365 days ago, my partner and I ended our 7-plus year romantic relationship. I chose those words carefully. “Partner” because we were. In everything, down the middle. And I modified relationship with “romantic” because although it is no longer romantic in nature, our relationship remains.
P and I still call each other with problems that no one else can help us solve and jokes no else would understand. We co-parent our dog and we support each other in every way we can. We are each other’s family and that doesn’t just go away. I have told people that if our relationship weren’t as good as it was, we never could have broken up. It’s a sad irony that the strengths you may have as a couple – the ability to be totally honest with each other and the desire for your SO to be as happy as they can possibly be – are the very attributes that allow you to move forward, and perhaps apart from, each other.
My intention in writing about this less-than-festive anniversary is not to be boastful about how “successful” my own separation was (there were, of course, plenty of not-so-rosy moments) or to publicly air my dirty laundry (only slightly sullied, really). I say it because I learned something I wish I knew sooner that I think a lot of other people need to understand, a lesson that was impressed upon me emphatically by my parents while I sobbed into the phone one afternoon: You do not have to get married. Even after you’ve said “yes” (or sought a “yes”). Even after you’ve bought your dress or suit. Even after you’ve picked out the venue, entrees, cake, flowers, photographer, videographer, and rings. Even after you’ve paid deposits that you’ll never see again. Even after your guests have booked their flights and hotel rooms and you’re within weeks of your “special day”. You do not have to get married.
Since P and I called off our wedding in July and separated last January, many people I know have approached me expressing doubts and fears about their own long term or serious relationships. They ask things like “how did you know?” and “what did you tell people?” I also had a friend who is now divorced tell me that she knew at the back of the church that she shouldn’t walk down the aisle. But she did. The pressure to stay in relationships even when they’re wrong is real. Beyond the fear and abject sadness of hurting someone you love, there is the constant, in-your-face wedding assault that social media stages on women in their 20s and 30s. There is also a never-ending stream of your friends’ engagement, wedding, and honeymoon photos. At some point, you just have to tell Pinterest to fuck off and chose your own happiness over galvanized watering can centerpieces.
If you’re saying things like “As soon as…” and “If only we…” and “Things will be better when…,” listen closely to yourself. Be honest with yourself. Honor those doubts that pervade your thoughts. While I hate dictates like “should,” especially when it comes to relationships, you absolutely should feel happy and excited about getting (and being) married, without qualification.
They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. Regardless of gender, I think that it’s critical for everyone to feel safe and supported in rethinking major life decisions. While it may feel entirely selfish, ending a relationship that you aren’t truly committed to is one of the most selfless things you can do for your partner. And while you may not receive immediate support or understanding, ultimately it’s your decision to make and your life to live.
You might change your mind. And that’s okay.