How can I make her realize I'm not her ex-husband?
April 16, 2009 8:41 AM   Subscribe

We're trying to get back together, but she has trust issues. How to overcome these?

I'm from a culture that sanctions arranged marriages, and I'm in a situation where a girl I've known and liked for a while is the one I might have a chance to marry.

I first met this girl (let's call her Jo) when she my cousin's roommate in college. We talked on IM and the phone for a while, and it was obvious she really likes me. I wasn't ready to get married at the time, and she ended up getting hitched to someone else.

Her marriage lasted for 2 months. Her husband was cruel and treated her horribly. Jo broke it off when she found out that her husband had another girl on the side and was in the process of getting engaged to that person. She was devastated and demoralized by the divorce.

In the meantime, I'd met a girl as well and I got engaged to her. I ended up getting dumped by this girl, and it broke my heart. Jo and I got back into contact and started talking.

It was as if the old chemistry was back. We would talk for hours. So, I broached the subject of marriage last year. Jo freaked out and sabotaged a potential meeting between our families. She says I'm to blame for the meeting not going forward. What happened is that her aunt called my mom and asked us to come down and meet. Jo then began acting as if she was being forced into this. Not wanting her to do anything against her will, I cancelled the trip. Jo was mad because I hadn't consulted her prior to cancelling.

Last week, I met Jo's aunt when she came to the city I live in for a wedding. The aunt really likes me and has encouraged Jo to give me another chance. Jo seems more enthusiastic about marriage this time around as well.

Still, she has some of the mistrust of men that was caused by her old marriage. Is there any way for me to help assuage her fears and make sure the marriage goes off smoothly?

If you need more info, I've set up a throwaway e-mail address. It is arrangeddude at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, the first time through I missed your first sentence, so this was a really confusing post. Now that I see that you're talking about arranged marriage it makes a little more sense. Here's the thing, though... do you guys *have* to get engaged right away? Would it be acceptable to everyone involved if you took a year to get to know each other? If so, why not just "date"? Spend time with each other, keep talking, and plan that if you both still like the idea in a year *then* you'll get engaged. It would help allay any fears she has of rushing in to another marriage and it would let you get to know her better too.
posted by MsMolly at 9:02 AM on April 16, 2009

Jo was mad because I hadn't consulted her prior to cancelling.

Is there any way for me to help assuage her fears and make sure the marriage goes off smoothly?

Yes, communicate with her more effectively. Gain her trust by being open and honest with her and encourage her to be the same way with you. Make important decisions together.
posted by studentbaker at 9:08 AM on April 16, 2009

Do you have get married right now?

Your friend went through the whole thing, the engagement, the walk around the fire (or whatever they do in your culture) with the enthusiastic support of all her family -- only to live a Hell with a bad guy. Now she is divorced, with all the "damaged-goods" stigma that implies for the more traditional folks in her family. Now her family is enthusiastic about you -- maybe there is some pressure from those traditional folks, like this nice boy is willing to overlook her shameful past, snatch him up, before some other girl does! And she knows from hard experience that her family's opinion (and her own) can be mistaken, when it comes to husbands. So while she is trying to work out how she feels about you, the drumbeat for another wedding goes on, from you, and everyone around her. That must be a lot to deal with -- maybe she wants to just be herself for a while.

Western-style dating -- with no immediate expectations beyond it -- may the only way here. Are you open to that?
posted by Methylviolet at 9:11 AM on April 16, 2009

Jo was mad because I hadn't consulted her prior to cancelling.

she has some of the mistrust of men that was caused by her old marriage

Um. What studentbaker said. Rigorous honesty and respect for quite a while would likely help immensely.

Also- what's the rush? (If she needs her family off her back, maybe you can set a wedding date for 2017 or sometime long enough away that there's ample time to break it if it makes sense to.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:16 AM on April 16, 2009

Yeah, it sounds like time is the only option here - a chance for you to demonstrate the many ways in which you are not that guy, and for her to learn to trust that.

How much western-style dating is involved in this is, I guess, up to you two - and to some extent to the traditional arrangers, perhaps. I don't know the cultural ramifications, but based on what a disaster the first (arranged?) marriage was, it seems like her family might be open to that. Not that they'd want to ditch the whole idea of involvement in her marriage entirely, but certainly willing to be patient and make sure they've got a good match on their hands this time. And they seem to like you, which is a good sign.

I'd say just stay close, make sure she knows you're interested but you don't want to be pushy about it, and give her time to get used to the idea of a nice guy.
posted by Naberius at 9:19 AM on April 16, 2009

You can't make anybody do anything, especially if they don't trust you.

So, I broached the subject of marriage last year. Jo freaked out and sabotaged a potential meeting between our families. She says I'm to blame for the meeting not going forward.

This girl sounds complicated. Do you want to live a complicated life? I feel bad that she might have the "damaged-goods stigma," and I'm sorry for how she was victimized during her first marriage. However, you can't save anybody from themselves (no matter how much you want to) and this is your life. I don't think these kinds of complications lead to a happy union and life.
posted by anniecat at 9:44 AM on April 16, 2009

Agree with the people saying, "Do you have to get married right now?"

Is there a difficulty in your culture with pursuing a romantic relationship before marriage? If not, it seems like you could do that first. If there is, could you be "friends" for a while and then propose or start the marriage setup process when you feel the time is right and you've had time to work through Jo's trust issues?
posted by maryrosecook at 9:46 AM on April 16, 2009

This sounds like a great time for good old fashioned pre marriage counseling.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 AM on April 16, 2009

I'm missing the part where she sabotaged anything, too- it sounds like a joint effort.

I know I'm not getting the whole picture but it sounds like both of you have some black and white reactions going on. It sounds like she didn't communicate in a mature way (which probably would have sounded like some paraphrase of "hey- let's postpone this- I'm having a freak-out about it") and then it also sounds like you decided "FINE!We just won't DO it then!" and cancelled it without discussing it.

I don't know how old you are but God knows I'd have done the same when I was young, so I'm not throwing stones but I eventually figured out that this sort of interaction creates more drama than understanding.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:16 AM on April 16, 2009

Not wanting to feel pressured or forced into anything doesn't mean she doesn't want to be with you. It sounds like she wants to be with you, or explore the idea, without the pressure. That's what we all want in our relationships, really. Finding someone you want to marry is awesome, pressure is scary. And she has extra reason to want to avoid the pressure, on account of her past experience.

When she expressed that she was feeling forced, and your response was to just cancel without consulting her, it probably made her feel all that much more like she had no control over her future. In fact, it probably feels like everyone BUT her has control over her future. I can't imagine how scary that must be.

So...perhaps she'll feel more comfortable if that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore. If she has concerns, talk to her about them instead of taking a reactive action without asking or at least telling her first. If you marry, you'll be partners. Start treating her like a partner now. Empower her to be as big a part of this whole decision as you are. It sounds like you've become good friends over the phone, so you have a good foundation to do this. Make decisions with her, not for her.
posted by lampoil at 11:04 AM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm your average white girl, from a culture where divorce doesn't result in social stigma. I don't get along terribly well with my family and my mother hasn't even met Mr. F.

That being said, believe me, after my first crap marriage, I spent three and a half years going "HELL NO I AM NOT DOIN' THAT AGAIN." I was fine dating Mr. F, I was fine living with Mr. F, Mr. F and I were visiting his family for holidays, all the stuff you do-- I just wasn't freaking getting married again.

When you've been there once already, it sucked, you had to pay a ton of money to get out of it, and people look at you funny for having Broken Up Your Marriage, the last thing you want to do is get right back on that horse. I can imagine the sort of looks and commentary Jo gets (being from a more traditional culture) are even worse than the ones I still get when mentions of my ex-husband come up. She may not be dealing with it very maturely, but panic will really screw someone's reactions up on topics so serious and so emotionally and culturally loaded.

On the other hand, you have no prior expectations-- you know how the process is supposed to work. You meet the girl, you hit it off, your parents meet, you meet with the families, someone calls the officiant and gets the musicians and so on, and hey, you get married. You may not have reckoned with the emotions involved yet, because you haven't been there yet. Jo has, once already, and had all of her hopes and expectations dashed on this asshole she married's abuse-- and then had to get a divorce, which probably exposed her to more contempt from her own family and other members of your culture.

You need to make it very clear to her that you want to hear her story, you want to listen compassionately, and that you don't want to push her into anything that's too soon for her just because it's what's expected of your people. Compassion has to trump tradition for you, even if it will be difficult and result in nasty comments or weird looks from your families.

If you're willing to do that-- to potentially suffer judgment yourself for giving her the time she needs, rather than jumping into a terrifying situation for her-- I think you'll do OK together. If not, you probably need to get some more potential matches and start arranging meetings again.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:06 PM on April 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

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