This weekend my friend Gabriel was teasing me about being a “Wedding Pusher” (which is totally fair, since I always call him a “Baby Pusher”). And after he basically dared me to put our conversation on the blog (sucker), it occurred to me that we hadn’t recently discussed just how much I’m not a wedding or marriage pusher. I started writing about weddings and marriages because as I was going through the process of getting hitched, I found that the cultural dialogue around these events was so f*cked up it was actually deeply damaging. So here I am, years later, making a living talking about weddings. But I don’t thing everyone needs to get married or have a wedding. I think that getting married at the wrong time, or to the wrong person, can be one of the most destructive choices you can make. So I’m honored to have Morgan (who wrote about her wedding after her Dad’s death, and contributed to the APW book) here talking about the wedding she called off. Not to ruin the plot, but she’s now happily married and happily pregnant, so things turned out better than fine. Here is wishing those of you who know you need to end things the strength do go forward with grace.
Calling off my engagement was one of the best things I ever did. Also one of the hardest. I met my ex, who we’ll call X, in second year university. Within weeks we were dating and before long we were in love and planning the rest of our lives together. He was my first love, and he seemed like the answer to what I’d always wanted: smart, funny, cute, and made me feel loved and wanted. For a long time, that was enough.
Things were never perfect, but I spent a lot of time chalking that up to the fact that nothing in life is ever perfect. It took me a long time to realize how not perfect things actually were. I hate to give Cosmopolitan magazine any credit, but I remember reading about how a man treats a waiter and his mother is how he will eventually treat you. Our first fight was about the terrible way he treated his mother, the dysfunction in how his family treated each other, and my subsequent fear of him treating me that way. We had variations on this same fight (adding in how his family treated me) for six years. At length, and at volume, and with cascades of my tears. And yes, of course he ended up treating me the same way.
We bought a house a year out of university. We had joint bank accounts. We were heading for marriage, and yet something in me kept holding back. Every time he’d talk wedding, I’d stall. I wanted to: live together for a while; buy a house; get more settled at work; pay off debt to his parents… It didn’t feel like stalling but the gut reaction was a small “not yet.”
He went to the Middle East to work, and I went over to visit him a few months later. I was half expecting for him to end the relationship, but instead, he proposed. I had been awake for over fifty-four hours at that point, and I don’t remember the proposal. I do remember that the ring was everything I had specifically told him that I did not want, and that he had this mean fake out proposal plan that he could only half go through. (In therapy, meanness and ignoring my feelings came up as recurring themes.)
Two days after I got back to Canada, I had my first all day panic attack. I took to my bed and didn’t leave in until it was time for work the next day. The thought of planning a wedding with X’s insane family undid me. X’s father was only barely on speaking terms with me, but he was strangely forceful about the need to immediately start wedding planning—for a wedding twenty three months in the future! And I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cope with the panic attacks and the drinking I had started to do to quell them, and I ended up in therapy. It was strangely useless, and I spent a ton of time stating that it wasn’t marrying X that I was worried about—I was worried about marrying into X’s toxic family. Which was, of course, a major issue, but ignored all the issues between me and X.
I’ll skip past several months of complicated drama. It had become clearer that I probably had to end the relationship, and he could tell how I felt. So he crashed his car into a parked tow truck on a Saudi highway going over 120km/h. He lived and tried to use his injuries to manipulate me into getting married after all. Sadly, that wasn’t even the final straw. The final straw happened the day of the long distance fight where he screamed at me and called me stupid (speaking with his father’s voice). And only then, after years of conflict and strain, did I finally realize it absolutely had to be over. The writing, as I emailed to a friend, “was ALL OVER THE WALLS IN CAPSLOCK” and had been for a long time. Even I could finally see it. The good (and there was a lot good in our relationship, or else it wouldn’t have lasted for almost seven years) was constantly being smothered in red flags and warning signs.
I honored his wish that I break up with him in person, and so I called off the wedding and our relationship the day he arrived back in Canada.
One thing I quickly learned is that when you call off an engagement, especially after a long relationship, every single person will ask why. From your coworkers to your banker to random acquaintances. I’d suggest finding/making up a classy answer and sticking to it. “We no longer made each other happy and I realized that getting married wasn’t going to fix that” is a much better answer than, “I finally knew I had to leave when he hired a couple of prostitutes with his coworkers for a ‘good time.’” Even if the second is true, it’s better to keep the moral high ground. Trust me.
I loved my ex; I still had love for him as I called off the engagement. But love was not enough. There were too much that was broken. His love was needy and controlling and selfish. Mine was full of fear and insecurity and self-loathing. I wasn’t able to leave until I truly realized that I could be happy with myself, by myself, and that I was worthy of being loved for who I am, not for who someone wanted me to be.
Leaving him was the best thing I could do.
And life goes on, no matter what. I started dating an old crush from university and sixteen months later was proposed to under a windy grey Irish sky, and the memory is a treasure. We planned a wedding that was utterly different than the much fancier event that X’s family had been insisting upon. We had a wedding that was about who we are as a couple, as a family, as members of our communities. Most importantly, I get to be myself with David. I’m no longer afraid, or depressed, or having panic attacks. I get to be secure with myself and my place in the world in a way I could never have been with X. Calling off a wedding allowed a better life to start.
Oh, and my amazing husband David? Is both generous to waiters and loves and honours his mother.
Photos: Morgan’s personal collection