The thought of getting married for me was the equivalent of standing in front of a firing squad. I was never one of those women who dreamed of having her special wedding day. The thought of the traditional wedding shower where women gathered together sharing their stories repelled me. I never imagined walking down the aisle in a beautiful gown. I couldn’t dream of promising “forever”, which is partially the reason why I was forty years old before I got married. Let’s face it, I was not the traditional bride.
Though I had been in a highly functioning committed relationship with my partner for the past two and a half years, the idea of getting married terrified me. My initial concerns were that I couldn’t find my vision of a wedding that would represent who I was and how I thought about marriage. I was also convinced that I wouldn’t be able to access my love in front of our family and friends while standing at the altar and nothing seemed more frightening to me. It wasn’t until later that I would discover that committing to marriage was a leap of faith and my vision would beautifully birth itself. Not only would I go on to have a weekend wedding that far exceeded my dreams, the planning would be a genuinely fulfilling and positive creative experience.
Grieving the Past
Prior to that leap into the unknown, I experienced a tremendous loss when my ex-boyfriend died from cancer. His loss was significant for me and the experience propelled me into action. It was time we set a wedding date as we had been engaged a full year. Here I was living with an incredible man, a man who loved me and who truly knew how to love, man who had a healthy relationship to his own emotional experience everything I had imagined that I wanted. In mourning the death of my past, I was finally able to confront my terror of moving forward.
The Terror of Marriage
Through my work with Sheryl, I was able to piece together the many facets of fear that were keeping me from saying, “I do”. She helped to normalize and contain my fears and I was finally able to realize that most of what I was feeling was historical and had less to do with my present relationship than what I was bringing in from my parents’ relationship. In a nutshell, I was carrying their attitudes and fears about marriage and it was time I explored my own ideas about this sacred union. These attitudes kept me from believing that it was possible to be in a healthy, loving marriage even though we were already sharing a healthy and loving partnership.
The weeks prior to my wedding were the most difficult for me. I spoke with each of my parents and both had confirmed to me that they didnt want to get married the day of their wedding, my dad being convinced that everyone felt this way on the day of the wedding. Their admission was a turning point for me as I finally realized the negative forces I had inherited from them. If I were to become free, I had to learn to separate their experience of relationship and marriage from that of my own. And thus my work began. Sheryl and I worked together for many sessions and I began to understand each of my fears, giving them the proper attention that was needed to heal.
One of the most frustrating aspects during this time was trying to find other women who had experienced this transition as a death. I was desperate to find women who were willing to talk of the shadow part of wedding, the underbelly where it had nothing to do with the dress or the flowers. This was no small task. When I would share my story, mostly I would get blank stares or women trying to get me to focus on the positive. I had the distinct feeling that most people refused to embrace the shadow part of the wedding journey. One of my friends actually gave me a time frame for how long I should let myself grieve the loss I was feeling. I felt alone and had I not had the support of Sheryl Paul I don’t know that I could have maintained an understanding of what was happening to me. She continued to remind me that I was indeed having a true death experience and the context she created both contained and comforted me.
A Joyous Wedding
I am truly grateful that my fiance understood the enormity of what was happening for both of us as well. Knowing my love of dance, he suggested that we take dance lessons as a way of being together during this time. Little did we know that the lessons would provide the vehicle for our letting go. We decided on the tango. Dancing with my lover helped me to open, not only to him, but to my own expression of joy. The dance lessons turned out to be a wonderful metaphor for marriage. Some days we didn’t feel like dancing, but we did it anyway. Some moments our rhythm was fluid, other times our movements felt chaotic and disconnected. Mostly the discipline of continuing to show up helped us to connect to our love during a time when the wedding forces wanted to take us away.
Walking down the aisle between my mom and dad toward the arms of my husband’s love was the single most sacred memory of my life. As for the time we were standing at the altar, I looked into my husband’s eyes and had never felt more grounded or sure of anything. We surprised our family and friends with the tango by dancing our way through the fears that kept us from staying open and for that brief moment in time tasted the greatest joy either of us had ever known.