The three of us—Michael, Sophie and me—are sitting in a restaurant waiting for our lunch to be served. We already look like a happy family. We feel at ease with one another; we've been together for over two years.
Sophie looks at Michael and out of the blue she says, "You know, Michael..." She lets her eyes rest on the table for a moment and her lips turn pouty. "I don't really know my dad." She looks up. "I think of you as my dad." Michael, without missing a beat, replies, "I consider you my own, Junior (his nickname for Sophie because she's my miniature doppelganger). Sophie unselfconsciously slips out of her chair to put her arms around Michael's neck.
Sophie's words cause me to catch my breath. I'm thrilled that my fiancée and my daughter share such a strong bond. But at the same time I can feel the walls moving in on me ever so slightly. Her words push any worries I might have about marrying Michael far back in my mind. But I know they'll return, at night, in my dreams.
Michael and I are back at Fr. Sylvester's for our second Pre-cana session. We sit on the couch waiting for the results of the "pre-marital inventory" tests we each took. Father eyes us with his usual mischievous smile; he hesitates for a minute. I stare at him, trying hard to guess what he's thinking, straining to read the results on his face.
There really is no 'pass' or 'fail' to a pre-marital inventory test like FOCCUS.
There really is no "pass" or "fail" to a compatibility test like FOCCUS. The test is just a springboard to discussing the potential problem areas in a relationship. Those trouble areas are made apparent when Michael and I don't agree, or are undecided, in our answers to particular questions. Those questions then get red-flagged.
"Well," Father laughs, "we have a lot of work to do. You two have very little agreement in all of the categories." More than 50% of our FOCCUS tests contained red flags—areas that either need to be resolved or accepted.
I tense up, and I immediately think: Maybe Michael and I have been on our own—calling our own shots—for too long? There are so many differences between us. We have issues in every category: religion, sex, extended family, finances, children...
Some of these issues arose because Michael answered "unsure" to a large majority of the questions. He with his—"it's all good"—style prefers to take life as it comes. Michael is unsure about the answers until he is faced with the situation. He exudes the majesty and dignity of a lion, but in reality he is a chameleon. I find his preferences and his opinions to be inconsistent and somewhat dependent on the company he keeps. I'm beginning to understand him, but not as much as I should—considering the amount of time we've spent together.
Here's part of the problem: I'm not sure what to expect from Michael. He's good and honest, but I don't know if I can trust that he'll put his family first. He says that he will put us first, but as soon as I find myself believing this, I see him making plans to spend a week in Ireland with his childhood buddy or to see a wrestling match in Las Vegas. I have serious doubts that he will be able to leave behind his bachelorhood. Who could blame him?
I’m beginning to understand him, but not as much as I should—considering the amount of time we have spent with together.
My problem is that I'm a bundle of fears. Sometimes they're so bad I can't think or see straight. I feel caught between two opposing nightmare scenarios: an unhappy marriage, or living a barren life alone (after all, Sophie will leave me someday). This creates an unsettling dichotomy within me. Part of me is happily ordering invitations, calling caterers, and picking out bridal attire; the other half is analyzing all of the potential pitfalls of my relationship with Michael, and contemplating the haunting advice of my well-meaning mother: "Don't get married. Marriage is hell."
My fear of marriage manifests itself in my dreams. At least a half dozen times in as many months I've been awakened at dawn by bad dreams about my upcoming wedding. Each of my dreams is different: I dream that we can't make it to the wedding on time; that the groom is not coming; that I am kissing an old boyfriend; that I am unhappy about getting married; that Michael doesn't want to consummate the marriage. But they all leave me deeply unsettled.
The only thing that calms my anxieties is Michael's embrace. I feel safe and comforted in his strong arms. The minute Michael puts his arms around me—us—I feel the tension leave my body.
The question is, should I trust a feeling? Or should I trust the FOCCUS test that identified major differences between us—ones that will challenge us throughout our marriage?
No, matter. I have chosen to walk down the aisle in a few weeks. I bury the unsettling feelings that keep invading my thoughts. Down I say! There is no turning back.
The permanent commitment that I vowed to make acts as a reminder each time things do not go my way.
To the very day I walked down the aisle at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, I was riddled with doubts—consumed with fears. But in hindsight I realized that one of my problems was that I was too used to casting off old boyfriends for newer—at first glance, less flawed—versions (a common danger of all singles' web sites). Every time too many conflicts or defects—real or imagined—arose, I'd cut my losses. Now, Michael—or was it God?—was breaking me out of my holding pattern.
Fr. Sylvester, in our wedding sermon, told us, "Now the doubts are over." And they really were. I often think about how lovely and grace-filled our wedding Mass was; Michael feels the same as I do.
Incidentally, the FOCCUS test was very accurate. Everything that was highlighted as a problem has not been magically erased by our wedding vows. What has changed is my attitude.
The permanent commitment that I vowed to make acts as a reminder each time things don't go my way. Before opening my mouth—often with great effort—I ask myself, "Is this pile of his dirty clothes (which he refuses to let me touch) festering in our closet worth an argument?" Most of the time it's not.
Soon there will be a new member of the family. Knowing that this baby growing inside me is ours has only strengthened the marital bond for Michael and me. I've found that marriage is definitely not hell—it's a lesson in joy, love and self-sacrifice.