Dear Wendy: “My Fiancé Has Cold Feet”

I am in my mid-twenties, currently engaged to and living with a man I love and respect very much. We got engaged after only nine months, and in total, we’ve only been together for a little over a year. His proposal was a total shock; I was perfectly happy to just be together without rushing things, but I have to admit, it feels right to be going ahead with this. About a week ago, when I brought up marriage plans over dinner, my fiancé got visibly upset, and started talking about how “some couples just don’t ever get married” and how he thinks that’s a good way to go. He also started talking about changing the wedding plans to something much smaller than we had discussed. He later even talked about putting the wedding off indefinitely. He assured me that he’s very much in love with me, and it’s not the thought of marrying ME that’s putting him off, but the idea of losing his independence and stagnating after he gets married. I want to reassure him and talk it over, but part of me thinks he probably just needs to stew over it for awhile (I did the same thing, to a lesser degree). My question is, do I give him his space to just work it out? How much space? At what point does it make sense to call off the engagement? I feel silly being engaged with no wedding on the horizon. Regardless, I’m still committed; I just need to know where I/we stand so I can make life plans. Advice? — Bride in Question

The questions you’re asking about whether you should give him space and at what point it makes sense to call off an engagement are questions only you can answer — for yourself and your fiancé. In addition, you need to decide whether you’d really stay with your fiancé if he told you he wanted to end your engagement and/or had no interest in ever marrying you. If you aren’t interested in being in an open-ended engagement that may never result in marriage, then that’s something you need to explicitly express to your fiancé.

As for how that decision affects your “life plans” (as opposed to just “wedding plans”), I guess I’m confused and I suspect you aren’t being completely honest with yourself. If you’re committed to your boyfriend for the long haul, as you say you are, whether your engagement results in marriage or not, what life plans are being impacted? If you think there’s a big enough difference between being married and living together in a committed relationship to warrant a change in life plans, it sounds like you and your fiancé could both benefit from a heart-to-heart discussion about your long-term expectations and reasons for tying the knot. Maybe it’s those “life plans” that are freaking your fiancé out — maybe it’s the idea that as soon as he marries, you’ll be mapping out the rest of his life.

Whether you’ve known someone for nine months or nine years, it’s normal to feel a little jittery about becoming legally bound and vowing to spend the rest of your lives together. If all your fiancé is feeling is a little cold feet, he’ll probably snap out of it pretty quickly and will appreciate you being patient during his minor pre-wedding existential crisis. But if this lasts more than a couple weeks and you find that he’s becoming more and more distant or isn’t explaining his sudden change of heart sufficiently enough for you, it would probably be a good idea to re-consider your engagement. When you said yes to his proposal, it was with the understanding that his intention was eventual marriage. It’s unfair of him to change the terms of that agreement on a whim and expect you to go along with it. You deserve some clear and honest answers — from your fiancé and yourself.

I’m 21 and I’ve been dating a really sweet 24-year-old guy for about three months. Unfortunately, right around the time we started dating, everything else in his life started going wrong. He was laid off from his job as a political campaigner in October, and in November his roommate left. He hasn’t been able to find either a job or a new roommate since then and he’s only been getting more and more depressed. He’s probably going to have to move back in with his parents who live an hour away at the end of the month, and he’s not looking forward to that. He also has bipolar disorder, which he told me upfront when we started dating, and which definitely contributes to him being depressed. He’s on medication for it, but he isn’t in counseling because he said it didn’t work for him.

I’ve been thinking for about the past month that I was going to break up with him. Part of this is because of the depression — he’s been relying on me and it’s been a lot to handle. He’s called me a few times crying and feeling totally hopeless about himself and his future, and feeling mad at everyone else who has laid him off or let him down somehow, and I end up feeling like I’m his therapist when we have these talks. Besides the depression, though, we don’t really have that much in common and I don’t think we would have dated that long anyway. The problem is, every time in the past month I’ve set myself on breaking up with him, a new crisis pops up and he calls me again because he’s feeling even more depressed, and I feel like I have to wait until things are better to break up with him. He said there are no friendly faces left in the town where we live anymore, except for me, and there’s nothing left for him here. I feel terrible for him going through such a rough time and I want to help him out, but at the same time it’s been a huge strain on the relationship, and I dread spending time with him because I don’t have any romantic feelings for him anymore. He’s noticed that I’ve been more distant and he keeps apologizing for how depressed he is. I would feel so guilty breaking up with him right now, but I’m also feeling really bogged down staying in this relationship that isn’t working. I would really appreciate your advice! — Feeling Dragged Down

You definitely don’t need permission from me, but since you’re having trouble giving it to yourself, here you go: you are under no obligation to stay with this guy or drag the relationship out any longer. You’ve only been with him three months and it sounds like it’s been nothing but drama from the get-go. Be honest, but kind (and firm) with him and tell him that while you care for him and wish him the best, you’ve realized in the three months you’ve gotten to know him that you don’t have romantic feelings for him and cannot in good conscience lead him to believe otherwise by continuing to date him. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by him or guilted into waiting until he doesn’t have some immediate crisis he’s dealing with. It sounds like he’s always in the middle of an immediate crisis and people with bipolar disorder are experts at manipulation. He needs a therapist, not a girlfriend, and it’s incredibly unfair of him to put the responsibility of counseling him on the shoulders of a 21-year-old girl who’s known him all of three months.

Get out now before you are sucked further into his vortex. If he puts pressure on you, begs you to stay, or calls you names and lumps you with all the other “unfriendly” people in his life, stand your ground. You’d be doing him no favors by staying with him out of pity.

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