A colleague recently recalled seeing a note some years ago on a company bulletin board: "For sale: Size 9 wedding dress. Brand new. Never used."
Maybe Ivana Trump and Julia Roberts can afford to stash an extra wedding dress or two in their closets after close calls at the altar, but for us everyday folk, calling off a wedding at the last minute is trouble of a major order. And the price of a dress, let alone a small fortune for the wedding, may be the least of it. The big question, whether you go through with the wedding or not, is are you about to make the mistake of a lifetime?
As a young woman in Anne Tyler's latest novel, "Ladder of Years," asks her father in all seriousness on the eve of her wedding, "Which is more trouble: calling off the wedding or suing for divorce?"
Of course, old hands will tell a bride or groom that everyone has pre-wedding jitters, it's normal to be nervous. But how do you know whether your nerves are a harmless hesitation that will pass once the cake is cut or a sign that disaster looms when the honeymoon's over?
First, say experts, couples probably do need a reminder of the extent to which planning a wedding can cause the most even-tempered person to become agitated. "They've been so happy and now they're planning a wedding and different stresses come in," says Myrna Ruskin, a certified stress management counselor in New York City who specializes in prenuptial stress. "They start to feel stressed but maybe not giving it that name. They think maybe that that person is not right. . . . Indeed, there might be a real problem . . . but if they are snapping at each other more often, that's very normal. You have to expect that can happen."
Also, this may be the first time each partner has had to deal with the other's family, and the potential for conflicts is endless, underscored by the deeper emotions of separating from one's ** own parents and moving into the world of adult responsibilities. It is a time of great change and stress, and for most couples a confusing one.
"Nobody prepares us how to be married," says Raymond vTC Micucci, who until recently was coordinator for marriage preparation for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. "We prepare how to be a stenographer, scientist, doctor, nurse, policeman, fireman. We . . . get all the background we can. For something that's a lifetime commitment, how much time is spent?"
Ms. Ruskin suggests that the couple try to keep in mind the feelings they had for each other before they made the decision to marry, and that they take an occasional break from wedding planning. "Once a week go out and don't discuss the wedding at all," Ms. Ruskin says. "It's so important. Don't talk about it."
Also, take a hard look at the facts of the relationship. How long have you been together? Was this a whirlwind romance? Are the misgivings a healthy sign that perhaps you need more time to get to know each other? Or perhaps, although you've dated for a while, only now, in the course of planning a life together, are you learning important things about each other? Ask yourself, says Ms. Ruskin, "What have you discovered that you didn't know before?"
Are there religious differences, for example, that didn't seem important before but have widened in planning the ceremony? Are you sharing expenses of the wedding and finding something out about each other's attitude toward money? What are you learning about each other's ability to cope with conflict, to be supportive of each other even when you disagree? Can you live with these differences or are they impossible to overcome?
CBut as essential as it is to have a clear sense of who your partner is, it is equally important to know yourself. Ask yourself how you usually respond to a challenge, says Ms. Ruskin. Are you usually eager and sure of yourself, or are you the kind of person who, for example, seeks out a promotion and then, once the boss offers it to you, is full of second thoughts: Can I do this? Is this right for me?
"Is that your way?" asks Ms. Ruskin. "If it is, don't be nervous."
Of course, in the end, no one can tell anyone else how to make such an important decision. But if, after examining all the possible sources of discontent, doubts about the marriage still outweigh all other considerations, there may be no choice but to call it off, or at least postpone it.
"Sure, you'll feel sorry and badly about the inconvenience to your parents, but the bottom line is you've got to call it off if it feels wrong," says Ms. Ruskin. "Think of what your values, your beliefs, are, what you want. The road . . . might not be smooth. There's no guarantee that what you go for is going to be easy, but you have to go for it."