Jordan Linn Graham, 22, who stands accused of killing her new husband Cody Johnson, 25, by pushing him off a cliff 8 days after their marriage, had reportedly told friends she was having serious second thoughts about whether the two should have married at all.
Graham may or may not turn out to have a mental disorder. Some who knew her reportedly described her as oddly reserved and detached from others, including Mr. Johnson. Graham may or may not have deeply-seated and unconscious reasons why trying to be the man in her life could cast someone as a mortal enemy (which could be the case, for example, for a woman who was sexually abused by a man in the home where she grew up.) Graham may or may not turn out to be guilty of premeditated murder; the two were apparently arguing before she allegedly pushed him off the cliff (which may not turn out to be her clear intent). But this much is for sure: the misgivings Graham apparently felt about having gotten married are ones that many, many people experience, much more rarely speak about, and, thankfully, almost never spark tragedy.
Marriage is so suffocating for so many people that it makes millions of people wish they could hit “rewind” on their lives and step away from the altar.
The reason Jordan Linn Graham is now internationally newsworthy is because she accused of doing is something millions of people have fantasized about doing (and, thankfully, do not).
While “buyer’s remorse” visits people who bring home watches and sweaters and cars, but want to return them, it also visits people who return home as newlyweds and wish they could return their new spouses. Let’s call it “marriage misgiving.”
The more mundane reasons for marriage misgiving include fully realizing (only after vows are exchanged) that one’s freedom, socially and romantically, is now much more limited. They include intuiting that new responsibilities—perhaps for home ownership and for children—are now closer than ever. They include dwelling on a past romantic partner and wondering whether closing the door—forever—on that relationship really was wise. Only at the instant when years of dating or even years of being engaged turn into wedding bands, do many people actually consider the enormity of what they have agreed to. And, for many people, the weight of that reality makes them wish they had backed out.
Sometimes that feeling goes away in a week. Sometimes it goes away in a few months. But, sometimes, that feeling never goes away. Plenty of couples cancel weddings. Plenty divorce after a year. Plenty divorce after two years. And plenty of my patients have told me—ten and twenty years and thirty years after getting married—that they knew on their wedding day that they were making a “terrible mistake.”
Yet, they stayed. They stayed because, on balance, leaving their spouses seemed more painful than remaining with them. It either made them anxious or made them sad.
It may be that love in the context of marriage (an institution that is, in its current state, spiritually draining, psychologically suffocating and broken nearly beyond repair) amounts for a large percentage of people to this: I loved my spouse enough to suffer this journey alongside him (or her).
I wish I had better news ,but I would venture that right now in America there are millions of people who would agree that they wish they had not gotten married or had married someone else, and that they have felt that way for the entirety of their marriages—from Day One.
Were we to actually be honest enough to admit this, we might come up with a much better architecture in which to live with and love one another. But, instead, we perpetuate the myth that most people can live, in a one size fits all institution codified by volumes of state law, happily ever after. And that causes untold amounts of suffering.
If guilty, Jordan Linn Graham made the worst, most reprehensible, most tragic “decision” imaginable about how to avoid it.
Many millions in America need to find the right way to avoid it. It is a long overdue and deeply needed national discussion.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.