Her tears were evident. As I held onto the phone angrily, I could hear sniffling in the background. With little compassion and a lot of sass, I declared, “You don’t have to be in my wedding if you don’t want to, but I know I am making the right decision.” Through a cracked voice she spoke and said, “I’m sorry, Heather. I was trying to protect you, but I just ended up hurting you.” In my head, I knew that was true. In my heart, I was still upset. Days earlier, this dear friend called and said she could not commit to being in my wedding. I was floored! She went on to say that she was not sure she agreed with my decision to marry Eric. We were young. Perhaps she could have broached the topic in a different way – not sure it would have helped – but, needless to say, it was a difficult moment for our friendship.
She offended me by suggesting Eric might not be the best match for me. She offended me by even considering missing out on my wedding after more than a decade of friendship. But, really, she offended my belief that I was right, grown, mature, and wise enough to make my own decisions. Her questioning threw a dagger through my pride.
Fifteen years later, this person is still my friend and I am thrilled to say she is Eric’s friend too. As the years passed, I came to appreciate the bravery she expressed in questioning me. That one phone call might have caused me to turn my back on her forever, but she cared about me enough to say, “Heather, I am not so sure about this.” In a world full of yes-men and fair-weather friends, I am thankful for the ones who put their hearts on the chopping block in exchange for what they believe to be for my best.
If you have friends like this, cherish them! And, at least consider what they have to say.
Should I Let Our Audience See the Real Me?
In contemplating what to share as my next personal hindsight, the idea of letting everyone in on my pre-wedding shortcomings felt uncomfortable, but I have decided to do it anyway. Everyone wants to believe they are making the best possible decision and that they are wise enough to say with conviction, “I am ready to be married.” We all want to look back years later and say to anyone who doubted us, “Look at me! Still happy. Still married. Still going strong. Now what was that you were saying about why I should not get married?”
For a long time, I wanted to say, “Yep! All is great!” to any of my doubters. There were specific people I was determined to keep out of the difficult parts of my marriage. As far as they were concerned, I needed to appear happy and successful. But, that is not real; and, eventually, fake becomes exhausting.
Truthfully, staying married (like my friend’s mom said it would be), is the hardest thing I have ever done. Eric would probably concur. I do not say this to put Eric down or to seem overly dramatic. I say this hoping to convey the seriousness of the commitment. What we typically look forward to about marriage turns out to be a small portion of the overall experience.
Years and trials have taken their toll on my cocky heart, and time has revealed to me what I either did not know or did not want to admit before getting married. My hope for anyone reading this is that you be as prepared as possible for marriage. I… was not.
Did I Know Myself Well Enough?
Eric and I met in an undergraduate psychology class. We were both pursuing a future in counseling, but Eric’s plan was laid out clearly. He wanted to be a premarital counselor. He believed God called him to such an occupation at an early age. He learned along the way that counseling on the premarital level yielded better results than counseling post-marital couples. First, he would get his degree in psychology and then his Master’s in counseling, and then he would pursue a career in relationship therapy – desiring his wife by his side in helping couples.
When I was a teenager, a lot of people came to me with their problems – some were young and some were my parents’ age. When I was eleven, I was chosen from my class to attend a natural helpers camping trip. When people, especially older people, talked to me about their problems, I felt elated. It validated my deep desire to be mature and taken seriously as an “adult.” At the same time, I was fascinated by relationships (perhaps because I wanted one). Somewhere over the years, a combination of counseling (or what I believed counseling to be at the time) and relationships rose to the top of my interest pile. So, marriage counseling seemed to be a good option for me.
Was I Self-Aware Enough to Portray the Truth About Myself?
As Eric and I got to know each other, it was clear that he was not interested in veering from his plan of action; and, at the time, I liked that. Here was a guy who knew what he wanted, and he was going after it. I am sure I was drawn to his confidence; and, being a natural follower, I was attracted to his innate leadership. When he talked about doing counseling, I thought, “I’d love to do counseling with you.” Maybe what I really meant was, “I wish you loved me.” Who knows for sure? My thoughts and emotions were everywhere – not uncommon for a twenty-year-old trying to find herself.
As we became better friends, I grew more frustrated that he only saw me as a friend. I hated the fact that my heart was involved. “Why do I have to care?!” When he finally returned my interest, it was such a relief. “He wants me! He really wants me! Finally!” As soon as he shared his feelings for me, my logic turned off completely. I am not sure anyone could have convinced me that Eric and I did not belong together.
“See! God did it. It seemed impossible, but God brought us together. All that praying and now Eric actually loves me. It must be God’s will for us to be together.”
Between our year and a half of friendship and year of dating, we both attended school with our trajectories set for counseling. It seemed romantic in a way, the idea of helping couples have better marriages and doing so with my husband. What I did not know was the work pursuing such a career would entail. The emotional taxing. And, it did not occur to me that Eric and I would be starting a business together.
In retrospect, I know I was more interested in getting married and having babies than participating in any specific career field. Of all the possible careers, counseling seemed to fit me the best; but, I did not feel specifically called to it – it just made the most sense on paper. Did I know myself well-enough to understand that? I am not sure I did. I was caught up in being in love and the excitement of starting a new life. Did I lie to Eric about myself, or did I simply not know the real Heather?
That question haunts me.
What Was I Afraid to Face about Myself?
College never felt like a choice for me. From the time I was little, the phrase, “When you go to college,” was used. Never “If you go.” When Eric and I met, we were in the throes of college. School was our life and it appeared we had much in common. However, being a student was not at the core of my being. It was simply all I had ever known from five-years-old until then (and long after). Had I even considered other ways of life, I might have decided working in a factory, driving for a company, or nannying full time were better options for me. Up until that point, taking a job which did not require a college education did not seem like an option.
Was I truly a white-collar type? Would Eric want me if I was a blue-collar worker? Was I afraid to know? Did it even occur to me to ask? Can I be a hard worker?
Even as a child, I was low energy. Mom had to make me go out and play. Getting out of bed has always been an issue and I still look for ways to make tasks easier (often making them harder in the process). Eric was clearly a hard-working man who wanted a hard-working woman. Did I say, “I can try to work harder, but just so you know, I struggle with laziness and always have.”? No, I think I either fooled myself into believing I could keep up with him, or thought, “I don’t need to tell him. It will all work out.”
Knowing what I know now, I wish I had been honest with myself about my shortcomings and that I had shared those shortcomings with Eric (and in writing for him to sign as an acknowledgement! ~smile~). Guess what? It did not all work out. The faults I knew I had and that I did not share went on to become long-lasting, recurring conflicts (and still are). I should have told him. I am sorry I did not tell him.
Was I Scared of Losing Eric?
In a word: yes.
As we prepared for marriage, some “mild” issues arose. First, Eric asked me if I would be willing to give up pork and shellfish because he wanted his family to eat a certain way. Being from Eastern NC, and pork barbeque being a huge part of my culture, giving up pork was no small decision. But… I treated it like it was a small, insignificant decision. Without asking for much explanation and without researching for myself, I simply said, “Okay” because I wanted to be Mrs. Viets. I am sure I wanted to make him happy, too, but mostly I wanted him to be happy with me. Years after agreeing to these dietary restrictions, I still struggle. I feel deprived. I kick myself for not respecting myself enough to research it thoroughly before agreeing to his request.
The bigger issue, however, was my maiden name. In the southeastern US, women typically use their maiden name as their middle name. Being a Jones was a huge part of my heart and identity. I loved (and still love) my family of origin and wanted to keep them close to me through my name. Of course, I was going to go by Heather Viets, but it was so meaningful to me that I get to hold on to my heritage by keeping my maiden name as a part of my full name. It did not mean I was less committed. It did not mean I valued my parents and grandparents over Eric. It was just me.
Outside of our wedding planning scuffles, this disagreement was our most difficult one in those engaged months. Eric would not budge. Me keeping my maiden name as my middle name communicated to him that I was not leaving my family and fully clinging to him. It genuinely broke my heart and I am convinced he would not have married me had I refused to drop it. So, I dropped it… we got married … and I never got over it.
Heather, why are you adding something so personal? Because, I want everyone to count the cost before they make life-altering decisions. Eric was not my husband at the time. I could have said, “I am sorry, but I cannot agree to this” and let the chips fall where they may, but I was afraid. I was not willing to lose him. Did I make the wrong decision? Maybe I did and maybe I did not, but I do know I was not true to myself. I let go of my side before I was ready, and I went along with him.
I was not proud of myself.
I felt weak.
Was I So Confident in My Decision that I Did Not Pray?
As I said earlier, once Eric and I moved from friends to more than friends, I was convinced to my toes I was supposed to marry him. Never did I doubt we would get married. Clearly, God had spoken. At times during that year I had the thought, “Maybe I should pray about this,” but I confess… I did not. What if I prayed and the peace I felt suddenly vanished? I clung to that perceived peace for dear life and did not want to risk hearing a “No” from God.
Was I Too Afraid of Conflict to be in a Successful Marriage?
At twenty-two, I thought I was all grown up. Being an adult was all I thought about as a child. To be a child was to be weak, so I beamed anytime someone commented on my maturity.
Well, I thought I was mature, and I thought I was ready for marriage, but one major skill I lacked was conflict resolution. My method of dealing with problems was to avoid them, hide from them, and hope they go away (and generally still is my method). When I do get brave (or desperate) enough to broach an uncomfortable subject, I am immediately turned off if the recipient reacts harshly.
As the years have turned, my energy level for conflict has not improved. Yet, I know in order to keep communication open, couples must deal with yucky, ugly crying topics at times. In retrospect, I wish I had worked on myself more – standing up for myself, expressing myself, and reacting to criticism calmly and rationally.
Did I Even Know Why I Wanted to be Married?
Like most little girls, I looked forward to my wedding day. At four, I was dressing up as a bride. By twelve, I had the music and bridesmaids picked out for my big day. Romantic comedies were salve to my anxious soul. I want to be loved and cherished by a man who will do everything in his power to make me happy! And, I am going to make him happy too!!! I longed for that connection.
But, outside of the superficial, did I know why I wanted to be married? I am sure I could have given you an essay at the time; but, now, I am not so sure I had a clue. I think most of the reasons I wanted to be married centered around me, me, and me. I wanted love. I wanted companionship. I wanted to be cherished. I wanted a home and children. I wanted to feel special. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted…
To say we only want to be married for our significant other’s good is unrealistic. We all have desires we want fulfilled in our relationships. However, if self-reflection indicates we are more concerned about ourselves than our partners, should we be taking the plunge? Probably not. Yes, I wanted good for Eric, but I wanted that good to be me – just as I was – without any hard work (or, really, any work). Boy, that is hard to admit.
Before getting married it is so important to know why you want to be married. Not why you want to be married to your significant other, but why you want to enter the institution of marriage in the first place.
No matter how head over heels you are right now, or how nervous you are about the prospect of losing your significant other, please, please, please do some serious self-reflection before getting engaged. Before you can be honest with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you must first be honest with yourself.
If I had taken the time to know and share my true self with him, would I have lost Eric? Honestly? Maybe. But, either way, he and I would both be better for whatever outcome that brought because I would have been honest with him.
Have you allowed yourself to examine your heart, beliefs, personality, and habits? Have you been brave enough to share the truth with the one you love?