“I Said ‘I Do’ When I Didn’t” originally appeared on The Girlfriend Mom and was reprinted with permission.
I had been living in Los Angeles for a couple of years when a friend introduced us. He had arrived in the City of Angels two days earlier from the East Coast, and was wearing white athletic socks hiked up mid-calf, black dress shoes, and board shorts. It wasn’t love at first sight (I wasn’t even sure that I was attracted to him) and I thought his fashion choice was odd, but I knew how lonely it was to relocate to a new city, knowing few people. I felt sorry for him and I was trying to be nice, so we went out on a date.
Three years later I married him. I was 28 years old, I was not in love, and yet I insisted on our wedding being in a location where no wedding had gone before; outside on a 17th-century working Dutch farm. You can practically smell the cow pies from here, can’t you? The 173 guest affair came with a hefty emotional and financial price tag.
There were red flags before the wedding proposal itself. I knew in my gut that this person was not right for me. At the time, I was struggling with my identity and my place in the world. As crazy as it may sound, I thought maybe that this marriage was my “place.” I ignored, denied, and hid from myself.
After we polished off a bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s, we stumbled into our bedroom. We had been living together for a year. I remember that “let’s move in together” conversation we had over lunch as if it were yesterday. There I sat, a healthy beet salad in front of me, trying to be honest, saying that I wasn’t sure that I was ready to cohabit. And there he sat, a bowl of penne alla vodka in front of him, not listening to my concerns, but instead forcing the issue.
He eventually convinced me to move in with him. It was difficult to speak my mind and because my feelings and hesitations weren’t being considered, validated, or respected — I caved. In some ways it was easier to give in.
He threw me onto the bed. “Will you marry me?”
There was still a part of me that felt sorry for him and I wasn’t confident enough to say no. I had said no to moving in and that didn’t turn out so well.
“Yeah, why not.”
It wasn’t a romantic proposal, but we didn’t have that kind of relationship. We had never talked about getting married either. I didn’t believe in marriage, not so much as an institution, but rather as something that I needed or wanted to do. I hadn’t seen, nor thought about, our relationship as a forever proposition and he caught me off guard.
Why did I say yes? Why wasn’t I truthful? Why didn’t I ask for more time? Why didn’t I listen to the little voice inside of me that had doubts? I had ample opportunities to stop the runaway train but history had shown (both with him and in my past relationships) that speaking up for myself wasn’t a viable option.
If I had said no, then the truth about not being in love with him would have been revealed. The thought of hurting his feelings pained me. I sincerely thought that I was protecting him, even though it was at the expense of my own wishes and desires. We didn’t break up, so I got married.
I put my head in the sand, and pushed my truth to the way, way back and planned a wedding. I played a role, plain and simple.
I wanted a low-key and casual wedding, but things quickly spiraled out of control as weddings sometimes do. I wore a wedding dress that made me look like I was a sausage in a casing. The bodice squeezed me so tight that I feared that I would be suffocated by my abnormally lifted boobs. It was a puffy-sleeved, tulle-infused mess.
My hair was in a tight bun, which gave me a headache and when I attempted to curl a few tendrils, the curling iron broke, leaving me with half-baked tendrils that looked like half-assed payos.
I remember looking in the full-length mirror in the dressing room thinking, This couldn’t be my life. My mother handed me her white Bible (which I’d never seen before) and asked me if I would hold it as I walked down the aisle. She pulled out a blue hanky from her clutch, suggesting that I tuck it into my thong. I was wearing her mother’s pearl earrings and a new bracelet that a friend had given me. I was the poster child for wedding tradition. If the whole scene had not been so surreal, I might’ve been able to laugh at myself and the absurdity.
We planned to say a few words to each other during the ceremony because I wanted to do what those in movies and on television did at weddings. I thought that these motions would make it more real and romantic.
Months before the wedding, I thought about what I wanted to say, and words failed me. Words never fail me. It was challenging to come up with honest things to say that would befit a wedding ceremony. I felt like a fraud. And like I had done so many times before, I ignored, denied, and hid.
I stood under the chuppa and I improvised, “I like myself better when I’m with you.” I’d heard couples say this, and I desperately wanted it to be true. My husband was overcome with emotion when he spoke and he cried. I stood with him — almost stoic — and I wanted to die.
I said, I do, when I didn’t.
We continued our lives as husband and wife, which brought further dishonesty, fear, and rationalizations. However, it also brought something else — something quite unexpected.
We became best friends.
He loved me unconditionally, and he delighted in my quirks, idiosyncrasies, and flaws. I trusted him implicitly. I fell in love with his loyalty, his talents, and his tireless support in my search for my purpose. He also stopped wearing dress shoes with shorts.
There were months, perhaps years, where we lived happily. We shared professional dreams and we were each other’s cheerleaders. While that was all wonderful, being truly and passionately in love with my partner eluded me, and haunted me almost daily.
I had imaginary conversations with my husband, rehearsing my breakup speech. Only in my head did I find the courage to end what should never have been. I tortured myself constantly. I began crying silently into my pillow at night, while my husband slept beside me.
Over our nine years together, my husband would occasionally question the infrequent sex. I made excuses; work, lack of work, depression, a marital speed bump, or something that I ate, because I could not tell him the truth. My verbal paralysis made me physically ill, and I could see it was affecting my husband and his self-esteem. The guilt, shame, and selfishness became too much to bear.
In our last year together, we traveled to Italy. Even toward the end, and even though I knew how I felt, I still held out for something that would make me fall in love with him. I hoped that Venice would be the baby that would save our marriage.
When we returned to our hotel room one night, I snapped. It was unplanned and without provocation. My betrayal had to end. My little voice, who had been quietly screaming for nine years, was pissed.
I gasped for air. “I don’t want to be married anymore. I can’t do this. I’m so sorry.”
For the first time in a very long time, I was lucid and straightforward. Perhaps it was all of the rehearsing. My husband cried, and this time I joined him. We held each other in silence as I felt relief and honesty wash over me.
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