Welcome to wedding season! As we are eagerly awaiting the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, you may be preparing for your own wedding– though you may have less press coverage, your day will be equally glorious, and thankfully all your paparazzi will be known to you.
Lots of people—and you may be one of them—have imagined and planned for what seems like forever for this day. Now, your long to-do list is nearly done. Flowers, check; artisanal curated menu items vegan and gluten-free included, check; music—elegant but not pretentious, check; fairy tale very fancy clothes, impossibly gorgeous hairdo, seating plan where warring factions can’t catch sight of each other check, check and check. All those boxes—all those tangible things— are checked off and now what’s left? Readying yourself for that moment when all is quiet and on cue you look into each other’s eyes in the presence of friends and family and, open-hearted, say those two short words which will launch your new life. And instead of check, check, check! A chill comes over you and, paralyzed with fear, you worry if you really comprehend what that new life might bring or even if you should really bring it. Everything else you’ve been so sure of and suddenly you are coming face to face with the intangibility of the choices we make when we marry. How do you know you can check the “meant to be” box?
Welcome to the other side of wedding season, the side where feet get cold. Sit back. Put those feet up. Though you may think the mere fact you are having these doubts doesn’t bode well for the viability of the relationship itself, fear not. You are in good company and exactly where you need to be. Anxiety is never a reliable measure of what is in your heart, but it sure is a busy (and chatty) interloper at times like these.
What does “cold feet” really mean? When questions barge through the doors of our minds it’s about those intangibles—Can I really make a commitment to this person for the rest of my life; what if I don’t love my partner as much as I need to?, as much as those happy couples we know do?, or is it as little as those unhappy couples do?— and this is not a sign of trouble, but rather a sign that you are human. It’s a trifecta of bait for our worrying mind. First, making choices: How can we really be sure that it is this fish of all the fish in the sea who should be our beloved? Second, predicting the future: How can we know that everything will go well, that we can weather all the storms? And third, fear of embarrassment: What if we get this wrong, with the world’s chorus watching, everyone will know.
Oh the things that worry does to us at such an important and vulnerable moment in our lives!
Although we are worried about the meaning of our fears and doubts, they are a testament to the unique human capacity to think and think and think whenever we face uncertainty even in small doses like the trace amounts in our tiny cold feet toes: We doubt therefore we are. Through fears and doubts we are attempting to race ahead and preview our future life partnership. It is because it is such a special time that worry makes us run these drills—thinking it is being helpful to us. It’s a little misunderstanding between you and your worry. You don’t need to run the drills, not really. If you listen closely to those fears they are less likely about whether this is the one and more about the fact that that you can’t see the whole of your future and can’t have a guarantee that all will turn out well. The fact that you can’t rustle up that guarantee is no short-coming of yours, it’s the nature of love. The sooner we can label this overthinking as part of the process, the better we will be. Expecting that you shouldn’t feel this way makes the feeling worse. The problem is not our uncertainty or the intangibles or imperfections it’s our relationship to those things. They aren’t personal—not necessarily about us, they are universal concomitants of growing up.
To that trifecta of fears we say: We can’t swallow our lives whole, can’t imagine, not easily anyway, the whole story of our lives from start to finish, not in one fell swoop and that’s OK, we don’t need to. If you were thinking about having to do anything for the REST OF YOUR LIFE!—and we have to decide that today, panic and doubt would likely set in. We have doubt about much smaller choices—the lipstick you chose for the big day, the refrigerator you’re going to buy for your new home— or even—your new home! We don’t judge ourselves about our doubts on these smaller more temporary choices, and yet we fear the meaning of doubt when it pertains to a decision of much greater magnitude, and magnificence.
Let’s clarify the project of love. Let’s make friends with the intangibles, with the uncertain, with the imperfect. Expect these doubts and difficulties—say hello— so that we don’t get derailed by their presence. All of this is part of your marriage too—and it’s good. Learn to turn to each other with those fears and doubts, rather than turning away, turning inward. Cutting through these fears, quieting them brings you back to your purpose—the person whose eyes you are staring into—the person you are going out on a limb with is that person who is most likely to catch you if you fall. You can’t know that for sure forever. We can’t have the check the box guarantee, but we can know that pretty darn well. Exhibit A: consider just for a minute how hard it would be to estimate the number of times we’ve said “I love you” to each other, and meant it. Exhibit B: consider the impossibility of estimating how many more times it will be said in the years to come.
Make no mistake, we are lucky to have met the person who will soon stand next to us and make promises for a shared vision. We feel lifted up by winds that sent us to each other’s orbits as if these winds knew our exact address. Other times, it seems those fateful winds couldn’t read the handwriting and delivered us to the wrong place. Reconciling those two feelings again and again, this is the project of love. And this is how you grow. Love is born in flash, and then love must grow up. When we say “I do,” we are committing to growth—the growth of ourselves how we are meant to become separately and together, not frozen like we see ourselves today. What we get in a marriage is the opportunity to decide to build something together, not a perfect shining moment of meant to be.
Another way of putting it is that meant to be is not a static attribute of a relationship. It is a living thing. We make a decision as a couple to make meant to be happen by how we live our lives together each day. Or to paraphrase the beautiful words of French philosopher, Alain Badiou (those French, they know a thing or two about love….) we disprove that our meeting is random “by the invention of a world” together. And that world keeps expanding as we grow. It grows to fit the easy parts and the harder parts that don’t seem to fit at first. Over time we make room. This doesn’t mean having perfection, or certainty, or great romance all the time—this means they we work through the imperfections, the uncertainties together. The world you invent can right now make room for your cold feet as you lock gazes and say: “Have cold feet with me and we can warm each other up, whether we dive into this new life or inch our way in, we will do this together.”
The day before our wedding, many moons ago, someone suggested my husband-to-be and I find a quiet time for ourselves away from all the planning and preparation and think about what we were doing. Think about what we were doing?!? The day before the wedding we went to a little park, and as we sat trying to put all those details aside—the food, the guests, the music— and focus on us I already felt I was on the outside of my own life looking in. It didn’t feel good. Were we crazy (as many people told us, directly! including the rabbi) to be getting married so young, was it going to work out? Did I even know what was going on in my husband’s head that day? Nope. All the seats were taken up by my own fears. If I had asked, we might have found that we were afraid of the same things—or even if they were different, we would have breathed a mutual sigh of relief knowing we both had expectations that were making us uncomfortable—to further build our nascent marriage.
Looking back now, I know we did that reflection thing all wrong. We didn’t tell each other those fears. I wish we had. This we learned in time. Though we had written into our vows that we would “listen to each other’s fears with forbearance and sympathy” we were novices not only at marriage—but with ourselves. We didn’t always know when fear was what we were feeling. We were so quick to cover it up, we hid it from ourselves. But it’s OK that we got it wrong at the time, because looking back on 32 years of this adventure so far, that was part of our meant to be project—finding a place for fears, for cold feet, for wild dreams, for joy, for sadness, for life.
So if you are feeling that cold feet feeling— whether you are a royal or not-—check the box of sharing those feelings with each other, gently. Don’t get spooked by the “rest of your life” idea, know that there are reasons you got this far—tell each other what they are. Remind each other why you fell in love with each other, talk about your visions for the future. Don’t get intimidated by idealizing other couples and comparing yourselves—or by looking at couples who didn’t work out and fearing you’re like them. You’re like you. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into that knowledge. Tell each other your deep fears and wishes, as well as your silly fears and wishes—vow to take care of each other—now and always. Ask each other what you need from each other at the wedding. Whatever that is—whether it’s make sure I don’t have spinach in my teeth, or don’t let me drink too much, or make sure we slow down a few times and soak it all in so it doesn’t go by in a flash! This is the beginning of taking care of each other and asking for what you need. You are ready for now, you can’t be ready for forever. Not all at once, no one can be. But by turning to each other again and again, the thousands of moments—some magnificent, some immediately sweet, some through hardship you find the sweetness within—you build a life together that, against the randomness of all things, is meant to be. Warmest congratulations and here’s to love!
Thank you for sharing the love. Pass it on!
Previously published on Psychology Today