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Carolyn Hax: Overreaction to a wedding night flub

Dear Carolyn: My honeymoon and marriage are in tatters because of two words I said on my wedding night. A few years ago, I was in a very intense relationship with “Rick.” When it ended, I swore I wouldn’t become so intimate with someone unless it was for life.

I met “Tom” shortly afterward and knew he was “the one.” I shared with him my views on premarital sex but didn’t explain what happened or why. He completely supported me. We just married and had a beautiful reception, spending the night at a hotel near the airport because we were going to Europe for our honeymoon.

As things heated up between us, I accidentally said, “Oh, Rick.” I realized my mistake immediately, and the look of horror on my face was met by the look of hatred on his.

“Who’s Rick?!? Why are you thinking about Rick when you just married me?!?” It got really vicious. He called his parents and told them to set up a divorce attorney when he returned. Then he called my parents and introduced himself as “your future ex-son-in-law.” He asked them who Rick was and why I was moaning about him!

I pleaded for a chance to set things straight, but he quickly got dressed and took his suitcase and my passport and told me not to follow him to Europe. The airline couldn’t help because I didn’t have my passport, and when it paged him, he refused to talk to me. He’s not answering my calls, and the only text he answered was one where I suggested couples’ counseling. He said he’s not the one fantasizing about an old flame on our wedding night.

I’m trying to get a new passport and wondering if I should get on a plane as soon as I can to try to salvage this. What should I do?

– Wedding Night Disaster

A: Your honeymoon and marriage are in tatters because Tom reacted with absolutely stunning hostility to a quirk of the human brain.

Yes, his pain is understandable. Yes, yours was a huge mistake – and not just the fateful “two words.” A person’s sense of self – or humor – would have to be formidable to take a slip like yours in stride. But for this to obliterate all of his supposed love and trust, plus any inner mandate to be kind? His commitment to you couldn’t have been deep.

He didn’t just get sad or angry, or yell, or cancel the honeymoon – he went for your emotional jugular and hasn’t let go. He called your parents to shame you. Making mistakes, that’s life. Living in fear of his reaction to your next mistake, that’s hell.

This glimpse of his character is a gift. Accept it and annul the marriage. Get good counseling, solo. Heal. Forgive yourself. And make a note: Telling people the “what” (i.e., no premarital sex) without a hint of the “why” invites misunderstandings. The best way to know people is to let them know you – better upfront than the morning after.