08/11/2011 08:52 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2011

Ask Why? Not Why Not? Before You Say I Do

Thirty percent of divorced women say they knew it was wrong from the start. That sheds some light on the divorce rate. I'm curious to know what percentage of guys feel the same way. If they don't happen to be the same 30% then almost one-third of marriages are half-baked.

Maybe that's the reason why Maria, a seasoned wedding planner I recently interviewed for 40:20 Vision, says she's worked with very few couples that seem really in love and "together" for the long haul. She finds far too often that the bride puts more effort into planning the wedding than planning the marriage. She told me about what she calls the "switch", a common phenomenon amongst brides:

"I don't know what happens. She could be a completely normal woman before she got that engagement ring on her finger and then the whole world changes. A switch goes off and the whole Cinderella fantasy takes over and suddenly she wants it. It's amazing. Some of them are embarrassed to see me after the wedding because of their behavior."

Even in the age where marriage is being hailed obsolete, there's something about getting engaged that puts some women in a different space. It's as if the wedding takes on a life of its own. Maria credits the wedding industry. It's a big business with $40 billion in revenue and ever increasing reasons to spend money on the wedding of your dreams.

When my friends first started getting married in the early 90s, Martha Stewart was just beginning to change the meaning of taste when it came to wedding cakes and the rehearsal dinner was just for family. Over the past 20 years, Maria has seen the level of details at the weddings she plans sky-rocket simply because there are so many options.

"There's the after-party for the rehearsal dinner, the bands for the wedding, the dj for the post party and the brunch the next day. There's not one wedding I do that doesn't have an after party because, of course, five hours of drinking is not enough."

All the more to distract you from the voices in your head if they are something is missing. Many of 40-something divorced women I've interviewed were amongst the 30% who knew it was wrong. They advise today's 20-something women to listen to their gut. Between parental and societal expectations, that can be hard to do. Most of these women did what they thought was next. Turns out, they never asked themselves if that was what they wanted.

Maria relates to this because she was one of them. Married for 9 years to the wrong guy, she's now happily divorced. She shared her perspective with me as a tale of what to expect when you don't go through the motions of asking "Why?" instead of "Why Not?" before you get married.

Maria and her husband dated in college, went to work in the same city, lived together and got married. The message she heard from her parents was very clear, "You finish school and you get married." The minute she graduated, they started asking, "How long are you going to date? When are you going to get married?" Those messages were ingrained at an early age. Ever since she was a child she pictured herself married by 25.

Then everyone around her started getting married and some were having babies. This can be trigger for women and their march towards marital merging. One 40-something woman I interviewed reflected, "Either be the first of your friends to get married or the last. That way you know you are doing it for the right reason and not because everyone else is doing it." Which is what happened to Maria who related, "We thought that was what we were supposed to do. What else were we going to do? Keep dating? So we got engaged."

While she was planning her wedding she broke out in hives. She brushed it off as jitters but then on her wedding day those doubts found a voice...that no one listened to.

"On my wedding day, I remember asking my maid of honor, "What am I doing?" She ignored me and there I went down the aisle. When my husband and I finally split up, I kicked myself for a long time for not listening to myself. Walking down the aisle I wasn't present. I wasn't excited about our vows and the start of our life together. I was thinking, "He's a nice guy and we're great friends so why not? I want to have kids. Why wouldn't I have kids with this guy?"

Unfortunately that wasn't enough to go on. Maria got pregnant right away and their family grew but their love didn't. Without a stronger foundation, mutual interests and shared expectations about married life and family, they grew apart. She now realizes the loneliest she has ever been was when she was married:

"I was home alone with the baby every night and then alone with three kids every day. That was a life I didn't expect. I was married but I was alone. There's nothing worse than feeling lonely when you're supposed to have someone in your life. I don't have anyone in my life right now but I don't feel the loneliness I felt when I was married. It was such a deep loneliness because it was so empty".

Her 40:20 hindsight:

I should have taken a closer look at our relationship. We didn't have much more than a friendship and my fantasy when we got married. He became a sperm donor. I should have asked myself, 'Is this what you want?', because I probably would've said no. If someone asked me that question back then, I would've said 'no, no, no.' But no one did and I was alone in my little world and caught up in my little family planning process. I don't ever regret it because I have my children, but I would say three things to a 20-something in the same situation:

1. Don't get married. You're 25-years-old.
You've got your whole life ahead of you so why is everything resting on this moment? Why can't you get married at 26, 27, 28, 30, 35? Why does it have to be now? Why can't you keep dating? What's wrong with that?

2. Trust your gut because chances are you're right.
I was too insecure to trust my gut feeling in my 20s. I was too insecure to own it. I just went with it and it proved me wrong.

3. If you do feel doubts and want to call off the wedding, don't be afraid to tell your mom and dad. Tell them how you're feeling. I'm sure they will supportive. I don't think they want their daughter marrying some guy that she's not sure about. From there you don't have to do anything until you're ready to tell people. I think we still have that thing inside us that doesn't want to disappoint our parents. No matter how old we are, I think we always have that thing.

I have to thank Maria for her story and her honesty. I love the thought that you should spend more time planning your marriage than planning your wedding. Don't worry about what others think or where you think you should be, make it about who you really are and who you love.