Remona Aly
Monday 15 April 2019 The Guardian

The one change that worked

How I found the strength to call off my engagement and embrace a single life

I am about to sell my engagement ring, more than 15 years after the proposal. It has been sitting in a drawer, largely forgotten, although from time to time I have taken it out and thought about how different my life would be if that ring had seen a wedding day.

Soon after I graduated, rishtas (an Urdu word commonly used for suitors) would descend on my parents’ house for an afternoon of samosas, chai – and marriage discussions. I cringed at being introduced to potential partners this way, having their entire families over and feeling all eyes on me. It felt like such a parade, and so artificial.

Then, with a few faulty rishtas behind me, one greyish morning I made my way to a demo in London. Here, by chance, I met a man who seemed nice. He got in touch with me afterwards and said he liked me, too. It felt so natural and exciting. Most of all, it was a welcome leap away from matchmaking aunties and awkward meetings.

It was a whirlwind romance and he proposed soon after we met, getting down on one knee and holding out the ring. I was in my early 20s, naive, happy and with a head full of romance – I was on cloud nine.

It was a hard sell to my parents, especially my dad. My fiance didn’t have a good job, or a degree, but Dad ultimately just wanted me to be happy. Once he knew I was, he was over the moon.

Shortly after the parental blessing, my doubts began. Little red flags kept flashing up – and it dawned on me that they had been there earlier on, but I had dismissed them. I was confused and doubted my judgment. A week before our big engagement party, I had a panic attack in front of my husband-to-be – I had palpitations, I couldn’t breathe and I felt trapped. The few people who knew I had doubts said it must be cold feet. I knew deep down that I didn’t want to be with him, but I forced myself to ignore my gut feeling and go through with it. I took herbal calming pills, I barely ate and I lost a lot of weight. The day of the party came. It was the unhappiest day of my life.

After that, the phone kept ringing – everyone, it seemed, knew about our engagement: friends up and down the country, relatives in India; even the local taxi driver congratulated us. I had never felt so alone.

I don’t think I have ever spent more time on the prayer mat than I did then. Forehead to the ground, I would beg: “Please, God, tell me what to do.” I knew my fate lay in whatever decision I took. Then, finally, I drew up the strength to break it off.

It took months to recover, as if I was in grief. I didn’t know you could get a broken heart from not reciprocating love. During that time, I felt as if I had lost my personality: I couldn’t remember who I was or how I was. But the day eventually came when I started to smile again, as if winter had passed from my heart. I was so grateful, so relieved. Since then, I have never taken happiness for granted.

I know I was foolish to let the relationship get that far, but I never doubted the decision that led me to the rest of my life. I recognised that I could make big mistakes, but learned that I could find the courage to do what was right for me, even if I had to ride through the pain of disappointing others.

That period of doubt was a wake-up call. Maybe it was the end of innocence, but I feel wiser, more resilient. I also understand that love is a miracle, that it doesn’t come easily and that it needs constant work.

I hope that I haven’t put up barriers to finding love. Neither do I want to spend my years yearning for it, especially when I am already gifted with the most incredible love in my family, in my faith and in the friends I have around me. Breaking off my engagement made me realise that true love lies in more than one place.

I don’t know why I have kept the ring all this time. But I can’t hang on to it any more. I am not going to bury it or throw it in the water. I am going to sell it or donate it. Maybe it is destined to be a symbol of love for someone else. Maybe it will be melted down. It doesn’t matter. What matters is where I am right now in life, and it is exactly where I was always meant to be.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian G2. To view it click here.