Dealing with Marriage Doubts – Can You Have Love and Wanderlust?

Q. I’m 6 months engaged now and I keep seeing that scary word…DIVORCED eek!  It has come to my attention that I may not be ready to get married.

I’m 24 and I’m going back to school in an area where my true passion lies.  I work at a restaurant to pay the bills as well as at a boutique part time.  I just returned from a solo trip abroad during which I met guys that treated me like gold, befriended a 26 year old girl from Barcelona who recently divorced (and attributes that to not being ready at 24), read “Eat, Pray, Love” (I dork right?) and enjoyed my own company greatly.  All of these things make me want to run from marriage as fast as I can.

My fiance is amazing. He’s hardworking, smart, fun, has a great career, loves family and is loved by everyone.  He loves me more than anything so why do I want to leave?  Is it to pursue my new found fantasies of travelling and starting a new career? Are my dreams attainable and this is what my life should be?  This coupled with a fear of becoming a 35 year-old waitress who lives at home with a failed fashion career creates a lot of confusion and conflict.

Am I just basking in the afterglow of my trip? Would giving up my fiance be like throwing away gold? I also feel that it is too late for me. Should I really at 24 start from scratch IN my career AND my love life?  Or am I just overdue for some alone time as I have had back-to-back boyfriends since I was 15?

I do believe that with hard work, determination and a lot of reading, anything is possible.  I guess my question is, where do you draw the line between reality and fantasy?  I have the love part down, but since the career is lacking, is it best that I keep what isn’t broken and fix the rest?


A. Having doubts is no way to enter a marriage but take some time to find out what really is broken…or not.  But a few thoughts:


1. Your passions are not a fantasy.

You sound like an amazingly self-aware woman.  If the question is truly about fantasy vs. reality, don’t think your dreams are a fantasy. You are going to school in the area of your passion, you don’t seem to be afraid of hard work and you’ve had to confidence to go abroad solo and see new cultures and people. That is huge! Congratulations.

2. It is so not too late.

So many 20-somethings think at 24 you have seen it all. You have so much more to learn and experience and do. You have many reset buttons ahead of you.

3. Now the tough one…what part needs fixing?

You say you have the love part down. But you want to run from marriage as fast as you can. You say the career is broken…but you are going to school in the area you are interested in pursuing. You have succeeded in one field, have been accepted to school in another field. There is no reason to believe you would not succeed in this chosen path.

I ask you to explore the love part.

As much as you love this man, you have to listen to your gut. He may be gold but he may not be your gold. I’m not saying to give up on love but if your gut is saying something is not right, get into that. First ask yourself, is the fear of marriage, masking something else about how you feel about your guy? Is there a nagging itch that something meaningful is not right? Make sure you are not rejecting marriage and him for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t sound as if you are being picky.. but it does sound as if you have doubts about your own fulfillment. Turns out that is pretty important.

So the second itch to dig into is whether the relationship is truly making you happy. Sometimes it is hard, when someone is so wonderful, to believe that you are unhappy.

Because he was such a lovely guy it was really hard for me to accept that I was unhappy. Listen to your heart and head. He was a wonderful man in so many ways but when it came time to address the big picture items – we had no communication. As it turns out, open communication, acknowledgment of one’s need for self-betterment are crucial elements in a relationship.” – 40-something, divorced, NJ

But do realize that your happiness and self-fulfillment does not have to come at the exclusion of a relationship. Does the relationship actually get in the way of you pursuing your dreams? Can you have both? Does he love your sense of independence? Does he support you going back to school? Can you travel or re-locate? What are his aspirations and feelings about travel? Is the relationship is preventing you from taking “flight” and pursuing your dreams? This woman realized her panic was also masking that she didn’t love her guy despite his heart of gold.

“I had this dream of leaving the town we grew up in and he never wanted to leave. That was so scary to me. How can you not want to leave some place and just try it? Just try. What do you have to lose? You can always go back.

I admired him in every way. He was a selfless, loving, caring human being. He came from a great family, loved my family (and vice versa), was hard-working, smart and honest. It was just assumed that we would get married. I felt so panicked. It finally came to a time where it was either I move to Dallas or I stay in Austin and get married. Finally, I told him “I just can’t do this. I love you. You’re one of my best friends but I’m not good enough for you. I think you deserve somebody that craves you. I just don’t.” I think that was the hardest thing ever. You know what he said to me? I’ll never forget it. He said, “Thank you. Finally, I know. Now I can breathe.” – 40-something, married, New York

You may know from reading this blog that many 40-something women suggest not rushing into marriage. That doesn’t necessarily mean quitting the relationship, but just because you fall in love at 24 doesn’t mean you have to get married at 25. Many of the happiest women I’ve interviewed actually did wait a long time. Your 20s are a great time for exploration and growth. There is no harm in seeing if you can grow together. The thing women regret the most is pushing the doubts to the back of their head instead of addressing them head on.

“I think women should listen to their intuition and if they feel the guy isn’t right, then don’t marry him. Or at least wait until the feeling settles out one way or another. – 40-something, married the wrong “right guy”

If is not him, it is you, talk to him about your fears. Consider, putting the engagement on hold. If he truly loves you, I hope he will understand. You do not say you want to run from him, you say you want to run from marriage. So it may just be you need more time. This woman was engaged but experienced some last minute doubts …and she was able to work it out with her fiancé.

“If you feel like you shouldn’t be married-don’t do it. But take a little time to figure out “why” you don’t want to get married. In my case I was terrified of leaving my single girl city lifestyle for being married in the ‘burbs. Luckily my significant other was willing to wait out my crisis and we are still happily married 15 yrs later.” – 40-something, CT

Take some time to figure it out. Hopefully your engagement is a long one already and your fiancé is open to talking about your dreams and your fears. Good luck!

For some more perspective on this you may want to read the post from a few weeks ago on settling. The post debates Lori Gottelib’s Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, a popular non-fiction book that talks about the notion that men that women would pass over in their 20s, are men that women in their 40s regret passing up. There are some interesting comments from 20-something women that are worth reading as well.

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