This week I was listening to a podcast of "This American Life," and there was a story about a woman from China, a successful executive secretary, who moved to the U.S. on a fiancée visa to marry a man she'd been corresponding with on the Internet. Sadly, when she arrived, she discovered that her intended was a broke, unemployed slob, 30 years her senior. She was utterly miserable. At one point in the story, she said:
There is no way for me to go back now. Everyone would know what I did. Everyone would know that I came here and didn't get married and they would point at me and laugh. There is no choice for me but to stay and marry him.
I find this attitude heartbreaking, and all too common. Why is a divorce after two or three bad years no big embarrassment, but somehow changing your mind before reaching the altar is humiliating beyond compare? Why do we as a society react that way?
Five years of your life with the wrong person is a waste.
Choosing happiness as a decision motivator, instead of fear, is a triumph.
We should celebrate that person, not denigrate.
In my own life, I lost a friend over this exact situation.
One of my best friends dated a woman for almost two years before they fell into that usual pattern of, "Do we break up, or do we get married?"
Here's a good rule: If either of you has to ask that question, just save yourselves the time and break up. One of you clearly does not want to be married, because when two people who do want to be married are together for two years, they just go ahead and get married.
But in this relationship that question was asked, and my friend crumbled under the pressure and bought the ring and started planning the wedding. I wasn't sure if he was happy or not, so I went along, being supportive of the impending nuptials. Then, I got the saddest phone call ever.
My friend and his bride were not the same race, and two weeks before his wedding, his mother sent him a nine-page letter in which she revealed herself to be an unbridled, raving racist, which she had hidden as long as she could, but as the date drew near, she could no longer hold it in. She demanded he call off the wedding.
He called me, sobbing, because right before he opened that letter, he was going to do just that. He had realized they were making a mistake and thought it better not to go through with it, but when he tried to have this conversation with his future wife, she refused. She also had come to the same realization, but thought there was too much shame in calling it off. He was going to bite the bullet and be the bad guy so they could both go on with their lives, separately.
Then he got the letter.
He said to me, "What I want to do more than anything is call off the wedding and never speak to my mother again."
"Do that!" I implored.
But he couldn't. Mostly, he was afraid people would think he shared his mother's attitude, and he just couldn't bear that.
So... they got married.
And I could not bring myself to go to the wedding. If I'd gone, I'm pretty sure I would have just walked up to his mom and punched her in the face. So I didn't go, and my friend never spoke to me again. I doubt he'll ever read this, but if he does, I hope he knows I'm truly sorry.
Fear is the worst possible emotion on which to base life decisions. Please don't do it!
When making a choice between two possible futures, ask yourself, "What will make me happy?" and be brutally honest in your response. Once you know, do that. Just do it. And if you hear of someone who didn't go through with something life-altering, even in the eleventh hour, say "Good for them! I hope it works out," and go on with your own life instead of giggling and gossiping about it. Judge not, lest ye be an asshole.
Conversely, if you do pull a switcheroo at the last minute, you could always do what one amazing family did and turn that potential embarrassment into a blessing.
After Carol and Willie Fowler's daughter called off her wedding, they donated the upscale, four-course reception dinner to 200 of Atlanta's hungry and homeless, including many children who had never experienced a meal like that in their lives. Going one further, the evening was such a triumph, the Fowlers plan to do it annually. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
Is it too late to get your deposits back? Don't marry the wrong person. Throw a party instead, host a reunion, feed the hungry. Celebrate the awesome achievement of choosing happiness over fear! Let others manage their own reactions, and if they want to judge you, let 'em. Who cares? Life's too damn short. No, actually life's long, so why let fear-based decisions screw up any part of it? Choose happiness over fear.
To get your free copy of Valerie's "One Day of Fluent Happiness" workbook, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.