On Cold Feet


I probably should have ignored The Hairpin’s link to an article on women who marry the men they don’t love as soon as I saw it was from Marie Claire, but I do stupid things all the time.

The article tells us some women marry men they don’t love for various women-are-dumb reasons (they’re excited to have a wedding! they are about to turn 30!) even they know, in their gut, they shouldn’t marry him.  And then a few years later they get divorced. Thesis: cold feet? Abort engagement!

I think that is crap. Maybe I’m kidding myself because I don’t want to end my engagement or end up divorced, but I am no stranger to cold feet and I still think Collin and I should get married.  And again, maybe I’m kidding myself, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in that.  I think we’re just afraid to talk about it because of divorce statistics and the “you’ll see”s and the responding chorus of “but we’re different! I am one hundred thousand percent sure we’ll be this blissfully happy forever!”

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe everyone but me is one hundred thousand percent sure. And maybe my marriage is doomed. But let me be perfectly clear: I get cold feet.

Sure, I don’t have the “in my gut I know this is wrong” feeling described in that piece. But I don’t have the “in my gut I know this is right!” feeling either. I don’t think that has anything to do with Collin. It has everything to do with me: my depression and my pessimism and my anxiety.  If I had to be absolutely sure, I’d never get married.

The best I can do is “really pretty sure” and “I really want this.” That gives me a leg up on the women in that Marie Claire article who don’t really want to marry their partners. But it doesn’t make my marriage failsafe.  And I’m tired of hearing the message that doubts = doomed, because, well, that just makes me doubt more.

So maybe you’re one of the “sure you’re sure” people and you think I’m fooling myself. Maybe you’re a marriage cynic and think anyone getting married is fooling themselves. Maybe you’re Future Robin the Jilted or Divorced Woman and you’re reading this through tears of regret. But the truth is the truth: I am not sure my marriage is going to work, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. So if there is anyone else like me, you’re not alone, and at least as far as I’m concerned, you’re not a fool.


  1. you’re not alone. I don’t think anyone would get married if they had to be 100% sure, just like you said. anyone who says they are is probably fibbing. or is a real life disney princess or something.

  2. I’m not 100% sure I believe that marriage works, and I’m married. In a mortal existance where you can never be 100% sure that you are even going to wake up the next morning, almost anything is worth a shot if you’re willing to put in the work. Good, honest post.

    • Thanks. Yeah, both of my parents died very suddenly, which really set me up for a lifetime of “nothing is a sure thing” Which of course makes me have crazy high therapy bills. But the bright side is that I am a little more… flexible about change than some other people.

  3. Yeah, anyone who says they are 100% sure they will stay together forever is either lying or a fool. Like Kerry says, you can never be 100% sure of anything. Due to anxiety/pessimism/twice divorced mom it took me 10 years of prep work to feel good about getting married. Not sure, but good and comfortable.

    • A lot of these comments mention being together for a long time before getting married as a way to deal with a tendency toward doubt, which makes sense. Collin and I got engaged after only a year and a half of dating, and people respond to that with, “when you know you know” and I’m more like, “when you’ll never know, you just go with what feels best.” Which is getting married.

  4. I don’t really think anything makes a marriage failsafe. And I think having doubts but talking about them and overcoming them is really helpful in building a solid relationship–you know, the kind that will last.

  5. Such a lovely post. I think doubts are healthy — being tuned in to how we’re really feeling about our relationships means we can work at them, communicate about them, make them better and stronger and happier. In my first serious adult relationship, I fell pray to this insane desire to believe “EVERYTHING IS PERFECT” all the time; I’d bought into the idea that I had to be certain, because uncertainty was too frightening. When the relationship ended I realized that I’d ignored so many problems because I wanted or needed life to seem flawless.

    I’m also getting married in July, and now I take a much more pragmatic approach to these things. I love my partner, dearly, and he makes me happier than I’ve ever been before. But I also know that we want the same things in life. We have a shared vision for our future. I can trust him. We’re steadying for one another. We’re teammates, and we’ve got each other’s backs. Of course, I’m perfectly aware that what we want and share and see might change as we grow older — but we’re committed to working through that. We’re going to inevitably grow into different people — that’s what happens, period — but we want to do it together. To pretend anything else might happen would be foolish.

    Also, can we talk about how horrifying this article is? Quotes like this make me cringe: “”Women often forget that marriage isn’t just about a big wedding,” says Allison Moir-Smith, author of Emotionally Engaged. “It’s also about evolving from being single to married. That’s a big thing to deal with.”"

    Um. Yeah. Thanks for the reminder that this is a major life choice I’m making. I almost forgot because oh-my-mason-jars-are-so-adorable!

    • I love what you wrote about being teammates. That’s something I love about being with Collin and look forward to in our marriage: the feeling of having each other’s backs.

      And yeah, the stuff in there about how women get married to have a wedding is just gross.

  6. Yes! I have doubts! Doubts about the relationship AND about my wedding dress. Is either cold feet? I don’t think so. I think my doubts about my relationship exist because I am pragmatic and cautious in general, and I am not sure that any relationship can last a lifetime without a whooole lot of work, compromise, and evolution in the same direction. I love my dude and can’t wait to be married to him, but there are plenty of moments (usually when he takes his socks off in bed ew ew ew) when I question what we’re doing. But I am, at the end of the day, willing to take the gamble and willing to put in the work and willing to cross my fingers.

  7. Yeah, my partner has a saying: “If you are 100% positive about something, then it’s probably too good to be true, so run like hell.”

    Which helps.

    Especially today, when I am REALLY depressed and I want him to FIX IT (umm, duh, not going to happen and not his job) and instead he really wants to but is just making things worse. *sigh*

    If he were a perfect therapist-type person, a: I’d be a dependent mess and b: umm, he’d be my therapist, not my partner.

    But still. I doubt. And I hope. And I think. And I overthink. And I doubt some more. But dammit, I really think I want to be married to him, and I think we’re good for each other (and, you know, we love each other, too).

    So. Yeah.

    • I relate to this because I also suffer from depression, but Collin is the one who wants to FIX IT and I’m like, “Dude, you just can’t.” It’s definitely been a huge challenge for us.

  8. I’m working on a piece sort of about this right now, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Personally, I think that saying “I do” in the face of divorce and death and the lack of societal forces that used to keep marriages together is one of the bravest things a person can do. We don’t have to be sure. The important thing is that we do it anyway.

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it probably applies to you.

    • Yes, wow. “The lack of societal forces that used to keep marriages together.” Some of those I say good riddance to (like women being financially dependent on husbands) and others I wish we still had… Sounds like a really interesting piece and I can’t wait to read it.

  9. No one is certain their marriage will work until it has worked for 10 20 30+ years. And even then, you have to keep trying cause those marriages can get overgrown with weeds if they aren’t tended to properly.

    I didn’t have “cold feet” prior to getting married and I really do think that we’ll make it. However, I was never (and am still not) 100% certain of that…

  10. Thanks for posting this. I HATE articles like that. It’s so completely natural to have mixed feelings about getting married, and I KNOW that, but still everytime I read one of those articles saying you should be 100% sure it makes my gut clench. Marriage is such a huge change that even being 100% certain about my fiance doesn’t mean I don’t have major cold feet about being a “wife”, being the only married woman in some of my groups of friends, opening the door to the “when are you gonna buy a house/have kids” interrogation from people, and having my finances legally tied up with someone else’s. Scary! I think the whole point of having an engagement is taking the time to work through those concerns.
    Incidentally, my two other least favorite articles are the ones about how married women are less happy than single women, and married women do more housework than single women. They’re always written like “why are women stupid enough to keep getting married” and not like this is a problem with our society that we need to fix. arg.

    • I have a tag for this which I forgot to apply to this post: “You’re Doing This Wrong.” So much media directed at women (well, people, but women moreso) is scolding them for making the wrong choices and having the wrong values. Arg indeed.

  11. I’m one of those people who decides something after muuuuuch careful deliberation and then goes on ahead with it. People have assumed I was getting married around the next bend for the last 7 (SEVEN?!) years, and I never have, because I always knew it wasn’t right for me. When I met C, I knew that we could make it work as best as any two people can, because we fit.

    I’ve never believed in ‘the one’ (though if you do, more power!). I believe in two people striving to be the best they can be themselves and together. And C and I hit at the right time in our lives and we absolutely love each other. So I’m going for it, even though I don’t have any examples of a marriage “working”. Thank goodness for Dan Savage teaching us to examine our definition of “working”. That’s helped me a lot.

    Hugs, and thank you for this. Actually, last week was my first experience with someone asking if I was sure I wanted to go thru with it. My very honest response was: “The wedding? Not so sure. The marriage? Absolutely.” My fam and friends know me well enough to see that it’s right.

    • I also don’t believe in “the one,” but I do get a little sentimental about things like, “if I didn’t join this study group I wouldn’t have met Matt and then I wouldn’t have met Collin!” lines of thought.

      And you’re far from the only person who feels more sure about their marriage than their wedding. Marriages are hard, important work. Weddings are hard, sometimes frivolous work. It’s easier to give up on the second.

  12. I have been thinking about this a lot recently. I have been engaged for about six months and we have just started wedding planning so everything seems “more real.” I am a scientist who went to law school and then became a divorce attorney. I am basically trained and paid to over-analyze everything. Plus- and this may be a stereotype, but it is true among my circle that women overanalyze relationships. While dating, we worry all the time about “what does he think about me? Does he think about me? Is he going to call? When will he call? etc..” We can drive ourselves mad. I think this is a different version of the same tune. We are going to have doubts, but unless you are actively ignoring red flags in your relationship (money, sex, children, the way you treat each other) or mistakenly believe that things are going to change after the wedding, then they are just the normal inner voices of overanalyzing and doubt which I apply to almost all areas of my life: relationships, exercise, spending, career, food, home decor, hairstyle, clothing, facebook comments, and on.

  13. Brave post. It’s definitely not something that’s talked about very much, because people generally tend to jump all over those doubts. Everyone has doubts. I mean, in this day and age with divorce as high as it is, you can’t not. If you don’t have any at all, you are probably a bit naive.

    Divorce happens in the least expected of places. Even if you choose your marriage 100% every single day, you are still married to another person who could choose differently. Even if you trust your partner, you can’t control them. There are just so many unknowns that getting married is a risk and a leap.

  14. I am pretty sure that there are also plenty of people who “are 100% certain” that end up divorced.

    Marriage is a leap of faith. There’s no way around it. The question is, are you ready to take that leap?

    I remember one time, I was on a houseboat trip with my friends. Everyone was jumping from the roof of the houseboat into the water. This sounds dangerous, and it was, a little, but it wasn’t PARTICULARLY dangerous. It was a small boat, it wasn’t that far, the lake was deep, etc.

    Anyway, I really, really, wanted to jump, but I was scared. So my friend held my hand, and asked if I was ready? Holding his hand, I felt confident. So, we jumped.

    And it was pretty awesome.

    I think about that a lot when I think about marriage. Marriage, like all good things in life, is a risk. But holding my fiance’s hand, I feel ready to jump.

  15. You are awesome for this. I’ve been going through something similar too, where I know I love Isaiah and I want to marry him…but I don’t always have that YES YES YES YES YES WEEEE MARRIAGE! feeling either.. I’m pretty terrified of divorce and I would guess that’s pretty much exactly where the feeling stems from…being from a family where only ONE couple in my entire extended family has been married for more than 10 years successfully.

    My mom married someone she knew she shouldn’t have married. I’ll tell you secondhand from her that she said the exact same thing as the article. In her gut, she knew she was rushing. She knew he wasn’t who she would be with forever and she had a picture of him in her mind that she knew he wasn’t. They split this year, four years in and she never stopped knowing that he wasn’t right for her.

    I think the feeling can be pronounced like that. But I also think it can come out of naivety and willingly burying your head in wedding planning thinking that everything will get better after the marriage. You know it’s right. You’re aware of all of Collin’s warts that you know of and you still love him despite or because or whatever depending on what day it is. I’m positive your heads in the right place, just don’t overthink it.

  16. Well said. And as a bride just 8 days from W-Day, I’m trying hard to resist the urge to click on the link to that article….

  17. So, I’m not engaged, married, or in a relationship right now, but I think you’re right on. (I’m not sure why I felt the need to qualify my opinion like that, but for some reason I did, ha!)

    I don’t think you can KNOW, without a doubt, 100% that things will wind up “perfect” – because nobody can know the future, and also because I don’t think any relationship comes without its surprises down the road.

    But you can HOPE and hope goes a long way.

  18. I always hate in the cute indie vintage blogalicious blog posts how people say “he is my perfect partner, la la la,” because that’s not how I feel. Maybe it’s because I’m well into my thirties, but I just don’t see things as that absolute.

    My husband and I talk about the myth of the “one.” I don’t think there is “the one” at all. There’s just someone you have a pretty good chance of liking a lot for the rest of your life. He could be someone else, but he isn’t. I felt better about doubts, etc., when I thought about it in terms of friends.

    I have had some long-term (25-plus years) close friendships. They are not the perfect uber-friends (if they were, they would be showing up on my doorstep with coffee, right now). Sometimes they piss me off. But they are good to me, and I love them. So I have a pretty good chance of feeling the same about my man (albeit with more x-rated action :) .

    • Yeah, people talk a lot about the pressure we get from “cute indie vintage blogalicious blog posts” (amazing descriptor, btw) to be cute, and indie, and vintage, and blogalicious, but gloss right over the pressure to have The Greatest Love of All. And much like our wedding will be a wedding instead of an epic presentation of our coolness, our marriage will be two people in love facing life together instead of an explosion of emotion and compatibility and perfect togetherness.

  19. I was going to tell you that I read somewhere that some people just don’t have the “100% sure” personality type, but that was in your post on APW, so it’s like circular reasoning. “I’m going to tell you it’s OK to feel this way because you told me it’s OK to feel this way!” I’ll have to other tactics.

    Tactic 1: Long story about my experience.
    I got engaged before I was really ready to be married. My unreadiness had to do with both our relationship and my own self. I’ve always been an anxious person. I’d had depression for several years which had improved significantly since I started getting help but was still a factor. Between that & other things our relationship had some hard times in college. My parents split up during my last year of college after ~30 years together, and that was hell to watch. Then things weren’t exactly awesome once my fiance and I started living together (mostly personality/expectation clashes, no mistreatment). I’d have dreams where I was about to walk down the aisle and I was terrified and trying to run away. I knew it was wrong to get married if I felt that way, so I didn’t.

    Over a few years of living together things got better. Part of it was learning how to work our daily lives in a way that worked for both our personalities. Part of it was learning to communicate and just getting experienced at solving disagreements. A big part of it was reframing my thoughts about the future and how marriage should work. I used to think I had to be 100% sure that we’d never divorce and we had to have no problems before we could even start wedding planning. Eventually I realized that as long as we had good problem solving methods, and trusted each other to want to solve problems, we’d be really likely to handle anything that comes up. I also realized that there was nothing I could do now to completely guarantee only happiness for the coming decades. We might have conflict over housework now but in 30 years we could be disagreeing about our grandchild’s robot nanny, I don’t know. We started planning when I got impatient for him to be my family, and at our wedding I couldn’t wait to get down the aisle to him.

    The get-married decision is behind us and I feel like I made the right one, but it’s going to be a new decision every day after that to make our marriage good and happy. You can’t make all of those decisions now and be done with them – you’ll just have to live your life.

    Tactic 2: Point out that depression doesn’t help with this topic. At least for me, it magnifies smallish anxieties into certain doom, turns the future into an overwhelming and inevitable cloud of suck, and makes me hate myself for every mistake. Getting married involves anxiety, the future, and making mistakes, so my depression just hops right in there and makes a mess.

    Tactic 3: Point out the quiz at the end of that article. Obviously its results will 100% predict your marital success! Especially the super-relevant question about what kinds of books you like to read.

    • Oh god why is that so long, I’m sorry! Especially since your comments make it clear you’ve thought of lots of these things.

  20. I’ll be honest, sometimes I think to myself, “maybe we will end up divorced.” But the thing is, I took that risk willingly because I know that of all the people to be divorced from, Mark’s not a bad one. He’s calm, he’s rational, and he’ll be an easy person to work out custody with. Not that it’s ever easy. But yes, I thought about what it would be like to be divorced from my husband before I agreed to marry him. I feel like that makes me better prepared. I will be a nightmare to be divorced from though, so he was clearly a fool.

  21. I am in the ‘doubts are normal’ camp.

    I’m sure I love my OH and sure that I want to marry him, but I still have wobbles. I couldn’t even tell you what causes them or what they are about – but I do have my moments when I wonder if the wedding is a mistake and whether we’d be fine just carrying on as we are.

    I think there is some merit in the theory that the more you hear ‘doubts = doom’ the more you will wobble, simply because a marriage is a serious thing.

    I think, as with all things in life, you have to plan where you can and for the rest – take each day as it comes. If you are as sure as you can be that you want to marry the man you are with, then do it. Ok there’s always a chance it won’t work, but deal with that if it happens, I don’t think people should try to pre-empt it by second guessing their feelings :)

    • I think that even if you’d be fine carrying on the way you are doesn’t mean the marriage is a mistake. Like, “man, this ice cream is delicious and great!” doesn’t mean it won’t be better with chocolate syrup on it.

  22. well i got “Mr. Right” as my quiz result, so clearly, i’m all good now.

    seriously, i get cold feet ALL the. damn. time. sometimes it’s just about having a wedding. other, less frequent, times it’s about getting married. marriage was never something i seriously thought i would ever do. but it’s important to scott, and i’ve thought very hard about it over the 4 years of our relationship, and if it’s that important to him, and has nice legal benefits (hello not having living kin to take care of me and/or inherit my crap!), then i will do it. still and all, it’s not easy to erase 20 years of assuming with 4 years of reevaluating.

    my biggest issue, and this hit me like a ton of fucking bricks just last week (i think thurs, the day you posted this, we had a marathon “discussion” about all this), is that: i know how to cope with changes, like illness, death, being left, etc. Any of those would devastate me, but i know how to get through it. what i have NO clue how to handle is the staying together bit. like seriously, knowing this man for the next 50 years, as romantic as that sounds, also scares the pants off me. the longest relationships in my life are at the 15 year mark. (when they hit 19 yrs, that means i’ll have known those friends longer than i knew my mom!) so yea, i am wondering if you relate to this, as someone who is all too familiar with how life can be fickle…

    • Wow, that is super interesting. It makes perfect sense to me, even though I haven’t experienced it much, probably because my older sister and I are close, so I have a permanent fixture of awesome in my life that is still around.

      But I’ve also lost people I love to things other than death… personality changes or life changes or what have you… and that does leave a mark on me and make me more skeptical than your average bride about “forever.” But more and more I’m feeling strong and confident that the wedding/marriage is not about saying “this is forever” but about saying “we sure as hell want it to be, and we’re going to try our damnedest to make it.”

  23. I don’t know jack about marriage, but there has to be a middle ground between “he is my perfect partner and I am 100% sure!” and “I am really not sure about this but I am plowing through anyway!” — right?

    I think doubts are worth listening to. Which does not AT ALL mean I think they’re not normal or indicate there’s anything wrong with the relationship, let alone that they automatically translate into some insane “the marriage won’t work” line of thought. I just mean that doubts can indicate a number of things and it’s worth finding out what those things are. (In your case I think you’ve already done this — relating it to anxiety and overanalysis — but I just want to speak on a theoretical level about doubts being normal but not worthless.)

  24. It is completely natural to have cold feet. The most important thing is you know that you love your fiance and yes, you are going to make the marriage work once there will be humps along the way. It will always be natural to have some misunderstandings between husband and wife, some even take a break, but what matters the most is your trying and keeping it to work. ;)

  25. Back with another comment. There’s a difference (to me anyway) between doubting the person and doubting the unknown future. I don’t doubt Stephen, I’m really confident in him and our relationship so far but I do have worries about things in the future that may change our situation, like kids and growing apart. Those thing are going to exist no matter how long we wait or who I’m with, so I don’t want to let those things hold us back.

  26. Doubts are normal. Doubting the future is normal. Doubting your partner is normal. Any thinking person will have doubts about the major decisions in life. Being engaged is the time to put your relationship, yourself, and your life under a microscope. If doubts arise during that process of introspective, great: now is the time to examine them and put some to rest while moving forward even with the bevy of doubts in tow. It’s one of the great tragedies of our culture that when an engaged woman expresses doubt, she’s most often met with, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be getting married.” I can’t think of a more inane response to an honest admission of what most people feel on the threshold of change.

  27. Thank you so much for writing this- I read it just as I was in the depths of wondering what the hell I was doing, getting married, feeling like living together is terrible, I should run, etc. I get bouts of “doom” from time to time as a matter of course (I should add that I’m beginning to realize I may actually be depressed, not just “moody”) but I never had it about us before and it scared the everloving sh*t out of me. I’ve gotten past it now, but I needed to read this post so much you have no idea (or maybe you do). So thank you.

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