Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Engagement Is Off


I wish I was writing to you with questions about how to handle a horrible FMIL or a dress dilemma. Unfortunately, after a 6 year relationship and then a year of being engaged, my fiancé called off our wedding.

Backstory: We had started dating when we were 17 years old during our senior year of high school. We made it through 4 years of long distance (we went to different colleges, states apart) during which one of those years I spent studying abroad in Europe. Throughout our relationship, we grew up together as we both grew into adults and I continued to fall in love with him, and I truly believe he continued to fall in love with me. Even after all is said and done, I don’t doubt what we had was real. I returned home after college and we could finally begin living our lives together. About two years later, he proposed.

We didn’t have major cracks in our relationship. We had broken up twice during college, but I sincerely chalk those up to being young and trying to juggle a serious relationship, all the while figuring out who you are. I knew what our issues were but I always believed our strengths outweighed our weaknesses. But of course, there is a reason we ended up where we are. Sadly, it turns out he was not the person I thought he was. When life got even remotely difficult, he chose to run away instead of deal with things. When I first started dating him in high school, his brother once came up to me and said “you know he lies, right?” Since I was a little thrown off by the bluntness, I laughed it off. It took me seven years to realize it was not a laughing matter.

So my question ishow do you pick up the pieces once it falls apart? How do you start to untangle where your relationship ends and you begin? After seven years I feel as if my identity is so intertwined with his. I figured your no nonsense attitude might help a bit.

The almost-bride


I brought in an expert on this one. An anonymous reader/writer who has been through the same wringer.

Welcome to the tribe, dear heart. You will know us by the trail of super-depressing Tumblrs. 

May I say first that I think you have done the most difficult work of all: the parsing of the good from the bad in your relationship, the keeping of the sacred. Three years out of my epic breakup and I'm still struggling with that. But bitterness is easy. You have a wild, open, generous heart. This is an immense gift. 

As for advice, shucks. I don't know. One of the worst things people said to me was, "Well, at least you weren't married!" This made me want to punch faces. Loss is loss. Sure, we all know there's a hierarchy, but it doesn't help to be reminded of it. You had made the decision to be with him. That's enough. 

On the other side of the coin, one of the best bits of advice was this: He is not as capable of being in the world as you are. (My therapist told me that. You should get one, if you haven't already.) Coping with life, all of life, all of its glorious messiness, is a serious skill. You have that. He doesn't. Your world will be richer because of it.

You will be told, and often, that you can now do all the amazing, single-life things you have always wanted to do—chop off all your hair! move to New York! get a tattoo! get a cat!—and you should do all these things (I did), or whatever else your disastrously bloody heart tells you to do, but the difficult thing to reconcile is that there is likely no part of you in your new life that could not have existed in the old. Some relationships are stifling and restrictive, yes, but it doesn't sound like yours was. The truth is that you were not set free; you were abandoned. No amount of dancing alone across the moonlit beaches of Thailand will make that any less true. What you can do is embrace the things that make you YOU and dig deeper into them—not because you couldn't before, but because you need to put something in that space. All the wine tasting classes in the world won't fill it completely. Likely nothing will. Accept that this is a permanent wound. You didn't get the wedding ring. You got an empty apartment and some white-hot pain. There is nothing you could have done or can do to change that. So you put one foot in front of the other. "No feeling is final," Rilke said. And all the weird, brave things you love or think you might love or hope to someday love, the yoga classes and knitting socials and, eventually, dating apps and shy flirting on subway platforms, are at the very least moving you away from an old feeling, and into a new. 

Last, finally, always, the most important: Hold your friends close. Now closer still. Squeeze them until you think your body might melt into theirs. Aren't they the best? They really, truly are. 

I'm so sorry. 

(Enormous hugs to you both)

Karlina Caune by Victor Demarchelier for Antidote Magazine via wool&misc


  1. I have been lurking here forever, but today I am compelled to say YES. YES TO ALL OF THIS.
    I was in your shoes seven years ago and everything said here is true.
    But you will come through this. Time is your friend.
    I went to therapy, and it helped tremendously. Also, I read some self-help books that I am sure my friends thought were ridiculous, but they helped. (See: How to Survive the Loss of a Love)
    Lots of love and hugs to you.

  2. So sorry. Best advice I ever got was "Just keep breathing." At points it felt like that was all I was capable of, and permission to do nothing else was freeing.

  3. I was just thinking about heartbreak today. Here's what I know. You don't recover wholly. It's like a bad physical injury. Instead, you enough that you only remember the pain when you poke at the wound. And you compensate by developing and learning strengths and skills in other places.

    I think it's 1/3 one foot in front of the other, 1/3 doing yourself no further harm in the immediate future (running into posts and the like), and 1/3 a gradual build up of so much other wonderful parts of life that at a certain point you have to say to yourself, "Ah, I'm happy now. I am so happy."

    It will happen. I am so sorry.

  4. I am two months out of similar situation and this post is so helpful. The feeling of abandonment and loss is so much stronger than any momentary glimpses of happiness because of a new hobby or opportunity thanks to my new singledom, but I feel like a crazy angry bear ruining parties when I point that out to people. It is such a relief to hear someone say that is ok, and that eventually it won't be true. Thanks ESB and anon and good luck almost-bride.

  5. Anyone can give you lots of platitudes (though ESB obvs chose a very intelligent and self-aware person to give you real comforting words of advice) but the truth is this will end. The way you feel now is not the way you will feel next week or next month or next year. It doesn't make it hurt any less, it doesn't make the time go any faster, but this kind of knowledge helps me in dark moments. It's my little flame at the end of sometimes very long tunnels. It will get better.

    Lastly, the hardest part may in fact be resigning yourself to the fact that the person you were going to spend a lifetime working, living and loving, wasn't the person you thought he was. That is extraordinarily hard to get over. Mourn that, let yourself be angry, let yourself rage, write him terrible letters full of vitriol and rudeness that you will never send. They will still make you feel better. Good luck!

  6. How to Survive the Loss of a Love.

    Great book. Super Cheap on Amazon used. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

  7. Last December I wrote in to retract my wedding advice plea when my fiance walked out on me three weeks before the wedding. After 4 years I only learned who he really was in the last day. This, after years of loving him and accepting all of the known issues in our relationship. I spent weeks/months justifying his fears of marriage, his lies, and all the years we spent together. I traveled the world, moved to a new town, and have started rebuilding a life surrounded by loving family and a few strong friends.

    Just an hour ago I was hanging Christmas ornaments with my mom, reveling in how much this year has brought me. A serious bout of depression and months of frustration and loneliness. I can't believe he has been out of my life completely for a year. I can't believe I spent 4 years with him. I completely agree that time is your friend. And, like mourning a death, it gets slowly and slowly less painful.

    My non-platitude advice? Work with a personal trainer. Work with people whose job it is to make you feel strong. I knew I was strong in many ways, but spending a life with someone who you thought knew you and turns out didn't like you "enough" will make you feel weak. Don't give in to it. If you have to get literal, get literal. I wanted to be able to lift myself out of my pain, so I paid money to someone who step by step made sure I could do a real unassisted pull up by myself.

    Now I am one bad-ass lady, and perhaps I'm "undateable" (Frances Ha). But that's ok. Cuz the right guy will come along one day. And for now I'd rather be alone than in a relationship that doesn't help me be more than I am on my own- and as I said, I'm one bad ass lady.

    Sleeping alone can be amazeballs. You get the whole bed.

  8. This made me cry a little bit...
    One piece of advice that I would give, would be to give yourself time to mourn. People will tell you to pick yourself up and move on, and while I agree this does need to be done eventually, there is no harm in taking a few days off from the real world. You can spend your time crying and eating chocolate if you wish, or sleeping, or walking, whatever you want. I really think that giving yourself a set period of time to wallow in your own grief helps. You won't walk away from that time feeling healed, but it may help you gain a little bit of closure away from everyone else's concern. Big hugs!

  9. so very many hugs to you.

    you are amazing and strong and every breath you take is a step towards new.

    i'm two years clear of this hurt. my advice, revel in moments. go away with your friends. plan something big that can be your shining light to look forward to (mine was a trip to paris and a month in the US). allow yourself to grieve, you've lost this and need time to recover. go to the beach or find your happy space. write or draw or sing or yell, get it out. give it as much time as you need.

    i moved to a new town, took on some new work and threw myself into new things. i lived alone for the first time EVER and it was super rad!! i surrounded myself with family and amazing friends and i drew my little heart out. do whatever feels right for you. talk about it, write about it. eventually the moments in between thinking about it will grow until they become your normal again.

    sending you so much hope and bright shiny happiness x

  10. I remember feeling as though I would never ever get over the loss of my then love. But NOW, are 8 years of happy marriage to someone else, there is simply no old wound remaining -- no wound at all. Were a similar disaster to befall me again my intention would be to take action -- lots of little actions if necessary -- to expand my life, to create new friendships and to do new things, while not allowing myself to negatively ruminate. Easier said than done though, as I recall.

  11. I had many thoughts swirling in my head when I first read this. First and foremost, my wish for you–which I am sending up through the cyberwaves–is for your healing process to include many delicious, eye-opening moments that make you grateful that this relationship happened, and that it ended. Yes, you're better off without that person in your life (even if it's hard to understand that right now), and there's nothing more soul-soothing than when you suddenly realize that whatever you're doing and experiencing right now, whether it be a pour-your-heart-out-to-eachother moment between you and a close friend or an exciting adventure you decided to take at the spur of the moment without needing to consider anyone else but yourself, it would not have happened if you were still with your ex-fiance. I hope it dawns on you a thousand times over the next couple months that you're better off for that chapter ending. It was just a chapter, not the whole story.

    Whenever something "major" happens in my life- the kind of thing I am SURE will come to define my entire existence (but of course doesn't), I've taken to picturing myself as an old grandmother talking to my curious teenage granddaughters. They will ask what it was like to grow up in the olden days and I will be able to wink and tell them that it was not so very different from their lives. There were affairs, there were heartbreaks, there were secrets. I think they will be pleasantly shocked to realize that a woman can do all that in her life and still come out "ok". I hope the take-away will be that it's ok to go LIVE, for crying out loud.

    You have an opportunity here to put your energy into the world and see it come back to you, because right now you don't have to put that energy into another person. I'm excited for you for what's to come–you're about to write some seriously good chapters. Go make the granddaughters proud. And maybe throw in a couple shockers.

  12. the "almost-bride" here -

    first off, thank you ESB for sharing this and knowing just the right person to bring in - I knew writing in was a good idea.
    To the anonymous reader/writer who responded - I hope you know that I plan on printing this out and reading it everyday until I don't need to anymore. It was beautiful and I wish there was some way I could give back to you what you've given me.
    And to all those who commented - I feel like I just was given a million hugs.
    I sent this email about two months ago. Since then, I've gotten a therapist, gathered all my best friends and went on a trip to NYC, and am planning to move to a new city this spring (and who are we kidding, I've contemplated a tattoo also...). But this is a journey like so many of you said, and it takes time. Coincidentally, the past two days have been overwhelmingly hard with how much I miss him and my old life. So to read this today did wonders.
    Please know that every one of you who took the time to chime in, I've read and re-read your words. You've all filled me with hope and love. Thank you.

  13. good grief this is like a dear sugar. beautiful.

  14. The Almost-Bride's Mom says a very appreciative thank you to all who took the time to share your thoughts, wisdom and love. May your generosity be returned to you.

  15. That advice was perfect. ESB is a breath of fresh air. I keep coming here for a much needed dose of reality and level-headedness. Who needs Martha Stewart, right?

  16. Lady, I am so, so sorry. Surround yourself with strong people right now, the kind you can call at 2 in the morning, sobbing and asking why. For me that was my Dad.

    It sounds like you have an excellent head on your young shoulders. Continue to love and respect yourself, and don't for one second think that this guy's behaviour is a reflection of who you are.

    Time is the greatest healer. It sounds like such shit advice, but 12 months from now, you'll get it. The pain that you feel now, the kind that makes you feel you could vom up your own heart, will subside, and you will begin to carve you own identity. Memories of 'we' will be replaced with 'me'. Set yourself goals, weekly, monthly, annual. I trained for and ran a marathon, and the mental and physical strength I gained from those solitary runs were enough for me to realise that I wasn't as broken as I thought I was.

    You will love again when the time is right, and the guy will be worthy of it. Sending love and hugs to you.

  17. this was heartbreaking, but the response was beautifully written.

    hugs to you, ladies.

  18. All the advice here is so heart-breaking and true, but I will offer just a tiny bit more if you are still reading. My long term partner blind-sided me after six years of co-habitation and shared lives, and I am no spring chicken. In fact, I'm 50.

    There are many ways to be 50, and I bear a passing resemblance to Demi Moore without the plastic surgery and drug use - but it is incredibly difficult to be back on your own at a time when the world has decreed that you're done.

    Still, I got through it. It really is one day at a time. Break all contact with him, and you will wake up one morning and you won't think about him. I promise.

    But my point is this: What I wouldn't give to be your age, and have the prospect of new love! You are in a magical place, and I hope you will climb towards it.

    **giant internet hugs**

  19. Reading this nearly one year out from my breakup (and I have moved to NYC and have a new boyfriend) and it still felt like a punch in the face. Completely true. My friends are the best. The pain is still there. It doesnt make me angry, it makes me sad. The new boyfriend helps, but it's not the same, and that's OK. Time makes a big difference. As did getting a part time job at a bar for a while, sleeping with inappropriate men and partying way too hard. And still, nearly a year down the track, it still sometimes feels like it just happened and I dont know what to do and I'm bursting into tears somewhere inappropriate. What do you do when your whole life plan suddenly disintegrates? You try and find a new one. It's not as perfect as my old one but it seems a bit more real. Sending you all the love xx

  20. The best advice I can give is for healing and "finding yourself" again is the simplest: take care of yourself the way you know you deserve to be taken care of, the way you wish you had been taken care of before.

    I'm sure even basic tasks feel exhausting and overwhelming right now, but feed yourself nourishing food (even if you've lost your appetite), sleep when you're tired (even if you're afraid to wake up alone), call someone when you need a friend (even if you feel like you don't deserve love). At first it will feel like a chore, but as you heal, it will start to feel like a reward. Simple, everyday acts like this help you learn to value yourself, which is how you start the process of "finding yourself" outside of your past relationship.

  21. I've been through this exact same thing. Started dating at 17, long distance in college, broke up a few times, got back together a few times. Really high highs, really low lows. Grew up together. Funniest guy i'll ever know. I broke up with him after almost 6 years because one day, I thought, where is this going? We weren't growing anymore. I broke up with him. He hated me for 2 years. And when I began dating again, I met THE love of my life. The new guy made me feel so happy, but it was laced with sadness as I knew I was leaving an old life behind. I still think of my ex all the time. I still wish I could tell him things only we would find funny in our strange way. We met up recently after 4 years of not seeing each other. It was nice and sad. It was like catching up with your best friend who you hadn't seen. Our rapport picked right back up where we left off 6 years ago. The moment he left, I felt like a chunk of my heart left with him. He will always have that chunk and it's beautiful and it's sad and it's real.

    Use this time to focus on you. Find out what you're passionate about. Figure out who you are, what you want, what you don't want. The kind of qualities you hate in a man, the kind you love. I did that and it was uncanny how my new guy just showed up and checked all of the boxes.

  22. That was such a lovely response. Honest and beautifully written.