Tuesday, September 4, 2012


A Proposal Regarding Proposals

Mom: It’s a rhetorical question. 
Me: What is?
Mom: 'Speak now or forever hold your peace.'
Me: Well, it’s not a question, it’s a command…
Mom: Regardless, it’s culturally rhetorical.
Me: But, if it’s a truly great friend, won’t they listen to dissent, even respect the dissenter?
Mom: You overestimate the power of logic over emotion.

This is the conversation I had with my mother at least once a week for approximately three months. But I remained unconvinced. So, to one of my closest friends, a person considered to be family, I sent a letter detailing how his recent engagement made me uneasy. This act and the fallout made me realize that marriage proposals are strange, deeply mysterious, and more a matter of faith than anything else. And maybe a proposal should be thought of like a religious conversion?

James (not his real name) was my older brother’s high school friend. When I was 12, he adopted me as a little sister. Upon meeting me, James said, “She’s a pothead, right?” I was not a 12-year-old pothead, but I had perfected the dull-eyed, I-don’t-give-a-shit look. Upon getting to know James, I said, “His nerdiness gives me a headache.” By which I meant he made my brain experience growing pains in real-time by asking too many questions about things I didn’t know. And thus began one of those rare hetero boy-girl platonic friendships.

When James proposed to a woman he’d known for only a year, I experienced a variety of emotions, most of them about me. I was mad that James hadn’t consulted me about his decision to propose. And, good God, had I listened to this kid complain, cry, yelp and *insert variety of onomatopoeias* for years about the state of his heart and what it may or may not be telling him. (To be fair, he put in equal or probably more time listening to me complain about the same.) On the most basic level, I had the I-get-to-hear-about-the-bad-stuff-but-when-good-stuff-happens-you-don’t-care-what-I-think kind of anger.

But there were deeper grounds for my disquiet. First, I was at a loss as to how anyone could make the decision to marry in only one year of dating. Secondly (and more balefully), I was at a loss as to how anyone could make the decision to marry.

My letter said, in so many words, that it was too fast. Well, no, that’s not quite fair. "Letter" might not even be the proper word. I third-person narrated the story of James’s romantic life over the past few years to show him the emotional rollercoaster ride he’d been on lately. Maybe proximate emotions were overwhelming objectivity? To no one’s surprise but my own, this communiqué was not well received. Apart from disinviting me to the wedding, James has given me the silent treatment ever since. 

Lesson number one? Don’t be a solipsistic idiot. No matter how close a friendship, keep your mouth shut when it comes to fiancées and marriage, always. (Apparently, everyone but me already knew this.) Another lesson? Marriage is really weird, especially when it comes to marriage between secular individuals in an increasingly secular society.

Marriage these days isn’t necessarily a spiritual commitment whose statute of limitations extends into the great beyond. Agnostics and atheists marry in churches (or other religious venues) and recite liturgy that declares their union to be sanctioned by and dependent on an institution not personally meaningful to them. And this oddness is accepted because there is no secular ceremony that offers the pomp and circumstance of religious marriage rituals. (And, not to be morbid, but same goes for funerals.)

Then, there’s the idea that it’s just not possible for two people to make an open-ended and unconditional earth-bound promise to one another. A person can’t prove that the decision to marry is logically legitimate because you can’t index countless hypotheticals. Logic should trump emotion, right?

James was like me. He’d argue both sides of an argument, not just as an arrogant display of intellectual dexterity, but also because he was never entirely sure of his opinion. How could a person like James (a person like me) be so certain of a marriage? And, given his uncharacteristic certainty, why hadn’t James taken my letter as a challenge and written a 3,000 word missive pinpointing the ways in which I was mistaken? (Because that’s how James would normally react to disagreement.)

What I’ve come to understand is that the decision to marry is inherently like a religious awakening. It’s not about certainty; it’s about taking a leap of faith. At its best, faith in the rightness of a marriage is just a thing that settles inside the guts of a person. It’s an instinct. It’s largely indescribable. (Or, that’s what people tell me.)

If James had had an other-worldly experience, subsequently undergone a spiritual metamorphosis and then made plans to live at an ashram for a year to contemplate the meaning of life (after reading Eat, Pray, Love?), I would not have asked him to subject that overtly spiritual awakening to the scrutiny of logic — though I would have made fun of him, because that’s how we do.

James didn’t explain his faith in his decision to be married because faith is not a thing that can be explained. I had no right to call his faith into question because faith can only be known by the person experiencing it.

While I don’t understand the faith of those who subscribe to traditional religion, I do accept and, more importantly, respect the fact that I don’t understand. And that’s where I needed to get with James’s proposal — a place where my inability to understand wasn’t a thing to be remedied.

Perhaps because of growing secularism or because of general religious diversity, we’re not in the habit of talking about decisions as spiritually mandated (except in Utah, where, if Big Love is to be believed, “I have a testimony, do you have a testimony?” is every other sentence). Still, even if those entering into a marriage are themselves not religious, marriage is like religion. It’s about faith. (But, maybe I’m just really slow on this particular subject and everybody knew this already too?)

Previously: Animality.

When Janet Mackenzie Smith was 15, she thought that she was the next Kant. Now, she is a paralegal with a superfluous master’s degree, $90K in student loans and an excess of bitterness. Her forthcoming book is called Generation Special, unless her agent renames it.

234 Comments / Post A Comment


This is kind of depressing.


That is just fantastic@t


I've been with the same person since 1999, when I was 18, and been married for 8 of those years. Even though I feel like I look like a child bride in my wedding photos, sometimes I'm really thankful I met the person I wanted to marry before I evolved anything like an adult sense of logic, becuase I'm not sure I could ever have felt reasonably comfortable with making the decision to get married otherwise. How was I able to shrug off whatever doubts I had at 22? Who knows.

I've seen most of my friends get married since then, with two divorces so far and who knows how many coming, and it's interesting to see the kinds of choices people have made. Marry a guy pretty quickly, marry a long-term friend-turned-lover, do the typical date for 5 years/live together for 2 of those/get married deal, etc. None of these seem like guarantees of long-term happiness (and obviously I can't make any pronouncements about my own marriage approach yet either, since I'm neither dead nor divorced yet). I will say that some leaps of faith have turned out better than I thought, and some "obvious" couples seem less happy than you'd expect. So yeah, who knows?


@sophia_h omg, me too, down to the exact years and everything! Could not be happier, btw :)


I just finished reading State of Wonder and one of the highlights of the book was musing on how you have to be naive to marry and have children with someone or else you wouldn't have the courage to do it. It was really beautiful and true.


Wait, how many years is one supposed to date someone before getting married?


@WaityKatie It's one of those things like knowing if someone is too old or too young for you to date... you take your age and divide it by half and then add 7 and move the decimal one space to the right. That's how many years.

Tuna Surprise

@WaityKatie - Who knows? Except those in their early 20s...who think it must at least be a year plus consultation with certain friends.


@Tuna Surprise

The Youngs, they want to crowdsource everything...


@WaityKatie As long as the author of this post thinks is the correct number, apparently.

sarah girl

@WaityKatie While we're discussing timing things, what's a good amount of time to date someone before moving in together? Asking for a friend......


@Sarah H. I believe you're supposed to use @Tuna Surprise's calculation, and subtract 6 months.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@WaityKatie Yeah, this author doesn't give us any reason to doubt the marriage other than it seems to soon. She's not in that relationship, so why should she feel like she's able to make that call? Sounds more like she's feeling left out, which, you know, she is, because she's not marrying either of them.

Tuna Surprise

@Sarah H. - You should know someone six weeks before you move in.


@Sarah H. You should probably save yourself some trouble and consult your best friend's younger sibling(s) on that one.


@Sarah H. Ooh, that's a tough one. I moved in w my ex bf after just four months and that wasn't long enough. I waited for a year and a half with my current and that was juuuust right.


@Sarah H.

If you can't poop if you know he/she is in the next room, it's too soon.


@Sarah H. I moved in with my boyfriend after we'd been dating for 2 weeks - he needed help with rent, I needed out of my parents house. Fast forward ten years and we're happily married and still living together. So, obviously two weeks is the correct answer for everyone regardless of circumstances ;)


@Sarah H. Depends heavily on the relationship and the people in it. My dude and I have been living together officially since like two months after we started dating, and unofficially since like two days after we started dating. But we also were able to come to specific terms, since he had very little stuff and we were moving into a house I owned, so it was clear that the space mostly belonged to me and he was basically renting part of it. I think it would have taken us more like a year or two if we had to jointly find and fund a place just because of all the weird adjustments and emotional balancing acts that would take.


@Sarah H. A friend of mine goes by the idea that if you spend more than half of your time at each others' places, you're ready to live together. I don't know whether I agree with that, but my (now-)husband and I were spending 4-5 days a week with each other, wishing it could be more. And for timing... he asked me to move in with him about 9 months into our relationship, but with the intention that I wouldn't move until the lease was up on the place I lived at the time (which was like 6 months after that).

Judith Slutler

@Sarah H. I'd start talking about it at like... a year into the relationship? But I really value my personal space and would only give it up for something very very special.

Hot Doom

@Sarah H. Here's a ripe one for ya! I haven't moved in with my husband yet! Weeeee! I've been married for three months, living in student housing while I finish my dissert and have to move in with my spouse AND his friend in three days. Also, I've never lived with dudes before...or had a roommate of either gender for that matter. This will be entertaining/tragic probably. By all means, move in with your person before you are married.

cecil hungry

@Sarah H. I've been dating my bf for 3 years, and we're still not living together. We've talked about it, but neither of us want to give up our alone times. So...


@City_Dater I still can't and we're engaged and living together?

Weekends are tough.

sarah girl

@all Thanks for all the responses! I wish there was an easy answer, but it doesn't seem like there is :( I'm about 10 months in with my boyfriend and we already spend most of our time together/at each others' places, so we've been talking seriously about moving in together but can't figure out when to do it. I would be moving to his condo since he owns and I rent, which worries me a little; I definitely had a meltdown the other night that started with "but I want to keep my BEAUTIFUL HEADBOARD!" The vast majority of me is really excited, though! Just need to figure out when to bite the bullet.


@cecil hungry I have lived with my dude for a few years and we just kick each other out of the house at least once a week. Others' mileage may vary, but it helps me a lot (I REALLY didn't want to give up alone time entirely).


@WaityKatie If circumstances allowed, I'd have moved in with Dudefriend pretty quickly - right around the 6 month mark. Given that it took me 4+ years to get to that stage with my ex, it feels quick when I look at it in words, but there was a distinct shift towards "I want to be with you every day, and do stupid things like go grocery shopping and fight about the electricity bill being so high because I hate being cold" at 6 months.

Unfortunately, it will probably be a few years before it's a reality.


@WaityKatie OH SNAP.


@City_Dater It's been three and a half years and I am still deeply uncomfortable with that.


@SarahP Wait. . .what? If I spend more than half my time at the other's place, and the other spends more than half her time at my place, it seems like there is going to be a wedge of time when I am alone at the other's place, and she is alone at my place (and not necessarily at the same time, either. . .). Huh?


@Sarah H. I moved in two weeks before I started dating an ex (moving in was not the issue, we lived together for approx. four years: it was lovely) so I'd say there really isn't a minimum. Think to yourself about how well you handle conflict and consider what level of messiness would drive you batty (or in my case, how many times I can deal with being told to be slightly less messy) and then decide. Totally there isn't a rule although if there were it would be some sort of modular arithmetic puzzle like they use in cryptography. :)


@cecil hungry ME TOO! Almost 3.5 years and people are bugging us to move in. But I enjoy my own room, soooo....
I actually kept getting attitude from my friends last year which led to some mental unpleasantness but then I realised there was no Big Book of Relationship Rules, which has made me a lot more relaxed.




@WaityKatie When you can't wait any longer is probably the best answer I can give from the heights (age in years) of my experience! I dated a man for 3 years, married him, moved in together (after the wedding thats how long ago it was) and knew it was a mistake after 5 weeks. Fast forward twenty years. I spoke to a colleague on the phone most work days for 2 years, met him, moved in together 6 weeks later (he moved cities) because we couldn't wait a second longer, married him 2 years after that, Blissfully happy (mostly!) 11 years later, not a second's regret.


@Emmanuelle Cunt. What a wonderful name!


@purefog I can't tell if you're being facetious, but if you're really lost, it's supposed to mean that the two of you are spending more than half of your home-time together. It doesn't matter whose place you're spending the time at, which is why it's "each other's places."


Good for you, for having the strength to tell your friend! And here's why I think that: I had a disastrous first marriage. I knew it was a mistake even as I was going through the wedding motions, but did so anyway because we had been together a long time, etc, etc. It was only after the marriage and subsequent divorce that many of my friends quietly told me that they really wanted to stand up and object at the wedding but didn't have the guts to do so. Maybe I would have been mad at them at the time, but maybe, just maybe, it would have given me the impetus to say yeah, this isn't a good idea after all. And that would have saved me a lot of time, money and heartache.

Beatrix Kiddo

@kgg Thanks for this-- As the designated representative for my entire group of friends, I told one friend that he shouldn't be moving in with his emotionally abusive girlfriend. I was afraid he'd hate me for it, but he was actually fairly receptive and understanding...except for the fact that he moved in with her anyway and then proposed. I just hope he knows I was trying to help.

Judith Slutler

@Beatrix Kiddo That happens sometimes. You have to wait for people to come around on their own, you know? But you can live in hope that he will know he can come to you when he needs support, and make a resolution to support him when that day comes.


@kgg I did tell my best friend not to marry her fiance, and she did break the wedding off. It was an extreme circumstance where secret gambling addiction and money stealing was discovered a week before the wedding. ugh though, it was such a nightmare and they never even did break up really and there was a second wedding planned that I told her I wouldn't go to and finally after years of him being awful I've told her just one too many times he is bad news and we aren't friends anymore. I think I would do it again in a heartbeat, but only in an abusive or borderline abusive situation. If he's just a douche, well, I don't know.


@Beatrix Kiddo Big difference between "don't marry this person, they're abusive" and "don't marry this person, you've only been together a year," though.

What I'm trying to say is, you were right to talk to your friend. The author wasn't.

Beatrix Kiddo

@Emmanuelle Cunt Thanks. I hope he does!

Beatrix Kiddo

@TheclaAndTheSeals There's definitely a difference. I feel like the most she could possibly say to the guy, if the short relationship is the only thing wrong with the situation, is, "wow, that's fast! but congratulations!"


@kgg My dad literally whispered to me as we began walking down the aisle, "You don't have to do this. I fully support your right to turn around now and we can just leave."
I was 19, pregnant, and Daddy was RIGHT. I wish I had listened. Except that I stayed long enough to have two more kids, and all three are amazing wonderful people.


@MoonBat That's similar to a story my mom tells about a friend of hers. Her dad said that too. And the bride said, "Well, everyone's already here..." and, unsurprisingly, got divorced a few years later. I used to have dreams about such a situation. Glad you got three great kids out of the marriage!

Chesty LaRue

I hope you can get things sorted out with James. It seems like you've lost a great friendship and grown in the process, but I hope James is thinking about you and you guys can repair that somewhat.


@Chesty LaRue I know! It must have been a real doozy of a letter to completely end a friendship, or at least it must have read like that to him at the time. Hopefully they'll reconnect.


I wish there were a way to have an anonymous comment box on partners of friends - just a way to give a friendly "Hey, you seem a lot less happy/outgoing/healthy/whatever with this person, maybe you should look into that?" before marriage.

I made the decision to marry my ex-husband despite all my friends thinking he was horrible, because I got engaged very quickly. We'd known each other for nine years, but most of that had been spent cursing each other as a terrible person. We'd started dating as adults about nine months previously, but we'd been off-and-on for the first three and had only lived in the same town for two months. But we got engaged anyway, and I never gave anyone a chance to give my feedback at all because all of those months of dating were during the most isolated period of my life, after moving cross-country post-college-graduation. I knew people were against my dating him in the first place (see: my cursing him as terrible for nine years, the awfulness of the off-again part of our early adult relationship), so I think I felt like I could prove everyone wrong by being SO IN LOVE that we were GOING TO GET MARRIED NOW THANKS.

I listen constantly for quiet feedback on my current partner of two and a half years - the kind of quiet comments people made that should have drawn my attention to red flags with my ex. I get all good feedback, unsolicited - people say stuff like "Hey, I just want you to know I like your boyfriend, since I promised I'd never hold back again after you married that one douche" - and I love the guy and want to spend my life with him and STILL worry that people just aren't telling me something that I'm not noticing, because that was how it went the first time around, and because I know once we do get engaged no one will ever feel like they can say anything.

The best way to deal with a friend who's chosen an inappropriate partner for marriage? Ask them if they're happy every now and then (and don't argue if they say they are, even if you know they really aren't), listen to them when they're sad (unless it's a bad enough situation that it hurts your mental health to do so, in which case probably just avoid them, sadly), and be there for them if their marriage does fall apart without an I-told-you-so.


@Jenn@twitter Oh yeah, and if you really can't be supportive at their wedding, don't go. It will hurt your friendship, but it is better than being a jerk at the wedding. Otherwise, go and keep your mouth shut.

sarah girl

@Jenn@twitter Yesyesyes, you're definitely on to something with the whole "proving everyone wrong" aspect of staying in a bad relationship.

One thing people don't quite understand about bad relationships is that it can be really embarrassing when you finally get out. Even if the person was unspeakably awful and everyone in your life is just relieved that you're safe now, you still sort of think that everyone is going "ha, what an idiot, can you believe she stayed with him for so long?" So if you could just make the relationship work, as terrible and unhealthy as it is, you'll never have to feel that shame of "I told you so," whether explicit or just implied. It sucks.



Blerg. I wish people could just SAY things. I live in fear that people aren't saying things to me. But then, I listen to what they do say (Like yesterday, when I mentioned my boyfriend in conversation and my friend John explained who Mr. Hammitt was by saying "You know how I hate everyone all of my friends date? Not him. He's great. You should meet him!") and realize its nice and just have to trust that?

I guess its why the whole "faith" part of this resonates. Because we're never not going to have doubts. But if marriage is a thing we want then we have to look our doubts in the face, take a deep breath, and jump.


@ThatJenn Yes I am also of two minds about this! I got engaged to my ex after about a year, and then, after we were divorced, my friends started 'fessing up to "always hated that guy." I wasn't sure if it was a legitimate hate of the guy pre-marriage, or a post-divorce hate that they projected onto the past. Who knows! I am sort of torn about whether or not they should have said something to me before we got married ... would it have changed anything? Would I have left?

I am also always listening for public feedback on my current situation. It helps that he has many friends who I respect and admire, and I think that speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. (My ex, on the other hand, did not have a ton of friends)


@Sarah H. YES, it is so hard and embarrassing to go, "You know how I've been insisting for years that everything was peachy keen? Turns out I was letting someone do things to me I never would have imagined I'd allow to happen."


@ThatJenn This may not always work though, because most of my friends did not know how much of a d-bag my ex was to me, and that was because we hid it very well when together, and I didn't really tell them any of it until after the fact. My sister is probably the only person who knew because she actually saw/was part of some of our fights.


@ThatJenn After my friend and his fiancee broke up, he said how his mom and friends hadn't liked her much, and I quietly said I felt the same way. And he said -- not angrily or wistfully, just straightforwardly -- that he wished people had spoken up at the time, because he might not have wasted so much time. But who knows if he would have followed our advice at the time? He's engaged to someone I like a lot now, and he seems much happier.


Ugh, my comment deleted and I hope it comes back! :( I basically said that maybe the approach was the problem, not the actual "talking about relationships."


@mysterygirl I think it's reasonable to say "Hey, I'll support you if you decide this isn't for you" but not so much to say "here's why your relationship sucks, time to give it up."

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@mysterygirl OFF SUBJECT, but your name doesn't have anything to do with Santa Olivia, does it?


@Jenn@twitter : Yes, I agree, but I also think that in many friendships you can often find a gentle way to say the latter and have it be ok. And sometimes you can use the former to mean the latter, like a Jedi mind trick. "I'll support you if this relationship isn't for you." "...This relationship ISN'T for me!"


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose : It doesn't, but now I'm super curious!


@mysterygirl I think it's fine to object if the fiance(e) has shown objectionable qualities, or if your friend seems unhappy in some way, but if your only objection is that the timing seems fast (Which, a year? Please.), or that you have issues with marriage in general? Just let it go.


@mysterygirl: Ok, like a jerk I'm replying to myself to basically reconstitute my original comment, not that anyone cares but it's driving me nuts that it's missing :)

I know that the author has concluded that her friend doesn't have to prove his faith to her, but I also wonder if her taking a different approach could have saved their friendship. I wonder if she could have just sat down with him and said, "I feel like I don't know anything about [Fiancee]; tell me everything you love about her so that I can love her, too!" or something else light-hearted like that, he would have had the chance either to demonstrate to the author that his Fiancee is great and she could have just let herself be happy for him, or to realize through the process of talking through what's in effect his marriage criteria that maybe he *is* rushing into things (if this is what she's worrying about; not that she's right or wrong to do so). Using a letter immediately puts people on the defensive; I'd be upset if I got such a letter but not if a friend over coffee wanted to know more about him.

I also am in favor talking about marriage and fiancees, as long as you're careful to frame it around making sure that they are happy.


@SarahDances : I agree. I think that the big problem was that instead of learning more about her friend's relationship and making it about them, she wrote a letter that sounds like it was mostly about her.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@mysterygirl Oh, it's just part of this book series that I finished this weekend. Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Santa-Olivia-Jacqueline-Carey/dp/044619817X


@SarahDances Yes, this. Part of reaching an age where many of your friends are getting married (or so I'm finding) is that people you are otherwise close with will genuinely want, and choose, things you would never ever want for yourself, and maybe even really disagree with. That stuff is Not About You, and also unless you think someone is going to get hurt, realize that they are getting married and are Busy.

Beatrix Kiddo

@SarahDances I agree. Who's to say that they're not ready? I have a friend who married someone she'd only known a month, and seven years later, they're still really happy. Another friend married her boyfriend of ten years, but then almost immediately got divorced. Time is a terrible predictor of marriage success.


@themmases One of the greatest things I've ever read is a sentence that goes "This person isn't doing X(getting married/moving/going to or dropping out of grad school/making a life choice) AT you." People are entitled to their own lives.


@mysterygirl I agree that it's important to make it clear you only have concern because you care about your friend's well being. I can be too blunt sometimes and it's gotten me into trouble, so I try really hard not to condemn relationships I have bad feelings about (if there's no concrete reason). One of my best friends is planning to propose to his girlfriend who is not wildly offensive, but I don't like her for him at all and I don't like the way I can tell his mind is working in regards to her. (And she to him.) And yet we're able to talk about it civilly, without him feeling attacked, because there's a great understanding between us of criticism being without any intent to hurt, only to express care. I get it from him too and I really value that. But I know it's rare, and even with that dynamic I'm super careful, because anyone with any feelings about anything is going to bristle when you attack something they love.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I get where the author is coming from, and I have my own capital-F Feelings about marriage, but this feels off. Having faith in a marriage is having faith in another, physically present human being, with whom you can have conversations and make decisions.

It feels more solid than a spiritual conversion, because you can see, touch, smell and affect this other person with your own actions. I don't know, seems different from a personal, spiritual conversion to me. Maybe if you never believed in marriage before and then decide to do it?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose
But is some ways it is less solid. Because what you are saying is "I have faith that however you change, that will be okay with me. I have faith that whatever happens, you will stay by my side. I have faith that despite the fact that we KNOW humans change, constantly, always, we will change together." And there is nothing all that solid about that.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Hammitt I mean, yeah, I guess it's less solid than whatever sort of greater power you understand in your mind, because those tend to remain static. But if you've got a problem with said higher power, it's not like you can say, "Hey, we should talk about this or go to counseling," and higher power says, "Sure, yeah, I think that's a good idea because we're not communicating very well." (Or if it can, then that's a whole new conversation.)

Sure, humans are imperfect and need ways to handle those shortfalls (maybe through spirituality), but calling someone's decision to marry similar to spiritual conversion is disingenuous because it doesn't seem take the interpersonal relationship between the soon-to-be spouses into account.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Solid point! Previous point of mine rescinded.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Hammitt Oh man, no need to rescind! It's all a matter of faith, and it's all so funny because everyone has a unique perspective on higher powers and such, so there are no absolutes. I liked your point, it made me think harder about mine.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Maybe other people experience what the author is talking about, but I really could not relate to it. I also have Feelings about marriage, am not always sure it's for me, but think I probably want it with this one specific person. I have direct evidence that a marriage-ish relationship with a dude that will not squick me out is possible! I'm enjoying it. When I weight that against my Feelings about whether I see myself married, it's evidence that maybe I could.

If someone questioned that, I'd be offended that they questioned my judgment, or the character of someone I consider family, not my faith. I don't have faith. But maybe others do?


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Yeah, the whole "marriage is weird" thing didn't resonate with me. What she's calling faith, in terms of marriage (or mine anyway), is actually trust... and not being able to understand or relate to a relationship that requires trust says a lot more about the person who doesn't understand it than about the institution.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@SarahP Right. That's where I think she's off base; she's not taking James' relationship as an entity in and of itself, and an entity that frankly doesn't include her.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@themmases I see what you're saying too, which is sort of what I was trying to say? Like, questioning and inserting yourself a friend's relationship with another person, without having evidence that it is bad (like abuse, for instance), is pretty self-indulgent.


I don’t know why this series is called Homilies; I’ve never heard a homily where every other sentence ended in uptalky question marks. (Or, to borrow the style: is this our generation's take on moral and ethical certainty? To not really be certain about anything at all, but to make a philosophy of our uncertainty?)

Anyway, I could not agree more about the act-of-faith dimension of choosing to get married, especially now that most of us don’t just HAVE to do it because it’s expected. And I don't think your shock and curiosity were out of line--it might just be that you didn't frame your curiosity about his engagement in the best way possible. (Yes, of course, no one ever needs to justify their life decisions to their friends, but I think most of us would be willing to shed a little light on our decision to get married if a close friend asked.) It’s hard not to be mystified occasionally by the decisions of our closest friends and family. Other people are surprising and essentially unknowable, which is often what makes them lovable.


@KatieWK I'm guessing you didn't grow up in the Episcopal church then?


@franceschances Or with the Unitarians. You probably know the joke.


@franceschances Haha, no, I did not.

I didn't want to pile on before, but since everyone else has, I just want to point out again that beyond the is-she-a-bad-friend quibbling over the content of the essay, this piece is not well written at all. "Maybe proximate emotions were overwhelming objectivity? To no one’s surprise but my own, this communiqué was not well received" sounds like terrible Pale Fire fanfic.

Full disclosure: My brain may be overwhelmed by bafflement/jealousy that this lady has an agent.


@KatieWK On the other hand, I would totally read terrible Pale Fire fanfic. By definition it would already be better than the 50 Shades books.


I always envied what I assumed was my married friends' complete lack of doubt. I thought the fact that I sometimes have doubts about my partner means we're doomed and I should stay away from talking about the M-word. But if you think about it in terms of religion, people are allowed to have doubts about the existence of God--you don't leave church/synagogue/etc. the minute you have doubts, you're allowed (at least I think) to keep going even though you can never really be sure. And you're allowed to be okay with never really being sure. And with wanting to believe. It's a helpful framework to think of marriage in! Good luck sorting things out with "James."


Just gonna say that there are SO MANY weddings that are totally secular and don't take place in a church/temple/other religious area that offer all of the pomp and circumstance.


@Jaya And funerals! The best time I went to my grandfather's amazing/funny/sad/comforting potluck funeral in a former Quaker meetinghouse and then we all had beers.


@Ophelia Quaker funerals are wonderful, and can be truly moving, even to an atheist such as myself. (Partially because the whole concept of friends getting together and spontaneously sharing memories is something which transcends an individual religion.)

We got married by a justice of the peace in a park using a completely non-religious legal ceremony, and my mother still managed to bawl her eyes out. Much better than subjecting my guests to an hour and a half full Mass! (Not that there's anything wrong with that! 'Cept it's really long!)


@Jaya FUN FACT: the puritans who first came to the US didn't believe in religious marriages either. They were religious people, obviously, but to them marriage was a secular/political institution, not a religious one. They were married by government/state officials and didn't think marriages were "destined by god" or anything, but were contracts between people who loved each other. So we have a long tradition of secular marriage in the US!


@SarahP That is what I tell everyone who tries to argue against same-sex marriage! It's amazing how many people don't understand that the civil ceremony and a religious ceremony are NOT THE SAME THING.


@Jaya AND, no matter how religious a couple is, they STILL have to have the civil component (the marriage certificate) to make their marriage official. It's not the flowery ceremony in front of a cross that makes people officially married EVEN if those people are super religious.

Cat named Virtute

Ugh, even though it was two years ago, this still hits too close to home. Marriage and relationships can change people so dramatically, which is scary to someone like me who has not really had a successful relationship but who has been abandoned multiple times by friends who disappear into theirs.


@Cat named Virtute My best friend did this. Completely disappeared into her relationship, then marriage, then family. It got to the point where I was viewing online pictures of parties, vacations [with neighbor couples], etc that I was never invited to, and just crying while viewing them. I attempted at least one heart-to-heart about it before they were even married, but nothing really changed. It had been a full year between the second to last time I saw her and the last time, which was at a party I hosted. She went out of her way to say we needed to hang out more, but I did an experiment to see if she'd ever call or text or invite me to anything. Nope... over another year later, no contact, so I blocked her from all social media and that's been that. I still get sad about it, but mainly because I wish I had more long-term friendships where people didn't bail on you for a partner.


@Cat named Virtute: My best guy friend did this. Disappeared up his wife's butt. We lived together for 4 years and were best buds, but when he found 'second mommy' he vanished.

Elizabeth K.

Sounds like she just didn't want to be around you any more.


I have mixed feelings about this essay. On the one hand, I admire the author's openness & self-deprecation, and she does seem to understand that she was wrong to send the letter and genuinely pained that she lost James' friendship. At the same time, it seems like there is still an odd gap in this story where the emotions and empathy should be.

I imagine that receiving such a letter from one's close friend was probably really hurtful. To attribute James' response to his supposed lack of rationality regarding marriage and suggest that he must have experienced a religion-like conversion that renders him incapable of logical discussion on the topic seems both condescending and misguided. I'd like to suggest that, in fact, it is possible to sensitively discuss both marriage and religion without retreating to the position of "Well, I just understand that I'll never understand!" However, when you send someone a long letter that harshly undermines one of their major life decisions because it threatens your own ego, they tend to get angry and stay that way.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Kristen "However, when you send someone a long letter that harshly undermines one of their major life decisions because it threatens your own ego, they tend to get angry and stay that way."

Yes, this is what I've been trying to say. You are better with The Words.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I spent so long typing it that I didn't realize that you had written basically the same thing above. Oops!


@Kristen This. I've been trying to formulate a response to this essay, but you've done it better.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Kristen Goodness, don't say Oops about this. You said it better than I could.


@Kristen Yes indeed. I feel like my main reaction to getting a letter like that would be: "Mind your own damn business."


@Kristen And there's something about writing a letter that's very final. Like, if you were sitting down with a friend and started to talk to them about your concerns, you'd quickly see from their body language and reaction that what you were saying was not being well-received and you'd change your tactic, I imagine.

It's not hard to imagine that if I had been with someone for a year (which is actually a fairly substantial amount of time) and I received a letter from my childhood friend that turned out to be a long lecture on how I was misguided in my plans for the future, I'd be pretty pissed off, too. And maybe I'd think that my childhood friend was still treating me like the person who I was instead of the person I had grown into, and I would sadly realize that if they were clinging to an old me while rejecting the new me's major life decisions, then maybe I needed to break free from that friendship and continue to evolve as I best saw fit without unsolicited advice on how to live my life. /hella run on sentence


@Kristen You just managed to state my own feelings about this article perfectly. Thank you!


@Kristen I completely agree. I was on the receiving end of something very similar to the author's letter, and...it made me realize I didn't need that friend in my life anymore, if he wasn't going to accept that I wasn't his auxiliary in all things.

On the other end, my initial reaction was very much like the author when my brother announced he was going to get engaged to the woman he'd been on all of one date with. I was close to trying to stage an intervention before I realized I should chill out and meet his girlfriend first. A year and a half later, they're happily married, and I figured out the world didn't revolve around my preconceptions of what the "right" amount of time is.


@Kristen I'm going to join the chorus: nice response. Exactly what I wanted to say.
I'll only add: the author seems very, very young.


@Kristen Exactly this. I think that to decide for somebody else what their decision to get married was ("It was a conversion because I said so, and I am right! For evidence, please see my letter.") is fairly self absorbed. We don't get to dictate the terms of somebody else's life, nor are we active participants in any of their relationships except the one we have with them. And if I am not an active participant in a relationship, what grounds do I have to decide anything for it?

Gah. I am stumbling over my words, so I'll stop and just join the chorus - you did a great job summing up the issues I had with this.


@insouciantlover TIMELY

Can I just share with y'all? That I literally just got a call from my childhood friend who had some teary rant worked up about "how I've changed" and I was like, whoa dude, I was just talking about how I don't take this shit anymore!


"To attribute James' response to his supposed lack of rationality regarding marriage and suggest that he must have experienced a religion-like conversion that renders him incapable of logical discussion on the topic seems both condescending and misguided."
This! Exactly what I was thinking, but more eloquent.


As someone who knows all too well the hot-faced realization that you've said something entirely unwelcome and unsolicited and painful that you can't possibly take back or amend or qualify and that the timeline of your friendship with the person you've just said That Thing to will now be divided into The Time Before You Said That Thing and The Time After You Said It, Even Though You Apologized (Why Do You Persist In The Delusion That A Well-Worded Apology Is The Same Thing As A Time Machine), you know, I feel ya.


@melis Ah. Yes. I have what you might call a familiar feeling. Yep.


@melis that's realizations, multiple, right? :\ (for me it is)


@melis another reason why we need time machines. why isn't time machine technology more advanced by now?


@JessAndNo if only life had a 5 minute edit button (more like a 5 day edit button)


@JessAndNo Probably because of the patriarchy.

Reginal T. Squirge


I'd prefer five years.


@TheBourneApproximation YUUUUUUUP


@TheBourneApproximation I was told when I was getting married that you're actually not supposed to say "Congratulations" but "Best wishes" to the bride (old etiquette, I guess). I find "Best wishes" to be easier to choke out than "congratulations" when I'm feeling yucky about the match, because, well, I DO wish them the best... it's just that I think the best is not getting married.

simone eastbro

@TheBourneApproximation xoxoxox

Vera Knoop

@ThatJenn This is why I love "mazel tov!"


I find it impossible to hear criticism of my ex without taking it as criticism of me, my taste, my judgement. To be in your presence after you've explicitly done so makes me cringe, to the extent that I'd kind of rather never see you again.


@laurel ooh it's so tempting with exes too to be like "yeah it's over let the slandering of character begin!" but that has definitely come back to bite me in the ass, and also has raised my hackles. It's kind of like family - I can shit talk them, but when you start to ...



Weirdly, my boyfriend likes to shit talk my ex. And then I wonder, "do you realize that the part where you are indicating that I had terrible taste in men would therefore apply to... you?"


@laurel Really? My friends have said not-flattering (though not mean-spirited) things about my exes that have been really helpful to me, and also give me confidence that they would tell me if they thought I were about to make A Huge Mistake. It's hard for me to imagine ending a friendship over that, but I guess it depends on the friend.

...that said, if they put it in writing and made it all about themselves, I probably would not react well.


@Mira I think it's a complicated response though ... some shame that you were with that person so long (if they were really awful anyway), defense of your taste in partners, resentment that they think they presume to know your relationship, or resentment that they may have hit the nail on the head ...


@Mira I have found some commentary about my ex useful, but when people go too far - they criticize something I still don't think is his fault, they say he's worthless and I shouldn't care about his well-being, they tell me I must have had really low self esteem to stay with him, etc., I get defensive. He did some crap things, but I think all people are worth something, I do still care (tangentially) about his well-being and wish him happiness, and there were actually some good points about our relationship that I still cherish (and which I kept in mind as I looked for a healthier relationship in the future).


@Mira: "Impossible" was too strong a word, but still. It depends on the friend and what they have to say. It's easier to tolerate criticism of specific actions as opposed to general character. It also matters how well they knew him independently from me (the better they knew him the more tolerance I have for their opinion). I'm thinking of a specific couple with whom the ex and I were friends. They were so clueless in their comments. I can't imagine how they thought the things they had to say would be welcome.


@laurel I think that's a problem you should look into; I'm not even joking, that's personalization and self-blame that's not very founded and is probably very detrimental to your happiness.


@hotdog: No, it's really not about me, though I'll admit I have a low tolerance for others' opinions about my life. Some people, like the poster and the couple I described above, aren't terribly thoughtful, in their enthusiasm for judging and gossiping, about how their comments come across.


@laurel @redheaded&crazie That makes sense. I think I am often the friend who is a little too Real Talk for what people need from me, actually, so it's also possible that I'm just trying to justify myself. (But seriously, my friend's new dude is so awful, you guys! I'm telling you so I can stop myself from telling her!)

@ThatJenn It is legit pretty terrible to tell your friend that her ex is "worthless."


@Mira the worst is how many friends i have had come to me and be like "okay but you KNOW me. do you think I will be happy with this guy? is he right for me? what do you think of him?"

ahhhhhhhh whyyyyyyyy panic attack you're handing me the petard to hoist myself on! (or whatever the appropriate phrase is)


@redheaded&crazie Ugh I have no idea how you would answer that! Way too much pressure.


@Mira swirl your cape over your head and disappear in a poof of smoke is the only thing that's ever worked for me.


@Mira My friend's dude she broke up with a few months ago was awful. The worst part was before I even met him our other friend pulled me aside and said, "[Friend]'s new dude is kind of awful and she already knows it, but she also knows this relationship isn't permanent." And [Friend] told me herself, unbidden, that he kind of sucked and that her family was relieved to learn he was not a permanent fixture. Why was she with him for months??? Why did I have to make small talk with him? Everyone agreed he was awful including his girlfriend! (This is rhetorical. I made my friends sit through three years of my awful-to-be-around ex-husband, so I kind of get it, but on the other hand I was sticking it out because I was married to the guy?)


@redheaded&crazie "You seem so happy! I'm so happy that you seem so happy! Who wants another drink?"


@ThatJenn I would assume he was really good in bed if I could bear to think such a thing about him.


@Mira "Bartender: make it a double."


@redheaded&crazie: Jeez, who could say? Relationships are such strange, highly specific alchemy.


@laurel I get this, I think. Or I have my own version of this. Like when my last relationship ended, I was pretty heartbroken, largely because my ex was a pretty great dude with whom I was still in love, though I was learning how to make that past tense, and with whom a relationship simply wasn't possible in that time and place. And then I had friends who would be like, "Oh, what an asshole. He sucks," and the like, as if that was a sufficient summation of things. And that was neither true nor helpful for me in any way (although these friends also tend to talk about their own exes that way, so maybe it works for them).

I am not opposed to Real Talk. If a person is legitimately terrible - abusive, negative, thoughtless in a way that constantly erodes at a person's self-esteem, well it's time for an intervention. And if you want to talk to someone about their relationship, past or present, then great, especially if that person actually wants to talk about it. But editorializing about a friend's ex veers dangerously into analyzing your friend's choices, and that kind of talk is best saved for behind a person's back.


@redonion: Exactly. Real Talk is one thing, but glibly talking shit in the painful aftermath of a break up--here's where I tell you all the things I've always disliked about the person you were until recently building a world with--is just clueless at best.


@redonion golden finishing statement.


@laurel When talking about exes, like when talking about all emotionally and psychologically fraught issues, it's often best to frame people in terms of actions, not inherent, unchangeable traits.

Example of a bad "supportive friend" thing to say: "Boy, you're ex was a big waste of time huh? And not even cute! What a jerk! All those years!"

Example of a better "supportive friend" thing to say: "It was really terrible how he did X and Y thing to you. And boy that (appropriately funny and non fraught clothing item he wears) looked so ridiculous!"


@KatnotCat: I agree, specificity is key. Also timing. And maybe saying less and listening more.


@redheaded&crazie It was the closing statement in my work up for the pilot episode of "Law and Order: Toxic Friendship Unit"


@ThatJenn It truly doesn't help that many women seem to think that there is a necessary "girl bonding" thing they need to do with friends, during which they talk shit about anything and everything regarding the ex, never recognizing that there were situations and nuances that they refuse to recognize. I mean, we can discuss the things that he sucked at, but why pretend like I was just dating someone who had NO redeeming qualities? How does that make me feel better, particularly when it's a "men suck" fairy tale?

And then there are the times that your friends begin applying their incredibly narrow and harsh ideas of "what love should be" to your life.


It's not that marriage is about a leap of faith, or about some kind of deep spiritual impulse. At the most basic level, it's about two people making a decision about their future together -- one that doesn't involve outsiders.

"When James proposed to a woman he’d known for only a year, I experienced a variety of emotions, most of them about me."

This is why the author doesn't get it, and why James is absolutely right to be mad at her: she made his decision about his future all about her.

Ham Snadwich

"And, good God, had I listened to this kid complain, cry, yelp and *insert variety of onomatopoeias*..."


Lisa Frank

@laurel But was it a mighty yawp?


@Ham Snadwich Meow?


@Lisa Frank ugh a former paramour is so into that fucking Whitman line


@Ham Snadwich @insouciantlover

Snadwich Meow is now officially my favorite onomatopoeia.

Anon Internet Catlady

This post, and the actions that inspired it, is self-indulgent and immature. It boggles my mind that not only would this person write this letter to a friend, but then recount it as if it were still James' fault that he hadn't responded in a "logical" manner. This isn't about whether Logic > Emotions - this is about courtesy and politeness and regard for someone whom you claim to have a close friendship.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Anon Internet Catlady Yes. Being someone's friend for longer than they've known their fiancee does not give you ownership over their decisions.

Natasha Simons@facebook

@Anon Internet Catlady Yes, exactly. It is 0.0% shocking that James decided to cut her off as a toxic ridiculous friend instead of having an ~intellectual debate~ or something about his future wife.


@Anon Internet Catlady I'm not going to add any criticism of the author because, as melis pointed out above, i do stupid foot in mouth shit all the time and some of it has taken a long time for my friendships to recover from.

But re: the emotional response, I just want to add that it goes way beyond any defensiveness of one's partner, because i don't think anybody ever wants to lose a close friendship either, and making a decision to cut off a friend, from your wedding and/or from your life, is really hard as well!

I feel for everybody in this scenario, and I guess I just feel thankful that I've learned my lesson about shit-talking relationship partners or exes before my friends have reached the wedding stage of life. (hopefully the lesson sticks)


@Natasha Simons@facebook I can definitely feel the author's pain and bafflement that James did not react the way she expected him to. I also have relationships where there's lots of making fun (which she said she would have done if he'd actually converted), and realizing one of my observations was actually just unkind is probably a top-5 bad emotion.

It would hurt me too if a friend reacted to me in a way I'd never known them to before, and I could see myself maybe considering the religious conversion analogy, but probably not still finding it plausible after trying to write it up. Since James is not speaking to her, and obviously has either changed or was never fully known to her in the first place, she really has no way to know something so specific and personal.

Still, I couldn't agree more that the expectation that he have an intellectual debate about that topic is ridiculous. I'm not a big Feminism 101 person for the same reason-- that is my life, not one intellectual exercise among many.


@Anon Internet Catlady Very well-put. I'm curious as to whether this author finds that all of her close relationships function upon "logic." Logic doesn't often dictate intimacy and love. This story strikes me as all sorts of immature in that regard.

Furthermore, and this is kind of more @redheaded&crazie, there is an episode of Sex and the City about talking shit about a friend's lover/fiance/husband/whathaveyou. It is one of the only actually smart episodes. The lesson is basically: DO NOT DO IT. With a few exceptions (abuse of some sort being the most obvious), this is a good rule to follow. (redheaded&crazie, it sounds like you've kind of already figured this out :) )


Q: I've been invited to a wedding on the other side of the country. I really can't afford that kind of travel right now, but I'm afraid to tell that to the bride for reasons that this letter doesn't really explain in a way that makes sense.

A: Try writing the bride a letter about how the marriage is a bad idea so she'll disinvite you. Problem solved!

Judith Slutler

I don't really understand judging other peoples' decisions like this. That's all I have to say about that.


My first thought, a few lines in: "well THIS is not going to end well."

Better to Eat You With

When I got engaged to my husband, my then-best-friend said, "If he turns out to be an asshole, I don't want to hear about it," because she had talked me through a brief but unpleasant breakup during the six years he and I had dated. For some reason, this was not the final straw in our friendship. That came later.


Captain Awkward says never send the FEELINGS letter and the Captain is rarely wrong.


@Kinloch Sometimes you can't entirely control the impulse to send the FEELINGS letter - it becomes like a cheesecake sitting in the fridge that develops an overwhelming power over you - but not once have I sent a FEELINGS letter and had a good result come of it. Bad results every time, guaranteed.


@werewolfbarmitzvah I have set up a special email address where I send FEELINGS letters (and other private journal-type things) so I can send them and not send them to the person in question.


@ThatJenn and then re-read them with a sense of grim satisfaction at a later date. YES! (I have a word document)


@werewolfbarmitzvah Yes- I know the temptation of FEELINGS mail. I have only sent one in my life, and it was so traumatic and scarring, that I have never sent another.

Now I have FEELINGS mail composed, and I send them to the do-not-reply mail demon, to be bounced forever, but protected from being read by a human being.


@Kinloch Captain Awkward is awesome and rarely wrong! Also, she's suggested writing out the FEELINGSletter and then never ever ever sending it, which makes a lot of sense to me because it's more likely to be all about your own feelings than concern for the other person.


@werewolfbarmitzvah Cheesecake in the fridge that develops a wicked case of mold and gives you irritable bowels? Yes, I've had that cheesecake (metaphorically).


@ThatJenn I want to be that email address where everyone I don't know sends their FEELINGS letters. I am a dirty emotional voyeur.


@TattyEmu me too. I used to read people's Live Journal's all the time for this very reason.

But!! I had a feelings letter sent to me once by friends (not regarding a romantic relationship, but how they thought I should treat my dad...it was high school), and to this day I still think that was none of their fucking business. It's great that these two girls had thoughts on how I should live my life, but writing a letter was not the way to do it. These types of things are best handled in person, and if you can't muster that, then mind your own business.


@Kinloch Urgh, I just wrote a FEELINGS letter today and I think my heart will just break if I don't send it, but sending it would be beyond inappropriate and probably end in a lost friendship. But oh my god, the intended recipient really should hear it. AUGH.


@glitterary Sadly you know what to do in this scenario. I learned the hard way if I can't say what I feel face-to-face using my words, then I shouldn't send a letter with those FEELINGS. I can certainly write/journal it out for my own peace of mind, but it's *my* own.

Good luck with your situation. I do highly recommend captainawkward.com for useful what-to-do advice. I learned two really great things on that site- 1. People who like you will act like they like you. 2. There are no magic words or ritualistic dance that you can do to keep someone from getting their feelings hurt.


@Kinloch Great advice! I used to default to writing letters because I felt more persuasive writing. And then I realized that I didn't need to be persuasive and, in fact, that could be a pretty destructive goal. If I need to express something for the plain reason that it really needs to be known, then doing that in person usually works-- with the added bonus that the other person gets a chance to respond!


@Lyesmith EXACTLY. FEELINGS mail and FEELINGS bombs are about you, and I always ask myself "What do I want to happen? What benefit is there in this? Is it just for myself ?" Nine times out of ten*, it's to make ME feel better about a situation/person. Well, only I can control my feelings, and once I realized I was laying responsibility for my emotions on someone else, I quit it.

*The only situation I say send the letter, is a situation of abuse/sexual assault - if a friend was marrying/dating/hanging out with a rapist or abuser, you can bet I will let them know my opinion on that relationship.


hm. i received an email like this (so much like this - it was even written in the third person) about 3 years into my first marriage from my former BFFle from college. to this day, I think it's easily the most arrogant expression of "concern" I've received from a friend. it felt like she was using her concern as an opportunity to do some daring and edgy writing techniques or something, it was so much about her, it was just... grotesque.


@teenie Yes! Whether or not to gently voice your concern or misgivings is one debate. But writing a letter in third person form about their romantic life story is something completely else. And that something else is GROSS.


@yeah-elle I would love to see the letter!! How does the story even begin?

"Once upon a time, James met an adorable young girl named me. Then he had this magical-unicorn friendship where he could share EVERYTHING. And then he had some bad dating experiences, and then he met some woman. Then in the blink of an eye(year) he proposed. What. a. fool. He will rue the day he didn't consult his bff. FIN"

That's how I imagine it.


@adorable-eggplant Yeah, the whole thing sort of reeks of "why didn't he pick meeeee???"


@adorable-eggplant that was... basically about it. the first half of her message was reminiscent of our friendship, then the second half was talking about how i met someone and now my life was over. ugh.
@WaityKatie - one of our mutual friends wondered if that's what she felt with me too? but... I haven't had enough interactions with her since to figure out if that was the case. obviously, even if it was, her methods of communicating this were pretty awful.


@teenie People who are the center of their own universe never cease to amaze me with their brazen indifference to anyone's narrative or experience beside their own. Sorry your friend was like that. :(


I think I would have been devastated if I got a letter from a close friend questioning my impending marriage. But on the other hand, when my ex and I broke up after 5 years everyone, and I mean EVERYONE told me they knew all along he wasn't right for me or he was a bad guy, etc. And I was so sad that no one felt like that they could have told me while he and I were together.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@totallyunoriginal You know, people say what you've said - that they wish people would have told them they were in a bad relationship - once that relationship is over. But when they're in it, they don't tend to be as receptive to such suggestions as one may think.

Judith Slutler

@totallyunoriginal I really wonder where this stuff comes from... like, are they just trying to reassure you that you made the right decision? Did they actually dislike him? are they trying to pick the right "side"? It's strange.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Yeah, and in many cases, people try to gently talk to a friend about the boyfriend to see if they can have the "I don't like him/he's a bad guy" conversation, and the friend gets immediately defensive.


@thebestjasmine This is totally true. It was just overwhelming how everyone from very close friends and family to acquaintances were like, "Oh my god, finally! He was such an asshole. Everyone hated him"

But yeah, it's definitely a hard conversation to have with someone and you never know how someone is going to respond. I have no idea how I would have reacted if someone had told me while we were still together that my then boyfriend was an asshole.


Yes, definitely.
I once had to have a surreal conversation with a married friend that began," you know, your other friends and I will support you no matter what choice you make" followed by "no decision has to be final, you know, not even marriage." It was teary, lots of hugs and held hands across the dinner table, but it went fine, we remained good friends, and it had absolutely no effect on her life choices. She got divorced a year or two later, but for various reasons I know our conversation was in no way a factor. She just came to the conclusion separately. It really is the sort of thing people just have to realize for themselves, on their own... and thank god for that, in a way, too -- you know?

This is my new username

@Emmanuelle Cunt I think sometimes recent past colours our memories of how we initially felt about people. I definitely have a gut reaction of "I ALWAYS hated him" about one of my friend's exes. In reality it was probably more I was ambivalent and then grew to hate him as time went on. He was totally at minimum an emotionally abusive asshole (I suspect maybe more, but that has never been explicitly stated). At the time I didn't necessarily recognize it as that, I just considered him to be an asshole. Anyway, it definitely took time for me to think these things about him, but looking back my gut instinct is to say I always hated him, but that was not the case. I did learn a valuable lesson about how telling your friend their significant other is terrible is not a great idea, and that they probably need to figure it out on their own. I do think, had I been better equipped to handle something like that, there are probably things I could have said that may have been more helpful, but "uggghh get rid of your boyfriend, seriously, he's revolting" was not it.


@harebell are you one of my friends? I honestly had a very similar situation with two friends of mine, about a year before I finally left my douchecanoe ex for good. It was honestly the best thing that could have happened - we weren't doing well, we'd already halfway broken up more than once, and i was putting on this facade of happiness. These friends saw through it, and just offered their support, and let me know there are worse things than being alone. Stuff like that was the structure I built my separation from him on: it gave me the strength to make that decision.


*Sigh* How do you know if you should marry the person you're with though? Nobody's perfect, my boyfriend of 4 years drives me nuts a lot of the time, but we do really love each other. I don't know if all my friends like him, I know he's not a fan of all my friends, but that's not a reason to *not* marry someone, surely? It's all so complicated.


Yeah, it's hard to figure out The Best For Me when all you get is The Best I Ever Had.


Just as an aside, does anyone actually include "speak now or forever hold your peace" in wedding ceremonies these days? The number of weddings I've attended in which those words were actually uttered? Zero.


@Bittersweet I'm not sure if having read Jane Eyre during my formative years should have made me MORE or LESS likely to include that line in my wedding ceremony...


@Bittersweet It was said at my brother's wedding, but the preacher told my brother & sister-in-law ahead of time, "Unless it is either of y'all saying something, I'll ignore them. Never actually had anyone object, anyway."


@Bittersweet One of the only things that makes me want to have a big floofy wedding one day, instead of just living with my dude in sin forever, is the idea of putting that line in the ceremony and hoping some nerdy friends will start cracking wise about bigamy and wives in the attic. Otherwise, I can't see a ceremony being much fun.

ETA: I clearly like the way TheBourneApproximation thinks!


@Bittersweet Yes, this is a movie thing. Like most things that happen in movies about high school where all of the actors are in their late 20s.

Jennifer Culp

@Bittersweet It was included at the last wedding I attended. First time I'd ever heard it at a wedding! I was scared to move or even breathe, just in case.


@BadWolf Glad I'm not the only one thinking about the important parts of weddings, like mandatory crazy attic wife checks!

Daisy Razor

So the author sent a screed against not just marriage in general, but James' particular decision to marry, having never met his fiancé? The fact that the fiancé is a complete non-entity in this essay also suggests that the author has never bothered to find out anything about her.

Yeah, I can't imagine why James cut off all contact.


I get feeling really strongly about something and saying it even when you think you probably shouldn't, and then having the consequences blow up in your face and feeling like butt. I get that!

What I do not get is how someone thought it was a good idea to send another person a letter detailing their love life in 3rd person perspective.


Whoa. This seems like an act of drama llamadom to me! I mean, we all have our opinions on our friends' partners, but if your objections are mostly that your friend's reasons are hard for you to understand, then, well, eeeeh. Ugh. How else was this going to go? Especially when the letter is partially "look at your crazy romantic history" and partially "I don't get it." Especially the analysis of what went wrong: relationships 1-20 part.


When some of my friends were getting married around the age of 25 or so, I had feelings about it. That I kept to myself, because honestly it is borderline anti-social behavior to feel like you have the right to comment on a choice like that, and people will NEVER listen to you when they are in love. NEVER.

But then, I wasn't really interested in serious relationships. Now, I've been dating for several years, I've had a lot of heartache/been in relationships that were never going to wind up long-term, and it helped me figure out what I want in a partner. I've been with my boyfriend for 6 months (THAT IS ONLY HALF A YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!) and we both know that this is headed to the "altar" (probably not a real altar, though).

Someone upthread said that you have to be naive to make a lifelong commitment to someone and have kids with them. I'd say hopeful and optimistic. I think it's incredibly naive to have the attitude of the author. Years of unsatisfactory dating leads one to know what they want. Your friend seems to think he found it. I wish you could be happy for him.


@rocknrollunicorn I love this comment! Super-hearts, mega-hug love this comment.


@adorable-eggplant Thank you! I suspect you are, in fact, an adorable eggplant :)


@rocknrollunicorn Awww, shucks. :)


@rocknrollunicorn I completely agree. one very unhappy marriage, tons of therapy, and tons of dating, led me to the point where I knew EXACTLY what I wanted, and I knew EXACTLY when I found it with Mr. Teenie. Ups and downs and heartache and woe and rolling in Feelings about people helps you define and understand yourself. It sounds like James was doing exactly that whilst the author sat by and provided commentary... to the point where she provided it where she really shouldn't have.


"And thus began one of those rare hetero boy-girl platonic friendships."

Who do I need to talk to to get this nonsense stricken from our cultural consciousness?


Sadly, Nora Ephron.


@TheUnchosenOne Ahaha, I'm going to send this comment directly to my (argh I can't even type the original phrase out to be snarky, because my fingers are twitching like rolling eyeballs) friend. I'll tell him he's a white elephant. Mwhahaha.

El Knid

"Honey, you remember Janet, right? You know, the one who wrote that 10+ page screed about how we shouldn't be getting married?"

Hellion of Troy

@El Knid I can only imagine the fiancee thought the author was somehow in love with/obsessed with this guy. I mean can you imagine?


@Hellion of Troy I might have kind of thought that myself?


Holy crap, this post. Why on earth would you think that you're entitled to having your friend run his major life decisions past you, or that he should argue with you about the philosophical meaning of marriage when it's his particular nuptials that matter? Being a friend is not an act of ownership of that person (even if we feel protective of them because we love them). I know I'd be insulted if someone sent me a letter implying I am unable to make my own life choices like a grown, fully capable adult and that furthermore, I owe it to THEM to check if they're okay with me doing so.

You also state no reasons why this particular woman was unsuitable for him besides you being upset that you weren't consulted about his marriage (and again, why would you be?) and that it was "too fast" (again, by your standards.) I can understand having a sit-down conversation with him if she was abusive, or unstable in some way and wasn't working on it, or was cheating on him ... or any other real reason that the relationship wouldn't work. Your thoughts on the subject of marriage in general have nothing to do with how rudely you've treated your friend in his particular situation of finding the woman he loves and marrying her. I'm not surprised he's made the choice to end your friendship.

Hellion of Troy

Where's the part where A Spider tells her she's made a terrible mistake and should put herself in the recycling bin because she is being a juicebox?

Seriously though,telling someone that their fiancee is bad news is a friendship minefield, but writing someone who you call a close friend a letter where you basically say "You can't get married, you are too broken to get married," is an act of emotional violence. And now you're turning that into an essay where you "learn" that marriage and religion are the same, again interrogating James' choices instead of your own.

Stacy Worst

It's interesting that the author compares the decision to get married to an act of faith, but refers specifically to secular marriage. Which is what, a particularly sentimental civil contract?

You know what? Divorce isn't the end of the world , especially when you haven't promised Jesus (or whatever) that your union would be scared and eternal.

Wish them the best and if they divorce in a few years and you are still missing being the center of attention, allow yourself your mean satisfaction.


@Sister Administrator This is something that's kind of nearly taboo to say, and I didn't want to be the one to do so... but, yes, divorce. It exists and doesn't result in hellfire. Give people space to do their thing, to love and lose and grow. Or, for god's sake, just to love. Sheesh.

Stacy Worst

@rocknrollunicorn It is kinda taboo to say, and this in spite of the prevalance of divorce! A lot of handwringing about believing or not believing in marriage carries this weird holdover-idea of marriage as a religious institution. But why worry so much, if you don't believe your immortal soul is at stake?

I am divorced... and all I can say about the decision to get married is that I really, truly meant it at the time. But things changed.

Of course it gets messier with kids. But that's a whole other decision, and I think whether to bring a human being into existence is a much more weighty matter than whose health insurance you're going to be on.


Hmm. Except I've known couples who have done everything "right" (dated for years, cohabitated more or less peacefully for years, finally gotten married with their friends' and families' approval) and still gotten divorced or wound up in unhappy marriages.

I don't think the time two people spend test-driving their relationship really deserves all the credit it seems to get (within reason, of course). There are just too many confounding factors--who knows what will happen down the road? At some point, to paraphrase Ron Swanson, you just roll the dice and hope for the best.


The oddest part about this essay is that I suspect the author still doesn't realize why she was wrong to send that letter. Why it is not just inappropriate, or some deafness to social norms. It was fucking rude, hurtful, and wildly, bizarrely narcissistic.

His marriage is none of your business. NONE. Zero. He owes you no explanation on why he is getting married, why he chose his partner, what factors he considered, his thought process along the way. It is a thousand shades of bizarre that anyone would feel entitled to that information, let alone a friend.

I have a bee in my bonnet on this issue, but fuck, people, being a friend often requires you to mind your own business. You aren't entitled to your friend's innermost thoughts on the hows and whys of their Big Decisions, and you sure as shit aren't entitled to share your opinion on what you imagine are their hows and whys. If you can't shut the fuck up, keep your opinions to yourself, and refrain from demanding access where it hasn't been extended, you aren't a friend.

You weren't entitled to any explanation from him. You were in the wrong because you thought were. He didn't ask you for your opinion. You are in the wrong because you forced it on him, and on a topic of such deep personal significance that you disrespected him on nearly every level.

And while I am at it, marriage isn't just an emotional leap of faith, but also a very, highly conscious decision to go "all in," no matter what. It is an act - very often a reasoned, considered, intellectual decision. Not just some whim of hope and faith and fingers crossed. And you still aren't entitled to know his deliberation process.

Leanne Mok@facebook

Dear Author: Thanks so much for your article. Like you, I have been a "skeptic"of marriage for many years. (I'm almost 30 years old). Couples who get married seem like lemmings who are gambling their freedom for a hypothetical lifetime of probable unhappiness (based on how many marriages I've seen end this way). My skepticism was strengthened when someone very close to me (similar to your relationship with James) became engaged to someone who in my opinion was controlling and oppressive. And, like you, I felt the absolute need to say something about it. I don't wish to contradict the above comment and argue that I'm not narcissistic, I am. But I don't believe that this was related to my need to voice my thoughts. I think the reason stemmed from a feeling that, since this person had confided in me and asked for my advice, I shared some responsibility in this person's ultimate happiness in her relationship.

The outcome of my giving my opinion was similarly disastrous. It took many months and difficult conversations to come back to a place where we can now resume our strong friendship. It's still a little tainted, but I'm thankful that we were able to work it out. (please take heart, and trust in time). More importantly, since that fiasco I suddenly find myself in a position where I am now also considering sharing my life with someone (like a lemming), and having been happily single my whole life, I am coming to a series of epiphanies.

All that to say, I agree with you that marriage can be seen as a leap of faith, which is dangerous and our initial instincts are to protect those we love. However, I have since learned that I must allow my friend to find her own definition of happiness, as well as her own definition of love. My current relationship looks nothing like her current relationship because our partners are completely different, and yet both relationships and partners have compelled us to make a decision to share our lives with another person. Whether that decision is marked with a wedding, a ceremony or a simple exchange of words, unfortunately because we are all different, we will all find our happiness in different ways, places and people.

Don't regret your decision to "not hold your peace". This is a form of love too. And even though you and I cannot relate to or understand the love that our friends have found, we can be grateful for the love we do have. I did have to come to terms with the fact that my friend is going to marry this person, and that I must find a way to be happy about it. I hope you find a way to be happy for "James". :) I agree that "Forever" is an unrealistic promise, for love or holding one's peace, but let's continue to toss the word around freely. It's something we lemmings can hang on to...even if it's completely impractical.


@Leanne Mok@facebook ...



Never mind.


Now that you have me thinking about it, I don't believe there is or should be a hard and fast rule about questioning a dear friend's engagement or wedding plans. I had a dear friend who asked me to be his best man. Instead of raising my own concerns about whether the person was really "right" for him, I kept quiet and agreed to stand next to him at his wedding. A year later, he disappeared with another woman. Needless to say, the marriage didn't survive.

I did step in and challenge a beloved cousin of mine, though, about the woman he was engaged to marry. Within a week, the engagement was off. My cousin caught hell from the ex-fiancee, but I know he felt the grief was worth it because he'd found the strength to speak up for himself.

Regarding your friend, it's a shame that he couldn't have opened up to you in response to your reaching out. Yes, you may have stepped over a line, but you also probably put your finger on something of import that good friends should bring up before a very important step in life is taken . . .


I can't tell if this was facetious or not (and I know this is an extremely minor detail) but hetero boy-girl platonic friendships are really not that rare. I just cringe every time I hear this implication.


Does everyone have doubts about their relationship? I have been in this one for 9 months, and sometimes I have doubts - this tends to coincide with more difficult moments, either within the relationship or sometimes other areas of my life that transfers into the relationship. Then at other times I hold a great deal of confidence in it, and can imagine us together - happily - for a very long time to come. Does everyone have the "what if this ain't 'right' thoughts" and they just don't talk about it, or are there people who simply never have doubt in their partner/the relationship? And does that say more about the individuals in question, or the relationship itself?


@HappyBeet Doubt is 100% OK and normal. No relationship is happy skippy wonderful, fairy tale swoonworthy, all of the time.


@HappyBeet I sure hope so.


This is a beautiful post. I think it is pretty clear that the author is here writing about what she discovered about the nature of marriage as an act of faith through this experience - I don't think she meant to defend her intervention in this particular case (which is perhaps why she says little about her motivation for doing so), but more than that she seems to me to be exploring her own doubts and uncertainties about the very possibility of marriage. I'm grateful she shared this profound understanding of this mystery from a secular perspective.


Thanks for this.

I just proposed to my adorable fianceé this past weekend, and it is definitely a leap of faith that I have full confidence in, but it's something I never thought I'd do.

In past relationships I put marriage off into the future as something we'd do if we worked for 2+ years. I've known Fianceé a little less than a year at this point, and I already know that the reason I used to put it off is because I didn't WANT to commit to those people.

I want to commit to Fianceé though, like way hard. And it feels awesome and a little bit scary but mostly awesome. Sometimes things just hit you, and you take them up on it because not doing so would be way awful.

Vera Knoop

I can't help but think the writer would have been better off Asking A Lady.


I'm in the "marrying" season of my life (everyone is getting married! What the what!), and I've had to learn to take my sister's advice: If they don't ask you for your opinion, don't give it, because if they do get (and stay) married, you'll forever be perceived as the "enemy to their love."

It's hard, because you love and care about these people and don't want to see them get hurt, but if you're really close and they're not asking, it's because they, for whatever reason, really don't want your opinion :(. So far I've found some friends don't want to ask for opinions because they already know the answer, but want to bury their heads in the sand to avoid it, so when you bring it up unsolicited, their reaction is to lash out, and stuff like this^ happens. Bad news bears all around :(.

For those of you who said you're worried your friends aren't being honest about your significant other, maybe sit down and look them straight in the eye and say, "No, for realsies. I really, REALLY want you to tell me honestly what you think, and I will not ditch you as a friend if I don't like what I hear - I promise." Sometimes friends just need the reassurance and the go-ahead :).

That's my plan, anyway, if I ever meet a dude I'm getting serious about!

Matthew Hedgecock@facebook

"I third-person narrated the story of James’s romantic life over the past few years to show him the emotional rollercoaster ride he’d been on lately."

Holy crap this is douchiest thing I've read in a LONG time.

Shawn Pavey@twitter

Great post, kid! Forthcoming book? I couldn't be more proud of you.

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