Usually the non-life-threatening events in the lives of acquaintances don’t ruin my day. I can certainly empathize if my friend’s cousin lost his job, or a high school classmate has her car stolen. It’s awful stuff, but it doesn’t torment me. Yet I’ve been losing sleep for a week over what just happened to someone I’ve only met twice.
This girl got jilted. Just how you’d expect in the beginning of some kind of romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts . . . left at the altar on her wedding day, or, technically, 4 days before her wedding day, but close enough. She lived with him for 5 years. She was beyond devoted and caring, and also very closely tied to him – moving for him and subsequently depending on him for financial support. And when she told him that she was hoping for a proposal, he proposed, and the wedding planning began.
From what I understand, he felt trapped. I’ve been told that this is common among men – that they end up with a great girl who they really care about, but they’re just not quite sure if they’re ready for the lifetime commitment of marriage. [Sidenote: WHY?!] And rather than have an honest conversation or simply break-up, they accept marriage as the path of least resistance and trudge passively towards the aisle. Except in this case, with cake baking, guests flying, and wedding gown fitted, the groom-to-be suddenly decided that he needed out. With all the formality of a single conversation with his now ex-fiancee and a few awkward phone conversations with guests and caterers, he was gone.
I was a genuine wreck over this news. At moments I was breathless, imagining the magnitudes of despair the jilted bride was experiencing – every level from losing her entire imagined future husband and children, losing the guy himself who she loved, losing her current home, to even losing the chance to wear the lovely dress she had dreamed of dancing in. And what do you do instead, on the day you were supposed to be a beautiful bride? These thoughts plagued me, more than anything because I knew how real each one was. I knew that she would be crying, breathless, alternately shocked, despairing, angry, and entirely hopeless. The worst break-up of all time.
Still, as I found myself reeling at every new realization (how could she ever look forward with joy to a wedding again, let alone plan one?) I also felt confused about why this was paining me so deeply. Mostly because people kept asking me why. So I considered. For one, I had been that girl – the one who wanted to get married and felt put in the position of pushing for it. We were happy together, perfect partners and companions, so why did I have to vigorously campaign? As an ambitious and know-it-all college student (some things never change) I can now understand the apprehension of my far more typical what’s-the-rush boyfriend. It always bothered me that our wedding was the result of one-sided confidence, but nothing gives me greater satisfaction than Bill now saying “you were right.” (Actually, I love when Bill says I was right about pretty much anything). But it could have happened to me – Bill could have panicked at the last moment, and accused me of being pushy. Which in some way I’m sure this bolting groom did.
Part of my turmoil stems from my belief in not doing evil to others. I am the Queen of Follow-Through (a former colleague recently dubbed me this), and it’s true, if you ask me to show up and bring that and do this, I’m your gal. If you need something delivered or built or filmed or baked, you can count on me. If you invite me to your bachelorette party and I can’t make it, I will call the restaurant and order a nice bottle of wine to your table. I may not be the relaxed, laid-back friend you love to party with (I will most likely be cleaning something while we chat or give you an unsolicited speech on educational reform), but you can count on me. It’s everything I stand for – honoring friends, respecting feelings, being true to commitments. So when I hear about a guy who’s failed massively at respecting his devoted fiancee, and furthermore isn’t completely torn up about it, I want to kill him. Preferably by precise cuts with the beautiful custom photo wedding card I had designed for him.
We all make choices at times that negatively impact others, sometimes we have to, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be loving and apologetic. At the very least, sparing someone massive humiliation should be paramount. Apologies should be profuse, but in this case, I didn’t hear of any sincere ones. It makes me seethe. And now that a week has gone by, and multiple people have asked me why I’m still upset, I’ve stopped worrying about why. I can pick apart the specific reasons, but, really, I just feel for this jilted girl who is going to have many years of challenge ahead – finding a way to support herself, a new place to live, a new person to trust. So instead of stewing on it or questioning my feelings, I gave in and wrote her the long email that I had worried was presumptuous. Why would she want to hear from me? She replied with gratitude, explaining she had read my email a bunch of times and it had given her strength.
I told my friend Rhea that I regretted questioning whether or not to write. She told me that she lost friends when her father died, because they didn’t know what to say or didn’t think she’d want to hear from them at that time. “That’s when people need to hear from you,” she advised wisely, and she’s right. People have a tendency to back off when someone else experiences tragedy, but that’s absurd. Everyone needs cheerleaders and supporters, but most of all when they’re down. You don’t have to say much, you don’t have to address the specifics of something private or painful, but you do need to let someone know that they’re in your heart.
Maybe I should also write an email to the groom saying what’s in my heart . . .