“Marrying Nate three years ago was a huge mistake,” said Abby, 32, a first-grade teacher in a Minneapolis suburb. “I should have listened to my head, not my heart. About six months after he and I started dating, we decided we needed a break from each other to think things over. During this month apart I made up my mind to split up with him. I realized that I’d gotten together with Nate out of pity. That’s because on our third date he told me he’d been diagnosed with leukemia two years earlier and had undergone radiation, chemo, hair loss, the whole bit. The disease was in remission by then but could easily recur. Somehow, knowing Nate could die gave our romance an incredible urgency.
“But that didn’t stop us from fighting all the time. Basically, we’re just really different. I’m from a huge, close-knit family, while Nate’s the only child of divorced parents. His dad, whom he hasn’t seen for years, was an angry alcoholic who criticized everything Nate did. Maybe that’s why Nate yells so much. I was taken aback when he started mouthing off at family functions, even at my extended family’s annual Labor Day picnic. Thinking about that during our break, I decided that Nate had no clue how to be a good husband or father, and I couldn’t marry a guy like that. Then there was the other stuff I didn’t like: the fact that he was a workaholic and that when he wasn’t working he was always ‘out with the guys.’
“Anyway, I was prepared to tell Nate it was over, but I never got the chance. The day before our trial separation was set to end, he called me from the hospital with devastating news: His cancer had returned and was very advanced. The doctors didn’t even want him to drive home. I started crying and went right over to pick him up.
“When we got back to his house, we sat in the kitchen trying to make sense of it all. He told me he’d planned to propose. He said he’d missed me terribly and would do anything to make our relationship work. I felt so horribly sorry for him, with his life hanging in the balance, that I blurted out that we should get married. And I meant it. He’d need someone to care for him after he got the last-resort treatment for his disease, a complicated procedure involving a stem-cell transplant that, if successful, would boost his immune system and help him beat the cancer. The odds were not good, but I thought they’d be better if I could give him a reason to live. In the face of all this, my gripes seemed puny.”