It was love at first sight. I moved into his apartment six weeks later. Four months after that, he emptied his bank account and took me to Paris and asked me to marry him. I said yes. We cried. He gave me a ring. This was before cell phones, and when we walked into a phone booth to call our parents and the heavy French door slammed on my finger fracturing it, I was so ecstatic that I didn't feel any pain.
Our parents were thrilled. This made us even happier. My grandmother actually yelped. Telling friends, being toasted, flying from New York to my hometown, Montreal, to look at venues: The initial wave of wedding activity intensified our already mad love.
We picked a date. We picked a place. My mother and grandmother took me shopping for a dress. Even though the first dress I tried on was 10 sizes too big, my grandmother wept. It wasn't just that she was living to see my wedding, she explained, but that I was marrying someone so tall, dark and handsome.
It made me so happy to make her so happy.
We tasted chickens, chose wines, selected flowers. My future in-laws threw us a party. Their friends were warm and welcoming and gave us great gifts: bowls, choppers and mixers that made me feel grown-up to use. I especially liked a friend of the family's named Maggie, who said that, of all the women my fiancé had dated, she was glad he'd chosen me.
It made me so happy to make her happy, too.
Bridesmaids chose dresses. We mailed save-the-date cards. But an unexpected thing happened as the date approached: My fiancé and I started to fight. Our arguments were not about little things, but about the life we were going to build. We had never discussed this before. We were too busy falling in love, making love and planning the wedding. But as it turned out, we disagreed about everything from marital roles to how hard I like to work to how we wanted to raise our future children. I hadn't realized he was so set in his ways. He hadn't realized I had such a hot temper.
We made deposits. They were nonrefundable. My fiancé and I continued to fight.
Finally, a couple of weeks before the invitations were supposed to go out, he popped the question: "Do you think we should go through with this?"
"How can we not?" I said.
By now we had hired florists, photographers, musicians and waiters. Friends and family in both countries were saving the date. And we loved each other! And wasn't everyone a little nervous before a wedding?
We soldiered on, trying to focus on the good stuff, like our feelings, and to forget about the bad stuff, like our differences on so many major points. But by the time the invitations came back from the printer, the very sad realization had begun to sink in: Just because we were great at making love didn't mean we were going to be any good at making a life.
My mother was in charge of invitations. When she called with a question about an address, I confided the truth. She didn't sound as surprised as I thought she would. "It's normal to be nervous before a wedding," she said.
"How nervous are you?"
"Why don't I address the invitations and call you before I mail them?" she wisely suggested. .
"Feeling any better?" she asked when she called back the following week.
"What's bothering you?"
"I'm more independent than he wants me to be. He wants a kind of support that I don't think I'm cut out to give him."
"Then don't do it."
This was not what I expected to hear from the woman who was having the time of her life being mother of the bride.
"Marriage is hard enough when you go in wanting the same things," she said.
"But we're in so deep!"
"Oh, honey -- this is not deep."
"But what about the dress? I really want to wear that dress."
"So wear it on Halloween."
"But, but -- " I started to cry. "Everyone's so excited," I said. "They threw us parties. They bought us presents. How can I turn around and tell them this isn't happening?"
This, to me, was the hardest part: My job had always been to please, not disappoint.
"People will talk about it for five minutes and then they'll forget," my mother said.
When I recounted the conversation to my fiancé, he looked relieved. I gave him back the ring. We cried. This was before email, so we called a few friends and relatives and asked them to spread the word. I braced myself for the reaction -- and it shocked me. People were not just understanding -- they complimented us on our maturity. "I should've done that, but I was too scared," said a woman who'd been married for 30 years. Another woman confided that she hadn't wanted to disappoint her parents, another that she hadn't wanted to admit the mistake to her friends.
Only my grandmother was having none of the support-fest. "But he's so handsome," she said.
"But we're not happy."
"Oh, come on," she screamed into the phone. "Nobody's happy!"
I called my mother, who felt my grandmother had been out of line. "She's had her life," my mother said. "This one is yours."
I'm not sure we would have had the strength to call off the wedding without my mother's backing. By this point the thing had gathered the force of a tidal wave. And I really did love my fiancé. I continued to live in his apartment for six months after we returned the last gift. Even after I moved out and we both started going on dates, I'd meet him back at his place after dinners and movies with other guys. This stopped only after my blind date with the man who would, in fact, become my husband -- not that it was easy to get down the aisle with him, either.
As I stood at the end of the wedding procession, watching everyone walk out on cue, I panicked. Marriage felt so daunting, the aisle so long. But I knew I had to get myself down it. The experience of the canceled wedding taught me what I wanted in a marriage, who I needed in my life, and it was the man who was now standing and waiting for me in front of all our guests. I ran to the bar, lifted my veil, gulped a glass of wine and joined him. Twenty years later, we are still going strong. As are my former fiancé and his tall, gorgeous wife, who makes him happier than I ever could have.
The nonrefundable deposits on the chicken, flowers, music, wine and dress added up to more than I like to remember. But still they seem a small price to have paid.