The world is a condescending place that typically tells women what they should do and feel instead of listening to their own wants and needs. Maintaining our reproductive rights is a constant struggle, and my friends who don't want children are regularly assured they'll regret not becoming mothers. We live in a society that doubts women's ability to make decisions for themselves.
In my experience, nowhere is our reluctance to trust women's decision-making abilities more obvious than the institution of marriage. The tradition of men in heterosexual relationships asking the bride's father for permission to marry her is still popular, and countless romantic comedies try to persuade us into believing marriage is the only real happy ending. We act as if a single woman is an incomplete being until she becomes a man's wife.
So invested in getting women wed is 21st-century North America that when someone has doubts about entering the legal contract of matrimony, she is typically told she just has a case of "cold feet." It's a patronizing term we use to dismiss people's marital misgivings, pretending doubts about going through with a wedding are both normal and negligible. The term "cold feet" invalidates an engaged person's concerns about entering marriage. It condescendingly suggests getting married is always a positive choice, despite high divorce rates illustrating that, for many relationships, it is anything but.
As someone who called off her own engagement a little while back, I can tell you that being told your feet simply aren't warm enough is not a helpful thing to hear. Rather, it's condescending, reductive, and perpetuates incompatible relationships.
The truth is, I had doubts about getting married even before my former fiancé and I set a date, and I know he did too. While he was and is a dynamic, hilarious and supportive person, we weren't right for one another. We had different approaches to everything from our finances to our families, and it was unlikely we were ever going to make this whole marriage thing work. But after three years of dating, we got engaged anyway, because people assured us our doubts were normal and that we could work it out as we went along.
A few months into our engagement, I developed panic attacks, and regularly had nightmares about my wedding day. Desperate for a confidante, I expressed my angst to a good friend I love and adore. While she's an intelligent woman who really wants the best for me, it never occurred to her that my fears had merit. Instead, she confidently declared, "Sarah, don't let cold feet ruin your wedding!" She reassured me this was just regular bridal angst, that my subconscious was probably just worried that some racist relative would give an offensive speech or that I'd trip over my wedding gown while walking down the aisle. It didn't mean I didn't want to get married.
Except it did mean that; it's just that no one believed me. So I found it to believe myself.
The prospect of making things official with my former fiancé made me so anxious that, for the first time in my life, I sank into a deep depression. I went through my bridal shower in a fugue state. I didn't even bother wearing heels. I decided it was a day only worth of flats. I didn't feel like celebrating my impending marriage simply because I knew it would not be a source of joy in my life or my partner's. I knew getting married was a mistake, even though anyone I confided in insisted it wasn't.
My anxiety over marrying my former fiancé eventually got so bad I couldn't face opening the wedding gifts people sent to our home. I was literally hiding from the truth of my impending nuptials. And truth be told, my ex-partner did not seem much more comfortable with the idea of signing the marriage contract. Our previously placid relationship became conflict-ridden. As the stakes got higher, our tendency to become annoyed with one another escalated.
As much as we enjoyed cuddling and watching Netflix in bed, we were not a great team, and we both knew it. We knew we couldn't handle bigger projects, like raising a family or buying a house. We knew we loved each other, but we didn't love the difficult future were going to have together. In any relationship, compromise is necessary. But when you have to compromise so much your essential self starts to disappear, that's when you know you are with the wrong person for you.
Right after we sent out our wedding invitations, the reality and enormity of the marriage plot we were acting out finally set in. We realized we couldn't legally tether ourselves to our relationship. We loved each other too much to force something that was not working.
Calling off our wedding was the kindest thing my former partner and I ever did for one another. While it was a sad and intense experience at first, the clouds eventually lifted. Today, I am no longer a depressed bride-to-be. I have returned the wedding gifts, and I've returned to my bright and hopeful self.
I still like the idea of getting married one day, when I've found the right person with whom to share my life. However, I hate how people dismiss the concerns of unhappy brides-to-be like me. I want us to stop dismissing women's doubts about marriage as though they do not understand their own interests, as though society understands their happiness better than they do. Ehe next time a friend expresses pause about whether she should marry her partner, please do not invalidate her concerns. Marriage can be a happy ending, but sometimes it's actually the first chapter of a horror story you'd rather not read.