Danielle Norman

What I Learned from Ending my Engagement

At the end of 2012 I broke off a five and a half year relationship and engagement that I’d previously had every intention of keeping. I’m writing because I know, from experience, there’s little that shows the positive to making what could feel the more difficult decision – it seems scary but there’s a lot to be gained.

Some relationships are unhealthy and restrictive, with lives lived only to a fraction of their potential. I understand situations are complex, with their own histories and, in some cases, children. This is to offer insight not instruction – your decision is your own. This isn’t to encourage break ups, calling off weddings nor divorce – I’m not anti-marriage however, I do encourage anyone in that situation: be assertive, it’s your life.

Relationships have challenges but in the most fruitful, they are predominately external to your partnership, not internal. I write as someone who tried very hard to make something work that was ultimately more detrimental than beneficial – the recognition of which was profound. I achieve more through who I am single than when in a relationship that wasn’t a place of nurture and peace.

We’re aware plethora of benefits available in a loving and constructive relationship; it’s what we pursue. However, if you conclude you wish to leave a serious, perhaps unhealthy, relationship here’s my run down of a few things you could expect:

1. People will expect you to explain yourself. You don’t have to.

You don’t owe ANYONE an explanation. Your decision is valid because it’s what you want. Hell – if you want to you can just leave, sure, it’s probably not the most humane way to handle it and I’m not recommending it but if you want to, you can.

Ending a serious relationship is a heavy decision because, ultimately, the responsibility’s on you. You’ll have spent nights doubting, hours deliberating and days analysing, so rest assured that this decision you have come to is right for you. Preparing for marriage is the most poignant time in your life to be goddamn selfish; you cannot marry someone because they want you to.

When you reach a conclusion, utter some words that vaguely represent it and finally see a ray of light in what will have been a difficult situation – no one else needs to understand it, it doesn’t need to be justified in their eyes. You will be misunderstood but your integrity will be intact.

2.  Misunderstood. Misrepresented. Vilified.

Okay. It gets messy. Unless you used to be engaged to the freakin’ Dalai Lama (unlikely) then there’s often a bad taste left in a lot of people’s mouths that they creatively spit out in the form of snide remarks and ill-formed conclusions. This choice will not suit everyone; even though in the long run you’re doing everyone a huge favour (imagine a thank-you card for that: “thanks-for-calling-off-our-wedding-saving-us-from-an-unhappy-marriage-and-painful-divorce-in-years-to-come”) they somehow focus on that you must have just ruined what would have been Prince William & K.Mids Version 2.0.

Rumours do the rounds, you’ll hear things that are jaw droppingly inaccurate. What people don’t know, they make up – these people are the Daily Mail of your friendship group. People like to think they know, so expect things like “yeah, well apparently she left him because she was in love with a potato”. Honestly, you learn to kick ‘don’t give a fuck’ up to the next level – if you found the strength to leave, you’ll find the strength for this.

3.  You’ll begin a process.

I’m not going to lie, it hurts – not always in the way you expect. Just because it’s painful, does not mean it was the wrong decision.

You’ll cope, as people do: write, read, think, think, cry, drink, eat, run, realise you can’t run, feel alone, feel amazing. You will probably hear ‘All By Myself’ by Eric Carmen swiftly followed by ‘I’m Every Woman’ by Chaka Khan in your head more than once. It’s a process. Different for everyone and one that should be credited with the due care and attention it deserves.

4. You’ll find your feet

This isn’t about ‘finding someone else.’ It’s about assertion; doing what you want for yourself. However, for some the lingering fear chimes “what if no one else wants me?”. That’s a natural worry. Bullshit. But natural. There’s simply not only the one person who’ll deem you good enough to love.

Once I was ready, I found dating great fun. I have the advantage of being a 26 year old sociable female in one of the busiest dating scenes in the world; London’s crazy for it. While I’m single and not specifically looking for a relationship, dating reminds me how many people there are, the many walks of life, perspectives and types of relationships available to us. Some people I’ve gotten on with like a house on fire and others, I think, would actually set my house on fire. 

Throughout all of this, the one to really get excited about meeting is… you. Unhealthy relationships can be detrimental to our personal development and confidence which in turn stunts our growth. Ending my engagement was a huge part of my self-discovery and liberation as a rational thinking human being, a woman with a life separate from simply filling the ‘wife’ and ‘getting married’ expectation. I wish I’d had someone to remind me of the luxury afforded to us within our society: The right to choose and to stand by that choice.

In time, you look at where you are versus where you were with a reminder: you left for a reason. High-five yourself (which, actually, just turns out to be a clap… satisfying nonetheless) – it feels pretty badass for taking control over situation you felt you had very little in a short time before. Being strong for yourself is the ultimate way to love yourself – life is as exciting as it is unknown.

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