The author went alone to a friend's wedding a year after she broke up with her fiancée. The photo is courtesy of Mary Kate Leonard.
Amy told me that she didn't want to marry her fiancée. We were sitting in leather chairs at a bar in Midtown Manhattan that was decorated with rich wood and oil paintings. Amy had a wedding in a few days. I didn't know what to think.
Do you plan on calling it off? I wanted to know.
The waiter looked at her and she twirled her finger. She said that the entire relationship was a joke. I care about him but my family doesn't like him.
I said that it was yikes. What does he think about it?
He said he loved me. He must know this isn't a happy ending.
Amy held up a palm. It's too late to stop it. He would be destroyed by it. The invitations are no longer available. His family has been to Australia. I just have to do it
I said it was just one bad moment.
She said it was almost impossible to get the Carlyle for the reception. We can't let it go down.
I was concerned when I found no one. It's time to cut this off. It will be worse if you leave him someday.
She said it would be simpler. The stakes are low. We can always divorce if we can't find a way to make it work.
Amy and I have been friends for a long time. We had fallen out of touch in the late 20s, but we still had a lot of friends. I was told that she was getting married.
I had just ended my own engagement. The request to get drinks roused suspicion because of her nonchalance about marriage. She might have seen me as a preview of what would happen if she walked away from her fiancée. If it was true, this fate was a bit manic, 10 pounds heavier than usual.
Amy asked me about my break up. Do you think it was a good idea to call it off?
I stopped. It's not easy to end a relationship. The truth is always more complicated than people think, as if a simple "yes" or "no" will resolve the issue.
I loved my ex very much. We shared routines, chores and money while living together. My friends and family were fond of him. Our relationship was important to my identity because they thought of us as a unit. Walking away from an engagement meant exchanging the pleasures of a bride for the embarrassment of a deserter, and starting over from scratch.
I hurt a good man and his family when I broke up with him. My parents were disappointed that I turned away from a certain type of life. After all the good ones were taken, I was on the verge of 30 and faced the prospect of starting over again. If not managed down to reasonable scale, the power of unmet expectations is grotesque.
I was unsure if I could promise to love my ex forever. I couldn't make a lifelong commitment on a foundation of doubt.
I told Amy that yes. I think I cut it off. I should have done it a long time ago. I wasted a lot of people's time.
She received a text on the day of her wedding. It wasn't too late for me to call it off. She could take refuge in my apartment if she needed to. She didn't say anything. A friend confirmed that she committed to her partner until the day they died.
The author was in the year The photo is courtesy of Mary Kate Leonard.
Many people are struggling with whether or not to change their intimate relationships as we emerge into a new phase of the Pandemic. I would offer a few observations to those facing an inner conflict like Amy and I did.
It's irrelevant to your decision about whether to break up with them if you feel guilty about hurting them. It's better to pay someone the respect of telling the truth than to allow them to lie.
It's much easier to ignore guilt than it is to do it. Our body's structure is against us. Many different operating systems exert influence on human brains that are not well integrated. The most recent technology in human evolution is the outer layer of the brain. It tries to explain things to us. Our "attachment system" is an ancient, fundamental drive to form and sustain bonds with other people. Sometimes, different parts of the brain pursue conflicting goals, which explains how people can say one thing and do another.
I ended my relationship because I knew it was the right thing to do, but I was also guilty of committing an unconscionable betrayal by leaving my ex. A sustainable internal compromise and a coherent narrative are what good decision-making entails. Emotions coming from the older parts of your brain need to be weighed. If you have a lot of love, respect and support in your heart, you should be able to make a decision to marry. No matter how powerful the emotion, it should be ignored.
It is difficult to sort through these feelings. Dealing with traumas from the past can be difficult. We often turn to friends and family for help. Sometimes we get an onslaught of simplistic advice, which is usually boiled down to two dueling imperatives: "stop being so picky" and "never settle"
Third parties are not disinterested in helping friends and family. They have their own ideas about how your life should end, and they have an emotional stake in the relationship. They tend to give advice with one eye on justifying their decisions. We need the help of our loved ones to make difficult decisions. You can't crowd source this decision. You can't read the emotions. People disagree with you, that's their problem. They don't have to live the life that comes from your decisions.
You should be skeptical of a narrative that says you want to walk away because you are broken or afraid of commitment. People who haven't felt comfortable in a relationship are all of us. It is possible that your desire to leave a relationship is due to a fear of commitment. People have a strong psychological bias against leaving bad relationships. People tend to exhibit a progression bias, which is an overwhelming inclination to push forward with a romantic relationship even if there are red flags. Even though money can make it harder for women to leave abusive partners, this is still true. The data shows we are more likely to stay around longer than we need to.
The marriage vow is not a magic trick to make your fear of commitment go away, even if you have gotten in even deeper. If you can afford it, you should see a therapist before committing to a long term relationship. I don't see a therapist before I end my engagement.
The author and her new partner in marriage in 2021. The photo is courtesy of Mary Kate Leonard.
My romantic life was not easy after my break up. I had horrible online dates. I was alone at many of my friends weddings. While sitting in the audience, my peers moved into a new life stage that I was not a part of. I felt like I was going to lose my mind. I felt lonely in my bones. I spent a bit of money on therapy. I met another person and got engaged again.
I'm in a good relationship. I wouldn't second-guess my decision to call off my wedding. The choice made it possible to find happiness. It's better to be alone and hopeful than to have doubts.
I haven't heard from Amy in eight years. There are rumors of bad fights, unhappiness, and a marriage that is enduring rather than enjoying. I don't know her very well. I didn't meet her husband. Maybe my understanding of her life is a false narrative that serves my interests and reinforces the things I need to believe to justify my decisions. I was very close to her demise. I don't think she made the right decision.
Is she really interested in her fiancée? I'm pretty sure she did. She did it with her fingers crossed. Amy was not required to marry in the modern world. She didn't need a husband to help run the farm. She was able to make her own money. She lived in a city that was designed to accommodate single people, with studio apartments and dating apps.
The social pressure to marry undoubtedly played a role. Andrew Cherlin said that being married is the most prestigious way to live. The quality of the marriage is usually not looked at. Pushing people down the aisle costs us. Divorce can have a lot of personal and social costs.
I chose a different struggle for some unknown difference. Whether it was my friends, my basic sense of self-esteem, or even a fatalistic ability to, every now and then, throw my hands up and say "fuck it all" and go with my gut. I'm thankful I did.
The privacy of individuals mentioned has been protected by changing the names and identifying details in this piece.
Mary Kate Leonard lives in Philadelphia. She is writing a book about dating and relationships. You can follow her on the social media platform.
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The article was first published on HuffPost.