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July 5

I Do … Or Do I?

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:16 am

idoordoiIt’s wedding season! But from the letters it sounds like most of you are planning a destination wedding — on the fence. That is, when faced with the marriage question, you say:

I Do…Or Do I?

And in general, Breakup Girl’s totally unsatisfying answer is: that depends. I mean, even a severe case of the jitters does not a jilter make. Of course the idea of a wedding gives you the willies. The prospect of that major a commitment is bound to trip some major wires. Marriage is, for all intents, purposes, and people who are not Anna Nicole Smith, is forever. And that’s a mighty long time. In other words, YIKES.

But there are doubts, and there are doubts. Sometimes you consider popping the question because you can’t think of what else to do. But the truth is, you’re not so sure. And now the stakes are higher in all ways: you all think a garden variety breakup is hard, try breaking off an [near-] engagement. And then you wonder: are these just cold feet, or boots that should be walking? Or some overlapping, vicious-circling, crazy-making combination of the two? And then you sink into the Second-Guessing My Feelings Spiral. And then you are such hell to live with that your squeeze kicks you out. Which doesn’t help, because that, if anything, will make you Sure. Also, Single.

So how the hell do you “know?”

Or, as Waffle so aptly wrote:

Dear Breakup Girl,

When contemplating marriage to your girlfriend of several years, how do you tell the difference between cold feet, fear of commitment, and “she’s just not the one for me?”

Let me answer that with a little anecdote. Some years ago, a friend of BG’s (FOBG) was paddling around a lake with Sturdy Canoe Boy (SCB). She was struggling with the “He’s great, but…” quandary, while he, on the other hand, was … not. As they passed in front of his family’s rustic summer cabin, SCB said,” Wow, you know, I can totally picture us at a ripe old age, sitting on rocking chairs on that porch, looking out over this lake.”

Guess what: FOBG could not.

The thought did not alarm or revulse her, but she could not picture it.

She did not, mind you, have a lightning-bolt “it’s over!” moment. But she noticed that thought, and she filed it away somewhere. And a few months later, when the really time came for her to either paddle or get off the lake, as it were, that thought presented itself as the clearest, most sincere, gut-level evidence that she should indeed bail.

(There is also a Dolly Parton song that is uniquely pertinent at this time:
“Rockin’ chairs, rockin’ babies, rock a-bye, Rock of Ages/ Side by side, we’ll be together always/I swear I’ll always love you/I’ll always be here for you/And I’ll be with you, through the rockin’ years.” Same thing: can you picture it?)

So. Those of you in the I Do/Do I? quandary will have — or have already had — one or more of these rocking-chair moments; your relationship will, when you least expect it, take the Porch Test. When it does, do not act impulsively. Just notice how you feel. That Just Know-ing feeling — as far as I know — isn’t a magical, isolated, independent entity like that cartoon guy on Saturday morning TV who used to walk around inside you telling you how your stomach worked. It’s a composite of outside observations and decisions that you usually don’t even realize you’re making. So instead, don’t drive yourself crazy making lists of Pros and Cons: for a brief while, stop doing and thinking and deciding, and just: pay attention. A course of action will gradually present itself, like the crystals that form on a string dipped in sugar-water. Oh, and whatever you decide: this is huge and complicated and unbelievably confusing, and, well, you might mess up. Which, at least in principle, is better than not deciding — and loitering in the gray area that eats your gray matter — because you’re afraid you’ll mess up.

This column was originally published June 29, 1998.


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