the thing that marriage doesn’t do

Feeling bad the way I do sometimes– the bad egg kind of bad- it doesn’t go away completely. It just lies dormant under the surface for a while. And then suddenly, it’s back. It can come back ferocious, hungry, clawing, like it just broke out of prison, where it had plenty of time to think about how to destroy me.

And then I feel sorry for Bear.

I feel apologetic. I feel sorry about marriage not solving all of my problems, as though if only I could just calm down and let it, it would. I feel like I’ve let marriage down.

Sometimes I think that marriage actually makes it worse. I mean, being safe and secure and loved and sexed and having my man dream come true makes it clearer that this is not all there is. Before I had Bear, when I was in a relationship with a guy who was being tormented by what seemed like an army of his own personal demons, I could feel bad about that. It was obvious what I was supposed to feel bad about. I also felt like I really needed to get good grades in college or my life might be terrible, but that feeling was secondary to the emotional trauma of my romantic relationship.

In a way, that’s what relationships were for. To distract me from the things I was really worried about. To distract me from the fact that I might feel bad, anyway, even if they were gone or great.

After being tormented by the tormented guy, I was in a relationship with a guy I wasn’t in love with, and I felt conflicted and anxious and stubborn and frustrated and helpless about that.

And later, whenever I felt bad during the time I was single, I felt scared and tiny and hopeless, because there was a chance I would never find someone.

There was always such an easy reason. Such a plain target.

And now, I have checked so many boxes. I have things I never thought I would get a chance at. I stare at my own reality in dumbstruck wonderment. I pinch myself. I stare some more.

But then, when I feel bad, it isn’t as easy to find a place to put it. So the badness rushes to my career. You’re failing! You haven’t accomplished anything in the past year! Everyone in the world is more successful than you! And they have better hair! And your teeth look a little yellow! And you’re not making enough money because you are a failure!

I feel sorry for Bear because I want to be happy for him. I feel like that was part of the arrangement. We were going to make each other happy ALL THE TIME. That was going to be marriage. When I’m unhappy, it makes him unhappy, and sometimes this feels like pressure to be happy.

(we should always look like this. especially the red hat)



But I should probably let Bear talk for himself, rather than deciding what will wreck him and what it is that he needs every day. Maybe I am not supposed to be as happy as I think I am. Maybe that’s a myth.

(this is how I look when I’m crazy-happy. even though it’s dorky, i want to look like it more. i wonder why i don’t)

When my little brother visits me here in the city, for a couple days, he is silly and fun and comedically spot-on, and then the next day his eyes look abruptly deadened. He is somewhere else, in his mind.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, over and over, spacing each repetition three or so minutes apart.

“Nothing,” he says, his eyes missing mine by a few inches.

“It’s not nothing,” I say.

“I’m fine.”

This goes on for a long time.

I recognize my face in his face. That is how I must look when my mind slips into shadow. I am startled. I never noticed it in him before.

“I think I know how you feel,” I say. “You’re nervous, right now. You can’t concentrate. Your brain is shutting off.”

He looks up. He meets my eye. He nods.

I am weirdly triumphant. Not that I want my brother to feel that way. But I can see for a beautifully clarified moment that it is really not my fault. And that neither of us is alone with this. We can talk about it. And we do, relieved.

It is possible that I am not a failure for backsliding into the murky depths now and then. It is possible that this just happens to me, and then I drag myself up and out again. It is even possible that every time it happens I am forced to remind myself of how important the tiny details, the stitching of life, the ordinary stretches are. I am forced to remember that these are the things that matter most. It is not impossible that I am learning, slowly, ever-so-slowly, that I am capable of happiness. A patchwork, complicated, scrappy happiness, maybe. A sometimes unpredictable, jumpy, hungry happiness. But a real one. One that is all mine.

And as for marriage, it hasn’t made me feel automatically anything other than safe. It hasn’t made me feel automatically gorgeous or successful or finished. But it’s definitely given me the courage to begin.

(we hold each other up on the ice)

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in gold.



Kate on January 13th 2012 in being sad, fear, life, marriage, relationships

38 Responses to “the thing that marriage doesn’t do”

  1. Lexie responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:04 am #

    I often find that with all relationships, wether it’s just the lady at the local store. It’s crazy. I feel completely responsible for their troubles or not having a good time or feeling upset, even though it has nothing to do with me; and it keeps me from talking to people more, because I always feel this big looming pressure to make everyone feel happy and have a good time, when sometimes you just have to stick with the awkward silences and bad moods and unhappy times. And on a last note, you look so incredibly stunning in that photo of you with your happiness all around. You should wear that emotion more often ;)

  2. sadie responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:59 am #

    This blog has me in tears, the piece where you see you see the unhappiness in your brother’s face. I relate so much, I have days the same and think how does everyone else manage to be ‘okay’ I am failing at being okay and happy when I know my life is pretty darn great and I am loved. Thank you for writing this. Sincerely. I second how stunning you look!

  3. Jane responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Thank you for sharing, this was beautifully written.

  4. Liz responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I’ve been married for a little over 2 years. My husband and I were “together” for about 3 days when he proposed, and we got hitched 3 months later. We were (and still are) madly in love.

    I remember the first time I realized that he wasn’t going to solve my ‘problems.’ When I would let myself be sucked into ‘LizLand’ and somehow find a return ticket to board the plane back to reality.

    I also remember the first time I started learning (and still am) how NOT to let myself see-saw emotions with my husband. He has issues too, and before I recognized it, I realized that he would be down, I would throw myself into ‘curing him’, then that pushed me down when he went back up. Repeat. Uhg. This also can happen with anger and pissy-ness.

    Still learning and growing, but I am happier every. single. day. This, to me, is what life is all about and I feel priveleged to be able to experience it with such an amazing man.

    Have you ever read Tolstoy? His books are full of wonderfully complex real relationships.

  5. Sarah responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 7:34 am #

    You look so so so beautiful when you re crazy-happy. That picture made me smile A LOT.

    And I think what you write here makes so much sense. I remember in my first relationship, there were so many internal issues between us that I never had actually to think about whether or not I really liked the guy. And he ended up being a huge huge a-hole. I know that things with Adam are fantastic and good and the way they should be because I feel secure enough to be vulnerable around him: I am so in awe of his own way of looking at the world that I want to adopt as much of it as I can, and talking with him about stuff has caused serious and significant changes in me.

    I know it sounds weird to say this, a little preachy, and maybe sort of obligatory, but I used to feel really weird about the fact that I felt like I was learning so much about how to be a person from Adam. I felt like it was super one-sided and like he wasn’t growing at all. The truth is that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    (Maybe this is a bit unrelated, but it feels so relevant.)

  6. Melanie responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 8:46 am #

    When I get married, this is what I want my marriage to feel like.

  7. bethany actually responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:06 am #

    “I am forced to remind myself of how important the tiny details, the stitching of life, the ordinary stretches are.”


  8. bethany actually responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Oops, hit return too soon. I was going to say that just about everything you wrote about marriage could also be applied to having kids. The little moments are the stuff that makes up LIFE, and they matter, but sometimes in those moments it’s hard to remember, and you feel bad for not feeling happy all the time when you wanted to be a mom so bad.

  9. Rebecca responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:35 am #

    This happens to me too, exactly this. A part of the human condition, I’m sure.

  10. Lili @ Relatable Style responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:21 am #

    This was an eye opener. I start second-guessing all the wonderful people and things around me on my off-key days, like there was something wrong in my life I only had to find. I should really stop poking around randomly, worrying about what makes me feel bad, and instead think that it is what it is: An off-key day. For whatever reason that has little to do with the way my life is going, but is rather caused by too little daylight, too much or too little sleep, going to bed too late, eating wrong… the list is endless, but do we start worrying about that? Rarely. We just dig into the important stuff, which most probably didn’t cause the bad feeling at all.

  11. Aurora responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Yeah, I’m a little worried about what happens when I someday get married and then probably realize that all the awesome things that I thought would come from living with your best friend, aren’t really the solutions to my problems. Right now, it’s all about “I don’t get enough (blank) from my friends,” or “All my friends are moving away and now I’m lonely,” so it seems like having a permanent partner who shares your interests and swears they’re not going to up and go to China, is the solution to all of life’s social woes. It’s a tiny bit sad to think that maybe it isn’t.

  12. Amy responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:54 am #

    You’re definitely not alone with your feelings. Marriage didn’t solve all of my problems, really, but it solved some them. I vacillate between feeling good about my life-choices:

    “Sure I have a sucky part-time job and my career is probably over…for life…because I decided raising my kids myself was ore important! Woo hoo! Empowered!” :D

    To feeling depths of despair:

    “Oh god I am thirty-seven…I have no career and I am doing my, what…MILLIONTH(?) load of laundry while wearing dirty sweats, smudged glasses and I haven’t bothered to comb my hair because who cares what I look like and…is that a huge black hair jutting out of my chin? No not my regular chin…the one under and behind my regular chin. My ‘forechin’. Is that even a word? It is now…oh god I have two chins…”


    But with marriage I have a person who loves me and is committed to me (and me to him) no matter what I’m feeling. Which is a huge comfort and frees me up to concentrate on other things.

    I was talking with a lovely woman at the grocery store yesterday who was buying some low-calorie spray-on salad dressing because her husband complained to her that she was putting on weight.

    How utterly sad. That love was dependent on weight. When I married my husband I wore a size 26 wedding dress. No lie. I looked like an iceberg making my way inexorably towards my waiting groom. Women and children first!!!!

    I lost a bit, gained a bit. Gained 60 with pregnancy, losing that and more and then gaining it all back with baby two. Now I’m a 14 and fitter than ever, hoping to get down more. But for once I’m actually kind of an average size.

    My husband has never wavered. I am so lucky. Because our feelings, goals and committments transcend looks, jobs (or lack of them), and other stressors.

  13. jeanie responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Speaking of the bad egg thing, it totally took over my life this holiday season. It had been building throughout the fall. On New Year’s Eve it got so bad that I was actually hearing a voice in my head telling me what to do and say. My mom said I seemed like a different person. It subsided a few days later, but the experience scared me half to death. It felt like the very bottom of depression, the worst I have ever felt. I’m so afraid it will come back. The worst part was my fear that my wonderful, understanding boyfriend would finally get fed up with my creepy depression issues and find someone happy.

  14. Melanie responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:52 am #

    First of all, the crazy-happy picture is about the cutest thing I’ve seen all week.

    Second, I think most of us that slip in to the dark place can relate. I was reading and I teared up as I remembered how much of a failure I used to feel like when I couldn’t just will myself out of my sinking, sad, useless feelings. Now that I’ve stopped fighting them and just ride them out, they’ve gotten a little more manageable. But there is still that part of me that thinks if I were just a little bit better or a little bit smarter, I wouldn’t have to go through it. Then I realize that’s the dumbest thought of all time.

    Feeling this way doesn’t make you a failure. The fact that you can be so honest about it is about the most successful thing you can do. Huge hugs to you.

    p.s. I sent a pic of the baby blue coat. If need be I will send another in me wearing it…at the office! :)

  15. Kate responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Awkward silences are so important. They are probably the mortar for life’s bricks. We should both work at getting better at them.

  16. Kate responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Thank you for the huge digital hugs and the picture. Now I just need a picture of you eating cake while wearing it, and then everyone else can see it, too. It is fabulous.

  17. zoe (and the beatles) responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    i am not married so i fear i cannot relate on an empathetic level. however, if i flip the word marriage to simply “relationships” i am pretty sure i understand your sentiments here. relationships are tricky. we’re primped and preened and prepared for them our whole lives. we’re told one person will fill the hole in our soul and then life will forever be a dream boat ride. what we forget is that we’re human beings. with emotions. ones that dip down sometimes for no reason regardless of the amount of love surrounding us. we’re human so we slip into “bad egg” days occasionally. but we’re rarely told how normal all THAT is. everyone oscillates. i’m not sure you should apologize for being human.

    additionally, we’re told to be semi-perfect in relationships, to endlessly improve our character, bodies, and minds. otherwise, we run the risk of losing our partner. in all actuality though, true love exists only when one person accepts the other completely — flaws and all. off days exist for a reason: to better appreciate the good days when all the funk wears off. and to better recognize the patient, supportive, beautiful love who sticks by you each and every time you wobble a bit on life’s tight rope.

    i may not be married, but i feel like marriage is one of life biggest lessons in patience, love, understanding and compassion. it’s never like it looks in glossy editorial snap shots or in dramatized hollywood weddings. i think the more that this realized, the less “bad” we’ll feel for off days.

    or maybe i’m just taking out of my butt and out of a place of naivety. *shrug*

  18. Laura responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I’ve been looking at and re-reading this post for awhile now. Being single, it struck a chord within me that I didn’t know was even there.

    I spend more than my fair share of time in my own dark place, where going out, being social, even meeting someone’s eyes is a challenge. I’ve spent so much energy looking for — and failing to find — that one someone special that I’ve attached a sense of “MY LIFE WILL BE WONDERFUL!” (yes, in caps like that) to the day when I finally find myself with someone.

    As if another human being would come into my life bearing a magic wand.

    In my head – logically – practically – pragmatically – I know that another person can’t cure what ails me. But – emotionally – psychologically – soul-searchingly – I also feel like that’s my lifeline.

    It helps me to read your words — another viewpoint that can stand up with my logical brain and fight against the not-always-sane brain. And just maybe it’ll help me start to work on what I actually need to fix, rather than thinking that someone else can do the heavy lifting for me.

  19. T.K. responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Kate, does Bear too have days like that? I ask because I have many days like this and my boyfriend never has any and he is always taking care of me, which makes me feel terribly guilty. But he says eh really doesn’t mind and would rather have me at my worse than someone else at their best. But the guilt of being a burden and a drag is still there…It is, however, much easier for me to be with people like him than people who are on the same emotional playing field as me.

  20. melissa responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    ugh I hate hate hate those moments that creep up EVERY TIME. Even the simplest stupid little things turn into suicidal thoughts and it’s like they never went away. They were always there.

    And it puts pressure on other people, too! My S.O must think I’m a total flake or something when it appears that I am upset because of the weather or my clothes or the food or some other stupid thing that isn’t “it”.

    But then I don’t feel like I can truly talk about it, because where is the line between being truthful and “emotionally manipulating” a person? Who knows?

    There’s a weird detachment in relationships that I never really expected… regardless of the type of relationship. Like two separate bubbles barely connected by a thin line of communication…

  21. Kate responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    I laughed a little at the last line, because the rest was so insightful :-)

  22. Kate responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Bear is the kind of person who almost always seems able to cheer up. Even if he’s down, he’s happy to see me. He doesn’t seem to get stuck the way I do. And the few times he has, it’s actually been kind of a relief for me. So I know what you’re talking about.

  23. Emily responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    It’s such an american ideal to be happy all the time but there is more than one way to cash out “happy”. If you want to be in an emotionally positive state all the time, that is literally not possible. Our emotional states are chemical states in a certain sense and we can’t always be at the high end of the cycle. If you get lots of dopamine pumping through your body you will feel great, but its not a sustainable state.

    What we do have more ability to possess is self-reflective happiness – that satisfaction with the state of your life which you can possess even in a terrible mood. Being happy about your life is really all anyone can ask for. The idea that we should feel emotionally awesome every second is impossible standard. Embrace the mood swings and they will probably effect you less.

  24. Abby responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    THANK YOU. Thank you for writing this. Because really, it is so important. It took me–pretty much about halfway through high school, to realize that romantic love wouldn’t solve my problems. That a boy wouldn’t make my life better, and in a lot of cases, would probably just mean more problems. Even now sometimes, I still fall into that “a boy would listen to my problems and let me cry on his shoulder and I would feel alllll better.” I know that isn’t true, but we’re told that so many times, in movies and books and by ourselves. I’m 18 and haven’t been on a date, and most of the time I can honestly say that I’m grateful for that. Because it gives me time to focus on me, and to really figure myself out so that whenever I do choose to go on a date or enter a relationship, I’ll be more prepared.

    I understand what you mean by “bad egg” days, though. I call them Dementor Days, because I just feel numb and soul-tired and dead inside, like I imagine it feels to be surrounded by dementors (I am such a Harry Potter dork). It usually doesn’t last for more than one or two days, but every time I’m convinced that I’ll feel like this forever and I’ll never feel happy again and that last time this feeling ended but this time is different. It’s scary and terrifying…and I let myself get into the rut of thinking that having a boyfriend would make those feelings go away.

    But when I feel like that, I push my friends away. I isolate myself. And I’m willing to bet that I’d push my S.O. away too. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, even if I feel like I “shouldn’t” be depressed because things are going well, or my feelings “don’t count” because they get better. But a relationship isn’t going to fix that. (Sorry that this is long and rambling, I tend to write…a lot.)

  25. Sooz responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    1) you look lovely in your red hat.

    2) I am learning to accept that sometimes I am really down in the dumps for no reason and that that is okay.

    3) thanks for this post. REally needed it today.

  26. San D responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    It has been my experience that artists are human radar dishes (well I sort of think of them like cats with cones on their necks), but what that means is we “feel” everything. I used to tell my students about my idea of the “wheel”, in that you may be blue now, but the wheel will turn in life, and things will be much better. The negative/positive, yin/yang of life. I eat chocolate and somehow that evens everything out. *smile*

  27. Kate responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    @San D
    Love the image. And yay chocolate!

  28. Wanett responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Everything you’ve just said!! DITTO! Now I am relieved to know that this is not a circumstance limited to myself and my sister. I have SO MUCH, but sometimes I am just fucking sad. And that makes my man sad (he must fix things) which makes me feel like shit. What bothers me the most is I see this in my oldest kid sometimes, too. And I think she got it from me, which makes me feel worse.

    And then I go make something (or read, or worte or something), we go make something together and I pull myself out. For a while. And it’s better until it’s not again….

    So glad found your blog

  29. Val responded on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    The thing is, Kate, you get in a funk sometimes, but you don’t blame HIM for it.

    It’s one thing to be moody now and then, but as long as you own it and don’t pin it on some innocent bystander, that’s okay.

    It’s just life.

    I have a great life too, really. And like you am smart enough to know it.

    I told a co-worker some months ago: I felt like crying yesterday for absolutely no reason. I don’t have one problem in the world, couldn’t even really dream one up. Absurd.

    He laughed, “Valarie felt like crying.”

    I did.

    We laughed.

    It’s just life. love, Val

  30. Mandy responded on 14 Jan 2012 at 12:12 pm #


    Not to insult your intelligence, but the fact that your brother gets the same thing, with apparently the same symptoms seems a bit telling–have you considered that there may be something physical going on that may be a contributing factor? I’m sure you have, you’re a smart young woman, but…
    Just concerned, sweetie. I, too have my moody-broody days, but I don’t remember them ever being as severe as you describe. And mine are mostly related to my monthly cycle, or increased by stress.
    In any case, kudos to you for realizing that marriage isn’t a cure-all, it’s a partnership.

    Unroast: Today, I am congratulating myself on my great taste and extreme good judgement in choosing to marry my husband. I did GOOOD!

  31. shana responded on 14 Jan 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    thanks for this, Kate. really great post.

  32. Lynellekw responded on 14 Jan 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    I remember my mother often being unhappy, discontented, frustrated. As an adult I don’t want that to be me. The thing is, when my mother was unhappy she saw the cause as being work, badly-behaved children (sorry Mum), and the general stresses of living in the remote areas we lived in. All of those things were factors, but looking back it seems to me that when she was unhappy that unhappiness came from inside her and was then focused outward on the things that were putting most pressure on her at the time. So what I’ve tried to develop as I grew up is the ability to identify what’s actually making me unhappy – is it the situation I’m in, am I tired, am I hungry, am I just having an out-of-sorts day? And doing that sometimes helps me deal with my mother (and my sister, and one of my brothers who is prone to moody behaviour) – I’m better at figuring out whether they just need a little space, or a rest, or just something to eat! So tense situations become less tense, and I’m better at repairing them when they get out of hand. But it’s important to me to just be able to look inside myself sometimes and say, I just feel BAD. I don’t need to find a reason, I just need to give myself some space to feel better in – whether that’s by calling a friend, reading a book, having a “making stuff” session, or whatever. I just… need to find the head-space to recover a bit, and then I can decide more clearly whether there’s an external issue that I need to address, or whether the BAD feeling is coming from inside.

  33. Felicity responded on 14 Jan 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Wow. I know this will really impact on my life. I feel much the same, and it’s refreshing to know there’s someone else!

  34. Leslie responded on 15 Jan 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this about yourself, Kate. Even though I’d never wish for someone else to feel this way, it is comforting to know others out there do have to deal with this issue like me.
    Even at my happiest time in life I still got these deep, dark days. And it’s hard to not feel guilty about feeling this way. I often wonder what is wrong with me and hate to make others around me feel as if my unhappy self is a burden. But I’ve learned through therapy that there is no shame in being depressed no matter how great you perceive your life to be or how wonderful your significant other is. You feel what you feel and feeling shameful about it only makes the it worse.

    You may have depressive days, but this also lends you your wonderful qualities too: sensitivity to emotions/people/yourself/ect, creativity, and introversion. :)

  35. Elena responded on 16 Jan 2012 at 8:58 am #

    Hi Kate!

    I guess taking some of what are considered to be important states in life lead us to think we should feel more fulfill, as is we have achieved some kind of final goal that would get us into a definitive state of glee. It happens I guess in those decisive moments: when achieve the position or job you’ve always dreamed of, when you have a child, when your children grow up and go live on their own, when you marry… We expect climbing up to these states would lead to some kind of self-fulfillness, yet somehow it does not. And I guess this is because life is always and only a process. There are no final, no definitive states in life, and your identity is always under construction. And yet we are pushed to look for stability, when I guess there’s not such a thing in life. When one of life’s facets runs smoothly, probably other would be falling apart, causing us to feel anxious.

    The only solution I’ve come to be able to think of is to try to live by this idea. To take in the instability and make it yours, a principle you live through. At least it can make you get some peace of mind and stop trying to get everything straight all the time : )

    Just sharing some raw thoughts!

  36. Alpana Trivedi responded on 16 Jan 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    Hello, Kate. I’m new to posting here, but I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now. I just wanted to say that I completely agree with you about the “bad egg” syndrome. I have plenty of those days and when people try to pull me out of these bad moods, it makes me angrier. Maybe I just like to feel all my emotions.

    In any case, I love your writing and I love the way you put every day life on a microscope. I often think about the same thing and people accuse me of having “too much time on my hands.” Well, for now anyway. I’m in the Navy and at my last command, we were lucky for any free time we got. So at this new command, I’ll take all the free time I can get.

    I’d like to send you e-mails every now and then if it’s okay with you.


  37. Kate responded on 16 Jan 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    Thanks for commenting! And please feel free to email me! I want to learn more about life in the Navy.

  38. Fun for the weekend, 1.20.12 « tiny squared responded on 20 Jan 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    [...] over at Eat the Damn Cake talks about what marriage doesn’t do – namely, it doesn’t solve all your other problems, even if you feel like it should. I [...]