TONY COX, host:

Well, it's summer time, and that means wedding season. But as the big day approaches, even a summer heat wave isn't always enough to ward off cold feet for some brides or grooms to be. And it doesn't help when mom and dad or the pressure and expense of a pending wedding extravaganza are clouding a would-be spouse's judgment about whether or not to forge ahead.

Amy Dickinson writes the nationally syndicated column "Ask Amy" for the Chicago Tribune, and she's with us today to discuss cold feet, second thoughts and how to know if it's time to call the whole thing off, because no one wants to relieve this scene from the 1999 film, "Runaway Bride," on their wedding day.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Runaway Bride")

Unidentified Man: The bride is walking down the aisle. Maggie Carpenter is walking down the aisle, seems very confident in her approach. She's at the first pew. The bride seems to be a bit hesitant. She's turning. She's turning. Oh, she's running.

Mr. RICHARD GERE (Actor): (as Ike Graham) Block the doors.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: That, of course, is a play-by-play of Julia Robert's character bolting. If you've had cold feet or have advised someone who did, how did you handle it? Tell us your story. And grooms or almost grooms, we want to hear from you as well. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address: talk@npr.org. And to join the conversation, just go to our website: npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

So, Amy Dickinson - we'll be joined by Amy Dickinson in just a moment, to help us figure out how we are going to continue this conversation. But while we wait for Amy to come, we still would like to hear from you and to hear your stories. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And, again, you can join the conversation at our website. Just go to npr.org and click on THE NATION.

All right. So we have a caller that we're going to take, and then we're going to bring Amy in. So let's see if this caller is there. The caller is not there. Okay. Amy, are you there?

Ms. AMY DICKINSON (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Tony, Tony.

COX: Okay, Amy. That's okay. It's okay.

Ms. DICKINSON: Hey, you know what?

COX: What?

Ms. DICKINSON: I've married twice.

COX: So have I.

Ms. DICKINSON: And I have dealt with cold feet both times.

COX: Really?

Ms. DICKINSON: But in my case, of course, it was the groom who had them. Just kidding.

COX: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.

Ms. DICKINSON: No. But you know what happened?

COX: What?

Ms. DICKINSON: I ran a letter in my column a couple of weeks ago from a mother of the bride who said, my young daughter - you know, my daughter is in her 20s. She's marrying the most wonderful guy. He's terrific. We love him. We've put down deposits on the rehearsal and the flowers. And now she's telling she doesn't want to get married. And this mother thought the prudent thing would be to force the daughter to go ahead -with the wedding, which, of course, is not a good idea.

And what happened after I ran that letter - you know, I think that it's commonly men who get cold feet, or at least the popular culture would tell us that.

COX: Why do you say that? Why do you say that?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I have it my head that men tend to have doubts before their weddings. And it could be because I write an advice column and I hear from men. But after I ran this letter, I started hearing from women who said, I had cold feet. I buried my doubts. I went ahead and married the guy, and it was a huge, huge mistake.

COX: Yeah. I saw one of your columns where the woman wrote back and said, three years later, they were - they ended up in divorce, huh?

Ms. DICKINSON: Right. And many of the marriages these women happen to tell me about did not last that long, unfortunately. But, you know, this is what happens when the wedding industry gets involved, because there's the difference between a marriage, a good marriage and a great wedding. There's so much money at stake, that I think people feel very locked in. And any more, you know, you want to lock down the hall. You want to get everything all set. And these brides get very, very caught up in this and their families do. And it's people, you know, anymore you couldn't get married without premarital counseling. And I think it's sort of weddings run amok has led to this.

COX: Well, you know, that's interesting that you should say that, because maybe we should make a distinction, Amy Dickinson, between getting married and having a wedding. Because sometimes people don't want to have weddings, although they may want to get married. And let me ask you to follow up on that with this. Do men and women experience cold feet, you know, differently?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, I think they do. I think that women I mean, my idea is that women feel pressured by mainly, I think, by their families to embark, you know - and, actually, there I hear it from a lot of women who are like, all my friends are getting married. You know, and it starts - the juggernaut, post-college, all of the weddings start. And I think that women feel a lot of pressure to have a relationship. If you're in a serious relationship, it should marriage is the terminus. And then they get very, very caught up in the wedding process.

COX: When do the cold feet arrive? Do they arrive the morning of the wedding, the week before the wedding, a year before the wedding, at the engagement party, after you put the ring on her finger? When does it start to creep in?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, that's a good question to ask our listeners, but I think it's a creeping sense of doubt that a lot of people tamp down because they have to, you know, deal with their bridesmaids. I mean, you know, if you have eight bridesmaids and you it's you're so busy. If you're planning a wedding and the you know, a basic the average wedding now costs $36,000.

COX: Ouch.

Ms. DICKINSON: So if you're planning an event like that, you are busy, busy, busy, and you don't spend enough time thinking about the relationship, thinking about the marriage, really being thoughtful about the marriage. And I've heard from so many clergy on this matter who say, I have couples who don't even really want to meet with me. They don't even really want to think about the ceremony. They don't - you know, they don't really care.

COX: Hmm. Well, you know what? Let's take a caller. We have a couple of them, as a matter of fact, lined up to talk with you. Ann(ph) is joining us from St. Louis, Missouri. Ann, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. You're one with Amy Dickinson.

ANN (Caller): Hey, how are you?

COX: How are you? I'm fine.

ANN: I'm doing great. Thanks.

COX: And your story is what?

ANN: I called off my first wedding, well, now I'm happily married but I called off my wedding six months beforehand because deep down I knew he was not the right guy for me. And I think what made it so difficult was that he was a nice guy. But I knew deep down in my gut that it wasn't going to work. And you had said something earlier. You know, people throw that term around, cold feet. But I think what it boils down to is that cold feet is not necessarily about the change, you know, the fear of making a change in your life, but more about your doubts about a relationship.

COX: Can I ask you a question, Ann...

ANN: Yeah.

COX: ...before we hear from Amy? What did you say to him?

ANN: I just said, I just don't think this is going to work. I think we have different ideas about what a happy, healthy marriage looks like. And he didn't understand that. And I remember I did not want to go to the premarital counseling because I knew we wouldn't pass muster with the clergy.

COX: Wow. Thank you very much for that, Ann, for that call. What about that, Amy, is that pretty typical?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, first of all, I love the fact that Ann and her intended were, you know, had clergy involved and that she thought enough about it that she actually thought about her clergy standards. In a way, I think that's a great, you know, start to think about it.

But a lot of the times, when we when a relationship doesn't work out, it's not because there's something extreme that's wrong, it's more like you just feel like it's like Ann says, this is not the right person. And you get very caught up. And, of course, anyone's mom and dad would love to see their son or daughter marry a nice person. And so they don't understand the dynamic involved in the, you know, intimacy of the relationship.

And what gets me is how often couples hesitate to discuss their doubts, because here you it's ironic. Here you are about to enter into this incredibly intimate, life-long, hopefully...

COX: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DICKINSON: ...relationship and, yet, you can't discuss this very, very serious, intimate issue.

COX: You know, it's interesting you should mention the moms because we have a caller from Rock Hill, South Carolina, who we are going to take next. Margaret(ph), hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION. And I think you want to talk about your mom, don't you?

MARGARET (Caller): Hi. Yeah. Am I on?

COX: Yes, you are.

MARGARET: Well, my parents were married 31 years and it was a very difficult marriage. And they got a divorce after 31 years. And I asked my mom a couple of days before I got married, I said, did you ever have any doubts on your wedding day? And she said, oh, no, I thought if ever I was doing the right thing it was marrying your dad. And so, I just went, oh, no, because I had doubts, and I thought, I'm sunk, I am just sunk.

COX: Were you?

MARGARET: I couldn't no.

COX: Were you did it turn out to be that way?

MARGARET: No. I to tell you the truth, I couldn't not marry. We've been together we've been married almost 28 years, and I couldn't choose the other path. I had gotten to the fork in the road, and I couldn't not marry him. And I always thought...

Ms. DICKINSON: But can you can I ask you something?

MARGARET: Uh-huh.

Ms. DICKINSON: Can you describe your doubts and talk about that a little bit, or were you just nervous?

MARGARET: I - there was a lot of divorce in my family, and to be honest with you, I thought, well, I can get out of this but I can't not go forward. That's not an option, to not go forward and marry him.

Ms. DICKINSON: And did you discuss it with him?

MARGARET: No, I couldn't.

Ms. DICKINSON: Mm-hmm.

MARGARET: I just couldn't. But it's turned out really well. And in a way, I went against my feelings. But it's a hard day to get through no matter what.

COX: Margaret, thank you for that. That's a interesting story she had, wasn't it, Amy?

Ms. DICKINSON: It is. And, of course, it's a little bit counterintuitive. It's certainly counter to the advice I gave to this particular person, which was, listen to your doubts, postpone if you need to. But I love the idea that Margaret, you know, is - admitted to having doubts and she processed it and she got through it, and obviously is doing very, very well. So that's great.

COX: Let's talk about the guys for a moment. Here's an email that we got from - where is it? Where is it? Here it is. From Peter(ph) in Wisconsin. He says, great show, guys. Just had to write in and let you know I wish I had gotten cold feet 20 years ago. I guess he was divorced one year ago. We haven't had any callers from the guys so far. So what do you say to them, Amy?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, again, I would just urge - this is why couples need to be so much more thoughtful, I think, in terms of their relationship when they plan to wed and to enter into, you know, counseling, if necessary, a guided conversation. I had friends who went to their clergy because the clergy insisted on premarital counseling. And they only went to this clergy because he had the prettiest church, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Very thoughtfully handled.

COX: Well, okay.

Ms. DICKINSON: And this clergy insisted that they go through a course of premarital counseling. And then he said, I can't marry you. They were not ready. And he just - he couldn't do it. And, of course, they found someone else to marry them and they were divorced within the year, within the year. So, I think, you know, the most mature thing, obviously, is to just be very, very thoughtful, process your doubts, discuss your doubts and really spend a lot of time before you get married talking about marriage...

COX: Well, you know...

Ms. DICKINSON: ...reading about marriage.

COX: Here's a guy who called us and, presumably, he got over his cold feet and decided to come on the air and talk with us. It's Jeff(ph) from Orange Park, Florida. Jeff, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. How are you?

JEFF (Caller): Thanks for taking my call. I'm great, actually. Life's good. And, Amy, it's a pleasure to talk to you. Yeah, I had moved from Portland, Oregon to Sicily to marry someone. And we had made arrangements to be married on the island of Malta. And about two, three weeks after I had gotten there, and two weeks before the wedding, I - we decided to call it off.

She had gotten cold feet. She was - she didn't like my religious background. I'm not - I wasn't Christian, she was, and it became a problem for her. But it was complicated by the fact that she was pregnant. So we had people coming from the States. We had, you know, her friends from Sicily moving to - going to Malta. So, it was an ugly call we had to make to let people know that we weren't going to get married.

COX: Well...

Ms. DICKINSON: Wow. That...

COX: Yeah, go ahead, Amy.

Ms. DICKINSON: Jeff, that is so extreme because of every single circumstance you cite. That's very, very extreme. Can I ask you this? First of all, I'd love to know how long ago this happened. But also, from your perspective now, you know, do you feel like this was an act of bravery, in a way, on her part?

JEFF: Absolutely, it was. It was a very difficult decision. I had gone over there and I had a feeling that there was something that was a problem. It was 14 years ago. And we had a son out of it. We don't get along really well right now, but it's - we're doing better. And, you know, it was absolutely the correct decision. And it was just, you know, it was a brutal one. We had initially filled it as being just kind of -we're still trying to work on it, but we weren't, it was done.

And so, you know, see, it was kind of funny, all the people that I invited from Sicily had gone there, had - they were going to go to Malta, went anyway and they had a great time. They were like, wish you were here. And I was in London with my sisters. I had one sister who was going to surprise me on the trip but we all rendezvoused in London and had a great time. I kept on going, hey, I'm (unintelligible) London, you know, on the day we were supposed to be married.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Jeff, thank you for that call. Our time is running really, really short, so we have to say good-bye to you. But before I say good-bye to you, Amy, I have a really short email I'd like to read and get your very quick response.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost seven years - this is from Sarah(ph) in Arizona - since we were 16. We're now in our early 20's and I feel great pressure to get married partly because I moved across the country with him when he started grad school and partly because we've been dating so long. But at the same time, we're still pretty young, you know, how can I know when the time is right? I need a really to-the-point answer.

Ms. DICKINSON: You can't. You can't know. All I can say is, as a twice-married old woman, you know when you know.

COX: That's about a good an answer, I guess...

Ms. DICKINSON: You do.

COX: ...as anybody can have. You know when you know. We know that our time has run out. Amy Dickinson, thank you very much for coming on. It's been a delightful conversation. Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated column "Ask Amy" for The Chicago Tribune. She joined us today from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Amy, once again, we appreciate it.

Ms. DICKINSON: Thanks, Tony.

COX: Tomorrow, join Joe Palca on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY for a look at a new project that makes your medical record and the doctor's notes on it easily accessible to you over the Internet.

This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

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