How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Uncertainty

I am one of those people who thinks things made for entertainment are actually going to happen. I tried watching Walking Dead, only to keep waking up with zombie nightmares. I frequently text my partner things like, “Don’t leave me for a job in China and never come home!” or “Don’t start selling meth!” or “Matt is your real name, right?” only to have him text back, “What did you read/watch?” Deep, deep down, I know none of this is going to happen. I trust my partner and the life we’re starting together. But I also liked to be prepared, and this is where I run into problems on the internet.

I began reading APW and other such sites through a combination of researching things for friends’ weddings/slowly fantasizing about my own. It started with pretty dresses and engagement rings and “Oooh I could make my own birdcage veil!” and eventually started thinking about deeper issues, like the impact of disease and children and prenups. It was fascinating, and incredibly helpful, to remember that these things could happen, and most of these posts reiterated that these issues should be discussed before marriage. And in my head, it meant that every single thing had to be discussed, otherwise some Internet police force will actually keep us from getting married.

I began bringing up relationship issues out of nowhere. “Do you even want a bridal party?” I’d ask while watching TV. “Do you think we should combine our bank accounts?”; “Do you want to raise our kids Jewish?”; “Should we just elope?” Most of these were met with laughter, and opened into deeper conversations that made me feel even more confident about us. Look at us go! There’s nothing we can’t talk about!

Reading posts like this one on pre-marital counseling only bolstered my confidence, given that we had already discussed most of the issues raised. But slowly my questions started taking a turn for the pessimistic. “Should we get a prenup?”; “Is cheating on each other grounds for divorce, or just counseling?”; “No, but what really happens if one of us wants a divorce?” This was first met with, “I really don’t know, Jaya,” then, “I feel like we’d talk about it if it happens, because our relationship is important to us,” and then, “Why are you hedging against us? Why are you always waiting for us to fail?”

I was stunned. According to the internet, we’re supposed to talk about this stuff before we get married. We have no business walking down the aisle until we’ve had deep, painful discussions about divorce and debt and sickness and death and children and infidelity and where we see our relationship in five years. Until we can answer with complete clarity what we’d do if we felt our marriage slipping away. “I just want to be able to plan for the worst,” I said. “I know, and we do,” he said, “But we also have no idea what will happen, or what we’ll think then. Why can’t you just know that we are strong enough and have enough love and trust to handle it if it comes?”

You should talk about divorce. You should talk about your thoughts on religion and money and fidelity. Part of me feels like you probably don’t know someone very well unless you know how they feel about these issues. But talking about it doesn’t mean solving it, and just because another couple sat down and hashed it all out doesn’t mean you have to. You don’t need a checklist of goals. You don’t need a relationship mission statement. You don’t need to take every bit of advice given to you.

I have confidence in my partner because he never tells me “You wouldn’t understand,” but talks to me about what he’s feeling. I have confidence because I know we want each other to be the best we can be. I have confidence because I don’t know what my life goals are ten years from now, but I know that he has supported and pushed me in everything I’ve wanted to be for the past ten years. We can plan for the worst all we want, but sometimes you really just do have to hope for the best.

Photo by: Lauren McGlynn

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  • Sarah E

    “talking about it doesn’t mean solving it”


    • Kelly

      I have SO MUCH trouble with this. Such a good reminder.

    • I’ve been doing this lately and I’m making myself crazy! This is a great reminder.

  • Kara

    Thanks for the (gentle!) reminder that worrying can be really unproductive and unhelpful. I don’t know that I’ll ever love uncertainty, but it’s SO true that we don’t have to have everything figured out in advance. I’m on a path with the best partner I could imagine (better, even!), and we’ll figure it out together as we hope for the best.

    By the way, did you know that one of the other uses of the word “worrying” is what a dog does to a bone? All that chewing around and low-grade growling and drooling is the dog worrying the bone.

    • Cleo

      I’m a worrier and have been actively trying to let go of that anxiety for a couple years. I’ve gotten better, but only marginally. The dog “worrying” the bone is a great image for me to bring up every time I start freaking out over a little thing — the act is neither productive nor attractive* nor relaxing.

      Thanks for the 411 :)

      *not attractive aesthetically, though it isn’t that, but not an attractive quality to be focused on tearing something up

      • Kara


        The imagery snapped into my head with Jaya’s discussion of her own ‘worry.’ I’m not sure why I’ve never I’ve never thought of my own worrying that way. Given that I grind my teeth when I’m super-stressed, you’d think I would.

        I’m going to have to go get a squeaky toy or something now, just to remind myself.

  • Eenie

    This is such a great post. I’ve found myself doing the same thing. APW has such great content about “the deeper issues” from all sides of life. It’s important to remember that your relationship is still ok if you don’t talk about all these things all the time. I think this especially rings true for me, since I’m not engaged or married, the things on the site that I can apply in real life are the talks about the different aspects of relationships
    “But talking about it doesn’t mean solving it, and just because another couple sat down and hashed it all out doesn’t mean you have to.” Good words to remember.

  • Oh, dude, I do the same thing:
    Honey? If I died, would you buy a Zoo?

    • KB

      I just laughed out loud in my office at this :-) I totally do this, too.

    • After my husband (then boyfriend? I think?) made me watch “The Devil’s Advocate” I was FURIOUS with him. For, like, 2 days. I just KNEW that if I started seeing demons everywhere, he wouldn’t believe me, and then I’d go crazy and it’d totally be his fault. Also I watch lots of movies about cheating couples and I get very. very. upset. Unconsolably so, at times.

      Because I am 100% reasonable 100% of the time.

      • Maggie

        Ha! I totally do this.

        Oh, and want to drive yourself nuts? Watch *Last Night* w/Keira Knightley. :P

        • Yeah. Watched that on a sick day once. ‘Twas a stressful, stressful day.

        • oh man, after I watched The Last Kiss I was upset for days, haha

      • LMS

        Ha! I thought I was the only one who got irrationally stressed out by movies (and TV shows and books) about infidelity. Oh, and music — although it’s a great song, I pretty much can’t listen to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” because I feel so bad for the girlfriend!

        I think this is somehow related to my tendency to be a bit of a hypochondriac. (That character’s cough meant she had lung cancer, so now I have to freak out every time I cough!)

        I swear I have actual critical thinking skills in other areas of my life.

  • PA

    That’s definitely how I’ve been with post-deployment material (“Issues you may face when your partner comes back from deployment”), but with APW my experience has actually been the opposite. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like an awful person on the face of it, so bear with me after the punchline: one of the things I like most about APW is reading about struggles (internal, external) that others face in their relationships.

    It’s not because I want to tear down others’ relationships to make mine seem better. No, not at all. It’s because it quiets the little voice in my head that says, whenever my fiance and I have a minor disagreement, “You’ve really messed everything up now.” It reminds me that every day, functional, loving, and deeply committed couples face into a huge variety of issues and come out of it together, stronger. It reminds me that a lingering issue in a marriage (“He’s taking some classes in meditation,” said a fellow student at Tae Kwon Do, a woman whom I look up to, who has been married for 20 years, “so that he can better manage his anger. I thought: FINALLY!”) is not something that destroys the relationship…so not everything has to be resolved today.

    On another note, because I’m the same way about entertainment things: if you haven’t yet, DON’T watch ‘I am Legend.” Trust me.

    • ItsyBitsy

      I don’t think your comment sounds awful, I sort of do the same thing. Like I need validation that lots of great relationships also have hurdles and challenges and fights, etc. I don’t think we get that a lot elsewhere (at least not in pop media like rom-coms).

      The I Am Legend comment made me laugh. I’m very much in the camp of get-way-too-emotionally-involved-in-entertainment. Yay for more validation that I’m not the only one! :)

      • PA

        Exactly! Like there’s this narrative that we need to keep our relationships free of issues, not the expectation that (a) there will be issues and stressors, and that (b) this is not necessarily an indicator of impending doom. Approaching issues (again, internal and external) with the expectation that we’ll get through them just fine has helped so much!

        And yes. I lay awake, half-convinced that there were zombies in the shadows at the corners of my bedroom. Why were they there, crouching in the shadows and not just attacking? No idea, but heaven forbid I fall asleep! *headdesk*

        • meg

          You know, the older I get (or I guess the further I get into a relationship, because obviously at 32, 8 years is my relationship record) the more I realize that if you work through them, it’s the issues that make your relationship really good. You wouldn’t grow much if it was all easy all the time.

          Doctors tell stories of people dying at 65 (or what have you) suddenly, and the survivor saying “It’s so weird, because they were literally never sick a day in their life.” And then the Doctor nods, because they know that if you were never sick a day in your life, your immune system was like a kitten, because it never had to get strong. Kittens are cute, but offer very little defense.

          • Class of 1980

            Strange. I always thought the ones who never got sick, didn’t get sick because their immune systems were so strong.

            Now I’m confused.

          • Laura

            Don’t tell that to my kitten. She takes her job defending us against birds and squirrels (through the window) and defending her toys against us (small, sharp claws) very seriously.

            But also, Meg? I would be anxious about the great-power-great-responsibility thing, too. But, the fact that you are thinking about it is completely consistent with everything I love about this site – APW has always been characterized by thoughtfulness and reflection.

            And, yes, that was a loose Spiderman reference.

          • meg

            Class of 1980-
            Perhaps, but it means they haven’t had to get any stronger, so outside forces will take them down. It’s like when you are naturally tiny and everyone thinks you’re fit but you never go to the gym, so when asked to lift a box you can’t. I guess. Spoken as someone who’s been there ;)

  • I started down a similar road with my fiancé, trying to map out a plan for any difficult situations we might encounter.

    And while I think there is value to discussing the big issues and making sure you’re on the same page, it occurred to me that most of the toughest things I’ve dealt with in my life, I could never have planned for. I just had to work with the hand I was dealt.

    I think that for me what’s important is that I have faith, not in our ability to have all of the answers to the tough stuff sorted out in advance, but in our ability to adapt our plans, support each other and protect our relationship when the tough stuff comes along

    • Joanna

      “…most of the toughest things I’ve dealt with in my life, I could never have planned for. I just had to work with the hand I was dealt.”

      Sarah, you’ve just summarized one of the most important things I learned in therapy, to deal with my anxiety. It’s too easy to let your mind jump to all the worst case scenarios, as though you’re preparing for them mentally somehow. But it doesn’t really help. And it’s not usually necessary. It’s absolutely true, all the shitty hard stuff that has come my way, I would’ve been anxious as all hell if I had sensed the possibility that any of could occur. Sometimes bad things happen, and as humans we have the coping skills to evolve and teach ourselves how to deal. We can all deal. And leaning on someone you love definitely helps.

      • Totally. At first it can be such a frightening thought. It’s hard to acknowledge that you may not have as much power or control over what comes our way as we might like. It’s definitely important to have at least an outline of a plan or a strategy for dealing with things that are inevitable, but trying to pin down every detail or plan for every possibility is exhausting and stressful and often, in the end, futile.

        It’s definitely a challenge walking that tightrope of having at least an outline of a plan or strategy for the inevitable issues and just giving up responsibility for your own life’s direction. I find both deep breaths and a lot of laughing help. 

    • meg

      Totally. Or even if you could have planned for it, the way you would have planned your reaction may have noting to do with your real life reaction.

      • Marina

        That situation happened to me, and one of my biggest regrets about how I handled it is that I didn’t respond based on my feelings in the moment but instead only how I’d planned to respond. Which, turns out, was maybe not the right choice in the moment.

    • Laura Mc

      I can’t possibly “exactly” this enough! Brilliantly articulated.

    • Taylor B

      Yes! And a beautiful part of the hand I was dealt is this amazing partner, who so far has always been right: “We’ll deal with it if it comes to that [insert hypothetical tragedy here, see all above pop culture references]. We’ll get through it.” And because we trust each other, and know each other so well after nearly eight years, and have gotten through so much in the past, we always make it through. Stronger and happier on the other side, every time.

  • Kat

    So I totally could have written this article! I’ve been really trying to work on the worrying and be in a good psychic space during this engagement–which is easier than it sounds! My fiance is very go-with-the-flow and hardly ever worries, and I know my worries–about everything from he won’t like the honeymoon I’m planning to that we need to talk about every little issue and hash and re-hash–really drive him up a wall. I think a lot of this is about me learning to trust him: and myself more, and to just take things as they come–not to completely cut out planning, but to know some things can’t be planned for, and sometimes, planning for negative things that won’t happen is very counter-productive.

    Thank you so much for an incredible article!

  • KB

    “But talking about it doesn’t mean solving it, and just because another couple sat down and hashed it all out doesn’t mean you have to. ”

    This. I sit on the couch and ask my fiance deep questions to which he goes, “Uhh…I don’t know…maybe ____?” And I say, “Yeah. Maybe.” I don’t ever feel satisfied with the answers we come up with because, you know, we haven’t LIVED IT yet! I feel like this is where trust and values come into play. The reason why we feel secure in saying yes to the possibility of marriage is because we trust that we share the same values as our partners, and any potential crises and wildcards that are thrown are way will be dealt with in our own way.

  • Diane

    First, LOVE your title. Second, yes. It’s funny, though, how hard it can be to convince myself that what I worry about isn’t rational. I’m a psychiatry resident in my third year of training which means that I’ve spent the last two years spending a disproportionate amount of time around people who are having some of the worst days of their lives. In my professional world, grief over deep losses (a patient whose 15 year old daughter disappeared in the middle of the night and was never heard from), onset of merciless illnesses (the parents of a successful college senior whose son was on our unit with a first psychotic break), and the strange and terrifying (teen who shot himself through the cheek after taking some random drug) are part of life. It can be difficult, at times, to separate these out and remember that they are rare. I don’t want to thread-jack from this lovely and thought-provoking post with what could probably be its own whole topic, but it can be difficult to keep perspective and live in the joy of now (and sometimes the tired or stressed or annoyed or sad or downright pissed of now) when rare in the world is common in my life.

    • Class of 1980


      An old boyfriend from high school became a psychologist. I remember after he got married in the eighties, he told me his wife wanted to start a family and he was terrified. At that time, he worked in a facility for children and teens with psychiatric problems. It was all new to him. He saw the worst on a daily basis, and he was so afraid of having a child with those problems.

      I lost touch with him, but I’ve always wondered how he resolved it. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I know he’s now working with soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Syndrome.

    • KC

      Thank you so much for doing what you do. That sounds horrible. I dislike even watching the evening news (the worst things, from all over the country/world, all summed up for you to be upset about). But to have even worse personal situations be the all-working-day “normal” around you would be incredibly rough.

      (if I ruled the world: social workers and trauma workers and pediatric oncologists and everyone else who works with traumatic empathy situations all the time would get sabbaticals to rest and recover)

      • Completely unrelated, but I can only watch/read news in the morning. Anything in the evening stresses me out so much and I have issues digesting as I’m trying to wind down from the day. I think I think and process better in the morning anyway, but it’s especially true when it comes to Big Issues.

  • VA

    I have started thinking about worrying as negative goal-setting. In thinking about the worst case scenario, I take myself out of the present moment and into a negative possible future that my not even happen. And, as pointed out above, I would likely figure out how to manage even if that time did come! Thanks for this reminder that it’s one thing to be prepared, and it’s another thing to sabtage something good.

    • “worrying as negative goal-setting”

      That is genius!! It really resonates with me since I love goal setting.

      I also liked this from the post: “You don’t need a relationship mission statement.”
      As an A-type, I must remember this!

    • This is good. I will work to remember this because I tend to worry…

  • Are you my fiance? Because he could have written this post, given how often we have the “don’t worry about everything that could possibly ever go wrong, just focus on being happy for 5 minutes every once in a while!” discussion. And seeing as how I’ve convinced myself that my mother hates everything I’ve planned for our wedding (without actually talking to her about anything in detail) and am dreading visiting her this weekend because we’ll have to talk and I just KNOW everything will go wrong…yeah, I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  • “I have confidence in my partner because he never tells me “You wouldn’t understand,” but talks to me about what he’s feeling.”

    What an accurate way to articulate your trust and understanding in your ability to communicate with your partner. I read this and thought: “It’s true. He’s never said that to me. He tries to actually COMMUNICATE his ideas, emotions, thoughts, etc… ”

    That is the heart and soul of success, I think, in communication. Is simply the desire to do it. The mutual desire to try to understand to try to be understood.

  • N.

    I agree that planning out every “what if” is too much. However, on the issue of prenups, I think it is worth actually figuring out whether one makes sense. It might be unromantic, but I see it less as “hedging against” the relationship and more as a way to make sure that both parties are protected, just in case. You can have a prenup (or make an educated decision that you don’t want/need one) AND hope for the best and have trust in the strength of your relationship.

  • JenMcC

    I have literally told my fiance that he’s not allowed to start a meth lab and I will leave him if he does. I’ve also asked him what are plan is for a zombie apocalypse (repeatedly), and now when we watch movies where couples don’t communicate well or otherwise fall apart, he’ll whisper to me, “Stop worrying that I’ll do that one day. I’m not going to do that.” So I totally feel you on that.

    Worrying less is a challenge for me, but something I’m working on because I believe it’s important. So I really appreciate what you’re saying, particularly this part:
    “You don’t need a checklist of goals. You don’t need a relationship mission statement. You don’t need to take every bit of advice given to you.”

    That’s a very good reminder for me. Because while I do believe it’s important to talk about The Big Things, it’s also good to remember that there’s no one set path we have to take.

  • Jessica

    I used to do the exact same thing all the time, and it never helped my relationship. In fact, I can argue my relationship actually became worse because of it. I had real issues with feeling that our relationship was not valid because we hadn’t followed the same formula as everyone else around us (date for 3 years, discuss marriage for a year, wait 6 months to set a date, start planning 3 months after that, etc), and forcing discussions about issues that other people had was my way of validating it. Eventually, my husband said “you know, we could have a perfect relationship and you would still think we have issues to work through.” It was like a veil was lifted or something. I love my husband so much more (and our relationship is much better!) now that I’ve relaxed a tiny bit and stopped taking all issues as painful and ones we should be working through. Truth is, I’m incredibly lucky. It’s always been easy and natural for my husband and I to be together, and we really did not have much to work through at all. I wish I’d realized this earlier. Good for you for figuring it out so quickly!

    • Erin

      I went through a period like this too… finding sites like Weddingbee, and their awful waiting boards, made pre-engagement so hard at first. I’d read everything these other women would write about their SOs stringing them along, not committing, saying all the right things but then never following through, and at some point I basically told my boyfriend, “Stop talking about getting married. You keep saying these things, and people say these things all the time, but until you’re ready to actually do them you’re just making me crazy and insecure because I’m wondering why they haven’t happened yet!” And it was TOTALLY me judging him through this lens of Men. And because I’d learned that Men do these things, any move he made that looked remotely like that just confirmed it, and I wasn’t listening to what he was really saying and taking the whole picture into account. It can be so easy sometimes to say “but what if…” and invent trouble, instead of reminding yourself (oh, ok, myself) that ok, that could happen, but I trust this person, and I don’t think he’d handle it like that.

  • Taylor B

    Jaya, I love this! Thank you for every line! There is so much wisdom in your writing.
    I was laughing out loud at the first paragraph, so much like me. We’ve been watching past seasons of Mad Men on Netflix and every episode gave me some new promise to extract from my fiance.
    I just came across this line on facebook, and I think I will adapt it after reading your piece: “You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to.” Replacing argument with worry gives me a whole new mantra!

    Thank you for sharing such a great reminder for us to trust ourselves, and these people we’ve chosen to spend forever with.

  • This is a GREAT one. We definitely tried to talk about every issue before getting married, but ultimately ended many of the conversations that same way with, “So here’s what we think now, maybe, kinda, but we’ll talk about it when/if it happens”. Really well-articulated Jaya! We don’t need to solve it to feel confident about the future.

  • Michelle

    Wow! What a great post and as always, great insights in the comments from you ladies. As a person who unfortunately loves to over-analyze, I am totally connecting with others on delving way too deep into some of those questions.

    Also, I just read Meg’s book and found APW about a week ago, and I have to say I am 1) hooked and 2) constantly thrilled to hear that there are so many other sane women out there! It gives me confidence that I can do this.

    Thanks, Meg and everyone that makes the APW community so special :)

  • Rebekah

    Thank you for this post, because I’m a planner and because sometimes I think too much and too quickly. I have had those moments where something triggers a train of thought that leads me to blurt out “If I become a vegetable, you don’t have to stick around,” or “Are people’s feelings going to be hurt if your uncle doesn’t officiate?”

    Also, I’m not even engaged yet. So thank you for this post, for reminding me that I’m not alone in the way I think, but also for giving me some perspective for my future. This was great advice.