“I Have Cold Feet A Month After Proposing”

I started dating my fiancée, “Karen,” three years ago when she was 23 and I was 26. I proposed to her last month on our three-year anniversary. She has a great heart and personality (when she isn’t upset or angry), but she grew up unstable. When she was 9, her mother and father separated. Her father didn’t have much to do with Karen because she had been the result of an unexpected pregnancy. In addition, her mother abused drugs – and still does – and abused Karen when she was little. So, when she was 9, Karen’s grandmother and grandfather began raising her and continued until she was 20 or 21. They also weren’t the best role models (they argue daily, gamble, and are manipulative) but they still financially supported Karen (and helped with college). But Karen has mirrored their behavior all of her life, and it has affected our relationship.

The first five months of our relationship were heaven, with no problems at all. I will say, however, that one red flag did come up in our second month when she asked, “Are you on your period?” But then she said was “joking.” Then, after around five months of dating, Karen’s ex started to reach back into her life (sending texts and even sending flowers) because he was jealous. She told me every single time when her ex would reach out or do anything. Nothing was hidden. I told her it was best for us to ignore him unless his behavior became harassment or stalking. This went on for at least four months and started to cause tension. Around this time, Karen moved back in with her grandparents to help them out financially. Since I visited often, I’d see the toxic behavior that Karen had witnessed all of her life.

So, long story short, I feel like Karen is toxic, narcissistic, definitely aggressive, and controlling. An example: I mentioned to her that I think I want a new car, and her response was, “You should try to have a plan about marriage, a home, and children first.” She has asked why it took me three years to propose to her. She has also emasculated me and called me names at times, and had given me an ultimatum that if we weren’t married at two years, we were done. She has broken up with me at least twelve times. I’m beginning to feel like our marriage would be miserable. On one hand, I have the most amazing, wonderful, caring, loving, fiancée (she cooks, cleans, and is affectionate, caring, and loyal) but on the other hand, she can be vengeful, intimidating, and a hateful demon.

I want our relationship to work, but I don’t want to be miserable the rest of my life. I already have cold feet about marriage. — Cold Feet After a Month

I’m going to do something I don’t do in this space often and offer a relationship rule that can and should be applied universally, to every couple everywhere: If you have broken up twelve times, don’t get married. Don’t get married, don’t get engaged, don’t get back together. Your twelfth breakup should be your last. Honestly, your third breakup should be your last — three strikes and you’re done. If you’ve had twelve breakups in three years, you’re averaging a breakup every three months, so to feel ready for another breakup a month after proposing fits your pattern. That pattern is your relationship dynamic, and the likelihood of it changing is close to zero, even with extensive therapy (which I recommend to both of you in order to have successful relationships in the future and to avoid repeating a similar pattern and dynamic with new partners).

Look, you can blame the dysfunction of your relationship on Karen and her upbringing as much as you want, but the truth is that you are engaging in an unhealthy dynamic as much as she is. YOU are clearly getting something from this roller coaster ride. The highs and the lows deliver something desirable to you. I’ll spare you the psychological armchair analysis of what that might be, but you need to know that your not walking away after the second or third breakup – your proposing to a woman you’ve broken up with TWELVE times and think of as a “hateful demon”—-signals something amiss in your psyche as much as in hers. This doesn’t mean you’re broken or unworthy of love or a bad person any more than it means those things for Karen. But it does mean that not only is this a very unhealthy relationship that absolutely, 100% should not progress forward in any capacity (especially marriage!), but also that you both need to do some inner work — ideally with the help of good therapists, and obviously independently and not as a couple seeking guidance for moving forward since you should not be moving forward together — before you engage in partnering with someone again.

My 31-year-old granddaughter is getting married. She and her fiancé have lived together for many years; they have good jobs and live well – they belong to a yacht club, have a sailboat, travel, etc. I don’t hear from them often; I always call first and then we have a friendly conversation. When she called to tell me she’ll be getting married in September, I was so happy for her. When she told me that her fiancé’s parents were paying for the band as they didn’t want a disc jockey, I told my husband that we must contribute to the wedding too. First we said $2000, but then I wrote the check out for $3,000 as she is my first grandchild. My husband, who will be 89 in July, could never make it to their wedding in another city, and neither could our disabled adult daughter who lives with us. I decided that I will attend the wedding and I called my ex-DIL – my granddaughter’s mother – to say that, yes, I would attend and to ask if she knew about the contribution I had made to the wedding. She said she couldn’t remember. Well, now I get an invitation for a shower in another state with a registry for contributions to a house and honeymoon and sailboat and gifts. I have five other grandchildren who have birthdays, graduations, etc. And this ex-DIL never says thank you. Never.

My husband and I are old, and my ex-DIL and my grandchildren have never, ever recognized my birthday. My ex-DIL’s family never contributes anything, and yet it’s like we are expected to give. My son wasn’t a good husband and I’m sorry for that, but my ex-DIL had issues too, and she did get a very good monetary settlement. She lives in a real nice townhouse, drives a new car, and travels. All of my granddaughters grew up well with a beautiful house, a pool, etc.

Anyway, I will go to the shower in June. I’m not crafty. Some grandmothers make beautiful quilts and I wish I could do that. I thought I’d give a nice card and a generous check….. but, I am beginning to feel like a bank. I need advice. — A Very Weary Grandmother

Readers won’t know this about you, but you and I have emailed back and forth a few times a year for about six or seven years now. What I know about you is how much you crave to be heard and seen and empathized with. What you don’t know about me is that in my email I have a folder labeled with your name where I save all your emails (there are nearly 50 now). When I don’t hear from you for more than a few months, I worry. I reach out on occasion to check on you. I thought about you this past year during the pandemic and hoped you and your husband and your daughter were staying safe. I read your emails to my husband sometimes. Every once in a while, he’ll ask if I’ve heard from you and ask if you’re ok.

I don’t think you’re a regular reader of this site these days, but I know you’ve checked my social media to see how I’m doing, how my kids are growing, what “anti-Trump rally” I’ve been to recently (as you said once). Please know that I see your value and your worth and your humanity. I see what a loving and devoted wife and mother you are. I see how challenging life has sometimes been and how you have strived to make the most of it despite the challenges. I also see the pain you’ve felt in what you perceive as neglect or lack of care from some of your family members (and the list of those family members is long and winds through all the branches of your extended family tree). I am sorry that you haven’t felt the love you give returned to you in the way you’d like. My hope for you is that you will give yourself that love you crave. My hope is that you will see inside yourself what I’ve seen over these past seven years of our penpal-ship: the kindness and the vulnerability and the love.

This may be hard to hear, but there’s no amount of money or material possessions that you can give others that will: a) adequately reflect the love you wish to express (because love is at such a higher value than these things); and b) will bring you the return of your love that you crave. Just as your family members’ material possessions – their houses and pools and cars and sailboats – do not reflect the quality of their humanity, neither do the gifts you could bestow reflect the relationship you would wish to have with them. So, release this expectation from your life. Give without expectation of anything in return (including love, I’m sorry to say). Give within your means. Give what feels good to give and don’t give more than that. These family members are not wanting for anything. They don’t need more than what you want to give, I promise. And if the value of what you give them has no bearing on how much more they will express love for you, I wouldn’t worry about how much less they’ll express it either. Liberate yourself from this unhealthy dynamic and I think you’ll be in a more peaceful place – one with less resentment – to receive the love that is given to you freely, from the people who can clearly see your value (and who may or may not be related to you).

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo MaterialsGirl says:

    Wendy, that was really beautiful. LW2 – I hope that you are able to release this expectation and attend with no expectations.. and be pleasantly surprised.

  2. ” … one red flag that came up in our second month was when she made the statement ‘Are you on your period?'”

    Huh!?! How is this a red flag? She tells a bad joke, and that’s a flag? And the only other examples of her “toxic, narcissistic, definitely aggressive, and controlling” behavior are that
    she didn’t want to wait forever to get married
    she helped her aged grandparents financially
    she made a comment about your financial decisions
    she calls you names

    The last one is not good, for sure, but something is off in the narration here. Most of this stuff does not make her a “hateful demon.” I guess we should take your word for it, but if these are the worst examples of her behavior, then — ???

    PS — I’m not sure what the paragraph about her ex-boyfriend was supposed to mean. An ex contacted her and she consistently and openly shot him down, and that’s supposed to indicate …. what exactly? Why is that relevant to the story? I think you have some SELF-searching to do.

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      Yeah…. I do think with 12 break ups you should probably break the fuck up already. BUT — I also think you need to actually bother to learn what the term “toxic” truly means, LW1. As you have no grasp on that whatsoever.

  3. LW2- I’m 31 and getting married this year and your letter really struck me. Neither my fiance nor I have any living grandparents and I so wish we had them with us. The love and sadness in your letter really touched me. I actually couldn’t read all of it because I started to tear up in public. I’ll try to reach out more to the older adults I do have in my life. I also feel for your daughter, what a loss for them to not include her as well. Hoping for all the best for you.

  4. “And example: I mentioned to her that I think I want a new car, and her response was, “You should try to have a plan about marriage, a home and children first.” She has asked why it took me three years to propose to her. She has also emasculated and call me names at times, and given me a ultimatum that if we weren’t married at two years we were done. ”

    She shouldn’t call him names, but I wonder what he means by “emasculated.” The wanting to be married after 2-3 years is very reasonable. The car comment was pretty passive aggressive, but it’s clear that she was pretty upset about not being engaged, which is once again, reasonable after so long.

    1. But it hasn’t been “so long,” because they’ve broken up 12 times. She’s really saying “Look, we’re on our 13th round of dating each other, as of last month! Why haven’t you proposed yet?”

  5. Karebear1813 says:

    LW2 – you need to first pick an adequate budget for gifting grandchildren and stick with it. When engaging in conversations with others when money is being brought up, don’t immediately offer to help financially, esp. if no one is asking for you too. Don’t obligate yourself right away. Take time to thing about it. I cant tell if the granddaughter was guilting you or if you were trying to one up her future in-laws.

    The other issue is that you expect a “thank you” from your ex DIL. This is not your ex DIL wedding. She owes you no “thank you”. It is your granddaughter and her future husband that owes the “thank you”.

    Your grandchildren sound rude and entitled if they are always having their hands out with no appreciation, however, the apple does not fall from the tree. Stop feeding the monsters that bite you.

    Regarding the invitation to the shower – you can go and should go but you don’t have to contribute to any more gifts if your gift was the $3,000. Why is your grandchild requesting people contribute to their “future” home, a boat, and a honeymoon. That is so tacky!

    If you feel the need to give your granddaughter a wedding gift because you do not want to come empty handed, maybe give an heirloom gift like a ring, quilt, China, Silver etc.

    After weddings usually come baby showers.

    1. Karebear1813 says:

      I hope LW2 is able to see our responses.

    2. Karebear1813 says:

      I hope LW2 is able to see our responses.

  6. Karebear1813 says:

    LW1 – you are in a toxic relationship. END OF STORY. Do not bring children into this unhealthy disfunction. No one should ever pressure you to marry them, dictate your finances whole you are dating, control you, and play with your emotions that make you feel invalid. If we are polling here then it a YES to break up for good.

  7. Bittergaymark says:

    LW2) You “could” just look at the additional invitations as your granddaughter wanting you are all their wedding events. But then that would make you much less of a martyr…


  8. Bess Marvin says:

    I’m also going to offer a relationship rule that can and should be applied universally, to every couple everywhere: don’t marry someone you consider a “hateful demon.”

    LW1, it sounds like you don’t even LIKE Karen. Why on earth are you marrying her?

  9. LW1, you seem to blame your relationship problems on her and her upbringing. Advice– look in a mirror.

    “So, long story short, I feel like Karen is toxic, narcissistic, definitely aggressive, and controlling. An example: I mentioned to her that I think I want a new car, and her response was, “You should try to have a plan about marriage, a home, and children first.””
    – How is this toxic, narcissistic, aggressive, or controlling? It makes sense to prioritize other things that may need money first.

    ” She has asked why it took me three years to propose to her.”
    – Fair question. You guys should’ve communicated to make sure you had similar timelines in mind, and agreed on a timeline. This is on both of you. But really, does it take 3 years to make up your mind about someone? Honestly asking…

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      It damn well should. Yes. At fifty, I can say everybody I know who got married faster than that is divorced. The 8 couples with longer dating relationships/engagements are all still married. The other 20 or so couples that rushed to the alter are all divorced.

  10. Yeah, something really off about LW1. I mean, definitely don’t marry someone who broke up with you 12x, but jeez, the specific examples you give of her being toxic, hateful, emasculating, etc. sound pretty mild and normal. You say she calls you names sometimes and emasculates you, but you don’t give any examples. Also, you sound kind of, idk, traditional? You’re offended by period talk, you value someone who cooks, cleans, and is sweet and loyal but you’re totally overlooking real compatibility.

    Definitely call off the engagement, break up, and get a lot more relationship experience before you get married. You should also really examine why you’d propose to someone who broke up with you 12x and who you think is toxic, vengeful, hateful, and emasculating.

  11. I audibly gasped and recoiled at LW1. What in the seven flaming hells is this trainwreck??

  12. You think she’s a hateful demon, so obviously do not marry her. I can’t see any of the things you mention being particularly hateful, demonic or emasculating so I’m assuming there are lots of behaviours you haven’t mentioned. Also 12 break-ups– that’s at least 11 too many, unless it was something like work and distance but doesn’t sound like it. Don’t marry her, and most of all don’t have kids with someone you patently despise.

  13. A proposal after 12 break-ups and 3 years of hesitation is a little bizarre, no wonder you are having cold feet. I think both of you mistakenly equate great drama with great passion, romance, and love. It’s really just a strong sign of a dysfunctional relationship.

  14. LW1: if you both break up so often, just wait for the next break-up and make it definitive. Your letter doesn’t make sense. You play the reasonable guy, and then suddenly you sink fully into the unhinged drama yourself.
    LW2: as you already gifted your grand-daughter 3’000 $, you needn’t give anything more. Just attend the events. For the thanks, usually, weddings’ couples are very slow to send their gratitude cards. So don’t expect to be on the receiving end anytime soon. Just go and have fun. You know that you offered already a lot. That is fine and enough.

  15. Sea Witch says:

    When I was a kid, there was a messed up family down the street, one of whom was a teenage girl engaged to her boyfriend. They had frequent noisy fights and one day she showed off her engagement ring to us younger girls and said “This has been off my finger 6 times. It’s not coming off again, we’re really getting married.”
    Even at age 11 or 12 I wondered why she wanted so badly to marry someone she was constantly fighting with.

  16. Passing by says:

    “She has asked why it took me three years to propose to her”

    I’m curious how long she expected it to take.

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      Yeah. Three years doesn’t seem long to me… at all.

      1. allathian says:

        Especially given the on-again-off-again nature of this “relationship.”

        Make it a baker’s dozen and dump Karen for good, LW.

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