My big proposal ended with a maybe

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Hey Meredith,

Going through the toughest time in my life and need some advice. I (29M) proposed to my girlfriend (27F) of 10 years last week and she said no, kind of. This proposal had been in the works for months with a week-long beach vacation with friends (all aware of what was happening), followed by drinks and dinner. She initially said yes after the beach proposal, but then had a panic attack when we went back to our rental and she saw the decorations that our friends put up.

We had some tough conversations over the next two days about how she wasn't sure she was ready, was worried about wedding costs, that she has been unemployed for a year, that she wants to go to couples therapy (I was unaware of this), COVID concerns, etc. She wanted to push the engagement off and then maybe revisit in six months or so.

This all caught me super off guard, as we have had multiple conversations during the course of our relationship about finances, ring sizes, what type of ring cuts (we even went to a jeweler together), if we want kids. After two days of talking, I decided to leave the vacation and head home. In the driveway, she returned the ring to me (I was going to have to send it back to resize it anyway). We haven't spoken in a few days because so our relationship is currently in limbo but are set to talk later this week. I'm having trouble even trying to think of how to pick up the pieces of the life we built (apartment, puppy, cat, joint finances, investments). Am I wrong for thinking that I don't think I can be a part of this relationship/ trust her at this point after investing my entire adult life in this relationship?

– A shattered man

P.S. I have not heard anything from her family. Radio silence. Got prior approval from everyone as well.

The family part doesn't surprise me. What are they supposed to say? At this point, they're focused on her and what she wants. I do hope you've heard from some of those friends.

You have every reason to feel hurt, disappointed, confused, etc. Sit with those feelings. Call those friends for support.

But please be open to hearing more about what might have happened here. I advise against surprise proposals unless two people have agreed they want that kind of grand gesture – and now. I mean, how long ago did you talk about all of this and what timeline was discussed?

I wish she'd told you she wanted therapy before any proposal. I wish she'd thought more about wedding vs. marriage and whether she could even consider celebrating your commitment when she's still looking for a job. It really sounds like she didn't see this coming, or couldn't anticipate how it would feel.

You ask if you're wrong for thinking you can't be part of this relationship after this incident, but I think it's impossible to know what it all means at the moment. She has a lot of questions to answer, for you and for herself. Please listen to whatever she has to say when she returns. If she had no sense of timing on this, it might be about the surprise of it all. And the audience.

Based on what you told us, she hasn't said she doesn't want the life you've built together. The puppy, home, shared finances … she didn't mention any of that stuff, right? Maybe there's something about the ritual of engagement and marriage that feels too big to her right now.

I'm sorry this didn't go as planned. It makes sense to question everything and to be sad about it. But please, get answers before making big decisions.

– Meredith

Readers? Would you be able to move past this experience? What might have happened here?