On marriage and fear and disappearing doors.

On marriage and fear and disappearing doors.

It’s hard to believe I’m the same girl who had to resolve to read more fiction in 2013. The resolution stuck: I’ve read dozens of novels this year, and just last week I had to force myself to sit down and finish the nonfiction read I’d been working through for too long: Dan Ariely’s instant classic Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

It’s a good book, but one passage has absolutely haunted me since I first read it a couple of weeks ago. In a chapter where Ariely discusses decision making and the concept of the “disappearing doors,” he says:

We fail to realize that some things really are disappearing doors, and need our immediate attention. We may work more hours at our jobs, for instance, without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing.

One of my friends told me, for instance, that the single best year of his marriage was when he was living in New York, his wife was living in Boston, and they met only on weekends. Before they had this arrangement–when they lived together in Boston–they would spend their weekends catching up on work rather than enjoying each other.

But once the arrangement changed, and they knew that they had only the weekends together, their shared time became limited and had a clear end (the time of the return train). Since it was clear that the clock was ticking, they dedicated the weekends to enjoying each other rather than doing their work.

I can’t articulate why this passage grabbed me so. Perhaps because the circumstances leading to a great year of marriage were so unexpected; perhaps because it articulated one of my deepest fears–that of letting the happy moments slip through my fingers–so clearly.

I’m just home from Story Chicago, and was surprised to hear this same concept hinted at in Thursday’s opening session. Story founder Ben Arment discussed the fear of failure–a constant fear for entrepreneurs and creative types–but warned us, “The fear of failure is not the only fear that can take reign within you.”

We know to fear failure. We know it’s there, present, a reality before us. The fear we need to cultivate, warned Ben, is the fear of never having tried. “You can never recover what you never tried at all,” he said, warning us, because too often we don’t recognize the danger until the door has shut and the opportunity is gone.

So here I am, back at home, thinking about the present opportunities I see and the ones I’m blind to, the doors that are wide open and the disappearing doors that need my immediate attention.

I’m praying I’ll see them before they close. I don’t want to look back and see the opportunities I missed. And I spent most of the weekend with my phone off and my computer closed, enjoying being back with the people I love.

Tell us about the fears you see and the fears you don’t, and if you’re up for it, your best year of marriage so far.

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26 comments

  1. Leanne says:

    It wasn’t while we were married, but my husband and I were in a long-distance relationship, similar to the one you read about, when he was in graduate school in Michigan. I only saw him once every 4-6 weeks, and while it definitely was not the best year of our relationship because I missed him so much, I can see how seeing your spouse only on weekends (if you don’t have kids) can make a good marriage. It always felt like our time was precious, and it heightened our sense of each other far beyond that of the everyday.

  2. Anna says:

    This post made me think of a conversation in Dorothy Sayers’ _Gaudy Night_. One of the characters argues that when we truly care about something, we take time and and pay attention to doing it right. Careless mistakes indicate that we don’t really care (even if we think we do). That character had actually broken off an engagement to focus on her academic work because she realized that she was always hurting her fiance’s feelings– she didn’t study him with nearly the same attention as she gave to her work. Within marriage and life, it’s helpful to observe our actions and see what we seem to really, truly care about. Sometimes we need to readjust ourselves to paying attention to the right things (and the right doors!).

  3. Ana says:

    One of my best friends had been with her now-husband since they were 14 years old…and they’d been living together for quite a well. Right after their wedding, she had to move away for 3 years for her medical training (across the country) and she maintained that this really strengthened their relationship because, as you noted, they had twice-monthly weekend visits and each visit was “like a honeymoon”.
    It is so easy to lose sight of what’s important when you’re mired in the day to day. I try very hard to be present, to notice things, because that is also my fear—that I”ll look back and wonder why I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it.

    • Anne says:

      “It is so easy to lose sight of what’s important when you’re mired in the day to day.”

      It’s so frustrating to me that this is true! But it is. Well put.

  4. D says:

    I keep a journal of things I want to tell or teach my kids to appease this fear. So maybe when I’m gone, they’ll find this journal written to them, of the things that were on their mother’s mind to say–maybe I said them and they forgot, or maybe I forgot when I meant to say it.

    I also have a co-worker with three glass candy-type jars on his desk, one for each kid, filled with marbles. One marble = one weekend with his kids. When he comes in on Monday, he takes a marble out of each one as a visual reminder of this slowly-closing door.

    • Anne says:

      “I also have a co-worker with three glass candy-type jars on his desk, one for each kid, filled with marbles. One marble = one weekend with his kids. When he comes in on Monday, he takes a marble out of each one as a visual reminder of this slowly-closing door.”

      WHOA. I have never heard of anything like that.

  5. I wouldn’t say it was the happiest year of our marriage, but when we were dating, I was teaching in the Dominican Republic and my husband lived in Minnesota. We would often see each other only once a semester since tickets were so expensive!! The slowly closing door right now in my mind is the time we have as young marrieds without kids, and I’m very aware of it.

  6. Tina B says:

    My bucket list item #1 is to go to Africa and sleep in a tree-house on or near a savannah. As a 40-something, I always follow-up that statement with “while I can still climb the tree.” I see my physical abilities as a door closing, thus, I am actively saving for the trip and have set a deadline/goal so that I am sure to make it happen. I don’t want that one to slip away because I’ve wanted it for so long.

  7. What a great post, and I love the colorful doors picture.

    I think the important- but-not-urgent things like relationships with God, my husband and my children are always the things that get put on my back burner. Perhaps those relationships could be compared to spring-loaded doors that are always closing ever so slowly unless we exert effort to keep them open. The doors don’t remain open by themselves.

    My son is sitting next to me as I write this and, I think, this is as good a cue as any to look away from my screen and push gently on the door to relationship with him. thanks, Anne.

  8. MJ says:

    I love this post. I read it a couple hours ago, but I’m just now coming back to comment because I’ve been thinking about slowly disappearing doors ever since. I know for sure that I’m held back from many things because of fear, but I’m just beginning to think that it might be fear of success as much as it is fear of failure. Thanks for something to make me think this morning.

  9. Jeannie says:

    Wow, this is a fascinating post and concept — it’s really got me thinking. Recently I have been in a relationship conflict (not marital) and there’s been little communication between us for the last couple of months. The other person has a plan of how to proceed; I’m uncertain, I’ve told her so, and have been taking more time to think it over. She is now applying more pressure (emailing me after saying she’d wait to hear from me) to reach resolution. But it feels like an ultimatum, not an invitation. So when I read your post, I thought, wow, is this a door I’m in danger of having slam shut because I’m processing the issue too slowly? Yet to act in a way that doesn’t fit who I am, simply because I feel pressured, doesn’t feel right. I guess what I come away with is the importance of mindfulness. The important things that we must not let slip away are not (usually) forceful and characterized by deadlines; they are quieter calls. Slowing down to listen to those voices is essential. If we feel pressured and coerced, that may be a bad sign and there may be nothing wrong with holding back a bit longer and waiting to act or decide. Ultimatum vs. invitation — that’s the idea that’s come out of this for me at this moment, for this issue.

    • Jeannie, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I agree about the quieter calls of life being the most important. I seem to get them while sitting in church lately–I’ll remember a friend I’ve not talked to in years and think about getting in touch or have an idea for special gathering to plan. I think I need to jot them in my phone and make an alarm to remind me to address them later. Which then makes them less quiet :).

    • Anne says:

      Jeannie, I’m so glad you shared your thought process here. And I love the way you phrased this: “ultimatum vs. invitation.” Wishing you well as you move forward.

  10. Becca says:

    That quote is haunting. I can absolutely relate, it is easy to spend the time we have together (on weekends or once the kids are in bed) individually going about our business or taking turns having a little alone time instead of fostering intentional togetherness. It is a hard balance to maintain!

  11. Erin says:

    I really only get one true day a week with my husband. We try to make the most of those days, but its the ones we truly take advantage of that are my favorite. When he has to work evenings for months at a time and we really truly only see each other for one day a week, it does seem like our marriage is stronger – you choose your battles more carefully and we typically don’t choose any at all 🙂

  12. Tim says:

    On the fear that leads to not trying, I remember when I was thinking of applying for an appointment to the bench that the only guaranteed way not to become a judge was by not applying. Trying can be an accomplishment in itself sometimes.

    Tim

  13. JeannieO says:

    Strange I should read this right after I journaled about how hard this day has been. You see, my youngest is turning 18 tomorrow. Where did the forty plus years go when I held my first little one. I know She will still need me, bit in the eyes of the law she is an adult. But Anna will always be my baby………..the days go by fast but the years go by faster! Enjoy each day………we are told by Him to do so

  14. Erika says:

    Ah, this is so timely and precisely what I needed to read. I have been so challenged by this the past few months of my early marriage. Wanting to seize the moments and, yet still letting certain doors disappear because I am busy being distracted. I am a stay at home wife right now and as wonderful and amazing as it is, there are still challenges that arise from this just as much as for those who do work. Thank you for sharing this entire post!

  15. Mary says:

    I wrestle with this constantly, though perhaps in a reverse scenario. I’m happy– calm and satisfied with the small bit of fruit my tree of life bears. I didn’t really know this kind of peace was possible in life, and I spend most days feeling incredibly grateful for my work, my fiance, my dog and our simple (yes, even little) lives.

    Yet I fear complacency. I worry that if I sit back and enjoy all these small happinesses, a day will come when I feel I’ll have wasted my time by not being more ambitious. I’m an antsy person, this kind of worrying comes with the territory of my personality.

    Really though, I don’t know if that day of regret will ever come. Why replace peace with stress and gratitude with greed, all in the name of a fear, that for now, is just a future phantom?

    • Karlyne says:

      Oh, wow, Mary! You just put your finger on the problem; we need to know what kind of life we want. We get so very bombarded by other people’s ideas of what success is that we often don’t think about what our definition of success is for ourselves. And we need, we really need, to know it! We need to know ourselves, right down to our antsy personalities, so that we can live deliberately and with conviction.

      Time happens. It just moves along with or without our approval, and if we don’t see that, we lose those precious days. And it is easiest to see this happening in the lives of children; they grow so very, very quickly…

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