A Heartfelt Story About Marriage From a Former Feminist
"Depending on him required a level of trust that I was uncomfortable with. I could barely get out of bed much less go outside. I could do nothing on my own. This was vulnerability in its purest form."
About a month ago I shared a screenshot of a message I received on Instagram from a lovely woman named Hannah of whom I asked to share her personal story in this exclusive interview.
Hannah's story made me cry. And by the looks of it, her story made many others cry as well in me sharing it–many people wanted to hear more about Hannah's story and I felt it was vitally important for people to witness Hannah's extraordinary example to better understand the meaning behind marriage.
Marriage today has been reduced to a cliche and a statistic. But a story like Hannah's disproves the notion that marriage is "just a piece of paper" and it's obsolete.
And many of the women here will empathize with Hannah's home life as a young woman and being raised as an indoctrinated "feminist" by the women in her family to never trust men, never get married and to throw themselves into a career.
It took a long battle with cancer for Hannah to realize everything she'd ever been taught about marriage was a mistake.
Let's see what Hannah has to say...
Q: I mentioned your story on Instagram via some screenshots where you divulged you'd been a hardcore "feminist" who was conditioned by her mother throughout her life to "not rely on no man." Can you explain this conditioning and how this impacted your relationships with men prior to marriage?
A: Before I get into everything, I just want to say that my parents are good people who did the best they could and that I love them both very much.
My biological parents split up when I was two and then there was a rotating cast of stepdads and boyfriends who were around the whole time I was growing up. My mother has been married 5 times and had several relationships in between.
In all of these relationships, except for her current marriage, there was rampant infidelity on both sides. So I grew up watching this, which was just confirmation that men weren’t to be trusted and also didn’t deserve any kind of serious devotion.
In addition to this, my mother was a fierce career woman. She always drilled into me that earning money was extremely important because I would never want to financially depend on a man.
My life plan always included a high powered career, because even if I did end up getting married (which was never part of the plan) I knew that my future husband or partner could never be fully trusted and that I had to be ready, just in case.
I met my husband when I was 19 and by then I had already been in enough relationships to have seen that, according to my mind at the time, everything my mother had said was true.
My expectation was that all relationships were temporary and anyone I dated was disposable. I ghosted men left and right and when I wasn’t disappearing, I was rude, domineering and disrespectful. Kindness to men was weakness in my mind, so I wasn’t often kind. I was attractive enough to still get plenty of attention from men, which just blows my mind when I think back on it.
Q: What kind of mentality/negative beliefs do you feel were instilled in you from the women in your life as far as your relationships with men? The vast majority of women I deal with have been raised with this type of detrimental conditioning and they don't realize there's another side to marriage that people don't see. Can you explain in-depth how you were raised with this mindset?
A: The main influences in my life growing up were my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my aunt and my mother. In every case except for that of my great-grandmother, the underlying narrative was that the men in their lives, even the good ones who they stayed married to, weren’t people who were deserving of trust.
No married adult woman in my childhood ever spoke well of her husband. In truth, the thought was that women were better than men while also continuously being held back and held down by men.
My mother was a very beautiful woman and she used that to her advantage. She would use men and lead them on to get things that she wanted. Men were there to be used as a resource as much as anything else. Any female friends my mother had were women who had been divorced or separated and whose exes didn’t take care of their children.
There wasn’t really a solid example anywhere of a healthy male/female relationship.
Q: What were your thoughts on marriage before you got married? How has that changed over the years?
A: My plan was to never marry. I didn’t see the benefit of marriage and, in fact, considered it to be a dangerous choice for a woman to make. Marriage was always touted as being nothing more than a “piece of paper” by the adults in my life and I was taught that a relationship outside of the bounds of marriage was preferable to being “trapped” in an actual marriage.
The legality and sanctity of a marriage was never discussed. By some miracle, I decided to get married anyway when I met my husband, though my ideas about what my marriage was meant for were completely backwards. I thought that marriage was something that was meant to benefit me.
My husband was there to make me happy. If there came a time when I wasn’t happy, I would jump very quickly to suggesting that we split. I was ready to leave at any point. Unfortunately this didn’t really begin to change until after I got sick.
Q: You mentioned you became ill with cancer and you said "it took cancer for me to be able to trust my husband with my life" and he took a bit of a "beating" from you so to speak in terms of him staying loyal and honoring his marriage vows. This was so profound on so many levels. Can you please tell us more about that?
A: About a year and a half into our marriage I started having persistent pain in my leg. I was only 23 so I never imagined that it was anything serious but it turned out to be a very large bone tumor.
I had the first of what would end up being many surgeries. The very first surgery was really tough. A huge bone graft had to be taken from my hip so my entire left side from my hip down was a mess.
I was bed bound for weeks and couldn’t put any weight on my leg at all for 3 months. By that point, it was time for another surgery. I didn’t even take steps on that leg again until six months after my first surgery.
This was the time during which our marriage underwent a trial by fire. I was ready to move back in with my mom and leave my husband behind forever. I was absolutely horrified that suddenly he was my caretaker.
When we found out I was sick, I just assumed that of course, we would split. I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of having to depend on him for literally everything. He had to help me bathe, he had to make all my meals, he had to take care of me in ways that you never expect as newlyweds.
On top of that, my left leg was now mangled and there was talk of it being amputated completely. I hated every minute of it and when I wasn’t berating him, I would beg him to leave me because this was not what I wanted our marriage to look like.
Depending on him required a level of trust that I was uncomfortable with. I could barely get out of bed much less go outside. I could do nothing on my own. This was vulnerability in its purest form.
During that first year I would berate him for how he was doing things around the house, I would talk to him like he was stupid and I basically did everything in my power to make that time miserable for both of us.
He remained steady and just continued to take care of me. Almost a year after my first surgery, we discovered that my tumor had metastasized and that I had 37 nodules in my lungs. Things changed at this point. They say that there are no atheists in foxholes and I can confidently tell you that there are also no feminists.
Q: You mentioned there was a different side to marriage that you never knew about. Can you explain this "different side" and how it changed your views on marriage and how you now have the resolve to make your marriage work no matter what?
A: My husband was really the first example I had ever seen of what marital devotion and sacrifice really looks like, so once I finally accepted that I could trust him, I initially just tried to live up to his example.
I finally recognized that men weren’t, in fact, subhuman and that my husband deserved my best. It turned out that, no matter how hard I fought it, my husband really did want to take care of me and apparently, he saw a reason to believe that I wouldn’t be so wretched to live with forever.
Over time I realized that my marriage doesn’t exist to serve me according to my own terms. I also came to realize that I didn’t need to fight off my husband’s love. I was safe.
Realizing that I actually had to contribute something in my marriage was a huge change for me. I am here to take care of my husband and to work to make his life better. That’s not all I do, obviously. I’m not a robot wife. But my husband comes first and foremost in my life.
I never even entertained the idea that being married wasn’t all about me and my needs, wants and whims. It was a slap in the face to suddenly realize how selfish I was. Not only that, but refusing his care was also a form of selfishness.
I stopped suggesting divorce and resolved to never bring it up, even in the darkest moments. I stopped being a miserable shrew and decided to actually try out basic kindness, selflessness and a giving spirit.
I stopped trying to dominate my husband and worked to be more feminine. This was so, so extremely difficult after being raised the way I was. I still struggle with it. Being gentle, sweet and receptive doesn’t come naturally to me at all. It sounds silly but I actually used to watch old movies to teach myself how to behave like a proper woman instead of a masculine, bull headed, hateful excuse for a woman.
Q: How would you advise women in terms of trusting a man and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in receiving love and devotion from a man?
A: I think that the world is such nowadays that we tend to avoid discomfort at all costs. We hear a lot about men learning to be tough again, but we don’t hear much about that when it comes to women.
Women have gotten soft in that they have become too weak to embrace the vulnerable elements of femininity. What I mean is that there is no way to love and be loved without vulnerability. All love involves risk. This is incredibly scary. I know it is.
But life, if you’re really out there living it, involves pain. Don’t ever fall for the culture’s lie that you ought not to suffer. If you’re alive, suffering will come. I now firmly believe that the only way to love is to lean into it all the way.
When you find somebody who is worthy, and they’ll show you whether or not they are worthy remarkably early on if you keep your attention focused, the only way to proceed is with reckless abandon. When we open ourselves up to being loved by a man, we have to become vulnerable. We all want to be strong and unshakable, but true masculine love bounces off of brick.
Q: You've now been marriage 17 years which is wonderful so big congrats on that! What advice do you have for women overall in terms of marriage and what they can realistically look forward to in determining if a man is right for her and would make a good husband?
When I first met my husband, we started getting to know each other long distance for a couple months and then he told me he had to stop talking to me because his ex-girlfriend had come back into his life and he felt like he should give that a chance.
We lived an entire country apart at that time, so he absolutely could have kept talking to me while also getting back together with his girlfriend. I was so utterly shocked by his honesty that I wasn’t even mad. This was before smart phones or social media.
He made it clear early on that he really liked me so I knew he wasn’t just trying to find a reason to ghost me. It was completely unexpected. I calmly agreed, said I understood, and let him go. This wasn’t at all like me, so I honestly don’t know where this sanity came from.
Thankfully, things didn’t work out between them and then he contacted me again. I’m not sure that he would have wanted to continue to pursue me if I had acted crazy when he decided to take a step back and give his ex a chance.
When vetting a man for marriage, I know it’s smart to keep an eye out for the negative qualities but also keep an eye out for the positive. If we expect the worst, men will live up to that.
I never expected any man to have any virtue so I never noticed or cared when any of them did anything right. This one was different. Another thing that stood out to me when we were getting to know each other was that he was very honest about the fact that he was on the shorter side. He’s still taller than me, but was shorter than guys I would usually date.
This wasn’t something he told me in an apologetic way, it was just who he was and he was still plenty confident. Don’t overlook average men who are brimming with confidence. I don’t mean marry somebody who doesn’t take care of himself. Men and women both have a duty to each other to take care of themselves.
Don’t marry a good man who you can’t stand hoping he’ll change someday. He won’t. You can either accept for him for who he is, which is extremely important to men, or you need to let him go. My husband was just always going to be who he was and I could take it or leave it.
He wanted me, but he didn’t need me. If you manage to find a man who never or rarely complains, he is very likely worth your time. My husband never complains and I never realized how important that was until I got sick.
Lastly I’ll just say that the old cliche about how a man treats his mother is true, but I’ll add an extra stipulation. If a man treats his mother like garbage and doesn’t like children, he’s not the one. It doesn’t even matter if you never plan to have kids, if he hates children he’s not going to make a good husband.
Q: Finally, if there was anything you could change in your marriage in relation to your prior beliefs, what would it be? What would you have done differently? What was that precise moment where it just "clicked" and you knew you were in it for the long haul and you found the utmost fulfillment in your marriage?
A: The moment that things clicked for me was when I thought that there was a real chance that I might actually die.
We were driving home from the appointment where I had been told that my tumors had metastasized and treatment was about to get much harder. I was just weeping the whole drive home.
I know how cheesy this sounds, but there was a rainbow as we were driving. My husband pointed it out and said it was a sign that meant that I was going to be okay. Normally this would have made me so angry because his positivity through all of this often made me angry.
I just felt like he was being ridiculous and annoyingly positive about everything. He still took everything seriously, but he never let on that he was worried. In that moment with that silly rainbow comment, I realized that what he was doing was being strong.
He knew that he couldn’t show me any weakness because I needed him to hold me up. We both knew the score but he was the only one of us who was strong enough not to just lay down and accept it.
I was falling apart and my husband was strong enough to hold us both up, together. He never said that he thought I might die, he never showed that he was scared and, most importantly, he never needed to lean back on me for support. He was a rock.
I ask him about it now and he says that he was absolutely scared, but I never saw it back then. When I kept telling him I was leaving him he never lashed out at me for being unappreciative and awful. He just remained steady and kept taking care of me.
Now, I am fortunate enough to be able to take care of him and I’ll do it everyday for the rest of the days I have left. This sounds trite but caring for a family and a good husband is honestly a sacred gift and, by some miracle, I actually feel lucky to be able to do so, despite my previous hatred towards men.
I just wish that I hadn’t spent the first few years of our marriage and the years of our relationship before that being so awful to him.
Are you sobbing yet? I sure am.
I'm very grateful Hannah took time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. And thank you for tuning in for it and I hope you're able to take something very rare and valuable from it.
Marriage is what you want to make it. Don't let anyone stop you from loving deeply without apology and devoting your life to someone you care about. That's what marriage is all about.
Love and Many Blessings,
Questions or comments on this column? Have an advice question you'd like answered?
Write me: firstname.lastname@example.org