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On Criticism and Love


I spend a lot of time worrying that by writing this site I’m glamorizing marriage. (I worry less about glamorizing weddings because, hello, I’m pretty sure the wedding industry has that covered.) But I spend a lot of time writing about the ways that marriage can be a really positive force in our lives, and I worry that comes off as, “Marriage is the answer,” and I really, really don’t think that. I think *good* marriages can be wonderful and empowering, and there are not a lot of places for smart women to discuss that honestly. But h*ll, when I was single in my 20’s (and I was *very* single for four years running… which is rare in your early 20’s in New York City) I would have written you a novel about why being single was wonderful and empowering.

I worry because I hear really well intentioned things in the comments like, “All weddings are beautiful” and “All marriages are wonderful,” and in my experience that has not been true. One of my sassy and smart girl friends had a story of being a bridesmaid and telling the bride, “I have the keys to the car hidden in my bouquet. And if AT ANY POINT you decide you don’t want to go through with this, give me the high-sign and we are so out of here.” And yeah, I’ve been there. And yeah, marriages that start with the bridesmaid hiding the car keys in her bouquet often don’t end well. So I was more then ready to hear it when reader Charlotte contacted me wanting to write about when you should think about NOT getting married. About when you should listen to those who love you. About how to differentiate selfish b*tching from real concern. So, here is Charlotte. I know saying, “Sometimes you shouldn’t get married,” is a little explosive… but I think you guys can take it.

About a week ago I contacted Meg asking if she or somebody else could write an article about people who give the bride undue criticism about her partner that is neither welcome nor appreciated. I got to thinking over the weekend of apartment hunting about two grand philosophical questions that have been bugging me for YEARS. One, how do you tell somebody you love that you think they are making a mistake and two, how do you know when to listen and when to ignore the concern of people who love you? I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have volunteered my services to Meg because I am thinking that these questions are perhaps larger than their answer. One thing I love love love about APW is that is provides women of all different backgrounds, sexual preference, age, and religion a healthy forum to discuss their future marriages. Comments constantly repeat some of my favorite words: commitment, communication, love, and companionship. All things that make a wonderful marriage. However, I have been the unhappy member of several weddings where these things weren’t present.

Let me give some back-story here. Ten years ago my older sister was coming out of a REALLY bad relationship (drug addicted guy who stole her college money, and spent it all on stuff going up his nose) and met somebody she considered the man of her dreams. They dated for two weeks, got engaged, and three months later were married. This conveniently coincided with the expiration date for his green card. Sure he didn’t do drugs and he had a real job, but he constantly belittled her and made her feel bad about herself.  So there I was, biting my nails at the wedding while everybody else glowed with congratulations. I don’t know how many times my mom tapped me on the shoulder and told me to shut my mouth. After six years of insults, neglect, and cheating they divorced.

Another case in point, my younger sister. At 19 she thought it was a great idea to drop out of college and get married to a drug addicted, pathological liar. When I asked her at the time “just why are you doing this?” she came up with a lot of the reasons we all give for getting married “we’re in love”, “I want to commit my life to this person”, “He makes me a better person”. All perfectly credible reasons to get married, right? They divorced 7 months later.

I could go on and on with case studies here, I’ve got loads. There are certain similarities in my friends and family members who entered into bad marriages that they knew (yes, they did know it at the time, they just weren’t honest about it, you can ask them yourselves) were going to be bad.

  • Reluctance to be alone. My sisters could never, ever be single. By that I mean a consistent stream of boyfriends from the age of 13 until today with very short breaks. Not that this means you are codependent, but it can be really big read flag. It’s hard this day and age to be single. Particularly when our entire culture tells women through constant advertising that our worth is based on what men think of us. If no boys are into you, you must be worthless. Our culture also places enormous pressure on women to get married. Just check out the Supreme Court hearings. If you don’t get married you don’t fit the mold of what a woman’s life should be. No big day? No poofy dress? No perfect family?*
  • “I’m going to prove them wrong” syndrome. My friend Amy, (not her real name) dated a guy 24 years older than her who trafficked drugs throughout the Caribbean, stole, refused to wear a condom, and forgot her birthday. When I asked her why did you stay with him so long she said it was because she wanted to prove everybody wrong. So many people kept telling her he was bad news that she needed to stay with him long enough just to prove to herself and others that he was a good guy.
  • Really low self esteem. Let me just say my friend Amy is hot. Blond, blue eyed, perfect skin, tall, and she looks stunning in heels. And she is an amazing human being. All her friends know this. Everybody knows this, except Amy. Because Amy thought she wasn’t worth anything she dated guys who treated her badly and made her question her self worth.

SO how do we know when to listen to our concerned friends or family, and how do we tell people we love that we are concerned for them?

The latter has taken me A LOT of trial and error. With my older sister I tried screaming at her “JESUS CHRIST, HE JUST WANTS A GREEN CARD”. Yeah, that didn’t work. Neither did any of the repeated attempts of screaming and yelling. With the younger sister I tried to explain in a calm, concerned voice that dropping out of college to marry a drug addicted, high school drop out wasn’t a good idea, but again the conversation ended with me screaming “CAN’T YOU SEE HOW CODEPENDANT YOU ARE?!” That just made her even more determined to marry him.

My friend Amy finally gave me some really good advice on how to handle this when she said, “Charlotte, you have to realize there is nothing you can do except love your sisters and be there when they need you. You don’t have to support her decision, but you do have to support her”. She then said that if everybody didn’t keep telling her that her ex was a loser, she probably would have broken up with him a lot sooner. I don’t think this approach would have prevented my sisters from making their decisions, but it would have let them know that I love and care about them. Voice your concern once, and then be there when the person you love needs you. Our choices are our own, and at the end of the day, they aren’t really anybody else’s business.

As for how to listen when people voice there concerns… there I’ve got my hands tied a bit. I’d like to think we all have a little Jiminy Cricket on our shoulders that lets us know when we are doing something that is wrong for us. Seven years ago I fell madly in love with a guy who considered it his job to make me feel bad about myself. Even when he broke up with me by shouting over the phone “I wanted a partner, not a bulimic headcase” I thought he was the bees knees. Yet somehow, in the back of my head, Jiminy was there, telling me he was no good. So were all my friends. My roommate confessed years later that she spent many nights crying herself to sleep with worry for me. I didn’t listen to her, or anybody else. I should have though…

If everybody, or at least 75-ish% of your friends, are telling you this guy is no good, maybe you should listen. Also, if you are afraid of telling your friends certain things about your boyfriend because you are afraid they won’t like him (example, he lies all the time, he has an addiction problem, he’s not sure of his sexuality) maybe you should also double think this. Friends and family aren’t yelling at you just for the sake of it. If anything you should feel really, really loved when somebody who cares about you voices a concern, because there is a difference between judgment and concern. One is a projection of one’s own experiences and perception of what is culturally acceptable, and the other is love with a spoonful of advice. None of us like to hear that the guy we are head over heels in love with is a loser. I hated hearing my roommate tell me that just because my ex sung lead in an a cappella choir that that didn’t automatically make him a good boyfriend.

The next wedding I’m going to is my own. My roommate has met my fiancé and gave him her seal of approval. If she hadn’t, I would like to think that I would have processed what she had to say and come to my own conclusion. Easier said than done. Sebastien isn’t perfect, and neither am I. The important thing is he loves me for who I am where I am and where I am going. He also takes out the trash without me asking him to do it.

Again, I don’t have all the answers to what makes a happy marriage, and neither does anybody else. Deep down though, we all know if the person we are standing across from when we say our vows is good for us. And more than that, we have to try to realize criticism is not necessarily hate and that you have many people who love and care about you whether you marry this guy or not. And with that, I open this to discussion. Let the wisdom flow…

*Editors note: I maintain, however, that in big cities – at least in more creative circles – this is *less* true (at least until 35 or 40). I could discuss possible reasons all day, and this is not the time or place. Suffice to say, I never felt pressure to get married, but I did feel a lot of pressure to explain why the h*ll I would get married, at a super young **29.**

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  • English Becca

    Oh wow, the “I’ll prove them wrong”. That’s the part of bad boy relationships that they never acknowledge – that deep down we just want to turn around and say “ha! I knew I was right!” That’s what kept me with a guy whose PTD, from his time serving in Bosnia, manifested as minor physical and major emotional abuse. My loved ones completely let me work it out, but I’m lucky that I managed to – from your story, so many people can stay caught up in the illusion of it all.

    Thanks for raising such a tricky but important subject.

  • http://localizing.wordpress.com Ceka

    I just wanted to put a plug in for To Be An Anchor in the Storm: A Guide for Family and Friends of the abused. It’s really helped me to understand the dynamics of abusive relationships and how best to support someone who is in the thick of it. I read most of it when I was worried sick over my sister marrying the wrong guy, and it really helped me to stay in her corner through the whole process.

    The main point of the book is that one of the cornerstones of abuse of ANY kind is getting the victim to doubt their own judgment and sense of reality. The more an abuser can do that, the easier it is to do awful, scary things and have the victim not realize that it’s abuse…because they have stopped trusting their own perceptions and started adopting the perceptions of the abuser.

    One of the most important things a friend or family member can do is shore up the victim’s sense that they are basically a smart, reasonable, person with decent judgment, because this makes it a lot easier for them to hold onto or regain their own sense of reality…which makes it easier for them to recognize abuse as abuse.

    I remember thinking that my sister would eventually need to get out, but that if I came across as a threat to the relationship, there was a possibility that she and her fiance together would decide that I was a threat to the relationship, and that she should avoid contact with me. So, as difficult as it was, I decided to just stay in her corner, and reinforce her own sense of judgment so that I’d still be there when and if she decided to get out and needed help.

    She ended up getting out before she got married, and when we talked about it later, she said that my behavior had been really helpful…but that I should maybe give her a heads up that I thought something was wrong if this ever happened again.

    • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

      Ceka, you’re a great sister.

    • http://hitchdied.wordpress.com HitchDied

      That sounds like an excellent book, I will have to read it. The point about judgment and sense of reality really hit home with me. Unfortunately, having seen close friends go through abusive relationships has made me second-guess my own judgment in my relationship with my fiance. Like it can be hard to trust my belief in the strength of our relationship when I have seen other people in the delusions of abusive relationships, even though I know that my fiance doesn’t treat me badly. It’s something we’ve had to talk about a lot.

    • http://thisisjacksonriley.blogspot.com Jackson Riley

      your story warmed my heart! go SISTER!

  • http://beautifulorpractical.blogspot.com/ Louba

    Just wanted to say what great advice on how to support your friends when you’re worried that things aren’t right or when things go wrong. My first marriage ended after 7 years, we’d been together for 14. My closest friends and family were the ones who didn’t judge, didn’t say I told you so and didn’t admit for a long time after that they had had any concerns. They were just there for me, they helped me clean my house to get it sold, lent me plants to make it look homely, took me out and made me laugh. But maybe most importantly they stopped me from being negative, even now if I have a moan about my ex my new partner will stop me and “say rememeber it wasn’t all bad” or ” you don’t really mean that”. Even though that might not be true for everyone friends do stop you from becoming a paranoid wreck.
    As for whether marriage is the right thing to do, if I’m honest I had doubts before I married. I thought they were nerves but they weren’t. I remember thinking just before the wedding that if he asked me now to marry him I didn’t know if I would say yes, I put it down to wedding stress and got on with it. What I think I have learned from my new partner is that you need to have the old fashioned stuff in place, respect, trust, kindness a healthy dose of passion. I was having a bit of a wobble after some friends split up and had said to my parnter what’s the point – there’s no hope for anyone because you never know what will happen. He totally shut that down with one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard – you don’t know what will happen but what you do know if that you value what you have and respect and love each other enough to work with what you have and deal what gets thrown at you. That was mising from my first marriage and I hope that what I now have is strong enough to stand any test.

  • http://sunshine-rainbows-and-zombie-unicorns.blogspot.com/ Tegan

    I feel like the “always knew in the back of your head thing” isn’t necessarily true. It’s human nature to try to make sense of things. Thus when looking at a relationship that ended badly, the faults (big or small) seem magnified. Since no one is perfect, everyone will be able to list faults of a person or relationship if need be to justify the decision made. (some faults being much, much larger than others….) That is, two couples (A and B) with the same fears in their heads can start out, and these fears may only be realized by couple A that breaks up after five years, while couple B made it work and grow old and die together, completely forgetting about the fears they had.

    It’s sort of like love vs. lust and love at first sight. If the initial encounter was positive and ended in marriage, the couple could say “it was love at first sight.” If the initial encounter was positive and it didn’t amount to anything, it becomes insignificant.

    This being said, yes, I agree marriage is not for everyone. Thank you for telling your story!

    • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

      Tegan. Brilliant. So true. We try to make sense of things and understand them. Sometimes the red flags in a relationship are overlooked as growing pains. Just like love and lust, it can be hard to decipher.

    • http://beautifulorpractical.blogspot.com/ Louba

      Totally agree, everyone is different and it is definitely true that following a break up things which you may otherwise have dismissed take on a different significant. I think the difference between the two scenarios might be the underlying respect and kindness that you have for one another.

    • meg

      I gotta say that I think it is pretty true. We’re talking *bad* relationships, not relationships that end…. The *bad* relationship I was in? I knew something was wrong, way back there. I just couldn’t admit it to myself. I think that’s pretty common.

      • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

        I agree. I also think that when you are in a relationship that is healthy, you really see those areas that you didn’t see in the unhealthy relationship because you see what good, healthy, loving really can be.

        • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

          I also feel that in good, healthy relationships, you’re more able to tackle the conflict/differences together *with* your partner because you know you’re ultimately on the same team and acknowledging that you have struggles isn’t a scary thing that could potentially upset the entire balance of the relationship. (At least that has been true for me…)

          • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

            Emphatic YES.

  • http://onecatperperson.blogspot.com Angie

    In addition to the “I’ll prove them wrong” is the “I can fix this person.” I suffered with that for three years. And I think your friend Amy is a smart gal giving you the advice of not pressing your concern too much. That can turn people off and make them want to prove you wrong.

    I’d also like to take a moment to recognize that your sisters and Amy, although they spent time in bad relationships, are not bad or stupid. I fear some people will offer criticism in their comments saying they should have left them or they were morons to choose to be in that relationship. While I believe in social responsibility, especially when it comes to being in love, when you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re not yourself. I wasn’t myself wither. I made excuses, I hid secrets, told lies and did whatever I could to pretend my relationship was not a failure. It’s effed up, but that’s how it goes.

    My mom still tells me to this day, “I thought you were smarter than that.” And it hurts. Hi, mom. I am smart. I’m responsible, I’m self-sufficient… but I wasn’t being myself. It’s hard to be yourself when someone is constantly putting you on a pedestal and then knocking it out from underneath you every day for three years.

    So I hope everyone is gentle with their words here when talking about Charolette’s sisters and her friend Amy. We don’t know these women. We don’t know their lives, so we cannot judge. (And yes, I’m a little biased because of the things I hear said about me when I talk about my own experience.) We can only be happy that they are out of those situations and that Charolette is marrying a person who loves her and shows her he loves her.

    • http://agorillalibrarian.blogspot.com/ Mejane

      Exactly. Angie, you’re so right that we need to be gentle with one another. I think that every time someone says something to the effect of “I thought you were smarter than that” it’s especially painful because we’ve already spent so much time saying these things to ourselves. At the end of an abusive relationship, this kind of criticism parallels our internal monologues in a really awful way.

      Abusive relationships are these incredibly insidious things and it’s often difficult to predict who will end up in one; we’ve all seen (or been) smart women in horrible relationships. It makes it extra scary because there’s so much uncertainty about who might get sucked into something awful. So I think when women use this particular brand of criticism it’s partly an attempt to vanquish some of the anxiety-producing ambiguity. “Oh, well, she’s stupid/naive/bad at life so she got into a shitty relationship” – that’s not such a scary narrative. It divides women into two categories: “stupid-and-at-risk” and “smart-and-safe.” This false division is both temporarily comforting and extraordinarily damaging.

    • Kim

      I constantly dated guys that “I could fix” back in my early twenties. Yes, my confidence was an issue. And yes, I knew these attractions wouldn’t last. I think I needed to experience the bad before I could learn enough to accept the good. The first time I dated a good guy, I couldn’t figure out how things worked – he didn’t mooch off me, he didn’t want to only see me when it was convenient for him, he didn’t drink. Strange!

      I’m so glad I learned that I could date a good guy, otherwise I don’t think I would have been ready to fall for the man I’m marrying in three weeks.

      I didn’t have people criticizing me, mostly because I didn’t let them in close enough to know what was up. But I did realize at some point that there must be a reason I kept going for these bad guys…here are a few books that helped me along the way:

      1. Women Who Love Too Much, by Robin Norwood – such an important, important book for those of us who “try to fix” others. I’m a critical person – I like things done a certain efficient and logical way (think Temperance Brennan from Fox’s “Bones”) – and I’d like to think this book taught me why I shouldn’t try to fix these guys…maybe I could, but I shouldn’t. It sucked the life out of me, it never made me feel good.

      2. Love Smart, by Dr. Phil McGraw – super cheesy, but helped me get over the idea that Mr. Right would be 100% perfect. No one is perfect.

      I’ve had friends who’ve dated bad guys. At some point, the light will switch on. Like Charlotte says, we should be concerned about our friends. But judgment gets us nowhere.

      Thanks for raising this issue – I bet we’ll all confront it at some point (friends, family, ourselves), so I appreciate that APW is taking on this topic. And Charlotte – thanks for being so brave to share your experience. Your bravery will help us all be better prepared for these complex situations. THANK YOU!!!

      • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ Sarah K.

        Excellent points. I gotta say, one thing that kind of stuck out to me was how confusing and conflicting this relationship business can be. We really shouldn’t try and fix people, and it leads to rough relationships, so theoretically we should find someone who actually IS good, not COULD BE good. But then we need to accept that no one is perfect (ah, Dr. Phil!), and accept the person that we are in a relationship with. So we need to find someone who is good as they are, someone we don’t need to fix– but we can’t have standards so high that they’re unattainable, and we can’t be seeking this perfect person.

        And goddamn, is that hard. Nice comment, Kim. :)

      • Lethe

        Another really good book on this subject is the classic “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie. I know, it sounds a little cheesy, and I feel like there’s so much stigma around that word now, but it’s such a clear, logical book that can really help you get to the bottom of why you’re attracted to problematic people over and over again (as lovers but also even as friends or in other important relationships). It’s very effective at helping you break through that “I feel like I’M the crazy one” feeling, and let go of feeling like you can only be close to people that you can “fix.” Highly recommended.

        • suzanna

          Yes! I second “Codependent No More”. And I am not a self-help person. But this book definitely opened my eyes to recognize some of my own bad habits (poor communication, etc.), and even better, let me look at my family with new eyes. Like, wow, yeah that explains a lot. Helped me not only give them more compassion, but simultaneously expect more from them and step away from the crazy.

          Super helpful book.

  • http://agirlsblogworld.blogspot.com/ agirl

    Of COURSE sometimes you shouldn’t get married. But yeah, even smart girls can do foolish things.

    I was engaged (briefly) once before I met my husband. I was stupidly young, it was my first ever long term relationship, and I was swept away by how sweet and loving the guy was. Thankfully, I came to my senses and ended the engagement pretty soon after it began, but I remained in the relationship (which I knew was doomed from pretty early on) purely because my parents and friends started giving me hell for being with the guy. When I finally got the strength to fully disengage from him, things turned hugely ugly, and while separating from him a couple years earlier might not have completely prevented that (because he turned out to be a bit of a nutter in the end), there would definitely have been less fallout.

    And yes, things can get a bit unrealistically romantic about the notion of marriage in the comments sometimes. So, excellent post Meg and Charlotte. I think this is something the APW community needed to hear.

  • MegsDad

    Charlotte

    Your comment that your “sisters could never, ever be single” jolted me into reexamining a comment by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who was murdered by the Nazis at the age of 39) that to be able to live in community, you have to be able to live alone. He was writing about religious communities; only now has it occurred to me to apply it to marriage.

    And men are deeply confused by women who marry such “impossible men.” Without being egotistical, a man knows when he is a better person, a better man, that these guys. Men’s judgments about other men are usually pretty accurate. So when a really good woman — like your friend Amy — chooses one of these losers, we do not know what to make of it. (Robert Graves once wrote a poem, “A Slice of Wedding Cake,” about this confusion: “Has God’s supply of tolerable husbands/Fallen, in fact, so low?”)

    • meg

      Mmmm….

      • andthebeautyis

        I have to strongly support the red flag of an inability to be single. I’ve had several friends who never seem to take time to be single after they’ve recovered from a break-up, and they inevitably have low self-esteem.
        I know everybody’s different, but I think it is very helpful to one future marriage to have spent some significant time enjoying your freedom, realizing how many people think you’re cute (sexy, even) and flirt-able.
        It’s sooo empowering, and still lets you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. So when you do find someone who makes you giddy and feels like home, you can compare with other decent candidates who just fell short.
        That’s not to mention focusing on your career/dreams, which is hard to do when you’re chasing after inattentive partners (or taking care of needy ones). And happily, good partners are more attracted to you when you’ve taken that time to work on your career.

        • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

          and really. how can you love someone else when you don’t know how to love yourself?

          and inability to be alone, to me, represents an inability to tolerate yourself. you need other people around to distract you, or to prove to you that you’re worth loving.

          • Erin

            I would disagree just a tiny bit here. I don’t think that everyone who is codependent or afraid to be alone is having trouble loving themselves (not that you said that everyone is, but you statement could be taken that way).

            I grew up being sexually and emotionally abused. I had almost no one in my life that I could count on or trust, no one who loved me. I was (and am) really bad at making friends. But somehow, I have always been good and creating and maintaining romantic relationships.

            I knew that I was a good and worthwhile person who deserved to be loved and respected, but if I was single, then there was literally no one who cared. Even a confident, strong person can’t make it very long without support of some kind.

            (Also, I chose pretty well in my partners, and while some of them were not for me in the long run, I luckily was never stuck with a real jerk.)

            All this is just to point out that you can love yourself and still be codependent .

          • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

            i wonder if we’re saying similar things, erin.

            i have a dear friend who was abused from the age of 10ish. and has bounced from relationship to relationship since. but in doing so, she relies on those relationships to care for her. she’s incapable of existing without them. then i wonder if there is a better support system we can erect. it’s horrible when your family betrays you- but building relationships with friends, being “alone” in being single, but surrounded by a community of friends- that can signify much more self-acceptance than a reliance on a thread of romances.

            your story makes me sad, and i hope you weren’t offended by my musing.

        • http://agorillalibrarian.blogspot.com/ Mejane

          “I understand what makes a woman think that any man is better than nothing. I’ll just never understand what makes a woman think she’s got nothing.”

          Oh, Sports Night.

          • Laura

            I “Exactly!”ed this, but I had to comment to say that seeing someone reference Sports Night (especially this quote) totally made my day. I watched the show when it was first on the air and fell in love with it then. I just recently introduced my husband to it, so now he’s addicted too.

    • http://www.littlegreenriver.com Karen R

      “Men’s judgments about other men are usually pretty accurate.”

      Eh… So long as the man in judgment doesn’t also have romantic feelings for the lady. Or a “No one is good enough for MY sister/daughter/etc” complex. :P

    • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

      “to be able to live in community, you have to able to live alone”. That is definitely one to ponder.
      You are of most value to your community when you are able to give and contribute rather than take and always be the recipient.
      Bonhoffer was a very smart man.

    • Alyssa

      Ooo, I don’t know. I think it definitely depends on the caliber and maturity of the man judging the other man’s behavior.

      I dated someone who didn’t do anything terrible, but he basically just wasn’t a good human being. So because he didn’t do anything terrible to me, just lots of little mean things, our mutual male friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t like to be around him. Because it was easier just to judge him on drinking buddy status than it was on whom he was as a person.
      It wasn’t until he actually started being a bad friend to them that they finally got the hint.

      But I am glad you mentioned men; most of the comments have been about other women weighing in and I really do think that it makes a difference coming from a male perspective.
      Honestly, my dad and my best friend are the two best men that I know in the world (until the Boy, of course,) but if that had told me that they didn’t like my husband, I would have given our relationship a second thought. But my other guy friends? Eh…

      • Emily

        This is such a good point, Alyssa, and I actually think it can be applied to the opinions of both male and female friends. Certain bad relationships don’t present themselves as bad to the outside world, especially in social contexts where people are on good behavior. It’s also true that negative relationships, those that bring out the worst in everyone involved, often have a complex psychology that isn’t immediately obvious to an outsider.

        The worst relationship of my life was with a man who was very gregarious and easy to get along with in social situations. Everyone loved him. But our relationship was a nightmare in which he constantly belittled me and toyed with my affection for me as a means of testing my commitment. In response, I became sullen, demanding, and “needy” (I put that in quotes because I’ve learned that sometimes neediness grows out of the fact that your partner doesn’t give you what you need; I’m not an inherently needy person but it took me some distance to figure that out).

        All of our mutual friends thought my ex was amazing and that I was acting unreasonable. It was only later, when I discussed the relationship with a handful of them, that they realized it was more complicated than that. Meanwhile, my close friends from outside of our social circle (people who rarely interacted with him) hated this guy and were constantly telling me what a terrible person he was. Because they never met the great, social side of my ex, all they saw was how he made me miserable.

        The truth was more complicated, but everyone thought they had it figured out. Ultimately, everyone was right (he *is* a great, fun person to hang out with, and he was also a terrible boyfriend to me) and everyone was wrong. Which is why, even when voicing your concerns (or even joy) about someone else’s relationship, you should always remember the fact that you can’t possibly know everything you need to know to make the decision. Only the person in the relationship can do that. You can offer your thoughts, express your support, and listen. But you must accept that your knowledge is limited and therefore your opinion can only inform, but not completely replace, the opinion of the person in the relationship.

        • Kashia

          I’ve been there. Oh man have I been there. And that was part of what made it so hard to end the relationship, because all of our friends and my friends and his friends were like “oh you’re sooo good together” “He’s such a good/fun/nice guy” And in public he was. And as a boyfriend, he wasn’t. But it makes you question your own ability to assess the situation even more if you are getting that from friends and then he is belittling you in private. And when I did break up with him, no one except my closest friends understood why, everyone else thought it was just so out of the blue because we were perfect and should get married. I knew, in the back of my mind I knew from the start he was bad for me…but it would have helped to have heard that from some of the people around me. But I know that now I do trust my own feelings about that kind of thing a lot more.

          Funny, most of my girl friends seem to have one really bad relationship, and then the next serious relationship they have turns out to be really good and they get married. Anyone else seen that pattern?

          • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

            Been there. With the one serious *bad* relationship I’ve had and now, after a good 3 years being single, am in the good, lasting relationship. So your theory was definitely true for me.

            I think that when, after a negative experience in a relationship, the person spends time figuring out themselves and what to do different next time. I also think that the mentality going into the next relationship plays a big part. I didn’t want to go through another horrendous breakup. So I took my time, and really considered if I could see myself with this guy forever…before we even officially started dating. It was serious for me, and for him. I feel like I learned so much from that * bad* relationship, I didn’t need to keep up the unhealthy pattern and keep dating guys that were wrong for me.

        • Tara

          Emily, I went through something very similar. The worst relationship I’ve been in thus far was with a man who my parents think is the best guy I’ve dated. They saw an attractive guy who was friendly, came from a good family, made good money, respected me and got along well with them, and loved me very much. What they didn’t see was that he wasn’t always around, he never really wanted to commit to me, except when it was convenient for him, he was never good at taking “NO” for an answer. To me, it was a really strange form of verbal abuse

      • ddayporter

        yep. I can see how it could be true that when men have a gut feeling that another man is bad news, that feeling is probably right. But I do not see that all men have great instincts when it comes to all other men. That whole “but he’s a great drinking buddy” argument is pretty common.

    • Arachna

      I’m not sure I get this.

      Are men just as deeply confused by good men that marry women who do not treat them well or aren’t a good match or have little to offer?

      Certainly I think that is at least as prevalent. Has the supply of awesome women fallen so low?

      • meg

        I don’t know. The men in my life are less likely to *marry* unstable women ( date around with, sure). But we teach women some f*cked up things culturally (like their power lies in getting the guy, and bad boys are hot). So I’ve know lots of women who wouldn’t date nice guys (boring, just friends, not hot). These women have gone on to hav disastrous marriages, in a way I have not see play out for men in my life.

        Worth thinking about, at least….

        • Arachna

          To be honest the men in my life are mostly not married yet.

          But I have a very good friend who is in a years long relationship with someone who’s probably a perfectly nice girl whom he very clearly does not love does not find interesting and who has zero self respect. I’m very willing to believe he treats her badly and that if I was her friend I’d be telling her to run because how can you treat someone really well if you are in a relationship with someone you don’t love? (He’s a good guy so I’m sure he’s not openly cruel or deliberately mean.)

          Its true that women get crappy messages from society but so do men. And so some men end up in a relationship were they don’t really want to spend much time with their SO and don’t realize that… that’s not okay/good/normal/happiness because she’s pretty and she treats them well but THAT IS NOT ENOUGH. They deserve someone they find interesting and stimulating and that poor girl deserves someone who will love her and think she’s interesting! Ugh.

          Men and women get different messages so I think women are more likely to marry someone they’re not attracted to and men are more likely to marry someone they are not interested in (mean physically and intellectually/conversationally/timewise respectively).

          Of course yelling “But you don’t love her!” is about as effective as yelling “But he doesn’t love you!”

        • Rachel

          True story, Meg! I kept trying to break up with my now-husband-then-boyfriend because I thought I would trample him with my strong personality. Turns out, I grew up and learned not to take advantage of how much he loves me by not doing things like asking a second time when he’s said no the first or giving him puppy eyes when I know he’ll say yes because he just loves me that much.

          I couldn’t be happier that Dan persisted. Turns out he’s a lot stronger than I gave him credit for because he did wonderful things like take me to the hospital when I was very ill and surprise me with flowers. I’m also a lot better of a person for learning when not to push, and it’s changed how I behave in my family and in my career.

          Let’s hear it for good guys who make GREAT husbands!

        • Sarabeth

          My experience is actually the opposite of this…my female friends have done pretty well by themselves, but some of my male friends have really ended up with women who I really don’t think are very good for them. I’m not on the inside of these relationships, but I think part of the issue is that, despite being pretty excellent people in almost every other way, these men are acculturated to think of their ideal wife as someone who is not actually an equal partner in the relationship…and then they end up with women they don’t really respect.

    • peanut

      I agree with the value of knowing how to be single; I was very very very happily single and independent for nearly 4 years in my early twenties and it shaped what kind of partner I am today. When we first got engaged, I got a ton of comments like “WOW! I always thought you would be the LAST to get married because, you know, you were always single!” I think it’s more like, I am able to be happy on my own, I have confidence in myself as an individual, and now I am ready to be happy with someone else – someone who I am with because I WANT to, not because I NEED to.

  • Mandy

    I’ve been there and said that. My take is you can state all the facts ma’am but mostly people don’t want to listen. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes people need to experience the hard stuff as part of their lifetime learning. So if your friend marries and later divorces, don’t say I told you so. Just understand that perhaps she had to experience the process. Hopefully, she will learn a lot during the time, or not.

  • Rachel

    When do you guys think you should NOT listen to someone’s warning or words of advice?

    • http://gradlearnlife.wordpress.com Jessica

      My immediate family is very very very religious. I am no longer that way.

      So when they give me warnings or words of advice that are based out of beliefs that I don’t share, then I feel free to disregard them. Because while their advice may work for them, it doesn’t hold much bearing on how I choose to live my life.
      Of course you do have to look carefully and make sure that they are not giving advice that can be separated from the religion, and vice versa.

      • Pamela

        And this works the other way too. My guy and I are both deeply in love with Jesus Christ, and so a lot of advice our loved ones who don’t have the relationship with Him just doesn’t work for us, whether this is daily life or wedding stuff. (I will explain Christian traditions in a program to help people, but I won’t omit any of it because it makes them uncomfortable any more than an atheist bride would put Christian elements in her wedding to please her relatives.)

    • http://sunshine-rainbows-and-zombie-unicorns.blogspot.com/ Tegan

      That’s a difficult question. It’s such a case by case answer, too. Here are some general rules of thumb:

      How many people are questioning the guy (or girl). Is it just your roommate, or do you have to defend him to just about everyone?

      What are their complaints? Is it because of something silly like race, or is it more substantial like lying and controlling?

      Has the partner EVER hit you or put you in dangerous situations? Physical abuse is a definite warning that you are not where you should be.

    • Laura

      When their criticism is based solely on the person’s race, religion, or ethnicity. Don’t listen to any of that.

    • http://engineerbaker.blogspot.com Caitlin

      I think you also have to bring up the topic of toxic friendships, not just toxic boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances, etc. There might be a friend you love, but you have to be honest enough with yourself that they might be opposing your relationship out of selfishness or something of the sort. While I’d love to say all of our friends have our best interests at heart, that’s not always the case. It’s a matter of having the strength to recognize that and decide that their opinion is fundamentally flawed for such-and-such reason.

      • ElfPuddle

        I agree, and I think that leads us back to “how many people have expressed concern?” If the only one complaining is one friend, it isn’t nearly as serious as your entire family and all of your friends.

        • andthebeautyis

          This one is hard, and yes, I think the first way to evaluate is how many people are concerned. After that, I think it depends what those concerns are. If it’s “well, he’s not as educated,” or “you’re out of his league” that’s ignorable because it’s a class-based judgment. But if it’s “he insults you,” “he doesn’t put any effort into being with you,” or “he seems to make you sad a lot,” those are worthy concerns.

          • Tsipa

            I have to disagree just slightly – I agree that purely class-based prejudices are probably not valid, but sometimes one comment can be masquerading as another. For example, I was in a pretty damaging relationship for two years, where I fell in love with this guy and none of my friends got it. Several of them told me that I was “out of his league,” and I thought that they were being too superficial and that they thought he was a little too funny-looking and a little too nerdy.

            Fast-forward to two years later, and I came to the realizations that a) he treated me like crap, and b), one of the reasons was because HE thought he was out of my league. I began to see what my friends meant – not that he wasn’t cute or smart or interesting enough, but that he had very low self-esteem and simply would not be anything other than miserable. My friends had also begun to point out that I seemed unhappy with him and that he made me cry a lot and that sort of thing – so they did get to the substantial comments – but it makes me wonder whether, if I had thought more fully through their original complaints about him, whether I could have avoided a lot of the mess. Probably not, since I was pretty besotted for some reason, but it makes me think that any concern a loved one voices should be listened to and weighed, even if you don’t decide that you agree.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      check their motivation.

      not sure if you’ve noticed, but um, girls can be catty sometimes? i’ve had a few friends who ALWAYS thought my boyfriends were “bad for me” because it meant that I wasn’t home watching gilmore girls reruns with them every night, talking about how much we hate men. tough noogies.

      • Alyssa

        Female cattiness is why I hung out with males for so long in college. It wasn’t until I was a bit older than I realize it wasn’t that all women were mean, just the ones I knew. :-)

        You are SO right on the motivations thing.
        If the friend that always has something mean to say about you or someone else, or is inconsiderate and selfish in general, then they’re probably not keeping your best interests at heart.
        But if your friend or family member who has always been there for you expresses concern, it might be something worth looking into.

        (and yeah, I know sane people can lose their mind sometimes and suddenly turn selfish, but it happens less than TV movies make you think it does.)

      • Emily

        This is great advice, and not just because women are sometimes catty.

        When people empathize, they draw on their own experiences. This can sometimes cloud our ability to evaluate someone else’s situation. I’ve learned the hard way that often people give advice based on either what they did (when it worked out) or what they wish they’d done (when it didn’t). That can be valuable information, but you have to know that the advice is coming from this place. Sometimes your situation is not the same as the advice-givers, and their advice is really more about her getting to a good place on her past choices than it is about you.

        Example: My sister got engaged after dating only three months. They were married four months later. A lot of people expressed concern about this to me, and the most concerned were people who rushed into relationship that fell apart. But in my sister’s case, she’d known her now-husband casually for years. They had a lot of mutual friends, so he quickly felt like family. And they shared a very strong commitment to their religious beliefs. So even though it wasn’t what I would have done, I was never worried about my sister’s decisions. They were right for her in the situation. This was an example of a time when there wasn’t much to be gained in listening to the concerned advice of friends, since those friends were thinking of their own experiences and not putting my sister’s choices in the proper context.

        • Ashley

          Wow. First of all, I have to say that I am seriously loving this comment conversation. It’s amazing. I don’t know where to leave my own comments! (I guess all over the place…)

          In response to questions about how seriously to take the advice of friends and family- this issue really hits home for me. It wasn’t until I *stopped* listening to all the noise coming from friends and family that I was finally able to accept my relationship as it is and move forward confidently with it into marriage. My friends and mother thrive on a diet of romantic comedies and fashion magazines (to the point of actually giving me advice that starts with, “remember that scene from “An Affair to Remember/Sex and the City/When Harry Met Sally/insert movie here?”) I have discovered that judgement can often masquerade as “advice.”

          Over time I have learned who in my life I can trust for legitimate advice and counsel that comes from love, experience, and a deeper-than-surface knowledge of my relationship and my heart.

          And on the flip side, I am super careful now about what I say to my friends and family about their own relationships. They are truly the only ones who know what happens behind closed doors. (Disclaimer- not talking here about abusive relationships. Been through that, too, and it’s a whole different animal.)

          • suzanna

            Yes! And the flip side of this: I’m careful about what I say about my boyfriend to my family. I love my family, but they can be quick to judge, quick to hang onto (and righteously over-emphasize) bad qualities of others, and hold onto misplaced grudges for FAR too long. I’ve seen that this has made life difficult for other in-laws (everybody’s judging them because of one fight that happened years ago). I’m not going to give them ammunition. They think my boyfriend is perfect, and so they are perfectly lovely to him. I’m totally happy about this, and want to keep it that way! Only my good, dear, sane friends get to hear about it when I have a hard time with him.

    • peanut

      I just wrote a comment at the bottom about this … when my close girlfriends first introduced me to their partners, I disliked the majority. I just didn’t like them, didn’t think they were the right guy, and I did have legitimate reasons (or so I thought): one was still married, the other had an anger management problem, etc. I voiced my concerns to my friends unabashedly, but always finished with “…but I will support you in whatever you decide”. Six months to a year after I met each and every one, my opinion changed 100% after I got to know them and saw that they truly loved and respected my friends. I was just being over-protective :)

      So I guess my advice would be that you shouldn’t listen to naysayers if they come to a snap judgement early on, and then refuse to get to know your partner and change their opinion (you know the type I’m talking about!).

    • Sarabeth

      What do this people think of the other relationships in your friendship group? Do you agree with their assessment of the relationships of other people you both know? If so, I’d take it more seriously. If not…yeah, I assume we all have at least one friend who is overskeptical of all relationships.

    • http://twentyfirstcenturynomad.blogspot.com Kortney

      I echo the other comments: don’t listen to anyone who’s “bad feelings” are based on your partner’s race or religion. Also, don’t listen to anyone who is too far from you to know you and your partner’s relationship.

      My bf and I are of different faiths and living overseas and some of the more religious in my family and circle of friends have made some pretty terrible comments regarding that particular dynamic of our relationship. But you know, I hadn’t seen any of them in years and none of them had even met my bf (and none of them had actually ever met a inter-faith either). I didn’t take their advice and have stopped talking to them–for the better because their constant nagging and negative comments brought me down to tears which made my bf cry too. And you know, no one who hurts our hearts in such a way is worth keeping around–family or not.

      Those sorts of people are making comments not for your sake or well being–they do so for their own peace of mind or personal agenda be it God or superiority or tradition or something else all together. I acknowledge that some of those people had good intentions but good intentions alone do not equate to responsibility. A good friend giving good advice or voicing a real concern will do so based on a solid understanding and knowledge of your relationship’s day-to-day temperature–not a one-off fight or gossip from afar.

  • http://christytylerphotography.blogspot.com Christy

    Wow. I really appreciate this morning’s post! Thanks for the honesty & a different take on things. As I was reading it I saw the 3-year relationship I had prior to meeting my husband flashing through my mind. Lots of belittling went on which resulted in a lot of self-doubt & me never leaving the relationship. It took him cheating on me 3 times and breaking up with me more times than I can ever count for me to (THANK GOD) finally realize this guy probably wasn’t for me! After breaking up I suddenly found out how many people in my life were apparently not fans of us dating… it was shocking to me! I also finally gave them all full disclosure of the things that occurred in our relationship (I think partly to stop myself from going back to him). Because what you said is so true — if you are hiding things from your loved ones that occur in your relationship — it’s probably not a good relationship to be in! EESH. Thankfully that guy broke up with me. Thankfully I was smart enough (finally) to not get back together with him for the millionth time. Thankfully I met my husband who is amazing.

    Whew. So ladies out there – and you know who you are (I knew it back then too!) – get out of your relationship if any of the things in Charlotte’s post sound even remotely like your life! It won’t be easy. You will be sad for a while. But when you move past it – you will feel better than you’ve ever felt. And you will finally realize your own worth & potential in life.

    That’s my PSA for today. lol

  • http://eyesopenfeetfirst.blogspot.com Suzanne

    This is a great post. I’ve been there, on the receiving end.

    I was engaged once before. And I knew – I knew I shouldn’t be. I loved him, he was my best friend for so many years, but it wasn’t right for a long term committed relationship. And that was even before his addiction took over. Then it became an issue of hoping to rescue someone I loved so much. And always thinking that it would work itself out, just give it time, just get through the crazy months, etc. Some people knew, most did not. It came as a surprise to many when things ended to hear about how he stole from me, lied to me, the things he was doing…those who knew though, were not surprised. And instead of saying “we told you so” they simply remained by my side and were there whenever I needed someone, whether it was for a laugh, to just sit in silence watching tv, or to help pick me up off the floor. Because even then, when I knew the split was for the best and that if it hadn’t happened then it would happen later — there was a piece of me (a rather large piece at first) that felt like a failure. Convinced that from the outside I looked like a failure, someone who was on the path to marriage only to be left alone with no idea which way was up.

    I can’t even begin to put into words how much love and respect I have for the friends who were there during and after. I don’t know how I would have made it. Telling me something was wrong while I was smack in the middle of it wasn’t going to do the trick, though I agreed inside my head. But I had to make it work – or so I thought. The fact that these women in my life were able to say these things calmly, then keep silent but stay by my side and then be there to hold me up after, was some of the most evident expressions of love I’ve ever experienced.

  • http://whenhoyametsaxa.blogspot.com/ Kathleen

    I always told myself, long before I met my fiance, that if either of my sisters ever expressed serious doubts about someone I was in a relationship with, I would listen. I would not necessarily break up with him on the spot, or do exactly what THEY thought I should do, but I would listen to their concerns and I would take time to re-evaluate our relationship, because, based on what I’ve seen in other people’s lives, sisters KNOW. They can see what you can’t – or what you can see, but are ignoring – and are often the only ones who will say something. Now, neither of my sisters has ever expressed any doubts about my fiance, and I don’t know that I would have taken my own advice if they had, once I was already head-over-heels for him, but that was the rule I set for myself: listen to your sisters. (One once asked if I ever worried that I was marrying my first “serious” boyfriend. She listened, approved of what she called a “good answer,” and never brought it up again.)

    • http://as-food-to-life.blogspot.com meredythbyrd

      same with me and my sisters! We have a pact, since this person will be part of our family now too. And I have concerns about the fact I’m considering marrying my first “serious” boyfriend too.

    • http://www.bearandhoney.net juliana

      I’d say this for brothers, too.
      My brother and I have very little in common, but we love each other and I respect his opinions. I was engaged once before to the wrong man for me. Back then, even before we were engaged, my brother used to ask a lot of questions about the guy and where I thought our relationship was going. I used to feel defensive and wondered why he gave a crap. Now I know that was his way of looking out for me without actually saying “I don’t approve of your relationship.”

      The day I saw him hanging out effortlessly with my boyfriend (now my fiance) and really enjoying his company, something solidified in my relationship. He didn’t have to say a word, but I just knew my big brother was OK with this guy and that meant the world to me.

      • http://whenhoyametsaxa.blogspot.com/ Kathleen

        Totally didn’t mean to discriminate against brothers – I’m sure they’re wonderful people who know lots about their siblings’ relationships! I just don’t have any, and my dad doesn’t have any, and my mom’s 1 brother is completely outnumbered by her 6 sisters, and my many cousins are mainly girls who, therefore, have many sisters and few brothers – and so in almost all of the situations where I’ve seen siblings know know/warn someone about a bad relationship, there were sisters involved.

        (I have very little concept of what brothers are like, or how one would have a relationship with them. My sisters are so important to me that, when I think about the fact that these come in a male variety, too, it kind of blows my mind. I guess I try to imagine relating to my sister as if they were boys? Or relating to boys as if they were my sisters? It just doesn’t jive and I can’t figure out how brothers would work! I think about it a lot. Is that weird?)

        • http://www.bearandhoney.net juliana

          I didn’t mean to sound criticizing that you were focusing on sisters! I just wanted to throw in brothers, too, because I don’t have sisters.

          I think relationships with siblings are valuable, complicated, and wonderful in their own ways, regardless of them being brothers or sisters. :)

        • http://www.bearandhoney.net juliana

          Also I don’t think that’s weird to think about at all. :P

  • Laura

    I’m a second time bride. My first husband was a brilliant, often charming, horrible horrible person. He was verbally abusive, jealous of my successes, constantly suspicious of my friends and family, and generally just a bad person. My best guy friend barely tolerated him, but of course I assumed he was just jealous and ignored him. My family didn’t like him either, and told me I was too young to be getting married (I was 22 when we got married after an 18 month engagement). I thought they were treating me like a child, and I ignored them. Even his own deeply dysfunctional family seemed against the marriage, causing major blowout drama (we’re talking about weeks of the silent treatment followed by screaming matches) over things like corsages and the fact that I refused to change my name. We ignored them too.
    Looking back, I truly don’t think there was one thing that anyone could have said that my stubborn 22 year old self would have listened to. Not a thing. I had to come to the conclusion on my own that I had made a giant mistake. I figured it out about 7 months into the marriage. We were divorced in less than a year. I’m 36 now and much, much happier.
    Point is, you may tell your friend/sister/whoever that she is making a mistake. You can tell her all you want. Chances are, she won’t listen. And that’s ok. Eventually she might figure out that you were right and turn things around. Best thing to do it be there when she does.

  • Joyful Girl

    A guy I was with for 6 years was widely disliked by my friends and family. The trap I fell into was the “But you don’t know him when we’re alone” or “He’s different one on one.” It took me six years, 1000’s of lies, verbal and emotional abuse, stolen money, and him finding out he loves to snort things up his nose for me to realize that my friends and family were right all along. In the end, it didn’t matter what they said…I absolutely had to figure it out for myself. And while it took a long time, and unfortunately alienated many people from my life, I did eventually realize that the bad outweighed the good, and that the love from those around me mattered more than his.

    Since the time our relationship ended, I have taken a different approach when I feel my friends are making a big mistake. I used to yell, cry, fight. But now, I have found that speaking your mind, then supporting the person (not the decision) works the best. The people that I alienated from my life during that horrible relationship, I wish they were still around, supporting me. Unfortunately they yelled, and gave up. I miss them, and won’t do that to any of my friends, no matter what mistakes i think they’re missing.

    Thank you so much for this post, it’s important to recognize the different signs of the sometimes ridiculous reasons that we stay with someone. and the ways to be a good friend to those we love, no matter what.

    • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

      Oh man, yeah, the “You don’t know him the way I know him” thing. My father has only ever given me one piece of advice about dating in my entire life and it was this, “Don’t ever be with a guy who treats you differently around his friends than he does when you’re alone.” Those words kept me from getting into quite a few bad relationships when I was younger, thankfully, but possibly because they weren’t directed at me when I was already interested in someone, just mentioned offhand when Dad was teaching me how to drive.

      • http://www.bearandhoney.net juliana

        He sounds like a great dad. :)

        • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

          :) Thanks, Juliana, he really is.

      • FM

        Sharon, that is EXCELLENT advice.

  • Colleen

    Um, Meg? Can I write the other side of this post? The one about how one important person in your life thinks you’re doing the wrong thing, but everyone else loves your fiance? This post is soooo appropriately timed for me right now. My younger sister just broke from a serious relationship that I considered abusive mid-spring. I did a little of the “I told you so!” but wanted her to get on with her life, so was mostly supportive. Two weeks ago on facebook chat at 2am in the morning, she decided to tell me that she thought my fiance was controlling and didn’t fit my “type” and that I had “lost myself” in Matt. It was devastating. I escaped to my best friend’s lake house the next day and hashed it out with her. Her diagnosis of my sister was jealousy. It’s so incredibly hard when family members attempt to tie you into a mold of what they want our partner to be and then lash out at you when you bring someone home who doesn’t fit their mold.

    • Rachel

      Colleen,

      Thank you so much for writing this! Everyone in my life LOVES my fiance and is so excited for us, except my mom. My whole life we were very close until the day I told her I was happy in a relationship. She hadn’t even met the guy and she hated him from that day forward. She’s tried to tell me I’m not myself, that he’s controlling, that he’s evil, that he’s lying to me, and that he’s just like my father (who she also hates). Truth of the matter is, she’s never taken the time to get to know him, and sometimes I feel like she is jealous that I’m happy and she never was with my father. Sometimes she fills me with self doubt and doubt about our relationship, but then I remind myself that she in constantly belittling me and making excuses about not being present for our mother-daughter relationship, manipulating my feelings and interpreting everything I do as hostile, and that when I was in a very abusive relationship, depressed and an alcoholic, she thought I was fine and totally myself and actually encouraged me to stick around in those two particular relationships.

      • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

        It’s always difficult when close friends and family so clearly take their own baggage out on us (perhaps especially hard when it’s our parents because we [and they] expect them to “know better”?) But going back to what other commenters were saying about weighing motivations and figuring out how many voices in your life are dissenting, I think being able to look at the situation and say, “Okay, this is what this one person is saying and this is where I think it’s coming from” is indicative that you are thinking through the critical words and deciding on their impact. (Even if it doesn’t make the hurt go away. Ugh. I wish I could reach through the screen and give you ladies hugs right now!)

      • Eliza

        Biggest hugs to you Rachel. That is a tough, tough situation, and it sounds like you are dealing with it with so much courage and integrity. Do you have a support team of people who know the sh*t your mum has pulled on you in the past as well as now, and can help you get through the way she is acting about this? My mum spent years criticising me (about various things – my weight, appearance, grades in school, friends, career aspirations, etc) and one of the only ways I managed to deal with it was to have a team of people who could help me with a reality check when I started to believe the things she said, and worry that they were true. Now that we’re getting married, my fiance is my support person in trying not to believe the criticism about our wedding plans, and he is incredible, but it is really really tough.

        • Rachel

          Thank you so much, Eliza! for the hugs, and for reminding me, the day before my bridal shower she is blowing off, the amazing network of people that ARE coming tomorrow and how lovely and important those folks are, and how much they help me remain strong and grounded.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i feel like we all experience and write about the flipside a lot on apw! like when dear ashlyn explained how she faced disagreement over her decision to marry young. i guess we all face those one or two who question us- and on apw, we all band together against it. i sort of see this post as the devil’s advocate to the norm. there are many, many times when you need to ignore the noise. but how do you know when those few times are that you shouldn’t?

      • Eliza

        This is a really good point Liz! I think one way is to look at other advice those people have given you in the past, and where you think they’re coming from. If people usually give good advice and are people you respect, their opinions will probably have some validity. But if they are not people you respect or their values are not your values, they may be coming from a totally different angle to you, and it’s worth taking that into account. A person’s values will always colour the advice you get from them, particularly negative advice.

    • Avery

      My relationship with my FH came at a very difficult time:

      -about one month into our relationship, my parents (who I was still living with at the time) separated.
      -several months before the relationship started, I had begun to distance myself from a toxic “best friend” who I had realized was abusive and draining.

      Our early relationship was intense and dramatic. We were caught in the throes of love and fought like crazy. It was intense and beautiful and incredibly difficult. And we were put under the microscope.

      My mother, going through massive loss and depression, and deeply sensitive given her separation from my father feared that she was losing me. As I spent more time away from home with my boy, the further the suspicions and fears went. A lot of drama and stress inside our breaking family was also deflected onto us – or specifically my boy. It was his fault their marriage ended. It was his fault she had “lost her daughter”. One night she tried contacting me on my phone but couldn’t get through. My entire family then showed up at my boys flat to find me fearing that we had “jumped off a bridge together” or he was “beating me senseless.” We had been tenpin bowling and I had left my phone behind…

      The toxic friend also decided to try to win me back as he “BFF”. So she started sleeping with my boys flat mate. When I made it clear that I didn’t want to be close anymore and distanced myself from her even further she decided to attempt to break us up. My boy was no longer “the perfect one for me”, “me in male form”, or “the father to her future godchildren” – he was a controlling, abusive, man who beat me and made me lose my self. She decided to spread rumours of his “abuse” to our friends, my FH’s friends, and even to our families. She sent emails and messages with “proof” off my unhappiness and “cheating ways” to my boy. She spread rumours of my insulting him behind his back, and was even so petty to contact him to claim that I complained about the size of his package and our sex lives.

      We retreated and banded together against these horrible circumstances and our relationship strengthened and grew. The abuse from my toxic former friend became so bad that I considered a restraining order. I could no longer see my friends or accept invites to events she would be at as I didn’t wish to be around her as I felt in danger of physical and emotional abuse from her. This of course strengthened the now many suspicions of my “abusive, controlling” partner as I “wasn’t allowed to see anybody” and I subsequently became very alienated and friendless. I could not see anyone without questions and allegations which hurt and offended me, so I withdrew from these friends who (without even meeting my boy) had been so quick to believe the rumours. I couldn’t see my family without being questioned on my relationship and a lecture on “what he was doing to me”, so I stayed away from them.

      Over the years as our relationship grew and our personal dramas (thankfully) subsided, we remained fiercely protective and secretive about our relationship. My family thankfully eased up a little and we have been able to build a semblance of a relationship with them again. But I remain friendless. Even though none of the allegations were true, I find it very difficult to trust anyone. I hide things about our relationship like petty arguments and complaints about chores from family as I fear they will read them in the worst light. I am shy, secretive, and introverted socially – a marked difference from the way I am with my FH and the way I used to be. And this is not his fault, but rather the fault of my “concerned” friends and family who have made me feel insecure about myself, my relationship, and my perspective of reality.

      Where I saw a man who treated me like a princess, they insisted he was physically hurting me (Where!? When?! Why on earth don’t I remember this!?), and preventing me from doing the things I love (But doesn’t he drive me to dance class?! Didn’t he encourage me to ditch my history degree and take up dance full time!? What am I missing!?), and this has been hugely detrimental to me and my state of mind. I have been enormously lucky that my FH has turned out to be encouraging, supportive, patient, and my best friend.

      But if something had been wrong and this man was the abusive, controlling partner the rumours claimed he was, my family and friends would have successfully alienated me to the extent that I would never have been able to come to them if something did go wrong. If the relationship had been awful, I might have been scared into staying due to the simple fact that I felt as if I had no friends or family that I could rely on or trust. If, god forbid, something terrible happened and our marriage ended, I would not feel that I could talk to them about it. I would be completely alone. I am very lonely in my social life. Some days I feel awkward inviting my family to our wedding. Some days I feel awkward having a big wedding full stop – when I have no friends and my family once hated us so much, what’s the point of having guests who I can’t trust?

      It taints what IS the happiest and biggest piece of my life. I want to share how happy I am and how wonderful our life is together and how much we look forward to our future together. But I can’t find anyone I trust enough to share it with. And it didn’t have to be like this.

      I guess my reason in telling a little piece of my story is this:

      1. If people are questioning your relationship and you can’t see why, it might be because you’re caught up by love and are blind to the damage. But it Might be because of the circumstances of the people complaining. EVERYONE was complaining with us, but in reality it stemmed from two people – my recently hurt and wounded mother going through a divorce, depression, and suffering empty nest syndrome, and a former jealous and obsessive friend who just wanted me back as her ‘best friend’ no matter what it took. Their extreme circumstances pretty much voided any chance of rational and trustworthy opinions and observations at the time.

      2. If you are the person complaining about a “bad” relationship, please think about your own circumstances. They might be blind to the abuse they are suffering, but likewise You might be blind to evidence that contradicts your theory. Every little argument or mood Isn’t proof to support your theory or cause for an “I told you so.” Think about what you know – have you ever seen any of the damage first hand? Is it possible you have imagined it or misunderstood? How long has the relationship been going? If it is a young relationship (like mine was – at the time we’d been together for 1 month when it started and it laster for the first 8-10 months – we were just babies!), is it possible the “drama” is just the symptom of falling in love and being in the early stages of a relationship or marriage? Give the relationship a little bit of time and fair consideration before you pass judgement.

      3. Please. Please. Please. If you do have genuine concerns for your loved ones, please do not attack them about it. Do not bring it up every single time you see them. Please do not let it be the sole topic of conversation with and about them. It is hard to see that someone simply loves you when you feel constantly attacked and you are more likely to withdraw from them than listen to them. Make it clear that you are worried. Spell it out for them once, maybe even twice to determine that you’re serious, and then leave it alone. See them. Go for coffee or to a movie and talk about other things that aren’t your predictions for their doomed relationship. Show them that you are there and just because you disapprove doesn’t mean you aren’t open to reconsider, and that if you are right that you’ll be there and not rub it in their faces.

      If you attack them or repeat your concerns repetitively or forcibly, they will withdraw from you and won’t feel as if they can come to you for fear of an “I told you so.” You will alienate them and make them feel more alone inside the relationship than they would if it ended.

  • K

    Meg, I would actually love to hear a post from you on the joys of being single. When I was 16, I met a young man, four years older than me, an Ivy League student, and we began to date. I will admit that I wasn’t even attracted to him at first, but no one had ever expressed interest in me before, and, on paper, this guy looked awesome (Ivy League, athlete, political aspirations, wealthy and well-regarded family). In reality, he was both emotionally and sexually abusive, and I stayed in that relationship for three years. Everything Charlotte says is true – my self-esteem was absolutely rock bottom, and I kept everything from everyone in my life (I even claimed we weren’t dating for a good year of those 3 years). The day I broke up with him, I cried like a crazy person – I had thought I would marry him, and now I thought my life was over. The following day I woke up, got dressed, and I had never in my life felt better. It took only 24 hours for me to clearly see all the horror of that relationship. I found breaking up with him to be one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done, even though certain people in my life (hello, Grandma!) called me to see how I thought I’d ever get married now that I’d left my long-term boyfriend at 19. And, as a result, after dating my fiance for 6 months almost immediately afterward, I broke up with him as well. Again, people (more people, this time) asked me how I thought I would ever get married if I let him go, but I was high on the self-empowerment of being deliberately single (also, that was just ridiculous, and I told them so). Single life really can be a wonderful thing.

    I think this is one of the only things I’ve ever read that really talks about the challenge of confronting those those embroiled in destructive relationships. My sister confronted me in that first relationship, and all I had in response were platitudes from relationships that I’d twisted in my mind, “everybody goes through difficult times,” “love means embracing the good and bad,” etc. In the last year of my relationship, my sister entered a miserable, emotionally abusive relationship. I confronted her as well, and, even though she’d had the clarity to see into my relationship, all I got in response were the same platitudes I’d handed out. As a friend or family member, there’s so little you can do except try to be supportive and loving, to build up what is so constantly put down.

    Great post – such a difficult topic, but so, so important.

    • Kristen

      Wow. Sorry you had to deal with “If you don’t marry him…” comments. This isn’t the dark ages. It’s way better to be single than stuck with someone who is dragging you down.

  • Arachna

    Yes. I’ve been that person who wanted to scream.

    But. I have a good friend, well someone who used to be a good friend a long time ago – and none of her friends approved of her relationship when she got married (or her family – but her family was a little bit crazy). It’s been about 5 years now and we’re not close at all – but they’re still married and as far as is possible to tell from a lot of distance quite happy with each other. I still think he wasn’t the right guy for her – but who am I to say?

    On a different website a bride recently posted a post that… boiled down to “no one ever told me I was pretty and wanted to date me before my current guy” – she’s getting married young – to a guy that by superficial standards is not nearly as attractive as she is – I don’t know this girl and this relationship might well be perfect for her but the post really and truly reads like – “this guy wanted me when no one else did and he tells me I’m beautiful – that’s why I’m marrying him and he’s the right one” – dozens of people commented – no one expressed any concern that she seems to be getting married out of a misplaced perception that she can’t do any better – it’s driving me a little crazy I want to scream “No No No!”

    • andthebeautyis

      That is concerning. Unfortunately, I think there’s not much you can say personally in a website comment. Hopefully, someone who knows her closely will say something. Maybe you can make a sensitive anonymous comment.

  • lurker

    On the topic of de-glamorizing weddings and marriages, anyone want to offer some advice/experience on what to do when you and your partner disagree on wedding choices? My partner and I are usually fantastic communicators, it’s part of what gives me faith in us. But we keep winding up in restrained shouting matches because we have different views for what we want our wedding to be. This is beginning to scare me on the “weddings are a microcosm of a marriage” front. I believe we want similar things in our lives (though making future choices has also involved a few restrained shouting matches) and I believe we’ve built a solid foundation for a marriage, so I’m surprised we’re finding it so hard to want similar things for our wedding.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      don’t let the microcosm thing scare you. josh and i fought much more during 6 months of engagement than during our first year of marriage. nerves are on edge, you’re stressed, there’s this subconscious desire for things to be “perfect.” THAT stuff won’t be reflected in your day-to-day marriage (not always at least).

      have you tried sitting down and writing out what you want your wedding to be like? not, “i want pink roses.” but more like, “i want it to be a 1960’s mod lovefest.” then compare notes, see where you can compromise and where you match up.

      i know of a few APW brides that went this route, and found that they both wanted the same FEEL out of their day, and just had different ideas of the way to get there. once you get it out, you may be able to say, “oh. we both want our friends to dance. so why am i fighting so hard for a dj and he wants a band?” and it gets easier to whittle it down to specifics.

    • Erin

      Oh, this was me!
      I started reading wedding blogs right before we got engaged and was prepared with all sorts of visions about what our wedding would look like. And then I was really hurt and angry when it turned out my fiance really wanted to wear a tuxedo (me: “Why would you want to pay to rent a tuxedo for ONE DAY when you could spend the same money for a nice new suit you’d wear for the next 15 years?”) and dreamed of a live band instead of an iPod playlist (me: “But the iPod is free!! And we have to eliminate the cheesy emcee factor!”) and wouldn’t agree with me that our invitations needed to have Ms. Manner’s exact wording… And yes, I even worried that my meltdowns and the three weeks of negotiations over phrasing the invitations indicated something really bad about what our marriage would look like (that was three weeks of ending nightly phone calls early so I could calm down enough to go to sleep – egad).

      Our wedding wasn’t the wedding I would have planned if I had married myself, but it seriously kicked a$$: he looked hott in the tux, the band rocked the house, people came even though the invitations didn’t say what I had thought they should say. It turned out kind’ve like Liz said. We got to the bottom of what we both wanted: “classy,” FUN, and full of hospitality for the people who traveled; and then we worked out what that would look like, incorporating the different elements that were the most important to us.

      Now we’re 4 months married, and our marriage doesn’t look at all like nuclear diplomacy. We’re better than we were before we were planning a wedding at expressing our wants and needs, and treating each other with kindness and respect, and that experience definitely informs how we treat each other today. There’s also a lot of comfort in our relationship in knowing that even though we had a spell of crazy, we still wanted to marry each other, and confidence that even when I still have spells of crazy, he still wants to be married to me.

      • Marina

        “Our wedding wasn’t the wedding I would have planned if I had married myself”

        THIS.

        I think the whole “But WHY do you want that???” and “What is super important to me and what can I compromise on?” process ended up bringing us closer. But ugh, was it a nasty process. And a process that has not come up at all during our first year of marriage. :)

    • lurker

      Thanks, it’s nice to know we aren’t the only ones. I think we do need to go back to basics a bit, we have a list of wedding goals, but maybe we aren’t using them to inform our decisions enough.

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

    Charlotte/Meg, I want to hug you both this morning!

    I’m actually in the middle of a flare-up of family drama about this very thing. I’ve lived with it for the past 14 years (watching all of my sisters make very bad decisions, for various reasons). I know that I haven’t made the best decisions. It is horribly, horribly hard to be on either side of this.

    I want a support group! I think that’s what this was for me today. Thank you, thank you.

    Also, excellent point to the commenters who’ve said that we can’t judge, and to Charlotte for the point that support is much more helpful than criticism. That’s the way I try to live, but some days there’s a lot of head–>desk involved.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i’ve been in this situation SO often, jolynn!

      in the best case scenerios, i was able to say, “hey. i’m so happy you’re happy. but here is why i’m concerned for you. i just want you to think about it.” they heard me out, tried to refute what i said or whatever, and then that was the end. i had said my piece, so from there on out, i was in support of whatever they decided. which is the hard part. but makes it easier for them to come to you when things start to crumble.

  • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

    i think when you’re trying to advise a friend, it can be pretty helpful to examine “love.” because, yeah. when you question, “why are you with this guy?!” (or girl… you know… they can be toxic, too…) it’s too, too easy for the response to be, “but we’re in love.”

    now that i’ve found what i think is ACTUAL love, i can be more specific. “oh. he loves you? does he put your needs first? does he make you feel like a better person, and want to be a better person? does he encourage you to do things you like that he may not? what are qualities you admire about him?”

    because if it’s just a squishy feeling and “we like the same music” or “he makes me laugh.” it’s time to reconsider.

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      One of my siblings is addicted to the early feelings of love and they then tell everyone they’re getting married within a matter of weeks, then almost immediately break it off b/c the guy is actually horrible. “Love” isn’t enough. It’s not the nitty gritty kind of love, that’s called a crush.

    • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

      It is completely possible to be entirely, head over heels in love with someone…and that someone is just flat out wrong for you. “Love” isn’t enough.

    • http://eyesopenfeetfirst.blogspot.com Suzanne

      Just wanted to agree that it happens with the “girls” too. Men may tend to be the abusers more often in the relationship, but it doesn’t mean that the female in a relationship (or one partner or the other in same sex relationships) isn’t toxic. We have a really good guy friend who is with a woman that makes many of us cringe. Convinced she’s in it for the wrong reasons and having witnessed her hit on other men while her live-in boyfriend (our friend) is in the bathroom at a bar (!) – we’ve said things to him, but just like with anyone, he believes he’s in love and that she’s changing, she’s different than that. So after awhile you just have to let it go, and let him live his life and be there for him if he needs us. Although I will say, the thought of her attending our small wedding just makes me want to scream, because I want to be surrounded by the most important people and the people who will still be in our lives 10 years from now, but we have to respect the life he’s choosing.

      • ElfPuddle

        Yes!
        My fiance’s first wife was that woman. She was awful to him (still is). My sister-in-law is the same to my brother (and frankly, the rest of us as well). All these things we worry about with/for our girlfriends need to be worried about our boyfriends and brothers, too.

      • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

        I think often when two people are a bad match, they both engage in behaviors that are toxic. Abuse begets abuse for a reason. I know that I am personally a much better person when I am with my fiance than I was when I was with my ex. Once I removed myself from the situation that was making so constantly angry, my own toxic behaviors ceased.

    • Alyssa

      I knew a therapist who used to say that you can love someone for whatever reason you want and it doesn’t have to make sense. But if you’re going to marry them, those reasons should be something that you can tick off your fingers and toes if asked.
      You never have to answer, but you should be able to do it.

      Also? Listing all those reasons makes you feel very fuzzy bunny about your partner, I write mine down when I’m in a mood or mad at him. It helps. (Sometimes. Sometimes he’s just a butthead who I need to stay mad at.)

      • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

        i don’t know that i COULD write that list when i’m mad.

        • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

          Hee, one of my friends who has an incredibly strong marriage writes lists of all the reasons her husband sucks whenever they fight. Then she burns the lists and writes him love letters.

          • http://www.bearandhoney.net juliana

            That is such a cute idea. I am stealing it.

          • Alyssa

            I would have SUCH a hard time not holding onto that list and then shoving it in his face later. “SEE?? 27 and 14 are EXACTLY why we’re having this conversation again!”

        • Alyssa

          It’s rough. But I try, even if it mostly comes out to “1. He’s cute even though he’s a stubborn jerkface. 2. He’s good to his momma, even though his momma should have put him in a gunny sack and thrown him in the river.” Stuf like that…. :-)

          • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

            haha- this is much more like what i was envisioning….

          • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

            “3. He has a nice butt even when I want to kick him in it…” ;D

  • http://missfancypantsthebride.blogspot.com/ miss fancy pants

    Ugh, this is a tough one. I have a friend who is stuck somewhere in between a lack of self esteem, fear of being alone and thinking she can change him. Until this guy, she didn’t have a serious boyfriend in all of her 22 years and I think she’s sort of clung to this guy because he’s good enough. I worry about it constantly and I worry even more because they’re well on their way to getting married once the money is there for a wedding. Before it got super serious, I expressed my concern and each time she complains about him, I voice my concern for the individual cases, but it’s so rough. Charlotte’s advice really comes in handy for me. Even though I’ve always known that ultimately it’ll be her decision and I should support her regardless of what I think, this post reinforces that. But let me say, it’s much easier said than done.

  • Sarah

    I’ve been on both sides of the receiving end.

    1. In college I dated a boy who was the world to me … and my best friend was SURE he was a bad guy. So sure that she was forceful about it, and we fell out, due to my opinion that she “wasn’t supporting me”, and her insistence that I was being stupid. 2 years down the line, a (suddenly) broken off engagement, and far too many abusive (emotionally) times later, I realized she was right. Our friendship never fully recovered, and I lost quite a bit of myself to that boy.

    2. Fast forward 10 years. After witnessing a particularly bitter argument between my fiance and I, my best friend was concerned. I, being upset, was torn between defending him to her (and myself) and being sure that this would never work out. She, in her infinite wisdom said to me “Sarah, I’m not sure if it will work out. I hope to God I’m wrong, though, for both of you. But you do need to think about what you’re going to do, if it doesn’t.” And she never touched it again. In retrospect, I think her hesitation was more to do with my behavior than his. In either case, it was EXACTLY what I needed to hear, and it allowed me to take a step back and re-evaluate, WITHOUT being pressured.

    For the record … everything worked out. We learned more about each other, and realize that sometimes even in the most compatible and healthy relationship people have BIG fights over STUPID things. It’s not the end of the world, even if it feels like it at the time. We grew, we accepted, we moved on. And the best friend is my maid-of-honor at our wedding in 2 weeks, continuing to do the same things she’s always done … supporting me, and now, us.

    • Lor

      I couldn’t agree more with the “people have BIG fights over STUPID things”.

      It just hit home – everyone one has fights over stupid things, we need to be worried about big fights over BIG things. of course, that might differ with everyone, but for me, I know what the BIG things are.

    • Alyssa

      I read somewhere that a big part of having a healthy marriage is limiting the amount of venting you do to others.
      Not that you should hide how you feel, but your version can skew people’s opinions and even if you make up later, they may still harbor resentment on your behalf that may not be warranted.

      I’ve gotten to the point that I only really vent about fights to one good friend who’s always got my back, but isn’t afraid to go, “Well, honey, MAYBE…” and then give the other side of any given argument. (It’s maddening, but needed.)

  • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

    When I got divorced, I was surprised to learn that everyone around me had wondered how it lasted as long as it did. Why did no one tell me, I asked. Over and over, the answer I received was, “We didn’t think you would listen.” Family and friends all believed I had made a choice and that interference would have backfired. Truthfully, they were probably right.

    If people had told me that it was a mistake, I likely would have dug in my heels and pushed forward anyway. If people try to tell me that I am making a mistake now, I will again dig in my heels. For better or worse, this type of relationship involves a decision no one else can make for me. Ideally, I pick someone everyone loves, but realistically, I pick someone I love and hope that all of my favorite people learn to love, like, or at least tolerate one another. If, in the end, I discover that I have made a mistake, that is my mistake to correct.

  • ashley

    My best friend went through one of those awful, abusive relationships. She slept with her purse between her legs, got her head smashed into the ground, car keys pulled from the ignition on a busy main road, and made to feel like the most worthless individual in the world, among other things. She had no self esteem. It was so hard to watch this, plead with her, move her in to my place when the police came, then find out she let him stay there when she went back. The best I could do was to build up her confidence, offer her a safe place, and show her that I loved her more than anything. Years later, he’s in jail and she’s has just given birth to her first child three days ago with her amazing, supportive husband of two years. She is happy, confident, successful, and more loved than ever. When she looks back as that time, she doesn’t understand why she stayed. She knows she did have confidence issues and dependency problems, but she just wasn’t herself. There is no rationalizing it, then or now. The only thing you can do is to build up a person so they have the courage to help themselves and love them enough to let them know they have your support, win, loose, or draw.

    • ElfPuddle

      Thank you for being such a good friend!

  • http://www.themaidenmetallurgist.com The Maiden Metallurgist

    This is so hard. I think the key is that you have to love your friends and respect them enough to voice your concerns- one time, and one time only- and understand going into it that they probably won’t be receptive to what you are going to say.

    Many years ago I struggled long and hard with my decision to tell my bff that she was better than her lying, cheating, sob boyfriend. It was tough, telling her waht I knew she needed to but wouldn’t want to hear. She responded by saying I was just jealous because I was single. Ouch.

    The thing is, she is still my best friend, and after their painful breakup (resulting from her physically cathing him cheaing on her) she ate a little crow. But I had already forgiven her- the moment she acused me- because I knew her anger was misdirected, and she was grasping at anything that would validate her bad decision.

    It’s also really hard, and really, really important not to go all I-told-you-so on friends who are hurting and need support. If they could withstand the bad treatment and humiliation just to hold on to the relationship, a simple “good ridance” isn’t going to be remotely consoling.

    • http://as-food-to-life.blogspot.com meredythbyrd

      I agree, and with Mere below this comment. What do you do when someone repeatedly makes the bad decision, despite coming to you with advice?

      One of my best friend’s sisters dates a meathead jerk, sorry for using insults here but he is, and my bf told her all this after they broke up. There was vodka involved in this confession otherwise my bf might have held her tongue because a few weeks later the sister and the jerk got back together… and now they’re moving in.
      I do think it’s self-esteem here and it saddens me because the sister is a sweet, funny person who can’t see that about herself.

      • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

        give your advice- calmly, patiently, and then let her do what she wants. “i’m worried about you moving in with this guy- don’t you remember blank blank blank? don’t you want blank blank blank?”

        and then, when she makes this decision again- reiterate your concerns. and then support her.

        it gets to the point where you’d rather shove a fork in your eye than clamly explain why this guy is a “bad news” when what you’d really like to do is spew a bunch of appropriate vulgarity. but the screaming and name-calling- that does no good.

        a few people have voiced the opinion that you can give advice til you’re blue in the face, but that won’t change what a person does. and that’s true. but i think that if/when the relationship ends, she moves out, whatever- she’ll remember that you were the friend who was honest and voiced concern.

      • Lethe

        I think that after initially voicing your concerns once, as others have suggested, a good way to respond is to say some variation on “I know that you’re smart and capable enough to come to your own decisions; just know that if you ever need to talk I am always here.” They know how you feel about it. They haven’t forgotten. They are worried you think less of them because of the decision they are making. (Because in bad relationships it allll becomes your fault in your own head.) So that lets them know that you respect them, and that the door is still open and you aren’t going to judge them or yell “I told you so!” if they come to you admitting there was a problem after all.

  • mere…

    This post came at just the right time! My best girl friend is toying with starting things back up with a guy who is no good & already left her once for reasons that were incredibly dramatic and shady. She even openly admits it’s going to end badly for her! After having been through some border-line abusive relationships of my own, it’s definitely hard for me to watch her go through the “I can fix him” and the “I have to prove to myself I wasn’t rejected” mentalities. I told her that I would never lie to her about something if she asks me flat out and that I won’t pretend to be giddy for her, but that once I know she knows my opinion I’m going to let her work it out. I completely agree that screaming at her repeatedly or making her feel like she can’t turn to be aren’t good options for anyone since I really do care about her! I’ve seen the light at the end of those relationships in my personal life and would love to kick her through the bad and bring her to the other side when she can finally see what she’s worth and how much better things are, but can’t. Unfortunately, there are some things a person just has to go through themselves before they’ll learn.

    My question is, how do you all support your friend when she doesn’t learn her lesson and continually enters into shady relationships? It’s heart-wrenching for me to sit here and watch her heart being played with and to worry about her not being able to stand up for herself if it comes to that. How long am I supposed to sit back and wait for it to click for her? Doesn’t there come a point where her repeatedly turning to me for advice she doesn’t take or comfort when it goes wrong AGAIN becomes too hard for me to sit back and take…or do I just shut up indefinitely?

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i have a friend who has been in this cycle for 8 years. literally, 8 years i’ve known the girl and she’s been through one nasty, abusive, no-good relationship after the other.

      about 5 years in, i threw in the towel. i was sick and tired of doling out good advice, watching her ignore it, and watching her end up severely bruised- physically, emotionally- as a result.

      last month, i helped her move out of an abusive ex’s apt. i watched her start therapy that i had been suggesting for 8 years.

      there have been few things as rewarding in my life as seeing this girl heal. it made all of those years of frustration and pain and patience so incredibly worth it. our friendship is much stronger because she trusts that i will be honest when i think she’s making a bad choice, and i’ll still be there when she goes through with it anyway. being able to calmly outline, “this is why i’m worried…” and “this is what i hope for, for you…” and then still answer the phone when she calls crying at 1am because she didn’t listen and made a bad choice and is reaping the consequences- that has strengthened me as a person, and built a foundation of trsut for her that she obviously hasn’t found elsewhere yet.

      so many of the comments in this post reiterate what the original post says- that these awful relationships are rooted in a lack of something. self-esteem. trust. whatever. if their boyfriends/girlfriends aren’t going to build up that self-esteem and trust, we can at least try as friends.

      • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

        i should clarify.

        i wanted to quit answering the phone about 5 years in- but ended up back beside her after a few head-slams against the wall.

        • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

          Agh! Hugs to you. I understand this feeling so, so well. It’s very difficult to fully walk away even when they keep making the same choices.

  • http://as-food-to-life.blogspot.com meredythbyrd

    Wow Colleen, your experiences with family weddings sound a little like mine, minus the drug addiction. My younger sister got married 10 days after turning 21. My brother in law is a very nice man from Korea and we all liked him but we all said this was a bad idea. It wasn’t so much the green card as the getting him out of mandatory military service because they would be separated for 2 years that led to the marriage. I did basically what you talk about above, “I don’t think this marriage is a good idea because you are really young and we change A LOT in our 20s. The person you are now might not be the same one in a few years. But I will be at your wedding and I will support your decision.” Last summer while she was emotionally preparing for a separation she asked why we didn’t tell her our concerns then. I almost laughed in her crying face. But you are also right about the “I’m going to show them!” mentality. She said that she was determined to show people you can get married young and to someone of a very different culture and make it work because love conquers all. I must say she did try very hard and did some things very well. But like your sisters she was also incapable of being single. Now she’s in the dating world and taking it slowly and I’m so proud of her.

    My brother married at 22 for religious reasons. He’s really fundamentalist and the rest of us wonder what happened. His wife is a dear but I fear she didn’t know what she was getting into either. We are struggling with accepting that he is an adult and also wanting to rip his hair out (not because he got married but because of his dogmatic, legalistic, frustrating religious beliefs and how he lives them, i.e., no birth control, only prayer!).

    My boyfriend and I are planning to get married in the future and I wonder about this too. My other sister isn’t very excited at the thought and I don’t know if it is the thought of “losing” a sister or if she has legitimate concerns. I want the next wedding in our family to be joy filled. I want everyone in the room to be excited to be there, not holding their breaths, or their tongues. Your phrase “if you are afraid of telling your friends certain things about your boyfriend because you are afraid they won’t like him (example, he lies all the time, he has an addiction problem, he’s not sure of his sexuality) maybe you should also double think this.” is useful. I don’t have that problem. Instead, I have a boyfriend who looks at me with loving eyes when I’m a grumpy 5 year old in the morning and makes me coffee. A boyfriend who will help me through any problem I bring to him and still make me laugh. I think that’s a pretty good sign, don’t you?

  • Natalya Buckel

    This was a great post; it’s a very important topic you don’t hear much about in the wedding community (wonder why, lol). I was once in a terrible relationship, the kind where everyone hated him and I couldn’t let go, even though I was miserable. Eventually with a lot of therapy I was able to realize he was just like my father used to be and I could never fix either of them. I didn’t have a good concept of what a healthy relationship even looked like. Robin Norwood’s book Women Who Love Too Much really helped me to understand why I stayed in a bad relationship for so long. An important thing I learned is that we only attract people who are as emotionally healthy/mature as we are.

    After a period of soul searching, I eventually emerged a healthier, stronger woman. Only a few months later I met the man who is now my husband. When my family and friends met him they all loved him instantly. Neither of us are perfect but most importantly, he loves me for who I am, and treats me with respect. He, on the other hand, also made a few gaffs in his 20s and had been married twice before we met. They were both mistakes and neither marriage lasted long (fortunately I got a sweet bonus son out of the deal so in a way his past “mistake” was justified). He accepted my imperfect past with dignity, and I’ve tried to do the same.

    And on the subject of sisters marrying… mine married a handsome Nepali man without telling anyone in the family. She became pregnant and they decided to host a “wedding” or reaffirmation for all of their family and friends (it was a beautiful ceremony and I was glad to be given the chance to support them). I must admit I was very suspicious at first (she was a habitual relationship jumper!) but a year and a half later I’ve come to know my brother in law well. He is a wonderful husband and father, and they are a sweet little family. Then it felt like they were rushing into it but maybe they just have a different way of doing things.

    It breaks my heart when people stay in unhealthy relationships. I wish for everyone to find mates that appreciate them for who they really are and treats them with respect. And there’s nothing wrong with being single either!

    • Tsipa

      Haha…I love that you have a “bonus son”! That’s such an awesome way to look at blending families. :-) Sounds like two lucky guys.

      • Natalya

        Thanks! I got the term from the Ex-Etiquette advice column about blended families. It’s written by two women (the step mom and the first wife) and it’s a tremendous (and often funny) resource for co-parenting.

  • KristieB

    In the past, I’ve struggled with the whole “maybe you shouldn’t get married” or “your partner is a douche” thing too. How do you tell your friend that you think their choice is awful? I mean, it isn’t like telling them to change their (really ugly) shoes.

    My childhood best friend has the worst taste in guys. Like really terrible, sketchy, ugly, nasty dudes. When she decided to move in with “T” (a guy who had a creepy crush on me in high school) after only 3 months of dating, I asked “Are you sure you want to move in with him? Do you need more time?” Her response was “we spend every night together anyway.” 6 months after they started dating, they got engaged because he won money. 13 months after they started dating, they were married. The lead up to the day was awful. They were fighting, he wasn’t supporting her school work, their parents were controlling everything (something normal and encouraged by the couple)… The night before her wedding, the bride got ridiculously drunk. She spent her wedding morning barfing in her parents’ bathroom. GIANT WARNING SIGN! Their entire wedding day felt rushed, disorganized and childish. The worst part, I was a bridesmaid (in an ill-fitted homemade dress – made by the mother-in-law, a “seamstress”) and was there to support something I thought was a really bad decision.

    They were married Labour Day and split on Boxing Day. When telling me about the split, she asked “Why didn’t you and my mom tell me I was making a mistake? You could have stopped everything…” To which I replied, “Would you have listened? Or would have pushed you two closer together?”

    Less than a year after her split, she started dating one of her ex-husband’s groomsmen. …and that is around the time we stopped talking.

    It is one thing to think your friend is awesome and all the people she has been with are bad news, but it is another thing to think your friend is in no head space/ maturity level/ etc to get married herself.

    • leigh

      I’d also like to discuss how to tell your friends that they are making the wrong (in your opinion) choice, even if you know they won’t listen. I’ve been that honest, voice-of-reason friend to many people over the years, and it has never changed the relationship between friend and said partner, but between me and the friend. It causes them to not want to bring their partner around, to distance themselves from me, and then we have to do the work all over again when they eventually break up. I refrain from I-told-you-so’s, but I think that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.
      So, I started holding my tongue so I could keep my friendships strong. But I think that some friends are scared to talk to me about their problems because they know that I’m honest in a way they don’t want to hear. I have a friend going through a divorce now and I only found out via her husband. She was scared to talk to me when she had doubts and problems, and now I don’t know where to begin to get back to being her friend.
      I feel that talking and offering advice is only helpful, and I want my friends to do the same for me, but I’m afraid of being viewed as judgmental, a know-it-all, or just plain negative when my friends aren’t in a space to listen or look at themselves honestly.

      • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

        maybe it’s the way you say it? or, for me, i found that there were a few instances where i would find every opportunity to drive my point home. a friend couldn’t tell me, “oh, we had a fight…” because i’d immediately jump in with, “SEE? i told you he’s no good for you! there’s that selfishness i was talking about!!” which was not so beneficial.

        but sometimes, certain people are just resistant. i’ve had friendships made stronger by honesty, and friendships crack from honesty. it depends on the person, i imagine.

      • FM

        I think it’s pretty great that you and everyone else on here is thinking about how to get better at this, because I think a lot of people don’t realize the things that make them sometimes hard to open up to as friends (and everyone has weaknesses as friends). One thing that jumped out at me is when you said you think talking and offering advice is helpful, when a lot of times someone who is feeling yucky about her situation might do better with someone to listen and help her talk more about it rather than hear what someone else has to say about the situation. Does that make sense? If you’re telling your friend what you think maybe it is getting in the way of your friend processing through what she thinks – it might be more inviting for her if it’s like 80/20 her talking and you talking (or that’s one way I think about it). Also, I think it can be effective to ask questions rather than give advice. Like, your friend tells you about her boyfriend problems and you ask her how she feels about it and what she is thinking about that she could do about it, before (or instead of) telling her yourself what you feel about it and what you think she should do about it. Maybe offer possibilities – like, what do you think about trying counseling or taking a break from him for a few days, what do you think about trying to tell him what you just said to me, have you tried doing X or Y when he does Z, how do you think he would react if you did or said that, would you feel different if he had a different reaction, etc. This kind of approach where you’re helping your friend explore her own thoughts and feelings and ideas also goes along with what other people are suggesting – trying to convey to your friend that you feel she is smart and capable of making good decisions.

  • Kristen

    EXACTLY!

    The following is going to be a revised version of a comment I made after Ashlyn & Miles’ graduate post but I want to say it again. Because it is important.

    There are times when the naysayers are right. Sometimes you should not be marrying this person. Now or ever! Listen to the naysayers, sort out their motivations and think about what they are saying.

    I present to you two case studies: my sisters.
    H was married at about 22 and divorced by 26. We knew she shouldn’t have been marrying J. He was just a schmuck and they bickered… constantly. Every couple is going to have their disagreements but this was different. It was disrespectful bickering. Their relationship just felt very immature and not like one that was made for a lifetime of partnership. We did our best to restrain ourselves to just telling her that it would be totally okay to back out at any time because there was no need to throw good time or money after bad. But what did we know… Four years in a mutually abusive household later, they divorced.

    M was married at 20 and while we were a bit nervous about her age – they both had a lot of growing up to do – we thought it was a good match. But it turned out that there was a lot about him that she didn’t tell us – as in a whole lot of bat**** crazy. Just like Charlotte mentioned – there were things she specifically kept hidden from us because she knew we would freak. Things like his pride at having ‘jumped’ some guys who had mocked him, putting at least one of them in the hospital. Rage, alcoholism, spousal rape, a clear wish for her to have a miscarriage of their baby (which did happen and as heartbreaking as it still is, that little peanut knew a bad situation when she saw one and got the hell outta there). She was divorced by 22. She has come out of that time in her life broken and it’s going to take a long time to heal. I really think that if she had been more mature when she got married she hopefully would have seen the red flags for what they were and wouldn’t have done it or at least would have had the strength to get out sooner.

    But beyond the case studies, this is what it boils down to:

    To the friends and family of people entering into bad marriages: I am so sorry. It’s miserable to have to stand by and watch. I took the very long way to H’s reception because I was crying my eyes out in the car. But, other than reminding these people that you love them, that you just want them to be truly happy, and that you support them, there is nothing you can do other than to be there for them when it falls apart. It’s hard but especially when the partner is abusive and is trying to drive a stake between your loved one and their family, the worst thing you can do is to force the person to pick sides by badmouthing their spouse.

    To those of you who are involved with the wrong person (and often, you know who you are, although sometimes a person’s wickedness can truly blindside you because they are really really good at hiding it), ask your family for help and get out. M told us later that he raped her on their wedding night. As is typical for many wedding nights (of both good and bad marriages) she didn’t want to have sex that night. I think it was partially because she knew that she didn’t want to be married to him. In any case, he forced her. She told us later, after the divorce that she wished she had had us just come pick her up from the hotel and have it annulled.

    As for the need to prove people wrong Charlotte mentioned, there is one particular picture of M on her wedding day that I can just read the, “Take that, b****” all over her face. His mother – well, let’s just say the psycho doesn’t fall far from the tree – had been hideous all through the planning. They had tried to sabotage the whole thing from the beginning and not out of concern for M or their son – just because they are controlling nutjobs and had chosen someone else he should marry. I still wonder if, without his mother’s vehement opposition M would have listened to her Jiminy Cricket and ran.

    • Avery

      “M was married at 20 and while we were a bit nervous about her age – they both had a lot of growing up to do.”

      My FH and I have been together for a few years, but first met when I was fresh out of high school at age 18 and he was 22. We are very much aware of the fact that we are young. We have both grown hugely during that time. We have different dreams, different interests, different lives. And we know we will continue to change and grow again.

      The thing which eases any concerns about our comparative youth and the changes we will continue to go through is that, to us, marriage is about committing to growing Together. Yes we can and will change, but so long as our base priorities and values are strong, we are committed to changing together – growing together.

      There is a huge difference between being 30 and being 80, so how can a 30 year old commit to staying with the same person when they’re 80? Because age really doesn’t play a part of it. Any person of any age planning on getting married should have a strong values system and a firm sense of their priorities in life. Their partner should be equally as firm in those things, and respect the values and priorities of the other person. So long as those things are certain the rest is just a lot of work and upkeep to ensure that you keep on living and loving together, and that you don’t grow apart.

      I think marriage is about being truthful about yourself and each other. Don’t be worried about your little sister getting married at 20 – be worried about your sister entering a marriage at any age when she doesn’t know her own values or what she wants from life. I think that is what ends a lot of marriages.

      (Sorry this wasn’t really directly in reply to you, just thoughts that stemmed from that little comment.:). )

  • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ Sarah K.

    I have to say, I’m really terrified about the first point, the reluctance to be alone. Charlotte, you yourself talk about the “consistent stream of boyfriends from the age of 13 until today” and that’s where I get nervous.

    I’m engaged to my high school sweetheart. I had a couple “long term” relationships before him, but they were only about six months each, and we started dating when we were fifteen and sixteen. My fiance and I are each others’ firsts– we’ve never had sex with anyone else, ever. And though I have nerves about getting married, my biggest fear is that we simply don’t know what else is out there. Like any couple who have been together this long (we’re getting married on our ten year anniversary), we’ve had challenges, but we keep working on our relationship together. I spent a summer abroad in London when I was in college, and we decided to treat the summer as a break– we could date people, sleep with people (as long as we were being safe), and had total amnesty. This was a moment to really test the waters– and both of us spent the entire summer talking about one another. I don’t know if that is “enough” of a test, but the distance really did make our hearts grow fonder.

    But it still terrifies me. I am really surprised that things have turned out like this for us, and I worry. But I know many high school sweethearts who are still together twenty, thirty, forty years later. I think each relationship is different, and we have to pay attention, and follow our hearts.

    Any reassuring words of wisdom for people dating high school sweethearts?

    • Heather

      Sarah K,

      My situation is very similar to yours. I met my partner when we were 7 years old in the same class together. We were inseperable for a few years (before the ewww, cooties phase kicked in). We remember our parents saying then that we would get married.

      Fast forward to high school and we reconnected and started dating. And again our parents were thrilled. We thought they were nuts to be thinking that two kids who were so young would end up together. We just took it one day at a time and the months and years passed. Four years of university, a summer apart while I lived in Europe, a year of living apart while he went back to school. This fall will be our 11th anniversary (of dating) and neither of us has found another person we would rather be with, despite being open to the possibility.

      We were each other’s first, and sometimes I wonder like you do whether I’m missing out on something better. But I look at him and I feel more in love with him than ever. And I look at the long term relationships in our friends and family and it is pretty clear that we are on par with the healthiest of them. That tells me that while we don’t have a diversity of relationship experience, we are doing something right.

      We are always growing and changing as individuals. My partner and I have been lucky that we’ve grown closer rather than further apart through what are arguably some of the most tumultuous years of our lives. We’ve finally come to the point where we agree that our parents might have been onto something when they predicted the pair of 7 year olds playing with dinosaurs would get married one day.

      So while it probably isn’t the norm for a high school relationship to end up as a lifelong partnership, it certainly isn’t unheard of. You aren’t alone :)

      And for some extra reassurance: my parent started dating in highschool at 17. And although they’ve had some very rough patches over the years, they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this past spring.

      • Nina

        “My partner and I have been lucky that we’ve grown closer rather than further apart through what are arguably some of the most tumultuous years of our lives.”

        EXACTLY! sorry, just had to say it out loud.

      • Sarah

        Sarah K., Heather, Nina … there is a difference between being with the same person for a long time and “never being alone.” To have found someone at such a young age that you wanted to stay with for so long (or even for life) is not anything to be troubled about. Take this one: a couple dear family friends met when they were VERY young. As they grew up they became best friends, then began dating, and ended up married … having never even considered dating anyone else. They have two beautiful, grown children, and I have rarely seen two people more in love. It was perfect for them.

        I think the caution here is those that jump from one relationship to another … a friend in high school went from her first boyfriend, to another (only 3 days between the two), to another (I think there was a week in between there), to another (you get the point), to several others before she jumped directly out of a relationship into being engaged to another man. She has always been terrified of being “alone”, so she make sure she was with someone, anyone who would have her. Her first boyfriend was at 11 … she got married at 22. In those 11 years, I think she maybe had three weeks were she didn’t have “a boyfriend.”

        There really are no similarities between the two situations. The one you’re in can be (and sounds like it is) perfectly healthy. Don’t worry. =)

        • Marina

          “there is a difference between being with the same person for a long time and “never being alone.” ”

          This. It worries me when I hear people say, “I don’t know what I’d do without my partner.” I’ve been with my husband since I was 16, and we’ve lived together for the last 5 years, but I know very well what I’d do if, god forbid, we weren’t able to be together. I’d be incredibly sad, and I’d reach out for the support of my friends and family, and I’d get on with my life. If you can’t imagine who you’d be without your partner, that’s a bad sign. If you prefer being together to being alone, that’s a GOOD sign. :)

    • Nina

      I’m not sure I can reassure you much, except to say I am exactly in your shoes. We started dating when we were 16 and 17 and besides a 4 month ‘break’ (similar to yours, we needed to test the waters but neither of us even felt any desire to find anyone else) and an internship I did in a separate city, we have been together all this time. I’m independent and ambitious and the high-school sweetheart thing? well it just didn’t seem like it fit the narrative I expected for my life. Shouldn’t I sleep with other people? Have some terrible breakups? So I spent a lot of that time worrying. But eventually (and it took like 9 years) I had to just give in and admit that we are really truly happy and when we met can’t dictate our future. We are us, not a statistic and not a stereotype. We married a couple days after our 11th anniversary (about a month ago). And I think we have as good a foundation as any couple, ours just goes back a bit further into awkward teen years.

    • http://twitter.com/dmrkns dev

      I’m not still with my high school sweetheart, but I don’t think you should second-guess your relationship just because you haven’t been single very much. There are lots of people that have happy marriages to their “first loves.”

      There is a big tendency to say that you have to spend years as a single person in order to know what you want. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I started dating my first boyfriend at 16 and a couple of long-term relationships later I met my now-husband at the age of 22. I still managed to grow as a person, and learn a lot about myself and what I wanted during that time, even if I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the single & dating scene. I was a long-term relationship kind of gal, and that’s okay. If you’ve been happily in a relationship with this guy for nearly 10 years, chances are you’ve grown and learned alot about yourself too. I think we should make a distinction between being happily in a relationship (or series of relationships) and NEEDING to be in a relationship. If you Need to be in a relationship you will stay with the wrong guy (or ping-pong between wrong guys) and ignore serious red flags (emotional or physical abuse, chronic cheating) just so that you aren’t alone.

      Also, I’ve never really bought the idea that you need to experience something first-hand in order to know if that’s what you want. I never hand a one-night stand, which if you subscribe to the logic of most women’s magazines, means I missed out my 20s. Umm, no. I was not interested in having sex with some random guy I met in a bar. I didn’t need to try it once to figure that out.

      If your relationship is a happy and healthy, I don’t think you should be worried.

      • samantha

        I just want to say thank you to everyone who replied to Sarah’s comment, because I too have worried about getting married to my highschool sweetheart. And though sometimes it was worrying about the unknown of the future, I let outside influences get to me that I shouldn’t have (people telling me under anyone under 25’s too young to be getting married, an article on the internet telling me I should experience certain things before I settle down, an advice book telling me I should be single for a certain amount of time, etc.). Took me some time – and maybe with all of your comments it’s finally sinking in – to realize my worrying is just simply that. (Because not knowing what will happen in the future is scary and you don’t want to fail or be wrong with something as big as marriage.) And that when you’ve got someone who truly cares about/loves you, someone who empowers you and lifts you up emotionally, etc. you let go of not knowing what the future holds and give it all you’ve got, in good times and in bad.

    • peanut

      I am almost the opposite of you; I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school at all, and met my partner when I was 26 after being single for a while. Here’s my view: as long as you were and are with your partner because you genuinely want to, and not because you feel like you’d be lost or unable to survive or worthless without him, I think you’re good. The “unable to be single” girls are the ones who just cannot function without a boyfriend or husband or whatever. For example, a girl who couldn’t be single would either immediately latch on to a substitute boyfriend during the time abroad, or quit the program early to come home to be with her boyfriend (I knew girls in both scenarios). It seems like you’re good :) I hope this helps …

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i wonder if you have SPECIFIC doubts. like. is it a general, “hmmm. i wonder what else is out there…”

      (because, um. the truth is. not much. i seriously don’t know how i found josh.)

      but if there’s a specific doubt, like, “i wonder if other couples have six fights a day…” that’s something a little more solid. and a little more worrisome. something you can tangibly measure and ask folks.

      there’s something to be said for having a little life experience under your belt. but if you have healthy relationships around you, and you think yours looks a little like theirs (not in specifics, but in the general ways) then you’re probably on the right track. i don’t need to try on every pair of jeans in the store to figure out that the second pair makes my butt look awesome. if what you have works, why look elsewhere?

      this is also coming from a girl whose parents attended kindergarten together and then married at 21. so. take it for what it’s worth.

    • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

      Sarah K,

      Here are your reassuring words for people dating/marrying high school sweethearts:

      My brother married his girlfriend, whom he started dating during his senior year of high school, when he was 20 and she was 19. They celebrated their 19th anniversary this year and are as in love as ever.

      I am engaged to my first boyfriend. We broke up when I was 16 and he was 19. We found each other again 20 years later, and the first time we saw each other it was instant kismet. We’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.

      There is nothing wrong with marrying your high school sweetheart if you are both ready for marriage with one another.

  • http://knitsmcgee.blogspot.com Shayna

    Meg, I know exactly what you mean. I’m currently “shacked up” as my mom says, with my soon-to-be-husband in Lincoln, Nebraska, but grew up and still technically reside in Brooklyn. We’ve been together almost six years. People in Nebraska are really confused why we haven’t been married for ages (we’re 24), and they have been for years. People in NY look at me really strangely when I’m getting married because I’m *so* young. I went into a bridal salon and my salesperson thought they had made a mistake on the appointment card and I was there to shop for debutant dresses.

    In the end, we’ve had a good long time to think about and prepare for it, and in the end, that’s what matters.

  • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ Sarah K.

    Oh, and a totally separate comment, from the OTHER side of things: you never know what goes on in a relationship until you’re in it. I had a close friend who was dating another mutual friend who was treating her like shit. He was being a jackass, he cheated, they just weren’t in a healthy relationship.

    All her friends told her he was an ass, constantly. They berated her for staying with him, criticized her, the works. After some of my own personal experiences where people thought they knew best, I decided I wanted to step back. I talked to her, told her that we were worried, that we thought she could do better, but that it was her decision and her life. She was so grateful for my support and love, and even was surprised by it. A few months later, they broke up, and she’s stronger and more confident than ever. I’m so proud and happy that I was able to be there for her.

  • Kristen

    Someone mentioned that her mother keeps saying she thought she was ‘smarter than that’ to stay in an abusive relationship.

    I thought that this was an incredible article about a smart, put together woman in an abusive relationship.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200906/2-minute-memoir-crazy-love

  • Helen

    When you love someone deeply, and you are very good for them ( to the point of keeping them alive-even if they aren’t so good for you)- it makes it almost impossible to leave. It was the realisation that I did not want to inflict my ex on our potential children that made me completly sure after he broke up with me (thank-God) that I would never go back (despite his attempts). It also made me realise how utterly wonderful my fiance is, and how lucky I am to have him in my life. I don’t think I ever could appreciate Dave in the way I do if it wasn’t for my past life experience. It has gone a long way towards making me a partner deserving of such an amazing human being and I for that I am eternally grateful.

  • http://moreofthisandlessofthat.blogspot.com Ms. Loaf

    I think another really difficult thing, when you’re the person in the bad relationship, is when it wasn’t always bad. My relationship with my almost-wife started out SO GOOD. The whole first year was amazing. And then we moved in together and things really changed, but so slowly that I didn’t realize that bad had become the new normal. And people would tell me “that isn’t right” or “this isn’t good” but so many comments, especially the ones from my own family, were based on us being two women that it was hard to separate the homophobia from actual concern. That just made me grow closer to her, because I felt like it was us against the homophobic world, and we had to present a happy face and a perfect wedding to prove that our love was real.

    Emotional abuse + low self-esteem? It’s so easy to tell myself that she’s not being an asshole, she’s being honest with me.

    More distant friends who voiced concerns got shut out of my life, but my very best friend was amazing. She was the only person who didn’t make me feel judged when she expressed concern. Whether they meant to or not, everyone else made me feel like they were saying “YOU are an idiot for letting this happen to you.”
    She let me vent and argue and disagree and yell at her, but she was the only person I felt I could call when I found out about the infidelity. I told her once “there is no point at which I would stop trying to make this relationship work. I don’t believe in giving up.” Because I thought that ending a relationship, even a bad relationship, meant I was a failure. It still is hard to believe that it doesn’t mean that. But I picked up the phone and made an exit strategy with my best friend when I discovered that, yeah, there was a point at which I would leave.

    But did I know how bad it was? Hell no. Should I have known? Hell yes. But I didn’t secretly, deep down, know there was anything wrong until I discovered the web of lies. Then everything unraveled. I was the perpetually single girl, in part due to coming out in college and being raised very conservatively, so that not dating boys was a sign of my virtue, and then when it came to dating girls, I was back to being 15 with no clue how to do it. When I found someone who wanted to be with me, I thought I would be insane to ever let that person go. On the bad days, it still feels like I’m crazy, like no one else could love me, because no one else has. But now I know that being single is so much better than being in a bad relationship. I’ve never been afraid of being single, but before I’d had a big major relationship, I always assumed there was something I was missing, that I would never really be whole without another person. I think that fear drives so many people into the arms of bad partners.

    So my advice when it comes to showing concern is to never judge the person in the bad relationship. Just be there for them and don’t question their choices, just be a voice of love and support, like many said above. You can support them without supporting the relationship.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      your homophobia-laced advice reminds me of my own situation a few years back.

      my parents kept telling me i shouldn’t see this guy. but part of their reasoning was that he had tattoos and gauged ears (horror of horros) and he smoked from time to time.

      their advice was well-founded otherwise, as i later found out. but at the time, i couldn’t sift through to find the good stuff because it was all drowned out by, “what are those things in his ears…?”

    • Lethe

      “That just made me grow closer to her, because I felt like it was us against the homophobic world, and we had to present a happy face and a perfect wedding to prove that our love was real.”

      That pressure is so insidious. Like us queer couples worry that we have to present ourselves to the world as extra-perfect because we’re “representing” our whole group, and if we admit one relationship is bad then everyone will conclude all queer relationships are unworthy/unhealthy/inferior/etc. (I feel like that pressure comes up in various ways in the lives of people in many different minority groups.)

      • http://moreofthisandlessofthat.blogspot.com Ms. Loaf

        “if we admit one relationship is bad then everyone will conclude all queer relationships are unworthy/unhealthy/inferior/etc.”

        Yeah, exactly. And I STILL get this from my family, now that my relationship is over. “Aren’t you going to try dating a man now?” Yeah, because THAT was the problem, that she wasn’t a man, not that she was a cheater and emotionally abusive…sigh.

        • Lethe

          Ugh…sounds like my family. Don’t listen to ‘em! The end of my bad relationship led me to some of the best personal growth in my life, really helped me free myself from the negative emotional effects of my family in the process, and I’ve ended up with one lovely lady. I know the same will be true for you. ;)

        • Avery

          “Yeah, because THAT was the problem, that she wasn’t a man, not that she was a cheater and emotionally abusive…sigh.”

          I laughed out loud at this. I think there are similar feelings for any minority – this compulsion to paint your ‘side’ positively. Coming from an interracial relationship I often feel that if I mention my boy being grumpy or bossy it will be judged badly – because, yes, the problem is that he’s ASIAN, not that he’s being a sulky child today.

          xoxoxo

  • http://www.secondchancehappiness.blogspot.com Brandy

    From this side of the “wish I’d listened” camp…..AMEN!

    Got married young. No one liked him. He turned me from a smart, sassy, going-places person to an unsure, self-doubting, going-nowhere shell of my former slef. And why? Because he wasn’t honest with himself about his sexuality. So, he took it out on me. And verbally beating me down daily ensured him (in his own mind) that I’d never have the courage to leave. But I did.

    And now I’m married to a wonderfu, empowering man…..and THIS is how marriage should be!

  • Lydia

    This is so pefectly timed. I have a friend 7 years in and maybe finally starting to see through the fog of the emotional abuse from her partner. The advice and insights here are so helpful as being her friend right now is SO VERY hard and frustrating. She is being treated so so so poorly and yet…she stays, she defends, she shuts us all out. I will continue to try to build her up, be a refuge and try to help her reconnect with the smart fun witty independent woman she used to be.

    And now, I’m crying. Ugh.

  • ka

    Wow, I’m totally blown away by how much wisdom and caring there is here right now.

    I have a question on marriage and cold feet and criticism. How do you decide if you’re doing the right thing when instead of having the relationship all your friends are concerned about you have the one that everyone envys? Because that’s me. While behind closed doors we’re far from perfect, I don’t think most people know that. For the first couple years everyone remarked how awesome the whole thing was, how they had never seen me so happy, how much they liked us together. And I began to feel pressured to play that “perfect couple” role.

    What has resulted from this, and driven me to tears more than once, is that I’m afraid to voice any doubts to my friends bc I’m afraid they’ll haunt me. Especially as when one of my girlfriends got married (she was the first of our tight knit group), she expressed some doubts. Like Runaway Bride level doubts. Well that spread like wildfire through the group. She and her husband have now been married for 2 years, and people STILL bring it up! She lives across the country from the rest of us, and I know that none of us really know anything about their marriage-good or bad. These girls are not catty, nor toxic, in reality it’s just an awkward mix of single girls who are dreaming of getting married (jealousy) and single girls who think you’re crazy to get married before 30 (I would LOVE to hear more on that topic!)…

    Well since we’ve gotten engaged, and I’ve gotten scared, I’ve begun voicing some doubts to these friends and others, and apparently the general perception of my relationship has turned into, “Well maybe you should take a break, you know you’ve really lost yourself since you’ve been in a relationship…” What?!?! When did we go from A to B and why hasn’t anyone told me? It’s all seems very much “the close girlfriends only hear from you what is wrong in the relationship, never what is right” adage. But on the other hand, I really appreciate Ms. Loaf saying “things really changed, but so slowly that I didn’t realize that bad had become the new normal.” Relationships go from bliss to nightmare gradually–when we’re in them how are we supposed to differentiate? If we can’t count on our friends to be objective and we can’t trust our own judgment, what do we do? I guess this is the part where relationships/marriages are just a huge leap of faith.

    This wasn’t very eloquent, but what I’m getting at is I’d love to hear some wisdom on managing others’ perceptions of your relationship/marriage. Also when and who do you confide in about relationships and marriage?
    (I don’t have sisters and my mom has passed away, and none of my closest friends are married, so it’s looking like it might be Team Practical for me… :-) )

    • Lor

      I don’t know if this is necessarily an answer to your question, but I’m pretty sure Team Practical will always be there for you!

      I know it’s hard for me to discuss my relationship with my close friends that live in the same town as me, the ones that hang out with the both of us. We all do stupid things, we all fight, but I don’t want them to judge him or judge me. So I tend to be more private with what and who I tell. But at the same time, the girls I made friends with here think that a man with an education, money, good job, is the only way to go – basically he has to take care of them…and I just don’t think like that. My guy is a hard worker, no college degree and we split things half and half to our best ability, but I make more, so sometimes I pay a little more. it is what seems fair. But they don’t understand that…so for me, it’s hard to trust in them fully…

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      i’m going to get flamed for this.

      so let me start out by saying, I LOVED BEING SINGLE. and i know some VERY wise, amazing single women whose advice i treasure and respect. this is not to rag on singleness.

      but there are SOME (not all) single girls (usually the young ones) who don’t understand the kinds of doubts and fights and weird things that creep up in marriage. there are SOME (not all) who have unrealistic expectations of romantic-comedy-type marriages. they’re usually the type who gush over how perfect your life is now that you have a man, and who then can’t recover when you admit you had a fight and sometimes his breath smells in the morning.

      i wonder if these are the girls with whom you’re friends.

      • Emily

        No flaming here.

        But I do think this is a good example of why you sometimes have to disregard advice while pretending you’re not.

        Getting older is hard on relationships. People go through different things at different times. It’s very hard for someone who is mostly single to identify with the struggles of someone in a serious relationship. Conversely, it’s really hard for someone who is married or engaged or living with someone to identify with how a single woman might struggle with watching all her friends get married, for instance. But a real friend will still try to empathize and be supportive, even if she doesn’t really *get* it.

        But problems arise when your friend, who doesn’t really understand your situation, is telling you to do something that doesn’t make sense to you. Or when your friends suddenly do a 180 on their advice because you’re finally being honest about your situation. The temptation might be to say, “OK, listen, you just don’t get it, because you’re single or younger than me or older than me or your parents are divorced or your parents are still together.” But that’s actually a good time to just say, “I will think about that. Thank you for listening to me.”

        Sometimes we give advice because it feels expected, because someone we love is hurting and we want to provide them with the answer even when there really isn’t a specific answer. Sometimes that advice sucks. Sometimes we even know it sucks. We’re human. We all grapple with the big questions. But just as you expect your friends to love and support you even if you date the wrong guy or call off the wedding or can’t figure out what you want, you should love and support your friends even when they don’t they don’t totally get where you’re coming from because they’ve never been there.

        • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

          totally totally.

          it’s just a matter of knowing which friends will be able to relate to which experiences, and be able to provide insightful advice as a result. no matter the life-stage.

    • Marina

      I think it depends on what your friends’ doubts are based on. If they say you should take a break and you ask why and they’re like, “You had a fight! You told us you had doubts!” then, um, brush it off. But if they’re like, “You haven’t seemed like yourself for the last six months, you’ve lost interest in things you used to like, you don’t have much self-confidence anymore, you get quiet whenever your partner is around, we’re tired of listening to the two of you be mean to each other in public” then you should think about it more. Because your friends shouldn’t be judging your relationship–they’re not friends with your relationship, they’re friends with YOU. They’re the best people to be able to tell you whether you seem happy, and if you seem happy, your relationship is probably going to be fine even when you have fights and doubts.

    • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

      I feel this way around a lot of females I interact with as well. A lot are married to the type of guy that truly would sing to his wife a Richard Marx ballad while doing the dishes, making dinner, and giving her a massage all at the same time (may be a slight exaggeration). Many times I’ve heard those truly great guys described as being “SO nice! and SO sweet!”, that I once thought that my guy didn’t measure up to those guys. I couldn’t share that my guy didn’t do all those Prince Charming things. But my guy is not like that. He’s not a Disney character, and I don’t want him to be. I think it’s so loving the way he is always looking out for me and putting me first.
      I will never stop saying wonderful things about my man. Just because I can’t relate to those girls or they can’t relate to me, it doesn’t change our relationship and who he is and why I love him.

      • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

        i know that this works for some couples. but holy crap, i would laugh in josh’s face if he was as sappy as some guys i know.

        the fact that he can call me butthead is amzingly romantic to me.

        • Alyssa

          Um, right there with you.

          I made my husband a “Bert the Farting Hippo” from NCIS for Valentine’s Day.

          That’s our relationship, right there.

          And it’s AWESOME.

        • ka

          Yesss…I will get called butthead, or jack@ss, usually during have dinner made for me, or a massage, or some other “romantic” gesture…and somehow the name calling is the best part. :)

      • http://faithintruth.wordpress.com faith

        Playing super mario brothers together=super romantic time for me. No joke.

        • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

          Heehee, it’s buying each other graphic novels for us.

          • Alyssa

            As a fellow comic book nerd, I love you a little for this.

    • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

      Would confiding in an older, married woman help, even if she’s not initially a close friend? I remember when I first starting dating my now-fiance, my pastor’s wife came to me and said if I ever needed to talk, she’d be there for me. I spent awhile freaked out at the thought of confiding in her about my relationship but soon found that she was a wonderful listening ear (most of my close girlfriends were also single at the time) and we grew so close through sharing with one another because yeah, there are some things people don’t understand until they’ve been there. (Before I got engaged, I had no idea how a healthy couple could fight over a wedding guestlist. Now I know.)

      I am not at all an advocate of the “now that I’m dating/engaged/married/have kids I can only hang out with dating/engaged/married/have kids people because they are the only ones who understand me, woe” school of thought. Your single girlfriends are very important to have in your life, but if they are turning your thought-process topsy-turvy and you feel you can’t trust your own judgement, it might be good to call in some reinforcements for a second opinion. Cultivate those friendships with married people or people who take a levelheaded view of relationships and can shed light on what parts of your emotions may be coming from the fact that wedding planning is not all rainbows and unicorns and what things you may have to sit up and pay attention to.

    • Alyssa

      I mentioned this somewhere in the comments (ACK. SO MANY…) but I’ve read and I agree that in serious relationship, there needs to come a point when the venting to friends eases up. Unless it’s a good friend that you can really trust to keep your best interests in mind, without just taking your side or encouraging you to make big decisions over minor incidents, then it’s best to only vent when you TRULY need to talk.
      When friends give you the “OMG, he’s such a jerk, you are SO better than him,” support, it can make your anger dig deeper when it might dissipate on its own. Plus, if you make up later, it only fixes it with you, not them. Then they may harbor negative feelings about your partner because they didn’t get to hear his apology, OR you didn’t go back and tell them when you realized it was actually your fault or mutual.
      SO, because of all that, I don’t confide as much as I used to about my marriage. I do with big stuff and usually to one particular friend of mine, but mostly I keep it to myself because it’s private, our difficulities, and to air them out to others is like an invasion.
      But that’s me.

      And forgive me for reading into your question, but you talked about the pressure of being the perfect couple. And to that I say, quit it. (SO easy, right?) You can be perfect for each other and still not be a perfect couple. Cut yourself some slack, sweetheart.

      Are you able to sit one of them down and tell them your fears – not just about marriage but about how they are reacting to you? They may not even know they’re doing it.
      And I say one of them because it sounds like maybe you’re talking in a group of friends and if you’re truly having doubts, that’s something you might want to have a one-on-one conversation about.

      And keep coming here. Getting married and being engaged is SCARY. Like, exciting, but SCARY.
      I freaked out to my sister-in-law (who I was friends with before I met my husband) about two days before the wedding when we’d been fighting over something fairly stupid but what I was SURE was indicative of a bigger problem that we needed to solve NOW. And she listened to me and then reminded me that I’d never done this before. Lived with someone, been engaged, been married, NONE of it. SO how was I supposed to be any good at it when it was my first time?
      She’s a smart cookie, that one. (I’ve been trying to get her on APW, but she actually WORKS at her job…unlike me. :-) )

      • ka

        Thanks for all the responses and helpful words, amazingly I feel pretty much clear on this issue.
        @LOR Are you in NY too? Because that sounds very close to our situation!
        @liz T too loved being single. In fact, I sometimes feel guilty for the mostly great relationship I have, because I never asked for this, unlike some of my still single friends definitely have! And yup, they are the rom-com loving ones. I love them to pieces, and I will be so there for them when they come to me with these issues down the road, but for now I do tend keep my mouth shut about my relationship with them. I guess what I was trying to say and missed while trying to keep things short (not my forte), is that I was feeling trapped by knowing I couldn’t talk to them about this stuff, because they haven’t been through it. Those that I have been talking to are my 2 best friends, one who’s single and one who’s also in a long term relationship (and lives cross-country from me). Saying it out loud makes it almost laughable that I went to them for advice, as obviously they’re not gonna get it! But they’re the besties, you know. What I’ve now learned is that no one will ever really “get” your relationship because they’re not in it, but they will still “get” you and they will be able to see things about whether you’re being “yourself” and happy, and that’s when their input can be crucial.
        @Emily This is all so helpful, and so true, and a great way to gracefully approach those awkward advice moments.
        @Marina LOL: “You had a fight! You told us you had doubts!” basically sums up so many conversations for me.
        @Sharon This is definitely something to seriously consider. Must get over my fear of confiding in someone I’m not close to, because they will probably have something very valuable to add, and at the very least it will feel comforting to have someone to turn to.
        @alyssa “Plus, if you make up later, it only fixes it with you, not them.” EXACTLY!!
        On being the perfect couple–you’re right. And I’m good with not being perfect, but I think my idea of “normal” got skewed somewhere in there, and that not-perfect became really very not good at all. (And because I hate to think anyone’s thinking ill of my wonderful fiance, let me just say that more than once reading these comments, I’ve wondered if I could possibly be the abusive one. Which, I think would be a scary, but interesting topic that I’m surprised didn’t come up today.) But it is good, it’s great, my perception is just skewed. I’m not perfect, we’re not perfect, and that’s ok. My fiance constantly tells me that I make him a better person, and I try to believe him which is hard because I didn’t know him before he met me! And I have never once had the deep-in-the-stomach this is not right feeling that I had with my ex, who is still a wonderful friend, but suuuch a good example of a relationship that’s not meant to be.
        And thank you to your sister-in-law. She is such a keeper! So exactly what I, and so many others in my engaged shoe’s need to remember. I feel her pain of working at her job–reading the comments here could easily take all day…
        Thanks guys!!

        • Lor

          Nope!! I live in the South, TN to be exact, lol. But if you ever feel like e-mailing, let me know!

  • Jeanne

    My best friend is getting married this weekend. To someone she shouldn’t. Her life is in shambles because of him. His therapist told him they shouldn’t be getting married.

    I have voiced my concerns before.

    but they are getting married. And I will sing my little heart out for her as she walks down that aisle, because I love her and need to be there for her.

    As I’ll be there for her when it falls apart.

  • Liz

    This was an incredibly healing read for me- thank you! A number of years ago I tried to tell one of my closest friends my concerns about her boyfriend. My feelings were that she settled for the first guy who came along, who didn’t treat her as well as she deserved, and who I suspected has problems with alcohol. When I tried to tell her that I didn’t think he was good to her, and that it made me uncomfortable to be around them together, she got really mad and we had quite a rift in our relationship for a long time. I definitely felt like she was trying to prove something and I became afraid that if something really did come to blows, she would not longer feel safe coming to me about it, even though she came to me when her previous boyfriend was unfaithful. Things have healed between us now, and I’m happy to say that, four years into her relationship with him, I actually like her boyfriend, and I think they have a fairly healthy relationship- not the kind of relationship I would want, but a good one nonetheless. She is happy and relaxed, and I can’t question that. It was very hard for me to convey to her my concern, and how her relationship made me feel (I was trying to put a point across, but probably looked very selfish), and I wanted her to know I would still be there for her regardless.

    On a different note, regarding abusive relationships: I have spent several years working in domestic violence shelters, and it was an incredibly enlightening experience for me. It is so easy to wonder why someone doesn’t leave an abusive partner, but it turns out that being abused by someone has little to do with stopping you from loving them. Love is not a logical thing- it’s a chemical, emotional thing, sometimes completely disconnected from the actions that are actually occurring. Finding out that you can love someone even as they are hurting you was probably one of the most valuable lessons of my life. Once that is learned, compassion can be brought to a whole new level, and judgment can be put aside.

    Thanks again to everyone here for addressing this complex issue.

  • LaurenF

    Wow, it’s amazing (and incredibly sad) how universal this is; it seems we’ve all either been or known someone who’s been in a bad relationship. After reading these stories, it seems that most women have one or a string of bad relationships before finally ending up in a good one. But I had a coworker who seemed to go in the opposite direction. She was married and had a child with a man who is by all accounts a kind, good person; however, she eventually decided that while she loved him, she didn’t feel passion for him in the way that she thought she should feel about a spouse, and they divorced. Now she is with a horribly abusive man to whom, apparently, she is very attracted (maybe it’s that bad boy thing?). He is insanely jealous and decides what clothes she can wear (skirts are out of the question and tops cut lower than a crewneck? forget it!), with whom she can eat lunch (no men allowed), how she does her hair (he won’t stand for anything but platinum blonde), etc. I’ve had to listen to many fights that they had over the phone while our boss was at lunch and heard some scary things along the way; he is seriously the type of guy who could come into the office and shoot people, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I just can’t understand why she went from a nice guy to a bad one.

    • Arachna

      Sex is a powerful thing. Its easy for me to understand why someone would stay for it – but IMO its the wrong decision.

      But its not more incomprehensible than when a nice guy stays with a gorgeous women whose personality sucks. IMO wrong decision, but perfectly understandable.

  • Lucy

    What a great post. I normally am the quiet girl here at APW, but this was big for me as it hit home. Recently my sister was dating someone who we all knew was bad for her – alcoholic, aggressive, verbally abusive – I mean a really stellar guy. She just couldn’t see that she was no longer herself when she was with him. She turned into a blob who walked around him like a puppy dog, catered to his every whim and didn’t bat an eye when he would not call her for days or tell his friends in front of her that she was nothing more than his “friend with benefits”. Long story short I had a break down with her. I told her the truth – that he was a loser and she deserved better. She yelled back at me and said that she had no hope for anything better and that he could change (classic). She attacked me when I wouldn’t allow him as a guest to my wedding. She turned on me and the family. Very hard to deal with while planning my wedding.

    In the end I told her, “I will respect your decisions as your own – but I will never support your decision to be with him.” She finally came to when I told her that I was willing to jeopardize my relationship with her because he was going to destroy her. It may not have been the best way to put it. I realize that now. I let my emotions get the best of me. Fast forward a couple of months – ow she is dating again and is herself. She saw what that relationship did to isolate her from what used to make her happy. Like this article said – she had to realize it for herself for a change to happen.

    • Vmed

      Lucy, my younger sister must have been dating that same guy a few years ago- normally a very stylish, extroverted, sassy girl, she turned into a sullen blob who wouldn’t ever see her friends and tolerated his manipulative sh!t for a year and a half. He’d break up with her and then “forgive her for hurting him” because he was a paranoid little weasel who was making her doubt her own perception. He gave her a promise ring. My mother wept.

      And I, like you, told her in no uncertain terms that he was a liar and that she was breaking the hearts of the whole family by letting him treat her so badly. The core of her knew better, and she tried to get him to change.

      At Christmas, he showed up claiming to be singing a different tune. I sat him down and had a serious little talk about how he’d better have actually shaped up, cause I was watching him real close, and I wasn’t going to just play nice like my older sister or appease them like my poor sad and terrified parents. I was polite the rest of the evening.

      I made sure to seek out my sister often in those months (we were in college, a few hours apart), and one week when he’d broken up with her she showed interest in studying abroad for a term. She was reminded of a happy vacation time.

      When she applied for the program I was there, and just by having that plan for herself it was like she transformed back into the sister I had known. And from then on she just rose above his later attempts to get her back.

      She calls those times “When I was not myself”.

      I’m glad for your sister you did what felt right.

  • Erin

    I was going to write about my roommate, who met a girl and married her six months later, and about how she’s awful and I’m horribly sad about it all, but I have a bigger issue now.

    My baby sister has been dating a guy for almost 4 years now. He’s nice enough when you see him, and doesn’t have any horrible habits like drugs or gambling or beating her. He’s working and taking college classes, polite to our parents, etc.

    But when they’re alone, he’s not nice to her. He won’t let her cuddle with him on the couch. He won’t bring her lunch at work when she’s feeling sick. He once sent out a mass text to all the girls in his phone asking them to meet him at a campground he was at. He ignores her to play video games or go out with his friends. And so on. She broke up with him this spring for a month or two, but now they’re back together.

    They went to Disneyland last week, and now there’s a picture on facebook of them wearing his and hers Mouse Ears (hers with a veil) and her holding up her hand to show off a ring. I don’t know if they’re engaged or married (she keeps saying when she gets married she wants to elope), but I’m terrified for her. And she won’t answer her phone. I’ve told her in the past that I think staying with him is a bad choice, and I’ve explained why I feel that way. I’ve also told her that I’ll love and support her no matter what.

    But what on earth do I do NOW?

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      kidnap her.

      no. but.

      you keep your ears and eyes wide open. those calm, unabrasive questions about, “wow, how did you guys decide on this!” can let you in.

      it’s holy-shit-scary right now because you can’t get a hold of her. but she’s just hiding from the crapstorm she’s caused, i don’t doubt it.

      when she comes back, after some time of being stuck with this douche, she may start to realize her mistake. and need someone to turn to. and you can be there, waiting.

  • peanut

    OK so I haven’t read all the comments yet, but I have to say 2 things:

    1) I am one of the commenters that said “all weddings are pretty”; I guess I should have said “All weddings I’ve been to have been pretty” because seriously, the ten-or-so weddings I have attended as an adult have all been beautiful, inside and out.; not one couple has divorced or unhappy (as far as I can tell). I honestly could not imagine an ugly wedding until the story about the bridesmaid stashing her keys in her flowers – yikes! No amount of “platinum wedding” BS could save that hideousness.

    2) I disliked nearly all of my close girlfriends’ current partner when I first met them, and told them so, loudly. I am very glad that they did not listen to me, because now that I know these men better I realize that they are amazing people and that I was just being over-protective of my bestest friends. I definitely agree that you should head for the hills if like all of your friends and family HATE your partner after a year of dating, but make sure you give him/her a chance to become acclimated to your social group to take honest opinions.

    • Alyssa

      1) I know it wasn’t intended as such, but I’m the type of friend that WOULD stash keys in her bouquet, if only to be funny.

      (RIGHT before I walked in the chapel, my dad and I had this conversation.
      “Hey, Daddy?”
      “Yeah?”
      “You wanna go?”
      “Huh?’
      “I’m not feelin’ this. Let’s just go.”
      “Okay.”
      “Crap, the music started. Oh well…”)

      But my family and are big fans of inappropriate humor. :-)

      2) But why I’m really commenting is that I’m the same as you with having been vocal about hating some of my friend’s significant others; sometimes with reason and sometimes just because I thought they were dorks. (They totally were, and not in a fun way.) But that you recognize that and are trying to move past that shows what a good friend you are! So yay for you!

    • meg

      To be clear, I’ve been that bridesmaid. It’s not “the friend being unsupportive” that makes the wedding ugly. No awesome friend hides the keys in her bouquet to be a bitch. She does it when she’s SCARED. She does it when the bride and groom have screamed at each other to the point of tears running down the brides cheeks and the groom walking out FOUR or FIVE or TEN times in the three hours before they walk down the asile. She does it when she’s worried the bride’s kids are going to be abused. The keys in the bouquet are not ugly. The keys in the bouquet are a strong woman being supportive enough to put on a bridesmaids dress and stand up with her friend even when she’s so scared for her she wants to run her out of the church. That’s the beautiful part. That’s what friendship *is.* The ugly part is everything else.

  • Charlotte

    I just got back from vacation and saw that Meg posted my story, and I would like to say, I wish I was as wise as you guys when going through bad relationships. The hardest thing ever is watching somebody you love doing something dangerous and you are completely powerless to stop them. It hurts. So. Much. As an update, sister #2 is now with a manipulative mind f*ck who is 27 years older than her. She’s not coming to the wedding because her boyfriend has convinced her that taking her baby to an under developed country (FRANCE) is not safe. I completely forgive her, but would give anything for five minutes alone with the dude and a baseball bat.

    Somebody mentioned earlier that the “i told you so” makes the other person feel stupid. Thanks for giving me another reason to avoid saying, “i told you so”. Both my sisters and my friend are wicked smart. Love makes fools of us all, but we live and learn.

    SO, if anybody is still reading, please know that you really really don’t have to get married if you don’t want to. I love the story about the car keys in bridesmaid bouquet. You are an awesome friend. And big thanks to Meg for letting me share.

    • Scribblemouse

      I’m not an advocate of moving country unless it’s a good thing all round, and so on, but while I really can’t comment on your sister’s situation with this man, I really don’t understand you when you call France an undeveloped country and seem to believe that it’s an unsafe place for a child.

      My only experience with France has been family holidays and of meeting a lot of French people during my French/Spanish degree. Nothing I’ve learned (from this distance) has made France seem like an undeveloped, unsafe place – not for the general populace, not for babies. I hear it may not be the best place for me to live because there isn’t the same support of benefits for people with disabilities, but I’m learning that the UK seems to have one of the best set-ups in the world for disabled people, and in other countries (no matter how developed) there just isn’t the same level of service.

      In any case, I felt that I should comment because I was quite hurt by the comment, since it just goes against a lot of what I’ve learned and I think, “What if my French lecturer read this? What if my classmate Marselle saw this? How would I feel if someone called the UK a dangerous place all-round and I was left trying to point out that I wasn’t in any danger?”

      Now, that said, I have no babies but I qualm at the thought of taking one somewhere long-distance, or even somewhere nearby on holiday. I don’t agree with missing close family weddings unless you have a pretty darn good reason. I also disagree with partners convincing their partners to do something they don’t want to do.

      I just don’t agree that France is the dangerous, under developed place you make it out to be.

  • http://brideonashoestring.wordpress.com Jesselyn

    I would also like to put in my two cents here even though I am late to the game and I didn’t read thru all the comments. Actually, I didn’t read any of the comments. But I really identified with this post and I wanted to write. So I am writing.
    (what the hell was that all about?)
    My sister also came out from a bad relationship of 2 years and the entirety of it it took everything in me and my husband (boyfriend at the time) to not want to bundle her up in the trunk, beat him up and drive her away to some exotic island where she could meet a hot island man and forget about the asshole. Because, you know, that is the answer to everything.
    It hurt me that she was hurting. But I think it hurt me more not to be able to do anything about it.
    I did finally learn, like Charlotte, that my job is not to be a watch dog and make sure she doesn’t walk off any cliffs because then, what would my sister learn? Nothing. My job as an older sister was to catch her when she did walk off that cliff. Bandage and salve her wounds as best I can because only time can heal wounds like those.

  • http://www.loveslidefilms.com Kelsi

    How about couples that turn things around, but others are still wary of past negative behavior?

    I am getting married to a man that was a bit of an ass in the beginning of our relationship. We met when we were young, and he was overwhelmingly depressed after the death of his grandfather. He partied too hard, was notoriously back-and-forth about the way he felt about me, didn’t keep jobs for very long, and in general was a pretty big loser. He was/is also very shy socially, which comes off as stand-offish.

    Fast forward 8 years later. We went to couples counseling, with excellent results. We “fight fair”, and know how to communicate properly when we do argue. He is complimentary, good to me, loyal, etc. He’s a scholarship-collecting & President’s List student, pays our rent, etc. He’s much better at being around my loud, large, boisterous family.

    Most everyone is excited for us, but some subtly express the lingering doubts that are still there based on him being a crappy boyfriend in the beginning. Thank god it’s years behind us, but it sure makes it hard when you can tell some people are not supportive based on past experiences. It’s also not easy to be with someone that you know others aren’t over-the-moon for.

    • Alyssa

      That is SUCH a tough situation, because I’ve been on the family/friend side of it where I resented my friend’s husband because he was SUCH a jerk to her in college. They dated for years before getting a house together and then getting married because they didn’t feel they had to. He even said, “Our house is a bigger committment than a marriage,” and as mad as I was for that comment, he was totally right. And in his way-different-than-mine-mind, buying that house was his way of pointing how together they were. And he proposed when it felt right for THEM, not the rest of us who thought it should have been years earlier.
      I never tried to get them to break up, but if she’d have said the word, I would have been at the front door with a bag packed for her and the car running. And I know now that it sort of hurt her, but I totally did it because I care.

      I can’t tell you what my friend did to deal with it, other than continue in her relationship, keeping building her baby family and wait for the rest of us well-meaning loudmouths to come around. (I still don’t like him, but now in an annoying big brother sort of way.)

      And you can totally be evil and use it to your advantage! Be like, “Um…my mom might like you more if you took me to France and bought me a puppy.”

      Okay, fine, bad idea, don’t do that.
      Unless your mom WILL like him more, than it’s a win for everybody!

    • Marina

      Yeah. My best friend did that when we got engaged, except she wasn’t subtle about it at all, cause she’s awesome like that. :) So I was able to respond and say, “Look, here’s why I think he’s changed, he’s gone to school, he’s on the way to a really solid career, etc etc.” And my friend said something along the lines of, “I won’t ever think anyone is good enough for you, but that makes sense.” And then it wasn’t an issue anymore.

      So… if you can, I think you should bring it up with your friends. Something along the lines of “You seem kind of uncomfortable with me marrying my guy. Is that because he was kind of a jerk when we first got together?” Just bring it out in the open, so it’s easier to see what parts are totally inaccurate now.

    • Avery

      Thank you for mentioning this, and thank you to the comment which advised to just bring it all in the open. I may have to have a very forthright conversation with my family before my wedding.

      It’s so difficult when no one can see how happy you are and are judging you on the ridiculous arguments and midnight phone calls from your early months!

    • Katie

      Kelsi – Your story really hits home.
      I am currently engaged to a wonderful guy, who I have been dating for about 5 years. When we became friends, and then first began dating, we were in college, young and wild. He was notoriously a good time – usually drinking to excess, being rambinctious, etc. Our friends embraced us and I was happy, despite these things. Now, fast forward 5 years, we’re engaged, living together, and I have the worst cold feet. I think a lot of it stems from this feeling that his behavior, when drinking an in public, is seen as obnoxious. While he’s matured and toned it down in recent years, I still have this nagging sense that people think I can do better. One coworker pretty much told me that his personality seemed out of whack with mine, based on his behavior. It’s difficult defending all of his good qualities when I, myself, am struggling so badly with my thoughts right now.

      Same here, most people support us (including our families!) but I still have that sense that others do not approve. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • http://www.thistleandclovers.blogspot.com Sara

    “Voice your concern once, and then be there when the person you love needs you. Our choices are our own, and at the end of the day, they aren’t really anybody else’s business.”

    Truer words were never written. When it comes down to it, we will all make the choices we want regardless (or maybe in spite of) other people’s wishes. I have a *very* dear friend who is in a relationship with someone I would have never “picked for her” but the fact of the matter is SHE is the one doing the picking. That is where unconditional love comes from. I will be there to hold her flowers if she marries him. I will be there to hold her hand if he makes her cry. I won’t judge her, one way or the other. I will be there because in the end being There is what friendship is all about.

    • meg

      Again. I think it depends. If I just don’t like the guy, I’m going to say something once, if asked. Maybe. If I’m SCARED FOR YOU, if this guy is a drug dealer, if this guy is emotionally abusive (as mentioned in the post… though I’ve dealt with different kinds of hell)… then I’m going to say something as many times as I think I can get you to listen. If I can’t get you to listen… then I’m going to shut the f*ck up and stay as close to you as I can, so I can try to catch you if you start to fall.

      • meg

        Ha. Re-reading this, since most of you don’t know me in real life… for better or for worse, this comment sums up the kind of friend I am. I can really be a pain in your ass, trying to make you be your best self. But I’m loyal.

  • Heather

    First time commenter and I have a couple of points about the “you shouldn’t be getting married” discussion.

    First, let me just say that to decide to get married is a big decision and it should be considered carefully. In fact, sometimes I think that if the majority of people spent half as much time on choosing their partner as they do on the wedding, there wouldn’t be so much divorce. So, what I’m about to say doesn’t take away from the fact that deciding to make someone your life partner is a BIG decision.

    And yes, divorce is hard. It’s tough on the couple, the family, children, pets, etc, etc. (I know this, as my parents divorced). HOWEVER, sometimes I also think that the emphasis on how terrible divorce is, puts energy exactly where it shouldn’t be–on fear and anxiety. So, sometimes even though we see people making “terrible” decisions about marriage and we feel like we have to DO something about it because one day, this person will get divorced and that’s TERRIBLE, I think to myself, “maybe this person will get divorced and it will feel terrible and it will be hard, but it will also be OK.”

    Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t intervene if someone is fearing for her (or his?) life. I’m just saying that maybe we don’t have to put all this energy into saving someone from divorce. It happens. We’d like it to happen less, but it happens. And, I think as most of the women pointed our here, most of us are too stubborn to listen anyway. AND, if I had listened to people when they talked to me about my past relationships, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to make my own mistakes and to decide what kind of partner I want to have. I would have been robbed of that experience. Who am I to intervene on someone else’s relationship learning experience?

    So, that’s all. Just another way to think about weddings and “poor”choices by loved ones.

    • http://happysighs.blogspot.com liz

      heather, this mirrors a thought that’s been bouncing in my head through the whole discussion.

      marriage isn’t The End. you’re so right. i think we often are subconsciously stuck thinking that, “oh crap- they’re married. there’s no turning back.” when we really can still have hope for our friends, even if they enter a doomed-to-fail marriage.

      but, many of the comments have been about not simply “bad” relationships- but abusive ones. and very often, these sorts of relationships only pull people in deeper and deeper, further away from the support of loved ones. this is when i totally get the whole “GOD don’t marry this person, PLEASE.”

      not to mention, divorce is hairy and painful and i’d like to protect all of my dear ones from the horror.

      but yes. you’re right in that it doesn’t mean life is over.

      • Charlotte

        Good point, but I’d like to also add that children suffer greatly from bad marital choices. Divorce should be seen as a new beginning, but the wounds of growing up with an abusive parent can last a life time. If the guy you are about to marry is abusive to you, there is a HUGE risk he will be so with your future kids.

        • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz

          DEFINITELY. i think the effects of abuse are far-reaching, of course. and linger long after it’s over.

          but marriage doesn’t signify the end… as in, time to lose all hope. time to throw in the towel. no going back.

          a few comments have seemed like, “well, now they’re married, so what can i do? shrug.” and i don’t know that that’s an alright perspective.

    • meg

      Just to clarify – I’ve never been afraid of friends getting divorced (are you kidding? I’ve PRAYED for them to get divorced). But I’ve sure as hell been afraid of the marriage leading to – all their money stolen, them getting AIDS, them having to deal with another woman pregnant with their husband’s child, their kids being abused (sexually, physically or emotionally), them being abused (sexually, physically, or emotionally), their husband going to jail, them going to jail because the husband has drugs in the home… etc.

      I don’t think we’re talking about, “Divorce is scary.” We’re talking about, “Marrying bad men (or women) can destroy your life.”

      • Heather

        Thank you for making the distinctions between “I don’t like him/her for you” and “This person could really ruin your life.”

        If its the latter, of course, I think it’s important to intervene/worry/be supportive. At the same time, as I start to tread into the wedding world, I have found a lot of fear surrounding divorce, which I find kind of impractical.

        But it’s also why I’ve been steering away from “other” blogs and still reading this one. :)

        • meg

          Divorce. Sometimes scary, sometimes practical, sometimes lifesaving.

      • rachel

        I understand the distinction you are drawing, but I think “divorce is scary” is a bit of an understatement. I don’t want to draw any kind of parallels with abuse. I want to talk about it as a separate but terrible issue, though.

        Having witnessed several divorces, including those of my own parents and my sister, divorce can absolutely wreck a person. Holding my sister up through her divorce and the years that have followed is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Watching someone who was once strong, beautiful and excited about marriage crumble, stop eating, stop sleeping, and stop functioning like a human being is terrifying and heartbreaking. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the damage from divorce. As a child of a complicated divorce and blended family situation, I can adamantly say that divorce can wreck children, too. My parents have been divorced for nearly 15 years, and I often wonder what kind of person I would be now if they had stayed together.

        A close friend got married in June to a man with frightening similarities to my ex brother-in-law. I only brought up my concerns to this friend once before they were married, and then I stood by her side and supported her (not her decision, but her). I struggled over whether or not it was my place to say anything, and I was as careful as I could be to state my case with concrete examples. I very well may be biased because of my experiences with my sister, but sometimes we speak from experience because difficult things give us wisdom. I saw what it was like for my sister when her husband left, and if I can protect any other woman (or man) from going through that, I damn sure will. If I had lied or withheld my opinion and something were to happen down the road, I would feel like a terrible friend for having bitten my tongue.

    • Ashley

      This is something that I’ve been thinking, too. I’m not convinced that the “success” of a marriage is determined by how long it lasts. Even though my mom’s second husband (my step-father from second grade through high school) was a verbally and emotionally abusive alcoholic, she put off leaving the marriage for years because she felt that getting divorced a second time would represent a huge failure. Her questionable/poor partner choices aside, there were all these messages in her life pressuring her to make it work or fix it somehow (even though he was unwilling to try therapy or change his behaviors at all.)

      I think her major breakthrough came when she got a promotion at work and reconnected with old high school friends…and I hit my own wall with my step-dad and threatened to move out of the house. I pretty much laid it out for my mom that if she didn’t make him leave, then I would leave. Looking back, that was a huge f*cking risk on my part, because many moms choose the husband at the expense of the kids. I’m just glad it worked out for us. At a certain point, divorce really was the least scary choice. And I was there for her through all of it, but there came a time when I had to put my foot down for my own well-being.

  • http://bigyellowhouse.wordpress.com d

    This is the post I’ve been waiting for. My sister is getting married in a few weeks, and I hate it. I hate that she’s rushing things because of the stupid cult she is in is telling her to marry this guy. I hate that she won’t listen to anyone who isn’t in her “church”. And I hate that while I will go to her wedding (at least the parts of it I’m invited to) to support *her*, I will not be able to support her decision. These are not the dreams we talked about when we were younger, well past our bedtimes.

    • caroline

      I’m so very sorry, D. I hope your sister will realize how far she is from those long-ago dreams and wishes and get to a place where she’s making her own choices (without undue influence from a “church”).

  • http://sparklefishmarriespistolfish.blogspot.com Mandy

    Yes. Just yes. The hardest thing in the world sometimes is to tell a dear friend what you think of their partner, but sometimes it has to be said. My ex-best friend and I once started dating guys around the same time. When my friend met Bob, I asked him what he thought, wanting an honest answer, and he said he liked him. I found out two years later that he had lied. When he asked me what I thought of his guy, I flat out told him that I didn’t like his boyfriend, and he blew up at me because he said he didn’t want an honest answer if that was my honesty. It can be rough. But to this day, even though we aren’t close anymore, I am glad I spoke my mind at least once about it. I think if I hadn’t, it might have taken him a lot longer to get rid of the guy.

    Always read the situation. In general…I think it’s a really good idea to speak your true opinion once, and then shut up about it. The seed will be planted.

  • meg

    I’m just going to offer a sum up to these comments. People are talking about two different things here. There is, “huh, I don’t like that guy” and even “I don’t think that guy is a great match for you.” and then there is, “I’m scared as sh*t for you.” The way we reach in those two situations should be very very different.

    Some people are talking about the first thing – and in that case, yeah, you say something once, you move on. You catch them when they fall.

    Then there are those of us who are talking about the second situation. We’re talking about men who drink, who emotionally abuse, who hit, who deal drugs, who pathologically lie, who father kids outside of the relationship and lie about it. In that case, it’s scary. How much do you say? How hard to you push? You can’t isolate you friends by pushing them too hard… but how hard do you push to save them? I don’t think there are any clear answers to this, which is why I found this post so compelling. Because at least it tries to tackel it head on.

    For those of you who haven’t had friends in terrifying situations, god bless, I hope you never do. But don’t judge those of us who had, those of us who hid keys in bouquets, who had late night talk after late night talk after late night talk… don’t judge us too harshly. Many of us who have had friends in these situations have also lost friends to these situations. We know the stakes. So we keep on fighting, even on the days when fighting means knowing how to shut the f*ck up and stand by them…. keys in the bouquet.

  • MN Bride

    Sometimes I’m still so sad and a little ashamed that I was got as close as I got (which, given that he was a total liar and manipulater, was never very close) to being the bride whose friends and family had to do an intervention. Man, everyone hated that scumbag I dated for over 3 years. Their reasons were totally legit and I knew it. I just wasn’t ready to walk away until the exact moment that I was (maybe that’s reason #4). I’m so grateful that no one said I told you so or made me feel any worse than I already did for ignoring the problems I clearly saw for those 3+ years. When I married someone who was actually worth my time, the love, joy and support we felt that day individually and as a couple was overwhelming. Peopel seemed genuinely happy to be with us that day. I’m so glad I didn’t settle for a keys in the bouquet or grin and bear it wedding!

  • Jessica

    So what about the guys who used to do bad/stupid things but have grown up?

    My fiance and I started dating when I was 18 and he was 20, and now 6 years later, I still hold things against him or worry about old issues.

    How do you learn to let go and move on?

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com sera

      I think it depends on the stupid stuff he did. There are some things that may seem stupid because you are still with this person, but once you leave the relationship aren’t so stupid anymore. What did he do and why can’t you forgive him?

      Before I met my husband, I was with my “high school sweetheart” for eight long, painful years. Because of the way he treated me, I thought terrible things about myself and consequently, believed that I deserved bad treatment. For the most part it was just general disrespect for me and treating me like I was dumb, and insisting that I needed him because he needed me. Things started to seem better as we became more co-dependent and we started to talk about marriage. But when I finally snapped out of it, I had one friend and my mom there to say, “hey, I’ve been watching you sink into a hole, you aren’t this person and you don’t need him. We will be here for you.” So when I did decide to leave, he got violent. It was a very difficult break up and most of our friends sided with him, not believing that he could be violent. I blamed myself for a long time. It took about four months before I finally could see how he had been treating me all along and how unhealthy the situation was all along.

      I think sometimes you have to step outside of yourself to see what is really going on. Maybe it is that you aren’t confident that he has changed. Maybe it’s that you are worried by staying with him you show a lack of respect for you true feelings of resentment.

      Even after I left my ex. and I found my now husband, we spent the majority of two years apart while I finished a degree in a different state. It was hard being long distance but I also think I needed that time alone to learn a little about myself.

      If you have any question in your mind that you are not doing the right thing, listen to your instinct and step out of the situation for a while. It doesn’t have to mean the end, but it could help you figure out who you are and what you need outside of your relationship with him. Your husband should be your companion, not your crutch.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com sera

    Meg, your timing is amazing. I just had to have an angry conversation with my roommate’s fiance on Wednesday night. I don’t think our roommate should marry her for many, many reasons, including her treatment of him, her thoughtlessness of the people around her and most recently, her suddenly vocal bigotry. I couldn’t stand for it in my house anymore so, I angrily kicked her out (she still has her own apartment less than two months before their wedding, but spent a lot of time at our house).

    I’m not sure how it will play out with our roommate, but I feel a lot better being honest with the both of them about how I feel about her. It’s been a long difficult journey watching her treat him so terribly and holding my tongue when she treated me terribly as well. Now I feel so much more free even if it ends badly with our roommate.

  • AL

    I loved reading this. My parents are divorced: Father twice divorced; Mother trying not to get her second divorce; Sister divorced after 6 months and was quite young; Other sister married to an alcoholic. Just got married myself, yet I am the only one where the family loves my husband. I must admit it did take a previous heart wrenching relationship with a d-bag to get what I have today, so even then I was close to following my family’s footsteps.

    What I take out of my family’s experiences and my own, is that Meg is right! Support is the most important thing you can give to someone you love who is in a bad relationship. Each person needs to come to terms with a situation on their own timeframe. Telling someone what to do and what is right/wrong will only work if the person is open to hearing what is being told to them – it cannot be forced.

    With that said, support comes in many forms other than *just* listening. My wise mother was adamant that one of her daughters would have a good marriage. Being the last one, I luckily was her guinea pig. Even though she is in love with my husband, she *insisted* we go to marriage counseling. They way she spinned it was that ‘everyone does it…it’s good to know you’ve discussed everything…see if there is anything under the rocks’. It wasn’t a tough sell – with my family history, I also wanted to ensure I was making the right decisions. I kinda *wanted* to find something wrong with my husband! And I did, but the process helped me know that we could work through it and that I wasn’t given up my own self respect by being with this man.

    Suggesting marriage counseling is a way to be supportive without telling your loved one that her dude ‘sucks’. Marriage counseling is a process that helps people come to realize in their own ways and terms that maybe something ain’t right. Even with a great guy, I was that girl who ignored anything bad about the relationship until we went into counseling. The process of talking about what’s wrong with a relationship and trusting that person wants to be there to work through it with you is KEY to a good start at a marriage. Through the process I learned to ask ‘if it ain’t right, can I fix it? If I can fix it, do I *want* to fix it?’

    I am curious to know how easy it is to convince stubborn loved ones stuck on a ‘bad’ partner to go into marriage counseling before they make a decision to commit. That is a conversation with a slippery slope and whoever makes the recommendation would need to tread lightly if your home girl is already on the defense. My take away: if you convince you friend to go through marriage counseling, and she comes out still wanting to get married, accept her decision and support her when she needs it. Then recommend counseling again if problems still exist.

    I plan to revisit our marriage counseling session again just because I think it’s good for my marriage. :D

  • http://www.projectsubrosa.com/ Cate Subrosa

    Just wanted to say, Charlotte, this was so well written. And congratulations on your marriage!

  • http://fionalynne.wordpress.com fiona lynne

    Reading this post and all the comments has been wonderfully helpful and thought provoking to me today. My sister is currently re-beginning a relationship with a man she was with before about four years ago. They broke up leaving her heart-broken (it was his decision) and a few months later he began dating her best friend. That relationship became an engagement and my wonderful sister supported them through what became a very difficult time because of family conflicts. Ultimately the engagement ended late last year. Now my sister and this man are re-considering their own relationship and it has me freaking out a bit because there just seems such a lot of heartache in their history to overcome for this to work well. But he is a good man – friendly, hard working, respectful – and I have voiced my concerns to my sister last week and she got very upset. So I think, having read everything here and thought about it, I just need to shut up now and be there for her and love her, whatever happens.

  • Pamela

    I’ve had two really bad relationships in the past. One was seriously just temporary insanity. I was broken hearted, broken down, and met a guy who had some sort of issue and proposed to me on the first date and I said yes. Seriously. It lasted three months. Three months of pain and tears.
    Unfortunately, this was the first boyfriend of mine my parents ever met. I’d had some before, but not in high school but while I was away at college, so this was the first one I introduced my parents to…
    And the second really bad relationship was also an engagement. We met on the internet (nothing wrong with that, I still maintain, but…) when I was 18, had low self-esteem, was finding myself, etc. We were together off and on (mainly on) for four years. Then one day someone contacted me from his email address to tell me he had died (he was a soldier). I freaked out and cried and believed it… then there was no follow up. I was searching for his name in the news (he was British and I’m American, so it wouldn’t be on my tv but should be somewhere) and found a blog instead. A blog of a girl who had dated him almost the entire first three years we were together. A girl who also got engaged to him. A girl who posted pictures of him, a poem by him… A girl who wised up to him long before I did and had said goodbye to him a year before I did.
    So not only did he lie to me, he’d cheated on me almost the entire time we were together. And not just the one time. Another girl had posted on this girl’s blog asking if she’d heard from him lately, she knew him and left her email. And when I contacted her, she was another girl in a relatinship with him (she hadn’t read the other girl’s blog, she just found his name in one entry through google and assumed this was just the blog of a friend of his)! But at least I was able to warn her off.
    I couldn’t believe I was that much of an idiot. And more than that, that my family had been right. They’d never actually gotten to meet him, just a few friends had, and so I assumed they were just judging him because a) they didn’t trust the internet and b) they hadn’t given him a chance yet.
    So… it makes me doubt my instincts now.
    I’m met a terrific guy who adores me. He reminds me of one of my best friend’s husband, who is the sweetest, funniest guy, and a little bit of both my brothers-in-laws, who are nice guys as well. He never brings me down, he only builds me up. He and I crack each other up. We have similar priorities, and passions. He ‘plays’ with me (I love to ‘play’ by pretending I’m buying a house and looking at real estate sites until I pick one, or going back to college and looking at course catalogs, or picking an apartment or having a baby and picking out furniture or.. ahem… planning a wedding. lol). And most of my friends might tolerate me talking about this stuff for like maybe twenty minutes and then we’re like move on, it’s not real anyway. He doesn’t. He plays WITH me. I showed him a house I’d like in the future, when I can afford one, and instead of just looking at it or brushing it off like everyone else, he got real estate sites himself and sent me houses HE likes. He randomly bursts into songs, which I do. Actually with my ex, I was asking my sister what I should tell him about living with me to prepare him and my sister said ‘you sing incessantly’. Well, so does he! And we sing together. And he loves to hear me sing. While most people are telling me to shut up when I feel like I’ve sung too much, he says ‘why do you stop? I love to hear your voice, it’s the most beautiful sound in the world. Nothing else makes me feel so soothed’ He’s awesome, in so many other ways as well. He brings me peace, internally, in a way that no one else ever did– I never knew my other relationships lacked that until this one had it…
    But, he’s not met my family and friends yet (we’ve only been together a month and a half) and they’re already criticizing me about it. Because of my past, they assume I’ve fallen into bad habits. They don’t trust my judgment. They make me feel like a failure in the way they love me. They don’t understand that I am miles and miles away from the girl I was at 18 when I met the other guy, or 19 when I started dating him. They just assume I learned nothing from those past experiences and therefore they must be my maturity. They are looking at my past, and not even considering him…
    And yet, it makes me doubt. And I can tell it hurts him. And I am so conflicted.
    I’m just praying and giving it time. I’m hoping when they meet him (we’re planning when now) they will love him. I think they will.
    But that’s the problem about bad relationships like that. They make you doubt your own ability to make healthy decisions, even when all the signs say you are.

  • Tara

    I would really like to “Exactly!” this post. I have been through relationships like this and I have watched friends go through relationships where I could see that they didn’t really love their partner. I guess what I learned eventually was that the biggest red flag of all is when you don’t want to tell your friends or family about your partner or when your non-jealous friends have no good things to say about your boyfriend.

    I know that this site is about marriage and weddings, but in order to be strong in a relationship, you need to have been able to be strong and single and you need to be strong enough to choose being single over being in a crappy relationship. I would love it if you could write a post about why you felt that being single was wonderful and empowering!

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