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Ending an Engagement: Break Slowly or Snap Suddenly?

Promenade by Auguste Macke

Tea:  PG Tips with a splash of milk

Music:  Handel:  Alla Hornpipe, Suite in D Water Music

Dear Erica,

I’ve gotten engaged to my boyfriend of nearly five years, but after just a few short weeks, I’ve decided I can’t go through with it.  How can I end it as nicely as possibly?  Do I tell him I’m having doubts now and then later on break the news gently?  Or do I tell him right away?  I know I will hurt him, and I do care for him, but I also know I’d be miserable if I married him.  What should I do?

Distressed in Denver

Dear Distressed in Denver,

If you are certain you want to end your engagement, I advise you to do it right away.  Unfortunately, breaking off an engagement is never easy, as Helen tells her sister Margaret in Howard’s End.

“Can you break an engagement off slowly?”  Her eyes lit up.  ”What’s an engagement made of, do you suppose?  I think it’s made of some hard stuff, that may snap.  It is different to the other ties of life.  They stretch or bend.  They admit of degree.  They’re different.” Howard’s End by E.M Forster

In Howard’s End, Paul Wilcox and Helen Schlegel enter into a whirlwind engagement that they soon regret.  Once they had broken off their engagment, Paul and Helen never felt the same about each other, the spark of attraction disappeared, and an antipathy developed between their two families.  As I’m sure you are aware, your old relationship will never be the same.  However, as difficult as a broken engagement can be, it is more important to be true to yourself than to remain engaged.  If Helen and Paul had remained engaged, she would have been miserable and would not have lived the life she was meant to live. And as messy and dramatic as that life turned out to be, she was far happier being true to herself.

My only advice is that if you are sure you want to end your engagement, you should do it quickly, decisively, and with as much discretion as possible, i.e., try to keep the gossiping to a minimum.  In Howard’s End, different family members get the wrong end of the stick as letters are exchanged and gossip spreads.  As a sign of respect and affection, you must tell your fiance the news first, and avoid discussing the matter with too many people.  As hurt as he will be by your ending the engagement, he will be mortally wounded if he finds out from someone else that you are having doubts.  I wish I could give you more comforting words of advice, but just remember, that many women have found themselves in the same unfortunate situation as you, and some very remarkable heroines, and they all survived.  And you will too.

Best,

Erica

February 22, 2012   No Comments

Will Passion or Prudence win out for Nervous in New York?

sense-and-sensibility

Tea: Green Tea with Lemon

Music: Wilco: Impossible Germany

Quote:  Elinor knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next and that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.
“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”
Marianne here burst forth with indignation,
“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise.” From Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Or for another, less erudite, perspective,
Never Regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience. Victoria Holt


Question:

Dear Erica,

I’ve been working and living in New York for the past few years and have just been accepted at business school at Stanford. Of course, now that I’m leaving New York, I finally got up the courage to flirt with my office crush, who to my complete surprise likes me back. Well, I’m tempted to date him, even though I’ll only be here for a few more months. What do you think? Is it worth it? Or am I likely to wind up more hurt?

Thanks,

Nervous in New York

My Response:

Dear Nervous in New York:

I think you should go for it, with the caveat that you need to think more like an Elinor and feel less like a Marianne if you want to avoid getting hurt. By Elinor and Marianne, I am referring to the very different Dashwood sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensiblity. Elinor handles her romantic troubles with a prudence and practicality that is completely missing in her passionate and dramatic sister. In exploring her feelings for Edward Ferrars, Elinor recognizes the difficulties their union faces and does not allow herself to run away with unrealistic expectations. Marianne, on the other hand, falls passionately in love with the selfish but charming Willoughby and her impetuous choices lead her into a near breakdown when Willoughby’s true colors are revealed.

Marianne calls her sister cold hearted, but I would say she’s really just practical. If you are able to look at the relationship as a pleasant fling, and let go a little bit(never easy for a woman, but it can be done), then you are set. But if you think you might develop deeper feelings, just be aware that long-distance and long-term relationships are never easy and be practical. That being said, you are more likely to regret not taking a chance than holding back. Though not one of the classic writers, I think Gothic Romance novelist, Victoria Holt, says it best, “Never Regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.

And who knows? Maybe it will work out! Edward and Elinor managed to overcome a number of obstacles, jealous ex-lovers, no money, disapproving relations, and find themselves very happy after a number of painful separations. And even if it winds up being a right mess, you are likely to learn from your mistakes. If Marianne had not had her tragic love-affair with the dastardly Willoughby, she might never have learned to appreciate and value the loyal and thoughtful Colonel Brandon with whom she lived happily ever after. Let us know whether passion or prudence wins out!

Best,

Erica

November 26, 2011   7 Comments