Is it just jitters or are your cold feet trying to tell you something? Seventeen years ago, Anne Milford called off her engagement to the wrong guy not long before she was due to head down the aisle. In the months after her breakup, all sorts of women began confiding in her with their stories — stories from those who’d broken off their engagement and, more hauntingly, stories from those who hadn’t and regretted it. Eager to find a definitive answer to the question, “Why do women marry the wrong guy?”, Milford teamed up with therapist Jennifer Gauvain to write How Not To Marry the Wrong Guy: A Guide For Avoiding the Biggest Mistake of Your Life. Here, Milford and Gauvain answer our questions.
Q: What inspired you both to write this book?
Milford: Seventeen years ago, I called off my first wedding. In the months following the breakup, I was astounded by the number of women (and a few men) who confided in me that they wished they had the courage to call off their own first weddings. They all stated, in one way or another, that “I knew I was making a mistake as I was walking down the aisle.” I realized that maybe this was one of the reasons the divorce rate was so high — many marriages are doomed from the start because the bride and/or the groom already know it’s a mistake. And they get married anyway!
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I wondered why smart men and women would choose walk down the aisle into a marriage they already felt would be a mistake. I also wanted to figure out why I came so close to marrying the wrong guy myself. Even though my fiancé was a very nice man, he was not the right man for me. Deep down, I had known that from the very beginning of the relationship. Why did a smart and capable woman get engaged to the wrong guy? I knew if I talked to enough women, I would uncover a pattern.
Gauvain: When I met Anne, most of my clients were women who were desperately struggling in their relationships. I felt like I needed to do more to help these women who were finding their way to my couch.
Q: So, what are the red flags that indicate someone is “marrying the wrong guy?”
Milford: Red flags in relationships are problematic actions, attitudes and behaviors exhibited by your partner. But red flags aren’t always so obvious — they aren’t just “bad” behaviors, such as dishonesty or infidelity. Vastly differing beliefs or likes and dislikes (religion, jobs, parenting style, etc.) are another kind of red flag. Whatever kind it is, a red flag should make you stop and think. These warning signs offer clues about your boyfriend’s character. Ignore them at your own peril.
In How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy, we stress the importance of making the connection between red flags and listening your gut feelings. Why? Because red flags are different for everyone. Rather then spell out every possible red flag in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, we want people to be able to identify what a red flag is for them individually. (Although we do go through a checklist of possible red flags: Does your partner have a lot of debt? Does he or she have a healthy relationship with family? Does this person have any friends?)
It’s up to you to make the connection between red flags and your gut feelings. We tell people that they can spot a red flag when it causes a reaction in their gut… or that little voice inside starts to speak up. If something feels off, or it doesn’t sit right with you, it’s a red flag.
Q. Why do women marry the wrong guy?
Milford and Gauvain: After talking to hundreds of women who married the wrong guy, we uncovered the three most common reasons why they walked down the aisle:
1. They got caught up in the momentum of the wedding until it was too late to call it off. People incorrectly believe that once the wedding date is set, it’s too late to stop it. Several women said they felt they had passed the point of no return once they received that first wedding gift or attended their first bridal shower. A pile of beautifully wrapped gifts does not have the power to keep you from canceling your wedding. You don’t want a set of wine glasses or a wok to dictate your future.
2. Feelings of fear, shame and embarrassment about publicly admitting that getting married was a mistake. Countless women told us that their pride kept them from calling off their weddings. Openly admitting that you made a mistake is excruciatingly difficult. But we like to remind women that when that marriage ends (and it will), you will still have to admit you made a mistake, but this time it will be in a room full of strangers, a paralegal, your attorney and a judge. How’s that for embarrassing?
3. Financial concerns associated with canceling the wedding. Numerous women told us that they were so swept up with the wedding planning, the dress they already purchased, the reception venue that was already booked, etc. and that they did not want to lose all of that money. There’s no question that there are short-term costs associated with canceling a wedding. But there are many more very nasty, unpleasant and complicated long-term costs that arise from not canceling. The fact is, if you cancel your wedding, you are going to lose some money.
Q. How is marrying the wrong guy related to dating the wrong guy? Could online daters use the principles outlined in How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy to their advantage as they are creating their profiles and choosing prospects for their first and second dates?
Milford and Gauvain: Marrying the wrong guy starts with dating the wrong guy! Women of all ages settle in their relationships. They know the guy is wrong from the start, yet they remain in the relationship. Why do they do it? We discovered five reasons why women date the wrong guy:
Loneliness and insecurity
Believing that the relationship is the solution to their problems
External pressures to get married
Thinking that “he will fix me” or “I will fix him”
Ignoring red flags and gut feelings
We encourage women to really reflect on what it is they truly value in a relationship. Honor those values. As you complete your profile, be honest and truthful about who you are. Be authentic. Don’t try to be who you think Mr. Right wants you to be. If you embellish the real you, then when you do finally get a date, you’re starting off on a weak foundation. Trust your gut feelings about the men you date. If someone exhibits actions or behaviors that just don’t sit right with you, politely say, “It was nice meeting you” and leave. You might disappoint your date, you might get frustrated, but if you don’t walk away when you first get that feeling… you start making excuses. Then that second date turns into a third and a fourth. Suddenly, out of boredom or trying to be polite, you find that you’re dating the wrong guy.
Q. What’s the difference between normal pre-wedding jitters and the legitimate cold feet indicating you’re about to head down the aisle with the wrong person?
Milford and Gauvain: Whenever we discuss having doubts about a pending marriage, people immediately start throwing around the terms “jitters” or “cold feet.” They use these terms interchangeably. “Everyone has jitters,” they say. Or, “All brides and grooms get cold feet before the wedding.” We disagree. While everyone might feel nervous about their wedding day, not all brides and grooms are concerned that they may be making a mistake.
If you are nervous or scared because you have temporary concerns about the event (party, reception, bridesmaid, family issues, etc.), you have jitters. If you have doubts about the relationship itself? Then you have cold feet. The following thoughts indicate cold feet:
I feel like I am settling.
I don’t like they way I’m being treated.
I hope our relationship will improve after the wedding.
I don’t think this person is going to make a good spouse.
I have to go through with this because we have been dating for so long.
If I don’t marry this person, I will never find anyone else.
These thoughts revolve around the relationship, not the wedding ceremony or reception. These are not temporary issues and they should not be ignored.