The first indication that I should not get married was the proposal. In 2012, I had just returned to Baltimore from a week-long business trip to California when my boyfriend, Chris, surprised me with a bus trip to New York City. I cried on the way there. I wanted to go home. When he got down on one knee in Central Park, I wondered why he couldn’t have done this back home. He gave me a beautiful silver ring with a princess cut diamond. I don’t wear silver and I don’t wear diamonds. The only indication he knew anything about me was that, on some level, he knew I wanted to live in New York City.
In 2013, three months before my wedding, a woman I had never met before told me she had been in a secret relationship with Chris for nearly four months. He had broken things off with her, but she thought I deserved to know. The next few weeks were some of the most challenging of my life. Mostly because, for the first time, I felt aimless. My meticulous life-plan was crumbling.
Chris and I had never been the right match but the timing of our relationship helped convince me otherwise. I met him when I was helping my sister through an abusive marriage. He wasn’t the type of man I’d normally date (he was insecure and overprotective) but he was a good guy. He provided stability, comfort, and respect.
By the time he got down on one knee, five years later, I accepted because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I had invested blood, sweat, tears, time, and money into the relationship. My life was moving along as planned: wedding at 26, first child at 28, last child at 31, graduate school in between. I don’t think I cared who I married as long as I stuck to my plan.
“You’ll never find anyone who loves you as much as I do,” Chris said to me a week after I found out about the cheating. I was debating whether I wanted to work on rebuilding our relationship. He was trying to emotionally blackmail me into staying, which ended up being the deciding factor for me. It’s not that I didn’t want to be alone, I just didn’t know how. I went from my parents’ home to college, where I went through a series of long-term relationships. How could I romantically love someone else if I didn’t know what it meant to love myself enough to be alone, single, and happy?
Four months after the revelation, I packed up my belongings and moved to New York City for graduate school. I threw myself into school, made new friends, pursued some great stories, and traveled alone. And Chris was wrong. I’ve loved and been loved. I’ve experienced pure, real, and selfless love—not love that was born out of a dependence to feel safe. But, most importantly, I’ve learned to say no. I have no plans of marriage until I meet someone who makes me want to consider it again. I have no plans of having kids unless I meet someone who I want to have kids with. I haven’t chosen this path because I’m single. I’ve chosen it because it’s what I really, truly want. I should have declined Chris’s proposal on that spring day in Central Park, but since I can’t turn back time, I’m saying no now. For me, that’s a great, big step forward.
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This article originally appeared in the Wild issue. For more inspiring stories about women, check out What I Learned as a Woman Traveling Alone and The Journey of a Female Sommelier: From Paris to New York.