There’s an old saying that goes, “you can’t see the forest through the trees”. I’d heard it plenty of times before, but there should have been a follow up saying that said, “and even when you do, you won’t know it…for at least 6-12 months.”
This brings me to my experience with love when I was going through it. I Googled that phrase every way I could think of, yet nothing seemed helpful. Most results led me to websites filled with stories of battered young women, those with stories of hardship and strife. None of these applied to me. I wasn’t being beaten, taken advantage of, or verbally abused. In fact, I was in a predicament quite the opposite—I was engaged to be married to a good man, who loved me.
My story is not a unique one, and looking back on it, it has been hard for me to put it into words. The feelings are all there, but to put into words what I was feeling, what it was like while I was going through it…well I can’t help but think how much better used the ink of a pen would be recalling anything but another story of unrequited love.
You see, the proposal was near perfect (save for that one small traditional detail of asking for my father’s permission). My proposal was something dreams are made of. Imagine Christmas time, the element of surprise, us standing on a stage during a Christmas play, Christmas carols softly playing in the background, complete with a sparkling diamond ring and a caring man down on one knee. Looking back now it all seems like a dream…like I’m remembering the scene from a movie about someone else’s life…time is funny that way, isn’t it?
Our engagement was a longer one. Initially I was so overcome with the idea of being engaged that I never stopped to think what it meant. It would all catch up with me though, as those things tend to do. You can only suppress your feelings for so long.Time flew by, and nine months before our nuptials we were getting into crunch time. The reception hall was booked (it was lovely and SO romantic), the photographer—check! (such a talented young woman), the string section for the ceremony reserved (need I say more?), and our vows were all but written. My dress was bought early on in the engagement, but the fitting wasn’t until four months prior to the wedding day. This is a moment I remember vividly. Of course there had been plenty of moments before it, but somehow me looking the part had a way of hitting home in a way that the other times had failed to do.
One time, for instance, I was back home, driving along country roads with the windows down on a bright sunny day. Out of nowhere, I started crying. I knew it was because I was sad to leave my home, sad to leave the area where I grew up. I felt like I didn’t have a choice, that I was in too deep and that what I was going through wasn’t worth the heartbreak of a man who loved me. I sobbed for nearly an hour.
Perhaps another more memorable instance would have been the night before we were supposed to move into our new house. I had us up until 3AM discussing why I couldn’t move. We ended up chalking it up to wedding jitters, and went on with our plans the next day. Later that day, driving alone in my car, I called my best friend in a panic, saying how I just couldn’t go through with the move. I think it was in that moment that I buried my feelings and moved forward.
After we had moved into our lovely 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath, renovated home complete with a finished basement, wrap around front porch, and patio with a fire pit (on a cul-de-sac no less), the real trouble started. Or rather, it continued. Try as I might, I couldn’t make our house feel like a home. Numerous dish washing sessions were spent staring out the window over the kitchen sink, imagining I was back in my old house. The house that I had bought with the help of my grandma, the one my family helped to paint and organize, the one that everyone said felt like home. The one I had given up in the name of love. My heart ached…I ached to be home. I knew I had given up a part of myself, and not a day went by that I didn’t feel the overwhelming sense of guilt, like I had let myself down somehow. I felt lost, and with each passing day, the feelings grew.
A few weeks later in May, during a stay-cation from work (shortly after we had moved in and four months before the wedding) I had planned to organize things around the house. Seems like a simple enough idea, right? However, try as I might, I couldn’t decide which room to start with first. Unpacking boxes shouldn’t be so hard, and yet deep down I knew the permanence of it. As a result, I decided to start in the kitchen by pouring myself a glass of wine and looking for something to eat. I had yet to go grocery shopping, so I resorted to rummaging through the cupboards to see what I could find. I came up with a half eaten box of pasta, a few blocks of cheese in various stages of aging, and what still resembled milk in a lonely half gallon. To some, it might not have looked like much, but to me, it looked like a soon to be fancier, homemade version of Kraft Mac and Cheese. I could almost see my younger college self beaming with pride. Waiting for the water to boil, I scanned the surrounding walls and took note of all the tiny nail holes that would need to be filled. Sipping on my wine, I decided that spackling holes was a safe enough bet for today’s project. So, after enjoying my “One Pot Fancy Mac”, I proceeded to sip, and then spackle, my way around the house.
Day two required a new project, and the thought itself was daunting enough. Ultimately I decided to start small, and subsequently found myself in the master bedroom closet (you know, the one off the newly finished master bath, attached to the master bedroom with the dramatic vaulted ceiling). Staring into the closet, I took stock of all the suitcases and boxes stacked on the floor. Deciding this job would take a few hours, I concluded that the best course of action would be to head back to the kitchen where the wine was.Once I had successfully poured myself a glass of wine, I proceeded to head back upstairs, filled glass in hand. As I slowly headed back upstairs, I used the time to give myself a pep talk with each passing step. “Unpacking a closet isn’t hard” I said, “and besides, we need access to our clothes.” Confident the logical side of my brain had taken over, I was ready to tackle my project. But as I stepped into the closet, I suddenly heard a voice so clear and loud I swear someone else was in the room. “Why bother unpacking?” it said, “You know you’ll only be packing it all up again soon.” It was all I could do to let the wall hold me up as I allowed myself to absorb what the deepest caverns in my heart had finally echoed. Sinking to the floor, I was overcome with the realization that my feelings had finally surfaced. I let them envelope me, and then I began to cry. I cried for me, I cried for my fiancé, and I cried for our families.
I can’t tell you how many times in the months before I knew in my gut I shouldn’t be getting married. How me moving, selling my house, and taking a new job was a mistake. But nevertheless I kept searching for a “good enough” reason to break the heart of a man who had done nothing wrong. The perfect engagement, beautiful ring, and now the four bed, 2.5 bath house (have I mentioned that already?). All that was missing was the white picket fence and golden retriever. This search though, for that “good reason” was what kept me going. Surely I would find it, and then everything would make sense. I couldn’t possibly end my engagement simply because it didn’t feel right. Right?
Return to me in my wedding dress, staring at my reflection in the mirror while the seamstress pinned my corset. My sister and mom were there, but I may as well have been alone. Staring at myself, I couldn’t help but think “What a beautiful dress for a woman to wear on her wedding day”. However, I was not a part of that daydream, and I knew in my heart that I was not that woman. It was in that moment I realized I would never wear that dress on my wedding day.What happened in the days that followed took nothing short of guts, let me tell you. I never did find my “good reason” to end my engagement. As my cousin later told me, “Britters, you might not know that reason for a long time. It might take finding the one for you to realize what it was you were missing all along.”
A few days after my dress fitting, I moved out, and spent the rest of the summer living in the condo that we still had a lease on. I took the bare minimum in furniture with me, knowing that I would probably move again shortly. My first night in the condo I set up a camp chair on the front porch. I found a Rubbermaid container, and flipping it over, turned it into a table (don’t let anyone tell you I’m not resourceful). Sitting on the porch, wine glass in hand, I stared out across the asphalt parking lot of the clubhouse. Taking it all in, I was suddenly overcome with this immense feeling of relief. My view might have changed, and although I no longer was in the kitchen of my old house, looking out over my backyard, I still recognized the feeling. The feeling of comfort…of peace…of contentment. It was then that I realized for the first time in almost a year, I finally felt at home. Letting it sink in, I couldn’t help but feel anything but happy. With the weight lifted, I acknowledged there were still many unknowns ahead, but for now it didn’t matter. I was home, and my adventure was just beginning.
(If you ever find yourself in the same place that I was in and need something to comfort you, you can find my recipe for my one-pot mac and cheese here: Fancy Kraft)