Let me start off by making one thing very, very clear: I love my husband. In no way do I regret marrying him, and I am extremely thankful for our relationship and the love that we share.
That said, let’s just get it out there. The day I got engaged, the second emotion after excitement/joy/ “OMG (FINALLY) YAY” was an over-arching sense of “oh sh*t” followed immediately by a wave of guilt. Let me explain.
My (now) husband and I had been together for only a year and a half when I knew I wanted to marry him. He stood by me through times that some men might not have, and he was my rock. He is the kindest, most thoughtful human I have ever met. He is handsome. He is hardworking. He is everything I have ever wanted in a life-long partner. After 3 years of dating I’d been anticipating, and honestly expecting, the proposal for an entire year when it happened. Imagine my surprise when I felt an overwhelming sense of panic immediately following the day I had so desperately been waiting for.
This feeling was terrifying, and I (thought) I couldn’t tell anybody. What was wrong with me? I just had what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life and I’m feeling scared, sad, lonely, and on top of that guilty for feeling scared, sad and lonely.
I felt that I had no one to talk to. Not only was I was the first of my close friends to get engaged, but also… no one talks about this. Western culture teaches us, especially as women, that we should expect the happy fairy tale. We see other women post on social media about getting engaged and all we see is how happy and excited and fearless they are. So why was I feeling more than that? Of course I was happy and excited. I was also sad. AND I was scared that if I shared these mixed emotions with anyone, they might question my love for my partner. Of course I loved him and I definitely wanted to marry him, so again, WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?
Turns out, nothing.
Think about it. Getting engaged symbolizes the beginning of a very new chapter of life. So while much of the upcoming changes are exciting, there’s also an element of loss. Theoretically…
I will never again go on a first date. Never again have only me to think about when considering a major life decision. Never again get butterflies that come along with the anticipation of a first kiss. The name I’ve had for 27 years will (eventually, probably) be replaced by another. I am no longer simply me, I am now agreeing to be a wife. That’s a role I’ve never been in, which in itself elicits fear of the unknown.
This is some heavy stuff. In many ways, we’re grieving the loss of the only life we have ever known. It’s a lot of change, it is a big deal, and it deserves acknowledgment.
This shift away from guilt and secrecy happened after I had some honest and real conversations about these feelings with my bridesmaids and with my husband… conversations I had been afraid to have in fear of judgment and misunderstanding. I was afraid my bridesmaids would questions my love for my partner. I was afraid my husband would misunderstand my sadness about this major life change as doubt that he was right for me. They didn’t. He didn’t. He understood that I wasn’t doubting him, I was scared of the unknown and sad about losing parts of my identify.
Because that’s the reality of what marriage is. You are losing parts of yourself, and gaining others.
If I could do it all again, I would have reached out sooner. I would have tucked away my pride and reached out to my own therapist as soon as these feelings crept in. So if you’re feeling this, know you’re not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you. Reach out to an unbiased therapist or counselor who can help you sort through these confusing emotions and figure out what is reasonable grief and what doubts might indicate an actual problem between you and your partner. Then participate in pre-marital counseling with your partner to make sure you’re both on the same page. And then…
TALK ABOUT IT SOME MORE.
Talk about it with friends, with other brides, with your own parents, with your partner. Normalize it. Taking the time to grieve the life you’ve known thus far does not take away from the love you have for your partner. It does not make you less of a worthy spouse. It makes you human.
For more information on this topic, I recommend the following books:
Emotionally Engaged: A Bride’s Guide to Surviving the “Happiest” Time of Her Life by Allison Moir-Smith
The Conscious Bride: Women Unveil Their True Feelings about Getting Hitched by Sheryl Paul