I Got Engaged To My Soulmate — & It Was Hell

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

“Let’s elope!” I begged my brand-new fiancé (whom I’ll call “S” for the purposes of this essay), about five seconds after he asked if I’d marry him. He was baffled, both by the idea and the speed at which I’d uttered it, but I had what I thought was an infallible plan. “Let’s fly to New York, get married, and then celebrate by taking the trip of a lifetime.”

Our life together revolves around how much travel we can squeeze in, so this seemed like a winner. It had to be: There was no way I would have an actual wedding. Never mind the logistical nightmares our French-Australian union might entail; my divorced parents still couldn’t be in the same room without starting World War III.

But S had been the best man at many weddings and had never imagined he wouldn’t have one of his own. So, if I was committing to a life with this wonderful man, I had to push my fears aside, and say yes…again.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

“I never thought you would do that, considering our situation,” said my mother, upon hearing the big news. “Our situation” was that, after her divorce, my mom vowed never to be in the same room as anyone related to my dad. But, once she conceded that she would not be able to keep that vow (and accepted that, despite her preferences, we would be having a non-religious wedding), she listed her other requirements: I must get married within a short drive from her home in France. I must invite all her friends, but none of my paternal relatives. I needed an engagement ring with a chunky band for my “big girl” finger, and a dress that would “fit” me (meaning, not make me look fat).
Despite the continents between us (S and I lived in his native Australia), there I was, reliving teenage angst, crying on the phone with girlfriends about all the mean things my mom said to me, while S finished our dinner alone.

Meanwhile, there was a sudden change of tone from his family in Australia. “Your mother should be quite happy with that,” his mom quipped after examining the diamond that had landed on my finger. She’d previously lauded me for the “much happier” person her son had become since I entered the picture, but now, with a wedding on the horizon, all bets were off. I’d been a perfectly adequate girlfriend, but as a wife, it seemed I’d be getting too sweet a deal with this fine man. There was quiet outrage at the idea that I’d keep my name, and there were questions — so very many questions.

What nationalities would our future children have? What last name? Would I speak only French to them? We were moving to Paris for S to work the following year, and his father despaired aloud that he’d never be able to communicate with his grandchildren. That’s when I realized it was all on me. Men, I discovered, don’t get harassed about the changes they should make when getting married. They don’t suffer judgment for having a big or small wedding, for doing it here or there, for inviting X but not Y, for speaking their native language to children they don’t even have yet.

Men, I discovered, don’t get harassed about the changes they should make when getting married. They don’t suffer judgment for having a big or small wedding, for doing it here or there, inviting X but not Y, for speaking their native language to children they don’t even have yet.

But I soldiered on. Now that I’d promised, I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to speak heartfelt vows in a long white dress. I flew to France to see family and friends, and took the opportunity to visit the ideal venue we’d found online. My mother refused to drive me, but rushed over when she heard I was going with my dad instead. She made a scene in front of the owner, claimed my wedding would be no fun, and insulted my dad’s family — because any opportunity to make it all about her divorce is always joyfully embraced.

Heartbroken, I called S to say I couldn’t go through with our wedding. Planning it was slowly but surely sucking my soul dry. I returned to Australia, deleted the “Wedding” folder on my computer, and focused on preparing for our move to France, trying to forget that I didn’t want to be in my own country anymore.

It was months before the subject was reopened. Maybe a small affair in Paris would work? I reluctantly agreed to have another go at planning, increasingly feeling the burden of putting his happiness over mine. By the time we picked new potential venues and caterers, our move came into question when my fiancé's boss made him an offer I could never refuse: a transfer to the company’s New York office instead of Paris. After feeling so low for so long, I was smiling again as we tossed our Parisian wedding and larger life plans right out the window.

We started our third bout of wedding planning in New York. We learned to shrug at my mother’s threats not to attend, and tried hard to shake off déjà-vu as we met with celebrants and cake makers. Soon, invitations were in the mail, and shortly after, another disappointment: The friends who’d sworn they couldn’t wait to jump on a plane for the occasion declined with one-line emails and half-baked excuses. Within a few weeks, each of my five closest friends informed me they wouldn’t be there after all. “But have a nice wedding!” they said, seemingly oblivious to the pain their absence would inflict. When I expressed my hurt, two of them fired back with detailed lists of everything that was wrong with me.

As the already-small guest list dwindled to a ridiculously low number, taking my sanity with it, we contemplated canceling our wedding, again, this time for lack of friends and will to live. As I lay in bed, numb with pain, unable to take another step on the road to the special day I never wanted in the first place, I wondered if, by trying to get married, we had ruined our love irrevocably. Would we make it as husband and wife if we ever walked down that stupid aisle?

We did. And we had the perfect day. The pictures turned out beautifully; you can’t even see the bags under my eyes. And yes — my mother was there. Now, whenever I look at my husband, my heart fills with joy as I think, I would cut off my right arm for you. But, if I had the chance to do it over again, would I be a bride? Not in a million years.

Photo: Jenny Calivas for Photo Pink.

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