DEAR NATALIE: I recently got married, and I realize I made a horrible mistake. I got so caught up in the wedding planning, (we had a HUGE, lavish wedding) and the fact that I desperately want a family sooner rather than later that I really didn't think things through. He is a good guy, and we had been dating for two years. So, it just seemed like the logical thing to do. I had cold feet the entire time we were engaged, but I ignored my instincts, thinking I was just being silly. But, now I feel trapped. I've been avoiding intimacy with him, and he knows something is up. What do I do? I don't want to stay married to him, but I'm so embarrassed. -- HONEYMOON’S OVER
DEAR HONEYMOON’S OVER: In this day and age, it seems as though more and more people are interested in planning a big party instead of planning a future with one another. When I hear the words "huge, lavish wedding," I immediately think of the fun it would be to plan a party with a professional planner, buy a fabulous couture gown, and throw my family and friends the party of the century. And, let's be honest. The wedding industry makes it pretty difficult to say "no" to the elaborate details. From flowers to cakes to what you are going to wear, planning a wedding has become a billion-dollar industry.
But, because of that, we have begun to lose sight of what a wedding really means. A wedding is a gateway to the marriage, and throwing a huge bash doesn't necessarily mean the relationship will thrive afterward. It just means you will be eating Ramen noodles for the foreseeable future to pay off those credit cards. And, as in your case, there is that added pressure to start a family sooner rather than later.
So, now what?
Well, the first thing you need to do is tell your husband the truth. Explain to him that you had your reservations before the big day, but you were too afraid to even admit to yourself that maybe this wasn't the right thing to do. Let him know that you love and care for him, but it isn't fair to either of you to stay in an unhappy marriage. Then, see where things go. Perhaps he will want to try counseling. If you think there is a (slim) chance that counseling could help, you may want to give it a try. But, if you know in your heart of hearts that he isn't the one for you, you have to let him know. Enough damage has been done, and giving him any more false hope would just be cruel.
Then, there is the matter of returning the wedding gifts. Because you just got married, you really should send people back their gifts or the money that they gave you. It is the respectful and responsible thing to do. You don't need to explain yourself, but keeping the gifts is tacky.
It's time to do some soul searching. What is it that you are looking for? Luckily for you and your husband, you haven't had any children together, so at least you can make a clean break. But, if a family is what you truly want, you may want to be very selective in who you date from here on out. Take some time for yourself and be single for a while. Let the dust settle. Figure out why your husband -- the man you have been with for two years -- wasn't the right guy for you.
This isn't going to be an easy process. There will be a lot of tears, a lot of frustration, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of explaining to do. (Hey, your family is going to wonder what the heck happened, after all.) But, what's done is done. Now, you need to figure out how to pick up the pieces. You don't want to make the same mistake twice, so listen to your heart and take time to figure out what is best for yourself in the long run. It won't be an easy journey, but anything is better than living a lie.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Don't be afraid to reach out and ask someone to be a mentor. Even if it's coffee every six months, a one-time meeting or connecting every week, network with those who have been-there-done-that and want to give back. And remember, once you make it, help the next one in line.
Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to email@example.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)