I'm dating a girl, we're in love, and we have both stated that we want to be married and that we have never felt a love like this in our lives. We have talked extensively about marriage, our futures, and how strong our love is for each other. Now, we were moving forward with engagement (ring purchasing, talking to parents) and out of the blue, she told me that she has feelings for her ex-boyfriend and she doesn't know what that means.
She said it may be nothing, but she misses him and doesn't know if that means she cares for him or just that she misses something comfortable. She said she wants to talk with him, and I don't like that idea. He has stated many times that he wants her back, but we can’t just ignore this. Two questions:
1. Are these thoughts normal for a girl to have before she gets engaged or married (she's been in some bad relationships)?
2. What do we do?
Laura's Take: Dear Jeremy,
Thanks for writing! Let's get straight to your questions:
1) Some cold feet and nostalgia are totally normal. In fact, it's probably best that they happen now - before any rings are bought, before any dates are set, before any invitations are sent, and before any *gulp* vows are said. Believe me, this is way better than the classic night-before-the-wedding cold feet. However...
2) It's what you do about it that sets the tone for your eventual marriage (or break-up).
You see, dating is practice for being engaged, and being engaged is practice for being married and being married means there's no more second-guessing and no more practice: This person is your soul-mate. You know she is your soul mate because you chose her to be your soul-mate on that day you said your vows. That's scary stuff - choosing a soul-mate.
From what it sounds like in your letter, your relationship is based on very strong love, which is great. You say you've never felt a love like this and you've talked to each other about how strong your love is for each other. Unfortunately, though, feelings change all the time. One minute I feel all warm and gushy about my husband and the next minute I can't stand to see his face. That's the way marriage is. A marriage based on feelings of love is, I'm sorry to say, bound to fail because that strong feeling of love will get overrun with feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment...you name it. Sometimes for weeks at a time.
A marriage that lasts is a marriage that's based on choice. I know this sounds pretty unromantic and you may already think of me as something of a Debbie Downer based on my previous paragraph. I'm not! But in case you think it's not romantic, think of it this way: You choose her over every other woman in the world every single day. She chooses you over every other man in the world every single day. It's about choice. Because here's the thing: feelings for other people don't go away when you get married. I still think of an ex with nostalgia. I still miss having first kisses. I find other men attractive all the time. But because I am married, I don't give those feelings a second thought. I never act on them. I don't Facebook my ex and say, "Remember that time when we...?" I don't spend time with other men I find attractive. I don't spend time with other men at all unless they're business associates or my husband's friends! I have chosen my soul-mate. I continue to choose him every single day. And my feelings of love for him grow every time I choose him.
So let's back up to where you are now: On the thin line between dating and engagement, and she's scared to edge her foot across it. And from the sound of this letter, you're pretty scared too.
First of all, tell her that you're scared. Be vulnerable. It's a horrible feeling and it's so much easier to just get mad and say, "No! I don't want you talking to him! He's a jerk!" but don't do that. It will only set her against you and you'll have the same fight that you've already had about this guy over and over. Tell her that you're scared.
Next, tell her why you're scared. Again - be vulnerable. It's good practice for being married. Tell her you're scared because he might try to get her back, and you love her so much, you don't want that to happen. You want to marry her. You don't want her to get back with her ex and it makes you sad and scared to think of her back with him. Talk about this for a while. This is important - don't skim over it even though it hurts.
Now, this is where the first big choice comes in: If you two want to be engaged, she has to practice for your marriage by choosing you over every other man in the world. You have to practice for marriage by choosing her.
If she doesn't choose you over every single other man on earth, then you can't have a good engagement. If she chooses to spend time with an ex for no other reason than she thinks she might have feelings for him...then you can't be engaged because it's not good practice for marriage. She can't have her cake (engagement) and eat it too (any relationship with her ex).
If she chooses to pursue any kind of relationship with her ex after this discussion, it's your choice if you want to continue dating her or not, but I would highly caution against engagement.
If you want to continue dating and win her back from him, fight with love, not with anger. Focus on your love for her more than your anger towards him or your frustration with their relationship. Anger and frustration will drive her away from you, even if they're not directed at her. Instead, choose to love her every day. Pick her flowers, take her out for ice cream, write her a letter, hold her hand, do the dishes.
I don't have to tell you that this is a really hard place to be. I know you feel pretty powerless. You aren't. You have control over every choice you make.
Hope it helps,
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