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Dear Loveawake: When I was 20 I was proposed to by my husband (we've now been married 25 years). During that time, my parents were having a horrible time together and there was always tension in the home. My father wasn't faithful to my mother, and yet he was extremely charismatic, a real "people person" and had a great sense of humor. He was his best self in public but behind closed doors he was verbally abusive to my sweet mother. She was never good enough for him. They are now divorced.

woman standing in front of assorted lamps

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At 20, I was not really "in love" although I loved "Don." He was and is, the complete opposite of my own father. He is kind, loyal, 100% honest in all of his dealings, humble, and all 6 of our children absolutely adore him. He couldn't be a better father. He is deeply spiritual, although he is more on the serious side. We don't really laugh much together.

The fact that we didn't laugh much bothered me when we were engaged. I have always felt that laughter is very important. But when I was engaged I felt foolish for thinking that was important. But I soon found myself actually NEEDING to laugh in many situations and I really wish Don and I could. I'm not sure how to develop this wonderful quality with him, but when I get together with my siblings and friends, sometimes we laugh so hard it almost hurts!

Going back to my reason for writing--the night before our wedding, I had serious doubts. I knew deep inside that I was marrying "Don" for safety. I knew he would never leave me or cheat on me, as my own father had done. I knew it wasn't a good reason to marry though, and I felt overwhelmingly scared. I was so nervous and sick that I just laid down on my bed and wanted to cry. I didn't feel I could get out of it at that point...just a few hours before our big wedding. After all, I did love Don. He has such a good heart.

However, my soul mate was across the ocean on a mission for our church. He would return in 18 months. This was the man who I loved all throughout high school and college, the man who made me laugh and whom I greatly admired. He wrote his first motivational book when we were best friends (he was only 18) and he wrote such a beautiful chapter about me. We sang together for assemblies as student body officers. We talked until 3 AM about our dreams and goals in life. We had never even kissed, but we were the very best of friends. "Richard" was just like my father in the way that he could connect with people, and yet there was something inside that scared me about that. Would he be faithful? I wanted to wait until Richard returned home. But I didn't. I felt pushed by my father to marry Don and the little girl inside of me still wanted to please him. My mother adored him too and told me he was a "gift to me from God." But I was actually immobilized on the bed all night. I married Don the next morning, bright and early. Everyone was so happy for us. But I couldn't stop thinking about Richard.

I live in California now, but I have bumped into Richard twice in our hometown of Nevada in 25 years. He has written many books and he gives motivational speeches around the country to teenagers. Richard is financially independent and very happily married. He is a super hero to my kids, as they have been to church camps where he has been one of the speakers and he is just so ALIVE with joy and energy and love! He and his wife have tons of friends all around the world because of his travels and involvement with teenagers and reaching out to people. Richard and I have a special friendship that says, "We're both happily married with great kids and I love you as a friend." The second time I saw Richard I was with some of my kids. He told us that he had always hoped to marry me, and that on the eve of my wedding, he was on his knees, across the ocean, praying that I would make the right decision. He told our children that he was so glad that we both were happy and ended up with such great companions. He truly is happy. I love his wife. They both just radiate joy.

I guess it's a hard, cold fact that I indeed may have made a mistake at my young age and there is simply nothing I can do at this point. I miss Richard. I find myself thinking about him when I am driving alone or cleaning the house and I begin to feel very lonely. I know it is WRONG. I feel I am betraying my husband merely by thinking this way. I do exercises to snap myself out of this way of thinking. But Don and I have really struggled to make our marriage work. It hasn't come very naturally. He is 10 years older than me and quite set in his ways although he is truly a nice person. I just miss the laughter, the spontaneity, the compete feeling of not having to TRY SO HARD every day. Why should marriage feel like a long dry marathon instead of a dance?

I am grateful that I have wonderful children and a nice husband. But with all my heart I would love to feel like a soul mate to my husband and have it come as easily as it did with Richard. I have recently read "I love you Ronnie" by Nancy Reagan and I cried the whole way through. What a dream to have a love like that.

Dr. Ellen, is it too late for me? Or is it truly possible to have a love with Don as wonderful as it would have been with Richard? My husband is not a "people person" and doesn't like it when we have socials at our home. He is a very busy lawyer and just wants to be able to unwind when he gets home. I truly understand how he feels. But I have always wanted to "make a difference" as a connected husband and wife in the lives of others.

I know I cannot try and change Don's personality. That's not fair. I made a decision 25 years ago and now I must and will live with it. I'm just so sad sometimes. My sisters all married outgoing men with a great sense of humor and it's so neat to see their love just shining through so naturally to each other. For Don and I it many times feels like an effort or a "performance."

I can't go back in time. What would you do if you were me? Honestly, I really want to solve this once and for all. I do want Don and I to be truly happy soul mates. I want to be able to laugh things off that we normally fight about, and I would like to be able to reach out to others and make a difference as well. My heart aches for true love. (And I'm done with thinking about Richard...it hurts too much!) - Charlene

Dear Charlene: I don't think you made a mistake. I think you married the man you were supposed to marry. I know a few motivational speakers and I can tell you with absolute certainty that every one of them love being the center of attention and life does revolve around them. They are extremely egotistical. You may not think so, but he had no business telling your children that he hoped to marry you and that on the eve of your wedding, he was on his knees, across the ocean, praying that you would make the right decision. That was poor judgment on his part, as far as I am concerned. I don't think he's told his children that and your children certainly didn't need to hear that either.

I know that you have created a fantasy of what your life could have been like, living with this man instead of your husband. But, that's all it is, a fantasy to make up for what is lacking in your own marriage. You have been telling this "lost love" story to yourself, over and over, for so long, that you honestly believe it. The truth was that even at 20, you knew deep down that this man had the potential to hurt and disappoint you. I didn't hear you say that he proposed marriage to you. He just didn't want you to get married to someone else. If he had been your knight in shinning armor and soul mate, he would have written or called and said, "Please don't get married, because I love you and want to marry you when I return. I don't think you would have married your husband if you had known that Richard was serious about having a future with you.

You asked me if it is truly possible to have a love with Don as wonderful as it would have been with Richard? I don't think your life with Richard would have been that wonderful. The price you would have paid would have been too high. The connection and laughter would have had to fit into his schedule. When a man has worked hard to become, as you put it "financially independent" and has "friends all around the world because of his travels," his wife and children have had to make quite a few sacrifices. Behind their smiles and seemingly perfect life, is a lot of disappointment and hurt because of all the family events and celebrations he wasn't able to attend. If you asked his wife which she preferred, I'm sure she would have chosen a husband who came home to unwind every night and was there every weekend. If you asked his children, whom they preferred, a successful dad who travels around the world, or a dad who is in the next room and attending every soccer game, I think you know what their answer would be.

There is not a doubt in my mind that if something happened to Don and you had a second chance with Richard, later in your life, you would finally see that this wonderful husband with the big heart, who the kids adore, has really been the love of your life all along. - Loveawake

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