Her reasons are completely valid, but they can be compounded by wedding planning and work stress. She is a nurse and the hospital where she works has been understaffed for a long time. Her biggest problem with her fiancé is that he hasn’t done his part since they moved in together in the fall. I know it was especially bad at Christmas — he wanted the whole house decorated like his mother used to do, he wanted the presents wrapped exactly like that, he wanted to throw a big party and expected her to do 100 percent of the work. I know that’s bad and nothing I would want to put up with, but it’s all things that can be fixed, and she’s told him to step forward and do better.
I want to support her in any way I can, even if it means withdrawing. However, I don’t know if this is a normal feeling and if I should help her through it. Does everyone go through these thoughts and feelings before marriage? I’ve never been close so not sure how to advise her.
Maid of Warming Feet: I was 21 when I got married for the first time. I remember expressing the same doubts to my mother before the wedding. Her response was, “You just have the jitters and that’s totally normal.” Everyone gets the jitters for the wedding.” Turns out it wasn’t the jitters. Seven years later I was divorced. I remarried 12 years later. Different doubts, same result. Parting.
Speaking from experience: When in doubt, listen to it. I am now married for the third time. From the moment I met my current husband, I knew I wanted to marry him, and I never wavered. We have been together for 19 years, married for 14 years. I’m more madly in love with him now than the day we got married, and I’ve never regretted being his wife. If you know, you know. I wish my mother had told me to examine my doubts and make sure I really wanted to marry that man. It would have saved me the heartbreak of two failed marriages.
Maid of Warming Feet: I’ve been a bridesmaid six times and a bride once. I’ve seen every wedding-related meltdown imaginable. That’s why I feel so strongly that this is different; your boyfriend is genuinely concerned about marriage, not marriage.
Find some time to meet her alone. A conversation starter example: “You told me you had doubts about your relationship. How are you feeling?” Open questions are your friend. You’re not here to guide her through anything, just to back her words up and support her conclusions. If she continues to express serious doubts, make an offer (just one times!) to be the escape driver. “I love you and I’ll always be your biggest cheerleader. If you decide you don’t want to be with FianceMan, I’ll contact guests, cancel vendors, or do whatever it takes to be there for you.
Many people know they don’t want to get married, but feel they’re in too deep or fear the humiliation of such a public breakup. Just having one person she can count on for emotional and logistical support (hello, calls from family members complaining about sunk airfare) can mean the world. And if she decides to go through with it and the marriage falls through, you’ve already positioned yourself as someone she can count on. Your letter is so caring, I can tell you that your friend is lucky with you.
Maid of Warming Feet: It sounds like your girlfriend’s biggest problem is a lack of communication with her partner. I would encourage her to resolve these issues before taking her relationship to the next level. It’s not up to you to decide if something is “repairable”. Maybe they can postpone the wedding to get couples counseling, or they can agree to accept each other as they are, or they decide they have differences that just can’t be resolved. Whatever the solution, it’s up to her and her partner to work it out together. Encourage her to open an honest line of communication with the person she’s getting married to.
Maid of warming feet: This is all aside: Demanding someone else do all the work to serve up a perfect Christmas isn’t a failure to “step forward and do better,” it’s called filth; rightful messes are rarely resolved, let alone within a month; and nothing is officially “fixable” until it’s actually fixed.
The point? That it is not for anyone else to decide, not even a distant one, not even a lifelong best friend, whether one’s reasons for doubt are valid.
She has them. That’s her business, and that’s good enough.
The best input from a best friend in this situation is this: “You don’t have to marry someone you don’t want to marry. You certainly don’t have to marry someone just because it would be messy not to. Trust yourself, do what you need to do and I will have your back.” (Run, bride, run.)
—Carolyn Hax (who couldn’t help herself with this)
Each week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted via Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s episode here. New questions are usually posted on Fridays, with a submission deadline on Monday. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and they have been edited for length and clarity.