Updated: Dec 21, 2020
You’re engaged to be married. And you’re starting to realize you have very mixed feelings about this state of affairs.
You thought you wanted to get married. You thought you wanted to spend the rest of your life with the person who is soon to become your legally wedded spouse – if you, um, go through with the wedding, that is. You thought that having a wedding would be great.
But then, somewhere along the line, you started to feel slightly nauseous every time somebody congratulated you on your engagement. At some point, you noticed yourself twitching a little bit every time someone asked you how the wedding planning was coming along. And then you realized that even the thought of the very exotic honeymoon you have planned - which you were once very much looking forward to – had begun to inspire feelings of dread.
You know you’re freaking out. It’s pretty hard to ignore the signs at this point.
But you’re not sure if this is just normal, pre-wedding nervousness, or a sign that something is seriously wrong. You keep hearing that everyone gets cold feet before their wedding, but everything is fine once the wedding is over.
But then again, some married people you know are not all that happy about being married. And you know in your bones you don’t want to end up like that.
You tried to confide your concerns to your best friend over drinks a couple of weeks ago, but you couldn’t muster the courage to spill your guts to them, and they didn’t pick up on the hints you dropped into the conversation.
You succeeded in being more open with an older coworker, but to your surprise, they laughed off your concerns and told you that everyone gets nervous before they tie the knot.
This was not exactly the sort of wise counsel you were hoping for. And you have no idea what to do with your confusion and mounting panic.
Meanwhile, time is passing.
Maybe the invitations have been sent out.
Maybe the RSVP date has come and gone.
Maybe all of the out-of-town guests have already flown in for the ceremony.
And you are seriously uncertain about whether you want to actually get married or not.
If this sounds anything like your situation, I have good news and bad news.
The good news is, it’s going to be okay. I promise. One way or another, it’s definitely going to be okay. You’re going to be fine.
The bad news is that there will almost certainly be some uncomfortable moments ahead. Possibly some VERY uncomfortable moments. Just facing your current state of confusion and uncertainty may be really hard. Being honest with yourself about what you want and what you don’t want may not be easy, either. And depending on what you decide to do, you may have to tell people you care very much about some things they will be surprised – and perhaps very disappointed - to hear.
But we’re not there yet.
Yes, you might decide to call off your wedding, and yes, this would probably be kind of a big thing. But people do this, and they survive – and people who have called off their weddings often say that although it was difficult, it was one of the best decisions they’ve made in their lives. And if you decide to do this, you’ll survive too.
BUT it’s also entirely possible that what’s bothering you can be addressed without taking any particularly dramatic actions.
Before you DO anything, though, you’ve got to check in with what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling.
If you’ve got a mild case of the jitters, or a major case of cold feet, follow these five steps to find some relief and figure out how to move forward.
Ask yourself this: what specifically is bothering you?
Write it all down – don’t just let the thoughts continue to swirl around in your head. Get it all out on paper, or on the computer screen, or the page of your journal. Make your worries, your fears, your hesitations, your reluctance – all of it, whatever it is – as explicit as possible.
SOMETIMES just doing this is enough to generate a great deal of relief. Sometimes the things that seemed like mountains turn out to be molehills, when you take a closer look at them.
And sometimes, getting your concerns down on paper in concrete form makes them seem even more real, even more significant than you previously thought they were. That’s a good thing. The objective here is to get a clear, comprehensive, no-holds-barred understanding of what’s bothering you.
Once you’re clear on exactly what is bothering you, ask yourself what solutions you can imagine.
What would need to happen for your concerns to be resolved?
Maybe the only way to resolve the situation is to call off the wedding and break up with your would-be future spouse. That IS one possibility.
But maybe your concerns all boil down to one specific aspect of your situation, or a few specific things.
For instance – maybe you agreed to participate in a wedding ceremony that isn’t in line with your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), because you knew it would make your future spouse’s family really happy. That seemed like an okay decision months ago, while you were intoxicated with the novelty of engagement and consumed by the pandemonium of early-stage wedding planning. But… now that you’ve had some time to think about it, you really don’t want to participate in the ceremony you agreed to.
And now that you really think about it, you feel fine about getting married. Great, actually. It’s just the details of the ceremony that are bothering you.
Maybe recognizing that feels like a huge relief.
But you KNOW that your spouse-to-be, and even worse, their PARENTS, are going to FREAK OUT if you tell them you want an entirely different wedding ceremony than the one you agreed to participate in. Anticipating that conversation fills you with terror and dread.
We’ll deal with the terror and dread in the next step, but just for a moment, get clear on your ideal solutions. And allow yourself to imagine the relief that would come from having those solutions become your reality, WITHOUT trying to figure out exactly how you’re going to get there.
Be willing to experience discomfort.
Most of us are not in the habit of tolerating discomfort. Most of us are in the habit of trying to avoid discomfort at all costs. Most of us have never gotten the message that discomfort is a normal, healthy part of human existence. But it is.
If you’ve figured out what your specific problem is, and what your ideal solution is, you may have quickly come up against a series of “buts.”
“But I CAN’T enact that solution, because _____ (person) will _____ (do/say something)” you may be thinking.
Well, here’s the deal. Other people will have reactions to what you do, no matter what you do. There’s no getting around that. And their reactions may not be positive.
And that may feel uncomfortable for you. It can be really hard to deal with other people’s negative reactions to your actions, especially when they take it upon themselves to make their disapproval known.
This is just what humans do. We love to share our opinions. Even when they aren't even remotely positive or constructive or helpful.
And this doesn’t have to be a problem for you! Other people’s reactions are not the ultimate referendum on the rightness of your choices.
The problem occurs when we’re so terrified of the discomfort we think we’ll experience if we make choices other people don’t like that we act in the service of avoiding discomfort, rather than in the service of what we know is truly best or right for us.
When you’re able to tolerate discomfort, you become less beholden to other people’s expectations. Your decisions are motivated more by an abiding sense of what’s right for you, rather than a desire to please others (or avoid the discomfort that could come with displeasing them).
Tolerating discomfort is a skill that requires cultivation. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always possible – and it does become easier with practice. Even if you’re in the habit of avoiding discomfort, you begin to expand your capacity to tolerate it starting right now.
Recognize the power you have to make choices.
You may not have the power to change the basic facts of your current circumstances, but you do have the power to choose how you respond to them right now.
Maybe it seems like all of the choices in front of you are bad – or too hard or scary to contemplate. Maybe it seems like achieving your ideal solution here will require a total life upheaval. Maybe it seems like deciding to do what you really want will hurt, upset, or disappoint other people. Maybe you think that you “can’t” do what you really want to do because it’s “too late.”
It may be true that the decisions you make will have consequences that make you or other people feel uncomfortable.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.
Often, when we think we “can’t” do something, we are actually CHOOSING not to do it, because we don’t like the idea of the consequences we imagine will come with our decision.
And there’s nothing wrong with choosing not to do something because we don’t want to deal with the results of our actions. But that’s DIFFERENT from saying that we truly do not have a choice in the matter, or that we “can’t” do the thing, whatever it is.
Yes, your future mother-in-law might be unhappy if you decide to have a non-religious wedding ceremony. But that doesn’t mean you CAN’T do it.
Yes, your guests may have already flow in from out of town, under the assumption that they’re going to attend your wedding next week. But the fact that they’ve done that does not mean that you cannot call your wedding off.
Yes, you may lose your deposit on your event venue or your flowers or your catering or everything associated with your wedding if you cancel close to the date of the ceremony. Yes, there may be financial ramifications of your choices. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a choice about whether or not you get married.
Every choice you make has consequences. Declining to make a choice has consequences, too. Bear in mind that by putting off a decision because we’re reluctant to deal with its consequences, we usually create more trouble for ourselves in the long run.
And when we make an important decision that’s aligned with our deepest desires and values, we’re more capable of dealing with the consequences of our decision than we think we are. Claiming our own integrity makes us stronger.
Decide what first, small step forward you will take.
You’re going to have to take this situation one step at a time. There just isn’t any other way to do it.
So where are you going to start?
If an answer to this question comes to you easily, great – go get started.
But if it seems hard to figure out what to do first, keep in mind that there is no perfect path forward. There isn’t a single, correct first step, waiting to be discovered.
Sometimes we get sucked into believing that we need to wait for something to happen, or that external events will eventually compel us into a certain course of action.
Sometimes a wait and see approach works well.
But if your wedding date is swiftly approaching, this isn’t the time for waiting. It’s the time for making decisions.
So, decide. Use the information you have available to you right now. Do the best you can. That’s all you can do.
The way you handle your situation may not be perfect. But that’s because there’s no such thing as perfect, NOT because you’ve failed in some essential way! So don’t let the fear of not handling things perfectly hold you back from taking action.