Walking Wounded

Friday, September 03, 2010

Question

A year and a half ago, I was shot in the head during a robbery. Doctors did not think I would live. I survived, but the injury ruined the shape of my face and head. I have already had several surgeries to improve my appearance, but I don't know if I will ever be back to a state that I consider normal.

I have one friend who has stood with me throughout this ordeal. He is the kindest man I know. There was rarely a day that he did not come to the hospital to help me to keep my spirits up. He was there when I came out of my coma. My family has also been wonderful to me. But my friend has made this easier for them too because they knew they could rely on him.

He wants us to get married. I cannot honestly say that I am in love with him. But I do love him. He says that is enough for him. That he wants to make a life with me, a home together, and continue to care for me. We already spend as much time together as many married couples. We have our fights but we always make up. He has such a good heart. Why can't I fall in love with him? Everything in my head says this would be the logical thing to do. But my heart feels disappointment.

I don't want to be alone. My appearance frightens small children. Who else is going to want me? I have weakness on the opposite side from the injury, and there are still days when I am not able to do everything I want to do. If I had been born a hundred years ago, I might have rejoiced if my family found such a good husband for me! Do you think it is wrong to marry under these circumstances?

Answer

Your self-image may be the real problem here. I am not blaming you. After such a catastrophic accident, few of us would have the strength to go on living. Clearly, you are a survivor. But your sense of who you are and your ability to plan for the future has been severely impacted. Did you receive any trauma counseling after you were shot? Have you gotten (or needed) any treatment for depression or anxiety? I recommend some skilled counseling to help you to feel better about yourself and in more control over your own life.

You are correct when you say that you have to be realistic. Disabled people often wind up making hard choices so they can have the best quality of life possible, often in a social context where they don't get enough support. Are you able to go back to work or at least do some volunteering? Having a source of social interaction outside of your family and friend might bring some fresh air to this problem.

What is the rush about getting married? It seems like a big decision to make when you have so much going on health wise. Is your friend giving you an ultimatum to either marry him or forfeit his help? That kind of pressure sounds manipulative to me. Why is he willing to enter into a marriage that is not based on romantic love? Perhaps he has problems of his own that are not readily apparent. You probably can't give me all the relevant details in a short e-mail so, once again, why not find an objective mental-health professional who can help you to unpack all the factors that could influence your decision?

We don't live in a culture in which arranged marriages are the norm. Women are no longer chattel who get passed from their fathers to the care of a husband. Romantic love has become the new gold standard for a successful relationship. Given that 50% of marriages end in divorce, I'm not sure how history will judge that emotional  experiment. But I do know that women need to be sure of their own autonomy in order to form an equal partnership that is also romantic. Perhaps the fact that you feel so dependent on your friend has contributed to being unable to fall in love with him. This may seem impossible now, but I think until you have more of a social life and feel more empowered, you won't fall in love with anybody.

I would never suggest that you marry a man who was evil to you, no matter how much you loved him. There needs to be a balance between the heart and mind. Give yourself some more time, and see if some of these suggestions will help to shake things up and give you more information about what will make you the happiest. Don't marry somebody you will later resent. This will only wreck both of your lives and lead to perpetual bitterness.