I Broke Off My Engagement — & The World Didn't End

engagement_intro_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
By Dannielle Norman
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At the end of 2012, I broke off a five-and-a-half-year relationship and engagement that I’d previously had every intention of keeping. I’m writing because I know, from experience, there’s little that shows the positive outcomes to making such a difficult decision — it seems scary, but I know now that there was a lot to be gained.
Some relationships are unhealthy and restrictive, causing lives to be lived to only a fraction of their potential. I understand situations are complex, with their own histories and, in some cases, children. This is to offer insight, not instruction — your decision is your own. This isn’t to encourage break-ups, call off weddings, or suggest divorce; however, I do encourage anyone who is struggling in a situation similar to mine to be assertive. It’s your life.
Relationships have challenges, but in the most fruitful, they are predominately external to your partnership, not internal. I write as someone who tried very hard to make something work that was ultimately more detrimental than beneficial — the recognition of which was profound. I’ve realized that I achieve more when I am single than when in a relationship that wasn’t a place of nurture and peace.
There are innumerable benefits to a loving and constructive relationship, which is why we pursue them. However, if you conclude you wish to leave a serious, perhaps unhealthy, relationship, here’s my rundown of a few things you could expect.
engagement_slide1_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
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People will expect you to explain yourself. You don’t have to.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your decision is valid because it’s what you want.
Ending a serious relationship is a heavy decision because, ultimately, the responsibility’s on you. You’ll have spent nights doubting, hours deliberating, and days analyzing, so rest assured that this decision you have come to is right for you. Preparing for marriage is one of the most poignant times in your life, and you should be selfish; you cannot marry someone just because they want you to.
When you reach a conclusion, utter some words that vaguely represent it and finally see a ray of light in what will have been a difficult situation — no one else needs to understand it, and it doesn’t need to be justified in anyone's eyes but your own. You will be misunderstood, but your integrity will be intact.
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engagement_slide2_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Misunderstood. Misrepresented. Vilified.
Okay. It gets messy. Unless you used to be engaged to the freakin’ Dalai Lama (unlikely) then there’s often a bad taste left in a lot of people’s mouths that they spit out in the form of snide remarks and ill-formed conclusions. This choice will not suit everyone; even though in the long run you’re doing everyone a huge favor (imagine a thank-you card for that: “thanks-for-calling-off-our-wedding-saving-us-from-an-unhappy-marriage-and-painful-divorce-in-years-to-come”), they somehow focus on that you must have just ruined what would have been Prince William & K.Mids Version 2.0.
Rumors do the rounds, and you’ll hear things that are jaw-droppingly inaccurate. What people don’t know, they make up — these people are the Daily Mail of your friendship group. People like to think they know though, so expect to hear things like “Yeah, well apparently she left him because she was in love with a potato.” Honestly, you learn to kick "don’t give a fuck" up to the next level; if you found the strength to leave, you’ll find the strength for this.
engagement_slide3_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
You’ll begin a process.
I’m not going to lie, it hurts — and not always in the ways you expect. But, just because it’s painful does not mean it was the wrong decision.
You’ll cope, as people do: write, read, think, think, cry, drink, eat, run, realize you can’t run, feel alone, feel amazing. You will probably hear "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen swiftly followed by "I’m Every Woman" by Chaka Khan in your head more than once. It’s a process, different for everyone and one that should be credited with the due care and attention it deserves.
engagement_slide4_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
You’ll find your feet.
This isn’t about finding someone else. It’s about assertion: doing what you want for yourself. However, for some, the lingering fear chimes “what if no one else wants me?” That’s a natural worry. But, it’s also bullshit. There’s not only one person who will deem you good enough to love.
Once I was ready, I found dating great fun. I have the advantage of being a 26-year-old sociable female in one of the busiest dating scenes in the world; London’s crazy for it. While I’m single and not specifically looking for a relationship, dating reminds me how many people there are, the many walks of life, perspectives and types of relationships available to us. Some people I’ve gotten on with like a house on fire and others, I think, would actually set my house on fire.
Throughout all of this, the one person to really get excited about meeting is...you. Unhealthy relationships can be detrimental to our personal development and confidence, which in turn, can stunt our growth. Ending my engagement was a huge part of my self-discovery and liberation as a rational and thinking human being, a woman with a life separate from simply filling the wife and getting married expectation. I wish I’d had someone to remind me of the luxury afforded to us within our society: The right to choose and to stand by that choice.
In time, you look at where you are versus where you were with a reminder: You left for a reason. High-five yourself (which, actually, just turns out to be a clap...satisfying, nonetheless) — it feels pretty badass to take control of a situation that you felt you had very little control in at one point. Being strong for yourself is the ultimate way to love yourself — life is as exciting as it is unknown.