Being engaged changes everything. I mean, it’s supposed to, so that’s fair enough.
But what if you don’t want to be engaged? I didn’t. But I didn’t realise that until it was too late.
I’ve never told this to anyone. I definitely didn’t tell him. Most of the reason I’ve kept my mouth shut for the past year was to spare his feelings, but if I’m completely honest, self-preservation was at stake too.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I turned around to see him drop to one knee, the little box clasped in his hands. It took about five seconds for me to realise the whole night had been a ruse. Everything from the faux dinner with friends who suddenly couldn’t make it, to the luxurious $700 hotel room, had been strategically planned especially for me.
"I'll never forget the feeling..." Image via iStock.
Time stopped. I looked down at him, confused and then, finally, incredulous. The penny had dropped.
The ring was a beautiful, big princess-cut diamond, surrounded by a rounded square of diamonds, with a band, littered with even more diamonds. It was unique and custom-designed, because he knew I didn’t like the ones in the shops.
As reality sunk in, I felt sick. I felt light-headed; as if I was on a huge stage, under a spotlight, in front of a packed crowd, naked. There was no way out. Shit had just got real.
There was no explosion of love and happiness like in the movies. I unceremoniously grabbed the ring out of the box and shoved it my finger, because I didn’t know what else to do. I had to fill the awkward, nauseating silence somehow.
And then came the worst part. All the phone calls from his parents and aunties and uncles he never usually spoke to. Then it was my parents. And with each painful phone call I realised how many people knew this was happening before I did. Everyone knew. Everyone knew except me.
"I realised how many people knew this was happening before I did." Image via iStock.
I didn’t know that I didn’t want to marry this guy until he asked me to. To those who wonder why I didn’t just say no: have you ever been proposed to? Have you ever been put on the spot so monumentally that you had no choice? Everyone knew it was happening.
A couple of days passed, and I still felt like I needed someone to pinch me. Had it really happened? It was a strange feeling and I waited for it to pass. Nerves are natural, right?
I was now a part of the elite club that was the defence force WAGs. It was like I could use my ring to part the crowds of people in front of me. I was sure I looked different, even to strangers. Every girl likes a man in uniform, but I was engaged to one. I had made it.
He would joke about getting posted to the middle of nowhere and I would jokingly say I wouldn’t go with him. I finally had a good job and career prospects and I felt like I was doing something with my life.
Sitting on the train on my way to work on Monday morning, I imagined all eyes were focused on my massive, new, sparkly diamond. That’s right bitches, I just got engaged!
"I imagined all eyes were focused on my massive, new, sparkly diamond." Image via iStock.
Before I even reached for the power button on my computer, the female-dominated office went into meltdown. There was clichéd squealing, running from all corners of the floor, grabbing of my left hand and the “tell us all the details!” There was even the token colleague who had been with her partner for many years waiting for him to pop the question. “That is exactly the ring I would want,” she said, a heavy hint of defeat in her voice.
The truth is, I was more excited about the ring than I was about its meaning. What does that say about me? And all the excitement about the ring made it easy to fool everyone about how I felt.
Within the first week, a friend dropped a bunch of bridal magazines on my doorstep. Trying to lift that bag of bullshit was like lifting a tonne of weights without warming up first. Which, now when I think about it, is a pretty accurate metaphor.
For the next few weeks, I ignored my gut and tried to squash all feelings of unease by burying my head in stupid publications that told me what I “needed” to have the perfect wedding. The to-do lists had so much detail they could put a Hansard to shame.
Every spare minute was a minute to aspire to my own rustic wedding, with unique blackboard signage and unique vases that were actually mason jars uniquely decorating the long wooden tables.
I looked at so many dresses and thought about so many décor options. I tossed up between a classic 1940s hairstyle and a relaxed boho one. I was going to strike the perfect balance between classy, feminine and sexy. I was going to be more beautiful on my wedding day than any other day in my life.
Every spare minute was a minute to aspire to my own rustic wedding. Image via iStock.
If I just kept up this busy façade, no one would notice I didn’t want to go through with it. Most importantly, I wouldn’t notice. If I could just keep my head in the marital sand, I wouldn’t have to deal with a reality that I was too scared to acknowledge.
Then we got posted to the middle of nowhere. My massive, new, sparkly diamond was his security deposit. I had to go.
Moving to regional, outback Australia had its perks. Living in a town that was over 300km from the nearest airport meant I had a perfect alibi for failing to plan my wedding.
Whenever I was asked about a date, my answer was always a cool, calm, comfortable, “well I don’t think I want to have it up here, and I don’t want to plan an interstate wedding….You know, our family is just so scattered so we’ll try and work it out later.”
Stall, stall, stall.
We were defence, and our friends were defence. They all understood the difficulties of the logistics. I was safe.
A few months after moving to the bush, it started to hit home. I had a lot of time to think. I was no longer in a busy, demanding job. I no longer had to fight for a seat on the train for a long commute. Now I only had to drive for seven minutes until I got to my mundane, lonely job.
It quickly became obvious I was never going to find a job in my field. He didn’t seem to care. “A job is a job,” were his comforting words. “Work isn’t meant to be enjoyable.” My first reaction to that was, “why not?” But he didn’t notice, because he had already solved my non-issue with his realistic, adulty wisdom.
I was miserable. I didn’t hate the little town that I lived in, but something just wasn’t right in my life. This wasn’t me. Settling was not who I was.
I didn’t know it then, but resentment was rearing its ugly head.
One day it dawned on me.
I was chatting online to my friend in Melbourne, and for the first time, I said it out loud. Tears were pouring out over my eyelids, and I tried to cry silently in case my micro-manager boss was close by.
"One day it dawned on me." Image via iStock.
“I think I’m going to break up with James.”
Once I’d acknowledged it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Part of me was disgusted with myself. I’d made a solid commitment to this person and his family. You can’t just end an engagement. And what about the paperwork?! UGH. I would have to do so much paperwork because we were legally de facto. And I hate moving house. What about the dogs? Who would have custody?
An internal battle raged. Sure, I might not be the happiest person for the rest of my life, but he could give me stability. I could live a safe life, with smart financial decisions and tangible assets to put my feet up on.
I felt guilty because I didn’t have the right to do this to another human being; to alter his life so drastically for the sake of mine. I couldn’t just turn my back on him and his family after everything they’d done for us. I couldn’t disappoint my parents.
Maybe I wasn’t that unhappy. I could probably put up with it. Fairy tales are bullshit anyway.
But the other part of me wasn’t looking for a fairy tale. It was just looking for happiness. And when I stopped thinking about all the ifs and buts and let myself really feel what it was that I wanted, I knew I needed to break away.
I was going to have to do the paperwork.
And I began to realise that he didn’t deserve to waste his best years with me. He deserved to be with someone who loved him the same way he loved them. He couldn’t see that, but I could and I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from him.
Once I got past the months of anxiety to reach my decision, I began to see the light. The idea that I still had the chance to be genuinely happy and fulfilled fueled me to take action and end things. I knew what I had to do and it was going to be hard. But it had to be done. There was no question about that.
Applications for a state-government graduate program had opened, and I met the criteria. It was the last year I was eligible. It was my last shot at getting the chance to start the career I wanted, and nothing and nobody was going to stand in my way. I applied.
I told him I didn’t know where the job would be if I was successful. He was insistent I would not be taking a job that was anywhere but where we lived. He tasked me with explaining to interview panels I could only accept a job in our town. If there were no jobs available where we lived, I was “wasting their time”.
I was offered two positions. I beat hundreds of applicants. I had the luxury of choosing which one I wanted. It was one of my proudest achievements to date, and when I told him the good news, I was almost apologetic about it. I felt like I was breaking the news of a death. And his reaction pretty much reciprocated that.
"I was offered two positions." Image via iStock.
From that moment on, any conversation we had about me moving to chase my professional dreams ended up in a fight.
Moving three hours away and starting Operation Foot in the Door, I had one focus: to get the job I wanted. Nothing was going to distract me.
Unfortunately, putting distance between us only made things worse. He grew incredibly insecure. I wasn’t able to have a shower without informing him of my movements first. If I went out with girlfriends, I had to explain why, and list who I was with. I had to report how much alcohol I had consumed, to check if I had deviated from the plan which he’d demanded beforehand. I was constantly defending and explaining myself and I was getting really tired of it, really fast.
Earlier, we had been given an incredible opportunity to travel overseas for three weeks. While we were gone, all I wanted to do was kill him and come home. I had never been so irritated with someone in my life. I couldn’t stand him. All we did was fight, and it was always about the most stupid, little things. I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t picked up on how I was feeling. And that only infuriated me more. Why didn’t he ever fight to make me happy when it was so fucking obvious that I was miserable as fuck?
I heard my friends say things like, “he knows me better than I know myself,” and “she’s my biggest supporter.” I wanted that so bad. I wanted to be with someone who knew me so well and loved me so much, for the person I was, and was proud of that person. Instead, I’d spent three years with someone who boxed me in and made me feel like I had to hide my passions and interests and talents because they were of no interest to him and were rendered unimportant.
Knowing what I was missing out on made my heart hurt. There was no way I could go on like this.
A couple of weeks later, on one of my routine weekend visits back in our town, I arrived at our home. I’d emptied out my car to make room for my belongings and the only clothes I’d brought were the ones I was wearing. I knew I what I was there to do.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
Women in the Mamamia office confess to the moment they knew their relationships were over. Post continues below.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he realised what I was saying; the way the colour drained from his cheeks as he tried to find words but was lost in the chaos of trying to make sense of what was hitting him.
His world had come crashing down and he was thrown into complete and utter emotional anarchy. And all I could think about was whether I was going to be able to fit everything into my car so I wouldn’t have to make another trip. I didn’t cry; on the contrary, I was getting annoyed at him as he followed me around the house while I packed up my stuff, asking the same questions over and over again, trying to understand why this was happening. He was incredulous at my lack of emotion and interpreted it as me being a cold-hearted bitch. I didn’t bother telling him that I’d already done all my crying.
As I drove away, I let it sink in. I was free. I had finally done it.
I’ve never regretted my decision, not for one microsecond. I know my decision to end our relationship was in the best interests of us both.
Everything has worked out the way it was supposed to, and I knew it would because I chose to listen to my gut. I will never regret that relationship, or the way it ended, because it taught me so much about myself and made me such a stronger person, emotionally and professionally.
It was a serious life lesson that I wear proudly on my sleeve. The most important thing I learned from this experience was how critical it is to listen to your inner voice to become the best and happiest person you can be.
You owe it to everyone around you, but most importantly, you owe it to yourself.