Years ago, shortly after I turned 30, I became engaged on Valentine’s Day—to a man I ended up not marrying. There was a fancy diamond ring involved, and to be honest, I should have said no the minute my boyfriend proposed. (A tiny voice in my head did say no.) But I took a deep breath and answered yes for a variety of dumb reasons, including the fact that we had been dating for a year and a half, and marriage just seemed to be the train that we were on. His parents adored me, and we spent a lot of time with them as well as with his friends. We had attended several weddings together. How disappointing for everyone, if there was no happy ending for the two of us.
So there I was on Valentine’s Day, at Sign of the Dove, modeling a truly stunning ring. If you’ve had the experience of being engaged, you know that it can quickly intoxicate you—sometimes for the wrong reasons. Every morning on the F train at least two or three people would glance at my left hand, smile, and congratulate me. I felt like I had passed beyond one of life’s many velvet ropes, into a VIP club. I did not want to give up my membership.
You probably noticed that in my intro I said only that his parents and friends liked me. So there’s your first red flag, because I can't say that my friends and family adored him. When I called my mom to tell her that my boyfriend and I were engaged, she said “Oh?” and was silent. Not the typical mom reaction. (She didn’t even tell my dad for weeks, because she knew he would not approve.)
My friends were skeptical about my fiancé, but more tolerant than my parents; I think they just hoped for the best. And they loved that ring. The ring was what everyone rallied around: how beautiful, how big, how perfect the setting. Because of the ring, we could avoid talking about real things, like did I truly love my fiancé, and wasn’t he kind of a jerk. Blinded by bling—we all were, for sure.
In the following 6 months, though, everything fell apart. Why? Because I slowly had to admit to myself that I didn’t really like my fiancé, and would have felt trapped in a marriage with him. He was a lot older than I was, successful, and I had been a little in awe of him. But I started to see things more clearly: he treated me like a possession—an extension of himself—not like a complete human being. He expected me to play a certain part, and if I didn’t he got angry. As our fighting increased he, too, started to pull back. The wedding date kept moving further out. I was having difficulty concentrating at work, and felt physically ill much of the time. After months of pain and misery, I broke up with him—something I could have and should have done much earlier.
WAS IT A ‘RULES’ RELATIONSHIP?
Clients who know my story often ask, "But was this a Rules relationship?" And I have to say that even though my boyfriend pursued me, did all the work, and ultimately asked me to marry him, it definitely was not. The Rules are about seeing and admitting the truth of a situation—even when it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to do so. If you’d rather remain in a state of denial (as I did) that is not a Rules relationship, even if a wedding is on the horizon. Just "getting married" is never the point.
Also, The Rules tell us not to let romantic relationships take over our lives or keep us from doing the things we love. But my engagement had a toxic effect on nearly all of my other relationships—including my parents and my closest friends. If I had continued on a path of denial, I would have become more isolated, and my life even more focused around this one man. By contrast, healthy love enhances and opens up your world. Life gets bigger when you’re with the right person.
Healthy relationships enhance and open up your world. Life gets bigger when you’re with the right person.
Most importantly, The Rules show us how to create a healthy dynamic in dating that will then carry over into marriage. It's a foundation of mutual respect—something I didn't have with my ex. In a healthy relationship, you feel that you are enough, just as you are; your partner isn't going to reject you just because you've gained a little weight, lost your job, or become ill. When life gets tough, you know you have each others' backs. That is a Rules marriage.
If a man's love is conditional, and you feel it could be taken away at any moment that you "disappoint" him or are less than perfect, stop dating him. That is not the foundation for a healthy marriage.
My broken engagement led me to study something called The Diamond Life—an idea that can be found in many different cultures and religions. (Although the Sade song equates "Diamond Life" with the pursuit of luxury and pleasure, that is not its original meaning.) “Living the Diamond Life” means that you commit to balance in Mind, Body, Heart, and Spirit—the 4 points of your sparkling diamond.
With respect to love and relationships, this means that you can't just "follow your heart," as most Hollywood movies suggest. Even if you are a free spirit, you honor yourself by engaging your mind as well. You love with clarity and balance.
Easier said than done, right? One reason I recommend that women do The Rules and commit to them, is that Rules behaviors make it easy for you live a balanced, healthy life. Your heart (and body) might tell you to drop everything and spend every moment with your new crush, but The Rules prevent you from doing so. You remain active with your interests and activities, your career, and your friends and family. You wait to have sex until you are sure that yours is a healthy dynamic, and your man has given you clear signs that he loves you.
When a Diamond Life woman is uncertain about a man's feelings for her, she puts her heart on pause and waits for a clear signal from him. At first, you might simply be acting as if your feelings have cooled—that is Rules behavior modeling. But over time, with daily practice, you can actually train your heart to respond only to men who make you feel safe and sound, and to instinctively reject a hot-and-cold, emotional roller-coaster.
Over time, with daily practice, you can train your heart to respond only to men who make you feel safe and sound, and to instinctively reject a hot-and-cold, emotional roller-coaster.
The benefits are particularly valuable once you've met your wonderful Mr. Right. By exercising this self-restraint and not losing yourself in love, you will give your man space and become even more precious to him as a result. He knows you had a life before you met him, and he respects you for continuing to maintain other priorities. You are the cool girl he feels lucky to be dating.
When you love with clarity and balance, you become even more precious to your guy. He truly respects and cherishes you.
NEVER GIVE UP
It sounds silly now, but I truly thought this broken engagement was my last chance at love and marriage. Over the next 5 years, I went through the driest of dry spells. I met men through online dating, but hardly any were my idea of Mr. Right. I tried a matchmaking group, and singles events. I was doing The Rules, but it just wasn’t my time yet.
I also worked on re-balancing my life. Before I dated my ex, I had regularly attended a Bible study group; I started going again. I decided it was time to reconnect with the people who truly mattered to me. I got busy with activities that were good for my soul, my body, and my mind, and resolved never again to silence my inner voice.
Then, at 36, I met my now-husband. And his proposal was truly a gift from the heart. He knew that Scotland is my favorite place on earth. After we’d been dating over a year, he surprised me with a “mystery trip” to Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull, where he got down on one knee, in the rain, surrounded by Highland cattle. (He had already told my parents about his plan—because he loved and respected them—and they were fully on board.) The diamond my husband gave me that day, and that I've worn ever since for the last 12 years, is precious. But mostly because it reflects back a beautiful experience and a shared memory that we both treasure.
Robyn Wahlgast is a Rules Certified Dating and Relationship Coach for Women. If you're online dating (or thinking about it) read How To Have An Awesome First Date With An Online Guy for road-tested tips and advice. Never miss a new blog post: subscribe to our FREE newsletter.