I got married when I was 23 to the man I'd started dating at 18. Ours was neither a fulfilling nor a healthy relationship, and I wonder if others sensed that. Before walking me down the aisle, my father said, "You don't have to do this if you don't want to." I wanted to scream, Why didn't you say that a month ago!, but instead I said, "I know," and we walked to the altar arm in arm. When my ex proposed, he and I were on the verge of breakup. I had just graduated and was desperate to leave our college town. My ex wanted to stay and develop his artistic career. We argued for weeks and, after a trip home where I hashed out my relationship frustrations with my best friends, I returned, resolved to end it with my ex. Then he pulled out the ring. I was in the kitchen cutting vegetables and we were mid-fight when he ran out, rushed back, and sat me in a chair. He kneeled before it, a diamond sparkling in the velvet-lined box in his hand. It all happened so fast: the ring, the moment — none of it seemed real. "Are you joking?" I asked, and his face softened in a look of wounded vulnerability. He was so afraid I was going to say no. And it was so tender, so sweet. I didn't want to hurt him. So I said yes to him and told myself that I could always change my mind. But as wedding planning progressed, it grew harder to back out. I couldn't tell my friends and future family that I did not actually want to wear the dress we'd picked out, or that I would not be needing bridesmaids after all. So I said my vows and, for the next 3.5 years, tried to ignore the gnawing feeling I'd made a huge mistake. And then I met Mike. Mike was a coworker, and we spent our days silently editing video side by side in a sound booth no larger than a walk-in closet. Behind our computers was a two-way mirror, and I stole glimpses at his fuzzy reflection, wondering if he looked at me too. I whiled away workdays dreaming of the house we might share and the children we might have. And after a year of quiet infatuation, when my obsession was so overblown I could think of nothing else, I confessed my feelings to him. I hoped we could laugh them off, that they would die like a virus when exposed to air. But the opposite happened when he said he felt the same way. I moved out and asked my husband for a divorce. And for a time, it felt like every decision I'd ever made had been the right one, because only that specific chain of events could have led me to Mike. When we held hands, warm electric fuzz pulsed through my body. "Cosmically interconnected" was how he described us. I felt I was finally experiencing the world as others lived it, as if I'd been dead my whole life. Three years later, we were living together and I hoped he would propose. He said he wanted to get married but took no steps toward it. Desperate, I gave him the ultimatum: If we aren't engaged within a year, I am going to leave. This risky move had panned out for several of my friends; it failed for me. I clung to hope for several more months until it was undeniable that, despite his claims otherwise, Mike did not want to marry me. Sometimes I wonder how much I felt for Mike was love and how much was projection. In the beginning, his silence offered a blank slate onto which I could draw my unrealized hopes. But the passivity that attracted me to him also compelled me to leave. In not telling me he didn't want to get married, he tried not to hurt me the way I'd tried not to hurt my ex. And so I learned how seeming acts of self-sacrifice are more damaging than they might seem, how the inability to voice one's truth so deeply hurts the ones we love.
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