My parents told me that it was a mistake to go on a "pre-honeymoon" in 1987 with my fiancé, that it would douse the magic of our first trip together as husband and wife. Both in their mid-60s, my mom and dad would giggle like teenagers when they recalled their own honeymoon, driving in 1952 through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
I didn't listen and nor should you. I believed then, and I know for certain now, that traveling with someone you are engaged to be married to is a very wise move. You may find out, like I did, that there was very little magic in the relationship in the first place. Quickly you discover quirks and questionable behaviors that could save you from making one huge mistake.
Is he cool under the pressure of hectic crowds? Does he drag you to museums when you want to loll along a river? Are you hot for him? Is he flexible? Is he fun?
I knew at the airport before we boarded the Air France flight that Mr. Right was probably wrong for me. We arrived in separate cabs and he was wearing a navy blue blazer and a long-sleeved shirt. I was wearing a tank top and a blue jean skirt. Here I was going on my first trip to Paris and I was ecstatic about being surrounded by so many cool-looking people boarding our plane. He was snarly about the long check-in lines, and snippy with me.
By the end of our first day in France, I knew it was over: He balked at my idea of strolling the Left Bank and insisted we arrive first in line to tour the Louvres, this with hundreds of other American tourists on a swampy August day. When I told him the Louvres could wait -- we would be in France for two weeks -- he told me "it is on our schedule for today." I responded that I was not on a schedule and that we should "do our own thing" and meet later for dinner at a designated café.
He arrived scowling and silent, after a day in the crunch of more crowds. I arrived tipsy and effusive, after a day of cheese and wine and people watching. That night, in a cozy apartment in the City of Love, as we undressed before getting into one of those tiny French beds, I looked at him and looked away and realized that not only did I not want to sleep with him, I didn't want to be with him. Throughout our brief courtship our dates had consisted mostly of dinner parties or meals at noisy restaurants. Alone on another continent, just me and him and nothing familiar, it was awful.
The next morning, after sleeping rigidly side by side without even our toes touching, I told him that I had been so enthralled with the idea of marriage that I didn't really know the man I was marrying. We are so different, I said. You are wonderful, and deserve a better match than me, I added. I cried. After sputtering out a few angry paragraphs not fit to repeat here, he looked relieved. He knew like I knew that I was clearly wrong as his Mrs. I ended up staying in Paris with a girlfriend and he went on to Cannes, where one of his guy friends had a house.
And that was that -- except there was some undoing to do once I got back home. Like -- I had a room booked, invitations, an ivory silk dress about to be altered at Bendels. Relatives had purchased air travel; my family had hosted an intimate engagement party. The event was impeccably in place -- except I had the wrong groom. If this is you, please know it's okay to call it all off; we're not talking plans for a Sweet 16 that lasts one night, you are setting the stage for a whole life!
Two months later. I met sexy, witty, relaxed Chuck, a man who does not own a blue blazer, smelled good and felt right instantly, in heart and mind and other places. He still does after raising four sons together and 23 years of marriage.
You can take a couple crucial clues from my botched first engagement on what to watch for when you are gauging whether you should spend forever with someone and bear his children. There should be emotional and sexual crackle between you, whether you are in Indianapolis or Honduras or Paris.
There are many more lessons for brides on the pages of my new book that examines long marriages, The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes To Stay Married. The happiest women are still hot for their mates, even when they loathe them. A handful of other wives married men with whom they never felt sexual crackle, or even enjoyed easy friendships. They went ahead with their weddings because they felt family pressure and/or were in love with pomp and not with their grooms. Yet, they have managed to keep their relationships intact mostly for the sake of their children and grandchildren. Some are seeking sex and companionship elsewhere, a stressful and guilt-ridden way to live.
I advise every bride-to-be to take a week or two and travel with your fiancé. You, too, may discover not a partner but a stranger, bristly and cool. Maybe your engagement was like mine, heady and rushed. The vehemence in which he pursued me was flattering and hard to resist.
I never felt powerfully attracted to him and should have seen that as an early warning sign. But he was handsome enough and our physical intimacy was good enough. He was successful and wanted kids. When you are inching toward 30 and you have been a maid of honor three times and a bridesmaid four times, a candidate like this comes along and you think your knight has arrived. Everything was perfect, except us!
I know in retrospect that good enough is not enough reason to buy a wedding dress.
Don't be afraid to pull the plug if it doesn't feel right, even if the invitations are in the mail. Don't worry what other people think of you, even if relatives end up being out a few hundred bucks for non-refundable plane fares. Just because you have the ring and the hotel room reserved, you do not have to get married if the day approaches and have found there is an absence of fun and of lust.
Marriage is meant to be forever and if you cannot say "I do" and mean it, don't. I'm thinking of a line from one of my favorite old songs, "It only takes a minute, girl, to fall in love." It also only takes a minute, girl, to fall out of love -- if it is wrong.
Marriage means sharing a bathroom, petulant teenagers, in-laws and bills. If you are not hot for each other and comfortable with each other from the start you will have a tough time enduring all the squabbling that ensues after you get the first few years, or first couple of decades, of togetherness under your belt.
Yes, a romp in the hay can make all your problems go away -- at least temporarily. That, and the ability to feel loose and relaxed and fully yourself with a person is what you want. You want to feel like you are home together, no matter where you are.
I am grateful to that girl in the blue jean skirt who listened to her gut and saw the light in the City of Love.
Iris Krasnow is the bestselling author of five books and an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University. Connect with her on: www.iriskrasnow.com.