My breakup hurt, but it helped me let go of my deadline to be married in my 30s
I was never the little girl who dreamed about her wedding. I was single throughout most of my twenties. I attended tons of weddings, racked up a collection of bridesmaid gowns, and couldn’t believe all my friends were becoming “real adults.” I longed to one day get married, but that day seemed so far away that I didn’t put any real thought into it. But when I finally got into a relationship in my thirties, all of that changed.
Prior to meeting Matt, I dated a lot, but I struggled with allowing myself to be truly vulnerable. I was Seinfeld-esque in my reasons for why I couldn’t be in a relationship with someone—I can’t go out with him; he is a close talker. Oh, that guy? He eats his peas one at a time. Forget it! So when I entered my first real relationship at 31 years old, I almost couldn’t believe it. My friends and family were thrilled, and so was I.
I felt like a weight had been lifted; I was finally “normal.”
I know life is not a race, but when you’re the only one in your friend group who is unmarried, you start to think you’re losing (FYI, you’re not).
A bit before our one-year anniversary, we moved in together. It felt so easy at first. Of course, there were little annoyances here and there, but overall, I was excited to be living with someone I loved. We often alluded to our future together: When Matt shopped for a new car, he told me it made more sense to get a four-door because, who knows, in a few years, we could have a kid back there. Neither of us was ready to get engaged just yet, but I felt confident that it was on the horizon. I wasn’t in a rush.
But soon, it started to feel like everyone else in my life was—except for Matt. Somehow, the topic of my future wedding crept into more and more conversations with friends and family. Everyone had the same question:
I honestly didn’t know. But I had an idea, or rather, I pretended I did so I could answer the question: Not yet, but maybe next spring… Matt and I had never sat down and specifically talked about an engagement, but I thought we’d implied a future together enough in conversations to assume it was going to happen eventually.
I allowed myself to get a bit swept up in the fantasy. Suddenly, I became the girl who followed engagement ring and wedding dress accounts on Instagram, saving every picture I liked to a folder. I often stressed about my non-existent wedding, wondering who I’d make my bridesmaids. Would I have to invite this person I haven’t seen in ten years but who invited me to their wedding? How would my grandparents travel if I had it in California? As I asked these questions in my head, friends and family continued to ask me questions in real life.
Most of my friends had gotten married years ago, so they were excited for another chance to experience a bachelorette party. They’d pitch me location ideas for mine—D.C.! Nashville! When I’d ask friends in New York if they had any plans to visit me in L.A., they would tell me they were waiting to come out for my wedding. My parents would ask me where I wanted to get married. I had relatives tell me they were scheduling a vacation—did I think there was a chance my wedding might interfere? I sent my mom the picture of an engagement ring I loved, thinking that whenever the time came, Matt would consult her.
I was constantly speaking hypothetically about my nonexistent wedding. But was I talking about it this much with Matt? No, I wasn’t.
That’s because, as we got closer to our two year anniversary and the questions intensified, I had more reservations about whether this relationship was actually right for me. I knew Matt did, too. My friends often said they assumed that Matt was saving for a ring, and that’s why he hadn’t proposed. But something told me that wasn’t true.
He and I were arguing more and more in the last few months our relationship, before it came to an end. We both loved each other, and yet we couldn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues. In those final days, I was thinking illogically. I wavered between thinking we should break up and hoping he would just propose already. I tried to convince myself that if we got engaged and just forged forward, we could make it work. Everyone always says relationships take work, right? We just needed to work.
If I’d been talking to a friend in the same situation, I knew I’d tell her that marriage won’t make things easier, and you can’t pretend it will. But I couldn’t take my own advice.
I kept fast-forwarding to the future, where things would magically work themselves out, all while nothing seemed to be working well in the present. But my visions felt so clear. I had so many images in my mind: Him being by my side as we had our first child. Us in a house together, having one big, happy family.
I started dropping hints about getting engaged, but at the same time, I didn’t want to put pressure on Matt—but everyone was putting pressure on me to put pressure on Matt. Family and friends would say, “At this age, what are you waiting for?” “I’m sure by your birthday he’ll do it…” “If he doesn’t do it by then…”
I started looking at this relationship as a timeline, and Matt and I both knew we had to figure out if we were still on the same page. If we got engaged in the next few months, I told him, then we could get married by the time I was 34. And if we got pregnant soon after, then I could have a kid by 35.
He wasn’t sure about this, and I could tell.
We tried to talk it out, but my gut told me, plainly, that it wasn’t happening. There would be no wedding. No life we’d build together. Still, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to be the one who made that dream end. We loved each other, and everyone else had made it seem like a future was going to happen, so what was the problem?! But eventually, Matt decided he should move out. Part of me was thankful that he did the hard thing. He made the decision that I couldn’t make on my own.
I know that you shouldn’t stay in a relationship because you’re afraid you’ll never find someone else. Or because you think you have to stick to certain deadlines. Or because you have to make people other than yourself happy. But I’ll admit, I was guilty of all those crimes.
Still, I do believe there was so much good in our relationship. And for that reason, I’ll never regret it. I learned a lot about myself and what I need in a partner over these past two years. That doesn’t mean it isn’t painful to say goodbye to my “wedding,” and I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t tear up every time I walk by a bridal gown shop. But after the breakup, I learned that all of those people who asked about my engagement didn’t actually want me to be in the wrong relationship for the sake of getting married. I learned that my happiness was way more important than a ring, a wedding, or an excuse for all my girlfriends to get rowdy while we drink out of penis straws. I learned that, even though I’m single for now, I’m definitely not alone.