You know that feeling right before you throw up, and you either let the chunks blow or keep it in and feel awful for hours?
Well, for Jen Kirkman, standup comedian and author of I Know What I'm Doing - and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches From a Life Under Construction, that nauseated feeling is exactly what it feels like to push yourself into a committed relationship when things aren't quite right.
"Divorce seems like the ultimate vomit," she told me, "and in a weird way, we're all OK with that, because that's a thing people do. It has a name, and you get lawyers; there's even people whose job it is to help you do it."
But for her, the easier vomit would have been to break off an engagement instead. In her 30s, Kirkman was plugging along in a relationship, from dating to living together to marriage, she said in a phone interview recently, almost in an attempt to be a contrarian.
"People think I'm weird," Kirkman said. To her, getting married was a way to say: "Well look at me, I'm doing this normal marriage thing. And I'm doing it because life's hard, and it's easier to go through it with someone.
"I just thought: This is what you do. I thought that the absence of excitement meant that it was a mature relationship. I think I was half-right, that you can't have drama all the time. But there really wasn't an attraction there on every level. There wasn't this oomph."
And that's when the "I feel like I'm gonna barf, but let's just hold it in" feeling set in. "There's something weird about before you're getting married - when you're moving in together, and you have cold feet; when you get engaged, and you're nervous, and you talk to people," Kirkman said.
"People tend to tell you to keep going and move past the nerves, and 'you're just afraid of commitment.' And that can be true for some people. But when people said that to me, I thought they might be wrong in my case, but I wanted to believe them because I thought it would just be too hard to leave an engagement or not move in together."
Now, of course, she realizes it wouldn't have been hard to leave at all. "It's so much easier to just break up," Kirkman said. "It's so much harder to have to financially divorce. That's what I mean by the throw-up - like God, I should've just let it all out. Anytime someone tried to offer the opinion of like 'maybe it's just nerves,' I was like, 'yeah, yeah - it probably is,' and I would just shut down."
She talked through those fears with her therapist, she said, but not with her now-ex-husband. "I never said to him: 'I'm not feeling it,' never, never once," she said.
For others who might be where she once was, she offers this advice: Don't try to learn to commit while in a committed relationship. "Learning how to commit when you don't want to be that kind of person is a really big job, and so maybe getting engaged isn't the way to do that," she said.
"Maybe the way to do that is, weirdly, taking some time with yourself and learning about what all that stuff really is. If anyone has fears that aren't made to feel better by people going 'no, it's just nerves,' and if you don't relate to that, just end it. End it how you would end anything. Talk to your partner and say: 'This doesn't feel right, and I don't want to screw up your life. I'd rather stop now.' "
And let the chunks fly before you have to get lawyers involved.