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“I know marriage won’t solve my problems and that it can be really difficult,” I said to my therapist, “but I guess I also think it could be really healing for me, too.” My voice cracked with emotion as I completed the sentence.

“I do, too,” my therapist responded, without missing a beat. “I hope you find someone who will pick you up when you fall down.”

Relief washed over me instantly. Years of disappointment in dating and friends and family telling me my expectations were too high had created some pretty inaccurate narratives in my head. Every time I revealed an opinion about or my desire for marriage in therapy, I braced myself for a response from my therapist telling me I was wrong and the world was right.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a wife and mother. I believed in that dream so deeply that I went into college certain I’d meet a man there, be engaged by my senior year, and married shortly after graduation, much like my mother had. There were men in college, of course, but none were the right man for a lifetime commitment.

So, I graduated, without the engagement ring or a serious boyfriend, got a job, and wandered professionally for a good chunk of my twenties until I settled on a career I loved. Men came through my life during that time and being the optimistic soul I am, I was always hopeful and then always let down when, for whatever reason, the relationship ended.

As I cried through breakups or lonely, dateless seasons, well-meaning friends would remind me “I didn’t need a man,” “Loneliness exists in marriage, too,” and my least favorite adage ever “Marriage is hard.” Of course, my friends have been supportive, also, saying things like, “It’s got to be so hard to be let down so many times,” and, “I want you to find someone really great.” But my brain would focus on the negative, and over time those reminders that marriage or men are full of imperfections became louder.

Eventually, I felt I needed to qualify my desire for marriage, to make sure everyone knew I didn’t need it and I didn’t really care if it happened. Privately, my desire for marriage only grew more intense, especially as I felt more alone in it.

Marriage is hard and life is hard

As I settled into my thirties, life threw some pretty hefty professional and personal curveballs. I learned a rumor about me that threatened to ruin my career. A health condition that went into remission in childhood reared its ugly head, demanding a team of specialists and more appointments, needle pricks, and medications than I care to count.

Life was hard, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it made being alone even harder.

I’ve had good friends and my family support me through these challenges, listening to my fears and building me back up when I was down. Their loyalty has meant the world to me. But at the end of the day, lying in my bed, it was just me and my (mostly anxious) thoughts. What if I am the horrible professional that rumor says I am? What if my body never rebounds from this illness? Which situation demands more attention—my career or my health?

It’s hard not to spiral into an existential crisis when your career, which provides monetarily for your life, and your body, which allows you to work and live, are both on precarious grounds. Someone once pointed out that not being married while struggling has its benefits—namely, I could focus on my needs and not have to worry about another’s. Certainly, there were fatigued days when that fact was very welcomed. But there were more days when I longed for a middle of the night feeding for a child or a husband and children who needed dinner on the table because it would take the focus off my struggles and motivate me to focus where I was needed and mattered the most. And sometimes, I just wanted a hug or an arm around me on the couch at the end of the day.

Touch is healing

As it turns out, research supports my instinct that human touch, specifically from a spouse, could have a healing impact. An experiment which administered shocks to women in an MRI machine found that when women held the experimenter’s hand in anticipation of the pain, their anxiety diminished. When they held their husband’s hand, the decrease in anxiety was even more significant. More research tells us that cuddling, hugging, and other physical affection releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, that not only makes us feel more connected but also lowers blood pressure and makes us feel less stressed.

As the stress of my career and health piled up, I wanted people that I could lean into—actually draw closer to physically, even in silence—as a tangible reminder that no matter what happens with my work and my health, I’m loved, I’m safe, and there is one place I can be certain I matter.

Of course, my friends and family have gone to great lengths to show me I am loved, I am safe, and I do matter. But friends aren’t able to be there at 1 a.m. when you need some grounding, preferably in the form of human touch, to keep you from falling off the proverbial edge.

My career and my health both eventually stabilized. And it turns out I didn’t need a man (or a middle of the night cuddle session) to get me through. I survived an intense lonely season that I know will make loneliness in marriage more bearable. I’ve seen firsthand that life is hard, and I believe marriage will be hard, too. But in the crisis of recovering my career and health, I recovered something that was much more healing; I can know with the certainty of research and wisdom that my desire for marriage doesn’t need to be downplayed. It’s not only OK, but it’s also healthy to admit we need the affection of another person. And with that affirmation, I can finally rest a little easier each night, too.

Editors' Note: Dating Unscripted is a column in our Readers' Write section. Submit your own story here.

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