From Divorce (And Back)

After our recent discussions about the ‘till death do us part‘ aspect of marriage, Sarah, who writes over at San Francisco Budget Wedding, wanted to write a post about surviving divorce, and what it took for her to get married again. I’d like to write a long intro for you, but I don’t think I need to. Her wise and experanced words stand on their own.

I am not just a Wedding Dropout, I am a Marriage Dropout.  It’s not that I’m divorced, but I was the one who walked away from my first marriage.  Throughout my separation and divorce, I spent a lot of time exploring the whys and wherefores, trying to understand exactly why I stayed married as long as I did and why I couldn’t stay married to my ex husband any longer, and also working to make sure that I am getting married to my fiance (I am not getting remarried; they are different people and these are two very different relationships.  There is no “re” here) for the right reasons — and trying to identify what those right reasons are. When I kept reading so many questions from commenters asking, “How do you know if you should call off the wedding?”, I felt compelled to offer my story.

Two Weddings That Never Should Have Been

A few weeks ago, Liz commented, “I know someone getting married. and our friend asked her, ‘when did you know when you were in love?’ and she replied, ‘that’s not how it works. we’ve just been together for a long time, and he’s still hanging around, and this is kind of the next step. right, Liz?'”  When my fiance proposed to his ex wife, this was how it happened.  They had been dating for a few years, and she started making noises that it was time to go the “next step,” so he figured that was what he was supposed to do.  Not surprisingly, the marriage did not work out.  I cannot stress enough that no one should ask, and no one should say yes, just because you’ve spent a lot of time together.  If you can’t come up with a better reason to get married, don’t.

I, too, married for wrong, but different, reasons.  I knew that there was something missing from the beginning.  We lacked … electricity.  But we were good friends, and after two bad breakups, I mistakenly believed that passion fades over time, but friendship will always remain.  What I was too young to understand is that the passion may come and go, but it also sustains a relationship over rough patches that strain a friendship to the breaking point. There were times during the engagement that I came close to calling it off.  I was uncomfortable with how, and how often, we fought.  I missed sparks.  I should have listened to my instincts, but I was afraid to call off the wedding. My parents were on a very tight budget at the time, and they had already put down deposits on the church, the reception venue, the band, the flowers, the cake, favors, decorations, wedding party attire and gifts, etc., etc..  My dress was bought and paid for; the rings were purchased.  The wedding train was chugging along at a fast clip, and I was afraid to jump off the moving train. If I had been engaged when I was older, or perhaps at a time when I was not as vulnerable from past hurts that were still healing, maybe I would have had the nerve to call off my first wedding.  But I didn’t.

If calling off an engagement is painful, calling off a marriage is like breaking an engagement on steroids.  Lots of steroids.  I often compare getting divorced to exploding a bomb into the middle of your existence.  The worst part is that you can never be fully prepared for a divorce.  It does not matter if you are the one who wants it.  I was shocked at how difficult it was to separate myself emotionally from a relationship that I thought long dead.  If this was something I yearned for, why was it so painful?  I lost family and friends I loved.  I disappointed and embarassed them.  I hurt my ex more than I will ever understand.  My divorce — a divorce I asked for and insisted on — broke me emotionally.  This wasn’t your average crying for weeks after a breakup emotional breakdown.  I shut down.  I would go to work and stare at my computer.  Frozen.  I couldn’t read.  The words would jump around on the page; nothing made sense.

If calling off a wedding seems expensive, divorce is exponentially so.  Unhappy couples often accumulate significant consumer debt.  Before the separation, we attempted to fill in the voids in our lives with stuff.  Stuff is expensive, and you usually can’t give it back.  After the separation, I suddenly had the cost of two households on half the income.  I needed to pay off joint debts, mediators and lawyers.  I still had all of our regular child care costs of daycare, books, clothing and extracurricular expenses.  I still needed to eat and pay my other monthly bills.  I was lucky.  I only went through foreclosure. I didn’t have to file bankruptcy.  I am still paying off marital debt.

In the face of all that, it’s hard to remember why I was worried about calling off a wedding just because we had spent a couple thousand dollars on dresses, deposits and wedding favors.

On Remarriage and Trusting My Instincts

I would not be here as a Wedding Undergraduate if my fiance was any other person.  I would not be dating at all.  But I am a rare lucky person.  Tony was my first boyfriend and my first love.  I met him when I was 14 and he was 17.  We broke up two weeks before my 16th birthday, and I didn’t see him again until almost 21 years later.  The first time we saw each other again, we hugged and held hands.  I felt like I had finally found home.

The feeling that this is the right relationship for us both is impossible to describe.  Meg recently wrote that when a relationship gets easy, that’s when you know it is right.  Our relationship is easy.  We still have our disagreements, and he hates it when I get psychoanalytical, but there is never a question that we love one another and that we’re committed to one another.  We have weathered very difficult times.  Tony has had to adjust to instant parenthood; he was out of work for several months; my job has suffered because of the strain of my divorce.  We have each had panic attacks about how we will survive.  But we always manage to reach out to one another during these times.  Tony is my life raft, and I am his.  My instincts this time tell me that I’m doing the right thing.  That I am with the person I want to be next to for the rest of my life.  I didn’t listen to my instincts the first time, and I should have.  As difficult as my divorce was, I believe in marriage, and I believe in Tony.  Which is why I am getting married for the second time.

If you are asking “how do I know whether I should call off the wedding?”, the answer is probably that you already know you should call off the wedding or at least postpone it.  The question everyone who is contemplating getting married should be asking themselves (and know the answer to) is not whether it should be called off, but:  “Why do I want to marry this person?”  If the first, number one, most obvious answer doesn’t immediately spring to your tongue:  “Because I love this person from head to toe and I want this person by my side for the rest of my life forever and ever,” then you should not be getting married to that person.  No matter how well-meaning your promises are, if you don’t start with that foundation of love — not friendship, love, by marrying this person you doing a serious unkindness to everyone involved.

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  • Shelly

    So often we think that we’re doing ourselves a favor by rationalizing that there will be times when love won’t be enough to carry us through difficulties in marriage – that it will be about commitment or willpower (or friendship). True as that may be, thanks for the reminder that the reason we do this thing in the first place is about love.

  • I never get tired of reading about Sarah and Tony. I’m in love with their story and their life. I think it’s beautiful how two people find each other and as much as I glamorize them in my mind, I know it was not an easy or fun road for them to find each other again.

    I think reading Sarah’s blog (as well as APW and many others) reminds me that human relationships are not meant to be one thing or the other. Our hearts will guide us in different directions, many of which we won’t understand until we take them, but ultimately we have to make the best choice for ourselves.

    Thanks for sharing Sarah! (And Tony!)

    • Word, Angie! Every time I read Sarah’s blog posts I feel on the verge of intimidation (because their relationship is so interesting and her posts have a lot of depth), but then she always put something out there that is relatable to anyone in the marriage process – so rewarding to read. This post is no different. Thanks for sharing, Sarah…this was really brave and I enjoyed it!

      • *Blush*

        We are the world’s most boring couch potato couple, but it’s nice that you like to read our story anyway.

    • Love Sarah and Tony….

  • Eve


    I’m going into my second marriage also (my first wedding, as my first husband and I didn’t really bother with planning an event).

    My first marriage sprang from that same, emotionally scarred, belief that “passion isn’t everything,” that people you love like crazy are doomed to hurt you, and that shared values and friendship and commitment are what should make a marriage.

    And it turns out that shared values and friendship are just not powerful enough to– just as you said– sustain a marriage through the hard parts. And “commitment” is a pretty brittle idea, and an oppressive one, if it’s not backed up by a very intense desire to stay connected to that other person.

    I am so fortunate– and my fiance, also entering his second marriage, feels fortunate– to have been given a second chance to choose a partner. The irony is that somehow, at age 27, I felt like I was getting too old to find someone that I trusted AND felt passionate about, and that I would have to settle for less… now, at 38, I apparently am still not too old, and neither is my partner at 51.

    I also think it’s true what you say. If you’re wondering whether you should hold off on your wedding…you should probably hold off on your wedding. Yes, it would have been difficult to tell my boyfriend, when I stepped off the plane on our wedding day and he came to greet me, and my heart sank to my toes, that I wanted to call off the plan. Much easier, though, than what we ended up going through.

  • anon

    I think this is a really interestesing and useful post, yet the conclusion that if you have doubts and somtimes think about calling it off it means that in your heart of hearts you know what you should do seems reductive to me. It seems like most people have some doubts; the proverbial cold feet. Hindsight is 20/20 and when things go well, the memory of the doubts fades and when things go badly, they become magnified. When you are in the middle of the experience it seems harder to decipher what is a real cause for concern versus reasonable nerves about making a lifelong commitment to an imperfect person, but one who will ultimately make you happy. But then again, maybe you (as a poster or a community) are going to tell me that the answer is clear and thinking otherwise is wishful thinking.

    So, my story. My FI is my best friend. We have similar dreams and want many of the same things in life and where we differ there is some room for negotiation. Yes there is passion. And yes I love him very much. But sometimes he is easier to love than others (aren’t we all). At its best, when stress levels aren’t too high and everyone is getting enough sleep I love spending time with him and he feels like my other half. At its worst, when job stress is rampant and sleep is sparse (that would be right now) he can be hard to live with. Even at the best of times he is more emotionally volatile than me. I tend to tamp down my emotions and don’t like to make a big show or get upset about little things. He will get cranky about things like trying to pack the camping gear into the trunk of the car, but I just leave him to deal with it and he finishes it up and all is well. At the worst of times, he is cranky about everything and little things will get big reactions from him (swearing or raising his voice) he calms back down fairly quickly most of the time and it is rarely directed at me (and if it is it tends to be more mild, a raised voice or unfortunate tone, and he quickly apologizes) but it can stress me out.

    An example would be recently when he is in the shower and I hear a really loud and disgusted exclamation “THAT’S DISGUSTING!” I thought there must have been a big hairball in the drain, or some awful insect had been on the towel or something. I asked him what the problem was when he came out a little later at which point he had half forgotten about it. Turns out, he was towelling off and found soap that hadn’t rinsed clean and he had to get back in the shower to rinse some more. I thought it was kinda funny because it seemed so out of proportion.

    So let me be very clear (in case anyone got the wrong impression), he is not abusive in any way. He is loving, supportive, and goes way out of his way to make me happy. He does not ever demean me (although he sometimes beats up on himself). I am not afraid of him at all. I trust him. But he gets cranky when he is stressed and that stresses me out. And that can be hard to deal with when it goes on for a while and sometimes I question whether I want to deal with it for the rest of my life. And yet, I do love him. And I am attracted to him. And I want to build a life with him. I just wish he could be less cranky.

    Thanks for reading if you got this far. Writing it actually made me feel better. Kinda puts the pain in the butt factor in perspective.

    • Liz

      i don’t think many here will disagree with you, anon. in fact, we often discuss the fact that all relationships- including marriage- have their ups and downs. that doubts are often normal and healthy and natural. that people are only human, and in learning to love another, we need to learn to cope with a host of flaws (and figure out what our annoying ones are, too).

      but i do agree with sarah’s point that if you are questioning- it’s a big enough decision to put on hold- even if it’s just until you sort things out. i broke up with josh two months before he proposed (the poor man had the ring and everything). because i knew we were headed down the marriage trail, and i suddenly felt a panicky, “AH, AHH sometimes he can be forgetful!! what am i going to do with such a forgetful man for the rest of my life?! i can’t do this!”

      that month where we were apart was awesome. because it solidified what i knew deep down- that josh and i could be awesome together, despite his forgetfulness or my crankiness. and in our short marriage so far, we’ve HELPED one another with those flaws rather than been driven apart by them. that little month-long breather helped me to put my head back on- because, like you said- in the midst of things, it can be heard to tell what’s a big deal and what isn’t. so take a step back and figure it out, if you need to.

      i think that’s sarah’s point- not that “if you are questioning things, then your marriage is doomed.” but that if you are questioning things, it’s ok to put things on hold til you get it straight.

    • Eve

      You definitely have a point about hindsight– of course having some fears is normal, and if a person turns out happily married in ten years, they will come away instead with the lesson that “you just have to jump in with both feet.” I do think there is a distinction, one that’s hard to put into words, between having fears and feeling a certain kind of dread. The latter ought to be listened to. The often-used word “doubts” is pretty ambiguous and could refer to either situation.

      As for your guy… I hope you have let him know how his volatility affects you. He might not be aware how what, for him, might be a stress-reliever– “letting off steam” by yelling “that’s disgusting!” about basically nothing– can be stress-inducing for someone else. Having someone shouting nearby you, even if it’s not AT you, can still trigger an adrenaline response.

      My feeling is that, of course, no partner is perfect going into a marriage, but that it’s crucial to be able to communicate about the things that bother you.

      • anon

        He knows. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Prepare Assessment, but it is a good (and effective) tool. One of the things it pointed out when we took it is that we are at quite different places on the emotional volatility scale and that that tends to cause issues with not always relating to the intensity of the other’s reaction to things. ::shrug:: It is a personality trait and hence a perpetual problem that can’t really be solved just dealt with better or worse. On the whole I would say it is getting better over time. It is a recurring cycle based on stress levels, but has generally gotten less dramatic over time because we handle it better and because we (or maybe I) are more secure and I tend to take more of an attitude of this too will pass. But the flip side right now is that some things get magnified by the imminence of the wedding. Sort of the “Oh my god, am I going to be dealing with this forever” reaction. ::shrug::

        • I wish I could make this better for you. I wish I could tell you that your relationship is just fine and that what you’re feeling is just the usual, normal, everyday questioning that all engaged couples do. But what you are describing sounds awfully familiar to me, and I have to admit that I am concerned.

          When you talk about a “recurring cycle,” you are talking about something that you will be dealing with forever.

          I hope you do take the time to make sure that the path you are taking is the right path for both of you. You are attempting to shrug off volatility that makes you palpably uncomfortable, a perpetual problem, personality traits and recurring problems. These are not the things that should be ignored. This is not squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube; this is a fundamental conflict of your personalities.

          My fiance did premarital counseling and assessment with his ex-wife. I asked him once what the assessment said, and he said almost exactly what you said your results were. He said they shrugged off the results of that test. Test was wrong, test just identified areas they needed to work on, etc. That may be true in your case. I don’t know. But you are clearly having serious doubts about your compatibility. These are the kinds of doubts that, in my book, are an excellent reason to slow things down and postpone a wedding until you have really worked through them.

    • Lisa

      I want to give a shout out to a book called Nonviolent Communication that I’m reading right now. Originally I bought it for a mediation committee at the office, but it’s basically about a process for communication where both party’s feelings and needs are expressed and addressed, without judgement, through empathetic listening. It’s something you can apply to any relationship, and even though I’m only halfway through it I’ve already tried it out in my own. It’s about being aware of your language, avoiding judgemental terms (like stupid or cranky) in favor of descriptors of your own feelings. If you fiance is yelling because he got a nail in his tire, you could say something like “Hey Joe, I’m feeling anxious and alarmed when you react so strongly to something that I perceive as relatively easy to fix. Would you be willing to tone your voice down?” That way you avoid the judgement statement (like “You’re overreacting” or “You’re sorta alarming me right now”) but you express how this behavior is affecting you, while requesting (not demanding) a change. I would highly recommend reading the whole thing to better understand it though, I’m still getting the hang of it myself.

      At the same time, I am definitely the partner that overreacts and yells when something happens. I come from a family background where we were ALWAYS loud. My husband, however, identifies slammed doors and stomping with SEVERE anger, so when I’m annoyed and throw the silverware drawer shut and he cringes because he’s thinking that something terrible is going on. There’s sort of a learning curve here. I have to try to be more sensitive about how noisy I am and how violently I react to stress, and he has to try and recognize that just because I stubbed a toe and am cursing like a sailor, it doesn’t mean I’m about to fly into a rage and threaten divorce (like his parents). People are weird man. They’ve got all sorts of complexes that you have to be empathetic towards, and vice versa. If there’s willingness to really empathize on both your parts, I’d say that indicates a healthy relationship.

      And seriously guys. Try that book.

      • amandover

        I just have to say – “me, too!”
        I’m trying to learn not to be so pissed when things go wrong, but I get really excited about things, and then, if they’re ruined right when I was planning to enjoy them…
        The last time was when the hummus I made ended up covered in defrosting-chicken juice. He just cleaned out the fridge while I fumed, and then I felt bad, started helping, and felt better. So maybe that’s a good tactic – if you’re level-headed enough to be constructive, it might inspire him to get over it.

      • Vmed

        Another great book for better communication that helped us SO* so much is Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. It’s aimed more at business/managers so it’s a pretty efficient read, but it has great tips for ANY tense conversation.

        *generally, I am volatile, my guy is reserved, but we came to the relationship with so many other wooonderful quirks like if I’m totally freaking out I shut down and he backs off and suddenly there is a freaky silence that could go for hours until I explode. We don’t do that as much anymore.

      • Liz

        yup yup yup. to all of the above comments, really.

        i’m loud when i’m angry. and i’m short tempered- in the sense that i flare up in frustration over little things (rarely the big things). and then i’m fine the next minute. i’ve needed to curb this side of myself a bit in order to protect our relationship. and in the same token, josh and i have talked a good deal about healthy anger. in the sense that i’m allowed to yell sometimes. just setting limits and stretching both of ourselves- me, in being careful not to be offensive. him, in being careful to not read into things.

        our essential personalities have remained the same. but we’ve been willing to shift things to accomodate one another’s preferences and feelings- and we’re both better for it.

        • I’m definitely the more volatile one in our relationship. My fiance’s volatile, too, but I’m more volatile in OUR relationship. (ex: he yells at other drivers on the road when he’s mad at how they drive. I yell at him when I’m mad about work.) We’ve talked about it a lot, and, slowly but surely, because of him and our relationship, I’m finally starting to improve a character flaw that’s been plaguing me since I was an adolescent. Part of what I love about him is how well he handles my temper tantrums, but I also know that he doesn’t deserve to have to “handle” my bad behavior, and that’s a huge part of what’s motivating me to (try to) change. (I could write a chapter about the insights into my behavior that I’ve had since I started dating my fiance, but it would get irrelevant and tangential. The point is that I’m having them – but that it’s very uncomfortable to be the “volatile” half of a “volatile/non-volatile” relationship pairing and to know that your “better half” (literally, from this perspective) deserves better, and not be sure whether you’ll ever be able to BE better for him.)

          • Liz

            that’s kind of what makes marriage beautiful, though, isn’t it? i am a crappy, crappy person. and this guy over here thinks i’m so amazing, he’s willing to put up with the crappy parts of me. the thought makes it easier to try to stop those deep-rooted bad habits RIGHT now.

            and in return, he gets someone who is head-over-heels in love him, enough to put up with his crap and actually enjoy the process.

        • Eliza

          Liz thank you so much for chiming in on this! For the first couple of years I wondered if this kind of difference was going to be a huge problem in our relationship, one that we couldn’t get over. (But not, now, because it’s 4 years tomorrow!) I worried because I always listened to that thing that says, you can’t change who someone is. And that’s absolutely right, you can’t. But people can GROW, and that’s a whole different thing, I think. We’ve both grown – I don’t yell when I’m angry any more (and I come from a a family where yelling is just what you do) and he doesn’t walk out any more or stonewall me when he’s angry (and that was what he was raised to do.) That shifting, to hear where the other person is at and respond to it and grow together to be a couple that argues in a fair way? Is maybe *the* most valuable thing I have learned in living with my fiance before marrying him.

      • Another “Me, too.” I’ve given my FH permission to call me on it when I get like that. 99 times out of 100, it snaps me back to reality, but just the other night I was in meltdown mode. It doesn’t help that I’m a Type-A Perfectionist that is constantly beating herself up.

    • Rachel

      I know you’ve gotten a few responses, but I want to reiterate a few things.

      Like you said, everyone questions. I had cold feet a few times because I thought my now-husband was TOO good for me, and that I would never measure up to what he sees me as. At those times, I would call my brother, who I’m lucky to call my best friend since we were kids, who would shush me and remind me that I had to learn to see in myself what Dan sees in me. It’s growing, and it’s hard, but I’m also becoming a much better person because I’m trying like heck to be wonderful for Dan.

      I’m going to analyze for a moment, and I’m going to rationalize that you wouldn’t have posted if you didn’t want to hear it, but I worry about the fact that you had to write all that. That part where Sarah said it’s easy? I didn’t hear that in your post. Just like Sarah said, it’s just easy with my husband. Sometimes, we’re tired and hungry from 12-16 hours days of our respective jobs. Sometimes, we’ve spent too much time watching TV instead of cleaning the house. Sometimes, I haven’t had enough chocolate. I whine; he gets snippy. But even in those whiny or snippy moments (or days or weeks), a really good look in each other’s eyes washes it all away even just for a second. I might be whining and he may be snippy a second-and-a-half later, but the love is still there and palpable even underneath that.

      My previous boyfriend, I did what you’re doing. I dated him for 4 years that included things that made me uncomfortable. But I told myself that everybody makes compromises for the person they love, so I compromised what I deemed to be a healthy sense of decency because the L-word was involved. And for those 4 years, I told everyone about how happy we were, how we were going to get married eventually, how yes it’s hard but I think it’s worth it. And when I finally broke up with him, I looked back and thought to myself the old Shakespeare line, “Methinks thou didst protest too much.”

      So, I pose you this question: if everything is healthy and wonderful and truly good between the two of you, why did you need to post an anonymous fettering of what looks to me like worries that are being rationalized?

      I don’t know you and I don’t know your situation, so if I’ve misunderstood, please don’t take offense. But if, on the off-chance that you vehemently need to defend your relationship instead of just letting a misunderstanding roll off your back, I would recommend a gut check, just to see if that pit in your stomach that feels like anger isn’t the realization of doubt. I wish that I would’ve done that earlier than 4 years!

    • lurker

      I totally understand what anon is saying, and am struggling with the same “How do I know if my doubts are an important gut feeling or just cold feet” phenomenon. I think the nature of the doubts is important, though. I don’t doubt that I want to marry my fiance, I really, really do. I want us to have a life together, I want us to slowly take all our oddities that cause conflict and help eachother to grow out of them. (Some we already have, and some I know we never will.) My doubts are more about whether we can succeed. Whether we’re actually too different, or actually won’t be able to find two careers that make us happy in the same city, or actually won’t be happy with the location restraints that our marriage will put on us.

      So, I wind up rationalizing it in two ways:
      1) These fears are largely about imagined futures, not the present.
      2) There are a million wonderful futures I imagine for us too, and I’ll never know what one comes true unless I take a deep breath, and try it. (see the sky diving video)

      I guess it’s worth asking yourself, are you doubting whether you want to marry your fiance as who he is now? Or are you doubting whether you want to be married to him in some imagined future where things get worse?

      • “I want us to slowly take all our oddities that cause conflict and help eachother to grow out of them.”

        I would be cautious with this line of thinking. Women (and some men) are notorious for picking “project” men who they could love if this or that or the other and then trying to change him. The fundamentals of personality won’t change. You are either compatible, or not. You may be partially compatible, but if there are fundamental things that you can tick off of a list that you specifically want changed, that should be a red flag. I don’t mean the “he never changes the toilet paper; he always leaves his wet towel in a lump on the floor,” variety that are easy enough to resolve and are a simple matter of making small adjustments to accommodate each other. I mean the real problems of personality that recur and cause conflict. These won’t go away.

        It is very easy to get into a rationalizing place and believe that you will grow, change and improve together, but I think the most important difference between my first marriage and my relationship with my fiance is that with my first relationship, I spent a lot of time looking forward to growth and change. With my fiance, I am perfectly content with who we are now. I don’t really want him (or me) to change except the usual gravity-taking-over as we age, better diet for longer life, type changes that naturally occur without any effort on our part. But, unlike my first marriage, I don’t feel the need to direct progress of the relationship or of his growth as a person. It just is, and he just is. It is my contentment with who we are, separate and together, that tells me that I will be happy with our relationship for the long haul. I’m not waiting for, or looking forward to, a better situation.

        • Liz

          i agree, sarah, but i would balance this idea, i think.

          you can’t marry potential. that’s the truth. and as someone mentioned further down in the comments, marriage doesn’t solve everything.

          but conversely, i don’t know that i subscribe to the idea that we can’t improve upon our flaws. this is why i find anon’s comment a bit unsettling. because as a couple, there is a difference between the two of them that they’ve pinpointed, but then there’s a shrug of the shoulders and, “well, that’s the way we are,” when as people (not even in relationships- just as individuals) we should continually be trying to improve. for ourselves. for each other. adjusting our quirks so that we don’t grate on each other’s nerves is a part of it, but also just trying to become a better person. period.

          for me, it’s a matter of accepting josh- flaws and all. the stuff he does that irritates me, i can live with if it never ever changes. (we all have different limits and things we can tolerate- josh’s forgetfulness is tolerable to me. if he had an insane temper or was thoughtless- those are things i wouldn’t tolerate so well.) but also taking on the task of helping him to improve, and expecting him to do the same for me (trust me- i have a TON of room for it)

          what i wonder about dear anon is if his crankiness is something she finds tolerable. and if it’s something they plan to work on together.

          • As usual, you have stated this better than I. It is not that I never want to improve (or that I want us to live in a perpetual rut), but only that I am content with who we are even if we don’t change.

            There are definitely times when one of us thinks the other is overreacting to a situation or unnecessarily crabby. What I read from anon, though, was more along the lines of her being uncomfortable with the conflict in her relationship. That is what worries me.

          • For some reason, Liz, this just clicked with me majorly. I’ve been struggling in my head as to how this flows correctly and didn’t even know it until it clicked together!

      • Alyssa

        I think that you not only need to be willing to marry someone as they are now, you need to be willing to marry them if they get worse, no matter what the worse will be.

        That being said, Anon, you seem to be off to a good start with your pre-marital counseling and testing and I get the impression that you’re continuing with that and not just attending your 8 hours and calling it a day with I think is WONDERFUL. I am only vaguely familiar with that particular assessment, but I think the results are intended as the basis for growth . A personality trait is part of a person, but it can and must be modified if it is causing marital stress. Pre-wedding stress is just as bad as any other kind of stress and whatever is magnified now will be magnified later by other life-changing events. I applaud you for continuing to work on your reactions and I hope he’s working on his also. But remember, this too shall pass, but that does not mean that it can’t pass a little faster with some help.

      • ka

        Thank you Sarah for sharing so openly about your life, and allowing us to have this conversation. Thank you Anon and Lurker for tapping into exactly what’s been on my mind! I love my fiance, I picture us getting married and having a family and growing old together. (And believe me when I say this was something I had previously never even imagined for myself.) I don’t have a knot of dread in my gut. But I do have a lot of circular reasoning and analysis in my head. About just about everything in life. So it’s hard for me to know what to listen to and what to discount, except that as a career worrier I can’t listen to every single worry or else nothing would ever budge. I wonder if others in Camp Cold Feet are coming from the same place?

        I also really relate to Lurker’s doubts of future success. What happens when you’re happy with your relationship, but not happy with your life? I always had BIG dreams, and despite my fiance’s constant assurance that he will move wherever I want and support whatever kind of career I want, I still feel held back by a relationship. How am I supposed to achieve the Big Dreams when I’ve found someone I am blissfully happy to just lie around with every single day. And don’t get me started on how terrified I am that my globe-trotting big dreams may be morphing into farmhouse with 3 kids dreams. I think it’s less about my relationship, and more about growing up, but I definitely struggle with the fear of seeing my life turn out different than how I always imagined. But am I willing to give up the love of my life that is here right now and real, for the imagined fantasies of my childhood? Well, no.

        • Liz

          i’m finding that it’s okay to have a wide spectrum of dreams. the fact that i’m prego now and picking out a house in the suburbs doesn’t mean that i need to cross “cute apartment with a fire escape in a seedy section of town” off of my list. or traveling. or quitting responsible adult jobs and trying to live as a starving artist. i just need to… rearrange. i have new dreams of wraparound porches and piggy back rides. and those are now bumped up to first place.

          they don’t replace the old dreams. and neither does josh. we have our Lazy Saturdays of luxuriating in one another’s company with a stack of old movies and mandatory no-clothes-naps. but we also encourage one another to push hard for those other goals. there are about six Big Decisions that i wouldn’t have made in the past year if it wasn’t for his encouragement- all personal goals of mine, i just never put the pedal to the metal before.

          • ka

            I know I’m late in coming back to this, but Liz, I just wanted to say that I will be copying this paragraph to keep with me forever and ever. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is so exactly what I needed to hear that it’s pretty much the kind of thing I tell my friends all the time, but conveniently forgot in reference to my own life. And if you ever dare to forget this in the whirlwind of motherhood, please find me to remind you that one day that starving artist apartment with the fire escape will also be yours. :)

        • Morgan

          I have travelled more and further with my husband than I did single. Getting married does not have to limit your wanderlust dreams at all. (Said the girl who just tonight booked Europe tickets.)

    • dev

      I can totally relate to the dynamic your describing. I am generally pretty even-keeled, and I’m married to a more volatile man. My husband is incredibly loving and good to me, but he gets these “bouts of wrath” that I really don’t enjoy. They are never directed at me, they are usually directed at himself when he’s having trouble fixing something. It’s upsetting to watch him yell at the door he’s fiddling with, and call himself stupid. I usually take the same track you do and avoid him until he’s finished the task or cooled down. But for me, these are intermittent annoyances in an otherwise happy and easy relationship.

      When we first got engaged I had moments of nervousness, wondering if it was smart to marry someone with this trait that made me a little crazy. We were engaged for two years, and didn’t really start planning the wedding until the last 6 months. So this gave me plenty of time to think about our relationship, and ways to improve it- like maybe hiring a freaking handyman so that J. didn’t beat himself up over every broken thing in the house. In the end, I could list off a hundred reasons to marry my husband (first being the desire to share everything with him, always), and only one or two reasons not to marry him. When I thought about it that way, it wasn’t scary.

      In the last few months before our wedding, I never had any doubts that I was doing the right thing. And the week of my wedding I was giddy, giddy. I can say that in the 6 months I’ve been married, every day I have woken up happy to be married to him. Even if he spent an hour the previous night cursing at our rain gutters.

      • Liz

        the cursing the rain gutters i can handle.

        it’s the tearing out the rain gutters in frustration and punching the wall that scares me juuuust a little…

        • Liz

          (not in josh. in people in general.)

        • I have a husband who punches walls- my response is usually to tell him that it’s not good for his hands OR our house. Luckily, it’s never hard enough to actually go through anything, just enough to (although it’s beyond me how) help him feel better. See crying example in previous comment for things I do to feel better that don’t make any sense to him ;)

    • Marina

      During the seven years my guy and I were together before getting married, I asked myself MANY times, “Oh my god, is this really f*cking annoying habit really something I want to put up with for the rest of my life?”

      When my answer was an immediate, whole-hearted “yes”, that’s when I felt comfortable deciding to get married.

      And let me make it clear, this wasn’t a sparkly hearts and kittens and fireworks moment. This was me, sobbing my heart out on the living room floor in the middle of the night because I couldn’t stand lying next to him, asking myself, “Is this worth it? Do I want him next to me during the worst times as well as the best?” And I knew, KNEW, the answer was yes. Regardless of how our marriage turns out, I am 100% sure I went into it whole-heartedly, not holding anything back.

      I don’t think everyone has to have that moment. But like other commenters have said, there’s really no harm at all in waiting if you’re not sure.

      • Alyssa

        Absolutely. Because as Sarah has pointed out in the post, not waiting until you’re sure one way or the other will be SO much more painful in the end.

        • Anna S.

          I love this story because it is so much more about the reality of love. While I appreciate Sarah’s story and insights, I get frustrated with this kind of fairytale love story. My relationship has weathered many a night of sobbing on the floor, and a number of separations. Still, we just kept on finding each other until it was time, finally, to marry and commit to finding each other again when we lose our way, for the rest of our lives. Because my relationship has changed so much over our nearly nine years together, I know I can trust its strength. I have loved my husband and wanted him out of my sight. I have spent months without speaking to him. And while we have spent long periods of separation, looking back I can see that the love was there even during the deepest of (what my mother calls) dry, rocky gulches.

          So yes, I am anti-sparks. I am anti-fairytale. Waiting for a fairytale knight who would sweep me off the feet kept me from committing to the man I love for a long, long time. I would say, watch out for an over-emphasis on sparks. Passion, yes, you need passion (and lust and love) to keep you going when things are hard. But not having sparks from the get-go does not a relationship doom. I am sure, Sarah, that isn’t what you mean, anyway. But I know if I had read that before I become engaged I would have put it in my bank of reasons to hold out for someone “perfect.” I’d suggest you check yourself if you have a similar bank, because nobody is.

      • Eve

        Another version of the same sentiment: of course there are times when my current guy is driving me nuts, just as there were (many) times when my previous husband drove me nuts. The big difference: when my dear love with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life is engaging in some infuriating behavior, there is a part of me that steps back and marvels at how cute he is when he’s angry, or how I love it when he frowns at his feet, or I want to reach out and touch him even while he’s ranting. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever get mad, or sad, or whatever, at the same time, but I don’t ever feel indifferent to him. Any rift between us hurts and we madly work to solve it right away.

        • Liz

          OH MY GOSH.

          i hate myself sometimes because of my inability to be angry at this man. (but there are times when i don’t have to try, trust me.) usually, i’m angry to the point of tears at him, and i storm in the other room, and half of my brain is thinking, “that mothereffing son of a…” while the other half is wishing we weren’t mad at each other and wondering if he’s okay in the other room and sort of sad and embarrassed for him for having done that silly thing that he just did that caused this mess. DAMN HIM.

          • Marina

            Hahaha, this is so me… I yell and him and he looks hurt and I just want to drop the whole frigging thing just to make him feel better. Mostly. At least it’s a good incentive to remember to say things calmly rather than yelling.

        • Eliza

          “I don’t ever feel indifferent to him” – EXACTLY THIS. With my ex, I had to try really really hard for the last year or so to just … care. I was so exhausted by trying to care about him when I just … didn’t. And when we broke up, I felt FREED. More free than I had ever felt in my life.
          With my now-fiance, I care about him even when it drives me nuts that I do. Even when he does things that make me mad, or upset, or frustrated, I find myself thinking about his feelings just as much as my own (and often more).
          I think this is a good sign.

        • Tessa

          You have such a good point here, about never feeling indifferent towards your partner. Even when my boyfriend drives me crazy and acts infuriatingly, I never stop loving him, nor do I doubt my love for him. He is perfect, to me, exactly as he is, even when I find him annoying or when he makes me angry. When we fight (which doesn’t happen often at all), I absolutely can’t stand it. Really, once the initial anger wears off, I hate being angry at each other soooo much that I will do anything to just settle our argument reasonably and be in his arms again (which actually makes me more rational, since I know that I need to think that way in order to make things right between us). Fighting breaks my heart, because I know that I just want to be with him. He is my home, I belong with him. I know he feels the same way about me. Needless to say, our fights never last long :). So basically, I just wanted to say that I can relate to what you said, Eve. I’t is necessary, in my opinion, that you should always know that you love your partner and have a connection with them.

    • ddayporter

      I can also relate to this particular difference in personality, Anon. Zach and I are different in the exact same way – he can get Really grumpy about things that I perceive as so-not-a-big-deal. The first few months of our first year living together were really difficult for me, because I didn’t understand where it was coming from, I was taking things personally, and overall his stressing out stressed me out big time. For me, it just took stepping back and letting him do his thing, and not taking it personally. He also takes me into account (most of the time) and has adjusted his reaction to things as much as he can. There’s no changing either of our personalities, but we can and have made some adjustments.

      And I definitely had that thought, wondering “Is it ok with me if this never changes? If he acts this way for the rest of our lives, are we going to be ok?” And my answer was YES. Because really it’s just a few moments in time, here and there. I cannot imagine my life without him, I can’t imagine being with anyone else, and you know, it’s not like he’s not having to deal with some irksome aspects of MY personality as well. And even with this difference in anxiety management, I would still classify our relationship as “easy.” There is a difference between something like that bugging you every time he acts that way, and being annoyed all the time about different things. If you are in all other ways really happy together, and this is the one major thing, you have to just figure out if it’s all worth it when he shouts about something silly. If you are feeling annoyed or stressed out by him a Lot of the time for different reasons, that would be more worrisome.

      I also agree with Liz, that asking yourself the question of “Do I really want to do this?” doesn’t have to mean “Run away!” It just might mean, take some time to think about it more. Don’t do anything just because you feel compelled by that “wedding train chugging along” (great metaphor Sarah).

      • ddayporter

        haha wow you guys were all really chatty while I took seven billion hours to compose that, everyone has basically said my points already! :)

    • Anon, I am totally relating to you right now, as my husband has a much more finely tuned rage meter than I do as well. On the road, when people are taking up too much of the sidewalk, when he sees an injustice– I can practically see the little cartoon steam coming out of his ears. Which would be comical, if it weren’t so draining. I am comforted that his reactions are generally toward people who put others in danger (bad drivers, rude people, etc) but it can be exhausting. And this same temper is mostly displayed in our relationship when we are getting ready for a trip or some other higher-than-normal stress/organization situation, and he’ll bark at me and slam car doors. I call this “Commando Mode,” which might be fun if we were commando, but actually means more of “You’re acting like a military general and it’s effing pissing me off.”

      Sorry- long story. Anyway, I had all the same hesitations that you have, and they are N-O-R-M-A-L. As are personality differences. And when I am particularly fed up or frustrated with his temper, sometimes I think back to the many, even countless nights that I have been sobbing for No. Reason. on the couch/in a restaurant/on the bus, and he has wearily stroked my hair after pointlessly asking what’s wrong, and then I think that I can probably be pretty exhausting, too.

      • ka

        Major relating here right now! My fiance lives a constant fight to end injustice and promote courtesy and logic and decency, which is endearing…some days. Other it’s like I just cannot take the complaining about people standing, not walking, on the escalator one more time!” But on those days, I too remind myself of my frequent emotional meltdowns. We’re both difficult in our ways, which I think is what makes it work.

  • Maddie

    I have to say – as someone who has witnessed a lot of weddings up close and personal (budding wedding photographer), it is the couples getting married a second time that fill me with such joy I think I might burst. These are the weddings I cry at. I think it’s because, especially in marriages where children are already a part of the equation, you get the feeling that a family is being built. And that, to me, is what marriage is all about.

  • Thanks for some great words on a tough topic. I guess that even if a relationship is still strong, there is a nervousness about thinking back to uncertain times and moments. I’m so pleased that you have someone you can describe as your life-raft! And that you can let others hear from your experience. Thank you.

  • Kelly

    Nicely put. I feel like you just told my story as well! I wish I had the strength to call off my first marriage prior to the wedding, but sometimes it takes awhile to work through all the emotion and figure out your path.

    I have two separate thoughts:

    Passion and Friendship
    I think sometimes we oversimplify the passion vs. friendship equation. While my first marriage happened because we had been dating 7 yrs and “it was time”, there was also alot of passion. But with that sort of passion came drama and instability. Lots of red flags, but darn it, it was time to get married *sigh* so it went ahead inspite my doubts. I think that “passion” made me stay in that relationship much longer than I should have. But I really don’t like “drama”.

    A year after that marriage ended, I recconnected with a friend from the past (thank you I knew we were great friends and were compatible, but I worried about that lack of passion. What I found was a loving, caring man who has a similar outlook on life as me. We have a different sort of passion, but for the same things: art, music, beer, and now each other!

    “‘Til Death Do Us Part”
    I had a difficult time leading up to our wedding, with the fact that I had been married before, and he hadn’t. While I am thrilled that divorce was an option in my first marriage, I whole-heartedly believe in “til death so us part”. I was very concious of the fact that I had said that to someone else before, and struggled with this intense regret and desire to make it understood to everyone that I don’t take marriage lightly. That this really is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. That is the point when I really regretted not having the strength to call off my first wedding before it happened.

    • Perhaps a better word than “passion” would be chemistry. I do believe there is a huge difference between what I consider passion (of the “I want to hold you and kiss you and never let you go” variety) and drama, which we had plenty of and I hated.

      I, too, worry that friends and family won’t take us seriously because we were both previously married.

      • peanut

        I agree with the passion/drama vs chemistry characterization … my past (yucky) relationships have been full of passion that resulted from drama: think makeup sex and “do I hate him or love him?” dilemmas. I much much much prefer the calm and constant chemistry that I have with my partner now.

        • A few weeks ago, we were watching an episode of True Blood from last season when Sookie and Bill had another fight-makeup sex moment. I made a joke about makeup sex, to which Tony responded, “but then we have to have a fight. Can’t we just skip that part?” Yes, please.

          • Anna S.

            Yes! Okay, I ranted about this above, without reading down this far. But passion vs. chemistry=very important distinction. Thanks.

  • bria leeann

    i really love this post. i am 2 months in to my marriage and my simple bliss it juxtaposed to a friend who is about the same time in and things are not running as smoothly. It is sad to hear her say she regrets it so soon after and i often wonder why she let it get to this point – surely the signs had to be there before the vows. This post gives me some much needed insight into her rational. Thanks

  • Trisha

    Thank you for sharing your story with us Sarah, and for opening up a discussion about divorce in such an open and drama-free way.

    I just married for the second time. I can honestly say, almost everything is different about this relationship, and this marriage. Unlike Sarah and Eve, my first marriage was based on passion, not a tried and true steady friendship. I believed that since passion is what differentiates love from friendship, it would be enough to carry us through the hard times. Looking back, almost all of the times were hard times. I should have known better. And I did. I always knew that something wasn’t right, but I kept making excuses. I had a million of them. Things were bad / he behaved toward me this way because A B or C was happening, and if we could just get X, Y, or Z to happen, things would be different. Things would change for the better, and he’d be the man I knew he was, the man I sometimes (but not nearly often enough) saw. The worst of these excuses and assumptions was that if I said yes, and we got married things would get better. He’d know I wasn’t going anywhere, he’d feel secure. Then things would be good most of the time, not just some of the time. Yeah, you can imagine how well that worked out. I knew then, not just in hindsight, that I shouldn’t marry him. I told myself it was pre-wedding jitters, and that marriage was about having faith in the other person. Plus, the invitations were sent, the money was spent, and I didn’t want to admit to what I thought of as failure.

    Like Sarah, for me, divorce was a million times harder and more costly. The divorce that I wanted, and needed, sent me into a six month tail-spin that caused me to systematically push away or ignore almost everyone who was close to me, or who knew me during my marriage. I moved to a different town several hours away and started a new life. Ten years later, some of my friendships still aren’t the same because of that time period during and shortly after my first marriage.

    Now I’m married to an absolutely wonderful man. Someone who is the man he is all of the time, not just in fleeting glimpses. We have passion, but also a solid foundation of trust, friendship, and mutual respect. He’s not perfect of course, but even when he’s driving me absolutely crazy and I want to tell him how irritating he is and then go for a long run, I still love him. There is no nagging voice telling me to get out fast, or that something isn’t right. I thought I would never get married again, or even want to. I did not once wonder if I was making a mistake by marrying him, or question whether it was something I wanted to do.

    I agree with Sarah, if you are questioning if you should call the wedding off, it’s a good idea to listen to that voice, and examine the reasons why you’re feeling that way. A delayed marriage or broken engagement if preferable to a divorce, and years spent unhappy.

    • Liz

      “The worst of these excuses and assumptions was that if I said yes, and we got married things would get better”

      holy crap, this is such a good point, trisha. i can’t LIST how many people i know that have expected marriage to resolve their issues- when it really just exasperates them.

      • anon

        I had this conversation with a friend recently. Even better, when I asked what happens if he starts holding divorce over her head as a threat instead of holding calling off the marriage over her head, she said he wouldn’t do that because divorce is against his religion. I could not think of what to say. Insulting and yelling at her is just fine and dandy in his religion, I suppose…? Guess this goes back to the post a while back about how/when to talk with friends about your concerns about their relationship. And who knows, maybe marriage will make their relationship better. I can hope.

      • Yup. It downright *terrifies* me when some of my girlfriends talk gleefully about all the things they want to change in their significant others.

        • Liz

          oh gawd.

          if you need to change him, he’s not worth your effort.

          find someone you can love without changing.

          • Alyssa


            Because I have a hard enough time making sure that I’M a good person, I don’t need to be in charge of anyone else’s behavior that doesn’t come directly from my uterus.

          • Erin

            Umm, Yes. Exactly’ing out loud.

            And how BORING would it be if you actually succeeded?

    • I find it fascinating how this seems to be two sides of the same coin. The process you went through is exactly what I did. I think of it as goals driving the relationship instead of letting the relationship determine the goals. I think I became extremely goal oriented because I needed those milestones to check off — as if by taking baby steps, I would be able to make it last.

  • This was a great post! (and I love Sarah’s writing!) This whole thing made me think of my husband – who married his high school sweetheart because they had been together for a loooooong time and lived together – so he felt like it was ‘the right thing to do.’ The marriage lasted 5 years – but he realized when she wanted children and he couldn’t picture having children with her – that it was not a good sign. (That and the fact that she went to family holidays without him and took off her ring because her racist family was unaware that she was married to a black man, and rather than share that news – she chose to hide him “like dirty laundry” …as he now puts it).

    Anyways – when we met the first thing he told me was that he was divorced. I can honestly say I never thought I’d marry someone who had been married before. I figured if they couldn’t make it work once, they would probably have the same difficulty in their next marriage. But boy was I wrong! Just a couple weeks into knowing James I realized he was much more wise about marriage than I was – because he had been there & done that. To this day he continues to be a rock in our union because he knows what can tear two people apart and what we need to do to avoid that same end.

    When we were engaged not many people knew James had been married before mainly because it doesn’t usually come up in casual conversation, I suppose. But eventually people started to learn of this and a few people (with a lot of guts) came right out and asked me if I thought he would divorce me too someday. Well – what do you think? Would I be marrying the guy if I thought that?! His experience and wisdom because of his previous divorce has made our union that much stronger and because of his past he is that much more determined for our marriage to be solid and even more than that (and more importantly) – he’s determined for us to be HAPPY. :)

    • Class of 1980

      “I can honestly say I never thought I’d marry someone who had been married before. I figured if they couldn’t make it work once, they would probably have the same difficulty in their next marriage. But boy was I wrong! ”

      Well, one reason that thought was wrong, is that one person can’t make a marriage work on their own. You weren’t taking the other partner into account.

      There are some people who bring severe problems into multiple marriages, and get the same results. But most marriages fail because those two people never belonged together in the first place.

  • ElfPuddle

    “I am not getting remarried; they are different people and these are two very different relationships. There is no “re” here”

    Exactly! My fiance was married before, and this is exactly what he describes. :)

    • Yes! Exactly the same here. My husband always says there is not one similarity. He said if he knew it was supposed to feel like this he never would have gotten married the first time…

      • I’ve said pretty much the same thing as your husband. Even on the good days, my first marriage was nothing like this.

    • Laura

      That is exactly how I feel too. My first marriage was a short-lived mistake of my youth. This one is so different that I can’t even really compare the two. There’s no “re” at all.

    • This was my favorite part of the whole post.

      We never say that someone is “re-dating” after they date someone new. “Re-marriage” just annoys me.

  • Pingback: It’s an Obsession « San Francisco Budget Wedding()

  • A really great post Sarah, and adorable picture!

    I think this is when the need for balance in a relationship and especially marriage, comes into play.
    You need friendship, love, passion, commitment, respect as the foundation. All of them equally. I think that when it’s too heavy on one side, the others get ignored and the relationship suffers. Marriage will be a constant balancing act, shifting and adjusting to keep it all together:)

  • Wow. Now where’s that exactly! button for a post?

  • We have the bravest women here on APW. Thank you, Sarah, for your willingness to share about your experiences. I’m so glad you and Tony have found your way to each other!

  • Natalya

    Another great APW post! Just yesterday I was looking at my husband’s divorce papers because the details are required for my settlement visa (he lives in the UK) and it made me feel all yucky as usual. When I say “papers,” I do mean plural as he was married TWICE before me. I’ve struggled with this fact many times over the course of our relationship and particularly in regards to our actual wedding. I know he was young and wanted to back out the first time but didn’t have the courage, and I know that he only married his second wife because she was pregnant and it seemed like the right thing to do.

    I also know that things are different with us, and that we have what it takes to make it. He can’t change his past, as much as it bothers me sometimes. It helps instead, to focus on our future together. To recall how on our wedding day a few months ago I never once thought of how he must have deja vu, but how instead he got choked up when he saw me walk down the aisle. How I heard him tell his friends that for the first time he really felt like he was marrying the right girl, his soul mate. Unfortunately his second ex-wife is still a part of our lives as they share custody of their son. That’s a whole different challenge, and I know it must be a difficult adjustment for her as well, even though they separated 7 years ago.

    Life looks funny when you just look at it on paper. A lot of people don’t know my husband is on his third (and final!) marriage. It still makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, but I am certain that we both made the right decision to marry one another. He’s a wonderful man, and we’re great together. I just hope the immigration officer sees it!

    • Class of 1980


      You wrote: “Life looks funny when you just look at it on paper.”

      That is one of the best lines I ever heard. Paper leaves out all the details, doesn’t it?

      One of my friends married an older man who was married three times before. They have been married for over twenty years now and it’s been a fantastic marriage.

      From what he’s said about his first three wives, he should never have married any of them. The first wife pretended to like everything he liked, until the day they got married. Then she felt secure enough to tell him she hated everything he liked.

      That’s the sort of detail a divorce decree doesn’t spell out.

  • Jessie

    What a beautiful and honest post. Seeing friends experiencing divorce after just 2 years of marriage because they felt like they’d gone too far down the wedding path to turn back has made me realize that until the papers are signed, it’s not too late to turn back and if you have any doubt at all, you should. Thanks for sharing.

  • This was a beautifully written post- one of the things that jumped out at me as a ‘DUH’ moment was the financial implications. Sometimes the money that you’ve put into a wedding can seem like enough to get married even if you are sure it’s not a good idea, but what is that compared to the cost of a separation and divorce? All emotional things aside, from a purely logical perspective, it costs less money to call off a wedding. Even if that is more money than you’ve ever spent on anything in your life.

    I never really thought about that so clearly, and really appreciated the practical perspective.

    • Alyssa

      I’m glad you pointed this out because it is an important part of the article that definitely shouldn’t get lost. (And one I didn’t even consider until today.)
      Sometimes when emotion gets too overwhelming, looking at the logic can make things SO much more clear.

      • Well, and what’s also not talked about often is how incredibly emotional most people are about money. So not only do you have the emotions about the relationship you’re not sure about, but you have the huge guilt about the amount of money that you/your parents/your friends who bought plane tickets have already spent on your wedding, and it can be hard to separate the two.

        • Alyssa

          I exactly’ed, but I just have to add a “Hell’s yeah.”

  • Sarah, I love your writing and your wisdom and this post warms my soul in those places where pretty and ugly collide. I think my mother’s divorce from her first husband (before my father) was hugely influential in how I think about marriage. Your post reminds me of all the important lessons I learned from her mistakes that we’ve talked about over the years. I think it’s vitally important to talk about marriage, divorce, and what makes a good marriage and when to know whether you should leave.It doesn’t happen enough in most corners of weddingland. But divorce isn’t a dirty word. It is a horrifically difficult process, but I think we’d all benefit from talking more about these issues prior to our weddings. Thank you for such a beautifully honest post and conversation.

  • MinnaBrynn

    This is why I still read APW. Don’t get me wrong, I like everything else, but it’s stuff like this that keeps me coming back every day. Stuff that reminds me to treasure my relationship with my husband, even though I’m sitting here looking at dishes and laundry and all the mundane, daily things I so dislike. I wish a post like this had been around a couple months ago for one of my dearest friends who had a “next step” wedding despite many conversations about whether or not it was what she actually wanted to do. She’s now having a “next step” baby, and I fear my friend is disappearing.

    “The question everyone who is contemplating getting married should be asking themselves (and know the answer to) is not whether it should be called off, but: ”Why do I want to marry this person?” If the first, number one, most obvious answer doesn’t immediately spring to your tongue: ”Because I love this person from head to toe and I want this person by my side for the rest of my life forever and ever,” then you should not be getting married to that person. No matter how well-meaning your promises are, if you don’t start with that foundation of love — not friendship, love, by marrying this person you doing a serious unkindness to everyone involved.”

    is something I’ll be holding on to. Should I someday have children, or ever again be part of a conversation on whether a wedding (or marriage) should be called off, I would like to have something as honest and true to say instead of my evasion technique of saying “you have to make that decision for yourself” (while mentally thinking my opinion very loudly). Sarah, thank-you for sharing.

    • Yes!! And the “by my side forever and ever” question should be asked about babies, too. One of my friends described the process of getting pregnant for the first time as knowing there is chocolate cake in the fridge, and craving it so badly that you can’t concentrate or think or focus on anything else until you have some of the chocolate cake. It made me think that THAT is exactly who should be having a child. The person who thinks it is just what people do when they get married, or who have run out of conversation topics with their partner and think a baby might fix that- they should probably put that decision off until it feels like chocolate cake.

      • Alyssa

        DUDE. That’s got to be one of the best analogies for wanting kids ever and I might have to borrow it when explaining why we want to have kids soon instead of waiting like we said we would.

        It will of course be credited to “Lauren’s Friend”. :-)

        • Right?!

          Her name is Jillian O’lastname, which means that we call her Jillo. Which is kind of awesome. Just in case you want the source ;)

          • Alyssa

            Jillo’s Law! I love it!

            That’s the problem we’re having right now, I’m all baby fever but we can’t just yet. And of course I’m super mature, so I’m kicking that fridge door going, “I WANT IT NOW!” :-)

        • Liz

          would it be inappropriate for me to name my baby “chococake”?

          • Inappropriate? No. Essential? Yes.

          • Alyssa

            Seconded, but just FYI? Choco was my nickname in college, so if you do I will tell everyone you named her (or him) after me and demand a picture of my namesake to put in my wallet and show people how I’m so cool that I have a squishy baby named after me.

            Just so you know.

  • I think I have “exactly’d” about 6 things getting to the bottom of this page, and since my story is very similar to Sarah’s, (married a “friend,” amicable divorce, found the right guy years later) I wanted to share 3 things that would have helped me years ago:

    First, if you’re being “stubborn” about your relationship with people you love, take a HARD look at why. I couldn’t relate to the word “defensive” but I was so stubborn about how right we were to be getting married. He was “good on paper” – great dad material, good job, steady, stable, good family, very accepting – but didn’t enhance the things I love best about myself. Friends said I was still great, but “different” with him. I said they just didn’t understand. Red flag.

    Second, I had an old flame look me up during that engagement, and I was hit in the face with an overwhelming sadness that took a day or two to get past. I chalked it up to nostalgia for things past and pushed on, but realize now that another voice in me was trying to tell me something. Don’t settle, don’t take the best thing you can find “right now” – wait for the best thing for you forever.

    Finally, don’t let a timeline pressure you. I would guess a huge number of young divorces (including mine) come because “getting married” was the next thing to accomplish, after degrees and first jobs, etc.

    Oh, how I wish I could have been brave enough to call that one off. As Sarah said, unhappy couples rack up lots of debt filling the hole, and it took me the better part of a decade to get out of that hole.

    And here’s the sad secret – while most everyone will (eventually) support you for calling off the engagement, no one knows how to rally around the wife divorcing a nice guy for no easy-to-explain reason.

    • I’ve learned that people struggle with break-ups, especially when the couple holds things closely to their chest and doesn’t air all of their dirty laundry. People need to assign blame and so figure that someone did something messed up and spend time speculating. Ah, for enlightened people who can accept that sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to go further and it’s better for all involved to stop now, even if it hurts!

      I’m sorry there was no support. I have learned through my own experiences and those of my friends that those not immediately in the relationship (and sometimes those involved) often have no clue the complexities involved and shouldn’t judge.

      • Class of 1980


        If the subject has to come up, I tell people I got a divorce because we were incompatible. It is the general truth, but devoid of details.

        A few people who are close to me know some of the details of the incompatibility, but there is not a soul on earth that knows them all. There is no reason to dissect my past relationship to an audience.

        I try to never ask anyone WHY they got a divorce because it’s like asking for a detailed list of what was wrong with their ex.

  • “I am not getting remarried; they are different people and these are two very different relationships. There is no “re” here”

    I LOVE this sentiment! I have a friend who is engaged to be married for the second time. Her fiance is getting married for the second time too. She is so happy & excited but at the same time, she is downplaying the importance of celebrating this marriage. She keeps saying things like “We have been married before” & “We’ve both done the big weddings.” If they want to get married at City Hall with a witness, that’s a wonderful choice but I don’t want her to do it just because of the past weddings & marriages. This relationship is special & this upcoming marriage is special & there should be no shadow from their past marriages. I’m going to give her this quote!

    • I feel this. I really do. It’s hard for me to want to flaunt my happiness. My ex lives very close by (we have kids and a 50/50 custody arrangement), and I don’t want to cause him more hurt than I already have. We also get a bit of this from friends and family. We have planned our wedding for a weekday because of custody schedules, and we have had a few people tell us that it makes sense because it’s not like it’s the wedding of our lifetime. Actually, it is the wedding of our lifetime. It’s the one we both want.

      • Class of 1980


        Anyone who would tell you that it’s not the wedding of a lifetime, doesn’t understand what “wedding of a lifetime” really means.

  • Mariela

    Speaking from my endless pre-engagement phase, I am so thankful that you let us all in on your hard earned wisdom, Sarah.

    I have a question for the wise ladies of APW-
    1) In the bottom of my heart, all I want is for us to be a family, and to have each other forever. I want to be that couple that build a life from nothing and reach their goals together- but we’re young and everyone I know has seen it fit to remind me of the statistics of couples who marry young…am I really doomed if I haven’t fully figured out my life yet? Can’t we just figure it out together?

    I CANNOT (honestly it’s a little ridiculous) wait to be his wife one day, but statistics, while they may annoy me, have some sort of truth behind them… don’t they?

    • Liz

      statistics are BS.

      do your friends and family have other concerns? be honest.

      often, when thinking a friend is “too young” to get married, it has very, very little to do with how many years old they are. it has more to do with the maturity behind their decisions- their life experience, their realism in expectaions for love, marriage, etc. an oft voiced thought around here is that you can be 45, and “too young” to get married.

      are your friends and family hinting at these things? then maybe i would think about it. if it’s just about numbers and ages and statistics, PSH. eff that.

      • Mariela

        That’s a really good point, thinking about it, I know I’ve tried talking a few people off the “I just want to be married d*mnit!” ledge. Though, most of those people who toss in their doubt-filled 2 cents genuinely have no right to do so, as they hardly know me or the type of life I’ve lived- but their doubts still scare me.

        My parents and most all of my family support us. His parents are afraid that what happened to them (getting married too young and consequentially giving up on their dreams) will happen to us, and it could- but it certainly does not have to if we don’t let it. I guess the real question is, can two young (read, 22 & 21) people take two lives full of wonder and possibilities and instability and make it one wonderful stable life with two fulfilled and hardworking lovers?

        I know I’ve heard success stories, but they all have this element of financial stability that I can’t honestly say we’ve reached yet… is that a key?

        • Liz

          the truth is, you might not be financially stable for a long time. there. i said it. but that’s married or not (here are those dreaded words: In This Economy.)

          my parents didn’t reach financial stability until about 3 years ago. they’ve been married over 25 years. i don’t forsee financial stability for myself in any near horizon.

          so that’s a call you gotta make. is living life on the edge, hoping the water doesn’t get shut off this month, crossing your fingers that your debit card doesn’t get declined for those groceries- is all of that going to put on a strain on your relationship, drive a wedge between you? if we’re honest, it does for some people. and no, love doesn’t conquer all. but sometimes, when you’re with the right person, it DOES make it all easier rather than harder.

          • Mariela

            In more ways that one, that was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you :)
            We’ve been doing the “fingers crossed that my card doesn’t get declined” and the “$20 on his card and $15 on mine” limbo for a year already, and if anything it has made me appreciate him and his creativity & ability to make a delicious dinner + leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch for $6 that much more…

    • I know I’ve complained about relying on statistics here (and on my own blog), but here goes nothing.

      If statitistics are anything to go on, my ex and I should have been a “successful” (read: not divorced) couple, and my fiance and I would be DOOMED. Obviously, this is not how it has worked out.

      If statistics could determine the success of a marriage, my brother would be divorced (he’s not; he married his high school sweetheart 19 years ago and they are the happiest couple and the best parents in the world).

      If statistics determined the success of a marriage, my parents would still be married. They’re not.

      I am a huge fan of the book “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage,” by Tara Parker-Pope, which breaks down the oft-cited and highly misleading and over-generalized marriage statistics to their truthful centers.

      Judge your relationship by what you know is true: (1) Do you love him; (2) Does he love you; (3) Can you picture yourself with him for the rest of your lives; (4) Do you want right now to change something important about him, or can you live with him the way he is. The rest of it works itself out.

    • I would like to not just hit exactly, but say that I agree with everything Liz has said.

    • Marina

      Even when you’re not too young, those same people will still be telling you that half of all marriages end in divorce. They’ll also be the same people telling you that if you don’t spend $50,000 on your wedding you will be disappointing the entire world, but of course you shouldn’t go in to debt because then you will immediately go broke and have to live on the street. Then they will tell you that if you have children your life will be ruined, but if you don’t have children you’ll be missing out on the greatest joy in life.

      Some people just really, really like to be doom-sayers. You can’t let them run your life.

    • Alyssa

      What Liz said. And Sarah. Andd Marina.

      And just so I can say I contributed, Eff statistics

  • Ali

    This post was really difficult for me to read because I am naturally a worrier. I worry that I’m making a bad decision even though I love my fiance to pieces and cannot imagine a day without him. My fretting is nothing but nerves, but it still gives me chills when I read stories like this where the people “knew” they shouldn’t get married by they ignored their conscience.

    At least it has a happy ending, even if they went through hell to get there.

    • ka

      I had to voice my “Exactly!” because I missed this when I posted something very similar above. My thoughts exactly!

    • Contessa

      I am also “a worrier” and after my train wreck of a divorce I am analyzing everything to ensure that this new marriage will be divorce proof. Which is dumb and impossible and I am probably making myself crazy. But I wonder where the line between “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “Forcing a Square Peg in a Round Hole” lies.

  • Terrae

    Did you live my life during your first marriage? Experiences, words, thoughts, feelings all the same!! I have now found my “easy” relationship and life is so much better (although we still have our ups and downs like everyone else). Thank you for writing this Sarah!

  • ML

    Amazing post, Sarah, and I just ventured over to your blog. You guys are the cutest.

    Here’s what I’m struggling with right now, and please someone tell me it’s normal or smack me upside the head.. My man? I love him. Full on, real, until-recently-completely-not-dramatic love. But I’m struggling with my Self right now in this way that makes me think things like, “He’s the man I want to be with for the rest of my life, but right now, I’m not the woman I want to be.” Now, I know I can’t do anything about that.. So I’ve been projecting like a motherfckr and crying and worrying and wishing. But I can’t seem to tell the difference between me thinking I need a break from the relationship and me wishing I could take a break from myself. Eek.

    • Marina

      I hear you, oh boy do I hear you.

      You know what? Take a break. I don’t know your situation, but if you can, take a weekend at a motel or a yurt at least a couple hours away from home. If you can, spend a week in the wilderness by yourself. I know for myself, spending forced time with Just Me is the only way I can tell what’s me and what’s all the other stuff. Take a break from him, take a break from the rest of your life, breaks are GOOD. We all need more breaks.

      • ML

        Thanks Marina.. two days ago I booked a yoga retreat in Big Sur, so I’m glad my instincts/cravings for space were on point. I’m looking forward to/ a little skerred of being faced with so much ME time, but I think you’re right. It’s what I need. xo

    • Anna S.

      Yes. Been there. So much. And I am not at all proud to say that I took my depression out on my partner, for years, and blamed him for my feeling sad and not reading my mind and not helping me when I didn’t even tell him that anything was wrong. My doing that to him, and blaming him and then separating from him made up a big chunk of the early years of our relationship. And it is a testament to how much remained between us that, um, we got married in June.

      BUT, we never would have gotten there if I hadn’t taken care of myself. This is not a magic recipe, but I did the following:
      -Saw a therapist
      -Practiced meditation (regularly, in a community setting, and with a meditation instructor–accountability! Hooray!)
      -Spent time out of the house

      I am now in a spot where I am feeling low again, and down, and grouchy. But I know so clearly he is not the cause, even when I wanna fall into my old habits and blame him for it. I should say I grew up watching my dad do this to my mom. And also, he is now 80, and they are still married, and he (through a similar blend of therapy, exercise and mediation) doesn’t do this to her anymore.

      So, yes, take care of yourself. And take time if you need it. It is not (and I am speaking to myself here) okay to come home grouchy every day and expect your partner to put up with it quietly and not take it personally. We become obliged to more than just ourselves when we do this long haul commitment thing. Which is good. Because sometimes just taking care of yourself isn’t enough motivation. But taking care of yourself to make things better for both of you? That can be the push you need.

  • MegsDad

    Dr. Johnson once said that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. For years I have thought that he was being cynical, but I have changed my mind. He was a skeptic, which is healthy, but never a cynic. We really need to know that hope can triumph over experience, because because our experience can be so terrible. Sarah’s divorce sounds to me like it was in the terrible part. But she has paid attention to the hope, and let it triumph. I think Dr. Johnson would be pleased.

    {MegsMom says that I should tell those who are not familiar with Samuel Johnson, please see the Wikipedia article on him. (sigh) The life of a pedant is hard.)

    • Class of 1980

      It is easy to have hope when you’re able to pinpoint what you did wrong the first time.

      I think Sarah has done that. I know I have!

    • Thank you, Megsdad and Megsmom. My fiance (also a pedant) loved the pedant comment.

  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late on the commenting train, but this post was the kind of topic I was worried to read about and avoided the first day. I’m That Girl. The one that has the doubts of the knot-in-your-stomach-worry variety. But I also know I get knots about everything. I know that my nervousness about this wedding (which is this weekend) is also directly related to my nervousness about starting a new job the week we get back from our honeymoon, the moving out of my parents house, the fact I have an entirely new mini-family and it will never be the same with my own (yes, this makes me cry every time I think about it). We are so tight-knit that I regularly choose to hang with them instead of my friends. I also simply do not handle any change well, making it very easy to rationalize why marriage is a difficult concept to digest.

    My fiance is a wondeful person (I emphasize the wonderful). However, we have had talks about whether we think it is the right decision for us to marry — rather, I have brought up these talks. My fiance is gung-ho, 100% all over this wedding. I have such trepidations about worrying that I’ll regret getting married in this point of my life as well as any point in my life. But, once again, I am a professional worrier and know this part of my personality very well.

    Yes, a part of the decision-making about continuing with the wedding is that so much of the wedding has been taken care of (how could it not be), but I know that if that was the only reason I haven’t broken it off, well, we would have called it off by now. I’ve recently begun reading The Conscious Bride by Sheryl Paul and it has helped me realize that many of my worries are based in the fear about the basic changes that a marriage bring — the fact that I will now be viewed as an adult, and in reality making very adult-like decisions. I also will begin to have my husband as my priority instead of my family (which, as aforementioned, is a emotionally-difficult idea to grasp, no matter how much I love him).

    These comments all emphasize that if you have any true worry about the commitment that it should be postponed. Clearly, with the wedding this weekend, I am hoping for any alternative belief that even with doubt it will work out. I know I understand the situation in a different and more complex way than anybody else, but I want to know if, in any story or situation, it is okay to have worries of this nature and still be happily married on the other side. Because, 90% of the time, I want this. Badly. I want to have him with me, and me with him, and continue our lives together to make them in all ways richer and happier. However, that 10% that nags me (and wakes me up at 5:30 this morning) worries me that I’ll not have enough devotion to make it through those often-mentioned rough patches in a marriage. It’s a tricky road to walk and I am at the eleventh hour in my decision-making and need honest feedback from brilliant ladies that have it going on.

    (P.S. I read APW daily but have never commented, so forgive me for such a long post. I just want to emphasize that I’m not hiding emotions from myself– I’m exploring everything, maybe too much so, and just getting panicky enough, with the wedding so close, to leave crazy messages on APW) :)

    • Class of 1980

      Anon, your concerns seem normal to me. But let me ask you a different question than what you are asking.

      How do you feel about NOT marrying him? Envision NOT marrying him this weekend. Does the thought give you a sense of relief?

    • Liz

      hey, anon.

      noone here can tell you what the right choice is for you. let me just throw that out there. noone here can know what kind of doubts you’re having, if they’re normal or not.

      so here’s the deal.

      the “fear of the unknown” that comes with Big Life Changes is very, very different from doubts that you’re compatible with your husband. hugely. i probably couldn’t list all of the life changes that marriage signified for me- and it was a little scary and a little sad. but part of the whole idea of “reclaiming wife” is that you don’t have to lose a piece of yourself when you get married. if family is a priority to you, that doesn’t need to change- it will shift a bit. but part of marriage is SHARING priorities. asking your spouse to make what’s important to you, important to them- finding a way to compromise. my husband is very involved with my family, because my family is very important to me- and has become important to him, as a result.

      the changing of the guard that happens when your new baby family takes Top Priority happens mostly naturally. without you realizing it. (sometimes, it’s more decided and forced- like those times when your mom and husband disagree, and you need to draw a line in the sand). usually, it’s more subtle and not very scary.


      if you have any OTHER sort of doubts. the sorts of doubts i mean aren’t just about “am i compatible with him?” and “is this a good man?” i also mean the, “I’m Not Ready.” ones. those are valid reasons to wait. marriage is ALWAYS going to have a little dose of scariness- because it’s marriage. it’s giant. it’s amazing. but it shouldn’t leave you terrified.

      if you are- it’s not too late. all that cash you dumped into the wedding this weekend? it’s not too late to just have a party with your friends and celebrate your relationship as is. it’s not too late to talk to your fiance about your fears and work em out. what scares me about the thoughts you’re describing, is that you sound like you feel so TRAPPED. which is never, ever what a person should feel on their wedding day.

      so, be honest with yourself. if your worries are about life change- i’d say that’s pretty normal. but if you look deep down, and see something else there- something that really loves this guy, but still isn’t ready to get married- that’s worth slamming on the brakes.

    • Alyssa

      Ooo, sweetie, you’re not going to like my answer because I just don’t have any answers for you.

      I’m a worrier too. My mom used to say that I’d go to bed happy because the world didn’t end like I thought it would during the day. So I get that and I’m there with you, when you’re ruled by “Yeah, but what if….” and an overactive imagination, it can make you unsure of which worries are real and which are part of your crazy charm. But what I’ve learned is that ALL of them are real and it’s just your reaction to them that matters.
      So let me say that as a worrier, even if we offered up dozens of stories that fit your situation perfectly and ended with happily ever after, you would have worked yourself up again within the next few days because that’s what we do. We get relief and then our little, “Yeah, but what if…” ‘s pop back up and we’re right back where we started. We’re a bit of a mess, aren’t we? 

      I can’t speak for everyone, but when I say I was 100% sure that I wanted to marry my husband, it wasn’t that I was SO sure that everything would be perfect. I was worried about fights and money and bad times and what if we ran out of stuff to talk about and ended up those old people in Denny’s who glare at each other over their Moons Over My Hammy? That was all there, trust me. But the one thing that superseded all those worries was the thought that being with him will make all those bad time bearable. And even if they were unbearable, what was more unbearable was the thought of NOT being married to him.
      You say you’re close to your family, what do they think about your wedding? My family knows how I worry and knows when to talk me down from the ledge and when my fears are justified. Do they have misgivings? What about your friends? If the people that know you and love you think you’ll be fine, why don’t you let them ease some of your worry? And did you do any pre-marital counseling? (We didn’t and I regret it.)

      Here’s the other thing. You have a LOT going on right now. I did too. (New job, new place, new husband, turned 30 all within a few months of each other.) That makes you a hot mess. Even good stress is STRESS. Ever notice on those stress quizzes how they ask you about life-changing events and include normally happy things like a promotion or a baby or a marriage? It’s because even good things make your world go all woo-woo. And even good stressful things are scary. Marriage is terrifying. But in a good roller coaster scary kind of way, not a horror movie. But for those of us that don’t like roller coasters, it can lean more to the OMG scary than the fun scary.

      Okay, now that it seems like I’m encouraging you towards one way, let me offer the other side that is going to mess all that up. Worries and thought and fears are normal. Waking up at 5:30 in the morning with those is not. Saying that you’re panicking and reaching out to people you’ve never reached out to before for an answer is not. I’m not saying that makes you abnormal, I’m saying that there’s something you REALLY need to look at if your worries are bothering you that much, even if you were exaggerating. What that is you need to look at, I don’t know. I get fear of change and the dread associated with it; I’m the grown ass woman who cried in the car about changing her name, remember? And others may disagree, but I think that your attachment to your family and fears about that may not be typical but are normal. Moving away from your family and your home and your stability is terrifying. But if you don’t, would you be okay with that life? You’re scared of the future, but is the alternative, staying single and with your family, just as good or better? If it is, maybe you need to think about putting everything on hold. There’s nothing wrong with not being ready to be married, even if you think you should be. What’s wrong is getting married when you’re not ready just because of money and other people’s expectations.
      I said before that a therapist friend once told that if someone asks you, “why are you getting married to this person?” you need to be able to list off a lot of reasons. You never have to answer the question out loud or justify to another person, but you need to answer it and justify it to yourself. “Because I love him,” isn’t enough.

      • Nina

        Alyssa I think you’ve described the life of the professional worrier perfectly. That is pretty much exactly how it goes. And I fit the bill.

        Anon, of course I can’t know where your doubts are coming from, but speaking as a worrier myself, the list of changes that marriage is bringing to your life (moving away from your family is a huge one, not to mention a new job!) it makes perfect sense that you’d be stressed and even a little panicked. I was practically on the ledge just making sure the wedding went according to plan! So maybe don’t focus on your feelings right at this moment, because they are likely to be really clouded over with stress. Look back a few months, a year – did you feel doubt then? Or has this just entered your brain now that the changes are right around the corner? I personally know that when I get myself worked up into a frenzy of worry, my feelings cannot be trusted. Sure the worry comes from somewhere but at that point there is no discerning where.
        And honestly, if you do feel that the worry has been around for some time and maybe this isn’t the right time for marriage, Liz’s idea to turn the wedding into simply a great party is a good one. People will understand and respect you for it in the end. But whatever you decide to do, be kind to yourself. This is a crazy time and it’s ok to feel a bit crazy because of it. I wish you all the best!

      • Nina

        And one more thing, I’d also like to echo what Alyssa said about being sure, but still having worries about your future. Of course I still worry about what my husband and I will face together. I worry about sickness and future compromises we’ll have to make and how children will change our relationship and all the other worries that go with sharing a life with someone. The thing is life will always be uncertain and that’s just all there is to it. But I guess I knew for a certainty that I wanted to face these things with him. I wanted to take that leap of faith that we’ll get through it all together.

    • Eve

      This comment so emphasizes the point that has been crucial to this discussion: that, when evaluating your own fears and doubts, it is so important to *know yourself*. Do you feel intense anxiety about ALL change? Do you generally find that, after that change has come to pass, that your fears melt away and you are glad you took the leap? Then, probably doubts about marriage do not signify anything too much beyond your own personality. However, for those of us who typically make decisions recklessly (or on autopilot, two different problems), we need to know these things about ourselves and listen super-carefully for any warnings coming from our subconscious. It really just depends. What you describe in your comment, sounds to me like you feel your fears are your own way of dealing with change, and have nothing to do with the suitability or unsuitability of this marriage. HOWEVER, this is written material you’ve composed, and this argument– that your anxiety simply comes from your personality and is something you need to work through– could be an elaborate rationalization. We don’t know you. Only you know which is true.

  • Class of 1980


    There are elements of your story that are identical to mine.

    I also married someone where there was no electricity. And I know other men and women who tried to rationalize that friendship was more important than electricity.

    They are wrong.

    We didn’t have electricity with our ex’s because we were NEVER excited about them in the first place. It’s not about electricity fading, or coming and going; it’s about being invigorated by the presence of that person. That ought to be a minimum requirement for a marriage partner.

    It’s not just a sexual thing. It’s the excitement of meeting someone you really click with.

    When you meet the person who “gets” you and vice versa, as Meg said, it gets SIMPLE. There will be disagreements on the path, but your relationship won’t feel like an arduous draining thing that you must constantly negotiate. Neither will it feel perfunctory and dull.

    The right relationship hits the sweet spot of ease and excitement combined. And your greatest problems in life should come from the chaos of life; not from your relationship.

    • I “exactly’d” this, but it needs a bit more enthusiasm. Yes, yes, and yes.

  • JW

    thank you so, so much for writing this. i’ve just separated from my husband who i still love dearly, and i feel really lost and alone. it makes me feel a little better to hear someone else’s story. i’m still in the throes of that stage of feeling like a bomb has been dropped in the middle of my existence. i’m glad there’s hope.

    • When I first separated from my ex, I spent a lot of time with a therapist trying to figure out how to find my separate identity and let go. It helped, but it has been a long process and because we have kids together, the process of letting go is ever-evolving. I would like to say that our separation was amicable, but it wasn’t. I do hope that some day it will at least be cooperative, and maybe someday after that, we might find some measure of the friendship that started us down that path in the first place.

      I’m sorry to hear about your separation. It does get better if you work on it. The hardest part is not letting the sadness devolve into bitterness.

    • Class of 1980

      I had to go on tranquilizers during my separation. Yeah. Today, it seems like it happened in another lifetime. This too shall pass.

  • Class of 1980

    After reading a few comments, I wish I had used the word “CHEMISTRY” because it says it all.

  • Like Sarah I’m a Marriage Dropout. Like Sarah I’m getting married, not remarried.

    That day was clouded by family disagreements and the recent passing of both my grandparents. My grandfather had died 6 months before the wedding. My grandmother had a stroke and went into hospice 5 months before the wedding. I spent a month with her not thinking about, not planning, and not calling my then fiancé before she too passed away. I had doubts that it was so easy for me to not include him in my life. He didn’t really know my grandmother was what my relatives said. I thought about postponing the wedding. My family after two deaths was looking forward to a positive event. The day of the event as I was watching all the guests mill around I wanted to call off the ceremony and announce we were having a party instead. People told me I was having cold feet and that it was natural what I was feeling. I was told how disappointed in me everyone would be. Now with the exception of people’s travel – airline, hotel, and rental car – costs the only money spent that wasn’t refundable was mine. But in a family wracked with grief the last thing I wanted was to disappoint anyone.

    Looking back there are huge red flags. Doubt. Dealing with my grandparents’ illness and death without my fiancé. Planning a wedding through an assistant long distance. Having a wedding in which the groom took no part in the planning. I wish I knew then what I know now. If in doubt at a minimum postpone. For me personally, if in doubt, walk away. Ending any relationship at any time hurts. Only the hurt gets worse the longer you wait.

    Thank you for sharing Sarah!

  • Laura

    I didn’t know there was such a thing as a professional worrier- I am certainly one!

    This article stung for me. I hesitate to call myself a wedding dropout because I lived with my ex-fiance for 4 years. We weren’t married, but it sure felt like we were. We were super committed, wore rings, and referred to each other as husband and wife. It was just a matter of finding the right time for the wedding, which we kept postponing (or so we told ourselves). We did love each other, a lot. That didn’t make him listen to me or fulfill my emotional needs, and I couldn’t be the 50’s housewife he wanted. I ended up moving out and we went through the break up/get back together cycle several more times until I just couldn’t anymore.

    There were signs, sure. But we loved each other, we really did. When things had gone bad, and we were debating our relationship, we’d come back to ‘but I love you…’ and cave in, trying to make it work. Love counts. It does. But so does caring, compatibility and emotional stability. The last time I spoke with him was when he was unavailable to me when my Mother died. I was driving home to pick up her ashes and he called to say he wasn’t sure we should be together. Great guy.

    I love my current partner. I really, really do. He is an amazing person, a great listener and we have such fun together. He wants me to be happy and cares how I feel. I can see myself having a family with him. But I am scared. I’m not worried about anything he has done or things that have gone wrong between us, but I am worried that things will get messed up and fail. Is this a possibility? Sure. Are my worries unfounded? Pretty much. Our relationship is not all roses and sunshine (we argue, we get pissy with each other, we are learning to live together) but it is pretty wonderful and I love him even when I am angry or upset. I just have to learn to trust myself and not conjure monsters that aren’t there.

    • Sophia

      “I just have to learn to trust myself and not conjure monsters that aren’t there.”

      This, this, this. I can’t exactly this bit enough. Sometimes I feel like I’m my own worst enemy, because I self-psychoanalyse and end up freaking out.

  • I’ve been reading some of the comments here, and while I agree with everything Sarah has written, I think something is missing in the narrative.

    There is always a sense when you are reading other people’s wedding horror stories to stop and say “That won’t happen to us.” Maybe it won’t, but just be honest with yourself

    I got married the first time because I couldn’t think of a better way of keeping the relationship I had with my (now ex)wife where it was. I was 24, I had just seen several cousins and friends get married. We were the only couple left who hadn’t. She was dropping hints left and right.

    I asked her in a way that sounded like we were discussing where we should go on our next vacation. My family was not enthused, hers was mildly so. I checked out of the planning early when it became clear that my input wasn’t really required. We did everything required of us. I ignored every warning sign:

    Our wedding evaluation showed we were completely incompatible.
    My friends told me it was a bad idea.
    My family tried to talk me out of it.

    The closer we got to the actual date the more I was convinced it was not the correct thing. We had several loud public arguments in front of friends and strangers. I was castigated in front of the entire wedding for forgetting a piece of paper at the rehearsal dinner. Everything was ascribed to nerves.

    Our wedding was lovely. Everyone who was there agreed about that.

    I could bore you with what a 9 year marriage feels like when you are half there. I could go into the details of how I buried my happiness behind books, computer games, and muting my feelings. I had everyone I knew convinced that I was content in a marriage that was hollow and empty on the inside. I don’t even like to remember those details.

    The worst part of all of it was knowing in my heart that I was not in love with the person I was married to. I loved her like a sister, and we could have gone on for years that way if I hadn’t decided (for the worst of reasons) that I was tired of being an old man at 34 years old.

    Sarah loves me, and she loves the story of us. I love her, and I am heartened by those feelings I had locked away for years; because I was convinced on a cellular level that I was unworthy of deserving unconditional love. We love each other because we need each other. I don’t feel whole without her.

    Our story is only “Fairy tale” because you don’t know us. You don’t know how difficult our being together has been over the past year. We’ve dealt with things that would send people screaming in the night. No fairy tale has a foreclosure, two near bankruptcies, someone losing their job and the loss of half of your friends.

    I’m proud of how brave Sarah is in putting this out there for people to read and judge.

  • Anna

    Hi Tony, and Sarah,

    Thank you so much for responding. I want to step forward as someone who misread this story through the skewed lens of my own experience. I held my own life back in search of “perfection” for many, many years, not seeing what was in front of me. I think there’s a part of me that is a little jealous of your kind of love story, because it is so certain and clear. But the reality is that any of us that embark on this crazy marriage thing are building lives on a foundation of embraced imperfections. Of loving our partners, for better or for worse, and all that. So I want to apologize for shoe-horning my own issues into your story. You sound like strong, and smart, and loving people, and I am very happy you found each other again. Take care. –Anna

    • Hi Anna,

      I keep coming back to your comment and not responding. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your comment (I do, very much), but rather, it’s difficult to formulate an adequate response. I did not want the point of the original post to get lost in a side issue, which is why I chose to write about it separately on my own blog. I appreciate your apology (and I can also appreciate your original rant), so in my own inadequate way, thank you.

  • A Weddingbee reader just notified me about your post and it made my eyes well up. I feel like I’m a lot less alone after reading this. Here is my post to give you a frame of reference:

    Your post was written beautifully and I can’t thank you enough for the hope for a brighter future :)

    • I just read your post, Shannon, and our stories sound very, very similar. I don’t talk about my ex at all except in very general terms on the internet, but it sounds like you have been where I have been. Please feel free to email me (my email is sfbudgetwedding[at]gmail [dot]com) if you would like to chat.