Ok, who am I kidding? It’s kind of engagement week here at APW. Today we have a beautiful post from Seraphine on what being ready to be married looks like. She talks about waiting and waiting to get married and then realizing they shouldn’t get married after all. She tells us about the ways that this shattered her, and the fundamental hope of rebuilding her life. We often talk about waiting to get engaged or waiting to get married like it’s a bad thing. But the truth is, waiting until both partners feel really ready to get married is one of The Most Important Things you will ever do.
This is a story about calling off a wedding, but what is most important about my story is that there wasn’t actually a wedding to call off. I got engaged, and then spent three years waiting for my ex-fiancé to be as excited about marrying me as I was about marrying him. That never happened. Instead, I waited and waited some more. Three years after getting engaged (three years with no wedding planning), we split for good.
While waiting on my ex really sucked for me, I think waiting is often the right thing to do. Marriage is a huge commitment, and sometimes one person in a partnership is ready for that commitment sooner than the other person. It can be a tricky issue to negotiate because it’s easy for the person waiting to feel like the person who isn’t ready doesn’t love them as much, or isn’t as committed to the relationship as they are. While these things can be true, they aren’t necessarily true. When I look back at my own experience, I definitely felt like my ex didn’t love me, but at the same time, he moved with me to a new city when I got a new job, and he went with me to counseling to try to sort out our issues. His unwillingness to make the commitment that I wanted was not because he was uncommitted to the relationship.
And, initially, waiting made sense in our situation. Within a month or two of getting engaged, my ex started to have serious doubts about the relationship. He wasn’t sure if we were right for one another. He saw problems in our communication that worried him. While I didn’t initially recognize some of these issues, he was right that it was not a good idea to get married without addressing these concerns.
While I recognize that you do not want to jump into a marriage without being 100% sure that it’s the right decision, his uncertainty was hard. I was sure I wanted to marry him, he didn’t feel the same way, and this is painful even if you can see the rational reasons for putting a wedding on hold. Also, I have a fear that once people get to know me, they will abandon me because they will realize I’m unlovable. My ex’s reluctance to move forward with planning a wedding felt like a confirmation of my deepest fears.
While the wedding was put on hold for good reasons, our relationship got progressively worse because of the dysfunctional dynamics that developed after we put things on hold. Almost two years later, we ended up in counseling, realizing that if our relationship had any hope of success, we needed someone else to help us sort out our issues. While we were able to sort out some of the fundamental issues that were leading to our dysfunction, my ex decided that he needed to make sure there wasn’t someone who was a better fit for him before he could feel right about making a permanent commitment to me. And while I respected this (and didn’t want to pressure him into a marriage he didn’t feel right about), I realized that for my own sanity, I needed to shut the door on our relationship and stop waiting for him. We broke things off and cut off contact, and then I spent the next year putting the pieces of my life back together.
For those of you who are trying to sort through the complexities of waiting, here’s some advice:
- Love, patience, and communication are key. If you are the one waiting, do your best to be patient and understanding—reasons for waiting can often involve difficult past experiences that your partner needs to work through before making a commitment. Conversely, if you are the one who needs to wait, make sure that you communicate to your partner not only your reasons for waiting, but also your love and commitment.
- When you are the person waiting, do not give your partner ultimatums. Ultimatums will not get you what you want (or, if they do, there will be resentment), and they will put more pressure on an already difficult situation.
- Waiting is generally not healthy if it’s causing your relationship to stagnate. Ideally, relationships should be progressing and moving forward. While this doesn’t mean you need to jump into commitments that you’re not ready for, your relationship should be getting stronger and not weaker (and let me clarify that I recognize rough patches can make a relationship stronger). In my case, the longer we waited, the more distant my ex and I got. Our relationship morphed away from the kind of relationship I was looking for, and this became one of the biggest sticking points for me. I was willing to wait when I felt like we were in things together and moving towards a common goal (even if things were rough). I wasn’t willing to wait when our goals were different, when I didn’t know how long I would be waiting, and when in the meantime, the waiting was harming both our relationship and my emotional health.
My story has a happy conclusion. Ending things with my ex completely shattered my life, but when I was able to put the pieces back together, I was much stronger and much more comfortable in my own skin. A year after my ex and I cut off contact, I started dating again. Not too long after that, I met my fiancé, with whom I am currently planning a wedding and marriage. And as difficult as everything was with my ex, I needed those experiences to be ready for the profound goodness of my current relationship.
The most important lesson I learned from my experiences with waiting was that I deserve happiness— not an “everything will be wonderful all the time” happiness, but instead, a “things are fundamentally good” happiness. When I was with my ex, I wasn’t happy because I spent so much time trying to save the relationship I thought I wanted, that I didn’t stop to realize it actually wasn’t the relationship I did want. Now I am in the relationship I’ve always wanted, and I am happy.