A marriage that feels wrong in my gut, but right in my head

"You're going to eat him alive," my best friend said.

It was the summer before my junior year of college. I was coming off a volatile relationship that was half devastating fights, half grand gestures. After years of break-ups and make-ups, my ex and I were finally through.

My new crush was a nice boy - tall, with kind eyes. He had kissed me at a party during finals week. We agreed to take the summer off and then decide in the fall whether to get into a relationship.

He was an over-correction on my part. When I returned home for the summer, my friends warned me of the possibility of turning the wheel too far in the opposite direction.

My ex-boyfriend had been controlling but thoughtful, intense in good ways and bad.

This new boy was nothing of the sort. He was smart, gentle and kind. He withheld deeper emotions until later in the game. He was everything I needed but nothing like I thought I wanted.

My friends were convinced he would be a palate cleanser - a safe space to rid myself of the previous relationship's demons before moving to a middle ground.

We all have visions of who our perfect partner will be. Shaped by the love songs I played on repeat and the TV couples I rooted for, this idea of a person fit into the larger (very unoriginal) narrative I planned for my life: a single career girl in my 20s, married around 30, travelling the globe before children.

This eventual man was to be smart and worldly, an excellent conversationalist who could be a bit of a jerk when he needed to be. The narrative certainly did not include marrying my sweet college rebound.

But suddenly, at the age of 20, I had an undeniably and uniquely good man on my hands. He never called me names or exploited my insecurities in a fight. He tended to his family relationships with purpose and unselfishness.

I felt inept and unworthy in the face of his goodness. To compensate, I focused less on his inherent goodness and more on trivial things that bothered me: his preference for dressing in athletic-wear, his lack of spontaneity, his hesitance to share his every thought.

After college, he said he wanted to marry me. I felt myself drowning in uncertainty. This was not how it was supposed to go. I told myself that he deserved better and that I should let him go.

But I knew this man was special. I was increasingly afraid that if I insisted on holding tightly to my trite narrative of how my life should go, I would look back with regret.

I forced myself to be brave. I was tossed about by enormous waves of doubt all the way to my wedding day. The little voice in my head hissed - 25 years old and marrying the second guy you have ever dated.

"It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman," my mother said in her toast at our rehearsal dinner. Her words rang impossibly true.

My kind, non-confrontational husband has shown strength I could never have envisioned in a future partner.

With a calmness I cannot fathom, he has weathered my emotional storms, my fear of commitment as a child of divorce, my mixed signals throughout our relationship.

It is tempting to distil relationships into binaries.

One person is passionate and thoughtful but bad; another is good and kind but boring.

I feared a life of soulless domesticity but have found my marriage, and husband, to be far more complex.

His patient and rational mind has proven to be an ideal foil to mine. On long road trips, his English major comes out and we talk in depth about our favourite shows and movies for hours.

He is rarely defensive when I raise problems with our relationship, and with an open mind, he has grown into not just what I needed, but what I wanted.

The idea of the worldly older guy flying me to Paris seems like a joke. The toxic high of a man who promises the world and then rips it away the second things do not go his way feels exhausting.

I took a leap that felt wrong in my gut but right in my head.

I married the steadiest person I have ever met and embraced our relationship for everything it was instead of everything it was not.

This sort of thing does not lend itself to love songs, but it makes for a happier life.


• Lauren Chval is a freelance writer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 01, 2019, with the headline 'A marriage that feels wrong in my gut, but right in my head'. Print Edition | Subscribe