By Ayana Lage
I remember the disbelief on my best friend’s face when I told her I wanted to marry my boyfriend — and wanted to marry him SOON.
I was only 20 years old. She thought I’d lost my mind. “He’s your first real boyfriend,” she told me. “Are you sure about this?”
It was a good question. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. I’d always dreamt of love at first sight — meeting my soulmate in a romantic coffee shop, maybe. Instead, I met my now-husband when I was 15 years old and thought he was a bit nerdy. Little did I know.
Vagner Lage was one of the first people who knew about my crippling panic attacks. I remember messaging him on AOL Instant Messenger a few months after we became friends and telling him I sometimes felt confused about everything. That was the word I used, as I’d never had a professional diagnosis and “anxious” seemed a bit too real.
He listened. He told me to try to be brave. He asked if I’d tried reading my Bible. The advice wasn’t super helpful. What I needed more than a pep talk was medication and therapy, but he paid attention and tried to help. I didn’t know teenage boys could be so caring, and I realized I was starting to fall for him.
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2013 was a good year until it wasn’t. We'd been dating for two years.
By November, I was calling Vagner every night in a frenzy. The crippling panic attacks returned with a vengeance, and I quickly reached a point where I could not function normally.
“I met my now-husband when I was 15 years old and thought he was a bit nerdy. Little did I know.”
I won’t bore you with the details, but I ended up in the psych ward to get my life back together. Vagner visited every day. He held me as I cried and tried to convince me to eat, to listen to the doctors, to want to be better. I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life as his partner.
But as a 20-year-old college student, I didn’t know how we’d make that a reality. We were both in school, both dependent on our parents, both unsure what we would do for a living.
All I knew was that I needed him.
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Our wedding day last January was a dream. We had 160 of our favorite people at an art museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Most of our Napa Valley honeymoon was spent lazily daydreaming and drinking overpriced wine.
But not every moment of our marriage has been that way, despite the moments my Instagrams show.
Even when we were dating, I calmly let him know that he could do better than me. (This is coming from a girl who was 9 years old when I told my diary that no boy would ever marry me because I was so ugly. My shockingly low self-esteem scared a lot of people off. I only had one boyfriend before Vagner).
“Even when we were dating, I calmly let him know that he could do better than me.”
A few months before our wedding, I told him I was afraid he’d meet someone else. A year into marriage, I am still immobilized by insecurity. What if, what if, what if? What if he falls in love with someone prettier, someone funnier, someone more talented? What if he gets tired of all my problems?
And a thought almost as terrifying as the rest: What if he has to help me process my anxiety for the rest of his life?
Three months after the wedding, we got in an accident and totaled my car. We walked away without serious injuries but were left with a fair amount of debt from hospital bills. I started going to physical therapy to deal with back pain caused by the accident. We bought a new car; a month later, we found out its transmission was a goner.
Really, our first year of marriage was a comedy of errors in many ways. I sometimes wondered if we’d made a mistake in getting married so young. I cannot count how many times I wept, overwhelmed by how many things were going wrong.
But ultimately it was fun, because it’s impossible to be around the person you love and not have fun.
When I announced our engagement, I received scorn from friends and colleagues alike. One older coworker wished me luck on my “starter marriage.” Family members asked me to please consider waiting until I was in my late 20s or early 30s to settle down.
Getting married before you can rent a car seems wild. I get it. I don’t begrudge anyone who chooses differently — just extend the same courtesy to those of us who’ve decided to settle down early.
Ayana Lage works as a public relations specialist in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She's a journalism school graduate and has a soft spot for print media. When she's not writing, you may find her eating sushi, binge-watching “Criminal Minds” or spending time at church with her husband.