Calling Off Your Wedding—For Good

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

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  • Hillori

    Morgan, thank you. Your story makes me so sad that you went through those experiences. Partially, because I’d rather no one else go through what I did. Your story is mine, with very little variation. Thanks to a role in “Angel Street,” I realized that what he called love was truly verbal and emotional abuse. My gut helped me walk away. Although my finances won’t recover for a long while, I will and I have.

    I’m proud that you were able to recover yourself and find the happiness that you deserve.

  • Chris Bergstrom

    Oh man, I just want to say, me too. I called off an engagement to my high school sweetheart, it took way too long to decide (in retrospect), but it was the best decision I ever made. And like you, I am now married to a wonderful man, who does not give me that pit-of-the-stomach should-I-stay-or-should-I-go horribleness. Kudos to you, and thank you for this post!

  • melissa

    I kept reading this wondering if you were engaged to my ex-boyfriend. But we’re not Canadian, so probably not.

  • one soul

    This was wonderful to read. I don’t like to advertise the fact that I was once (briefly, foolishly) engaged before meeting my current (wonderful) husband, because it’s distant, now largely irrelevant (although highly instructive!) past, but I was, and I stayed in a hideously toxic relationship for four whole years (even after calling off the engagement) because of hoping that the good would eventually outweigh the bad, and because I was in denial of that capslock writing on the wall. But it’s so true – there’s no point marrying the wrong person. And when you’re trying to rationalise all your fears away, no matter how successful you may temporarily be, your gut always has a way of letting you know when you’re not doing the right thing in the long run. Well done making the decisions that you did in the end.

    Also, ha! Wedding pusher. As if.

  • Great post – had just the right amount of detail to explain the situation without going overboard! I applaud your courage. And also secretly want to be at your most recent Irish proposal.

    I gotta point out the irony here with the intro. Ultimately, I don’t think you are a wedding/marriage pusher Meg, but you did say, “Not to ruin the plot, but she’s now happily married and happily pregnant, so things turned out better than fine.” Let’s not suggest like she’s any better off married and pregnant than she would be single and strong!

    • Not Sarah

      I think Meg’s point was that just because Morgan called off her engagement doesn’t mean that she will never get married or have kids and she did later get married and start a family.

      • Yes, but if it DID mean she never got married or had kids, THAT WOULD BE OK TOO.

    • meg

      NO! My point was that she ended up HAPPY. Who the hell cares how she ended up happy. The point is that she is happy. I certainly don’t think you need to be married or pregnant to be happy… do you?

      • Fair enough, maybe I just read it funny!

        • I read it the same way, though. And was about to tweet at Meg in a spluttering fashion.

        • Lizzie

          Me too. And honestly – this post has been nagging at me since I read it over coffee this morning. Because I think the topic brought up in the introduction changes pretty dramatically between these two sentences:

          1. “But I don’t thing everyone needs to get married or have a wedding.”
          2. “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.”

          I think Morgan’s post is about the second topic, but not the first one. If anything, I think the way the story is told almost makes an implicit argument against the first statement. I don’t think it makes the post any less lovely or brave for that – I think it would be perfectly valid for Morgan to say that she is better off married than single, but certainly only she would know.

          Also – sorry if this sounds really critical. It’s not meant to be, it’s really just to say that I think a discussion about the first point is really hard for all kinds of reasons. My mom will go to her grave thinking that – deep down – everyone wants to get married (or – yikes – that at least all women do). I don’t agree, but on the other hand, I’m happily (albeit rather newly) married. I’m happy because I love my husband, but I’m also happy because, at 31, a lot of the trappings of being married suit me quite well. I’m of course only scratching the surface of this here, but it’s tricky stuff. As hard as name-changing, for me, so of course I would love to see it put on the APW table at some point.

          • Class of 1980

            I personally don’t think all 100% of the population wants to get married. But even if a majority do ultimately want to, they don’t necessarily feel like it at every stage of their life.

          • meg

            Y’all, there is a point at which I don’t know what to say about the first point. I don’t think you need to be married to be happy, something I say OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I was actually just as happy single as I am married. I don’t feel any particular pressure to be married (nor did I ever), since at least half of our friends are not married (and lots of them are not coupled) and I didn’t grow up with any particular pressure to get hitched (I grew up partially in hippy land, where happy families and happy people looked a lot of ways… and yes, you can be single and have a family). I’d even go so far as to say that I don’t love all the trappings of being married. So. I’m not the girl to write this post. But it sounds like maybe you are, which means you need to write it, instead of critiquing Morgan’s story, which is just Morgan’s life story.

            As far as this post goes, it’s specific. And I always remind you guys that people can only write their specific story. Morgan’s story currently ends with her being married and pregnant. She can’t change it to write about her ending up single and happy, because of politics. If someone else has that post in them to write, I’d love to run it. But until that happens I can’t run it.

          • Lizzie

            Heh – I’d tell you that I would write that post, but I think I told you I was writing various other posts several months ago that I haven’t actually sent… And actually, I don’t know if I’m the right person to write it either, because I don’t know that I have a story to tell about it so much as a bunch of confused thoughts. So thank goodness we’re not on teams because I wouldn’t even know which one I was on and would just be kicking the ball randomly all over the place, which actually is kinda what it looks like when I play real soccer.

            I think what this made me realize is that when I was single (for the better portion of my 20s), I was for the most part happy and content and from time to time desperately lonely. But I think I felt the need to always look like I was perfectly happy because I was a strong, independent woman who didn’t need a relationship to make me happy. And moreover, since I was a strong, independent woman who knew how to get what I wanted, if I was single, it must have been by choice. In my case (and perhaps only my case!), not all of this was 100% true, but I had a really hard time saying that. I feel equally clumsy and inarticulate now when I talk to friends who are single about the same kinds of issues, because there is something about the statement that you don’t need to be married/in a relationship to be happy that makes it harder to say “But I want to be married/in a relationship!”

            But anyway, none of this is at all about Morgan’s post, but I also really didn’t mean to detract from it at all, so my apologies on that score.

    • Dawn

      Why does being pregnant exclude being strong?
      I don’t think it does.

      • meg

        Of course it doesn’t. I’m worried that you guys are dividing into teams here, which is something I really get sad when we women do. You can be happy and: single, married, coupled but unmarried, pregnant, not pregnant, infertile, child free, a mother… and the list goes on and on. Those categories don’t put us on different teams. It’s about celebrating doing what’s right for us, and finding what’s right for us, even when it’s hard.

    • Yikes, I am sorry I commented! I was merely pointing out the irony, which really wasn’t even accurate because Meg’s point, like she said, was that she was glad she found happiness post this challenge, regardless of what that looked like.

      I am BEYOND thrilled that Morgan is now happy and in no way wanted to detract from that conversation. Let’s be done!

      • Keep in mind that we are on a wedding blog, and people who go to wedding blogs tend (please excuse all my generalizations here) to be in some way interested in or involved in weddings or marriage … we do have a very biased sample population here.

        And, you know, that’s obviously going to come out in posts and comments and everything, because people write about their own experiences.

        • AmErika

          Bless the diverse, highly opinionated, compassionate, ethical, HAPPY APW community for discussions like these.

  • Breaking up with someone when you know you’ve gotta do it, but you still feel love for them, is one of the hardest things.

    Morgan, you are a lovely writer.

  • Ceebee

    I have long struggled with family. My own.
    While outwardly we turned out good, we are all so broken inside that all of us wanted no part of one another and the dysfunction is what I wanted to clearly say No More to. But I can’t because they’re My family. so much that I could not look at any family or even the word without going into trauma, and when confronted by anyone about what’s go to change, I Defended the family and Everything I didn’t want or believe in.
    Truth is, no matter how much I want no part in it, no one would want to marry into this mess willingly either.
    So until the family is At Least Accepted, no matter how little we want to be like that, we will be that toxic. Having said that, it only takes 1 in the family to understand the damage and take a stand of change and Persevere to have it all overcame.

    But I have to say, marrying the wrong person, or just being in the presence of one is like a bad job, it erodes you, you lie to yourself it’s all good, eventually you’re brain dead until one day your depressed, already Unconscious self wakes up from the Dead and say Enough, then you get to the nearest emergency exit and break glass. Now I sound like I’m describing divorce lol

  • Such a great post and so brave. I connect with a lot of what you say, though I did go through the wedding and ended the marriage 2 years later. I can’t say that I’m sorry I went through it because it brought other amazing things and people into my life, but it was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. I’m so glad you’ve found happiness (and I have too!).

  • Becky2

    Morgan, thank you so much for sharing that with us. I think that women are often afraid to talk about their toxic relationships becuase it invites all kinds of judgment on them, and they’re afraid of how it makes them look. You handled things on your own terms with maturity and grace.
    I do want to throw my two cents in about the whole look-at-how-he-treats-his-mother thing. I don’t think you’re stressing these as words to live by, and I also believed in them for a time, but my personal experience flys in the face of that conventional wisdom.
    I am going to be marrying into an old school, somewhat racist family and my fiance absolutely dislikes his mother. He is not like them at all, but they are the people who raised him and they like to play happy family at the holidays, so we play along. They can be civil for some time, but any more than 2 days together and sparks fly.
    Sometimes I am appalled at the way he treats her because I have a great relationship with my family and would never dream of treating my parents as anything less than awesome. We have discussed it a lot and I have to remember that he had a completely different experience with them growing up than I do seeing them twice a year as a future daughter-in-law. They are extrememly judgmental about every choice he makes, and try to control every situation. I can’t make him like his family, but we find ways to cope together.
    The bottom line is he NEVER treats me that way. If he ever talked to me that way or yelled at me I would be gone, but we have a relationship based on mutual respect and we are truly partners. I don’t know all the psychology behind this platitude, but I’m sure there is some truth to it. The way a man treats his mother may be a good indicator of his attitude towards women, but I just wanted to throw my story out there for anyone reading who may be in the same situation as I am. Great partner, not so great family. I think there is a grain of truth to it, but that’s not the whole story.
    Again, Morgan, thanks for telling your story and best of luck to you and your new family.

    • Ceebee

      Becky Becky Becky, hey, that’s Becky3….Lol.
      I hear you so well on this one. There will always be exceptions and it’s exceptions that make them gems because they rose about what made them to define for what they want to make of themselves.

      I also want to say the language I learnt hear on APW is the language of encouragement, not of jumping to conclusions, something that comes with my cynical life and struggled to discard (almost there)

    • Oh, I actually agree with you in principle. You don’t get to choose the family that you’re born in to, just how you react to them. However, in the specifics of this situation that I have left out mean that I very much stand by what I said, *for this situation*. It also takes a very strong person to change the programming they grew up with, and X was not in any way strong enough. He tried, and certainly managed not to fall prey to the virulent racism that characterized family events, but he wasn’t able break ties with the casual humiliations his family enjoyed inflicting, or the psychological issues, or the emotional manipulations. It just played out more clearly with his mother, who actually was a decent person under decades of emotional abuse from her husband, than with his father, who frankly was an asshole. And it really was the first fight we ever had, and the undercurrent for just about every fight we had after that.

      Your fiance sounds like a good man for learning to seperate himself from his origins, and to treat you as a true partner, and that’s wonderful. I know how much effort that takes.

    • Anna

      “If he ever talked to me that way or yelled at me I would be gone”

      I’m glad you have a respectful relationship with your partner but this sentence concerns me. Regardless of how much he (dis)likes his mother, I don’t consider it ever appropriate to yell at someone. Like Morgan said you can’t control your family, all you have control over is your actions.

      • Becky2

        Hey Morgan. I totally get what you’re saying. That’s kind of what I was trying to say, but I guess failed at. It’s situational. And Anna, I’m not toally sure what concerns you. Is it the fact that there is yelling in the first place between him and his mom? That concerns me too, but what I’m getting at is that I wouldn’t have persued a relationship in the first place if he was yelling at me.

  • Class of 1980

    “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.”

    Oh yes.

    I’d also add … if he has ever been married, look at how he treats his ex-wife and children.

    • meg

      Oh, that’s wise stuff right there.

    • Rachelle

      I totally get why this wisdom exists, because I do think how we treat our families and service workers says a lot about us, but I find it really gross (but not surprising – it’s Cosmo) that it specifically says “waitresses and mothers” like a wife is a replacement for those two things.

      • I figure that the waitress is the symbol for people who have no power over you – who need to be nice to you in order to not get stiffed.

        The mother, I suppose, is a symbol for someone who loves the person in question(almost) unconditionally.

        Wives aren’t necessarily replacements for moms and/or waitresses, but the analogy has its merits.

    • Allison

      I can buy that. My husband-elect went through an unpleasant divorce, but he treats his ex wife with decency and respect. I noticed and appreciated right away that he wasn’t rude, nasty or petty toward her. It speaks to his overall maturity and quality of character, I think.

    • Coco

      I also broke off an engagement, about 2 years ago. Wish I had read that article!

      Rachelle — Is a wife a replacement for a server/mother? Not exactly, but women do often provide nurturing/emotional work/home caring services to a household and family; which are related tasks and roles to that of both a mother and server.

      Thank you for writing, Morgan.

  • What a great testament to doing what you know in your gut (or eventually realize in your gut) is the right thing to do. And a great testament to loving yourself.

    I justified a broken relationship for way too long for the same reason you mentioned — “Things were never perfect, but I spent a lot of time chalking that up to the fact that nothing in life is ever perfect.” Looking back, it’s crazy to realize just how FAR from perfect things were when I would tell myself that. No, things are never perfect, but you can get pretty dang close with the right mate. I guess telling yourself that ‘things are never perfect’ should be a red flag in and of itself.

  • Thank you. It is so hard to discuss a broken engagement. Mine was broken almost two years ago, and I still have people asking me how the wedding was/when I’m getting married. I’ve just started saying “Things didn’t work out, but it’s for the best” and changing the topic. I agree it is much easier to be classy about it than drag all the dirt out again – and it keeps me from getting angry every time.
    Thank you for being so honest with your post, and that the old crush worked out. I’m hoping for the same sort of fairytale ending some day!

  • Word. Word. Word. I’m so happy for you!

  • Christa

    “Mine was full of fear and insecurity and self-loathing.”

    Oh have I been there. I wonder if the difference between a relationship that is good for you and a relationship that isn’t is whether it subtracts from or contributes to that.

  • amy

    Another person over here saying ‘me too’! I credit Uni and the amazing culture shock it gave me for getting me out of that one.

    Oh, and I got engaged to my wonderful partner of the past 9 years yesterday so another happy ending.

    • awww yay engagement! Congrats!

  • Class of 1980

    Both my sister and myself dealt with marrying into dysfunctional families. It factored greatly into my sister’s decision to get divorced, and partly into mine. But worse than the divorces were the frustrating unhappy years in between the weddings and the divorces.

  • Ahhhh… Ok. Damn it, I’m crying. I’d almost forgotten I called off an engagement once, many moons ago. Don’t like to talk about it… I like to say that I was young and stupid and naive. But in hindsight it was so freaking wise. Like you I’m happily married and have a kid. And so is he… Morgan, THANK YOU for your raw honesty and decision to talk about something about something that I’m sure your husband would probably you rather not talk about. David sounds amazing, much like my Chris. I wish we could meet and sip margaritas together. HUGS!

    • I have David edit basically everything I write, because he’s an excellent first reader and gives good grammar edits. Everything but this. Because while this is part of my history and he knows all about it, asking him to edit as essay about it really seems like a line too far, you know? Especially because I know he’d do it with out a question, because he’s a great guy, but I’d feel cruel.

      I would LOVE a virtual margarita. Make it virgin? :)

      • Ha! Duh, of course. I always drink virgin these days anyway. Alcohol gives me migraines. It’s more about the fun little glass and accompanying chips and salsa for me ;)

  • Oh how I wish I had called off my engagement. I wish I had the courage you had! Because of course, that marriage did eventually end, but not before dragging me through hell first.

  • I can’t imagine the strength & courage it takes to call off an engagement. Kudos to you for doing what was right & finding your true happiness~

  • I am so sorry for all the hard stuff, but I am so happy for you, for standing up for yourself, for realizing 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.”

    Sometimes we need to go through really hard stuff to grow, and you can only see it with time…

  • Allison

    Obviously a person doesn’t have to be married to be happy, but if a person is of the marrying persuasion (as I’m guessing a lot of readers of wedding blogs are), I think it’s nice to hear of people who found coupled bliss after breaking off an engagement.

    My cousin called off her huge wedding the day before it was to happen. Caterers were canceled, gifts returned, hundreds of guests called and told to stay home. (Interestingly, the fight was in fact over his mother – and whether he would ever be able to be more loyal to his wife than to his mother. He chose mom, and she chose to get out of there.)

    A decade later she got married, to the right person. She had a great life during that intervening decade as well, but when she found the right person she was ready to go for it.

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  • DKR

    Morgan, thank you for your brave and honest post. I’m happy you’ve found happiness with your David! I also like/respect/admire the classy way you wrote about the drama in the relationship and with X’s family – as my grandmother would say, ‘don’t air your dirty laundry in public’, and you didn’t. Also, congratulations on your pregnancy!

    I’m another in the “me too!” camp – I was engaged for almost a year to my high school sweetheart, and called off the engagement. Basically, to make a long story short, we’d grown apart and didn’t see eye-to-eye on important things (like the fact that most of my friends at the time were guys, and since I was in Air Force ROTC at the time, preparing to be commissioned as a USAF officer, most of my friends and colleagues would continue to be guys – and my “X” wasn’t ok with that). At the time I broke it off (senior year of college), I’d decided that I’d rather be single for the rest of my life than marry the wrong person. “The rest of my life” turned out to be seven years, during which I graduated college, served four years on active duty, and undertook a career change that turned into going back to school for a second bachelor’s degree (I didn’t have the required education to go into the field I discovered I wanted to). After I went back to school, I met my now-fiance; he’s amazing and makes me ridiculously happy, and as of today we’ve been together two years :). I knew when I broke off the engagement it was the right thing to do and never regretted it; I’ve recently found out (yay Facebook) that my “X” is married with a kid, and I’m happy for him.

  • I think it takes a lot of both courage and maturity to shut out the competing WIC pressures of “Engagement! HAPPIEST TIME EVAR OMG ELEVENTYONE” and “You’ve invested too much money into this wedding to not go through with it! Everyone gets cold feet! Ignore it!” in order to listen to your own gut. Many happy wishes for you and your new family, Morgan!

  • anon for now

    Hey Morgan and other ladies who have bravely commented, have you got any advice for friends of ladies who are still in the relationship…I mean, looking back, who were the best and most helpful friends to you and how did they behave? I have a friend who is in a relationship that I fear is not the right one for her in similar ways to what Morgan has described and I’m trying to figure out how to be a good friend to her.

    • I think that was discussed at length a while ago. One of these posts, I think – or

      For me? My best friend would think “DTMFA” a la Dan Savage but say things like, “you’re not crazy, they are” and “you’re having the same arguement again – the same arguement you have every three months” and “he treated you badly that time” and “that was not a normal reaction to have” and “you can’t always solve everything yourself” and “it’s not your fault.” She wanted to tell me to dump his ass, but she couldn’t, because I wasn’t ready to hear it. The most she could do (and did beautifully) was to support me and to listen and to point out quietly and occasionally that the situation was messed up and that I wasn’t always in the wrong. She listened, she judged enough that I knew her feelings but not enough that I felt she was judging me for staying, if that makes sense?

    • DKR

      Anon for now, I’ve been on both sides of this situation, so I’ll tell you about the friends first then my perspective.

      I had a friend in a similar situation when I was on active duty. We served together for four years, first in technical training and then we were reassigned to the same unit. She married her ex-husband shortly before she graduated technical training, and ended up divorcing him a couple years later. I did the best I could to be supportive for her, listening when she needed me to, being there for her and gently reminding her she deserved better than the situation she was in. After the divorce, she was still hung up on her ex (for lack of a better term – she still referred to him as “my husband”); it was another officer we served with (and a mutual friend) that ended up helping her move on. They dated for awhile (six months? a year? I don’t remember exactly) and he treated her the way she deserved to be treated; they broke up because of different goals/dreams/plans for marriage and kids, but because of that relationship she was able to truly let go of her ex-husband and move on (and I’ve always been grateful to that friend for that reason).

      After I went back to school, I befriended a girl in one of my classes; she told me about the guy she’d been with for a couple years. Towards the end of that semester she told me they were having problems, and how he treated her. Being a cop’s kid, I recognized immediately the signs of a partner becoming abusive (cutting her off from her friends and family, wanting her to depend solely on him, etc) at which point I explained that to her and told her to Get Out Now. She came to the same conclusion and did – packed up her stuff one day and went to her dad’s place, and last I talked with her she was doing well.

      As for your friend, Anon, the only advice I can give you is to be there for her: listen when she needs to talk, support her concerns/worries/etc – if for example she tells you she’s uncomfortable with how her partner treats her, let her know she’s right to be concerned if you think so. She needs to work through it on her own rather than be told what to do, and have a supportive friend – but if she’s being abused in any way, she needs to get out of that relationship. Period.

      When I went through it, my two most helpful people were my dad and my “sister” (we’ve been best friends almost 20 years now); my dad for helping me see the extent of the problem (since “X” and I were doing the long-distance thing while I was in college) and my sister for being a sounding board/awesome listener. Dad was reluctant to say anything to me – he didn’t want to influence my decisions, but I told him that I needed all the information available to make the best possible decision. We had some good long talks after that, and “X” and I tried working out our issues. The problem was that “X” and I had been together so long (5 years when I gave him the ring back) that we’d become comfortable with each other, like well-worn broken in jeans – we were comfortable but I wasn’t happy. Originally we were planning to get married spring break of my senior year, so he’d legally be my spouse and be added to my orders to accompany me to my first assignment (tech school/training). Fall semester of my senior year, I decided to push the wedding back to after I graduated so I could focus on actually graduating. “X” didn’t like this and flat out asked me ‘do you want to do this or not’ and I knew I couldn’t. Afterwards I felt light and free – I’d been having dreams for months of flying, and after I was single again I realized that the sense of freedom I found was what the dreams of flying had been about. I had one semester left of school, and my friends who asked I told we’d grown apart, and I’d broken it off, and I got positive, supportive reactions. That last semester was a good transition to single life, and after graduation and commissioning I embraced the freedom and adventure of starting my career. I know this might not be representative of most women’s experience, but it was mine, and I own that. :)

      I hope this long-winded reply is helpful! Best wishes/regards for you and your friend! :)

    • Rachel T.

      As someone who has been in both situations, unfortunately for me, the best thing was to just let me get there on my own and be there to support me when I finally walked (ran?) away and fell apart (I fell apart -not saying everyone does or will). I think the more people pushed, the more I defended with “you just don’t know him like I do” or feeling resentful and alone because I couldn’t talk to my friends about him and our crazy relationship. I recognize and respect a point, as a friend, when sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and can’t bare to listen, yet again, as your friend cries and sobs because he was awful or said something or did something. Even though I went through it, I still have a hard time doing this with other people. How you respond to that crying is up to you, but just know, at least for me, there was no amount of reasoning and rational break down of how toxic this was that I could understand. I had to come to that realization myself. So, if you can stand it, just be the bystander and witness to her/his pain. Listen if you’re willing and be there when she/he finally decides to leave. I don’t know what to tell you about how long that might take or how to handle the crying in the mean time. But I just know that no matter what my friends said, nothing made me leave except me.

    • Coco

      I agree with the responses about listening. My BFF, a calm, logical lawyer, was the best support for me during the whole process. She simply listened to me and asked neutral questions that allowed me to explore my feelings honestly, without judgment. She also provided really PRACTICAL support, such as a place to stay when I needed it. I <3 that girl.

      The less helpful responses from friends involved people projecting their feelings onto him/me. I did not need to hear people's judgments/opinions during the time leading up to and during the breakup. It made me more defensive and put me in the position of having to manage THEIR feelings, rather than my own, where my attention needed to be.

      The fact that you are even asking this question here shows that you are a caring friend, and that will come through to your friend, and it is so helpful. Even if she's too wrapped up in craziness to acknowledge it right now.

      Good luck!

      • DKR

        Thank you for saying so eloquently what I’d been thinking when I wrote my comment – your first paragraph about listening is exactly what I was going for!

        “The fact that you are even asking this question here shows that you are a caring friend, and that will come through to your friend, and it is so helpful. Even if she’s too wrapped up in craziness to acknowledge it right now.” I want to exactly this at least a thousand times. :)

        • Coco

          You are welcome DKR! Thank YOU for sharing your stories.

          I also felt light and happy (at times) during the breakup. And also found that starting to date again helped me let go of the ex.

          Giving the ring back, oof. I bet we could say a lot about that one.

          • Oh, god. Giving the ring back, despite being utterly confident in my choice, was beyond heartbreaking.

    • panina

      Hi Anon For Now,

      It’s wonderful of you to be so concerned and supportive for your friend. Like what many other commenters have said, I think sometimes what is most helpful to anyone in some kind of toxic or abusive relationship is having both someone they can trust to talk to openly, and also a place to go if they need it. Depending on the severity of your friend’s situation, there are lots and lots of hotlines she could call as well- which are staffed with professionals to help get through things, such as

      Your friend is very lucky to have you!

    • anon for now

      Thanks so much ladies – seriously – really helpful.

  • “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.”

    What’s interesting, I wasn’t able to let myself be in the relationship that ended, or turned, or something (ended is SO the wrong word because our relationship did certainly NOT end with our marriage), with our marriage, until I realized the exact same thing.

  • This is a wonderfully brave thing to post, and I thank you for it, Morgan. It’s been three months since my ex and I called off our engagement, and though our relationship differed from yours, the line about chalking things up to life never being perfect resonated so much. My fiancee and I were good for and with each other in most ways and there was plenty of love on each side. We had lived together, we were seemingly surviving a year spend long-distance, it seemed like we’d been through so many difficulties and made it out – all signs pointed to happiness.

    But, we weren’t happy. Superficially maybe, but deep down in the four years we’d been together our expectations and desires for our futures had changed enough that they no longer aligned. So, we were in the position of breaking off a relationship where we both still loved and cared about each other. Which sucks. Oh, and I was two weeks away from turning in my Master’s dissertation and a month away from moving back in with her, so talk about timing.

    And boy, do I know what it’s like to bite your tongue when someone nosy inquires. I’ve more than once wanted to just snap at someone that we broke up because I wanted to be sleeping with her and she wanted to be sleeping with men, because of all the painful revelations we had to go through that was one of the worst. But that’s for one thing none of their business but also doesn’t do justice to how good our relationship was at its best points and really isn’t fair to either of us.

    • Coco

      STRENGTH, girl. Strength.

  • Jen

    Morgan, thank you for this incredibly brave story. I am so glad you found happiness with a new man.

  • Ceebee

    This is a real dumb question, but are there anyone that went the other way, like you walked out then say after awhile of freedom and feeling right, you go Oh No, that was The One! Not because you’re lonely or anything but just an Oh No/Hell Oh So Very Yes!?

  • panina

    Morgan-Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have followed this site for a while- after going through a lot of what you described, and now being in a real, healthy relationship, where weddings excite instead of terrify me- and I just wanted to say your words really resonated with me, and I appreciate how honestly you wrote. Congratulations on all the wonderful happy things in your life.

  • One of my favorite posts at APW ever. So well stated.

  • Jessica

    I also called off my wedding. I did it less than a month before the wedding, and it was about the hardest thing I ever had to do. We had been together in a mostly long distance relationship for over eleven years. We were teenage sweethearts. I couldn’t imagine my life without him, and on some days I still miss the role that he played in my life for so many years. He started being verbally abusive with me however, and after I called off the wedding, he was physically abusive. When I called it off, I thought that we would stay together and work things out, but it soon became evident that was not possible.

    I am so glad that I was strong enough to end the relationship before we got married. What has struck me the most is how many women that I have spoken to that told me that they knew before the wedding that they should call it off and didn’t. They all congratulate me and tell me how envious they are. Don’t be afraid to do it no matter how embarrassing or painful or costly it might be. This is your LIFE and happiness.