When nerves are nerves and when nerves are not

Picture this: Your wedding, as they say, is in the bag. You’ve got your dress… maybe the elegant Casablanca number that C* linked to in the comments of Saturday’s post. Your gals adore the bridesmaid dresses they helped you pick out and have long since placed their orders. Favors? They’re all taken care of. The ceremony site? Reserved. The reception venue? Ditto.

From an outsider’s perspective, nothing should be interfering with your pre-matrimonial bliss, and yet there’s a definite snag in the fabric of your happiness. Second thoughts have reared their ugly heads. More than a moment’s doubt, these thoughts have been messing with your mind, making you question your commitment to your impending, um, commitment. And I don’t mean second thoughts about the dress, the cake, the photog, or the rings.

I’m talking about cold feet to the nth degree — full on “Oh my god am I making the right decision about this man and this marriage” jitters.

I love him. I love him not. I love him. I love him not.

It’s more common than you might think. Many if not most brides (and grooms) experience at least one OHCRAPOHCRAPOHCRAP moment wherein they wonder if the secret of permanent happiness truly does lie in the land of the single gal (or guy). Ramen-fueled nights spent posting on Match.com aside, there’s plenty to love about going solo. You can come and go as you please without having to answer to anyone. Your post-tax, post-bill, post-necessities income is yours and yours alone. And you can change your mind a million times without your indecision impacting anyone but you.


The reason scads of spouses-to-be get cold feet has a lot to do with identity. Even if you don’t think that getting hitched will change who you are, certain people in your life will start treating you differently once you’re scheduled to march down the aisle. In my family, for instance, getting engaged means sitting with grandparents, aunts, and uncles instead of the unmarried cousins at family gatherings. You’re still the happy-go-lucky party animal you’ve always been (and always will be) but suddenly people are offering you casserole recipes and buying you silverplate ice tongs and asking you when you’re going to start a family.

Putting aside the fact that the whole family planning question is tantamount to asking someone when they plan to get busy for the purposes of procreation, the whole perceived identity metamorphosis associated with marriage can be a little disconcerting. You’re the same person you always were…but you’re not…and yet nothing has really changed except how people are treating you. It’s enough to make a chick “accidentally” flush her engagement ring down into the municipal sewer system via an unsavory public potty.

That’s not to say that jitters should be taken lightly. Once in a while those pre-nuptial nerves are a very real warning sign that you need to take a second look at your future spouse. Infidelity, drug problems, abuse, deceit, and other serious deal breakers can take on a new level of ghastliness when viewed through the lens of “’til death do us part.” If your head and your heart and your mom and your best friends are saying, “Girl, run like hell,” you may want to give serious thought to becoming the next runaway bride.

If, however, you’re just having the occasional fantasy of jetting off with the cute guy who works at the coffee shop and is also in a rock band, don’t despair. I’d wager that you, with your many imaginative second thoughts, are in good company. I myself contemplated running off to Central America to live a solitary bohemian life of tropical excesses in the days preceding my nuptials, and I’m guessing that many of the happily hitched people reading this sentence had to battle with their own nerves before saying their I dos.

What I’m trying to say is don’t beat yourself up for asking your dad just how ticked he’d be if you were to cancel the celebration on which he’s already spent a great deal of money. There’s nothing wrong with entertaining exotic and exciting fantasies wherein you, the heroine, are whisked off to some far flung locale by a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. Even the fact that you occasionally look over at your beloved fiancĂ© and think, “My god, I can’t stand how he chews. What am I doing?” does not reflect badly on your character.

It’s normal, and it’s natural, and it’s not going to negatively impact your coming marriage. The best thing you can do is discuss your concerns with someone you trust. The absolute worst thing you can do is suffer in silence because you’re embarrassed or ashamed by your feelings. As for those fantasies? They may make you a tad uncomfortable for now, but that’s no reason to squish them down into the depths of your subconscious. Someday you and your mate may have one heck of a time acting them out… even if he does chew his food like a ruminant with a harelip.

8 Responses to “When nerves are nerves and when nerves are not”

  1. Void_Ptr says:

    Strangely enough, I had no second thoughts whatsoever. I just wanted to get the wedding over with so that we could return to our lives.

  2. satori says:

    See, this is why I think Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter have the whole thing figured out: two separate houses joined by a single sitting area-slash-hallway. That way Tim can chew like a ruminant (hee) all he wants, and Helena can sleep with no one snoring in her ear. Win-win!

    Both my sisters were engaged to other men before they married their present husbands. Both called the weddings off. Neither has any regrets. Sometimes cold feet signify impending frostbite. I think that if uneasiness becomes chronic, counseling or postponing the wedding is in order. Maybe both. Marriage is (or is supposed to be) a lifelong commitment. It’s worth taking the extra time, if necessary, to make sure all the pieces are in place.

  3. Sarah says:

    We had been together for seven years and needed a toaster. Instead of just buying a toaster he cheaply suggested that if we get married we would get one. We already owned a house together so it seemed kind of like, yeah, why not get married AND go for the toaster? (OMG SO ROMANTIC!) About seven months into the shoestring-budget wedding plans, on the way back from picking out our invitations and placing our non-refundable $125 order, we had a giant fight in the car. I do not even remember what the fight was about, but I do remember that it made me think to myself, dang, you go girl, RUN! Yet somehow I went ahead with it because of the stupid $125. We never did get that toaster. We got divorced 5 years later. I wish I would have trusted myself and jumped out of the car when we had pulled over to scream at each other.

  4. amber says:

    We were over a year into our engagement and 4 months from the wedding when we realized that we were making a huge mistake and called it all off. Sometimes it’s just cold feet, but sometimes it really is for the best. I am SO glad I didn’t marry him, even when dumb romance movies make me cry and I contemplate the horrors of online dating for the umpteenth time. (Maybe this will be the time I meet a fun Depp-alike who doesn’t murder in his spare time…)

  5. Sometimes these doubts are seeds that have been planted by other people and sometimes it is just nerves and sometimes perhaps you are marrying the wrong person. For those of you who have called it off, I applaud you for the courage it must have taken.

  6. J says:

    I’ve been married twice, and both times had cold feet–not the kind that was precipitated by a specific event, but the kind that lingered somewhere in the pit of my stomach for days and days and days, and I thought I was crazy–these were great guys, after all, and surely I had learned how to pick the right mate by the second time around, right?

    Suffice it to say, the first marriage crashed and burned less than a year later. The second fared better–we managed to make it last almost 5 years before it slowly dissolved into nothing.

    I wish I had listened to my gut instead of my brain.

  7. La BellaDonna says:

    I had no doubts, and might even still be married, if not for the near-death occasion that showed me that … OMG. He really didn’t care if I lived or died. It took two and a half decades for that to be inarguably apparent.