BY CLAIRE GIBSON
Before I got married, I took a lot of pride in the fact that my fiancé and I had done things by The Book.
The groom-to-be was chivalrous, with a solid group of guy friends and no red flags in sight. He taught me how to flip an omelet without splattering the entire kitchen with raw egg. He didn’t bat an eye when my mother asked him point-blank if he was addicted to pornography. (Really, Mom?) And by some miracle, we’d both survived adolescence with our virginity intact. We met with our preacher, invested in premarital counseling, discussed joint bank accounts. We were responsible. Righteous. Doing it God’s way and ready to reap the benefits.
My mother had words for me, too. She told me that marriage is sin on steroids, and I agreed, in theory. But my major flaws were impatience, moodiness and a tendency to leave my shoes on the floor. Sure, there were several make-out sessions I’d rather forget, and a few long-term relationships I let drag on. But compared to the rest of the known world, I was baggage-free … right?
Then my baggage showed up to my wedding.
Granted, I’d invited him. I told my fiancé we’d dated when I was 14, which was true. But what I’d failed to mention is that we’d picked things up at 16, 18 and 21, too. That was the first lie.
The truth was, we’d met freshman year of high school at a house party. Since we were too young to drive, I fell in love with his family before I realized I was in love with him. He drank beer, I didn’t. He took advanced calculus, I didn’t. He smoked weed, I didn’t. But he was my best friend, one I’d considered loving forever until the night he admitted that he thinks people who believe in God are silly.
Our differences in faith signaled the end of our romance. But our long-distance friendship never ended; we caught up on the phone every few months. The day after I got engaged, he was the first person I wanted to call (after my mother, of course).
I sent him a wedding invitation. We’d been some version of together for 10 years — I couldn’t imagine getting married without him there because I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. And I figured that after the wedding, I would feel different. I would feel married. All those minor attachments would release once I had a ring on my finger.
But that isn’t what happened. The night of the rehearsal dinner, I walked into a bar where out-of-town guests waited to celebrate. I held hands with my fiancé while I locked eyes with someone else. He smiled, but his green eyes twinged with pain.
That glance haunted me in the early months of my marriage. Even as we unpacked boxes of white china, I chided myself in the rare moments when that stop-motion memory reeled through my mind. And most days, I didn’t even think of it; I just moved on with the husband I loved.
Until one day when I was alone in my car and the past called my cell phone. Just like old times. Just to catch up. But this time, my hands grew clammy and my heartbeat quickened. No one could blame me for talking to an old friend. But in the darkest, most secret place within me, I knew my motives weren’t pure. I wanted him to miss me, more than I wanted to be honest.
After that, thoughts grew more troubling and more frequent. On days I felt lonely or restless, I relived the Christmas I met his grandmother, the last touch, the night before I moved to Nashville. I felt lost in my own mind, with no easy way out. My shame, like mold, flourished in the dark.
To choke it out, I needed light and oxygen and other people to tell me that I wasn’t the first one to find it growing on the walls of my heart. But I was afraid to admit I was capable of betrayal, even if it was only happening my mind. I didn’t want to deal with others’ judgments (because good girls don’t have bad thoughts) or justifications (because if you’re not happy, then call a lawyer).
I wanted a third option. There had to be a third option. I loved my husband. I wanted the life we had. But I knew if nothing changed, I’d live a lifetime loving him with all my heart and only half of my mind.
I remember the night we stood in the kitchen, my face contorted with pain and my husband’s covered with confusion. I told him I’d spent the first two years of our marriage clinging to the past. I asked for his forgiveness.
To my great relief and gratitude, he gave it: fully, immediately, unabashedly. As tears washed down my face, they cleansed a part of my heart that I’d locked up — for fear that it had gone rogue.