I took off my ring yesterday

Guest post by AerialDelight

When I was a child, I became convinced that my shoelaces could hold my mother's love. Every morning she would tie my shoes and take me to school, and all day I imagined some of her love had gotten wrapped around the laces and was held in place by the flimsy double knot bow. I say flimsy because inevitably my shoes would start to untie, and I would get anxious. It's dumb, but the rules of this little imaginary game prohibited me from doing anything to tighten the bow — my laces would slacken and I just knew that her love was leaking away with it.

I guess I assumed my engagement ring would feel the same, and in some ways it does. But I'm older now, more practical, and so I take it off to do the dishes and take a shower, to climb the silks, and train on the trapeze. While it doesn't feel like the betrayal of my shoelaces becoming undone, I still hold on to that bit of superstition. If my future husband isn't around I'll slide the ring on myself. But if he is around, I give it to him to slide on my finger himself and, on some level, I feel like I'm capturing some of his feelings close to the skin of my hand.

I took my ring off yesterday. Just for a shower, but before the shower I had been crying on the phone to my mom and before that I had been dealing (poorly) with the joyless obligation our wedding had become. The juggernaut that was my in-laws had rolled us over with cultural presumptions and growing financial expectations. An invite list of 96 because “no one can be left out,” though nowhere on that list were my family or friends to be found. A bottle of Remy Martin at every table. A cab for everyone that came. All our attempts to compromise were brushed aside.

It had become toxic, and through it all I could see a miserable future for us. He, with his inability to set personal boundaries with his family. I, on the other hand, am the steel to his humanity (as he likes to tease me). I don't submit if I don't choose to, and though I've been unfailingly polite (bless their hearts) I had reached my breaking point.

“I'm done,” I told my fiancé, and it was the first time in all this ridiculous drama I saw that he really looked worried. “I'm not going to spend $10,000 for a reception that doesn't include my family or my faith. I have tried to compromise, I have tried to offer suggestions, but no one has cared. You all can have your giant feast, but I won't be a part of it.”

He, earnest man that he is, promised to get this all under control. He tried by writing a clear and honest email to his sister that clearly stated our position. He read articles on setting boundaries with loved ones, and together we found clarity in what we were looking for.

But instead of a reply from his sister, he just got more demands from his mother.

“This is how it's going to be for the rest of your marriage,” my mom told me on the phone, when I said I was getting frustrated with all the wedding advice to just make my in-laws happy. “If you let them have everything they want, it's just going to kick the can further down the road. When you have a kid, it's only going to get worse. Will he really be able to stand up to his parents then? I know he doesn't think he's going to let them move in with you, but if he can't tell them no now, over a banquet you can't afford, they are going to do it anyway. They are going to suck you dry, if you let them”

“I don't know if I can deal with that.”

“Well, then, it's good that you're learning that now,” she said, and I recognized the tone. It was absolutely neutral, the voice she used to her sponsees when they called her at all hours needing that cool, clear-headed opinion she has become rather famous for in the AA circuit.

There was a lot more discussion, and tears (mine) and wisdom (hers) and when it was all said and done I needed a shower, as much for the literal cleansing as the metaphoric one. When I came out I looked at my engagement ring and, for the first time, I hesitated.

And when I got dressed I left the ring on my dresser.

I needed one day, just one, where I really considered whether this marriage was something I wanted. Throughout the in-law drama I would ask my my fiancé if he was absolutely sure he wanted to marry me.

I realized I'd never really considered the question myself.

On the subway to work, I thought about it. When that wasn't enough, I prayed on it.

Now, I was raised Presbyterian, but I have a healthy appreciation for all forms of spirituality and sometime in the past ten years or so I picked up the habit of praying the rosary. There's something about the structure of it, the recitation of the same two prayers over and over that I've found takes me to a place where my conscious mind is kept just on the edge of distraction that my subconscious is able to get a word in. Since I didn't have a rosary with me, I counted the decades on my knuckles and (lighter, more aerodynamic) fingers, ignoring the jostling hostility of New Yorkers getting to work.

I needed one day, just one, where I really considered whether this marriage was something I wanted… I realized I'd never really considered the question myself.

I hailed Mary on one side of my brain while the other thought of how my engagement ring had looked, glinting bright and hopeful on my dresser. A slow realization came over me that, along with my ring and my Mason jars and bistro lighting, I had become enamored of the idea of a wedding and hadn't paid more than lip service to the idea of marriage. I was upset by the money my in-laws wantonly thought was their right to spend, and I don't think I'm being dishonest in my worry that the wedding my in-laws want will take away money for our future. But was I willing to give up “my” wedding too?

What if we eloped? Would that put us on equal footing? I realized I was sad that I wouldn't get to throw the reception I wanted, but was that because I wanted to honor my community or feed my ego? Raised in a family that can create beautiful dinner parties at the drop of a hat, was I anxious that I wouldn't get the chance to show off my taste and capabilities?

Was that what was going on?

If I'm being perfectly honest, then yes. That was part of it.

It wasn't the whole story, though, because I also knew that my fiancé and I were good together. I knew that as difficult as I can be, his easy-going nature could tease me out of my fire and brimstone, death-to-all-dissenters inclinations. I knew that those same qualities of mine could be used to bolster his confidence and empower him to set and keep boundaries, which he had begun to do, though my impatience to be done with this drama had blinded me to the progress he had made.

Maybe we needed to extend the engagement another year. It's not quite giving up, but it tastes the same. When I got to the last “Our Father,” I turned on my iPhone and consulted my other spiritual adviser: Dolly Parton.

When I'm feeling lost, or overwhelmed — when I'm at a cross roads — I like to listen to Light Of A Clear Blue Morning. She wrote it when she left Porter Wagnor, and headed out to begin her new career on her own. I usually can find empowerment when she belts out that she can “see the light of a clear blue morning,” but this time it was her saying “everything's going to be alright, it's going to be okay” — the simple hope and faith in those words that hit something inside me.

I started to cry. And I started to believe. If Saint Dolly said it was going to be alright, who was I to argue?

When my fiancé got home we made dinner and, as has become our custom, took a shower together. I like to hold him close to me under the water. I've never felt comfortable taking a shower with other significant others, since I always worried they would hate what I looked like without make up. But I've never worried about him seeing me.

We talked about postponing the wedding. We talked about my concern about my wedding obsession — I told him I was worried I had bullied him into marrying me because that's something that I wanted. We talked about eloping.

I asked him again if he was sure that this was what he wanted.

“I choose you,” he said, like he had told me countless times before and this time I believed him.

When we got out of the shower, I took my ring off the dresser and handed it to him.

“Are you sure you want this?” he asked, my words in his mouth.

And it's true, nothing has really been solved. His parents still have their demands. We are still as close to broke as ever. We still can see the future: filled with familial demands, and hurt feelings, and unwieldy egos.

But I feel more resolved.

“I really really do.”

Comments on I took off my ring yesterday

  1. Powerful read. My heart goes out to you. I have walked in your shoes lately, and it is overwhelming. You are not alone. At all.

    • You are absolutely not alone!! Reading this gave me so much hope, even two years from when you wrote it. My fiance’s family has a long and painful history of passive-aggressiveness, indirect communication, paranoia, and an inability to trust that people have positive intentions. We are getting married in January, but learned yesterday that despite all of our hard work and positive intention to be inclusive and respectful, both of his (divorced) parents feel left out of the planning process, and as though we don’t want them in our lives. To us, this sounds ridiculous, and we’re hurt that they could possibly think that. We have been together almost 8 years (since we were 16 and 17) and that after all that time they could still hold onto a belief that I secretly don’t want them in our lives is baffling at best and devastating at worst.
      Your writing was a beautiful reminder that at the root of all of it, I fell in love with my soon-to-be husband as a young girl, and my feelings for him have only ever gotten stronger. Wedding planning has sucked so much harder than I thought it would, and I’ve definitely gotten caught in the swirl. But knowing that he and I have the power to choose each other again and again, even when the going is this tough, is incredibly significant and empowering. Thank you for reminding me of that. I wish you the best of luck!

  2. Thank you for writing this! I totally got caught up in the wedding fever too – and I was the one who ended up having to set boundaries with my family, which was really really hard. I almost did call it off, but then I realized (like you!) that I was too focused on the wedding and not focused enough on the marriage. Refocusing helped me figure out which hills I was willing to die on and where I could compromise so that our wedding ended up being the perfect start to our marriage! Keeping my fingers crossed for smoother sailing for you!

  3. Such a wise, considered, intimate article. Thanks for writing it, and I wish you all the very best in your future grappling.

  4. Thank you for sharing. And in such a heartfelt way. I too walked a similar path during our engagement and the issues with his parents are far from resolved. Our wedding brought a lot of tensions to a head between us and his parents, and even though it was probably one of the toughest times that we’ve encountered as a couple, I am grateful for it. I am grateful because it has shown me what a compassionate, strong and loving man I chose to marry. Because we as a unit worked so hard together. We didn’t always get it right, and when we slipped up, we took stock, learned from our mistakes and altered our behaviours. Our mantra became “starting as we mean to continue” and we still repeat it to each other when things get heated or emotional or tough. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. I’m a firm believer in this. And beginning our marriage as a solid partnership felt amazing and was well worth any struggle it took.

    Choosing each other when it’s easy, is something anyone can do. Choosing each other again and again when it’s one massive emotional learning curve, now that’s true love.

  5. Beautifully written and I’ve been where you are. Just keep remembering that your future husband is what’s important, a marriage is worth so much more than a wedding. These future in-laws need to realise that.

  6. This made me cry a little. =(

    Its a lot of heaviness in the heart to love someone who is your “one” when the people that they came from are horrible, inconsiderate jerks. If it makes anything easier..I’m actually like your husband. My family does horrible guilt trips and into our second year of marriage, we had just wasted money to go on a 6 hour drive to stay the weekend with my blood-sucking family. I spent hours of listening to my grandmother say how much my husband needs to be in the military and how I need a civilian job on a military base. I promised him I would stand up to them and tell them we just couldn’t drop everything to cater to their whims. I promised this would be the last time. I even bitched and gnarled my face in anger all the way there, ready to start a fight as soon as I saw them.
    I didn’t do it. It wasn’t that I was afraid. As soon as they saw me, I felt like a child again. A misunderstood child who is always wrong and had to follow what others said. I felt horrible for dragging my husband down into this. This vicious cycle that I’m afraid won’t stop. You know what helped me through that storm? My husband’s love and strength. He knew my inner struggle and gave me a place to cry and move on. He knows what he married into. I warned him of everything I could, but he never stopped and walked away. He even did yard work and played poker late at night with my drunk family. All without complaining. I felt horrible about it, but he just kissed and reminded me that he’s in it for the long haul.
    Thank you, author, for being you. If it wasn’t for the love you have for people like your husband, like me… who were raised in a briar bush, we would feel hopeless of ever finding someone who loves us as individuals, regardless of our families or friends. Just be that rock. Be that sea of comfort and always remember that patience and love pay off. Be happy in each other, find strength in each other. Marriage will never be easy. Its like the saying, “A calm sea never made a skilled sailor” Just chalk it up as trial that can just solidify your relationship. I know that sometimes stuff like this is hard and some people have it way worse and have no other option but to walk away. Thats okay, thats life. Thank you for posting this, and I honestly hope everything works out for the best for both of you.

  7. This is beautifully written. That specific song by Dolly Parton has helped me through some tough times. Good for you for taking the time to examine what you are doing and what this marriage is about. We’re rooting for you!

  8. Thank you for sharing your honesty and beautiful writing. I’m sure this will help so many brides.

  9. I felt as if I was reading my diary entry just now. I would Google search for feelings and experiences just like this. We are dealing with the EXACT same thing my friend! I am freaking out still and my wedding is in less than two weeks. I am so sorry you are going through this, as well, as it is a heart-wrenching experience. Please feel free to email me if you need someone to talk to as I think I am still in need of someone to connect with about this topic. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Though I’ve never planned a wedding with my fiance, I too encountered the same struggles you did with your in-laws, with my own prospective in-laws. They began to act as though our budget was THEIR budget, our clothes THEIR clothes, our pet THEIR pet, and they even tried to have say over the fact that I wanted to bring a new kitten into our home (they’re deathly allergic — they immediately protested and hemhaww’d — “But, but what about us!” to which we’d reply almost disdainfully, “You don’t live with us at all,” and then they’d go on and on about how they were sure their genes would certainly take stake in the child I was carrying (I knew it wouldn’t, just a gut feeling I couldn’t shake and I trust my instinct more — and viola, she isn’t allergic).

    It was the most difficult thing my fiance and I weathered as a couple and it nearly broke us — funny thing, he’d weathered rehab too, while we were together. That was nothing compared to dealing with the in-laws. He was too, like your fiance — afraid to establish a boundary for the sake of his relationship and his own family.

    I often had to tell him, “I think you picked the wrong woman. I really think you did.” After multiple attempts to break up with him, and his mother continually getting involved to try to get us back together (which was the LAST THING I wanted, but didn’t want to look bad in front of his grandparents, which I knew would happen if I did not do what she wanted).

    It took bolting from his mother’s house (after a very, very awful argument where every single resentment came out) in a very, very small town in the South to a well-populated city in Upstate New York for us to recover almost totally, as a couple by the time our child was born.

    To this very day, she still gripes after us for moving up North and we try to remind her how bad off we were as a couple in her hometown, which she tries to dismiss but she can’t ignore the fact we are much happier here, with our own family, our own home and our own boundaries.

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