I was certainly disappointed to fail, but the bar exam is a notoriously tough exam that often requires multiple attempts for success. Still, I texted my family and friends, including X, to avoid verbalizing the news multiple times. A few short hours after I received the results, the family I was living with was hosting a gathering to watch a church conference. X was planning to attend, and I thought I would have the opportunity to commiserate with him. When he showed up to the gathering, he was unbothered and said nothing of the exam. He was uninterested in doing anything except watching the conference. I brushed it off and figured that either he didn’t want me to feel bad, or he was just keeping our commitment to limiting demonstrations of affection before we were married. I didn’t see that not showing affection could easily allow him to mask a lack of empathy.
I began outlining my plan to take the next bar exam while doing final preparations for the wedding. I was coordinating everything, but X said he wanted to be involved. Initially, I thought it was a good indicator of his willingness to work together and compromise. The further we got into planning, the more he became barrier. I can look back now and see that he just wanted some level of control over the process, but he didn’t compromise or contribute anything meaningful. My goal was to have a frugal, God-centered ceremony. I declined many of the elements that were must-haves for many brides. I spent time doing research to find quality, cost-effective options. My family also contributed greatly to my efforts. I thought X would be appreciative of the care I was taking in planning. Instead, he was critical, even going as far to accuse me of “making the wedding all about [me]” in an argument we had about some aspect of the wedding that I can’t even remember now.
A couple of weeks before the wedding, I was feeling very unsettled. X and I had several disagreements that left me hurt and confused. I certainly wanted to be married, but between talking with mentor couples and seeing marriages in my family end, I knew that it would not be easy. My mom asked me several times whether I saw red flags, but I honestly didn’t at the time. X never hit me, cursed at me, or even yelled. X consistently apologized for contributing to our disagreements. He would say that he wanted to love me like Christ loved the church and he was learning how to do that. I knew that I was not perfect and didn’t feel that I could hold his actions against him because I was also learning and growing through our relationship. Much of the counsel received from married couples focused on seeing the best in one another, so that’s what I tried to do. But I couldn’t shake the uneasiness.
I decided that getting married would be the most God-honoring thing to do, despite my misgivings.
By this point, while I knew that I wanted to get married, my ability to convince myself that things were fine was waning. I spoke with the woman I was staying with and told her that I wasn’t happy. She had been in small group with X for over a year and she had also witnessed and attempted to facilitate some of our disagreements. She asked whether I was getting cold feet. “I don’t think so,” I told her. I quickly pointed out that I know that “marriage is to make me holy, not happy.” She affirmed my line of thinking, and added that some of X’s “crankiness” was likely due to the fact that weren’t having sex and should go away once we get married. Her affirmation reinforced my spiritual bypassing- focusing on spirituality while ignoring legitimate concerns- and gave me the last boost I needed to walk down the aisle. I decided that getting married would be the most God-honoring thing to do, despite my misgivings.
The wedding proceeded as planned in Texas. The ceremony I curated featured songs highlighting the greatness of God. We ended the ceremony with our first kiss. We solidified the commitment by jumping the broom. Our family and friends celebrated with us and saw us off on our honeymoon and the start of our marriage in North Carolina.
Other than X’s insistence that we study the Bible together every day, I don’t remember much about the time between the wedding and the next bar exam. But, my journal entry from one month after the wedding gives some insight.
“Lord, did I make a mistake?? Why is it so hard for me to feel your love?? I felt it much more from my family. They love me unconditionally. They are patient, kind, and pleasant to be around. I feel your love in that. I don’t feel your love in this critical environment. I don’t feel your love when my husband constantly is accusing me, or rushing me, or cutting me off, or just plain difficult. I don’t feel your love… or is this how love is supposed to feel? But Paul says it’s patient, kind, slow to anger…not irritable… I need you to help me see why you have me here…or did I miss You in the first place? Did I force this? Did I rush this? Help me…”
The next thing I remember vividly is flying to Texas to take the bar exam at the end of July. When I checked my e-mail after finishing the last day of the exam, I saw an announcement for a post-graduate fellowship. It was my dream job, and it was in Austin, Texas. I tucked it away in my mental archives as I flew back to North Carolina. I was hoping that, with the stress of the bar exam gone, we would be able to focus on building the foundation for our marriage.
But, the critical environment continued. I attributed it to the stress stemming from both of our careers as I was awaiting bar results and he was nearing the end of the post-graduate fellowship that had taken him to North Carolina. “Marriage is hard, but it’s worth it,” was the affirmation I clung to as it got even harder to deny the reality of my situation. I was waiting in vain for the “worth it” part.
“Marriage is hard, but it’s worth it,” was the affirmation I clung to as it got even harder to deny the reality of my situation.
Several weeks later, I remembered seeing the application for my dream job. I talked it over with X, and we decided that it would be good for me to apply since I was taking the Texas bar exam and we had flexibility in terms of where we would live. I applied for the job and was invited to interview in Houston. I felt confident about the interview and was excited as I was heading back to North Carolina to await the decision. As I was heading to the airport the day after the interview, I received a phone call offering me the job! It was a fellowship and the start date was a year away, but I happily accepted the position and alerted my family and friends. A few minutes before I boarded the plane, I received word that I had failed the bar exam again.
The turmoil had me tossing and turning in bed that night. X asked what was wrong and I told him I was disappointed. “You just need to trust God,” he said in a dismissive tone as he turned his back to me. I immediately pointed out the lack of empathy in his response and was met with silence. The next day, I reiterated how inappropriate his response was. He would not hear it from me, so I scheduled a time to meet with our mentor couple to discuss it. It took almost two hours for him to even say that he could’ve responded better. I could tell he said that to try to appease the mentors, and that it was not at all genuine. They encouraged me to accept his “apology.”
My bar exam failure and X’s reaction had me reeling for several days. Before we were married, he would quickly try to mend things after a disagreement. This behavior was different and very jarring considering the magnitude of the circumstances. But, because I was committed to “believing the best” about my spouse, I used most of my time and mental energy trying to figure out how to move forward healthily because surely, things could not get worse. Three days later, Donald Trump was elected.