Learning to be open to the story that life holds for you

Editors’ note: The In Her Shoes column sheds light on personal experiences and perspectives in your life or the lives of women you may know. Marriage in the U.S. is less common and later for young Americans today than it was in previous generations. According to the U.S. Census, in 2018 the median age of first marriage for women was 27.8, compared to 23.9 in 1990. This edition of In Her Shoes interviews a woman who married later than she expected and desired. 

Name: Jacqueline Von Schleppenbach

Age: late forties

Her Story: Jacqueline married her husband Greg at the age of 44. They live on the East Coast with their dog, Beanie.

Marriage is a life event most girls dream about, and few women think when they start dating that their road to marriage may be years or decades long. Tell us a bit about your journey toward marriage: When did you meet your husband? How did you meet him? Was marrying later in life at all on your radar?

Ok, well I’m going to start with the last question first. Marrying later in life was absolutely not on my radar. I envisioned myself being married sometime before twenty-five, and having children right away, you know, being fifty and having grandchildren.

Instead, I was the last girl to get married in every single group in my life—high school, college, work friends, church friends, and so forth. If someone had told me when I was younger that I wouldn’t get married until forty-four, I’m not entirely sure what I would have done. I would have been utterly discouraged and uncertain that I could still have happiness and fulfillment in life.

I met my husband at the age of forty-two through mutual friends who knew both of us. He lived in the Midwest, I lived on the East coast, so we dated long distance. Neither of us had ever married before.

If you had told me in my twenties or thirties that at forty-four I’d marry a man as good and as wonderful as my husband, I wouldn’t have believed you. Greg is the type of guy I would have always wanted and desired but I wouldn’t have even asked for him because I didn’t think he existed. I sometimes tell other people, I wish there were more Greg Schleppenbachs, because then I could tell the wonderful single women I know—I have the perfect man for you. 

It's often said that timing is everything when it comes to love. Why was the timing of your meeting your husband and ultimate marriage right for you? What thoughts generally do you have for women who struggle when they hear things like, "It's all about timing"?

The funny thing is, the friends who set us up had known us both for years, and it had never occurred to them to set us up with each other until then. A handful of other close friends knew him, too. Everyone knew I was looking to get married, and no one ever thought of him for me prior to then.

One might think that would have been frustrating when they finally did suggest him, but in the larger scheme of my life, the timing of meeting Greg was perfect.

I had a lot of growing to do - and learning to accept that my life was actually perfect just the way it was. I was probably depressed and a little bit bitter that things in my love life didn’t pan out exactly as I had hoped, especially as I approached forty. I was more and more hopeless, mostly because I wanted to have kids. That despair led me down bad roads, like being open to relationships that were really bad for me. 

Discouragement is so difficult to overcome sometimes. What eventually drew you out of your despair?

We all are subject to our own worst thoughts and if we don’t have somebody or something that can help us with our perspective—like our friends and our faith, we can quite easily succumb to it.

As my single years went on, I was really open to things I shouldn’t have been open to. Eventually, I hit the bottom but thankfully, that led to a sense of surrender.

In that surrender, I no longer believed I was entitled to get married and to have everything it entailed. But I also surrendered more to an understanding that nothing on earth was worth feeling the sort of pain I was feeling in my singleness.

I began to embrace a few thoughts: I don’t need any more bad relationships; I especially don’t need any more unavailable men who are not willing to give their whole heart, or who don’t share my faith. There are worse things than not being married and being married to the wrong guy is among the very worst.

I didn’t care anymore if I got married because the peace that I felt in my heart was priceless—it gave me freedom to be happy in my friendships, in my work, and in my life as it was.

And that is a message I think all women wishing for marriage deserve to know and understand. Nothing is missing; you’re completely fine. You are loved—completely. I had always assumed that love would be given to me by a wonderful husband. And it is now, but I had to learn first to surrender to my life as it was - to accept that love through friends and family, my faith, and to grow in gratitude for all that I had been given already. 

When you were still single, what were the things family and friends said that were helpful to hear?

To be honest, there was a point when I almost felt like nothing was super helpful to hear. I had an internal struggle for peace for which I ultimately needed healing.

That said, my healing was accelerated when people validated me as a woman and a person. I think this is really important. Single women especially need to know they are wonderful with or without a man.

I’m also remembering a time an older man from work, a father-like figure, simply said to me once, “I am sure it must be frustrating.” It was frustrating to be dating with few healthy relationships and no marriage to show for it. His validation of that struggle helped me to appreciate that I was “a catch,” even if it wasn’t working out with a man yet.

What was unhelpful to hear from others?

“You’re such a catch.” While I appreciated the sentiment, I always found myself a bit frustrated; like, it’s great you think I’m a catch, but men I’m dating clearly don’t. That phrase reinforced toxic narratives in my head that, of course, I had to get over first.

The other thing that was unhelpful to hear was, “You just gotta get out there.” People said that often. “It’s a numbers game, you just have to get out there—online or socially or whatever.” While there might be some truth to that, I don’t know if really believe that. What really matters most is that you’re happy with yourself. If you’re not happy with yourself, no one’s going to make you happy. That message of “getting out there” only led to more insecurity for me, that I wasn’t doing enough or being enough to attract someone. The truth is, I had a lot of friends and a lot of opportunities to meet men. I wasn’t not “out there,” it just wasn’t my time yet. 

As women, we doubt ourselves a lot. And especially in dating, doubt can creep in—Is it something I'm doing? Is there more I could be doing? Will it ever work out for me? What helped you to overcome those doubts?

I think we’re all happier when we don’t focus on who’s paying attention to us. We’re happier when we’re not getting our validation from others. And that happiness attracts.

So, to the woman who is feeling stagnant in dating, or who is finding herself ruminating on those toxic thoughts that she’s not good enough, or that there are no good men left, etc: Be very reflective about what makes you happiest. Invest in those things—your family relationships, your love of hiking or bike rides or whatever. Decorate your home so that you’re happy to be there. Please, do your heart and mind a favor and banish the discouraging thoughts. They are not worth a second of your time!

Find friends who like to do the same things and live your life each day to the fullest doing the things you love the most. You’re alive right now, today’s the day.

Here at Verily, we love our Daily Doses—quotes or phrases that motivate or inspire us. Do you have a mantra or phrase that you love or live by?

“Be open to receive the love that is being given to you.”

Once I found peace in my single life, I was so afraid to rock the boat, so to speak, that I was somewhat closed to dating. A good friend said to me, “You don’t have to do anything, but you do need be open to the love being given to you.” And it was that mindset which really increased my gratitude - I noticed all the love and happiness already in my life and that allowed me to be open to Greg and his goodness toward me.