Elisabeth: Like Needles In A Haystack

Getting Married, and thinking about (other) hunks

by Elisabeth Snell, Writing Intern

What I thought I’d think about in the days leading up to my wedding: how amazing it was going to be to marry my own personal Butch Charming.

What I thought about in the days leading up to my wedding: that, yes. But also, whether I was going to come down with fever ’n’ ague and give all of my guests Norovirus.

And other girls.

Now, I’ve never hid the fact that I will always continue to appreciate hunks. (K, reading this line over my shoulder, comments, “And to flirt with them grandly.” Yes.) Even so, I was impressed by the amount of straying my mind did in the week before the wedding. If you were the least bit hunky and we were on the same subway that week, I stared you down, certain that we were living out a Sliding Doors scenario where you’d look up just before the doors closed at Canal and a piece of me would go with you. That, and having crazy thoughts about one particular ex.

Here’s where all of my friends stop reading this piece, because they’ve heard about this ex for the last hundred years. I won’t go into the details of the meaningful looks and “not-now-but-someday” conversations in intimate French restaurants the size of a pop-up camper. I won’t tell you, to keep my reputation intact, but they’re really good albeit excruciatingly long-winded stories, and the relationship has this annoying staying power in my memory. Well, the fantasy of what could be has this staying power over me, since the relationship was never, not once, that good in real life, but still, the week before the wedding, I kept giving it a Last Look.

So I was already subway-yearning and thinking about my tortured ex, and then a few days before the clambake, I dreamt I was walking to a folk festival. Which is already a lame dream, but then a Subaru drove up next to me and an incredibly hot person offered me a ride. Her name was Gabrielle Needle. She went by Gab (and I’ve googled her, and confirmed that she doesn’t exist. Of course I googled her). I’m not sure what exactly transpired in that Forester. Maybe it was her feathered hair or her carhartt shorts or her mandals, but it didn’t take us more than a few stop signs to start holding hands over the gearshifts and confiding that we were deeply in love. Just before the entrance to the folk festival, I suddenly remembered.

“Uh, Gab,” I said, “I forgot. I’m actually supposed to marry K on Saturday.” Gab was stricken. She begged me to reconsider. We stared at each other sadly, and I finally got out, and closed the car door with an air of finality, only to realize that the door closing was actually K coming into the bedroom with a near-boiling cup of coffee, the incredibly sweet way she wakes me up almost every morning.

“Good morning!” she trilled, “How did you…” and her voice trailed off and she stared at me, puzzled. “K,” I said miserably, “I thought you were someone else. I mean, I thought I was with someone else. I mean, and then I had this dream, and she kind of looked like Melissa Etheridge in 1986, and…”

K laughed so hard she started spilling coffee on the annoyed cats. “So,” she clarified, “you were disappointed when I walked in and it was just me in my gigantic basketball shorts, instead of some other hunk.” “Yes,” I said. “Yes. I am having last-minute thoughts about running off into the sunset with one of them. Or maybe both of them.” “Huh,” K said, still chuckling, “Gab sounds like a real catch.”

For the rest of the day, I told any friend who would listen about my Last Look and about Subaru Gab and how we almost, almost lived out our days at the folk festival, and we all had a laugh at my expense. I find that talking about this stuff, with K and the rest of my community, is the best way to normalize what is often considered problematic. I’m not ever going to stop noticing hot people, or apparently dreaming about them, and K and I have talked about that, and it works for us. But part of me wondered, what if I’m still sneaking glimpses during the actual wedding? Won’t that be a wet blanket.

As it turned out, when we woke up that morning, I didn’t have a single thought of anyone else. Not when I scrambled the eggs while K read aloud from the real estate section, and definitely not when she came out of the bedroom beaming in knee socks and a custom button-down. She was all I could see when I pledged to her that I would make the choice to stay in this relationship every day, and as I said the words, my belief was absolute that this was the right choice.

Since that morning, my Last Looks sharply dropped off and haven’t returned, although I fully expect that they might. Why wouldn’t they, when real life can be so much messier than the seductive pull of imagination? When I thought about getting married, K wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. But now that we are, it feels so entirely authentic, so much better than fantasy hunks with Subarus.

Photo of Melissa Etheridge by James Minchin III

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  • CPJ

    I had the same kind of dream a few days before my wedding. It rattled me for the day, but our wedding went off without a hitch and I’m very happy with my “not what I expected but just right for me” husband.

  • Megep

    Our rule has always been: you can look at the menu, you just can’t order.

  • Sarah McD

    When I was with my ex, I was asked out for a drink by an impossibly gorgeous stranger. It was like something from a rom-com. I was taken aback by him initiating a conversation (did I mention how attractive he was?) and had this feeling that I was SUPPOSED to decline his offer, but I just couldn’t remember why. Suddenly it clicked that oh yeah, I was already in a relationship and going out for a drink with him would be cheating. Duh. The sad thing is that this happened only a few months into our relationship. It was the first of many, many signs that the relationship wasn’t right for us.

    My philosophy is, as long as my dreams and thoughts of attraction for other people can easily stay thoughts in my head instead of influencing my outward actions, we’re good. Once I start forgetting that I can’t go out for that drink with the charming stranger because I’m in a relationship, I need to reevaluate my commitment and relationship status.

  • Rachael

    How timely – I just had one of those “what if” kinds of dreams last night, though I’ve been married for a few months now. I didn’t have the conscious, awake menu surfing before the wedding, but I definitely had dreams along those lines several times. Unfortunately, the lead characters in my dreams are almost always someone I actually know in real life, which makes it all the more disturbing. At first I hated it, as if my subconscious was trying to tell me something about my secret desires. After some conscious consideration of the topic I can safely and decidedly say that those dreams are not based on me actually having feelings for any of those people or me not wanting to be with my (now) husband. So now, like this morning, after one of those dreams I just kind of shake my head, roll my eyes, and laugh to myself.

    • Megan

      I’m the same. I normally don’t feel guilty about having the dream, but I feel guilty for a day or two after the dream because I feel like I actually cheated on my fiance. It’s weird how ‘moldable’ your memory can be. When I started university I had a dream I found out I was pregnant, which was impossible because I hadn’t had sex recently, but I spent the whole day terrified, trying to think of a way to tell my parents.

  • Rachel

    Over the course of the last few months before I got married, I regularly had dreams about exes, and several dreams about one ex in particular. In the dreams we were fighting, or deciding to get married, or talking over our relationship, or deciding to get back together, and on and on. At first it was unsettling, and made me feel guilty. But then I just gave up and decided that this was just something my subconscious had to work out on its own. In the end, the dreams did help me work through the transition from single to hitched. But it’s funny how our brains can be so obscure and so obvious at the same time.

    • I had a bunch of ex dreams during the engagement and in the run up to the wedding. They stopped after we were married, but then came back when I got pregnant! I think ex dreams are my body’s strange way of processing major life changes. It used to make me really upset, but I’m mostly able to just roll with it now.

      • Elisabeth

        So interesting that they came back when you got pregnant! I think dreams are so fascinating. Sadly most of mine are about the bed being slowly swallowed by quicksand and having to devise Swiss Family Robinson-esque escape routes. But hopefully Gab will return if we decide to have a kid.

      • Oh my gosh, same here, and I think you’re on to something. Haven’t had ex dreams in forever and ever, and they mysteriously reappeared in just the last few weeks, hmm…

  • Ruth

    Your post made me smile in recognition. I totally second the idea ofjust sharing it with your partner, whenever these thoughts or feelings come up – we find just talking about it honestly often sucks the crazy urgency out of these little crushes, whereas trying to deny we ever looked or felt that way just makes the intensity grow. A lot of people have thought my husband and I were crazy, when I said I toldmy husband that i’d developed a crush on a guy I was in a writing group with – but talking about it made me realize there is no way in hell I would ever want to be with him in real life, thus averting the potential to stray. And my hubby has opened up to me about occasionaly having thoughts about his ex. I think you need to be gentle with these kinds of conversations, always keeping your partners feelings in mind, because they can bring up a lot of vulnerability, but bringing this stuff to light, rather than hiding it in shame, is what let’s you laugh about it…and move on

    • Anon

      Ruth and Liz, how have you broached these topics with your partners? I’ve had this happen to me too, after many years in a relationship, and logically, I realize that crushes are normal and don’t mean that there’s something wrong with me or my relationship. I think I just miss the newness and thrill of having a crush or a new relationship and am slightly sad that we’ll never have that again. But I’ve never discussed a crush with my partner, as I’m too embarrassed and worried about hurting his feelings. And I worry that if I did try, he wouldn’t have experienced the same thing ever and it could make our relationship temporarily weird.

      • Elisabeth

        I think that it’s one of the scariest things to discuss with a partner, because it can feel like you’re going from “ooooo I noticed that hot neighbor on the subway platform again” to “clearly since I keep noticing them we must be destined to be together and OMG I’m about to blow up my life”, and that’s scary!

        The trick for me is finding the middle ground in there and staying calm about it. It’s helpful to think about what the passing glance or crush might mean. I find that crushes can be indicative of something missing in my relationship, like what Liz is saying about pinpointing the something specific that’s causing frustration. Like date nights; we haven’t been on an adventure since before the wedding, and while that was the ultimate adventure, we’re both so exhausted that we’re not having tons of quality time here. I need a date night with my girl that’s more than just dinner on the couch with Nashville, and I’d like her to not wear her Iowa sweatpants, and it’s my job to tell her that.

      • Ruth

        I don’t know if what we do would work for everyone – my hubbie and I are both extremely frank people by personality, and have always had a very frank relationship, and I know not everyone operates like that – however, one thing that was really helpful for us was just to acknowledge the awkwardness and fear and shame we had around the subject. I said to him, “I feel really grouse and guilty that I even had these feelings about this guy – I don’t want to be having these feelings – but they’re there, and I feel really awful about it.” I assured him that I really had no interest in being with this person in real life – and that made it less threatening. I acknowledged how awkward it felt talking about it – and that I wasn’t even sure if I should bring it up, because I didn’t want to hurt him – but that we had both agreed that the foundation of our relationship was total honesty. I had no idea, at the time that I shared this with him, that he had ever felt the same way – but my honesty gave him the space to open up and honestly share with me. I’m not going to lie – it wasn’t an easy conversation – and there were some initial hurt feelings – but we healed them (I also got advice from a therapist during this time – she really encouraged this open dialogue). Now we’re much less serious about the subject and can laugh about it more – when we each notice ourselves or each other checking out an attractive ass in public (my hubbie works in hip hop – so there’s a lot of that going on!) It helps bring some playfulness to it. I hear you about missing the newness and thrill of a crush. It can be hard to keep that going in a long term relationship – but it’s so worth it to keep bringing it back. We’ve made a commitment to keep having new experiences together, to keep things adventurous – to keep dating, even though we’re married

      • A-non-o-mous

        Honestly, the few times that I have had crushes I have not mentioned them to my husband. He’s a pretty sensitive/insecure person (if I’m honestly) and I think it would do more harm than good. It’s definitely a your personal relationship thing. Honestly I don’t think I’d want to know if he had the occasional draw towards someone else, assuming it wasn’t hurting our relationship. I had a past relationship where my boyfriend and I tried to be more open about those sorts of feelings or attractions and for me personally I didn’t like it.

  • Liz

    This this this! Thank you for this post. The same thing happened to me in the weeks leading up to our wedding and I was freaking out about it. But then on the day of, I was totally focused on my partner only (even though I admit to noticing our wedding photographer was really attractive!)

    In tbe past, I have also developed crushes on other guys that I’m in class with or whatever, but like Ruth, I find that talking about it with my guy makes me realize I’m playing “the grass is always greener” game, or there is something specific I’m feeling frustrated about and talking it out always makes me remember why I chose my husband in the first place!

  • lady brett

    “(and I’ve googled her, and confirmed that she doesn’t exist. Of course I googled her)”

    ha. i love this part.

  • Gabrielle Needle is a fantastic name.

  • Granola

    Never have I thought more about my exes, potential exes, people I thought about but never dated, or alternate romantic universes, than during our engagement. I think a commenter higher up said that it’s the psyche’s way of processing the enormity of what you’re doing. I’m not talking about the “don’t go through with this” type of red flags, but the garden variety mental thrashing. Which I think is a lot more common than we all realize (at least in my experience) and it can be very lonely to think “What’s going on with me.”

    So kudos to you for working through it and for starting a discussion that will hopefully save someone else a little angst.

    Also, how could you not love K after that description of bringing you coffee? As a fellow zombie in the pre-coffee period of the morning, it warmed my heart just thinking about it.

    • anon for this!

      YES YES YES ditto! You said perfectly what I wanted to say. Can totally relate!

      • Elisabeth

        Triple ditto. It is so lonely to be alone with the thrashing. And that makes the thrashing feel so much worse and more worrisome. I am terribly conflict-avoidant and this coming year, I’m going to do my level best to Just Talk About It, everything.

        • H

          You know, you say it’s not like a red flag, and I agree with you that it’s not.

          But you know how “people” say when they divorce, that they of course, knew when they got married (10+ years previous or whatever). I wonder if these sorts of feelings or anxieties are what they’re actually looking back on at the time of the marriage, or real problems. And honestly, not knowing the answer to that question, that’s what really niggles and worries at you when you have these dreams or thoughts.

          • Elisabeth

            H — totally. It’s the not-knowing that can make it feel so worrisome.

  • anon for this!

    Oh my gosh!! Thank God for this post! I have been feeling so guilty for how wandering my eyes and mind has been since getting engaged. The dreams, the scenarios in my head, the ruminating over the past. Dragging up old memories. The guilt over my dreams!! Oh geez! What a relief. I mean, my brain knows that this is kind of normal – you are engaged, about to commit your whole life to one person so of course all of these other “options” or possibilities or stories and what-ifs come flooding the surface…it’s just really hit me hard because for this I never had eyes for anyone else! I couldn’t imagine my life without her, and now that we’re engaged I’m like exploring every scenario in my head. So freaking happy to read this. Thank you so much for your honestly. And what a lovely understanding partner you have! (Spouse I should say!! :) )

  • Anon

    “Why wouldn’t they, when real life can be so much messier than the seductive pull of imagination?”

    This. When you put it this way, it just makes so much sense. Thank you.

  • Emmy

    Thanks for writing about this. I actually started having feelings for one of my friends during my engagement. He and I had dated briefly years ago, it wasn’t right, and we became really close friends. But then the feelings came back. It was terrible. I felt guilty, like maybe I should call off the engagement, or that maybe I’d have to lose this friendship to keep my fiancé.

    I finally told my best friend. “Oh my god, is this normal!?!?” She just looked at me and said, “Do I think it’s normal that someone who’s afraid of commitment would develop feelings for a guy when she’s about to make the biggest commitment of her life? Um, yeah, probably.”

    It was like a needle to the balloon. My infatuation popped, we continued our engagement, and we’re now happily married. Your brain fucks with you.

  • Jessica B

    A month or so after getting engaged I went out to dinner with a group of single friends, and they told me all about their “conquests” (ha!). It made me feel a little jealous and worried that I was too young to ‘settle down.’ Then they told me all about the duds they went on dates with and I felt a lot better!

    Ex dreams happened, weird ones, but they just left me feeling weirded out that my brain would want to have sex in a department store home goods area (on the sample beds). Nothing emotional.

  • Alison

    I had an ex dream last night! Not any ex in particular, but kind of an odd conglomeration of a few. When I first started talking about getting engaged, I had a lot of dreams about my Ex (the big one) and I was really confused, but my married friends told me that this too had also happened to them and that it’s just the way that our subconscious deals with a major life change.

    Since getting engaged my ex/Ex dreams have decreased a lot, except last night really threw me through a loop. I’m so glad that there are so many other people out there who have these same dreams and can talk me through it!

  • Rachel

    Yessss! I’ve been telling close friends this year that I’ve been haunted by the ghosts of boyfriends past! It’s all dreams too, and like someone said above, it’s not a real red-flag thing but it’s still totally a thing that I’m experiencing!

  • alyssa

    Thank you for making me NOT feel like a freak! Whenever this happened to me (especially during our engagement – so weird and frequent), I had to remind myself to, “Take off the Rom-Com Goggles.”
    Those goggles make you crazy!

    • Rachael

      “Take off the Rom-Com Goggles”! Exactly!

  • H

    Also, I’m absolutely shocked to realize that this isn’t just me. I love you guys’ stories.

  • Teatime

    We’ve been watching a lot of Suits lately. A lot. Fiance told me this morning he dreamt that he had to choose between me and working for Harvey Specter. He apparently chose Harvey, LOL. I told him to go for his life – see how much he enjoyed real life as a corporate lawyer ( I went to law school so I am under no illusions) and I’d see him when he came crawling back.

  • Jennifer

    Several months back when my fiance and I were having some relationship troubles, I started having these weird dreams about a close friend. It was really unsettling and I felt guilty about it because I thought it meant I had feelings for him instead of my fiance. But as our relationship improved again, those dreams started to go away and I realized how silly it was. I still have those dreams occasionally, not usually about that same friend, but it no longer unsettles me. I think back then I was not getting everything I needed out of my relationship which made the feelings feel very real, but now that I am I just know that they never were. I also think it would have been easier if I shared the feelings with mt fiance, but because I never could it made it feel like an even bigger deal.

  • I am SO GLAD to hear I’m not the only one who googles people they meet in dreams!!! One time I googled a band I dreamed about, and it turned out it was a real band name but a totally different kind of music than the kind in my dream. Go figure.

    Honestly, one of the first times I knew for sure that my guy was the one for me was when I dreamt about getting it on with a hot hunk and, in my dream, stopped in the middle and said, “Wait, I’m with someone else! I have to stop!” I felt very proud of myself when I woke up.