My First Marriage
“Hi! I’m Rachel and I’m… well, loud.
In a lot of ways, really. I talk too loud at restaurants. In fashion, I love a quirky statement earring and mixing patterns. I enjoy being the center of attention. And if I love you, I’m gonna love you louder than a stadium full of fans at the first post-covid sporting event.
Loving out loud is who I am. ‘For the mouth speaks out of abundance of the heart.’ It literally spills out of me so that I compulsively show my love in big, tangible, somewhat obnoxious ways. I just can’t help it.
When I fell in love at fifteen, I loved him loudly. I poured everything I had into being his girlfriend, then fiancé, then wife. His smile was my most important job. Anything and everything I could do to show him (and the whole world) that he was my favorite. And I didn’t have to think about it! I never woke up trying to brainstorm ways to show him I loved him. It was always so natural, so easy. I loved him and I couldn’t help myself from wanting to serve him, spoil him, and surprise him.
He, on the other hand… He was very quiet. A man of few, soft-spoken words who never raised his voice to me. A simple man whose closet consists of solid color polos and Georgia Football tees. He hates being the center of attention so much he would get nauseous at the idea. And he expressed his love as quietly as he did every other thing in his life.
In our 17 years, we had one conflict and it played like a broken record. I needed more. More attention. More affection, expression, thought. More concern. More effort, action. Just MORE.
Every time, he asked me: ‘What can I do to show you I love you?’ I hated that question. How could he not know? How can you love someone as much as you say you do and need to be told how to show it? I could never really understand it. But I continued to love loudly… and quietly cried myself to sleep at night feeling unseen and unappreciated.
Walking Away From My Marriage
After ten years of marriage, I began therapy for myself. It was April of 2018, and I had just turned thirty. I didn’t know why I was so broken, but I knew I needed help. Most noticeably, our children were suffering greatly, and I was desperate to fix the strain it was causing them. Moms cannot pour from an empty well. Still, I was terrified to be vulnerable. As I talked to my therapist, Emily, I began to unpack so much bitterness. I told her once that if he left for a month, I wouldn’t even notice because he didn’t contribute anything to my life. With that painful realization, I kind of checked out. It was obvious he would never fulfill my desires and I started looking for other things to compensate – my career, a new car, a new house, traveling, social media. But it didn’t work. At the end of the day, the one person I wanted attention from didn’t know how to love me. And he certainly wasn’t trying.
So after almost twelve years of marriage, I walked away in the Fall of 2019. I was numb; indifferent. I had nothing left to give.
I could fill pages and pages with text of my first love story, but that’s not the reason I’m writing. Those chapters of my life served as the catalyst to where I am now. I left my marriage with absolutely no intention of being single. After all, if I had enjoyed not being shown affection, I could’ve stayed married. Would’ve been a heck of a lot more convenient!
Love After Divorce
On November 26, 2019, I met a guy at the gym. He had been crushing on me for a while and finally found an open opportunity to overwork his calf muscles near where I was stretching. If I’m being honest, he was not my type. At all. But I had promised myself I would get to know people and say yes to dinner with anyone who didn’t throw up any red flags. His interest in me was non-threatening. I could easily go out with this guy for market research and not develop any feelings for him otherwise. After a few days of Instagram messages, I agreed to a non-date, a TBD, dinner just to hang out. Super casual, as I had plans with some other guys later that weekend.
It didn’t take the whole plate of fried pickles for me to realize what a special person he is. I’m not going to lie and call some love at first sight bull. But I knew immediately that I didn’t want anyone else to have a shot before I could really get to know him. On December 2nd, after knowing each other for ONE WEEK, he asked me: ‘How soon is too soon to go away to the mountains?’
Y’all. That’s bonkers! But it felt exactly right.
On December 27th, we took the mountain trip. Just the two of us in a remote cabin with no cell signal or wi-fi. We said ‘I love you’ for the first time and he asked me to be his girlfriend under the stars on Brown Mountain Beach.
I can’t say I haven’t looked back since. For the first couple of months, I really struggled with the perception of our relationship.
1) Everyone was going to think I left my husband for him.
2) It was all happening really fast.
3) I didn’t go out with anyone else, so how could I know he’s the one?
Not to mention, seventeen years of feeling indifference created a whole lot of damage. Why would he want me? My first love didn’t feel too excited about me so why is this guy pretending to want me? What’s the catch? Does he just want sex? Is this some game? He’s younger than me… why can’t he get someone his own age? I came into this relationship so very broken and empty. To be honest, I probably wasn’t emotionally ready to start dating.
But here we are. It’s almost been a whole year since I met my last love. The way in which he expresses his love for me is extraordinary. I hoped and believed I would find someone to love me with some volume, and I have been blown away.
He shows his concern for me in the simplest of ways. When he chooses to tackle chores side by side instead of divide and conquer because he knows I want to be close to him. When he plates my takeout hibachi on a giant chip and dip platter because I don’t like my food to touch. When he won’t leave my side when I’m sad and plays random songs until I sing along.
He serves me in grand ways, too. Like when I was freaking out about needing to sweep and mop and clean my kid’s rooms before we left to go out-of-town, yet he had already gone to my apartment and did it for me. Or when he went to my place while I was at work for some leftovers and decided to send the babysitter home and just hang out with my kids for a few hours until I got home. This man is beyond special and I am still in shock that I found him so quickly.
Receiving The Love I Deserve
The seventeen years of my first love story slowly chipped away at who I was. I was too loud. I was too big to fit. And so, I had to make myself small. I gave up hobbies and interests and activities I wanted to do because they were out of his comfort zone. I asked repeatedly for my ex to take me camping, go hiking, ride a four-wheeler, zipline, kayak, go to a theme park? Nothing. Nothing ever. We had our fun, but it was always within his realm of comfort. Rachel became merely an extension of him, and I could hardly recognize her.
Moving on, my biggest desire was to find someone who didn’t need me to be small. Someone whose energy matched mine. A man who could be loud and full of adventure. I wanted a partner. For all of life – the work, the rest, the adventure.
Just two weeks after meeting my last love, he took me on a buggy ride after I told him my ex never would. I had never been mud-bogging in my life. To be honest, it was actually a little out of my comfort zone. We ended the ride playing in the mud – after he turned over the four- wheeler and had to catch it from landing on us. That was the first of many adventures we’ve enjoyed this past year. We’ve camped, hiked, kayaked, and paddle boarded. He’s taught me how to shoot and took me hunting. Honestly, not activities I would seek out on my own but watching him do his favorite things is so rewarding.
On October 21st, he asked me to find a night we’d get to spend together when we’d both be off the next day. It took some finagling, but I worked out a sitter for whatever he had planned. He told me I would probably cry, and all my friends guessed it was going to be the most romantic breakup in history. A whole month later, our secret night had arrived and thankfully, my friends were wrong.
I went to his house after work and walked in the door to a glass of wine poured for me, warm clothes laid out on the bed, and the love of the rest of my life looking at me with the proudest, goofiest grin. He guided me out to the backyard where he had set up a popup tent lined with string lights. Under the tent was an air mattress topped with every pillow he owns and his whole giant TV hooked up ready to watch some movies. He had spent the afternoon chopping wood and had a fire burning with a couple of chairs ready for some stargazing. It was the most thoughtful, most effort-filled evening and it was all planned just for me.
This man has not stopped surprising me with thoughtfulness. I used to cry myself to sleep at night wondering if I would ever feel loved. I still cry at night… a lot. Now it’s tears of sheer joy and bewilderment that I finally got what I craved for so long. Nights without him are painful. I want him all the time – to share life with, to unwind my day with, and to create our future with.
I texted him a few days ago and told him he was the greatest happenstance of my life. He was quick to tell me no. We were not happenstance: he pursued me.
And he hasn’t stopped.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Janae of Aiken, South Carolina. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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