Was My Proposal Emotionally Abusive?

I can't think of it without crying

**Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse & Substance Abuse**

Q: My fiancé is a wonderful man and partner, but we both have our flaws—a major but rare one of his being not being able to handle his liquor. We recently took a trip, which I learned later was expressly for him to propose. The trip was going really well, and at one point it seemed like he was going to propose but he didn’t. I joked about it, but then he responded with some really hurtful comments: “Why on earth would I propose to you, you don’t believe in marriage.” “You don’t understand what marriage is because you have no good role models.” I still don’t understand why he said those things as he sat across from me with a ring in his pocket; nevertheless, I left the restaurant in tears and went back to our hotel room. He, apparently, immediately regretted his statements and looked for me to propose but couldn’t find me in the area, so he stayed out all night and then got very drunk.

The next morning, still drunk and barely standing, he took me out to the beach and proposed. I was so angry and hurt that I did not want to say yes, but I know you can’t base a lifetime decision on a single bad night/argument. The problem is that whenever I think about the whole event, I want to cry—and I spent the next two days either in tears or close to them. It didn’t help that for the first twenty-four hours of our engagement he was drunk/hungover and continuing to be the awful person that he becomes when he is drunk and/or hungover. He has since apologized and accepted responsibility for the disaster that was our proposal and I have returned the ring. He will propose again, properly and respectfully, without insults or tears—but now we are in this limbo where his friends, many of my coworkers, and many of our mutual friends know because he very excitedly told them all, but my best friends have no clue because I do not want to talk about it. I also still sometimes struggle not to cry when I think about those awful three days. To make matters worse, now I have to go to work and play the part of the excited bride-to-be when what I really want to do is crawl into a hole and pretend the whole thing never happened.

—Anonymous

A: Take a break from this dude. I normally try to give open-ended advice, but from the outside it’s really easy to see the truth: this guy has some really damaging behavior, and it’s harming you.

This letter that just reads as a series of bad decisions, all his. From the nasty comments, to the over-drinking in response (rather than you know, fixing the problem), to the terrible proposal, to the near-lying to all of his friends about what happened. This isn’t a proposal issue; this is a long list of serious relationship issues.

Here are some questions for you to mull:

  • Is he only mean when he drinks? (It sounds like those mean comments were made before he emptied a bunch of liquor down his throat.)
  • If he’s only mean when he drinks, what is he doing to stop drinking? I’m glad you say it’s rare, but… what is rare? And is he working to turn that into, “never, not at all”?
  • Does he often still try to go ahead with his preferred plans that involve you, even when he knows that you’re unhappy, or if you’re in the middle of a fight?
  • Did he know how upset you were about the proposal before he excitedly told all of his friends? Does he only consider his own feelings as the metric for what makes up a situation?

Couples fight. Sometimes someone drinks too much, or says something terrible that they don’t really mean. And I know loads of people who have regrettable proposal stories. None of that is bad enough that you can’t get over it; it just takes time.

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But what worries me in your email is how your partner repeatedly, selfishly chooses what suits himself regardless of your feelings. He does things that hurt you deeply, and does them flippantly and carelessly. Does that feel like a bigger, broader pattern in your relationship outside of this one situation? Sometimes there’s a reason we can’t “let go” of incidents like this, and trying hard to shove away those feelings means ignoring what our guts are trying to tell us. Does this bother you so much because you’re bummed about not having a storybook proposal, or is it because you’re worried about what it all says about who he is?

I know it can be jarring to see the real life details of your relationship listed below a trigger warning, facing that someone may be harmed just by reading it. I’m so sorry. But, I wouldn’t be this blunt if I wasn’t concerned for you. I want to make sure that you do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. (Resources listed below.) That sounds to me like getting away from him, seeking the advice of a therapist, and getting the support of family and friends.

—Liz Moorhead

If you or someone you love is suffering from any form of domestic abuse or addiction, here are some places you can reach out to (particularly during this very difficult news cycle).

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (or you can reach them by chat, here)

Al-Anon has resources for loved ones dealing with addiction.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE

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