How to know when you're truly in love?
August 31, 2016 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How do you know you're in love (and willing to spend your life with someone) versus just loving someone?

Hi everyone,
so here it goes. I (just about 31 years old) have been with this amazing woman (34 years old) for just over 2 years now. We own a house together, as well as two dogs. I love my relationship with her. Besides the issue I'm about to describe, our relationship is great and fulfilling; sexually, emotionally and intellectually. She makes me want to be a better person and to be everything she deserves.

But something just doesn't feel right.

About a year ago, she quizzed me about marriage and I had quite the severe panic attack about the whole ordeal, because I didn't know if I was truly in love with her. Also this was shortly after buying the house and dogs and I was overwhelmed with the situation. Still, at the time I was thinking that I didn't know if I was in love with her or loved her enough to marry her. I saw a psychologist (who wasn't that much help) and we worked it out. In the back of my mind, I always thought "I can back out of this in x months time if it doesn't get better" but that thought came with hesitation as we own a house/dogs together and separating would be quite an inconvenience and ordeal.
We went overseas for Christmas and had an amazing time. Life returned to normal and we started planning for the future. We started talking about engagement and when we'd like to marry and we set a date for marriage in November of 2016. Truth be told I was more enthused because she was excited for it, rather than being that excited about it myself. The best I can describe it would be feeling indifferent about it. Everything was organised, including flights, accommodation, our relative's flights etc. In the meantime I went to a jeweller to design a ring, which took a while but in the end turned out to be worth it.

I proposed about 3 weeks ago and the instant I proposed, I had this urge of panic once again and whether this was the right thing. Almost at the same time I was telling myself "You have 3 months to break up before the wedding". Now obviously this isn't a normal feeling to have so I kind of spiraled out of control, emotionally, and it's just been going downhill from there on. Last night I said I wanted to postpone the wedding and shit hit the fan. She says that with all that has happened, postponing the wedding is a no go and now is the time to decide if I'm staying or leaving.

Some days I feel sad, other days indifferent about it. Even elated for having an "out". I've started seeing a much better psychologist and while I know that I have some issues with anxiety and situations, I don't know if the reason I'm freaking out is because it's going too fast/big life change, or simply because I don't know if I'm truly in love with her. Some people say you just know that you're in love with someone. Others say love grows over time. Or love is comfort. Honestly, that stuff isn't much help. I love being with her. I love my life with her. I take immense pride in the fact that she is my fiance. I feel like myself around her and want to explore the world with her, have kids with her etc. These are things I want, and can easily see myself having with her but is consciously wanting it different to really feeling that you want it with this person? I'm shit scared of divorce (especially with kids involved) and have noticed myself paying attention to divorce stuff in movies/TV/wikipedia and telling myself "It's not so bad. Plenty of people get divorced. If all else fails I can just get divorced." Now seriously, that's not something you should be thinking about when you're about to marry the person you want to be with, right?

I guess my question to you all is. How did you feel about your significant other before getting married? What relationships have you had where you truly, deeply loved the person, but weren't in love with them? What if you felt similar to me, got married and realised the person you were with was right for you all along and you were just scared? Or on the other hand, what if you convinced yourself to marry a person but then realised that maybe you shouldn't have convinced yourself and just listened to your gut?

posted by Sparwasser to Human Relations (77 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have personal advice for you, but this may help you: Dear Sugar, The Truth that Lives There. The advice is written to 5 women, but you may find that it resonates with you too.

Go, even though you love him.
Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you.
Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his.
Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him.
Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him.
Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three.
Go, even though you once said you would stay.
Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone.
Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.
Go, even though there is nowhere to go.
Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.
Go, because you want to.

Because wanting to leave is enough.

posted by moiraine at 9:42 PM on August 31, 2016 [30 favorites]

When you say "If it doesn't get better", what are you hoping is going to get better? Her? She sounds pretty great. Are you getting hung up on some bullshit societal definition or experience of love that doesn't resonate with you, so you think something must be wrong? Because actors on tv do a certain thing when they're "in love"? Or are you scared of taking a big permanent step or is it this lady in particular who you don't want to commit to? Anyway it sounds like you're not ready to get married and be a solid equal partner. The time to hash this out with yourself was before you proposed and the fact that you apparently didn't is what makes me think you're not ready to be a partner.
posted by bleep at 10:24 PM on August 31, 2016 [20 favorites]

Commitment is a decision you make thoughtfully and on purpose, not something beamed down onto you from heaven. There will be no burning bush. The responsibility is yours.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:34 PM on August 31, 2016 [127 favorites]

Is she in love with you? Usually people asking this question put in some kind of perfunctory thing about not wanting to hurt the person they're with, which may not be terribly sincere in all cases but is noticeable when it's absent. so, what, do you suspect her of wanting the relationship structure more than she wants you personally? If you found out she feels the same way you do but wants to be married anyway for practical, functional reasons, would you feel better or worse?

You could be in love with her but feel like this was all moving too fast (so fast that you were engaged and the wedding all planned before "proposing") or you could be in love with her but still feel so incompatible that the marriage was doomed to fail, but if that were the problem I think you would know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:35 PM on August 31, 2016

What is your idea of true love? Where do you think it came from?

Have you had previous relationships where you felt a stronger spark or connection?

What do you want out of life?

Do you know someone whom you admire in how they made their life and relationships work? Can you sit down and talk to them?

You can probably be very happy with her. Or with someone else. It won't be perfect. No relationship is. You do have to work at it every day - communication, working toward shared goals, and just being there for each other.

Some scenarios for the year 2026:
- You get cold feet and call off the wedding. You look back with regret because you've never met anyone else who can hold a candle to her. She's now married to someone else.

- You got married and build a life together. There's been ups and downs but nobody knows you like she does and vice versa, and you face the world together.

- You are still single and loving it. Your family and friends ask when you are going to settle down, but you are very comfortable bucking tradition.

- You got married, but still you feel like something is missing. There's no emotional connection between the two of you and you just hunker down to raise the kids together.

- To see all the ways things can go wrong, you can read some Dear Abby. You might find that you two have a lot going for you than many people!

Nobody can really predict what will happen. Most people get married in a haze of hormones. You don't seem to be under that spell, and that's OK. I hope you find someone of whom you can say, in 30 years, "she is the love of my life".
posted by metaseeker at 10:49 PM on August 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you are afraid of commitment. Jump. I did. So glad I did.

Weddings are just a party. You're already living the day to day of it.

Get a better therapist. If you run away from this just know you're only running away from yourself.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:00 PM on August 31, 2016 [37 favorites]

A lot of people are going to suggest you leave because you seem to want permission to leave, and I'm not going to say that's the wrong advice because I don't know you. But here's the other side: You are clearly capable of committing.

In fact you've done it—it's not that you're about to make a commitment, you've already made it. The distinctions between "love" and "in love" and "civil marriage" and "owning a house and splitting your life down the middle with someone you love" are the arbitrary residue of our particular (in place and time) culture, which doesn't make them false or fake but does mean they aren't going to correlate exactly to a state your brain is in or the features of your particular relationship. You get to decide whether you want to be married, and whether what you feel is "in love," but in practice you've done like 90% of the actual thing you're afraid of and not sure about.

Here's my situation: I dated somebody a long time and didn't get married because I felt a vague fear of commitment, like you. But I realized that rather than not-committing I was just committing really badly—we didn't live together and we weren't married, but we loved each other and we'd built a life together. The thing that was actually not-committing was different—ending the really nice life I had, against my own will, already mostly built for myself. I eliminated my existing choice, pretending I wasn't committing, as an option for the future, and resolved to commit myself one way or the other.

So now we're married and I love it; I don't have to fight to keep 5% of myself off to one side any more, contemplating a bunch of options that are A) worse than my actual life and B) mostly mirages. (The corollary to the fact that you've already committed is that your future is, in fact, already much narrower than you think it is. Doors close without us realizing it, even if we're the ones slamming them shut. My guidance counselor would be disappointed, maybe, but I'd rather walk very intentionally through the one in front of me, with a good life visible through it, than keep wondering about all the locked ones on either side and slam my nose into the doorframe.)

Commitment is good, but I don't have to tell you that because you've done it already. Accepting that you've made a commitment is great.
posted by Polycarp at 11:18 PM on August 31, 2016 [63 favorites]

You don't need anyone's permission to leave but your own. You don't need anyone's encouragement to stay but your own. If you want to leave this relationship because it's wrong for you, you should leave.

That said, I do agree with Polycarp: "In practice, you've [already] done like 90% of the actual thing you're afraid of and not sure about."
posted by samthemander at 11:47 PM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Spend some significant time imagining this person out of your life. Forever. No phone calls. No social media. No sharing significant events. No supporting one another during health scares or sharing important news.

How do you feel about this person being completely gone from your life? That should tell you what you need to know.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:19 AM on September 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

If you don't feel like you are in love, are you being fair to her? It sounds like she deserves someone who is in love with her. Either be that, or don't, but don't let her think you are that if you aren't.
posted by gryftir at 12:26 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Long replies:

When you say "If it doesn't get better", what are you hoping is going to get better? Her?
Hoping that my anxiety/panic/doubts will settle and I go back to normal. Which is exactly what happens. She definitely has personality quirks (some that annoy me) but I deal with it because they don't come close to outweighing her positives.

The time to hash this out with yourself was before you proposed and the fact that you apparently didn't is what makes me think you're not ready to be a partner.
I hear that. I was perfectly fine and happy to get engaged. Nervous? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Pressured (due to the already planned wedding)? Yes. I legitimately wanted to propose. If I was full of panic beforehand I would have thought about it. But I wasn't!

It sounds like you are afraid of commitment. Jump. I did. So glad I did.
Weddings are just a party. You're already living the day to day of it.
Get a better therapist. If you run away from this just know you're only running away from yourself.

It's quite possible that I'm afraid of commitment. What is overriding all of my emotions is this profound fear of making a mistake and regretting my decision (either way it goes).

A lot of people are going to suggest you leave because you seem to want permission to leave, and I'm not going to say that's the wrong advice because I don't know you. But here's the other side: You are clearly capable of committing.
I would never classify myself as someone with commitment issues. Quite the contrary. I hate being single. Having said that, I'm jealous of people who make being single look fun. (I have jealousy/grass is greener on the other side issues).

You don't need anyone's permission to leave but your own. You don't need anyone's encouragement to stay but your own. If you want to leave this relationship because it's wrong for you, you should leave.
I know it's my decision. That's the thing. This relationship (and she) is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I actually want to improve myself for her.

Spend some significant time imagining this person out of your life. Forever. No phone calls. No social media. No sharing significant events. No supporting one another during health scares or sharing important news.
How do you feel about this person being completely gone from your life? That should tell you what you need to know.

I'd be pretty damn sad. Pragmatically I know that life will go on and I've had relationships in the past that I missed but eventually got over. Then I ask myself if that's a sign that the relationship isn't meant to be?!

If you don't feel like you are in love, are you being fair to her? It sounds like she deserves someone who is in love with her. Either be that, or don't, but don't let her think you are that if you aren't.
I agree that she deserves to be with someone who is in love with her. How do I know that I'm not in love with her?! No one I've ever known has enhanced my life as much as she has and I can easily see a future with her. That doesn't mean I'm in love though?!
posted by Sparwasser at 1:08 AM on September 1, 2016

It sounds to me like you are in a happy relationship but suffer from intrusive thoughts like "what if I'm not truly IN love?" It's like your brain seizes on any evidence to rattle you ("see, you fear divorce, why would you even be thinking about divorce if you were secure in your relationship?"), and your anxiety spirals out from there. This is the relationship version of "am I positive I turned the stove off? How do I know I turned the stove off, what if my memory of seeing it off is actually from another day? See, would i even be questioning this if the stove were off? Wouldn't I just know?" That part of your brain is not actually helpful.

I love being with her. I love my life with her. I take immense pride in the fact that she is my fiance. I feel like myself around her and want to explore the world with her, have kids with her etc.

It sounds like you have a really good thing going here. And you own a house? What a shame it would be to tear all of that down for the kind of epistemological doubts you're having ("how do I know if what I feel is truly being 'in love'?"). Seek out resources related to engagement anxiety, relationship anxiety, etc. Look into relational OCD. Check out this comment (and this article is the one that I believe that comment was linking to). Don't listen to people who say "if this was true love, you'd know; if you're having doubts it means the relationship isn't right." Some people are like that; others question and overthink everything. Find a therapist with expertise here.
posted by salvia at 1:14 AM on September 1, 2016 [76 favorites]

The way you talk about her, you make this conflict seem more like a Sparwasser-anxiety issue than a Sparwasswer/Fiancée-relationship issue.
posted by samthemander at 1:17 AM on September 1, 2016 [24 favorites]

How did you feel in the run-up to buying a house with her? About getting two dogs? Did you feel freaked out of your mind and full of doubt about those things? How do you feel about those things now? If you didn't have to decide about the wedding right now, would you feel okay about owning a house with this person?

I ask because you remind me of myself, and I can get into anxiety spirals about almost anything. But I've learned that my level of anxiety is not actually a reliable marker of anything, because I can get really anxious about things that turned out to be good decisions and I can get really anxious about things that turn out to be bad decisions. I can also get really anxious about completely trivial stuff.

I've also noticed lately that my anxious, doom-and-gloom thoughts feel more real and more true than any optimistic or hopeful thoughts I have. I think that's probably because of the family I grew up in and how I was raised and the thought patterns I formed without realizing it. It's only recently that I've been fighting to change some of those thought patterns, so they still feel sort of forced and mechanical to me, like any new thing that you try to do, compared to my automatic and fluent self-abuse.
posted by colfax at 2:52 AM on September 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

You have a fantasy about love that doesn't really mean anything in the world of day to day life and decision-making. You might find this article apropos:
posted by spindrifter at 3:15 AM on September 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

What was it like being wrong when you were a kid? Like if you made a mistake or a bad decision was the focus on finding a way through or on deconstructing how you went wrong and on the mistake itself?

My husband and I have been together about a decade. We got married a year ago in March (for legal reasons, no wedding). When you were wrong in my family my parents would be like, "so, how can we fix this?" and in his family it was (is), "oh my God what we're you thinking!?". As a result he is frequently frozen by indecision because he's so scared to be wrong.

When we were about to move in together, in 2009, he must have had a similar crisis to yours. He really didn't bring it to me, but after we'd moved in together he told me he'd put aside enough money to support me and my child (from a previous relationship, she was 2 at the time) for a YEAR should it "not work out". That included renting our shared home for a full 12 months, giving me a deposit on a new place just for us, and covering transport and removal costs.

When I found out I laughed and laughed, and kissed him. It is so like him.

At the time I was leaving a low rent flat, and moving in with a man who was not my child's father (though we'd been dating over 2 years, I mean I wasn't being reckless, I just want to highlight that my stakes were HIGH). He was moving out of his parents' and could have moved back there anytime. But he was scared to make a mistake, and that was how he handled his fear, by having a sophisticated and thorough escape plan. MY "plan" was that if for some reason it didn't work out then I would figure out from where I was when it went wrong where to go next. I had been a suddenly single parent with a 4month old baby, I didn't relish the thought but I knew I'd be okay.

Fast forward. We now have my eldest and two children of our own, a house, a dog, a budgie and many many tropical fish. His anxiety was assuaged by experience. You remind me of him because you discuss having children with this woman but are worried about marriage. If you have a child you will NEVER be able to "get out" you know. My ex, who I split with a decade ago in May, I still see 4x a week and spend hours with and have to negotiate difficult stuff with. Our child turned out to have special needs (asperger's and ADHD) so there have been some really tough things to get through. Two years ago we sat together crying and holding hands when we got her formal diagnosis.

Once you have kids there is no bigger commitment. Yet when I said to my husband (long before he was my husband), "okay, we've lived together six months and the sky hasn't fallen, shall we make a baby?" he replied, "yeah sure" with a big smile. He was really worried about choosing the wrong option when we moved in, but he knew when you have a kid you just roll the di and get what you get so he didn't need to fret. He does better with less control because no control means no blame or guilt.

And my husband and I have had two children and our youngest has autism too. It was our turn to hold hands and hear the news in June this year. I think statistically we have a 10% chance of NOT divorcing, probably less as that's based on raising one disabled children, not two.

But you know, this man I married is my absolute best friend on earth, my rock, my safe place, my thrills and my joy. My best beloved. I have always felt he loved me. His elaborate escape plan I saw for what it was - his need to feel safe in the face of huge decisions that Could Be Wrong. And he only suffers these anxieties in deciding on "actions". I notice you are able to think pragmatically about a life without this woman, but not about the one with her, despite you describing her in glowing terms. My husband can cope stoically with almost ANYTHING that happens, but is devastated by causing himself even minor difficulty via a bad decision. The status quo can be terrible and he will take it over volunteering for the risk of being wrong.

So I'm not going to say you should stay or you should not. It sounds from the things your gf has said that though you can have a nice life like the one you have WITHOUT getting married, you probably can't have it with her. But I do think you should try to figure out why you fear divorce/a mistake/this legal thing so much, in the context of the rest of your life. As others have said already, this marriage won't change your life. You are already living a committed life together with this woman, with joint assets and furry dependants. The change is in your head more than in your day to day life. What does it mean to be wrong?
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:29 AM on September 1, 2016 [55 favorites]

I like Colfax's response, and some others upthread that focus on the anxiety side. You don't mention any medications; I wonder if perhaps you might benefit from an anti-anxiety med?

You may have some form of General Anxiety Disorder, which causes such thoughts to preclude, overshadow and basically crowd out everything else. Their prevalence gives them undue weight and causes you to see them as much more powerful indicators than they really are. Just because manifestations of anxiety are most often rising to the top, and "feel more real and more true than any optimistic or hopeful thoughts [you] have," does not mean they SHOULD be.

We are what we obsess over. But perhaps you're obsessing to the negative because it's a legit mental issue that medication might help with?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:29 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Polycarp nailed it. I mean, I don't know the laws where you live, but you own a house together. In many American states you're considered common-law married already.

What is overriding all of my emotions is this profound fear of making a mistake and regretting my decision (either way it goes).

So what. If you get married and it doesn't work out, then you get divorced. No big deal.

I say this all the time on AskMe, but a lot of misery in the world comes from peoople believing that they are stuck in the choices they've made. But that's not true. If you make a choice and then later realize the choice doesn't work for you, all you have to do is make a *new* choice and course-correct.
posted by Brittanie at 3:31 AM on September 1, 2016 [15 favorites]

Your question and the way you have responded in the thread remind me of points in my life when I've been deeply uncertain or insecure or feeling a loss of control, and have looked for "signs" in everything. I thought a rush of fear must be a sign that X was wrong (because: follow your gut! So every churn of my riotous gut = TRUTH!). I polled every friend and even strangers about my situation, because surely there is an obvious black-or-white answer and I'm just not objective enough to find it. I felt rocked between gut fears and unreliable rationalizations so fiercely it was utterly paralyzing.

It can be very distressing to know that sometimes there is no objective right answer. What you do is keep faith with yourself and the people you love and make your decisions for good reasons. Who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? If a life with this person is part of the answer to that question, and marriage is how you both intend to move towards that life, then that's a pretty good reason. Then you have to let the chips fall where they may, knowing you took steps in good faith. But you must be honest with yourself, and if this is not the life you want, you have to keep faith with that as well.

I think the idea of "am I in love, or am I in LOVE LOVE" is a red herring. It is a choice. You make a thoughtful choice with eyes open, you do your best to make it work.

I was engaged once and called it off. I felt the things you describe: moments of panic, a feeling of elation that I had an "out." I asked for a postponement first, and then we never un-postponed. The relief I felt from ending the engagement vastly overwhelmed the sadness of ending an important relationship. I've never regretted it for a day. But my situation was very different from yours. I had been scared to admit that I didn't like our life together. His vision for a future together had nothing to do with my idea of myself. I was profoundly uncomfortable in the core relationship. In my case, it wasn't a problem with marriage, it was a problem of US. If you are reporting honestly about how you feel about your life together, that's not your story.

We can't tell you what it is about getting married that is triggering your panic buttons. You'd do well to try to pick that apart. Be aware that in moments where we feel loss of control or anxiety, our primitive brains always scan the horizon for signs of danger. It's instinctive and normal, but it doesn't mean there's always danger there. You do deserve to feel confident about taking your next step (as does your fiancee) and whatever you both decide together, I hope you achieve greater certainty and peace.
posted by oneaday at 4:06 AM on September 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

My gut says that if you haven't already shaken her trust in you by all this havering, you should go ahead and get married. If you want kids with her, if you want to spend your life with her and you think those are real feelings and you're actually progressing toward doing that, it seems like your anxiety is anxiety.

One thing I have observed in life: straight cis men who have been socialized to fear commitment, to think that marriage is a trap, to think that [whatever marker of themselves will die] if they don't constantly have one foot out the door. To think that they have permanent, fixed identities that must not be allowed to change or be affected by another person. I'm not saying that this is all conscious process - I'm saying that it's one of the toxic ways of thinking that go along with masculinity. And a lot of those men end up very lonely or else making a bad decision late in life to avoid loneliness. The way you describe your situation, you're scared of this thing called "marriage" because it represents a statement about the world, and you want to keep your options open to keep making different and "better" statements later, while still holding onto the security of housing, dogs, etc now.

I mean, I get that, but I think it's the wrong decision. I think that you're going to look back in five years, after you've torpedoed this life, and wish that you still had the house and dogs and partner, etc.

I know that you're being sincere and not trying to jerk your partner around, and I think it's worth trying to get at some of the anxiety, but I think you have more of an epistemology problem than anything else. It sucks - I hate big choices and commitments myself. But hating them has bitten me many times. Hating to choose, hating to think about the future - that's what's made me a 41-year-old accounting major. And that's not such a bad thing to be, but the field of choices was wider when I was younger and afraid to commit. You hit your late twenties and you've got to start making some choices or attrition will make them for you and you may not like the results.
posted by Frowner at 5:14 AM on September 1, 2016 [38 favorites]

The way you describe your situation, you're scared of this thing called "marriage" because it represents a statement about the world, and you want to keep your options open to keep making different and "better" statements later, while still holding onto the security of housing, dogs, etc now.

I don't know how universal this really is, but it certainly matches my experience. At the time marriage felt like a huge statement and commitment, much more so than it does now, if that makes sense. You aren't getting a forehead tattoo -- it's a decision that can be undone if things change later (albeit with a fair bit of expense and bother) and does not constrain you in most ways.

The pattern you describe involves getting anxious about decisions and then finding that you are happy with the result, and I'd expect this to be the same. Ride the anxiety (because you can't pretend that it doesn't exist), but don't let it stop you from doing something that will likely make you a happier person down the road.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think that oneaday's comment above: "I think the idea of "am I in love, or am I in LOVE LOVE" is a red herring. It is a choice. You make a thoughtful choice with eyes open, you do your best to make it work." is wonderful. My wife and I just celebrated our 20th anniversary last week and our entire relationship is predicated on the fact that, "Love is a choice". Love is not emotion, love is not sex, love is nothing more than the conscious decision that this is the person I will dedicate my life to, that this partnership will be the focus of my will and I will consider this persons feelings and needs more often than not, even above my own.

That said, if I may insert a bit of levity into the conversation; every couple needs to have a song right?

Tim Minchin's "If I Didn't Have You" is what my wife and I consider ours. This song defines our relationship very much, humor in the song aside, the point of the song, to us, is to relax and while yes, we love each other very much, it's not the world defining event that is so romanticized and dramatized in literature and theater the world over.

Enjoy each other for what you are as individuals and as a couple and just be and if that's enough, your lives will be better together, stronger together and happier together.
posted by ZureaL at 6:18 AM on September 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I nth all of the advice already given above: this sounds more like an anxiety problem than an issue with the actual nuts and bolts of your relationship.

I am wondering what the other marriages in your life are like. How is your parents' relationship? Or other relatives', or close friends? Do you have models for happy marriages in real life, or does your internal vision of a good marriage come from TV, movies, books, and (gulp) acquaintances on social media?
posted by telegraph at 6:31 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's quite possible that I'm afraid of commitment. What is overriding all of my emotions is this profound fear of making a mistake and regretting my decision (either way it goes).

You have just described "fear of commitment" to a T. Sounds like a textbook case, to me.

It also sounds like you have a great life with this woman and you've already committed a great deal, such that what remains are mostly just the formalities. At this point, you have to commit either way: either to proceed with the great life you have been building, or tear it all down and run away. Since it sounds like you've got a pretty good thing going, my advice is to keep going forward. Walk through that door. Give yourself permission to stop holding back. Welcome to your future! It looks like a bright and happy one! Congratulations!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:33 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

So about me: I was very briefly engaged when young and broke it off. When I met my now-wife, I thought after about a year that I was pretty sure. But I was afraid of screwing it up again, so I promised myself that I'd wait until our 2-year anniversary, to think about proposing, and that I would plan to ask her so that I could monitor any signs of panic. You can memail me if you want more details.

With that said, it sounds like your relationship has moved fast? You bought a house after one year together? You set a date for the wedding around Christmas, which sounds like about 1.5 years together? Do you feel like you were an equal weight in those decisions, or were you just "enthused because she was excited about it', as you say?

I feel like my advice is breaking from some of the above, but personally, I have a hard time reading your GF's ultimatum and feeling like she's being kind to you. "With all that's happened?" You've only been together for 2 years and she brought up marriage after one! There hasn't even been TIME for a lot to happen! Even if it's inconvenient, she should be listening to you if you are being honest about your fears.

Anyway, to partially answer your questions:

With my first engagement, I knew it was coming and I thought I was happy and ready and wanted it. Instead, I was full of panicky dread within days after saying yes. I tried to convince myself I was just nervous - after all, wasn't I happy and excited before? But I knew, even when I felt overwhelmingly like I should tell myself to shut up and make myself be happy.

With my now-wife, it was like night and day. And remember, I was scared, so I was scrutinizing any tiny flutter of anxiety or "maybe not.." I had to force myself to wait to ask her because I was SO EXCITED to get engaged. My memories of proposing and wedding planning and our actual wedding are just like, ridiculous sparkle-bubbles of joy. I never, never had to push back any feeling of doubt.

I'm not saying you are me or my experience is yours. It's very possible you are having momentary anxiety that will fade. But do give yourself permission to really sit with your feelings, and if your deep-down feeling is fear and panic about your marriage, well, that is a feeling I have felt before and I wouldn't wish it on anyone on their wedding day, because it can be so much better. I, personally, do not think you should get married if you truly feel like your predominant motivation is fear of losing her if you don't, instead of joy.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Being "in love" isn't a big flash from the sky, a be-all-end-all announcement from the Fates that this is it and now you are done. The feelings associated with "being in love" are largely early-relationship butterflies and excitement: limerence. That's not real and lasting love. Real and lasting love--the real thing that matters for a lifetime commitment--is less a feeling and more a decision. You seem to be asking yourself over and over again "is this enough is this enough is this enough." It's true that only you can decide that, but I also think it is not exactly the right question. Love in the "being in love" sense is not a static noun, an is-it-or-isn't-it litmus test for a relationship. There is no 'enough.' Love is doing. It's a decision and it's a verb.

There is that grass is greener issue. That's never going to go away unless you will it away. You could have the grass is greener issue no matter what is going on in your life. That's not a problem with your relationship, but a problem with your head--a way to make sure that you are never satisfied with anything. You've got to will it away.

You're worried about divorce. So don't get divorced. Why would marriage be more likely to make you break up than not-being-married? Marriage is an agreement to not break up. Once you make that agreement, continue to not break up. You seem to be doing a good job of that so far. Why would marriage change that and make it worse?

Full disclosure: over the past 8 months I've been dealing with a not-entirely dissimilar issue (I'm your girl in this situation). We're working through it. We've done a lot. We're almost through it. (I'm still totally sending him your post and making him read it and all the answers, especially my answer). It was madness. We almost broke up but we didn't because we realized, all anxiety aside, at the bottom of it, we did want to do this. I humbly advise you that if you found someone who loves you and understands you enough that upon hearing this kind of stuff from you, she does not decide to set you on fire, but instead continues to want to marry you, she is probably your person and you should keep her. If you need a litmus test to determine if she is 'the one' (there is no 'the one'), there it is.
posted by millipede at 6:49 AM on September 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

I find it interesting that you combine “being in love” with “willing to spend your life together” rather than “loving someone” with “willing to spend your life together”. For me, the latter two make a lot more sense. I’m just going to let C.S. Lewis take it away, because he says it better than I can:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

Take out the "God" part if you don't believe, but the rest is pretty universal.

I honestly think a lot of your fear may be fear of growing up, fear of getting old, fear of dying. Fear of being "boring old dad" and fear of being responsible, of having no relief from responsibility.

But honestly, immaturity and freedom from responsibility is an illusion- we all grow old, we all die, we are ultimately, terrifyingly 100% alone and responsible for our own lives. We are all human and perfect love does not exist. Maturity is hard and scary and no fun but you can't run from it forever. There is a beauty in it as well, just a different kind of beauty.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:02 AM on September 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

OK, I'll add a little more to my comment.

As I said, one of the reasons I waited was to make REALLY sure that with now-wife, it was the real thing. And I won't lie: yes, there was some anxiety and fear around the idea of "getting engaged" to her and committing, especially because for me I'd already boffed one engagement. But deep down, my overwhelming feeling was "yes I want to do this can I do it yet am I sure enough yet?" Does that make sense? I was checking if I was "Sure enough yet" because my heart was saying "yes yes yes yes!!!" and my brain was saying "whoa buddy". And that, I think, is totally different from feeling like "is this enough yet? Am I sure yet"? because your HEART is the one thinking "I don't know though..." And only you can really figure out where your heart is.

The other thing is that for me, once I proposed and it was official, there was never anxiety again. Every step of planning and setting a date and etc was all "yes yes yes yes!!" I caution you because I would have cautioned MYSELF if I had ever felt doubt like you describe once the wheels were in motion.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:07 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of great advice here. I'd like to add: to love is to risk loss. To make a decision is to risk making a mistake. All good things carry the potential for disaster. I mention this not to scare you, but because there will always be an opportunity for anxiety to sneak in. You could be completely sure that you're making the right decision and then your brain goes but what if there's an accident or something. It's hard to distinguish anxiety from the kind of gut feeling you need to listen to, but with practice you can do it. And sometimes it can be helpful to imagine the worst-case scenario even if you want to avoid it at all costs, because the worst-case scenario is very often something that you can get through.

There's a previous AskMe where I mentioned the difference between doubts based on what if and those based on what is, and that distinction might help you. It sounds like your doubts are what-if doubts, hypothetical problems instead of concrete ones. Those are the kind of doubts that can find their way into any situation, no matter how good or bad.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

Also, I don't know if this will help you or not, but:

The harder it is to make a decision, the more likely it is that both choices are equally as good. If one choice was obviously better than the other, then the process of making the decision would be quick and easy. The longer you deliberate, the more it means that each choice is good and bad, and roughly about equal. Neither choice is better or worse. Does that make sense?

And if neither choice is better or worse, it doesn't really matter what you choose. Just flip a coin. If you feel bad about the coin flip, flip it again until you feel good about it. And go with that. It won't matter because both choices are valid, you just need to make a choice and stick with it.

Please do not be that guy that wastes months and years waffling and trying to have your cake and eat it to. If you break up, go full no contact. If you want to stay together but not get married- sorry, that is not an option anymore. She will dump you and go no contact. If you want to "stay friends" - sorry, that is not an option. Your choices are marriage and continuing the life you have now, plus a big party and a ring, or breaking up and going through the painful process of selling the house and then never talking to her again, making all new friends that don't know her, and being single. Living together and breaking up is much more similar to a divorce than a break up, IMO. (Especially since you're engaged!!)

So pick one. Either way you'll survive. If you really don't want to lose her, just marry her. Marriage really isn't that bad, it's just a label for what you have. If you really don't want that and don't care about the painful process of losing her, then break up. Probably you will eventually meet someone else and get married, because like 95% of Americans do get married eventually. You'll just spend several years moving, finding a place, getting new friends, getting your life back on track, and establishing a relationship with a new woman. Will she be miles and miles better than this woman? Honestly, probably not. But maybe a little bit in some way that inexplicably matters to you for whatever reason. But like, model brain surgeon better? Nah, dude. Won't happen.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2016 [6 favorites]

I just wanted to add that this feeling is not normal.

Some days I feel sad, other days indifferent about it. Even elated for having an "out"

The subconscious is a very powerful tool and pulls together a lot of different disparate pieces of data that manifests in an overall 'gut feeling'. It takes in messages and decides before your conscious brain has even woken up. It's also biased and flawed. For this reason, it is dangerous to go with your gut feeling all the time.

However, if your subconscious is having strong panic attacks and severe anxiety, then you need to listen to it. You cannot push away your feelings because people in this thread told you that you need to push them away. Please do not 'flip a coin' -- what a terrifying thought.

You must confront your feelings and ask them, What are you trying to tell me? Is it a fear of commitment? Is it a fear of commitment to this particular woman? Why am I scared? What are the steps I need to do before I can be comfortable with my feelings? If the answer is postpone the wedding, or if it is breakup, then that is what you need to do.

Marriage ties you in for the long term. Divorce is expensive. And you have wasted away the best 10 years of your life. You may even have to deal with managing children in a divorce. Do not go into this decision if you are not 100%.
posted by moiraine at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've left an amazing, wonderful, gorgeous, and brilliant woman. We would have gotten married otherwise. Best thing I ever did, because I didn't want to marry her.

Later I met an amazing, wonderful, gorgeous, and brilliant woman i did want to marry and I had no hesitation doubt or panic.

A decade later I'm happy every day. I would not be if I married the first woman.

What you are doing right now? This is how divorce happens.
posted by French Fry at 7:37 AM on September 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

What is overriding all of my emotions is this profound fear of making a mistake and regretting my decision (either way it goes).

This is not about your relationship. It is about your anxiety and distrust of your own judgment. You are being incredibly unfair to your fiance by focusing in on this, as though your anxiety and self-doubt were a result of the impending marriage. It's not. Your anxiety and self-doubt preceded this situation and will persist after it is decided.

Your fiance, should she become your wife, will then have to deal with you pulling back in the same way again and again, every time you are faced with a decision - when she goes off the pill, when she gets pregnant, when the child is born, when the child falls ill, when you find someone at work attractive, and etc. and etc.

Don't go to a therapist to deal with your relationship issues. Go to a therapist to deal with your overriding anxiety and self-doubt.

And please don't marry this poor woman until you do.
posted by headnsouth at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

For starters you're profound fear of making a mistake might also be stopping you from doing the best thing you ever did in your life. You don't know until you try. Here is the thing though you are projecting your basic fearful life approach onto your marriage.

Marriage isn't easy, it easy hearts & roses & funny feelings in the stomach it's deciding ever single day that you want to be married & working together as a team to do that.

I had no chance to do the living together & getting to know each other stage of thing because of immigration. We had known each other long distance for a few years but just had to close our eyes & jump where marriage was concerned because we had no choice, we had nothing but fear & terror of the unknown because we barely knew each other as people in a face to face setting even though we'd be online friends for years. One thing we did both agree on as we had no choice but to get married, to man it mean something we'd work our asses off to make it work. We're in our 8th year of what is mostly a happy marriage (no ones marriage is 100% happy all the time no matter what they say). OH and he's 17 years younger than me to to give you some idea of how much we've had to work on differences.

Marriage is having huge fights about stupid shit, then sitting down together the next day going that was not healthy how do we fix this. Marriage is work. It's not a silly crazy stupid feeling that fades, its commitment & willingness to go this is scary let's work on this together. If you aren't able to share your fears with your partner & work on them together that might be something you want to think about because that sharing of fears is pretty much what makes or breaks a marriage. If you can't talk about that how the hell are you going to talk about all the things you will need to to make a marriage work. But be sure it's because you can't share them not because you're just too scared to.
posted by wwax at 8:00 AM on September 1, 2016

Devil's Advocate: I think postponing is not a bad idea, and your partner's insistence on now or never is a bit worrying to me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

How do I know that I'm not in love with her?! No one I've ever known has enhanced my life as much as she has and I can easily see a future with her

You know you're not because if you were in love, at least half of your anxiety would be eating you up over what if I can't make her happy instead of does she make me happy enough.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:10 AM on September 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

For what it's worth, I married someone I was deeply in love with. I was still scared enough that I saw a therapist in the run-up to the wedding, and at one point she told me she thought I should go ahead because I was clearly in love. And, no kidding, it was still a mistake to marry.

I really can't tell if your problem is with marriage or with this person or with yourself. But if you can't figure it out, I think you should let her go, particularly since you suggest children are on the horizon. I get very little sense of what she is like, but if kids have been mentioned as the next step or part of the package of marriage, I would guess she may be pushing things because of her age. It may really be a question of marry now (and have kids) or break it off, for her.

A lot of people get have hesitations and marry and it turns out to be fine. Jeff Bridges was just talking about that on Conan last night. The link is to an article where he says the same thing, in pretty much the same words, as last night. I suspect many have had the same feeling, although if I were his spouse, I'd be getting pretty tired of him talking about it like that after 30 years. But I have a feeling that hesitations about the institution of marriage, like he seems to have had, are pretty common. Only if the marriage doesn't work out, people say they should have heeded that little voice.
posted by BibiRose at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2016

I understand if you're wary about people telling you that marriage and love is "work." It is, in the sense that brushing your teeth is work. It is not, in the sense that cleaning an outhouse is work. It is pleasant everyday maintenance, and when it's good, life kind of just calmly bumps along and you look forward to seeing your person at the end of the day. When it's bad, it's still good, because you can talk about it candidly and sort out what's wrong, while feeling safe all the while. If you're not feeling butterflies or amazing OMG HEART EYES, that is okay! What you describe re: your life together and goals of family and keeping your house and dogs? That sounds lovely and healthy to me.

I can't say whether you should postpone or not, but I'm currently in the throes of wedding planning myself and it would wig me the fuck out if someone suggested postponing. Wedding planning (even the "simple" one we're doing) is so much more work and such a psychic investment of energy and resources, and it almost always falls disproportionately on the woman. In that regard, the stakes are high for your fiancee right now. If you must postpone, please be prepared to pay her back for any non-refundable deposits and help your fiancee deal with the fallout. If it's a true postponement (not a soft cancellation), please also help her re-build the plans once you're ready. The only thing worse than writing huge checks and sorting out table-and-chair logistics is the thought of doing it twice.
posted by witchen at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

If all of this is anxiety, should his partner not be aware of this. I would be concerned about her reaction, what sounds like an ultimatum. Can she not see you are taking steps to deal with anxiety if that is it, that you are seeing a psychologist? Is she lacking understanding or at the end of her tether?
posted by mossy_george at 8:17 AM on September 1, 2016

I am a lady. I was engaged to a guy. I felt, in a lot of ways, exactly like you do. And over the course of several years, I posted several anonymous questions to Ask Metafilter that were dancing around this topic: I love my fiance, but I have these small, niggling doubts.

And I feel like I got a lot of answers back that were similar to the ones you're getting here: "Being 'in love' isn't the be-all and the end-all! Love isn't some nebulous feeling! Love is a series of actions! Don't throw away what you have for some vague vision of happiness you may never attain! Love is hard work! Love is a choice!"

Now, I love Metafilter. In very many ways, it shaped who I am; it serves as an ethical compass for me in lots of situations. That advice is, in some ways, very wise, and the truth is - as is always the case when it comes to taking, or not taking, advice - I don't have a counter-example. I don't know what would have happened if I'd held my breath, taken the plunge, taken the advice I read on here, and gotten married. Maybe I would be settled and happy today and live in a big fancy house with my rich attentive husband and our two dogs and our perfect kids.

I didn't, though. Instead, I took the other perennial Metafilter advice and went to therapy - one, two, three times a week. I also started anti-anxiety medication. I didn't rush into getting married, but I did everything I could to quash those doubts. But the thing is, the harder I worked to squish them down, the louder and louder and louder they grew. And that put me in a terrible position, because if there was a ledger of my life, it would have looked like this:

One side:
Literally every possible piece of tangible evidence, and the opinion of everyone I knew (including, for a long time, my therapist) arguing in favor of getting married.

The other side:
How I felt.

Dude, do you have any idea how hard it is to listen to that voice instead of all the others? Especially when you believe, deep deep deep down, in your secret secret secret heart, that you are a fucked-up, broken person, and so that listening to what you want is likely to lead to awful, fucked-up choices? Let me tell you: it is very hard. But you already know that.

I did it, though. I ended my relationship. And it was hard, and scary, and for the rest of my damn life, if I end up in a bad relationship, and with no money, and no house, and no dogs, I will have to look back at that decision and say, whelp, maybe that decision was the wrong one!
I live with that possibility, and I always will.

I don't regret it, though. I truly don't. Even though my life is messier and weirder and more precarious now, I haven't regretted my choice for a single second. Because I think that we all have a voice in our heads telling us what we we want, and sometimes that voice speaks really quietly, and the things it says don't make a lot of sense. But I believe we should listen to it anyway. In ending my relationship, I listened to it for maybe the first time in my life, ever, and I will tell you what it felt like: it felt like freedom. I felt like, for the first time ever, I knew who I was, deep down. That I existed not just in the eyes of other people, but that I had a real, true, authentic self.

I don't know if you should get married. I don't. I don't think you know that, yet. But I know for sure that if that voice is talking to you, you shouldn't shout it down. You need to make space in your life for it to be heard. Do not bully it. Do not attack it. Do not try to argue it out of existence. Don't ask other people to crush it down on your behalf by yelling at you about how miserable your fiance will be if you dump her. Stop trying to come to a decision RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND HURRY UP JUST DO IT EVERYONE IS WAITING FOR YOU HURRY UP AND MAKE A CHOICE. And ask for a postponement if that is what you need, and accept the loss of the relationship if that is what ensues. As impossible and as guilt-inducing as it may seem, you do no one any favors, and earn no points in heaven, for marrying someone you're not sure you want to marry.

Go to therapy.
Go to yoga.
Take walks.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:17 AM on September 1, 2016 [28 favorites]

May I just add that you treat with a dose of caution any response here that tells you there is a certain way that you should be feeling right now. And that if you are not feeling that thing, or are feeling a different thing, then something is for sure definitely 100% wrong. If you poll the contented marriages here, I suspect you would find the entire spectrum of pre-wedding feelings. I rate the answers that urge you to seek out the root of the anxiety - the "what is" vs the "what if" in Metroid Baby's terms. Do whatever you have to do in order to take your next steps with confidence, whether that's marry, postpone, or set your fiancee free. But don't boil it down to "someone said I should feel x, and I don't, so blah." You both deserve more care than that.
posted by oneaday at 8:19 AM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would also push back on the notion that excellent marriages are one way. As you see here some people's definition of "happy" includes wild fights, some people do not fight at all, some people feel intense love and passion sporadically, some all the time, others only a slow burn. Some feel like being in love is just semantics for a lot of good circumstances, others feel it like lightning or enduring magic.

I think the important through-line in all these differing experiences and expectations is wanting it. You have to want it. It doesn't sound like you do, and that's reason enough to leave.
posted by French Fry at 8:37 AM on September 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

Agreeing with others that are saying that these issues aren't really about her, at least with regards to the way you're framing them here, with us. Instead, seemingly: they might be more about about you, and can therefore be resolved within you.

Allow me to re-frame what you've written a little bit, so you can hear it said back to you. You seem to be more than fairly confident of the axioms and practicalities of life you wish to share with her, and she's in agreement with you on these.

You have similar goals, similar life expectations. No one else in your life has impacted you more; no one else in your life fills this role for you so far (and likely not quite as well.) You are okay with returning back to her during small problems, and turning-towards-her instead of away, even in the face of very human and minor character flaws and annoyances. You seem to know quite well how you feel about her - motifs like love and fiancee and marriage aside - indeed, you do, as I didn't feel once like you were second-guessing yourself on your actual relationship. You seem to have wonderful times when you travel, which is an honest sign of good compatibility, to my experience. Your stated negatives seem to be worries more than actual problems.

What you should do right now is to look at the parts you're telling yourself you "must" have in order to be ready for this. Not just to marry, but to make a permanent commitment to somebody. Where does the worry begin in yourself? Why does this scare you? You need to work on giving yourself permission to feel this way, as I'm feeling you are within a little shame and avoidance in not reconciling the way you feel with the way you are expected to feel. You're not expected to feel any given way except what is healthiest for you to have be felt inside yourself. You need to give some tenure to your acceptance and awareness of those scary elements in particular: the fear, the worry, the concern that you shouldn't be marrying if you're at all not 100% sure.

Frankly, to zoom out a little bit here, what I see you doing is all-or-nothing-ing this entire relationship over anxiety on a few central parts - essential parts, sure - but as you've presented them here, these are not core-shaking challenges to the relationship. You are questioning what it means to be utterly and totally in love with somebody, always and forever: which, from what I can tell, nobody ever really and truly is. You are looking for a sign to prove to you that it's okay to marry this girl: which, usually, nobody ever gets. You are also looking for somebody to tell you it's okay not to marry this girl, too: which, actually, it entirely and totally is. But you can, if you wish to. See if you can get your mind to relax on this somehow. Identify that element that's preventing you from relaxing into this, and make your peace with it. This is your key to discerning how to proceed on.

Look, the others have said quite a bit as to what the actual marriage and married-life portion will be like, and I'm not there yet in my life so it's hard for me to give you advice on that portion. But, what I do know is this: that married life is a daily choice to make good on your agreement to turn towards each other than away. Put the finality of it aside for one second. If you can see yourself making that choice on the daily for a good, good time to come, I'd say you're in good straits as far as making a healthy choice on saying "yes, I do" goes.

Take the root of the word, decision. It's the same as incision. You should take it as a choice daily for yourself - decide what is worthy of making the cut, resolve yourself to it, and then give it your 100%. Everything you've said here makes me think you can probably do that with this person, and that's really an exciting thing to know about somebody else.

Keep your lines of communication open with her. She loves you and wants to hear you speak your truth to what matters, not to what doesn't. Seek a mentor or a therapeutic relationship right now, if you can. (Action and Commitment Therapy, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy will be your best bets in short-term counseling as of right now.) And most of all, best of luck to you.
posted by a good beginning at 8:45 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

All I can tell you is my experience. I married someone I loved and who loved me because we already lived together and I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Once we were engaged I started to have panic attacks about it. I started fantasizing about running away, getting on a plane or train to *anywhere* and abandoning my life just to get away from the seeming inevitability of our marriage. From what I understand, my current fiance (also divorced) had similar feelings in his relationship with his ex-wife. As it turned out, our (ex)spouses were not right for us. But we both sought advice from others prior to our weddings and were told: those are wedding jitters, you're afraid to commit, everyone goes through this. But it was impossible for our friends and families to see into our hearts and truly understand where we were at. That it wasn't just jitters, that we felt something missing and thought we were supposed to make due, that this is what everyone does. In our experiences, we should have believed our guts, but we were taught 1) love conquers all, and 2) it's normal to feel anxious before your wedding. And in a way, both of those things are true. But just romantic love on its own (without truly mutual compassion, empathy, and patience - and the courage to be a lion for one another) doesn't conquer all. And feeling anxious is different from feeling terrified and fantasizing about escape.

In my current relationship, I am not afraid. I am content. And I feel safe.

I can't tell you what *you* truly want and need, but that is my experience, and I hope it helps to read it.
posted by pammeke at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Or on the other hand, what if you convinced yourself to marry a person but then realised that maybe you shouldn't have convinced yourself and just listened to your gut?

OK so. Here's a story, which is true but which may or may not apply to your situation.

I convinced myself to marry a guy against both my gut and his -- literally! The day of our wedding he developed a horrible stomach illness and had to be hospitalized for unstoppable vomiting. We canceled the wedding (which is to say, I walked into a room of our fully-assembled friends and family and photographers, in my wedding dress, and explained the situation through sobs).

At some point during the next week, probably over a bowl of chicken broth or whatever, he said that if I wanted, we could postpone a year and save up again, to have the wedding we'd planned. That promise of an extra year felt like a rush of clean, cool air to my lungs, my friend. But I did not want to hurt my fiance, and I did not want to seem like a bridezilla, and so I swallowed that feeling of relief, crammed it right down, and said "no, don't be silly, we'll just have a little thing in the yard next month, as soon as you feel better." And we did.

Imagine! Two people who so desperately DO NOT want to be married, fighting so hard to marry each other! Such are the things we do with good intentions.

My dear, we barely lasted a year. In that year I met the person I most likely ought to have married, but guess what! I was already married. Imagine if I had listened to that feeling of sweet relief at a whole year's reprieve. (I mean, you imagine. I try pretty hard not to think about it anymore.)

Divorce didn't kill either of us. He remarried, has a kid, seems to be happy as you please. My life is okay now, after oh, ten years' time of not being even a little bit okay. But my god. Imagine if we'd saved ourselves the trouble.

So I don't know, kid. Nobody here can tell you what is your own neurosis and what is your relationship. But I think, like pretentious illiterate, this is one case where you simply have to stake out space for your soul and your thoughts, consequences be damned. Maybe try a thought experiment: imagine that you wake up tomorrow and your fiancee has been scrubbed from existence. Not killed or anything awful, she just never was. Nobody but you remembers her. How do you feel, waking up on that morning? Relieved? Bereft? Adrift but with a little hum of anticipation?

You will have regrets. You're an adult now; it's basically all you will do the rest of your life: make tradeoffs, feel regrets. You can't shelter yourself from them anymore. You simply must begin acting in accordance with your soul and accept what comes from that.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

You don't have to be in love to have a happy marriage. And being in love with someone doesn't mean that you will be happy married to them. It's true that marriage is a decision, that it is ongoing collaboration. And you can see above for people suggesting that they have made that distinction between "being in love" and "loving someone" and are happily married accordingly (albeit normalising fighting and arguing, something I don’t see as necessary in a relationship at all).

That said, your gut is telling that that isn’t what you want. You want to be in love with your partner, and that’s a perfectly acceptable thing to aim for. I think you will know what it feels like to truly be in love, because if nothing else you’ll feel like you want to spend the rest of your life with that person, and all these doubts and what-ifs fade away.

Please don’t settle for a relationship that isn’t right for you. It’s hard to accept giving up something that’s good for the possibility of something that’s great, but sometimes that’s the right thing to do.
posted by iivix at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Marriage doesn't change anything. You still live in the same house. You have the same job. You have the same sex. You have a ring on your finger and you refer to her as "My wife" and you select "married" on forms sometimes and her name might change.

If your relationship is great now, it will be great after you're married.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Hey OP, so I went back and re-read your post and made a list of pros and cons, in your own words. I feel for you and I see both sides of this- and honestly, I do not have an agenda and want you to do one thing or the other thing. But when I went back and re-read it, your "pros" are almost all really solid, logical things, and your "cons" are almost exclusively emotion-based. Basically it's a long string of words like "panic" "anxious" "fear" "indifference" etc. There aren't a whole lot of concrete reasons. Now, is making choices based on an emotional state valid? YES. I don't want to say you CAN'T break up with her or something like that. You can break up with her just because you feel like it. Absolutely. It's your life. But, honestly, IMHE- emotions sometimes are actually telling you something. But honestly, a lot of the times, they aren't. I think you need to get through the emotions until you figure out why they're there, and develop the "logic" side to the cons as well. See for yourself:

• amazing woman
• just about 31 years old
• over 2 years now
• own a house together
• two dogs
• fulfilling sexually, emotionally and intellectually
• makes me want to be a better person
• went overseas for Christmas and had an amazing time
• Everything organized [for the wedding], including flights, accommodation, our relative's flights
• went to a jeweller to design a ring
• I love being with her.
• I love my life with her.
• I take immense pride in the fact that she is my fiance.
• I feel like myself around her
• want to explore the world with her
• have kids with her

• something just doesn't feel right.
• severe panic attack over [subject of marriage]
• didn't know if I was truly in love with her
• overwhelmed with the situation [moving in together]
• separating would be quite an inconvenience and ordeal
• feeling indifferent
• urge of panic once again and whether this was the right thing
• isn't a normal feeling to have so I kind of spiraled out of control, emotionally
• some days I feel sad, other days indifferent
• I have some issues with anxiety and situations
• shit scared of divorce (especially with kids involved)
• have noticed myself paying attention to divorce stuff in movies/TV/wikipedia and telling myself "It's not so bad.”

So, therapy is a great place to do this but you can also do it on your own. Can you just explore these feelings honestly and try to think through them? See if they're logic based or not? That would be my recommendation before you break it off. Also- focusing on "being in love" is just another kind of emotion. Like all emotional states, it waxes and wanes. You can be madly in love with someone and marrying them is still a terrible idea. Learning how to deal with your emotions (sit with them, get through them, and see what they're based on and what is valid and what is not) is something you can really benefit from, not just in this situation, and take with you in life.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:21 AM on September 1, 2016 [14 favorites]

I don't think this is about "being in love" or not. This is about wanting to be married or not, ever, with anyone. I think you'd do well to separate the two and think about what marriage means to you and really work that out before you go any farther down this path.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:48 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you ever read this blog, WAIT BUT WHY ?
They just did a timely blog post: The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again which may be useful for you to read at this point.
As well as all the very smart advice above, of course!

posted by stevedawg at 10:41 AM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Marriage, like all relationships, is a path, a work in progress, something you constantly rebuild. You know how they say that your cells die and replenish themselves, such that in seven years you're an entirely different person? That's how relationships are. Think about how your relationship with your parent(s) or sibling(s) has evolved over the years -- it's probably changed based on the circumstances and what you've put into it.

So asking if a relationship is perfect enough to live it forever isn't the right question. It's better to ask if this is someone that you can build and rebuild with. Is this someone you want to walk down the path of life, not knowing what you'll encounter on that path? Things will inevitably get messy. Is this someone with whom you could clean up when that happens? Nobody got divorced because their feelings were at 99.6% instead of 100.000%. They got divorced because they stopped being able to build together or life threw something at them such that things became fundamentally unworkable.

It sounds like you share values with this person, respect her, and view her as a good partner to do that constant work of living with. She seems like someone you could leave your future children alone with, save for retirement with, or navigate an illness with. And where your views diverge, you believe you'll be able to discuss it and work it out. Those are the kinds of things to ask. You two have already been through so much together that it seems to me you know the answer. You're just doing that final check (do I really really really have my passport in the bag?). Maybe you're getting to that point where you've asked the same question so many times that you're losing perspective and common sense (like when you stare at a word too long "Hand... Hand... Hand... Am I spelling that right? It sounds really weird. Hehnnnnd. Am I even using the word right? What is a hand anyway? Where does your wrist stop and your hand begin? Since all atoms are mostly empty space, is my hand just an illusion?").

Also, given the way anxiety works, you will probably eventually be doubting again, e.g., asking yourself "well, I didn't tell them everything, what if I skewed the answers by not saying this or this?" Ultimately, you have to find a way to both work gently with and combat your anxiety. CBT, one-liner comebacks to the intrusive thoughts, facing your fears to see what logic or truth they might hold, sitting with the fears and accepting that life is uncontrollable and yes the worst might actually happen until your fear is less terrifying, looking at all the issues surrounding the core issue to see if something else is generating anxiety (e.g., what was your parents' marriage like? what does 'being married' or 'being a husband / wife' mean to you? do you fear detaching officially from your family of origin to create this new family?). A good therapist could help you. Also, check out the website Conscious Transitions sharing the work of Sheryl Paul. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 11:19 AM on September 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

It doesn't sound to me like you want to marry her.
posted by kapers at 11:55 AM on September 1, 2016

I read a lot of these replies, and I'm really glad for all the people that had no doubt or worry or anything about getting married. But that isn't everyone.

I'm happily married (3 years! and 12 years together!), but I DEFINITELY told myself 'divorce is always an option' to get through the absolute nervous panic that surfaced as I contemplated the idea of signing up for the rest of my life with someone.

I have no plans to get divorced now, I had no plans to get divorced at the time, and I have every hope and expectation to have a long, happy, beautiful marriage with my husband. But I haven't made an irrevocable decision here.

And when you think about it, that is actually kind of wonderful - it's like you get the chance to re-choose every day, every week, every month, every year and get the joy of picking the same person over and over again.
posted by CharlieSue at 12:13 PM on September 1, 2016 [12 favorites]

I feel like I've made this analogy before in another thread, but think about it in terms of friendship. You probably have a lot of casual friends, a few good friends, and one or two you'd take to a desert island with you, right? Those friendships didn't develop because anyone thought you should be at a particular stage of friendship or because there was pressure to hang out together. You just... found people you liked and serpent time with them. And you can probably easily say "man, Frank is a salt of the earth dude and I'm proud to know him, but if I had to get locked in a room with someone for a week I'd pick Gary, because we just get each other and totally click!"

Now think of this in terms of your girlfriend. Is she Frank or Gary? Don't marry her unless she's a Gary. You need that ease of friendship to smooth over all the rough patches you'll hit in life.
posted by MsMolly at 12:53 PM on September 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Run, don't walk, to Conscious Transitions.
posted by enzymatic at 1:19 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as "I love you but I'm not in love with you." That's just something people say who never really wanted to be with you in the first place.

If you love someone, you love them.

You own a house together. You have pets together. Either you love this person or you've been lying to yourself for a long damn time.

Re the marriage thing, honestly I think men are so deeply conditioned that they're not supposed to want marriage, and the woman is supposed to be the one with all the feelings, that a lot of dudes hear the M word and freak out in a way that they wouldn't if the question was something that is actually a lot more serious than marriage, like, you know, uhhhhhhhhh BUYING A HOUSE TOGETHER.

Just fucking marry your girlfriend already. If it doesn't work out, the result is exactly the same as the level of skin you already have in the game.

FWIW, I'm engaged and occasionally have doubts. However, I know that I love my partner and want to spend the rest of my life with him. The doubts are stupid cold feet shit like "If we send out Save The Date cards, then we can't take it back" or annoying ways that I'm measuring our relationship against other peoples' relationships (latest example: some friends who are getting married made a map of all their favorite places to go together so that their wedding guests can check out some of the same places while they're in town. I now feel like my partner and I don't have as many of those as they do, and thus our relationship is not sufficiently mature. WHICH MAKES NO SENSE.) None of this stuff has actually caused me to put up road blocks to our future together. They're just niggling little fears.
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on September 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

Buying a home together is usually a 30 year financial commitment. You are not questioning buying one, right? Seems like that's big commitment you were not too afraid to make.
posted by Linnee at 2:03 PM on September 1, 2016

This (as with many of this channel's videos) is a fantastic description of one perspective you seem to be juggling. Depending on how it hits you, it might give you some clarity.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2016

Are you the kind of person who is generally decisive or do you dither over most decisions? Like, when you go out to eat at your favorite restaurant do you look at the menu and panic at all of the options, unable to make up your mind, getting more and more stressed until the server approaches the table and you blurt out "I'll have the tacos!" (which you always get), yet when she walks away from the table you feel immediate regret and think "I should of gotten the burrito instead..." only to change your mind yet again when the tacos are finally served and you get your epicurean reassurance as to why the tacos are truly the best? I think this is sort of a temperamental thing: some people are just always indecisive about everything and for those kinds of people gut reactions aren't a helpful metric for deciding whether or not to do something. I suspect you are one such person.

There was a recent study about how people expend too much mental energy making big decisions and that they're usually happier either making a decision at random or just plowing ahead without additional contemplation. I can see a bit of that phenomenon here: people who note that they were engaged to someone else but changed their mind and they're super happy with the decision and know it was the right one. But there really is no way to know for sure because it's not as if you can decide and then later turn back the clock and live an alternate course of events and compare the outcomes of the two. Maybe those people who are certain they made the right decision could have had a happy life if they chose a different course? We can never know, of course, because we can't predict the future and people typically aren't happy when they live lives full of regret.

Anyway, if I were you I'd get married, but I also have no problem deciding between the tacos and the burrito so my opinion might not be too helpful. However, you really do need to stop dicking around and decide because your continued waffling is incredibly unfair to your fiancee.
posted by scantee at 2:34 PM on September 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: My fiancee's friend sent her the Wait But Why article last night and it was a godsend. She just didn't understand my thought processes, feelings, anxieties etc until she read that. She thought I was full of shit and dicking her around until I made up my mind. I was so relieved, I started crying when she read it and I could see that she at least understood some of what I was dealing with.

I read each and every reply here and I apologise for not answering everyone.
I'm on anti-depressants/anxiety medication and have been for a long time. I sometimes wonder if I need to change my medication and I'll bring it up with my doctor asap.

I'm seeing a therapist and working on ACT, Mindfullness and Schema Therapy. (I'm not seeing a therapist about my relationship as I know that's not the underlying problem). I've basically just started that though so it's still quite a struggle but I'm determined to work through it as hard as I can. Not for her but for me to be the person that can make a decision and live with it.

I've lived away from home since I was 18 and see my parents maybe twice a year, if not once. My beliefs about marriage are basically from entertainment sources. Being in the job that I am, the majority of my co-workers are younger and therefore I don't get a lot of exposure to "real life". My parents have definitely had ups and downs in their marriage but they were together for a looong time before they got married.

Related to the above point. I've always been cautious about time. Things need to follow a structure. Marriage after 2 years? That's preposterous! Even the house after less than a year was madness but winning the auction was one of the happiest days of my life. Only until everything was finalised did I go "Oh fuck. This is happening. How did I get here? Was this my choice?". And you know what. I love my house. I love my dogs (who I felt equally anxious about when we first got them. I was overwhelmed). I couldn't imagine my life without them.

I am not good with making decisions. I always doubt my decisions. I always question my decisions. Someone above mentioned how mistakes were handled when I was a kid. Honestly, I don't remember, but I think it was "Why would you do this? Were you not thinking?" or at least "What's the worst that can happen?" and only later would it be "well, now do we fix this?". I agonise over every little decision, choice, option to the point of driving myself insane and then I basically make a decision that will satisfy the most requirements/people. I treat it like an exam question and that there is only one true answer. When I make the decision, it usually works out because in reality, there is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes I feel like a fraud for this because I feel like I've gotten to all of my life by dumb luck, rather than work.

In terms of a status update: We talked a lot over the last day and after reading the Wait but Why article, we decided it was best for us to post-pone/cancel the wedding and for me to move out for a while to get some space and direction. It's not a choice that was made lightly and I don't know what it means for the future. It feels like the right choice FOR NOW, at least for me to get more therapy, work on myself and become stable again without guilt/doubt/anxiety being around every corner. I also understand that she may never forgive me for what I have done to her and that she won't wait for me.

Of course I'm having anxiety/doubts over what just happened but I think any other decision would have been an even bigger mistake in the long run. I couldn't get married having these feelings (I want to actually enjoy my wedding and not agonise over it). I couldn't stay in the same home with her, having postponed/cancelled the wedding and seeing her face every day. It would have ruined me with guilt and I would have driven her away.

I urge you all to read the above linked Wait But Why article if you haven't already.
posted by Sparwasser at 6:59 PM on September 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

I waffled on my fiancee until the actual day of the wedding. He was incredibly gracious and patient with me even as I kept wondering if we should call things off and what if we ended up hating each other and what if we needed a divorce and what if what if what if.

I then spent the first month after the wedding continuing to over-analyse and temperature-take and wonder if I had done the wrong thing. I was so so scared I'd done a Bad Thing. That I'd hurt my husband by marrying him without being certain, or maybe that I'd "betrayed myself", or whatever.

About a month in, I had The Moment. Where I realized I was definitely in love.

I promptly curled up in bed and had a giant panic attack.

I took the giant, terrifying in-love feelings. I put them back in the nice, suppressed box that, retrospectively, it was clear they'd been in for some time. I tucked the box away to be dealt with in tiny doses because it was way too overwhelming and felt like having a heart attack. I still don't understand how most humans handle deep love feelings so (seemingly?) casually because every time they resurface it feels a bit like dying.

I'm pregnant with our first child and fully expect to have the same feelings with the kid. Love is terrifying. People you love will die. They may suffer horribly. You can screw up and then maybe they might hate you.

Admittedly it's also wonderful but it's wonderful in a crazy way, because you're so much safer not loving anybody. Death has becomes so much more terrifying to me since I got married. My daily life is better and happier, but the daily shadow of death is longer and darker.

But I am so glad I married him. (and also: I definitely had this image that the relationship changes a lot once married and now you fight and you have to work etc etc. I'm withholding judgment till we've been married far longer because everyone says "oh, just wait, you'll see". So I continue to be prepared to eat my words, but-

But it hasn't been like that at all, yet. Our first big potential fight I cried for like two hours in advance, I'd built up in my head how bad it was supposedly going to be. Then we had a calm discussion while holding each other and everything was okay and all my worst fears just... Built up ghosts in my head, that was all.)
posted by Cozybee at 1:08 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

In terms of a status update: We talked a lot over the last day and after reading the Wait but Why article, we decided it was best for us to post-pone/cancel the wedding and for me to move out for a while to get some space and direction. It's not a choice that was made lightly and I don't know what it means for the future. It feels like the right choice FOR NOW, at least for me to get more therapy, work on myself and become stable again without guilt/doubt/anxiety being around every corner.

You did the right thing.
posted by moiraine at 1:41 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a great update OP! Well done for finding the strength to postpone and well done to your fiancee for being able to reframe what is going on and find a deeper understanding - that points to a strong relationship! Maybe this will actually work out for you guys in some way.

It was me up above who asked how it was for you to be wrong as a child. My husband, after ten years of watching me leap in, mess up, course correct and sail onwards is beginning to see that where there are two paths one isn't necessarily ever outright "wrong" but he isn't dealing with the generalised anxiety you are having to. He still really struggles at times, but is getting better at saying to himself "I'm overthinking this".

Our middle child, the only one who isn't autistic, has a very similar approach to life. She is extremely conscientious, frozen by indecision, devastated by error, a worrier. I take great joy in always workshopping a solution first, and then revisiting the pain of failure later to comfort her and put it in perspective. I think it's important to acknowledge how feeling like you've failed can hurt, but I think it's better to do it when you're already able to reflect on how you saved the situation.

If it helps imagine your best friend made the wrong choice/bad decision/mistake you are berating yourself over. You would be kind and understanding to a friend I bet, in your situation. Be that friend to yourself. It really helps when someone is gentle and understanding with one's ills, even (or maybe especially) when it is our own self.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:06 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

On a slightly more light-hearted note, this is what xkcd has to say about marriage and commitment.
posted by moiraine at 3:12 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I think buying a house and *then* planning a wedding all within 2 years of knowing someone is moving pretty quickly. Works for some people, but clearly for you it's been to fast.. postponing sounds like a really good move. But I also wonder if you could have avoided this situation by speaking up much earlier and being clear that things were moving too fast for your comfort?

As for the difference between being in love and loving someone.. I think you just know -- and if you don't know, then there's your answer. It's also the case that this answer can change over time.. some people go from not being sure they're in love to being sure down the line.. others are never sure, or conclude that they aren't in love after all. But you can't know what the future will bring -- all you seem to know is that you don't know how you feel right now. That's your truth and you simply have to own it.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the kind words everyone. It was a tough decision and I still woke up with anxiety this morning (at a friend's place) and had to vomit due to stress. I spoke to my mum last night and she is of course supportive of us and only wants the best for us. I already miss her terribly and agonise over hurting her in this way but I just know that the only thing that will work here is time. That's the only thing I've ever asked for. Time for things to settle. Time for my mind to settle into new surroundings and experiences.

For what it's worth, I think buying a house and *then* planning a wedding all within 2 years of knowing someone is moving pretty quickly. Works for some people, but clearly for you it's been to fast.. postponing sounds like a really good move. But I also wonder if you could have avoided this situation by speaking up much earlier and being clear that things were moving too fast for your comfort?

Yes, I agree. It goes against everything I believe in for how relationships should progress. I'm very much a "wait and see person" and her pace has been suffocating on more than one occasion. We have spoken about it and her attitude has often been "keep up or you're gonna be left behind. we're doing this at my pace and I don't take prisoners". I try to slam the brakes and that's basically what happened last year and my panic attack. The pace at which we are going is basically the only thing I'm struggling with in this relationship and the source of all our conflict. Her go-get attitude is one of the things I love about her (that complements my passiveness and patience approach) but I also feel that I've lost my identity and confidence because she is so dominant in that regard.
posted by Sparwasser at 8:58 PM on September 2, 2016

It sounds like the two of you are well equipped to handle this going forward and I'm really glad you posted the update you did. Kudos to you two for facing the problem head on. It definitely sounds like there are pacing issues that are nevertheless totally solvable while within the context of your relationship.

I just wanted to add one further thought. I had similar anxieties prior to marrying my husband. A lot of what you're saying here resonates with me: I don't have a good relationship model in my life. I got most of my relationship "knowledge" from media. I've made mistakes in my history so I second-guess my judgment a lot, and my gut feelings have been as disastrous as they have been helpful. I have anxiety and depression.

Underlying all of that: I'm just not a very emotionally exuberant person. I don't think in terms of "can't live without this person" or "you're the best thing that's ever happened to me". I don't get very sad at funerals or very upset at family illnesses (I just want to fix the thing). I moved around a lot as a child and so I always feel like starting over is always an option. All of this have made me feel like I was Doing It Wrong, whatever "it" is - a job, a friendship, a relationship - because it didn't look like anything I watched or read or listened to.

So after six months of pushing down the panic we finally talked about all of this, and above all we talked about my fear of making a mistake. What if I felt differently in five or ten years? I can't predict what I'm going to want in a year, let alone twenty. How can ANYONE in fair judgment predict their character or circumstance half a century down the road? A lot of this was about my anxiety about loss of control (duh), and the one thing that my now husband said that helped me more than anything my therapist had come up with was this:

When you're getting married you're not necessarily promising to love this person for the rest of your life, or to build a specific life together, or to do or say any number of things. You're promising to try.

In other words, what you're committing to is not success, but good-faith effort. And this may not apply to you, but it made all the difference in the world to me. Marriages end for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it's nobody's fault. People change and brain chemistries change and circumstances change. That doesn't mean either of you failed. I can't control what happens in both our lives in fifty years, but I can promise and decide to make decisions that in good faith put my partner and my relationship first from day to day, and trust that they'll do the same. If that doesn't work out - we did our best; life is long and often weird. And if this is someone for whom you are willing to try, I think that says a lot.
posted by Phire at 11:38 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you love her, but you're scared of taking this next step of commitment. Well, you're already committed in a big way, so it wouldn't really change things. You can always divorce.

If you think of it like that, does it help? Do you want to continue to be with her, on those terms? Or do you want to end things?
posted by J. Wilson at 8:01 AM on September 3, 2016

The problem with "you can always divorce" is that, while it's true, in this situation it sounds like the next thing the girlfriend would be pushing for is children, and THAT is the point of no return. If the OP decides he really does want out its better for everyone if he decides now, rather than five years and a toddler later.
posted by MsMolly at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Update:
Well she's essentially called it quits I think. One day she'll be understanding and give me time and say "Just work on yourself, go to your therapist and just focus on that for now" the next she's like "Yeah there's no way out of this. I can't be with someone who isn't 100% certain about this. I consider myself single now. If I go out and have a one night stand next weekend to cheer myself up, that's just what I'll do."

It's barely been a week. I'm still emotionally numb and just don't think I can make decisions like that. I don't even know what I'm feeling right now. I could honestly cry out of frustration.

Just posting to give an update to those people who care/future people finding this thread and wanting to see an outcome (which doesn't happen a lot).
posted by Sparwasser at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2016

Thank you for updating us. I'm sorry that you are going through this. You made the right decision regardless.
posted by moiraine at 7:05 AM on September 8, 2016

Hey I don't know if you're coming back here at all, but I am also sorry you're going through this. While she's absolutely entitled to be hurt, and sad, and angry with you, and even to be capital-d Done with the relationship...she doesn't have to be hurtful to you, and she's choosing to be with stuff like threatening a one-night stand. That super-blows.

But these two things she's saying, work on yourself + she considers herself single? They aren't actually contradictions. You should focus on yourself and your therapy now. She may need to consider herself single now. The latter does not negate the former, it just is a bummer.

of course you could cry! And should. This is a crying time. Go easy on yourself and don't let her blackmail you into a decision you know you shouldn't be making.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey,
yeah I understand she's hurt and she wants to take it out on me. I thought we patched things up over the weekend, at least to a degree where we can work on us. Then just the next day (today) she's all confused again about everything and my motivations and that she just can't do this and that she's destroying herself by being with me.

She doesn't understand that I just need more time because apparently I'm not ready to get married (even though I proposed to her and we planned the wedding). I thought I was. I had a freak-out and now I don't think I am. She wanted me to just ignore the feelings and push on - because everything was booked already. I can't in good conscience do that without having some time to process it all.

It feels like we're going in circles and her style of "we must fix everything this instant and if we don't, we need to have a precise schedule to when we'll fix it" doesn't work with my way of just wanting/needing time. So frustrating.
posted by Sparwasser at 12:42 AM on September 12, 2016

From what you've said, it sounds to me like this is a good relationship that is at high risk of falling apart because (a) you got anxious about commitment, and (b) she can't tolerate that pace and / or that anxiety (which may well mean she's anxious about something as well). Are you guys still in therapy working on this?

It's worth considering that if she can't support you in your anxiety here / if your style is something she simply can't handle (I'm trying to find a neutral way to express a disconnect), then you may not be good partners for the long haul. Her "my timeline or the highway" approach may not leave enough space for you and your approach. She gave an ultimatum, and it seems you've put up a counter-ultimatum.

How often does this kind of impasse arise? Since it's not like you'll have to decide whether or not to get married every few years, then if this is the only issue where this arose, then it's tragic that neither you nor she can change your style on this (you can't hurry up and she can't slow down). Then again, if this will recur when, say, you're deciding whether or not to have kids, or in a million small ways, then it may make sense to let the relationship go.

Also, all this makes sense, as weddings are anxiety-provoking events in so many ways. Maybe she was immersed in the heady but high-pressure world of the wedding blogs. If she was trying to plan a picture-perfect wedding, your revelation of uncertainty would totally devastate those efforts. Meanwhile, there are a billion specific things about getting married that could underlie your anxiety. Have you checked out the Conscious Transitions webpage recommended above? It could help you to identify and diffuse those.

All in all, I'm really sorry to hear that things are falling apart, and I hope you guys are able to hang in there, deescalate things, and figure out what's really going on with help from one or more really skilled therapists. I'm sorry this is so stressful and painful.
posted by salvia at 8:52 PM on September 13, 2016

So so late, but... It sounds like you have dueling anxieties and methods of mitigating them. You need processing time to calm you anxiety and she needs the relief of having a decision made to calm her anxiety. Balancing that may be helpful in moving forward. Good luck to you both.
posted by Vaike at 11:03 AM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update:

Not much has changed. She's seeing a therapist who is helping her with a lot of her issues and childhood trauma. Having said that, she still refused to see a counselor together and she still wants to talk about us and the relationship all the time. It's so tiring.

We agreed to break up last weekend because we came to an impasse about how to proceed. She wants kids now and she wants the 100% certainty from me that I want this. Meanwhile, I don't know if I'm 100% certain and I don't want kids now and I don't know when I do. She wants a timeline and I can't give her one because how could I?! Meanwhile my job situation has become precarious so that I might not have a job in 2 months time and seeing how I've always wanted to go overseas for work, now may be the time for that. I told her as much and she was encouraging me in the sense of "yeah, you should do that. Go out and have your freedom" but I think it now set in for her that if that happens, there's no way we'll ever get back together. I thought I had a year left here so that may have been a realistic option but yeah, there's a lot of uncertainty and it's driving me physically sick again. It's only compounded by the thoughts of never seeing her, my house or my dogs again in as little as 2 months.

I'm moving out in a few days time to just get out of the environment and then see from there on but I'm losing hope and the will to keep going. Relationships shouldn't be this hard.

Thanks for listening all!
posted by Sparwasser at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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