that it could be sooner rather than later, and by his own choice.

    I hate that I have no control over it, that I don’t have the power to make him feel better. Ifind myself reduced to all kinds of begging and bargaining, watching my words in case something I say triggers his depression, and constant apologizing, even when I know it’s not my fault, because it’s all I can do. I know it’s not a healthy way to deal with it, but picturing my life without him is like staring into the bleakest of wastelands.

    I keep planning for a future with him in the face of all this, because I need to. I need to believe we’ll somehow make it through to where everything is just a little easier, because despite everything, nothing has ever felt as right as it does to be with him, to know we’re a family, to know we love each other.