Reluctant Bride
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Reluctant Bride

Reluctant Bride

On the verge of becoming a bride, one woman reflects on a harrowing emotional ride that began at age 12 when her parents divorced.

by Rebecca Appelson

There is a bride looking back at me from the mirror.

It is my face, softened by a gauzy veil. Delicate silk flowers catch the veil and fasten it to the curls that frame my face.

"You're a vision," my mother breathes from the dressing room door.

Indeed I am.

My mother has dragged me to the bridal boutique in the hope that seeing myself festooned in a wedding dress might help me get excited about the prospect of becoming a bride.

I know. It's not normal.

So many girls grow up dreaming of the day when they will float down the aisle on a cloud of white silk, toward a beaming groom, toward the rest of their life.

Not me. I feel nauseous.

As I saw the better side of my 20s come and go, my more logical mind understood that it was time to get serious about dating. Ticking clocks, smaller dating pools and such...

This was easy in the theoretical sense. Then along came an abnormally nice fellow who, it became clear, wanted something serious.

Something long-lasting. Permanent, even.

You know... the M-word.

In fact, he would accept nothing less.

That's when I started hyperventilating.

It's not that I don't want to get married.

I do.

I think.

Until now, I had an unconscious awareness of the baggage I'd been carrying. But now I saw it in the clear light of day.

I am a statistic. The grown-up version of a child scarred by her parents' divorce, now terrified at my deepest, darkest levels of making the same mistake my parents did. Of going through the same hell they did. Or, worse yet, of scarring my own children through the court-sanctioned circus that dissolves a union meant to be life-long.

I am a statistic: the grown-up version of a child scarred by her parents' divorce.

I thought I'd worked through all this during my tumultuous college years, when my hair changed shades to reflect my mood, and when I tried different ideologies with equal abandon.

But here it comes, the fear, snaking out from behind a car seat to hiss in my ear. My boyfriend has just casually mentioned where his parents think we should get married.

And my heart starts to beat fast.

This is not the first time the subject has been mentioned overtly. We both know what is happening.

But it still comes as a shock to my system.

Almost always, until now, the men with whom I became involved remained removed from me. Our minds would entangle but our spirits never did. Verbal banter took the place of emotional intimacy.

"You have a wall up around you," the last serious one told me. "No matter what I do, you won't let me in completely."

It was true, I had cried to my uncle after that boyfriend broke it off. I'll never get married. I am hiding.

And hiding I was.

After years of therapeutic introspection, I'd become intimate with the vagaries of my mind and emotions. I knew myself quite well. Nauseatingly well.

Yet I couldn't share that with the men I dated.

At my core remained an unspoken certainty that exposing myself meant I would be hurt. If not now, down the road.

You have a wall up around you. No matter what I do, you won't let me in completely.

Love fades, I believed. With a child's eyes, I had watched it happen.

In the middle of my parent's divorce, I took a walk with my mother.

She was battered by a year of fighting my father and his family. He had hired the best and nastiest attorney in town. She hired a friend who coached my brother's soccer team.

She and the soccer coach had been brutalized.

"Always take care of yourself, Beck," she told me, her eyes wild behind a year of fatigue. "Never trust that a man will take care of you."

Never trust...

Those are words she wishes she could take back now, but they leapt into that 12-year-old's head and, despite my attempts at scrubbing them out, are there still, half a lifetime later.

The ties of marital fealty that form the foundation of most children's security were broken for me.

The two people I viewed as my protectors in this world turned on each other -- unaware that their attacks on each other were knifing through me.

There are logical answers to all these echoes of pain.

I spent my 20s forming the answers, forcing them out of my mouth.

In college, I assumed I'd never marry. I parroted the dismissive phrases I read in radical feminist literature. "I need to marry like a fish need a bicycle." I detached myself by reading such things over and over, until they ran together in my head and I believed them.

What is the reason women kept leaping into this outdated institution with such enthusiasm?

Instead of marrying, I believed I would have a fine apartment and a good career, as if these were equated a substitute for matrimony.

Fantasizing about my future, I saw a Boston brownstone filled with modern furniture. There were men in these dreams, but no bonds of matrimony that would atrophy into depositions about who bought which sofa and when.

But slowly I realized that there was a reason women kept leaping into this outdated institution with such enthusiasm. Serial monogamy offered no protection from the pains I associated with divorce. If anything, it offered more pain and disillusion.

It was marriage -- pedestrian and bourgeois as it may be -- that offers not only security, but can take the energy that goes into maintaining a relationship, and harness it, channel it, make it grow.

"Why are you so scared?" my uncle asked me, the night I came ranting about the latest boyfriend's defection. He asked me again when I came to him hyperventilating over this one, this good one who wouldn't let me get away with hiding myself.

With the right guy, he had said, I would be able to open up.

And, sure enough, he was right. I had tried with the two or three would-be's between this boyfriend and the last. But with this one, it clicked.

It wasn't the seductive jousting of two analytical minds pushing and pulling until one comes out on top. It was the simple insistence of this kind man saying, "I want you to be completely yourself with me, Rebecca."

When he said that, I cried.

It's what I always dreamed of hearing.

We know that love does not conquer all, that marriages take hard work, and that they sometimes fail.

So why was I so scared, now that we were moving toward the natural next step?

And there, perhaps, is the salient issue.

To children of fractious families, marriage is not in the natural course of events.

We, better than anyone, know that love does not conquer all. That marriages take hard work. And that they sometimes fail.

That knowledge, though, can be a tremendous asset as we head toward matrimony.

I do not have the luxury of being swept off my feet. I walk forward with this man at my side all too aware of the weight of our decisions.

In a quest to divert the wheels of fate that claim you are doomed to repeat your history, I have devoured every book there is on dating, relationships and marriage.

I have made myself an inconspicuous observer of marriages that work, and have squeezed from my friends their insights, their secrets to why they succeed where others, like my parents, fail so spectacularly.

I have learned that no marriage is perfect and that one size does not fit all.

The essential ingredients are love and respect for one another, a shared vision of the future and, above all, a commitment to work it out.

I realize now that the protective armor I'd developed had kept me from harm to some extent. But, more so, it had prevented me from moving forward.

Without shedding our fears and suspicions, we grown-up versions of wounded children are indeed doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes.

My fear was the only thing holding me back.

Melodramatic. But true.

Finding the right person helps, of course. I know that he is honest and good and true and, conveniently, has the family background I lack. But I also know that he never would have found me had I continued hiding.

Subconsciously, we select our pickings. When I was avoiding a real connection, I found men incapable of it. When I wanted to connect, my tastes changed.

I go back to the bridal boutique, ready to say "yes" to the wedding gown.

I am not wearing a veil and I can see my face clearly.

"You're a vision," my mother breathes again.

I smile at her in the mirror and I realize that, for the first time in my life, I am ready to take my love's hand and walk steadfast into the unknown.

Published: March 31, 2001


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Visitor Comments: 25

(25) Benjamin, June 19, 2011 6:07 PM

Familiar story

Rebecca, I read your article and it truly strikes me close to home. I was recently engaged to a woman who had a similiar upbringing to your own. She had scars from her parents divorce that she always tried to overcome. Just like you say you met that guy which allowed you to open up, I was that guy. She would always recount to me how comfortable she is with me, and that she can open up to me about everything. She never felt that in another person. Indeed, you can say we had a spiritual bond. Much like the way you describe, she was not excited for the wedding and had this "lets get it over with" attitude. Whatever the case was, I was firm that I wanted to marry her, and these issues will be yet another challenge on the challenging path of marriage. Apprently though, her fears and scars were a lot deeper that anyone around her (other than her mother) had known. Three weeks before our wedding she called and said she is calling off the wedding. No explanations, no attempts to reconciliate or discuss her issues. She ran away from this, like she told me she used to run away from her other problems. There was once a time when she would tell me that Hashem blessed her with the most caring guy in the world, after the father she had growing up. I was happy she felt that way and really did anything for her. Alas, it was not enough. Your article reminds me of my siutation and I am happy you were able to move passed the demons into a fruitful and happy marriage. Just like you foind your ultimate happiness, I pray that I too will find this happiness. Thanks for sharing.

(24) Iamyou, February 25, 2010 3:27 PM

Not all reluctants are children of divorce!

Phenomenal article that accurately represents many of my feelings -- and my parents have been married 43 years. When you're single till your late 30s, you start to make peace with never getting married, and even identify with it, take pride in it. And now I'm engaged to a man I adore, but the ring on my finger doesn't overcome my worries and certainly doesn't make me one bit more interested in planning an expensive event to commemorate the union. Oh well, some girls start planning weddings at age 3; some of us would rather skip the ordeal entirely. ;-)

(23) CJ, September 14, 2005 12:00 AM

You really hit the nail on the head...

I, too, have always had trouble committing. My anxiety was so great that if I so much as thought about marriage, I broke out in hives. I have just turned 33, and I met a man who has changed my idea on marriage. Unfortunately, I needed time to "process" before I realized that he was different from everyone else, and I rejected the opportunity to get to know him better. The only reason I was able to notice how different he was is because I began earnestly trying to yield my spirit to G-d in order to seek His will and not my own.

(22) Reader, September 22, 2003 12:00 AM

You help me to breath...

You are right on the feeling that I've had for years. I am in my late 20s and, also, hiding from one who is ready to pop the question. Simply the image of a wedding band on my finger is enough to take my breath away. I love to meet great couples or being in a wedding, but I wouldn't touch that in-air bridal flower even if you put a knife on my neck. Friends say its because I haven't found the "right one", I know its not true. Because I have seen the very right one can become wrong in my own family, my own parents. Thank you for sharing. Not only that I don't feel so alone anymore, I can for once just breath when I think about a wedding band on my finger.

(21) Peretz, August 28, 2003 12:00 AM

You've explained what bothered me all these years

I, too, am the product of a broken home, and am an older frum single. One comment in the article struck me because it explained many of my feelings. "To children of a fractious marriages, marriage is not the natural course of events." Although, I know I am obligated to marry - actually getting married, doesn't seem real. I just don't have positive feelings about marriage. It even feels out my scope - foreign, not for me. My parents divorce was not amicable by any means and I always felt stuck in the middle. I mention this because I think there there many of us out there. Thanks so much for the insight and letting me know I'm not alone with this problem.

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