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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

Is Passion Sustainable in a Healthy Relationship?

Doisneau, 1950.

Doisneau, 1950.

Tea: Pomegranate White Tea
Music: Jose Gonzalez: Heartbeats

Quote: Before long, Tom and Polly were sitting side by side, enjoying the blissful state of mind which usually follows the first step out of our work-a-day world, into the glorified region wherein lovers rapturously exist for a month or two. Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl

Or for some tough love:

Mortal lovers must not try to remain at the first step; for lasting passion is the dream of a harlot and from it we wake in despair. C.S. Lewis

Question:

Dear Erica,

In relationships, do you have to sacrifice passion for sustainability? Is it possible to settle down and have a healthy relationship with the same guy who makes you feel like the heroine in a romance novel?

Best,

Baffled in Brooklyn

My Response:

Dear Baffled in Brooklyn:

A tricky question. If you see my post Princes and Pomp from January, I advise my readers to be wary of missing out on the love of your life because you are looking for some idealized hero who does not exist. However, if there is no passion, it is hard to have a sustainable relationship. Sex and sustainability go hand in hand. Anne of Green Gables might not have thought that Gilbert was her romantic hero, but all that romantic tension made it clear to the reader they had some serious chemistry. Nearly all good relationships have that initial spark. However, romance novels deal with the first step of a courtship, and as both C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott reflect in the quotes above, that “glorified region” is a temporary state, and from it we must move forward.

Nearly all romance novels end with the courtship, which rarely lasts more than a few months.  We do not see a married Jane and Mr. Rochester arguing over who forgot to buy the butter, or Elizabeth nagging Darcy because the carriage is looking worn and she wants it to be replaced.  In a romance novel, one never sees the effect of the daily squabbles on a relationship.  It is one thing to deal with standard roadblocks during a courtship(disapproving relatives, crazy ex-girlfriends, or if you are Jane Eyre, a crazy wife living in the attic), it’s another thing to deal with your husband or lover never putting his socks in the hamper(Will they ever learn?).

The tension and drama of “Will he call? Does he like me? Can we make it work?”, all those agonizing moments contribute to the excitement of dating. And as you settle into a stable relationship, you will find not only the heartache, but also the excitement caused by those moments fades. Passion does not disappear, but it does take a different more sustainable shape, and if you hope to feel like a heroine in a romance novel for the entire relationship, you are guaranteed to be disappointed.  For a look at passion in an old married couple, you should read Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. The middle-aged couple, Maggie and Ira, bicker over all the mundane affairs of married life, but still have enough passion to make love at a funeral. One can only imagine what sort of tea they were drinking.

Yours truly,

Erica

February 26, 2011   1 Comment