Confessions of a runaway bride: Why I walked out on my 'perfect man' just weeks before our wedding day
13:47 GMT, 30 July 2012
He managed to propose without actually asking me to marry him, at least not in so many words.
We had arranged to meet one of our friends, a jeweller, at his studio, and they made me shut my eyes. When I opened them there was, in John’s hand, an exquisite diamond ring.
Cold feet: Clare Clark called off her wedding just weeks before the big day. She tied the knot three years later after finding love again
This was the moment I had waited for, had hoped for. If there was a tiny doubting voice in the back of my head, I refused to listen to it. I put on the ring.
Champagne was opened. We travelled to my parents in the country to share the good news.
/07/30/article-2180679-008A9BBB1000044C-977_634x830.jpg” width=”634″ height=”830″ alt=”Great escape: Julia Roberts played a woman who continuously got cold feet on her wedding day in the 1999 movie Runaway Bride” class=”blkBorder” />
Great escape: Julia Roberts played a woman who continuously got cold feet on her wedding day in the 1999 movie Runaway Bride
The months that followed were exhilarating. John was impulsive, bristling with curiosity. We met in Singapore, in Sydney, in Florence, in Berlin. His long absences added to the sense of romance.
Two years later, we were engaged. When I laughingly told him of the ‘Relations Tour’ he was now obliged to undertake, he looked at me in horror.
His family consisted of his mother and one unmarried sister. Mine, with my three brothers and sisters, two sets of grand- parents and many aunts, uncles and cousins, made the Waltons look like they hadn’t really tried.
During our time together I had never thought it important they meet him. Now everyone was clamouring for us to come stay.
It was during those visits that I began to understand just how miserable we were going to make each other.
John complained bitterly, refused to accept why he had to endure what he regarded as a kind of torture. The wedding planning bored him to tears.
For the first time we started to disagree about things. He couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just elope and be done with it.
As the wedding drew closer, it became clear to me that I was making a mistake. I had loved being the person I was with John, but it was like wearing a glamorous borrowed dress.
Bit by bit I stopped wanting to travel, to party until the small hours. It wasn’t his fault. It was mine. He was the same as he had always been.
We had never talked about our future together, had never thought much further than the next trip but, now, with the wedding looming, I realised that I wanted a home. I wanted children.
'I wasn’t brave. I was stupid and selfish.
I should never have got engaged in the first place. If I wasn’t sure,
of course we shouldn’t marry'
What I wanted, I finally understood, was the stultifying domesticity we had derided for so long.
These realisations were gradual. At first I told myself it was pre-wedding jitters. I ached to talk it over with someone, but I did not know who. So I said nothing. I closed my eyes and hoped very hard for it to go away.
With six weeks to go to the wedding I confided in a friend. She said that romantic love was a false ideal, that we had more than enough for a happy marriage. We were great friends, he made me laugh, he was wealthy and would take care of me. What more could I possibly hope for
I have been grateful to her since. I knew absolutely that she was wrong, that what we had was not enough. I could not marry him.
The next weekend we went to stay with my grandfather. They had never met and it was a disaster. John was truculent, sulky. He complained about everything.
When we got back to London I told him it was over. He cried. He told me that I was wrong, that we were meant to be together. I couldn’t bear to see him in such pain so I told myself that it was wedding nerves.
Except I couldn’t shake the feeling of panic. A week later, pale and shaky, I told him that I was sorry, but I couldn’t marry him. This time I cried.
He didn’t protest. He listened to me for five minutes and then he packed a bag and he left. I knew that this time it was really over. All the same his silent acquiescence broke my heart.
I went to my mother’s house. I was crying when she answered the door. She sat me down, opened a bottle of wine, and asked me to explain.
Two hours later, she nodded. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘You can’t marry him.’ She ran me a bath. She rang our relatives, and wrote a short, elegant letter to the rest of the guests cancelling the wedding.
It must have cost my parents thousands of pounds, but they never mentioned it again and, to my great discredit, I never asked. The burden of guilt and shame was unbearable.
I stayed at my parents’ house in the country. As we sat down to lunch one Saturday my father opened a bottle of wine that had been destined for the wedding reception.
We drank it. He offered to open another. I shook my head. ‘Oh, please,’ he said. ‘I’ve got another 100 bottles of this stuff downstairs.’
It was an act of the greatest generosity imaginable, to make a joke of what seemed to me like the end of the world.
It was then that I knew I would be OK. Back in London my friends rallied round. They told me I had done the right thing. A few admitted that they’d never liked him anyway.
Most were sympathetic. What everyone seemed to agree on was that I had been brave.
I wasn’t brave. I was stupid and selfish. I should never have got engaged in the first place. If I wasn’t sure, of course we shouldn’t marry. Even John’s mother, who rightly detested me for making her son miserable, couldn’t argue with this logic.
I didn’t keep the ring. Six months later, he was engaged to someone else. As for me, I told myself I would never marry. I could no longer trust my instincts.
I was wrong about that, too. Three years later, I climbed into the back of my uncle’s vintage car. My father got in beside me, handing me my bouquet. As we drove towards the church he took my hand. ‘You know,’ he said gravely, ‘If you want to, you can call this one off, too.’
It made the day quite perfect, knowing that I could, but that I absolutely didn’t want to.
John’s name has been changed.
Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark is published by Harvill Secker