I do, I don't, I'm not sure: modern wedding jitters

Faking abduction is an extreme way to cope. But the urge to make a mad dash for the exit besets many a modern bride.

When Rachel Safier heard the news that Georgia bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks had run away, she wept. She could relate to feeling paralyzed with doubt before a wedding.

Her sense of unease about marriage - even to a man she thought was wonderful - caused all kinds of problems in the run-up to her nuptials in 2001. She lost weight, suggested they live together instead, and even told him she didn't think she could go through with it.

She was convinced that no one would understand her position. Even though anecdotal evidence suggests than there are more broken engagements or postponed weddings that people might guess (the numbers aren't tracked officially), Ms. Safier had never known anyone in those situations.

Her fiancé finally cancelled the ceremony two weeks before it was to take place. Afterward, she wrote a book that chronicled the experiences of women who've survived breakups, some of their own choosing.

Premarital nerves were once a topic as private as the honeymoon. Now, some brides and grooms want to talk about the jitters they feel before they say, "I do." Their concerns range from a gut feeling that they're not with the right person to questions about how marriage will change their lives and how much effort it will take.

Some observers suggest that marrying later in life is causing a shift in what makes women feel anxious.

"It used to be that women would generally question the marriage in terms of the attributes of the man. And now they question in terms of the attributes of the marriage itself," says Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in Los Angeles. "The focus is not on the man, but the loss of independence."

That's the case for Stasia Raines, a 20-something professional in California who recently got engaged. She and her fiancé initially thought they might get married this fall, but have since decided to hold off until she works through some of her concerns. Among them, she says, has been a sense that she will lose her independence.

"That freedom is precious," says Ms. Raines, who initially felt "weird" that she was having anxiety, but has sought out other women and a counselor to help her realize her feelings are not unusual.

The number of resources available to brides who feel skittish is slowly increasing. Newspaper articles by and about people who've called off their engagements - sometimes hours before the wedding - are appearing more frequently, and Safier's book was published in 2003.

But bookstores remain largely places to find books about wedding planning.

"You're really not going to find very much about what it's like internally to go through tremendous change, self-examination, and ... what it's like to partner for the rest of your life with someone," says Dale Atkins, a psychologist and relationship expert for WeddingChannel.com.

People idealize marriage and don't talk much about the meaning of commitment and the work it takes to get through the tough spots, she argues. That's why when a man like Ms. Wilbanks's fiancé says he's going to take her back, people are appalled. "Where is this sense of hanging in there with someone through very difficult times?" she wonders.

The Internet is picking up some of the slack in the conversation about wedding woes. Chat rooms on WeddingChannel.com and TheKnot.com allow women to talk anonymously about the stress of wedding planning and their worries about loss of self. Women in a feature on TheKnot.com offer reasons for breaking off engagements that include meeting another man, wanting to sever an abusive relationship, and realizing that they simply didn't have enough in common with their fiancés.

TheKnot.com is where Safier found solace when sorting out her anxieties, and where she found the women whose experiences she relates in "There Goes the Bride: Making Up Your Mind, Calling It Off, and Moving On."

One reason women may have more issues to sort out before the wedding than men do is that they really start focusing on the implications of marriage only after the proposal. Guys, on the other hand, often say they had to sort through those issues before they bought and presented the ring.

But men can have a change of heart before the wedding, too. Russ Hibler, a medical psychologist at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, recalls two men in recent years backing out, one after the invitations went out; one the day before the wedding.

"What happens is that they realize that they're not being able to maintain a relationship," he says. It's going to take more effort than they're willing to put in, for example, or they aren't comfortable with basic issues such as how to fight fairly or compromise.

But some in the wedding industry say they encounter last-minute cancellations only occasionally - perhaps because embarrassment and the pressure not to lose thousands of dollars in deposits suppress some people's doubts.

Wedding planner Sheila Corbett of Elegant Events in Philadelphia plans between 25 and 30 weddings a year and only once every few years encounters a couple who call off the ceremony. "The shortest notice I have had is maybe three months," she says.

"Most of the time, [couples] just need someone to listen to them and usually what is concerning to them is nothing major," Ms. Corbett says. "I encourage all my couples to go through premarital counseling with their minister or priest."

Robert Tuttle contributed to this report from New York.

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