After 20 Years Of Marriage, I Found True Love

What happened when I stopped fighting the tiger and let love in at long last.

found love after years of marriage Courtesy of the author.

December 28, 2022, was Elena's and my 20th wedding anniversary. I went to run the Harvard Stadium that morning with my sons, Cole and Seamus, and to a noon meeting to share my experience, strength and hope as it was also my 26th sober anniversary. Then Elena suggested spontaneously that we go see “The Life of Pi” at the American Repertoire Theater.  

It’s a story about a teenage boy, Pi, lost at sea in a boat with a fearsome Bengal tiger who has also found refuge aboard the lifeboat. The central tension of the story is Pi and the tiger learning to trust each other to survive.


The tigers come at night

For as long as I can remember, I have had a recurring nightmare about tigers on a leash. I am desperately holding on for fear that they will sprint into my house and savage my family. I began talking about it to my therapist six years ago — before, during, and after a major mental health crash. In my nightmares, I could never let go of the leash out of terror.


The acting in the play was amazing.  But the puppets and puppeteers were even more amazing. Like the Lion King only way better. The ART is such a small theater that we were right up close watching the tiger in the boat while a turtle swam by, and a school of fish flashed blue in the water. I stared at this beauty in movement and color and was mesmerized.  

As I sat next to this gorgeous, warm-hearted woman who had put up with my sh*t, my keeping just a tiny bit of my emotional distance, for 20 years, something tiny — and huge — shifted.

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With voices soft as thunder

Watching this magnificent tiger fighting with Pi and ultimately both Pi and the tiger learning to trust each other, I finally realized I too could let my tigers off the leash. That in fact, as in the story, my Pi and my tiger were one and the same. I had been fighting myself the whole time.  


Holding Elena’s hand, I realized that I need not protect my heart anymore. I could trust her completely. I didn’t need to run from intimacy anymore. 

The dream shifts and feels like home

We went to dinner after the theater at our favorite Italian restaurant, Sorellina, and sat at the bar. The bartender gave us extra special service and an anniversary dessert. My parents picked up the tab all the way from Maine.

We laughed and hugged. The bartender took a picture in which we are both glowing. I felt like I was home. I could, finally, receive all the love she had been trying to give me all along. And love her back with my whole heart.

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Tom Matlack is a recovering venture capitalist with a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack helps men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.