Redeeming Memories Lost to Anxiety

 When my husband asked me to marry him, it really was a fairy-tale perfect, Instagram-worthy proposal of proposals. He did everything I could have dreamt of...and I missed it.

Words by Sarah Van Vlear // Images by Amy Buchanan

When my husband asked me to marry him, it really was a fairy-tale perfect, Instagram-worthy proposal of proposals. He did everything I could have dreamt of...and I missed it. 

I’d secretly always wanted to be whisked away on a surprise trip, so I couldn’t believe it when he drove us to the airport and he handed me a boarding pass to Portland. He had told me he was planning a date day for us and I was relieved he was showing some initiative. We had been a little strained the last couple of months so I was glad that we were taking a step back towards each other. 

Unfortunately that was all I was prepared for, a step, not a leap. It was all going by so fast and I was trying to hold onto each moment but I was distracted and pulled out of the present by the confusion and uncertainty I felt about our relationship. I couldn’t bear to be disappointed again so when I had the tiny thought that this was perhaps the trip, I dismissed it and gave myself a stern talking-to about the perils of getting my hopes up.

I just wasn’t ready. I’d been waiting for this moment for over 6 months and I’d begun to doubt it was ever coming. I was ashamed of my doubt and shame requires hiding. So I decided I didn’t care how he proposed, or even if he proposed, and I wouldn’t think about what I would do if he didn’t. I silenced the questions as they crept in and ignored the deep roar of panic that had started to swell in my heart as, over the last few months, I’d noticed him pulling away, retreating from connection, and burying himself in work and busyness. 

We drove from the airport to a lovely hiking trail and enjoyed the beauty of the forest in the rain. And then it happened. Where the path bent behind a waterfall, he looked at me and told me I was the love of his life. And in that moment while I briefly wondered if I believed him, he got down on one knee. My heart and mind exploded in a civil war. Joy, fear, excitement, disappointment, love, anger, tenderness, panic, security, shame, and the ever increasing shouting in my head to just shut up already and enjoy the moment. I’d always hoped I’d cry, but that was most certainly not going to happen. So I just smiled like crazy and hoped he’d missed the flash of panic in my eyes and my manic attempts to freeze time. And then I saw his sister snapping photos, and hoped to God she hadn’t captured that moment of panic.

I was so disappointed in myself. I was so ashamed that I’d ever doubted him, and I was sad that in one of the most important (and irreplaceable) moments in my life, I was too busy having a civil war in my head to fully experience it. My fear won, and I lost. 

For a long time, when I would look at the photos from that day, all I would remember was the anxiety and disappointment. I’d remember calling friends to tell them we were engaged and hoping they couldn’t hear how fake I felt. I’d remember taking a shower that night and curling up underneath the water to cry and tell God that I wasn’t ready and I missed it, and maybe I wasn’t ready to get married either. It was nothing like I’d imagined and it was all my fault. 

But as I shared the my story with other married friends, I started to realize that most of them, on some level or another, also felt a moment of panic, or disappointment, or sudden, uninvited doubt in that moment marriage was proposed. I realized that maybe, while it wasn’t the fairy tale I’d imagined, it was perhaps better, because it was real. It was substantial. It made the decision to say yes more authentic and more full of love because I was afraid, I had doubts, I wasn’t 100% sure, and I chose him anyway. 

And in so many ways, this is true of marriage. You will hurt each other, you will wonder if you married the right person, you will be afraid of what the future holds, you will be disappointed, both in yourself and your spouse, you will wonder if you’re destined to feel lonely forever, you will wonder how they can possibly still love you after they’ve seen your most shameful moments, and you will wonder if you can still love them after you’ve seen theirs. There will be a thousand bended knee moments where you must choose them again, despite their imperfections, and despite yours. And hopefully, you will come to realize, as I have, that disappointment, fear, doubt, they don’t define your experiences. They add depth and authenticity and humanity to your story.

Yes, when my husband proposed I felt fear and disappointment and loss. But I also felt joy and relief and love for this introverted person who hates risk and expressing emotions and spending lots of money on impractical things. And yet he tearfully declared his love and admitted he needed me with a very impractically extravagant gesture to ask me the most vulnerable question of all under a waterfall, because he knew I’d need the waterfall. 


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Sarah is a freelance blogger, content manager, holistic health practitioner, massage therapist, tea time connoisseur, perpetual newlywed, and advocate for self care and abundant living. She has a passion for facilitating cultural change and improving her community's quality of life through increased self awareness, ownership, and compassion towards oneself and others. She is driven by the belief that healing and wholeness is possible for anyone with discipline, inspiration, and a tribal community to cheer you on.