We’ve all seen her, the girl with the big, sparkly diamond ring on her finger. The one we’re secretly envious of, wishing that it were our time to turn our overflowing Pinterest boards into a wedding reality. I was “that girl.” But, there was a problem; I wanted the wedding, just not that husband.

He was older than me by 5 years, yet we connected instantly. We became best friends, traveled together, and seemingly appeared to have a great thing going. And, we did for almost half of our five year relationship. But, I had a secret. For half of our time together, I lived through an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship and never let anyone know.

It started over his insecurities about our incomes. Being a smart, young woman who made more money was a sovereign point. I began to hide my raises and bonuses, shielding comments about how I must be “doing” inappropriate things to get them. But, it didn’t stop there.

He was never a supportive boyfriend or fiancé. Myself and my decisions, including starting my Masters degree, were put down and degraded. I was belittled and insulted, yet I figured out a way to escape. I dove into my studies and my work, and crushed them. I graduated with my MBA with nearly a 4.0 and received several promotions, which allowed me to uncover my passion in market intelligence.

We tried to work out our issues. I’ve heard it all: “I’ll change,” “Give me time,” and even “I’ll do it, if you don’t ask,” where “it” was not saying insulting comments. We tried having a date night, surprising each other with nice gestures, and even time apart. You name it, I tried it.

I wanted it to work because of the time I had “invested.” I always saw the red flags. I always knew I deserved better. And then, I realized that I had outgrown the relationship.

It took two comments for me to walk away. The first involved family. The second was about love. These comments were my breaking point. I decided I needed a break, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Shortly after, while he was at work, I moved into my parent’s house. I spent an entire week dodging his phone calls and text messages. The week was what I needed to figure things out and to reflect.

Our wedding date was set, the venue was booked, and the dress was ordered. The thought about what my life was becoming and becoming that young person or even mother with a “divorce under her belt” scared me; I know nothing is wrong with either. 

When I returned, I explained to him how I was calling off the wedding. He replied “OK.” It wasn’t until I started packing up my things that I noticed he was confused. He didn’t realize why. He confessed later that he thought I was joking, although we all know that’s far from the truth. To make it crystal clear, I broke off the engagement again and asked for my mom’s help to tell the vendors.

It was a long road from there to break free.

Breaking off my engagement resulted in thousands of dollars lost, but every single penny was well worth it. My only regrets are about the amount of time I wasted being unhappy. I’ll never let that happen again. The whole experience has shown me that I’m strong and that I deserve to be happy.

Don’t let the idea of a wedding ever blind you. I was young (23) when I got engaged and got caught up in the idea of wedding planning, dress shopping, and everything inbetween. Trust me, it’s not about the dress or the flowers, it’s about spending your life with the person you love and envision YOUR future with. Once you realize this, the meaning of a wedding becomes an entirely different thing.

I blame myself for mistaking “a connection” for what love feels like, for allowing myself to stay with someone that treated me so horribly, and for wasting a large portion of my twenties. This experience will stay with me, and I accept that. It remains my biggest life lesson.

I have never looked back.