Deciding Not To Get Married (One Month Before The Wedding)

How I got here


have always loved love, and felt just a little undeserving of it. So I gave it out, like cheap candy, to friends, to an out-of-reach father, and to any man who was interested in me. I would fall gracelessly, heavily into the arms of charming Peter Pans who clearly needed me, my worldly opinions, and my never-failing support. I paid checks. I booked weekends away. I bought them classic cashmere navy blue sweaters. Then they’d get competitive, or bored, and I’d get obsessed; and then it would end.

Don’t worry, I’ve been in therapy for four years to dissect and disconnect the patterns of my life, romantic or otherwise. In fact, two and a half years ago, at thirty-six years old, I was single again, my career was on an upward swing, and I felt more confident than ever. I was actually being choosy about where I would plant my love flag next.

And then I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The “best cancer you can get,” I was told. That nugget of medical insight didn’t manage to delete the word MALIGNANT from the top of my medical chart, but it was slightly reassuring. Nevertheless, all designs on a normal (air quotes) life came to a screeching halt. You could call it setback, of sorts.

After a successful hysterectomy (they even left me with one and a half ovaries), and a final diagnosis of Stage 1A Endometrial Cancer, I was free to live my life as I used to—except with quarterly ultrasounds and a wavy existence between low level and intense anxiety. Oh, and I wouldn’t be able to give birth to my own babies, ever.

Three weeks after my surgery, when I was feeling nearly one hundred percent thanks to amazing new laparoscopic techniques, my girlfriends took me out on the town. Or, really, to a few local bars just to get me out of the house. This may sound like an exaggeration, but I was suddenly attracting men like bees to honey. I was having a blast flirting and wearing my “normal life” mask. A few drinks in, I started bonding with one guy and decided it was totally appropriate to take my mask off and tell him the truth about my abnormal self: “I just had surgery for cancer and I can’t have children and I was probably too old to have children anyway.” I call that sexy talk. He drifted away pretty quickly. Good riddance—clearly he wasn’t mature enough to handle my horrible life story. We moved on to the next bar.

At bar number three—our final bar, it turned out—I rushed in, very high on booze and male-attention-getting-adrenalin, to get us some seats up front, as close to the karaoke stage as possible. I love to sing karaoke, even sober, so this seemed like the logical job for me to handle. My girlfriends took on getting us all some more drinks that we didn’t need. That’s when I met him. The man I would date for two years and then dump one month before our wedding. I’m now six months past the decision, and I’m still unpacking all the decisions and non-decisions that led me here. The logical bits are as follows:

  • He was an alcoholic and we were in a slowly (but assuredly) accelerating cycle of emotional destruction, ultimatums and forgiveness, and it got worse as we got closer to the wedding date.
  • He and I were not well matched in terms of interests or background, and as the alcohol cycles unraveled our life together I found myself more and more bored during the calm times in between.

Why was I with him in the first place?

  • He was a super handsome, almost always kind (even when wildly out-of-control drunk), Midwestern man with a huge smile that radiated contentment, simplicity, and enthusiasm for life.
  • I was scared of dying without ever getting married.

My fear of dying hasn’t gone away. My fear of dying without ever getting married hasn’t gone away either. I have new fears—that no one will want to marry me now that I can’t have children or am getting too old to. I know I’m not unique in this. I did make the correct decision to cancel my wedding, and I spend most days being grateful for dodging a bullet. But, I’m still angry at myself for wasting those two years clinging to the wrong partner, planning a wedding that would never come to be (God, it was going to be an awesome small wedding). I’m pretty good at creating and sustaining imaginary worlds, apparently.

How I’ll get fully past these last two and a half years of big life changes is beyond me (I forgot to mention I also lost a job about three months after getting back to work after my cancer surgery). Maybe I never will, but for now I’m focusing on staying cancer free and spending all my seemingly boundless creative energy imagining ways to enrich my single life with more singing, writing, and traveling. I’m also considering throwing myself a killer fortieth birthday party at the original wedding venue. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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  • cara

    Praises to you, Ingrid, for living authentically. I’ve been there, girl (cancelled my wedding two weeks before), and it’s terrifying and empowering. The best cure for a fear of dying is to live, live, live.

  • H

    Thanks for this Ingrid – I really needed this today. You’re a rockstar, have an amazing birthday!

  • Class of 1980

    Let go the idea that no one will want to marry you now that you can’t give birth. Many men don’t want children and many men have no problem with adoption. At age 40, as you move forward, those are increasingly the men you will meet unless you are dating much younger men.

    And maybe this is unwelcome advice, but I wouldn’t have a 40th birthday party at the same venue as your wedding venue. Give yourself a new place to party to go with your new life.

    More unsolicited advice … don’t shower the men you date with gifts. It just makes them lazy because they start thinking you value them more than yourself. They will stop trying. I’ve never met a man yet that didn’t love the process of slowly winning a lady over, so don’t short-circuit that. Save the presents for when you are really committed.

    I know the last advice sounds old-fashioned, but that’s my 2 cents from observation. Never lose sight of your own self-worth. It’s the most deadly thing a female can do in a relationship. Men are genius at picking up clues on how you feel about yourself, and they react accordingly.

    • Kayjayoh

      You may also meet a man who does not want children. My fiances likes kids, gets along with kids, is happy to play with our siblings’ and friends’ children, but absolutely does not want to be a father. Since I have long been on the fence about ever having a pregnancy, I was OK with this.

      Also: “Never lose sight of your own self-worth.”

      Requoted for truth.

  • Leoka

    That’s such an awesome description of codependency! It takes time and a lot of self-growing – a life-long process.

  • Lisa

    Well you can sure as heck write. I hope this is a true and prolonged upswing.

  • Ingrid Michelsen

    Hi all – thank you for responding to this (and for the advice!) Couldn’t agree more. I actually wrote this essay 1.5 years ago and just got the courage to submit it to APW. Much has changed since then, all positive. The four years of therapy worked. :) In retrospect, canceling the wedding and surviving the process (and thriving) really cemented my sense of self and self worth (not to mention surviving cancer). That pattern of co-dependency in my past is so muted now that I can barely recognize my old self. Not that I wish any of this on anyone, but there is serious upside to making big mistakes as long as you survive them.

    • Thanks for blessing us with your story and for your candor, Ingrid. Really glad to hear that you’re doing well these days, too!

      And what you just said about surviving your ‘big mistakes’ echoes a major life lesson I received while taking surfing lessons (of all places!): one of our instructors kept shouting encouragement at us as we were dragging our beginner boards back to the queue to be launched, “How do you succeed? You WIPEOUT, it’s the only way! So don’t give up!” Don’t you know on my last try I SHRED that two-foot wave, boy! And our instructor was on the shore waiting for me with a big bear hug. Unforgettable.

      Life is gonna suck. Often. Still, if you don’t give up you’ll be shredding two-foot waves! ;)

      • Ingrid Michelsen

        I love your surfing story! Thank you for sharing.

  • Kayjayoh

    Also, much love and support to you for dealing with uterine cancer. My mom is currently been dealing with that, and it has been a long, hard road for her.

  • Allie

    I can’t wait for a post about your killer 40th birthday!

  • Erin E

    I wanted to say cheers to you for making the call to not go forward with your wedding. As another almost-40er (who got married for the first time this year), I felt like I identified with the way age was factoring into your decisions. I consistently find in my 30’s that I’m in a weird space where I have confidence in myself and my decisions, but I also feel annoying age pressure (to get married, to have kids, to have a successful career)… and I struggle when those things go in opposite directions. Congratulations on making the right call and recognizing that you had to step out of the relationship (which can be harder to do when you’re not super-young and don’t feel like you have the world in front of you). Wishing you health and happiness to come.

  • Liz

    Good job on making the right decision for you. I have also been angry and ashamed of myself for spending 2 years too long in relationship that was clearly toxic. And that was 1 month after spending 5 years too long in a relationship with a nice, but entirely passive, Peter Pan. For me, that was the hardest part – forgiving myself for: being human; making mistakes with my time and love; and being someone who wants a partner and who was taught this is our highest achievement (eh). I think the goal we all have in life is to forgive ourselves our weaknesses and mistakes, and certainly admitting them is the necessary first step a lot of people don’t get to. Good on you, I think you’re going places.

  • Laura

    Just when I thought I couldn’t love Ingrid or APW any more, the two come together in a heartfelt and wise post. Keep strong and ooh, please tell us about your 40th!