From Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day I receive a surge of emails that express some version of the following:
"My boyfriend just proposed and at first I was happy but within a few hours I started to panic. We've been together for a few years and have a great relationship: he's honest, loving, supportive, and I've been happier with him than I've ever been. I was even pushing for the proposal and I have no idea why I've become so anxious. I've started questioning everything about him and have become especially focused on the fear that I'm making a mistake or that I don't love him enough. If I loved him enough, why would I be having these doubts? My stomach is in knots, I'm having a hard time sleeping and eating, and I'm falling into a depression. Please help me! The thought of leaving him makes me sick but I can't continue living this way and putting both of us through this misery."
What's happening here? The mainstream model of relationships disseminates the message that "doubt means don't" and nowhere is this phrase more prominent than during an engagement. Culturally, we may allow for some doubt during the dating stage of a relationship, but most people carry the erroneous belief that once you say "yes" and are headed down the aisle, all doubts should be left in the dust. And yet the reality is that, for many people, it's only when the commitment becomes concretized with a ring on the finger that the reality of the depth of the commitment hits them full force.
So she says yes, and then she panics and wonders, "What if it doesn't work? What if I'm making a terrible mistake?" Or he proposes, and then a few hours or days later thinks, "Wait a minute. Do I love her enough? What if we end up miserable (like my parents)?" These are valid questions that anyone on the precipice of a major, lifetime commitment should ask. The problem is not the questions themselves. The problem is that, in a culture that fervently believes that any conscious questioning indicates a fault line in the relationship, the only assumption the newly engaged woman or man can make is, "Because I'm questioning I must be in the wrong relationship." Nothing could be further from the truth.
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