Called off my fourth engagement. Broke up. Now I am terrified.
September 19, 2015 1:07 PM   Subscribe

I wrote in earlier about being engaged 4 times by 30. The advice was amazing and I did end up calling it off and breaking up. However, now I am terrified. Of being alone, maybe not having kiddos one day, and wondering if I will ever get married to a partner.

Not too long ago, I wrote this thread and got great advice, which I thank you for:

Summary of that link: I was unsure about an engagement, a fourth one with a fourth person. I have been engaged 4 times throughout my twenties, to various fellows and each I have called off. Extended details in the link above.

What happened next: So I did it again. And I feel like an idiot. Like everyone may see me as crazy, which, perhaps they are right since I said "yes" to four different men and then called each one off. And yes, these were "real" engagements with rings, telling families, etc.

Maybe I shouldn't care what they think, and I guess out of everything, that weighs the least on me. However, I am frightened of my ability (or inability?) to bond, make it to "I do", feel content, etc.

I value myself, but I also value real love partnerships that can, in the end, produce a little family. I guess I never imagined myself here at 30. I frequently wonder what my chances are of getting engaged a 5th time one day, but this time when I know myself, what I want, and when I feel confident in that union. For some reason I get this (rational or irrational) fear that I had 4 chances and so what are the chances of a fifth person wanting to do life with me?

I guess my question is, how do I stay positive? I am promising myself not to even attempt to get into a relationship for 6 mths to a year, since jumping too soon into things was a flaw of my past, and I feel very solid on that I can and will wait 6mths to a year (thanks to meds and therapy and friend encouragement). But when I do start dating again, say around 31, how do I remain positive that I will find someone, love them, and with that love produce something or children that I am excited about? It just feels so daunting. Another thing that eats at me is that my fourth and most recent engagement was a "too good to leave, too bad to stay" scenario. I wasn't necessarily unhappy, but I/we continued to feel complacent and I also wondered if there was a better match or more for me out there and I kept getting the sense I just wanted to be alone and figure out my dislikes/likes/passions. I just hope my optimism when I made this decision did not overshadow the truth of the actual options that are out there.

I know this is rambling, but I feel foolish and scared and needed words to hear. Thank you all.
posted by marciainabox to Human Relations (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is a thing people hate hearing because it means doing work, but you cannot have a deeply-connected fulfilling relationship if you do not develop a really fantastic relationship with yourself. And you know what happens when you have a great relationship with yourself?

You're happy. You're happy with whatever else happens. Pursue THAT happiness instead of hanging it all on someone else.

But I'll tell you a second thing people hate hearing: for the most part, all the dating you do in your 20s is for recreational purposes only. Some people luck out, or make it work despite the serious emotional immaturity of most people's 20s, but you're just now getting into the zone of actual grown-ups.

Realistically, you've got another 10 years minimum of usable fertility, with science maybe 15. Stop settling for whatever because of baby math, because that just leads to having children and being completely miserable, which studies have shown is pretty crap for your kids.

Take 8 months (minimum) off dating and date yourself instead.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2015 [51 favorites]

When you start your next relationship or relationships, let the person know that you need to be the person who proposes. You know what it looks like when you aren't ready. Wait to propose until and if you and your next partner are both ready (and no sooner). If you're never ready, that's fine too. There's no law that says you have to be married to have a family.
posted by aniola at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

And Lyn Never is right. You've gotta be committed to yourself. Your own BFF first and always and foremost.
posted by aniola at 1:25 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

You know what my first impression of you is, just based on this question? You're BRAVE.

I could give you a list of people I know who got married because they felt it was the right time (regardless of the person they were with) or because they had been with someone long enough that they felt to break up would "waste" the time they put in (like a relationship is a bank account), or people who were just too scared to break up, or worried their families would be mad, or who settled with an 'okay' match for a bunch of reasons.

Those are all okay reasons to be married, actually, if one of those reasons is your reason and that's how you want to play it. But if you want to marry someone who, if you lost them, it would take you out at the knees, then you deserve going for that.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

I feel like you may get into relationships that lead to engagements because you feel like you need to be in a relationship that leads to an engagement. It's like you don't think you're worthy enough unless you're with a partner, and you totally need to be. The whole "I won't date anyone for six months, maybe a year." stuff is going to fly out the window sooner rather than later.

I don't want to come across as harsh, but shit, I was engaged once. It ended horribly. You've had four people say that they want to spend the rest of their life with you, and you're 30? And you worry that you won't find a fifth? I'll put the C note on the over. It's not crazy to get cold feet.

Get out of that box, Marcia. It's nice out here.
posted by Sphinx at 1:55 PM on September 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Take your relationship hiatus and along with becoming truly happy with yourself, become completely okay with being on your own. If you are scared to be alone, you will get into relationships that aren't right for you, guaranteed. Here's the trick, though. You can't get okay with being alone as a step toward being in a relationship. You have to do it as an end in itself. Otherwise, you haven't actually become okay with being alone and you're back in the same boat.

If you are happy with your life and yourself and are okay with being alone then any relationship you find will be a better one for your not depending on it to be a whole person. And any relationship that you find that doesn't work will be apparent to you more quickly because being alone will be better than being in it. But you won't find yourself needing to rush into a sense of permanence with a ring and an engagement to stave off the very fears you're asking about now.

Find out who you are when you are alone and not trying to get into a relationship. Then take that person into the larger world a year from now and see who she meets. You'll be surprised.
posted by janey47 at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Lyn Never is correct about everything but the fertility. In a few months get that tested and use the info to help you plan accordingly. You may choose to freeze eggs etc but ivf can't save a lot of people who leave it too late for their ovaries. It's an individual thing and we on the internet can't tell you what your levels of ovaries reserve are.

Get happy in the mean time and maybe next time elope. But work on your emotional health for at least six months. No relationships, just unattached sex and some counselling. You'll be ok.
posted by taff at 1:58 PM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wrote a pretty similar question a few weeks back, and I think there's some good advice in there. Some of it may not apply to your specific situation, but it helped me a bit. Maybe it'll do likewise for you.
posted by xenization at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2015

Everybody feels like you do when a long-term relationship breaks up, whether they were engaged or not. Will you meet anyone else? What if you never get married or have children? What if that was your only chance for happiness? Etc. Seriously, go back and read some of the other questions on here, this is a really normal response. And in most cases people do indeed go on to meet other people, get married, have kids.

You must be a complete catch if four people have asked to marry you, so don't worry too much about attracting people. I'm not sure why you're attracting so many people desperate to tie you into an engagement after just a few months; maybe you're not in the US or you're just so out of their league they're worried you'll run off if they don't tie you down quickly.

Either way, I would try to make it clear in the first few months that you would only want to marry somebody when you were completely sure about the relationship, say after 3-5 years of dating. You can live together in the meantime, but no marriage or kids until you're sure of your long term compatibility. That should weed out the ones who just want to marry somebody, anybody. For the others, if somebody can't accept that you want to wait or it's too soon for you to get engaged, that is a total red flag and you should break up anyway.
posted by tinkletown at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Looking at your last post, you are not being nearly picky enough. If you don't feel you can trust someone, stop dating them. If you're not sexually attracted to someone, stop dating them. Respect your own feelings. Make a list of what you want and stick to it.

I'm what might be called seriously picky. I wanted to marry a feminist, who wants kids, who likes the weird stuff I like, who does their share of housework, who listens to me and respects me, who isn't a heavy drinker or user of substances. That is the guy I'm married to. He is actually the first man I seriously dated (mostly dated women before him). It's fine and normal to casually date people who might not tick all your boxes, but don't get into long-term relationships with them.

Also, remember when you are feeling afraid that there are worse things than being alone. Namely, being with someone you don't really want to be with. It's clear that you know that, because you have broken off these relationships. Remember that those were good choices you made and that you wouldn't undo them even if you could.
posted by chaiminda at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2015 [19 favorites]

Seconding the folks above, and just want to add: the WRONG partner is and always will be worse than NO partner. Trust me: single for life is better than shackled to someone you don't trust or who fails to treat you well.
posted by easily confused at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

Congratulations, I was afraid you wouldn't have the guts to break it off, and you did! As aniola said, you're brave, and you should be proud of yourself. And thirty is young. I'll repeat what I said in the earlier thread: Be patient: it will be OK.
posted by languagehat at 3:25 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

As someone who has a different unproductive pattern, I am n-thing that you should be your own BFF, and also encouraging you to consider talking to a therapist. I am finding an outside perspective on my process to be the most helpful, grounding thing, and as much as my husband and my friends love me, they are only up for so many conversations about Big Feelings.

I'm sorry it feels hard and maybe like you're screwing up in public. It's really hard to live with uncertainty because you want it to work out and all of those people who say it will be okay seem already to have worked it out to some degree, which is annoying. Please try to be as patient and kind with yourself as you can moving forward; figuring out what to do next is not always a linear process, but that doesn't mean you're getting it wrong. I, for one, am rooting for you.
posted by deliriouscool at 3:43 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Looking at your last post, you are not being nearly picky enough. If you don't feel you can trust someone, stop dating them. If you're not sexually attracted to someone, stop dating them. Respect your own feelings.

A thousand times yes to this. It seems like you keep getting engaged to men who aren't good matches for you because marriage is really important to you and you want it very much, and you're able to see a lot of good in the people you date. On the flip side, you perhaps undervalue your own needs and wants.

However, it's so much better to have four broken engagements than four divorces. It's really great that you have the insight and confidence to break up and not to push yourself through the marriage out of embarrassment.

You might be interested in this TED talk by Amy Webb. It's basically about how being very picky helped her find the right partner.

Don't be afraid to be alone - of course that's an actual thing you have to work on and not a switch you can flip. But it's important. The ability to be happy on your own means that you pick a partner out of want and not necessity. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 4:28 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I know it seems like cliched advice but I also suggest therapy. In my experience, it was a really helpful way to look at a pattern of dating behavior, understand what needs were being expressed, and try to find different and more productive ways of getting those needs met. For me, a shrink with a Jungian background was useful; I think it's very well suited for adults who live generally functional lives but are having trouble clicking into a greater level of fulfillment or happiness. I also think that model is really good for understanding how family and personality dynamics play out in interpersonal relationships.
posted by vunder at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found a wonderful primary partner after I stopped dating for a year to learn how to be a better, saner, healthier me. After that, I fell for a guy and recognised 3 months in that he was a bad fit. So I broke up with him and found a much better fit. I recognised healthy, finally, because I was so much healthier. And had a better idea of what mattered to me. And that was, in part, being treated well and adored. Which I am. It may feel terrible and scary now. But you have make a terrific decision in your own best interest. It's not an easy journey you're on but it's a worthwhile journey. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't have much to add here in terms of personal anecdotes, and I was initially a bit skeptical when you said fourth engagement (so sorry about that). But I went and read your prior link, and I think you totally made the right choice, each time. In each of those, it was a legitimate reason to cut off the engagement. It just feels weird, I'm sure.

A couple of thoughts went through my head:

1. I think you have been engaged four times in a decade because you are a very caring, likeable, and introspective person, and people want to be married to you. I think this should help alleviate your concerns about the future. If you were fortunate enough to have a number of men hoping to be married to you, that isn't pure luck. It's almost certainly personal qualities that are endearing men to you as a person.

2. This isn't anything to be ashamed of (if it hits on any truth for you), but I know people who have a tendency to to say yes too easily, especially if it offers something that they desperately want. But honestly, in the grand scheme of things, that's stuff we can work with (for some in the context of a professional counseling relationship). If I had to take a stab in the dark (and seriously, I don't have a lot of credibility to guess, although I feel compelled to say this), perhaps you don't always feel worthy of better, say yes easily, and then grapple with that as you become aware of red flags that are legitimate, because you are introspective enough to do so. There are some people I know who have done all that except the last one, and then jumped in with both feet without being able to see the danger to themselves.

It seems to me that you are on a path that's cautious and thinks carefully about who you are and what you will say yes to in the future. I feel very optimistic for you. So, taking some time like you mention (whether through counseling or not) can be helpful to get a handle on a sense of identity, deep motivations, etc. And if you run into a pretty cool guy in the future? You can do couples counseling if you want a solid perspective, either before an engagement or pre-marital counseling after, to assess compatibility and any red flags that you see. Knowing that's available for the future might also relieve some anxiety.

So in a nutshell: 1) good job taking care of yourself even though it can be painful; 2) you are going to be fine and have plenty of time, based on a track record of winsomeness; 3) take the time your are thinking about taking to be internally reflective in the right ways and with the right resources; and 4) have an eye on caution for the future that isn't a permanent holding pattern of uncertainty, but one that can get healthy input from someone on the outside looking in who can perhaps provide a helpful third-person perspective, and who can help get past some of the historically confusing internal stuff that we bring to our decision making.

Good luck to you, although I think you have a lot going on that will not require you to be lucky!
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

you must have a lot of sparkle. that's awesome. enjoy it!

4 people (so far) have asked you to marry them and you have said yes. Awesome to be asked, and probably feels mostly awesome to say yes and bask in all of that too...

AND... not walking through one of those doors means that some part of you understands there might be something else. Another door.

Trust that feeling, trust yourself.

As you plow through your 30's... you will see your life unfold even better than you ever imagined and it will all make more sense. The most connected and loved you ever felt in any of those 4 relationships will become the baseline not the peak.

We aren't here to find happiness, we are here to become whole.

I paid a shrink a lot of money to teach me these things, I pass them on to you for free!
posted by bobdow at 7:55 PM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thank you all for taking the time to give really thoughtful responses. I really appreciate it...really really a lot.

A lot mentioned therapy. I have been going to a therapist since May trying to grasp what was missing in this last relationship and why this always happen. She told me something to the effect of, "It is like you are shopping for a house and you know what you want. But the first time you step in a house and see one thing you like, you feel you should stay even if it is leaking, cracked foundation, etc and there are other houses to see". She wasn't trying to compare men to things to be bought, just making a dating analogy by the way. She is very kind. Anyways, I understood what she was trying to say, and that may relate to the not being picky enough as some mentioned. Each time I have met a man, he would have a quality I really like(d). Even though there were other things I would really like to have in a relationship, I always reasoned with myself that not everyone gets everything they want, that is what a romcom is for, and I should be thankful this nice person really likes me and not be greedy. Where this mentality comes from, I am not sure. I was raised by great parents, have great liberated friends, etc. I do generally feel guilty quite easily though. For example, if I am shopping and see that a shirt fell off the hangar and is on the floor and I walk by it, I will think about it in the store and turn around to go back and put it back on the hangar because the worker probably only makes minimum wage and I should feel thankful I have a salary and should try to make it easier on them. So things like that. Being easier on myself is something I am working on as well in therapy and also medication has helped quite a bit as well.

I don't feel I have unusual sparkle or anything. I feel just normal. As for the men themselves, they all are different sizes (from 300lbs to crossfit fit), different incomes etc. I have never been "turned-on" just meeting a person and I am good with paying my own way. When I see a good looking guy, it feels like seeing a pretty painting. Like, "That's nice." I do get turned-on once I get to know a person's brain and thought process though (Pansexuality? I don't really care to label it, though it is directed only towards males, not females). This tendency of mine have led to what others have commented as odd-looking matches with me. Whether these odd (though I don't think so) have led to the men to want to propose, I am not sure. But it is not all on them either. I was excited with each one, too.

As a side note, I recently saw 500 Days of Summer. It doesn't apply to me directly but then I read an analyses of it. A term mentioned, "Manic pixie dream girl", was brought up. It is basically a girl that is cutesy/smiley but sort of a blank canvas for men to project their dreams on...well, it struck a cord with me. Because I haven't developed myself. I don't feel I have a ton of personality to share and I like to learn from my partners their various hobbies or knowledge and they seem to have liked the attention and to teach me. It made me sort of sad in a "have I been proposed to a lot because I am a blank canvas and like sundresses and smiling" instead of proposed to for me.

Again, I am rambling. Long story short, great anecdotes. And I am thankful for this community I found. I want to answer questions I read too soon but then I get nervous I don't have myself together so why should I be giving advice, ha.
posted by marciainabox at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm glad you're seeing a therapist - they're great! One thing to keep in mind:

While you don't always get everything you want in a partner, which I think is a realistic expectation you've lined out, there's still a scale to that.

Okay scale: He snores, leaves his towel on the floor, talks too loud sometimes, maybe you're better with money, you can't agree on the color of paint for the living room, etc. These are all things that are regular faults in a regular person and regular things that come up in relationships. That means that they may check off a lot of list items in a perfect partner or your personalities really click, but they still have faults. We're all human after all.

Not okay scale: Demeaning you, not being on the same page about parenting, yelling or getting angry, blaming you, screaming fights, embarrassing you, etc. These are things that are just flat-out, no-go relationship things. So even if they hit all the things on your list, these things void that list. It doesn't matter how much "good" if someone has enough super-scary-bad-things.

I think a good thing to work on in therapy is actually recognizing that scale. It seems like you're accepting the scary-bad-things because you think those are regular faults when they're not. As you said, nobody's perfect, but they also shouldn't be total assholes. Going through what's normal in relationships that work and last with your therapist should be helpful.

It's good that you recognize your tendency to be blinded by the good stuff. But then you also will need to learn to evaluate the bad stuff. I think one key, besides as others noted to be happy on your own and being single for a while, is taking any relationship a bit slowly. Think about what they're saying when you're not around them. Does what they say about the relationship match the actions in the relationship? Do your relationship goals match? It can be difficult to do this in the heat of new passion, so I think learning to evaluate on your own is helpful.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:20 PM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's better to have a kid on your own than with a partner who is ill-suited to it, which the guy in your last question seemed to be.

There was a woman who never got married but had been proposed to by at least 100 different men. They always proposed because, according to her, she was overly agreeable with whoever she was dating.

She was very elderly at the time of the interview and never married and she was glad of it.
posted by discopolo at 12:05 AM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some of us said "I do", got married before we knew ourselves or established an independent sense of adult contentment, then went through a very painful process of extricating ourselves when we realized we had picked a relationship we didn't actually want forever. Getting out of that situation can take years and years of agonizing, personally devastating work.

It really is better to be alone than in a marriage that you don't want. Like way, way better. Consider marriage a maybe-someday-if-it-feels-right, and get yourself to a place of contentment with yourself alone
posted by ead at 8:42 AM on September 20, 2015

Aside from therapy, you might also want to look for an activity that will help you tune into your preferences and to listen to your intuition . For me, it was process painting - paint whatever feels right in the moment and don't worry about what it looks like. The act of checking in with myself to ask "should this line be blue or green?" when it truly didn't matter helped me learn how to check in with myself about more important questions. I think things like ecstatic dance or contact improv have some of the same characteristics, although I haven't tried them. If you are interested in the particular teachers that i worked with, memail me.
posted by metahawk at 5:07 PM on September 20, 2015

Are you by any chance the kind of woman that molds herself into the perfect partner to whomever she's with? (Think Julia Robert's Runnaway Bride)

If so, OMG, you are enough. You are lovable without changing. Figure out who you are, stick to it, and then find someone who loves you.
posted by Neekee at 5:59 PM on September 20, 2015

Hi Neekee- Yes. I would say that I do mold myself somewhat when I am in a relationship with someone...I guess until I can't anyways. Another thing I have noticed are that the men start out very much adoring me, and I am very encouraging of their goals, emotions, appearance, etc. in that "the woman behind the man" sort of way. But then they seem to get much more confident and then less adoring of me (not that I *need* to be adored since I am not a little girl. It does feel nice though). I am not sure why this is as my parents have done the same for each other (supportive, give ideas on things, compliment one another) but it is very mutual and neither one seems to then act indifferently to one another. I am not sure if I am doing something wrong, or if this is just a symptom of dating the men I have. I admit though that when I note that change in them (not the confidence, but the indifference) I do act insecure, which in a way can make them feel more confident, too, I guess.

Again, thinking aloud here. I really do not want to date for awhile, but I guess am thinking of things I can do differently when I do start to date.

Also, I really want to respond to everyone individually since you took the time to write!! I know though that Metafilter doesn't want it to be chatty though. Just wanted you all to know I really appreciate you.
posted by marciainabox at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2015

Oh, also yeah, seconding metahawk: if you have trouble determining your own wants and needs, realize that listening to your own inner voice is a skill that takes practice, and in many of us it's underdeveloped. Find some activities that aren't terribly high stakes, but that require attention to your own preferences and give you time and space to learn to hear them.
posted by ead at 7:25 AM on September 22, 2015

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