Why I Broke Off My Engagement With A Man. And Ended Up With A Woman
The Debrief: Walking away from a man I loved a year after I'd said yes was hard, but worth it in the end
Five years ago as I sat on the sofa watching Hollyoaks in my fleecy pyjamas, my boyfriend of 4 years walked into the living room, got down on one knee, produced a stunning diamond ring, and said: ‘Alice will you marry me?’
Shock, disbelief and excitement flooded through me as I blurted out ‘Yes! Yes I will!’. I called my mum, my best friend, took a photo of the ring on my finger and posted the obligatory Facebook status. In fact, such was my excitement, I actually called the local TV news station BBC Look North and invited them over to the house to do a piece on the happy couple (us), as an 'and finally' section of their snow blizzard coverage. We were snowed in at the time, hence the living room pyjamas proposal situation, you see...
But one year later I was walking out of our new flat in London alone, having given the ring back and turned down the chance to spend the rest of my life with a man I loved deeply - and still do.
These are my reasons and the things I learned in making that decision…
An age gap can go from tiny, to enormous
Shortly after my ex proposed we moved from Sheffield to London. Suddenly I was being stimulated from every angle and every single day my world got bigger and I felt myself shifting and changing to adapt. My boyfriend, 15 years my senior, didn’t always want to go to the party, or hang out with my new mates. When he didn’t want to go I went anyway. It may sound harsh, but I missed my friends in Sheffield like crazy and I didn’t want to miss out on forming new friendships in London. Besides dressing up as a gypsy bride in a wedding dress covered in fairy lights and strutting round Soho with drag queens and fashion students was really fun, even without him.
Born and raised in London originally, the one-hundred-miles-per hour rush of excitement I often felt stepping out of my front door and walking down Kilburn High road wasn’t always shared by him. I felt our social preferences sliding further and further apart. Whereas he was happy having a slap up meal at the local pub, I was getting my kicks going to Underground Rebel Bingo club and being drawn on by strangers with crayola pens. I had to stay at a friend’s that night - I didn’t even want to see his face if I walked in with multi-coloured penis’ scribbled on my arms.
Marriage shouldn't be about giving up your independence
I knew I was lucky to have found my ex, but one day I wondered what would happen if things didn’t work out with us? He took care of me so well I was afraid I’d never learn to do things for myself and would miss out on developing self-reliance. My friends had all lived in halls and shared houses at uni and, although their anecdotes weren’t always happy ones, I realised it was a whole chunk of life experience I’d missed out on whilst I’d been living with him. I wanted to search for a room of my own, a little space in the world that was just mine, leave my clothes all over the floor and put up Spice Girls posters. I wanted to form the kind of bonds you can only form with friends you’ve lived with. Since we broke up I’ve lived in 3 different shared houses, travelled solo and learnt how to do boring grown up stuff like budgeting and getting myself home at night. I‘ve learnt how to comfort and look after myself. I’ve developed my independence and I’ll always have it now, even when I do decide to settle down with someone else.
He took care of me so well I was afraid I’d never learn to do things for myself and would miss out on developing self-reliance
Breakups are shit - but sometimes better than the alterantive
Walking away from my ex was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, not least because I loved him, but because I knew he loved me. I still remember the moment I made the decision. I was standing on the rooftop of a beautiful hotel in South Africa, poolside in the blazing heat; crying my eyes out on the phone to my mum. ‘Are you sure darling?’ My mum had said. She was shocked to say the least. She’d been expecting a wedding, babies maybe, and she thought of my boyfriend as a son-in-law already. She was worried I’d regret the decision, but supported me wholeheartedly nonetheless. ‘You’re so young,’ she said ‘you have to follow your heart and do what you feel is right, he will understand, eventually.’
Of course the hardest person to tell was my ex. The guilt I felt at breaking his heart was overwhelming. I agonised about choosing the right words. I wrote him a 2-page letter trying to explain the intricacies of what was going through my head. He was closer to me than anyone else and of course knew it was coming. The day I decided to tell him I asked if he’d be home that evening. ‘You’re not going to break up with me are you?’ he half joked, a loaded question he already knew the answer to. At home he listened to me with absolute dignity, a look of resignation on his face as I whispered the words barely able to speak them. But months later when time had begun to melt the ice, we met up to talk and he thanked me for being honest. He said I’d set us both free to pursue new paths and he was happy I’d done the right thing, for both of us.
If someone is supposed to be in your life they will be
The saying is true: If you love someone let them go and they will come back to you if they truly love you too. But sometimes that’s not as your partner, but as a friend. I’m lucky that I’m still very much friends with my ex. We have managed to grow, accept and heal so that our relationship can still exist. It just looks different now. He picked me up in his car the other weekend and we went to Maplin, of all places, because he needed to get some bike riding gear. It was the sort of thing we’d do together as a couple on a Sunday afternoon back in Sheffield. But it was different this time, I talked about my love life, he talked about his; although I had to stop him getting too graphic. Hearing him talk about shagging someone else made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and I found my comfort boundary. Back in the car he played me some new tunes he’d discovered and I smiled inside as his eyes lit up - his love of music was one of the things about him I’d fallen in love with all those years ago and it felt good that we could still share that part of our connection. Afterwards he dropped me back at my flat, back to my life and he drove off back to his. I felt overwhelmingly grateful he is in my life and that my life is just that, mine.
Sexuality is fluid and often depends on the person
A big part of the reason I turned down marriage to my ex was that for some time I’d had a ticklish feeling in my gut which became all the more prominent whilst watching Sugar Rush. Turns out it wasn’t a tickle at all, it was an itch I needed to scratch. I knew I was attracted to women sexually and the thought of spending the rest of my life having sex with a man and never exploring that other side of me fully, terrified me. It’s a good job I allowed myself to explore because whilst I still feel my sexuality is fluid and attraction has more to do with the person than their sex; I am currently dating a beautiful woman and am very satisfied sexually, emotionally and intellectually. I think I have a very liberal circle of family and friends, but nobody really batted an eyelid when I started dating women. My mum even admitted to me she’d once had an ‘experience’ herself and some of my friends took it as a sign of encouragement to start exploring their own sexuality more freely too.
At the time walking away from my ex and our engagement felt like the hardest thing in the world. Not only was I walking away from him, but our life together, our plans, hopes and dreams for the future. But now I realise the thing that matters most is this moment. The break-up was extremely painful for me and my ex, but forcing myself to stay, ignoring how my heart felt in that moment would have been worse, for both of us.
He told me the first time we met up, newly single, that he’d half-imaged us getting back together, but seeing me sitting there, how much I’d changed in six months he realised it wasn’t going to happen and he knew I’d done the right thing. This weekend, I will take the woman I’m dating to a BBQ at my ex-almost-mother-in-laws house. The fact that we will be welcomed with open arms by my ex and his family is a testament to how strong those bonds are. So, no - no regrets.
Follow Alic on Twitter @AliceCarder
Picture: Beth Hoeckel
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