My former-mother-in-law-to-be sealed my decision when she said to me, "Are you worried he is just marrying you for your company?"
The way she said the last word with heavy air-quotes and the defensive superiority of a 40-year-veteran stay-at-home-mom, cemented my choice to cut off the engagement, and has stuck with me since then.
I had met my fiancé, B, in the floating years after high school, while I was working as a receptionist at an electrical contracting company. He delivered parts to job sites, and was constantly teetering on whether to apply to college or not.
He was kind and fun; my parents and nephews loved him. My sister was skeptical for no reason at all — and she admitted as much — but still supported the relationship even longer than I did.
My company is a small online retailer that I started in high school. We sell fashion accessories imported from different parts of the world, generally made by hand, and part of the proceeds return to the country of origin to support various causes.
I love making the connections in person, so I travel to places like Mexico, Turkey, Bolivia and Ghana to partner with people whose language I don't speak, to overpay for shipping, to make a small margin, and generally to break even or worse. But it's a part of my life that I'm passionate about and that I've sacrificed time, money and sanity for since I was a teenager.
B was interested in my company at first, but that interest didn't translate to engagement. He knew the financials of the company and how risky each major purchase was (120 unsold wool scarves will make you sweat when they're in boxes in your living room in April), and he walked the line between encouraging me to work harder and distracting me from it or reminding me of our financial commitments.
Yes, we did partially integrate our finances after one year of dating. On one hand it was nice — he was very transparent, smart with money, and we got to travel to Denmark more on his dime than mine.
On the other it led to the questions and askance looks like, "Shouldn't you find a cheaper option?" on several occasions. Advice: Don't do that.
I first thought of asking for a prenup one night when I was counting inventory in my office room and my fiancé was reading in bed. Inventory is the most frustrating, perplexing aspect of the whole business. No matter how careful I am to get every count right and maintain our stock levels, at some point an order will come in for an item we don't have.
So that night, as I struggled until after midnight, when I heard him click his light off and readjust for sleep, I started boiling. I didn't say anything that night, but somewhere in between "He has no interest in this huge part of my life" and "He'll see when our Kickstarter blows up," I was Googling prenuptial agreements.
I had the agreement drawn up by an attorney friend before talking to him about it. Yeah, may have been the wrong way to go about it, I know, I've heard that before.
I wanted it to be simple, and it was. Basically it said that my company stays mine entirely, but all other financial everything remains as marriage standardly arranges it without any prenup.
The conversation with B was ugly from the start. He laughed, saying my business is a net negative, and that clothing is a terrible industry to join. It wasn't mean-spirited, though it's hard to type without it seeming so.
I explained and re-explained, but he simply could not understand why I was doing it. He flat-out said "No, I won't sign it. You'll either marry me and I'll be a part of everything, or you won't."
Though it had started as a frustrated impulse, after the conversation, I felt more and more like it was an important, principled decision for my life — just as he viewed not having a prenup as a principled standard in his.
I have failed and abandoned myself and my goals an insane number of times, and this was one of a precious few things that I had kept. And it came from a time when I was more idealistic, more impractical, more self-sacrificial than I am now, and I just couldn't share that, not when it didn't mean that to him.
B was a lot of good things, but he was not ambitious in the slightest. He was content with his steady, unchallenging work, and had no desire to study or reach for more. When we would talk about where we expected ourselves to be in 10 years, he would shrug and say he hoped he’d be in a better job, but I never saw any effort or even serious contemplation toward that end.
The conversations continued over days, then weeks. I moved out and in with that skeptical sister, who thought I was being dramatic. B and I took time apart and I missed him sorely but my commitment to the prenup didn't change.
I sort of thought it would; that the love and loneliness would take precedence in the end, but it didn't.
I have since married a different man, who took the prenup in stride, though I stressed and panicked about it for days once things were getting serious.
Now that we are married, he is as committed and excited about our little company as I am, contributing his time and skills (and managing the inventory) for its benefit. Once it started feeling like our company, I had the prenup canceled. Last I heard, B was living with his parents and working for another contracting company.
For the stressful weeks of turmoil before we separated, B's family called me selfish, and maybe I was, by the strict definition of the word — but don't we all have to be on some level?
They said I didn't understand what a marriage should truly be, and that I wasn't ready for it. Maybe I wasn't. Maybe he wasn't. Or maybe we just weren't meant to be.