Dear Carolyn:

I'm engaged to be married next summer. I'm learning this whole process of getting and being married is shrouded in secrecy. I can't express any doubts or concerns to the people I would ordinarily turn to because they think it means I'm doomed or making a huge mistake. The only person I can talk to without being afraid the listener will tell me to run and hide is my fiance, which is truly great and very important, but I want to be able to talk to my parents, sisters and friends. What's with the secrecy? Are brides expected to pretend this isn't hard? I spend all this time planning my wedding, but what about the rest of my life? Do I have to pretend it's a fairy tale?

-- S.

What a coincidence. I have a letter here from "Her Parents, Sisters and Friends" about a bride-to-be who refuses to hear that her union is doomed and she's making a huge mistake.

Okay, I made that up. And you do describe a real and frustrating problem: Negative things grab people's attention more than positive ones, they just do, and they make for long memories -- which can be a real problem when those negative things are about someone you hope to bring into the family.

Your parents/sisters/friends also aren't mere people, they're your people. That means they're inclined to be protective of you, so when you voice even a trifling concern about your fiance, they may already be primed to draw negative conclusions about his worthiness.

But those two impulses can take only so much of the blame.

If everything you want to talk about is negative, and all the people you confide in -- every time you confide in them -- say you're doomed, maybe the "secret" here is that you're getting the truth, but it's one you fervently don't want to hear. Communication is great, but not if problems are all that you share.

Some signs that problems you may dismiss as normal or minor are in fact neither: arguing frequently (big stuff, small stuff, same stuff, endless new stuff, it doesn't matter); wishing he'd only say/do/stop doing/change X, or his wishing the same of you; finding him less attractive over time; feeling you have to tiptoe around each others' temper, jealousy or sensitivities; reassuring yourself that "all relationships are work"; working hard to impress him or earn his attention; keeping score ("He forgot my birthday, so he can pick up his own [expletive-expletive] dry cleaning").

The intimacy of marriage will rub all of your rough spots raw. It's neither possible nor remotely desirable to sustain a performance as long as you both shall live. Make an effort to be kind, yes. Make an effort to be compatible? Please, no.

I also have to wonder about your being denied the truth about marriage. In my experience, people are more than willing to vent their own brushes with it, usually at length and unsolicited and to total strangers if they're all that's on hand to listen.

Go back to your people, tell them you need to unload but that you also need to draw your own conclusions. If you can promise in return that you won't get defensive whenever they open their mouths, my hunch is they'll gladly agree.

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