The more I obsessed about marriage, the more I felt our life together slipping away. My need for commitment and children began to color everything we did or didn't do. I dropped annoying hints about tying the knot, felt a pang in my chest when friends announced their engagements, and began to view our rock-solid relationship like it was teetering on top of Angel's Landing.
It was my 30th birthday when Max played for my family a highlight reel of our relationship, Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" playing in the background. Slowly, the images changed from our reminiscences to pictures of him walking on the beach—and then leaning down and writing in the sand.
"He's going to do it," I thought. "He's going to propose!" My heart was pounding. My palms were sweating. I was coming out of my skin. It felt like a dream come true, an answer to my prayers.
When the camera panned back to the words "will you …" imprinted in the sand, he got down on one knee. My parents popped the champagne, we toasted with plastic glasses, and he gave me a ring!
After the proposal, Max was like a little boy on Christmas morning, sharing the news with friends and family, the way a child shows off a shiny new bicycle. He was so proud of himself. I shared his excitement, but in the back of my mind, I wondered if he was buying more time.
Once we set a date, I had to drag him to appointments, remind him to design the invitations, prod him to get a guest list from his mother. He became reclusive, quiet and irritable, and I began to feel like an unwelcome guest in his life. I tiptoed around him for fear that he would snap at me, or worse, snatch the fantasy away altogether. So I backed off and gave him space while the clock ticked away.
As the wedding drew closer, he stayed at work later and later, went on weekend adventures with the guys and disappeared for hours to run simple errands. I could sense he felt trapped, like he was gasping for air, but I was clinging to the commitment I thought we had. I nestled into his chest one night and whispered, "I don't know who you are, but I want my boyfriend back."
"I'm trying to find him," he said.
Then he pulled me close and drifted off to sleep while I silently bargained with God: "Please let him come to his senses and realize that we are meant to be together." 15 Signs You're Meant To Be
Two months before the wedding, God answered my prayers—and he said no. Max finally told me, "I can't get married."
I packed my things and left. Max went to Mexico.
In the weeks and months afterward, I tried to visualize what my new life would be like without him. Where would I work? Where would I live? Would I ever fall in love again? I stayed, temporarily, a few hundred miles away in my niece and nephew's playroom with a giant stuffed Elmo as my roommate. I was safe there, sandwiched between my sister's family life and the single life I was terrified to re-enter. I lived my days in a fog of tears and spent nights as a walking cliché, nose-deep in break-up books with Chardonnay and chocolate to numb the pain. All of this against the backdrop of my one-year-old nephew's cries from the bedroom next door—a deafening reminder of the family I craved.
On some level my devastation was comforting because it was definite. Limbo was over, and I finally had a grasp on reality. The waiting, wondering and trying to be strong for both of us had come to end. And I was slowly realizing what I had given up for him—the chance for something better.
While Max helped bring out my adventurous, silly side, he also suppressed the safe, play-by-the-rules side that thrived on tradition and family. And eventually, he robbed me of my deepest desires.
"You deserve a man who could never let you go," said my brother-in-law.
And that's when it finally clicked. To be truly happy, "my" guy would have to honor both sides of me—the free spirit and the nurturer. Living with my sister and brother-in-law, I saw how a real partnership works, how both people in relationships sacrifice for the good of the team, but how neither sacrifices the other. That was missing for Max and me.
For the first time in my life, I knew exactly who I was and what I would and would not compromise for love. And I knew that, when God denies your prayers, he often has better plans.